The Pulpit Commentary

Colossians 1:15-23 (Colossians 1:15-23)

SECTION II . THE REDEEMING SON AND HIS KINGDOM . We now approach the real subject of the apostle's letter, and that which is its distinction and glory amongst the Epistles, in the great theological deliverance of Colossians 1:15-20 concerning the Person of Christ. This passage occupies a place in the Christology of St. Paul corresponding to that which belongs to Romans 3:19-26 in regard to his Soteriology. Here he treats directly and expressly of the sovereignty of Christ and the nature of his Person—subjects which elsewhere in his writings are for the most part matter of assumption or mere incidental reference. But the paragraph is no detached or interpolated piece of abstract theology. It depends grammatically and practically on the previous verses (12-14). It sets forth who he is and what place he fills in the universe that Son of God's love in whom we have redemption, and in whose kingdom the Father has placed us; and what cause, therefore, there is for the Colossians to give thanks as having such a Person for their redeeming King. The passage fails into two parts, closely corresponding both in form and sense, and governed, like other of the apostle's more fervid and elevated utterances, by a Hebraistic antithetical rhythm of expression, which should aid us in the difficulties of its interpretation. A twofold headship is ascribed to the Lord Christ— natural (verses 15-17) and redemptional (verses 18-20): the first the source and ground of the second; the second the issue and consequence of the first, its reassertion and consummation. This symmetrical structure we may attempt to exhibit in the following way:—

I. , Colossians 1:15

(a) Who is Image of God the invisible, Firstborn of all creation:

- The Pulpit Commentary

Colossians 1:20 (Colossians 1:20)

(d) And through Him to reconcile all things unto Him, having made peace through the blood of his cross,—through Him,

(c) Whether the things on the earth, or the things in the heavens.

I.

(a) In virtue of his relation to God, Christ is at once

(b) ground of creation,

(c) both in heaven and on earth, and at the same time

(d) its means and its end; he is, therefore,

(e) supreme over the universe, preconditioning its existence, constituting its unity.

II. In a similar sense he is

(e) Head of the Church,

(a) in virtue of his new relation to man, which makes him

(b) ground,

(d) means, and end of reconciliation also,

(c) whether on earth or in heaven.

- The Pulpit Commentary

Colossians 1:20 (Colossians 1:20)

And (was pleased) through him to reconcile all things unto him ( Colossians 1:16 ; Ephesians 1:10 ; Hebrews 9:26 ; Hebrews 10:12 , Hebrews 10:13 ; Psalms 2:7 , Psalms 2:8 ). Not "through Christ—unto the Father," as Meyer, Alford, Ellicott, Lightfoot contend. This involves reading "the Father" as subject of Colossians 1:19 (see note). There is nothing in the grammar of this verse to suggest a reference of the same pronoun to two different persons. And the analogy of Colossians 1:16 appears decisive (see note): "Through him and unto him all things were created and reconciled" (De Wette, Conybeare, Hofmann). So Chrysostom: "Lest thou shouldest think that he undertook the office of a minister only, he saith 'unto himself.' And yet he elsewhere says that he reconciled us 'to God.'" English idiom prefers the reflexive "himself" in such a sentence (so in Colossians 1:19 ); but it is not necessary in Greek. Elsewhere καταλλάσσω ("reconcile") is construed with πρὸς or simple dative; here with εἰς in correspondence with Colossians 1:16 , and implying, in contrast with διὰ ("through"), the end for which rather than the person to whom one is reconciled ( Colossians 1:18 b; also Romans 14:9 ; 2 Corinthians 5:15 ; 1 Corinthians 3:23 ). Brought back again to peace with God, we are brought into the kingdom of his Son ( Colossians 1:13 , Colossians 1:14 ). The rebels are made to "kiss the Son." He wins back his kingdom in them. And so the design of creation as his dominion is answered at last. "Reconcile" ("reconciliation") in New Testament usage implies previous resentment in him to whom the offender is reconciled (see Cremer's 'Lexicon,' and Meyer on Romans 5:10 ). For such resentment in Christ, comp. Colossians 3:13 ; 1 Corinthians 8:12 ; Luke 19:27 ; Acts 26:14 ; Revelation 6:16 ; Psalms 2:12 . καταλλάσσω is "to take into favour or allegiance," and, with ἀπό , "to take back into favour." This reconciliation to Christ the King concerns the " all things" of Psalms 2:10 , restoring the broken unity of creation (see note on "the things in the heavens," below). And there is an actual reconciliation now being carried on by the Son from heaven ( Philippians 3:20 , Philippians 3:21 ; 1 Corinthians 15:25 ), resting upon the potential reconciliation effected on the cross (compare the same double sense in 2 Corinthians 5:18-21 ). Having made peace through the blood of his cross ( Colossians 2:13 , Colossians 2:14 ; Ephesians 2:13-18 ; 2Co 5:18-6:1; Romans 3:25 ; Romans 5:10 ; Hebrews 9:11-14 ; Revelation 1:5 ; Revelation 5:9 ; Matthew 26:28 ). The apostle "glories" only "in the cross" Galatians 6:14 ), the sole means of salvation, viewed from whatever side ( 1 Corinthians 1:23 , 1 Corinthians 1:24 ). Peace is made for those who were "alienated and enemies in wicked works" (verse 21), who were under the dominion of the enemy of God and his Christ ( Galatians 6:13 , Galatians 6:14 ). It begins as the peace of forgiveness ( Galatians 6:14 ; Galatians 2:13 ; Galatians 3:13 ; Romans 3:24-26 ; Romans 5:1 ), and continues as an abiding fellowship with God through the Spirit, in obedience to Christ, the one Lord ( Galatians 6:13 ; Colossians 2:6 ; Romans 5:1 , Romans 5:2 ; Romans 8:5-9 , Romans 8:28 ; Galatians 5:22 ; Philippians 4:7 ; 2 Corinthians 10:4 , 2 Corinthians 10:5 ; Acts 2:32-34 ). There can be peace only when he is Lord ( 1 Corinthians 15:25 ; Hebrews 10:13 ; Revelation 19:11-16 ). In this all the present blessings of salvation are comprised ( Galatians 6:2 ). "The blood of the cross" is the one all sufficient atonement which brings men into peace with God, and so puts them back into the kingdom of Christ, who is "Prince and Saviour, Priest and King" ( Romans 3:25 , Romans 3:26 ; Romans 14:9 ; 2 Corinthians 5:15 ; Titus 2:14 ). Faith, the subjective condition of peace, appears in verse 23 ( Romans 5:1 ; Romans 15:13 ). "Having made peace," as a single compound verb, occurs only here in the New Testament (comp. Matthew 5:10 ). The repeated through him is textually doubtful; copyists were more likely to omit than to insert it here. This emphatic repetition suitably introduces the bold and startling words, whether the things on the earth, or the things in the heavens ( Galatians 6:16 ). The things "in the heavens," as in Galatians 6:16 , include the whole creation, spiritual or material, other than "the things upon the earth." In Romans 8:19-21 we learned that the earthly creation shares man's fall and his redemption. But "sin entered" ( Romans 5:12 ) here from outside, and how far its influence extends beyond our planet we cannot tell. St. Paul does not positively affirm that the reconciliation of the cross embraces other worlds than ours. He speaks hypothetically. Christ's death is in his eyes an event parallel only to creation in its magnitude, and he can set no limit to its potential efficacy. Its virtue is sufficient to" reconcile all things," wherever such reconciliation is needed and is possible (yet see Hebrews 2:16 ). The difficulty is not to be evaded by putting a milder sense on "reconcile" as applied to "the things in the heavens" (so Alford and others, referring to Ephesians 3:10 ); "the blood of the cross" forbids any thought but that of the propitiatory atonement (see Meyer). Nor does the text say anything of a reconciliation between "earth and heaven" (Erasmus), "men and angels" (Chrysostom, Bengel), "Jews and Gentiles," "secular and spiritual affairs," etc.; such glosses are opposed to St. Paul's strict use of the word "reconcile," and to the parallelism of Romans 8:16 .

In Romans 8:21-23 the apostle descends, with characteristic boldness and suddenness, from the vast generalizations of Romans 8:15-20 to the closest personal application of his theme—from "all things in earth and heaven" to "you" (comp. Eph 1:22-2:1, Ephesians 2:2 ). With Lightfoot, we place only a comma, or a colon at most, after Romans 8:20 .

- The Pulpit Commentary

Colossians 1:20 (Colossians 1:20)

The reconcilation effected by Christ.

"And, having made peace through the blood of the cross, by him to reconcile all things to himself."

I. THE NATURE OF THIS RECONCILIATION .

1. . It implies a prior estrangement. Man "departed from the living God" ( Hebrews 3:12 ). He is "alienated" from God ( Colossians 1:21 ). "The carnal mind is enmity against God" ( Romans 8:7 ). Even God himself was angry with man ( Psalms 7:11 ). But this prior estrangement implies an antecedent friendship.

2. Though man was first in the breach of this friendship, God was first in the reconciliation. This blessed restoration of broken relations is traced to "the good pleasure" of the Father. It is a mistake to say that Christ is the cause of his Father making to us the offer of reconciliation. The atonement is not the cause, but the effect, of God's love.

3. There was reconciliation on God's side as well as man's. There is a change in the Divine relation or mood of mind toward us; for he himself "made peace by the blood of the cross," and his reconciliation of all things to himself is represented as based upon the peace thus made. The death of Christ was a true satisfaction to Divine justice for sin, so that God could be "just and the Justifier of the ungodly."

II. THE MEANS OF THIS RECONCILIATION . "Having made peace through the blood of the cross." The reconciliation was not absolute or without mediation. It was "through the blood of the cross"—the first term suggesting a comparison between Christ's death and the Old Testament sacrifices; the second, the penal nature of the Redeemer's death as that of a curse-bearing Substitute. The apostle emphasizes this aspect of truth, because the errorists of his time denied alike a real incarnation and a real atonement.

III. THE UNIVERSALITY OF THIS RECONCILIATION . "By him to reconcile all things to himself; by him, whether they be things in earth or things in heaven.

1. "Things in earth" may include more than man.

2. "Things in heaven." Not angels, as some suppose, for they were never estranged from God and Christ, and the Head of angels as well as men is never represented as the Mediator of angels. A mere increase of knowledge or blessedness on their part, or the confirmation of them in their heavenly obedience, can hardly be covered by the term "reconciliation." The word must be used in its ordinary sense. The apostle has described Christ's mediatorial function as twofold: as exercised in the natural creation and in the spiritual creation—in the universe and in the Church. His object is not to show the extent either of the creation or of the reconciliation, but, the person of the Creator and the Reconciler, and the Church marks the glorious sphere of the reconciliation as it is seen in its two great divisions of living and dead saints. The "things in heaven" seem, therefore, to apply to the saints in glory.—T. C.

- The Pulpit Commentary

Colossians 1:15-20 (Colossians 1:15-20)

The glories of King Jesus.

The apostle, having in his prayer pleaded for the Colossians that they may be worthy members of the kingdom of Christ, proceeds to speak of the glories which belong to their King. His purpose, like that of every true preacher, is to make Christ pre-eminent. The central thought of the passage is that God is invisible, but Christ is the visible Manifestation of the Father's perfections. In him as the perfect "Image" we may "see God."

I. JESUS AS THE GLORIOUS CREATOR REVEALED THE MIND OF GOD . (Verses 15, 16.) We are apt to think of Christ's revelation of the Godhead solely in his incarnation. Doubtless it was the climax of the "exegesis" of the invisible God (cf. John 1:18 , ἐξηγήσατο ) . But there were previous revelations, and this is Paul's idea here that creation is a revelation of God through the power of. Christ. Now, one thing is certain about the creation, that it addresses itself to mind. If men imagined it was thoughtless, they would not spend two minutes more in its investigation. All science proceeds on the postulate of creation being thinkable, intelligible, an appeal to mind. If creation, then, embodies thought, we have further to notice that it is thought of the same order as human thought. After all the weary investigation, therefore, which tries to blink the fact of creation being a revelation of God, we are reduced in the last analysis exactly to this idea. Of course, we have not succeeded in interpreting the revelation in nature with either accuracy or fulness; but every year's honest work carries us on towards the fuller understanding of the Divine Thinker who speaks to his creatures in all the work of his hands. The fascination of science lies in the fact that a deeper Thinker than any of the investigators is behind the work, and is calling for interpreters. The wonderful creation is from end to end, in heaven above and in earth beneath, Christ's exposition of the mind of God.

II. HISTORY IS ALSO AN EXPOSITION BY CHRIST OF THE DIVINE MIND . (Verse 17.) For not only did Christ as Creator give the system a start, but as the Upholder of the system he makes it a continuous revelation. The philosophy of history lies in the assurance of the great procession of facts being under the constant control and direction of Divinity. Of course, as in the former case of the interpretation of nature, we may be and are very far from a full grasp of the significance of history. Yet undoubtedly a reverential study of the course of events brings us daily nearer the understanding of the whole. It adds to our interest to take with us this assurance—that Jesus Christ is at the back of all being, upholding it, sustaining the system, and reducing it to an orderly exposition of the Divine thought. Amid the apparently chaotic course of events, in consequence of the freedom and frailty of the creature, there is the really orderly procession of the whole towards that "one Divine event to which the whole creation moves."

III. CHRIST 'S ECCLESIASTICAL HEADSHIP IS A FURTHER REVELATION OF GOD . (Verse 18.) For not only has Christ been Creator, not only has he been and is the Preserver of the system, but he has also been constituted Head of a special class of beings, united in what is called "the Church." Many of his creatures do not recognize either him or his relations to the universe. They act as if he were not, and his control of them is without their leave and in spite oftentimes of their opposition. But others happily have come to recognize him as Lord of all, and consequently of themselves as well. Believers in him, adorers of him, they have learned to look on life as simply a longer or shorter opportunity of doing his will or of suffering" his good pleasure." And as Christ comes lute tenderer and closer relations to the believers of the world than he can come into towards the unbelievers, he is as closely bound to his believing people as the ruling and sovereign "head" is to the subject and obedient "members "of the one body. And this headship of Christ is a revelation unto men of the mind of God. Of course, in this case, as in the previous cases, there is only an approximation to the understanding of God's mind and will as thus revealed. But we are progressing steadily towards the ideal of perfect light and perfect submission. The Churches may but imperfectly grasp what God in Christ means; they may be very wayward and arbitrary in many of their interpretations; but the desire to know and obey Christ brings them along the line of privilege and duty with increasing appreciation and success.

IV. IS CHRIST 'S RECONCILIATION OF ALL THINGS UNTO GOD HE FURTHER REVEALS TO THE UNIVERSE THE MIND OF GOD . (Verses 18-20.) Now, just as philosophy is the reduction of the multiform in fact to the uniform in idea, so is there in the system administered by Christ provision made for the reconciliation of all things to the Supreme, that the unity of all things may be the last thought of God. This is the meaning of the cross and the blood shed upon it, and all the redemptive system which centres around it. This is the purpose of Christ's resurrection to immortal life the first, that, as the pre-eminent One, he might gather in his embrace a reconciled universe and lay it at the Father's feet. Of course, the prerogative of creaturely freedom is such as to refuse the reconciliation and to crystallize into hostility in some sad cases. It would be contrary to the Divine plan to force the will and ride rough shod over the determinations of the creature. Some consequently, it would seem, are to be allowed to take their own course and remain incorrigible; yet in the unifying idea of God their discord, as in the music of the great masters, will be made to contribute to and to emphasize the general harmony. Meanwhile, how grand the idea is of the unity of all things! Surely we should not allow ourselves to conflict consciously with it in our dealings with men. We should back it up as the goal and far off Divine event to which all things are made to move. The blood of the cross cries really for the reconciliation of the universe to God.—R.M.E.

- The Pulpit Commentary

Colossians 1:9-23 (Colossians 1:9-23)

Prayer leading up to the Person of Christ.

I. MAKING REQUEST .

1. Impulse under which request was made for the Colossians. "For this cause we also, since the day we heard it, do not cease to pray and make request for you." It was formerly praying and giving thanks; it is now praying and making request.

2. For what request was made.

(a) It is a request for progressive knowledge. "That ye may be filled with the knowledge." We are not born with our minds full of knowledge. Rather are our minds like empty vessels that need to be filled. There is our capacity of knowing, over against the vastness of the knowable. This filling process begins soon, and the prayer is that it may go on toward fulness.

(b) It is a request for the progressive knowledge of God's will. "Of his will." This is very wide as it stands. It is by his will that things have been made as they are made. And, therefore, this may be taken as a prayer for the advance of science. It is not by his will that he is, or that he is love, or that there is a distinction between right and wrong. But it is his will that we should justly conceive of him, and that we should act in a manner consistent with his holy character. It is by his will that Christ became our Substitute and died for our salvation. And it is his will that we should believe on Christ, and, as we shall presently see, take after him in our characters.

(c) It is a request for the progressive knowledge of God's will within the spiritual sphere. "In all spiritual wisdom and understanding." In Ephesians "wisdom" is conjoined with "prudence;" here it is conjoined with "understanding." We are happily in the position of having exact definitions of these three words. Aristotle, in his 'Nicomachean Ethics,' treats of them at length. All are characterized as intellectual virtues. "Wisdom" is conversant with universals, or things eternal and immutable. "Prudence "and "understanding" are conversant with particulars, or details, or applications of principles or things about which deliberation is needed. Prudence is practical (has to do with lines of action, what is to be done or not to be done). Understanding is critical (has to do with processes of thought, how things are to be viewed or not to be viewed). This account of the three words is quite in accordance with Pauline usage. "Wisdom" has evidently with Paul to do with the everlasting verities—the character of God, the principles of his government, the mystery of redemption. And "understanding" has to do with subjects of thought which admit of doubt and which have to be presented in their relations to the great entities. And his wisdom and understanding are of the spiritual kind, such as unspiritual men are strangers to. There must be a penetrating with the Spirit if we would rightly apprehend eternal principles and understand their application to subjects that come up for consideration. And it is this that is asked for the Colossians as necessary for the filling with the knowledge (the clear, certain, experimental knowledge) of God's will.

(a) Generally. It is a request for a worthy Christian walk. "To walk worthily of the Lord." Christ is Lord; we are his servants. And we are like those servants whose ears were bored, as bound to serve this Master for ever. He is no common Master; for (in connection with his doing of God's will) it is said that his ears were bored. Conduct worthy of him, then, how shall we get the conception of it, and, when we have got the conception, put it into execution? "Unto all pleasing." It is implied in this language that he is uninterruptedly observant of our conduct, and that be forms an estimate of it as we proceed—an estimate which must be according to truth. It is implied also that, if we would bring our conduct up to what is worthy of Christ, we must seek his universal approval, we must seek to please him in every moment that we live, in every step that we take.

(b) Under a special aspect.

( α ) It is a request for progressive fruitful. ness following upon progressive knowledge. "Bearing fruit in every good work, and increasing in the knowledge of God." It it better to read, "by the knowledge of God." The advantage of this translation (which is grammatically correct) is that "knowledge" is used as before, viz. as that which leads to good conduct as its fruit. There is a taking up here of language which has already been employed. It was said that the gospel-tree was bearing fruit and increasing in Colossae as in all the world. Now, Christians are trees, whose fruit is every good work. A work is good which has Christian principle in it. If for the sake of Christ we are industrious, eager to learn, contented, slow to anger, humble, ready to give up what is hurtful,—then we are fruitful in good works. Especially are we fruitful in good works if, after the example and for the sake of Christ, we live for the good of ethers, try to make all around us happy, are kind to the poor, pity the sinful. If a tree is in a healthy state, it not only bears fruit, but increases (in wood) so that it bears more fruit another year. So, if we are in a healthy spiritual state, we shall not only bear fruit, but as we go on in life we shall increase (in quality of being, in aptitude) so that we ever bring forth more fruit. This progressive fruitfulness is brought about by the knowledge of God, which has already been characterized as progressive. The more we get into our minds of Divine truth, the fuller our knowledge of God, the richer will be the fruit which we produce.

( β ) It is a request for increased strength. "Strengthened with all power, according to the might of his glory, unto all patience and long suffering with joy." If a tree is to bear fruit, it must be supplied with nourishment. So, if we are to produce every good work, we must be strengthened by God. The measure according to which strength can be supplied is infinite. It is "according to the might of his glory." "Might" is an attribute of the glorious majesty of God. "God hath spoken once; twice have I heard this, that power belongeth unto God." Power can be communicated from this source to us. We have already been strengthened with some power, but we need to ask for ourselves, and others need to ask for us, that we may be strengthened with more power. We need to be strengthened in prosperity to make a right use of our powers; but especially do we need to be strengthened in times of trial unto all patience and long suffering. "Patience," in so far as it is to be distinguished from "long suffering," has reference to trials as laid upon us by God. "Long suffering," in so far as it is to be distinguished from "patience," has reference to trials caused, and as caused by others. We never need to bear with God, we have to bear up under what he (directly or indirectly) lays upon us; but we have to bear with others who are unreasonable or do us injury. And the power communicated from the Divine glory is efficient to make us endure with joy. This is the Christian, as distinguished from the mere Stocial, relation to sufferings. We can rise in triumph over our sufferings. "Let us also," says the apostle, "rejoice in our tribulations." "In the world ye have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world."

( γ ) It is a request for thankfulness. Alike in prosperity and in adversity, we have three causes for joy, for which we pour out our souls in gratitude.

(i.) Thankfulness for the loving purpose of God. "Giving thanks unto the Father, who made us meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light." This is not a meetening for heaven in the way of holy habits. The words cannot bear that interpretation which is commonly put upon them. The historical parallel is to be kept in view. The Jews had their allotment (it is literally here "the portion of the lot," i.e. the portion which fell to them by lot) in the land of Canaan. God counted it a meet thing (so we would translate) that they should have this allotment. This was, in point of time, antecedent to the deliverance from Egypt, which is referred to in the next verse. It was true that in Abraham God counted it a meet thing that they, his descendants, should possess the land of Canaan. So for us saints, i.e. the successors of the holy people (not merely Jewish Christians, but Gentile Christians, who are referred to at the close of this paragraph), there is in store an allotted inheritance. This is to be in the world of light (when the shadows have fled away, when the light of God is all-penetrative), and with this in prospect there would need to be a meetening, in the expelling of all impurity, of all darkness, from our natures. But still it is true that this was the loving purpose of God from all eternity. The Father (it was his love that was at the root of it) counted it a meet thing in Christ that we should be partakers of the inheritance in light. And thus what is expanded and made prominent in Ephesians regarding the purpose of God, we have here in brief and incidentally.

(ii.) Thankfulness for the deliverance effected in Christ. "Who delivered us out of the power of darkness, and translated us into the kingdom of the Son of his love." The historical parallel is still kept up. Egypt was, to the Israelites, a house of bondage. They were under power, not power in its purity, power in the service of light, but power in the service of darkness—harsh, oppressive power. But out of that they were brought with a strong arm, and were translated into a new orderly state of things, which is expressed by the word "kingdom" (the theocracy). So there is an Egypt behind us all. Sin was the tyranny of darkness. But the Father effected for us a deliverance. How it was effected is not stated here. But, to carry out the historical parallel, it was by the sacrifice of the Son of his love. The power of darkness came upon him in all its horrors. He was the Firstborn, slain in the land of Egypt, that Israel might escape. And this deliverance involved a complete changing of our state. It was a bringing us in Christ into a true kingdom, a kingdom presided over by Christ, a kingdom whose law is love.

(iii.) Thankfulness for the enjoyment of redemption. "In whom we have our redemption, the forgiveness of our sins." We are yet in our wilderness state; we have not come to our full redemption, to our possession of the lot. But we have the feeling of emancipation. We have the first and characteristic blessing of redemption, viz. the forgiveness of our sins. We feel happy in the enjoyment of the Divine favour. And that is only part of the redemption we have here. For, as is brought out in Ephesians, we have the Spirit as the Earnest of the inheritance. We have thus, under all circumstances, causes for thankfulness to God; and therefore prayer may always go up for this.

II. THE PERSON OF CHRIST .

1. In relation to the universe. His having the preeminence.

(a) Conditional cause. "For in him were all things created, in the heavens and upon the earth, things visible and things invisible, whether thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers." We are taught here, in opposition to the Arian idea, that Christ stood out from all things created as their Cause. He is thus placed in a different category from creation. As Cause, he was very closely connected with creation. There seems to be a catching up of the thought that he is essentially the Manifester of God. In him, as such, creation had its origin. God is manifested (comes out of invisibility) in creation. "For the invisible things of him since the creation of the world are clearly seen, being perceived through the things that are made, even his everlasting power and divinity." If, then, it was to be made to appear (outside of Godhead) what God was in his wisdom, power, goodness, to whom did this belong but to the Second Person? It was in him as Manifester that it necessarily inhered. There was an emphatic universality connected with his work of creating. In him were all things (equivalent to the universe) created. But, as if that were not enough, a comprehensive division is added: "in the heavens and upon the earth." As if this, again, were not enough, a different division (for stars are in the heavens and visible, the human spirit is upon the earth and invisible), but an equally comprehensive division, is added: "things visible and things invisible." As if these two divisions in locality were not enough, essences are next brought in, but not all essences, only the highest—angelic beings, that might be thought of as in rivalry with the Son: "whether thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers." Great prominence was given in Jewish speculations to the not very profitable subject of the grades of the celestial hierarchy. These speculations were mixed up with the non-scriptural doctrine of seven heavens. And Judaizing Christians speculated in the same line. These angels became the intermediate beings of Eastern theosophy. The idea was that, matter being the evil principle, God could not create it immediately. But there was a descending scale from God to matter. God created a being at a certain remove from himself. This first created being created another, still further removed; and so it went on, till one was created far enough down to create matter. It is quite likely, from the reference afterward to the worshipping el angels, that in Colossae there was danger of the idea gaining ground that the angels in their several grades were to be regarded, in the light of Eastern theosophy, as beings having to do with creation, and on that ground to be worshipped. The apostle certainly clears the whole ground here for the Colossians. He does not profess to know what the several grades are. He gives the common (not the inspired) names with a certain impatience (as associated with much that was rash). But this he asserts that, whatever they are, they have nothing to do with creating. In him all of them, from the highest to the lowest, were created. No part of creation was the work of an inferior angel, but every part of it was immediately in him.

(b) Instrumental cause. "All things have been created through him." Creation can be ascribed to God, as it is in Romans 11:36 . But it is true that God never acts immediately; he always acts through the agency of the Son. New Testament language is very explicit on this subject. "All things were made by him [the Word], and without him was not anything made that was made." "Through whom [his Son] also he made the worlds." So here the present (no longer the past) fact of creation is attributed to the instrumentality of the Son. And this is not the passive instrumentality the Alexandrian Jew thought of in attributing creation to the Loges. Neither is the agent in creation the dark, hard, limited demiurge of the Gnostics; but he is distinctly a Divine Person, One who with an intelligence, with an interest, with a plastic power, that are all infinite, has done his work.

(c) Final cause. "And unto him." One Agent and one End; so the Christian doctrine of creation proceeds. And how grandly does it rise above all mere human speculations about creation! Why has this totality been brought into existence? There are subordinate ends which are served by the various parts. A plant has an end in its own development and fruit bearing. It has an end beyond that, in its service to man and to beast. Man—the microcosm, as he has been called—has an end in his own development. He has an end beyond himself, in the mastering of the world. And each member of the race has an end in helping the development of his neighbour. But when we think of the presence of so much evil, we still ask—Why have we and all things been made? It is a satisfaction to have, as the answer, that the one reason which determined the existence of the whole, as the one Bringer into existence, is Christ as the Manifestation of God. It was no cold necessity, it was the Son, who is here the subject, freely, filially, and in view of all that now exists to mar creation, bringing out what was in the heart of the Divine Father. And in that answer, here given, faith can rest.

(d) Pre-existent cause. "And he is before all things." It was very necessary clearly to think, of Christ as preexistent to his incarnation. Christ himself said in memorable words, "Before Abraham was, I am." His pre-existence is here carried forward to a much earlier point. There is that totality now which is called the universe. The time was when there was nothing outside of God. There were no materials lying from all eternity (as some have vainly imagined) out of which a universe could be constructed. There were no germs out of which a universe could be developed. There was simply the creative energy of the Word, who had himself to create all the materials and germs of things. We have, then, to go back to him as the pre-existent Creator. And not only was he before all things; but, as it is here put, he is (absolutely exists) before all things. For time itself is his creation; and before it, and outside of it, he in himself exists.

(e) Permanent cause. "And in him all things consist." But for him, all things would fall asunder and go back into nothingness. There are laws, indeed, which regulate and give stability to things; but these laws subsist in Christ, are non existent out of him. His continued existence is really the guarantee for the sun rising every morning. It will rise so long as he, who made it, has an end in its rising. And all things have consistence and persistence only in his existence and in his ends. There is no other basis on which things can proceed toward the consummation.

2. In relation to the Church.

(a) Originating cause. "Who is [seeing he is] the Beginning." He gives origin to the Church. It belonged to Christ, as the Manifester of God, to bring the universe into existence; so it belongs to Christ, as the Manifester of God, to bring the Church into existence. The connection is very close. It is as though we created and then guided and controlled the movements of our body. A king rules over those with whose existence he has had very little connection. Christ in the Church rules and by strongest right over those whom he has created and again created.

(b) Inaugurating cause. "The Firstborn from the dead." It is difficult to get a word to express the whole meaning. There is this idea—that he exists in that in which he operates. He is the great Energizer incarnate. And as incarnate (in the carrying out of his work) he was numbered among the dead. But he rose from the dead, the possessor of a new life. He is not only the possessor of a new life himself, but he is regenerative cause to those that come after him. As regenerative cause to those that come after, he has the right of the Firstborn over them. Thus is his authority established in the Church as in the universe.

3. Combination.

III. APPLICATION TO THE COLOSSIANS .

1. Gentilism. "And you, being in time past." The Colossians are reminded of what they were in time past, to emphasize their present participation in reconciliation.

2. The historical element in reconciliation. "Yet now hath he [God] reconciled in the body of his [Christ's] flesh through death."

3. The ultimate of reconciliation. "To present you holy and without blemish and unreprovable before him." "Before him" is to be understood as before God, and points to a time when we shall be in the presence of God in a sense in which we are not now in the presence of God. It is God also who presents here; but, as God reconciles through Christ, so also he presents through Christ (in accordance with Ephesians 5:27 ).

4. Gentle exhortation to steadfastness.

(a) From their having heard the gospel. "Which ye heard." Left to themselves, they would have been in heathenism and its hopelessness: "Having no hope, and without God in the world," as is said in Ephesians. Such had been their melancholy state, but by the grace of God the gospel had been preached to them in Colossae. It became them, then, to present a contrast to the hopelessness of heathenism, to be inspired with the hope of future presentation and everlasting continuance before God.

(b) From the universality which characterized the gospel. "Which was preached in all creation under heaven." The form of the command was: "Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to the whole creation." The apostle, writing not many years after the giving forth of the command, regards its universal character as already established. It had already obtained this seal of its Divine authorship. It was not a partial provincial thing, but, preached in all creation under heaven, it had been proved to be adapted to the wants of men. They were not, then, to abandon its peculiar hope.

(c) From Paul's personal relation to the gospel. "Whereof I Paul was made a minister." Of this gospel, the universal hope bringer, he had the high privilege of being a minister. He had no claim to the position. He was only Paul, one who had been a persecutor and had obtained mercy. But the gospel was dear to him, and, in writing to them and in introducing his personal relation to them, he puts that forward as a reason for their not being moved away from their hope.—R. F.

- The Pulpit Commentary

Colossians 1:1-29 (Colossians 1:1-29)

- The Pulpit Commentary

Colossians 1:15-29 (Colossians 1:15-29)

Christ all in all.

The truth taught in our text is that Christ is all and in all, the one absolute Mediator between God and man, the only Reconciler of heaven and earth. We notice—

I. THE DIVINE PRE - EMINENCE OF CHRIST . This includes:

1. His supremacy in relation to God. He is his Image, Likeness, Representation. Heathen idolatries utter the longing of the soul for him. To the prayer, "Show us the Father," Christ answers, "He that hath seen me hath seen the Father."

2. His supremacy in relation to nature. He is "the Firstborn." To all creation he stands as Heir. We notice:

3. His supremacy in relation to the Church. He is the Head. This implies sovereignty and sympathy—vital union. We say that "the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church." In an infinitely higher sense the blood of Christ is the seed of the Church.

4. His supremacy in relation to the Resurrection. He is "the Firstborn from the dead." The risen Christ is the life of the Church.

II. THE EXPLANATION OF THIS DIVINE PRE - EMINENCE IS THE DIVINE PLENITUDE , Christ is as supreme as the apostle has been describing because he is so lull of God. He is the Plēroma. This, as Archdeacon Farrar shows, is the keynote of the Epistle. When we say this, we mean that in Jesus is found "the 'totality of Divine attributes and powers." For in him there is:

1. Fulness of might. He is manifested in his miracles and in his own resurrection as the Lord of nature. Its forces are subject to him.

2. Fulness of wisdom. He claims, and as far as can be these claims are verified, to reveal God and to know what is in man. He did not misinterpret the Divine nor misunderstand the human.

3. Fulness of love. God is love. But could there be an amplitude of love beyond that which is manifested in Jesus Christ? Where is the love of God and where the God of love, if not in Jesus?

III. THE WORK OF CHRIST IN HIS PRE - EMINENCE AND PLENITUDE IS THE WORK OF RECONCILIATION . Our Lord is thus set forth as in his supremacy and fulness the great Reconciler. This is God's purpose; nay, God's passion. But all words are faint in describing any emotion in the infinite heart. The clear teaching here is, not that God loves because Christ died, but that Christ died because God loves. Reconciliation is the Father's desire, the Father's work. Much is left in necessary mystery, but Paul's words here answer for us two great questions.

1. What is God reconciling to himself through Christ? We must not be afraid of the assertion—"all things." By that I read all things

2. How is God reconciling all things to himself through Jesus Christ? Such a work involves even Divine effort; such a work is worth accomplishing at a tremendous cost. Hence "the blood of the cross," i.e. life poured out in a sacrifice of utmost pain and darkest shame. The highest can only serve through suffering; the mightiest can only save by sacrifice. Three practical questions.

(a) forgiven;

(b) resigned; and

(c) most difficult of all, ceaselessly obedient to God?—U. R.T.

- The Pulpit Commentary

Colossians 1:18-20 (Colossians 1:18-20)

The supremacy of Christ in the moral universe.

So supreme is the glory of Christ, that he occupies a similar position in the moral as he does in the material universe. We may linger on the exhaustless theme of the glory of Christ us we see further illustrations of it—

I. IN HIS RELATION TO THE CHURCH .

1. " He is the Head of the body, the Church." For he is its Founder; the Church is his creation ( Matthew 16:18 ; Matthew 18:17-20 ). Having "all power in heaven and earth," his glory and grace are so great that he can sustain the whole Church in life, and rule and guide each member of it. Our life is bound up with his life; our interests are made his own by the sympathy of our living Head. (Illustrate from Acts 7:56 ; Acts 9:4 ; Acts 18:9 , Acts 18:10 ; Acts 23:1-35 . 11; Acts 27:23 , Acts 27:24 ; 2 Timothy 4:17 , 2 Timothy 4:18 .)

2. " Who is the Beginning "—the first in time and the first in power in relation to the Church. Because he is "the First and the Last," "the Beginning of the creation of God," he is also the Fountain, "the Prince [or, 'Author'] of life" ( Acts 3:14 ) to his Church. Every act of pardon granted, every shower of reviving grace bestowed, every interposition of Providence, is from him. (Illustrate from Jesus Christ's use of "I" and "me" in John 14-16.)

3. "The Firstborn from the dead." He is the supreme Lord from among all who have entered the grave, by virtue of his being the first to rise to the new life from the dead. Note the contrast between the resurrection of Christ and of others. Dying voluntarily, though sinless ( John 10:17 , John 10:18 ), he rose by his own power ( John 2:20 ), not to die again ( Romans 6:9 ), in an immortal body ( Romans 1:18 ). Thus he is the Cause, the Pledge, and the Pattern of our resurrection, and has supremacy over his Church in both worlds ( Romans 14:9 ). Already we have seen that he is Firstborn, and Lord of the material creation; and he has the same position in the spiritual creation, "that in all things he might have the pre-eminence." He is the Image and Manifestation of God, the First Cause and the Final Cause, the Creator and Preserver of the universe, the Head and Lord of the Church, the Author and Pattern of our glorious resurrection. Yes; and in all things he shall have the pre-eminence ( Psalms 72:17 ; 1 Corinthians 15:25 ). The day will come when commerce, science, art, literature, shall all be consecrated to him; when the minority shall become a majority, and an innumerable multitude shall "honour the Son even as they honour the Father" ( John 5:23 ; Revelation 7:9-17 ).

II. IN HIS WORK AS THE UNIVERSAL RECONCILER . Whichever of the alternative renderings of Colossians 1:19 in the Revised Version we adopt, the precious practical truth is the same. The pre-eminence of Christ is assured by "the fulness" that abides in him. All the Divine perfections are his ( Colossians 2:9 ). We may take the term in its widest signification—a fulness of life and power and glory, of goodness and grace, without limit and without end. Thus the Man Christ Jesus, full of a Divine life ( John 3:34 ; John 5:26 ), was qualified to be the Agent by which the great reconciliation in the universe should be accomplished ( Colossians 1:20 ). "The well is deep;" the place is "holy ground." The reconciliation of "things upon the earth" is a mystery; how much more of "things in the heavens"! Notice:

1. Sin introduced discord into the universe, which spread to this earth. It not only separates men from God, but brings thereby calamities to "the whole creation." Sin left to itself works universal ruin; "when it is full grown it bringeth forth death." God must stand in a different relation to sinners and to the unfallen. If the guilty are to be saved, a new relation must be established between them and God. This is" the reconciliation" ( Romans 5:11 ). The change in man's heart is a result, but the sequel of the change of relations established by "the reconciliation" ( 2 Corinthians 5:18 , 2 Corinthians 5:19 ).

2. To effect this reconciliation a propitiatory sacrifice was needed. To show righteous grace to the guilty both the holiness and the love of God called for a Divine sacrifice. No theory can fully clear up this mystery of Divine mercy; but faith accepts it and Christian experience attests it ( Luke 7:35 ). No sacrifice less than "the death," "the blood of the cross," could effect this reconciliation ( Romans 5:6-10 ; 2 Corinthians 5:21 ). O paradox of mercy! The shedding of human blood stirs up strife; Christ's blood brings down peace. Innocent blood cries for vengeance; the blood of the cross pleads for pardon ( Hebrews 12:24 ).

3. But what is meant by the reconciliation of the things in the heavens? It is not universal restoration of the devils and the damned; for Paul is speaking of what God has already done by the blood of the cross, and in Colossians 1:23 he speaks of the final salvation of believers as conditional. The passage which best illustrates ours is Ephesians 1:10 . We can only throw out hints as to the meaning. We know that angels are intensely interested in the work of redemption ( Ephesians 3:10 ; 1 Peter 1:12 ). The entrance of sin and its spread among the human race may have produced, though not distrust, yet something like dismay. But the death of Christ revealed the majesty and mercy of God as they had never been combined before. The very fact that the lost sons of men could be "made nigh" by the death of Christ brought these celestial sons of God still nearer. The bends which unite these unfallen yet finite creatures to God become firmer than ever, and thus the harmony of the universe becomes more complete. Such are some of the jewels in the crown of our Divine Mediator and Redeemer.

Learn:

1. The glory of the cross. Though "all the fulness" dwelt in Christ, even he could not effect a reconciliation except by death ( Galatians 6:14 ).

2. The efficacy of the cross. Though erected on this tiny globe, its power extends throughout the universe.

3. The motives from the cross ( 2 Corinthians 5:14 , 2 Corinthians 5:15 , 2 Corinthians 5:20 ).—E.S.P.

- The Pulpit Commentary

Colossians 1:20 (Colossians 1:20)

The great reconciliation.

The world wants not only education, improvement, and development; it has a sorer need—the necessity of forgiveness, reconciliation to God, renewal, and restoration. It is the glory of the gospel that it recognizes this deep fact, too often ignored by philosophic schemes of life, and that it provides for it by offering the satisfaction of the world's great need in reconciliation through Christ and his atonement.

I. IT IS GOD WHO BRINGS ABOUT THE GREAT RECONCILIATION . Two errors in regard to this glorious truth are very prevalent.

1. The error of attempting to effect the reconciliation for ourselves. Costly sacrifices, hard penance, prayers, and almsgiving have been resorted to, but in vain. The work is God's, not man's. The first mistake is closely associated with another, viz.:

2. The error of supposing that God needs to be reconciled to us. It is commonly thought that the great work is to move God into a favourable consideration for us. But the first step in the reconciliation began with God. He desired it and prepared the way for it before men took any steps towards realizing it. For this reason he first of all sent his Son into the world ( John 3:16 ), and is now sending ambassadors and beseeching us by them to be reconciled. We began the separation, for ours was the offence, but God begins the reconciliation. He does not need to be reconciled to us. He waits to be gracious. The necessary reconciliation is on our side. We need to be reconciled to God.

II. ALL THINGS IN EARTH AND HEAVEN ARE THE SUBJECTS OF THE GREAT RECONCILIATION .

1. The reconciliation is to be universal. It is God's good pleasure to reconcile all things. Nothing short of that complete restoration would satisfy him. If ninety and nine sheep are safe, the shepherd will not rest until he has found the hundredth. Nevertheless, though this universal restitution is God's desire, there is a dark and difficult question as to how far the imperious will of man may stand out against it.

2. The reconciliation begins with things on earth. Here is the great wrong. In this life we become reconciled to God. The full success of Christ will involve the creation of a new earth. Though the laws of nature may not be altered, yet to us the wilderness will become a garden when we become reconciled to the God of nature.

3. The reconciliation reaches up to t/tings in heaven. It unites earth to heaven. Through union with God all beings and all things become united among themselves. Thus peace is established on earth, heavenly mindedness becomes a sympathetic link between the toilers and sufferers in this world and the angels and spirits of the just in the higher world.

III. CHRIST AND HIS ATONEMENT ARE THE MEANS THROUGH WHICH THIS RECONCILIATION IS EFFECTED .

1. Christ is the Mediator in the quarrel between us and God, the Peacemaker ( Ephesians 2:14 ), the "Daysman" who lays his hand on God and on us. The angel mediators of Colossian Gnosticism could not do this, being neither Divine nor human. Because all fulness of the Godhead dwells in Christ, he brings God to us in merciful loving kindness; and because he is also" very Man," he, as our Representative, brings us back to God.

2. The sacrifice made by Christ in his death is the atonement which accomplishes our reconciliation. "The blood of his cross" signifies, not merely the fact that Christ died on the cross, but also the peculiar value of his death in the shedding of his precious blood, i.e. in the giving up of his life for us with all its wealth of purity and love.—W.F.A.

- The Pulpit Commentary