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Colossians 2:1-7 - Homiletics

The apostle's concern for the Colossian Church.

Already the apostle has breathed out his "heart's desire and prayer to God" for these Colossians ( Colossians 1:9-12 ), "unknown by face" to him (verses 1, 5), and yet so dear because of their faith and love ( Colossians 1:4 , Colossians 1:8 ; Colossians 2:6 , Colossians 2:11-13 ; Colossians 3:1-3 , Colossians 3:9 , Colossians 3:10 , Colossians 3:15 ), and the loyalty they have hitherto maintained (verse 5), and the objects of so much anxiety on account of the insidious and deadly nature of the assault being made upon their faith, of whose real character they seem to have been little aware. We expect, therefore, in this passage a recurrence of the strain of thought pursued in the prayer of the first chapter. We find a like prominence given to knowledge, the chief desideratum of this Church, and to the need of a Christianly instructed understanding as a safeguard against the subtleties and plausibilities of error. At the same time, the view now presented of this object has gained greatly in fulness and depth by the development of the apostle's argument in the intervening paragraphs of his letter. The teaching of this section we may summarize in the words of 2 Peter 3:18 , as setting forth the nature and the elements of—

I. GROWTH IN THE GRACE AND KNOWLEDGE OF OUR LORD AND SAVIOUR JESUS CHRIST . ( 2 Peter 3:2 , 2 Peter 3:3 , 2 Peter 3:6 , 2 Peter 3:7 .)

1. St. Paul has spoken of the. Church as "the body of Christ" ( Colossians 1:18 , Colossians 1:24 ), and so he must needs desire that its members may be knit together in love (verse 19; Ephesians 4:16 ; 1 Corinthians 1:10 ), Without such union the Church is no longer a body, and its members, broken and scattered, become an easy prey to error. The salvation of individual souls is but half the work of Christ. "He loved the Church, and gave himself for her" ( Ephesians 5:25 ; Acts 20:28 ). He seeks to build the redeemed, regenerated units of mankind as "living stones" into "a holy temple" ( Ephesians 2:20-22 ; 1 Corinthians 3:16 , 1 Corinthians 3:17 ); to integrate them into the "one body" of which he is the Head and his Spirit is the Soul ( Ephesians 4:3-6 ): comp. sect. 2, II . 4 (homiletics). Of this union, love is the bond ( Colossians 3:14 ; Ephesians 4:2 ; John 13:34 , John 13:35 ). In all true and lasting union amongst men some sympathetic affection must exist, either as a basis for the fellowship or as generated by it. Mere identity of beliefs or of interests will never hold men for long together. The heart must love or hate, must be attracted or repelled, in some degree, by every personality around it. And the union of souls in Christ, being the most deep and spiritual of any, must be thoroughly pervaded and determined by love. Moreover, the growth of Christian knowledge and the perfecting of personal character depend much more largely than we are apt to suppose, in this age of exaggerated individualism and selfish culture seeking, on the soundness and completeness of cur Church life, of our Christian social life. To St. Paul's mind the "perfect man" and the perfect Church—the perfection of the part and of the whole—are reciprocally dependent, and all but identical ( Ephesians 4:11-16 ).

2. But love without knowledge, heat without light, will not suffice. As "faith, being alone, is dead" ( James 2:17 ), so love in like condition is blind and easily falls into error. "I pray that your love may abound yet more and more in knowledge and all discernment" ( Philippians 1:9 ). The apostle declared that "God willed to make known to his saints the riches of the glory of his mystery" ( Colossians 1:27 ); accordingly he desires for them "all riches of the full assurance of the understanding," "unto the knowledge of the mystery" ( 2 Peter 3:2 ).

3 . Love and knowledge must bear fruit in practical obedience. Christ Jesus was received by the Colossians as "the Lord" (verse 6; Colossians 3:21 ; Colossians 4:1 ). He is a Master to be obeyed ( Romans 14:9 ; John 13:13 ; John 14:15 ), as well as a Mystery to be known and a Saviour to be loved. In him we must walk. The whole conduct of life must be governed by his Spirit ( Romans 8:14 ; Galatians 5:25 ) and directed toward his ends ( Philippians 1:20 , Philippians 1:21 ; 2 Corinthians 5:15 ). He "in all things" claims to be "pre-eminent" ( Colossians 1:18 ; 1 Corinthians 15:25 ; 2 Corinthians 10:5 ). Every desire, affection, pursuit, of the Christian must "acknowledge him to be the Lord." By such true obedience the soul grows in strength and security, and is ever being more completely "builded up in him" (verse 7. comp. Colossians 1:10 ).

4 . And the root of this life of advancing knowledge and obedient love is faith. By this the soul is first "rooted in him" (verses 5, 12; Colossians 1:3 , Colossians 1:23 ; Philippians 3:9 ; Ephesians 2:8 ; Romans 5:1 , Romans 5:2 , etc.). From this root springs love ( Galatians 5:6 ), obedience ( Romans 6:1-23 .; Romans 8:3 , Romans 8:4 ), satisfying knowledge ( Ephesians 3:17-19 ), every good word and work ( 1 Thessalonians 1:3 ; 2 Thessalonians 1:11 ; 2 Thessalonians 2:16 , 2 Thessalonians 2:17 ). If this fails, everything fails ( Galatians 3:1-5 ). Whatever strengthens, comforts, and upbuilds the Christian, does so by ministering to his faith. A growing knowledge, a quickened love, a more steadfast obedience, enable his faith to strike deeper root—stablish him in his faith (verse 7). In this world he never ceases to "walk by faith" ( 2 Corinthians 4:18 ; 2 Corinthians 5:7 ); and his abounding in it is the greatest gain which the furthest advancement in the life of God can bring him. Yet faith, again, has its outward instrument and condition. It "comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God" ( Romans 10:17 ). The Colossians are to be "stablished in their faith," "even as they were taught" (verse 7: comp. Colossians 1:5 , Colossians 1:7 ). To that instruction they owe all they possess in Christ, even their own selves ( Philippians 1:19 ) .

5 . And he who abounds in faith will abound in thanksgiving also. The more strongly the Christian believes in the Son of God and enters into the mysteries of his kingdom, the more joyfully and constantly will he offer his tribute of praise. This, too, is a fruit of faith—" the fruit of the lips" ( Hebrews 13:15 ; Hosea 14:2 ), the only fruit of all his mercies which we can directly render to the great Giver. Of such thanksgiving, called forth by the contemplation of the "mystery of God" in Christ, St. Paul's own act of praise in Ephesians 1:3-14 is a noble example (comp. Romans 11:33-36 ; Romans 16:25-27 ; 1 Timothy 1:12-17 ; 1 Peter 1:3-5 ; Revelation 1:5-7 ; Matthew 11:25-28 . See sect. 1, III . 2, homiletics).

II. A DANGER AND A SAFEGUARD . ( Ephesians 1:4 , Ephesians 1:5 .)

1 . There was one thing that specially endangered Christian life and the well being of the Church at Colossal. It was the charts of perverted eloquence ( Ephesians 1:4 ). A clever tongue and a popular style are gifts by no means incompatible with the faithful and spiritual preaching of Christ; but they have their peculiar dangers for their possessor, and for the Church in which they are exercised. St. Paul appears to have admired gifts of this kind in Apollos, but he felt that a plainer and severer method became himself, in which the sheer might and majesty of the truth should stand forth without adornment of rhetoric or drapery of graceful diction that might distract attention from the all important theme of his address ( 1 Corinthians 2:1-5 ). The possession of such powers made the men whom he is denouncing at Colossae so formidable. Perhaps their very gifts had proved a snare to them; and there are indications in St. Paul's description of them ( Ephesians 1:8 , Ephesians 1:16 , Ephesians 1:18 , Ephesians 1:23 : comp. Acts 20:29 , Acts 20:30 ) of the arrogance and self-seeking spirit, and the intellectual dishonesty, into which men of popular powers are liable to fall

2 . On the other hand, there was one specially hopeful feature in the state of this Church—the good order which it had maintained ( Ephesians 1:5 ); contrast with 1 Corinthians 1:11 , 1 Corinthians 1:12 ; 1 Corinthians 11:2-18 ; 1 Corinthians 14:40 . So far, these "deceitful workers" had not succeeded in disturbing the Church's unity or stirring up insubordination against its officers. In every organized body it is a first condition of strength and safety that its members should "obey them that have the rule" ( Hebrews 13:17 ), should "all of them be subject one to another" ( Ephesians 5:21 ; 1 Peter 5:5 ), each in his place and rank keeping step and time with the movement of the whole.

Colossians 2:8-15 .—Sect. 5

The Christian's completeness in Christ.

I. A FALSE PHILOSOPHY OF RELIGION . ( Colossians 2:4 , Colossians 2:8 , Colossians 2:11 , Colossians 2:16-23 .) "Not according to Christ ( Colossians 2:8 ) is the fatal sentence which the apostle pronounces upon the system of doctrine that was finding entrance at Colossal. However plausible in argument ( Colossians 2:4 ) or lofty in its intellectual pretensions ( Colossians 2:8 , Colossians 2:23 ), however skilfully it may avail itself of the venerable rites of ancient faith or of the popular predilections and tendencies of the day ( Colossians 2:11 , Colossians 2:16 , Colossians 2:18 ), and whatever the apparent sanctity and austerity of its professors ( Colossians 2:18 , Colossians 2:20-23 ), the religious system which sets him aside and professes to lead men into communion with God and to the moral perfection of their nature otherwise than "in him," must after all be, at the heart of it, "a vain deceit." For he is "the Way, the Truth, and the Life," the Lord and Life of nature and the Light of men ( Colossians 1:15-17 ; John 1:3 , John 1:4 ), the "Beginning" of the "new heavens and the new earth wherein dwelleth righteousness;" he is simply "all things and in all" to the Church of God. All true philosophy, though standing on natural grounds and drawing its premisses from natural experience and intuition, yet, rightly understood, must needs harmonize with the Christian faith, and will be "according to Christ." For no two truths, however differently grounded or expressed, can really be contradictory. And the facts on which philosophy rests, the menial and material constitution of things concerning which it theorizes, "were created" and "consist in him" ( Colossians 1:16 , Colossians 1:17 ). "In Christ" must lie, therefore, the ultimate rationale of the finite universe. The Colossian error presented itself as philosophy, advanced on rational grounds, and claiming the attention of men of thought and culture within the Church. It inculcated the religious traditions of the Jew under the forms and methods of the Greek intellect, seeking to reanimate both by the aid of the new spiritual fervour and lofty moral aspirations of the Christian faith. There was nothing in itself blameworthy in such an attempt. Endeavours must be continually made, though they can never be final, to harmonize the current philosophy of the age with the Divine revelation as received in the Church. St. Paul himself makes large contributions in this direction. But those who take this work in hand should understand both sides of the question. This the Colossian errorists failed to do. They tried to fit Christ into some place in their preconceived philosophy, instead of allowing themselves to be led, as St. Paul would have taught them ( Colossians 1:15-20 ), through Christ to a deeper and more sound philosophy. Hence their teaching, put forward as Christian truth and claiming to be the Christian theory of life, is condemned as "philosophy and empty deceit."

1 . It was according to the tradition of men. It could claim only human authority for its principles. They were not found in Christ's doctrine, and had received no authentication from his lips ( Galatians 1:11 , Galatians 1:12 ), no Divine attestation or proof of their being "from heaven" ( Matthew 21:25 , Matthew 21:26 ; Hebrews 1:4 ). And any scheme of religion, whether calling itself "philosophy" or not, that is in this position, stands self condemned. "The world by wisdom knew not God" ( 1 Corinthians 1:21 ). What he is, how he is disposed towards the children of men, it is for him to say. They know full well that they have lost his favour and defaced his image in their souls; but how their recovery is possible is to them "past finding out." And therefore, to fix and measure the nature of God and the relations he may assume to us, "according to the tradition of men," is the height of ignorance and presumption. But Christ is "the faithful Witness," "the Word who was in the beginning with God" Revelation 1:5 ; John 1:2 ); and an authentic voice from heaven declares, "This is my Son, my chosen: hear ye him" ( Luke 9:35 ; John 1:18 ).

2 . And such systems, leaving the clear and firm ground of obedience to the supremacy of Christ, are compelled to fall hack, in some form or other, on the rudiments of the world. Their advocates discover that the influence of human names and the force of general reasoning do not command the deference of the conscience or stir the spiritual emotions, are indeed without that "power of God" ( 1 Corinthians 1:24 , 1 Corinthians 1:25 ; 1 Thessalonians 1:5 ) which attends the word of Christ. They return, therefore, to the dead forms of old religions, putting, as they suppose, a new meaning into them. They are at once "advanced," and reactionary. They dress up the newest rationalism in the cast-off garments of faith's childhood. They combine a puerile ritualism, borrowing its forms and practices from the mere rudiments of an age of sensuous "feeling after God," with the most bare and abstract, the most arid and joyless, conceptions of his nature, or of a nature that is their substitute for him. The combination of "philosophy" and "circumcision" ( John 1:8 , John 1:11 ), of eloquent and subtle reasonings with minute and arbitrary rules as to "eating and drinking," and the physical culture of the soul ( John 1:4 , John 1:16 , John 1:20-23 ), is after all not unnatural; and is apt to repeat itself, to a greater or less extent, in every attempt at religion that is not essentially spiritual, and that departs from the "one foundation, which is Jesus Christ" ( 1 Corinthians 3:11 ).

3 . We must also mark the arrogant and overbearing temper of the new teachers at Colossae, their exclusiveness and their endeavour to form a personal party within the Church. They are men speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after them" ( Acts 20:30 ). They would make simple Christians their booty ( John 1:8 ). They set up to judge their brethren in matters of diet and outward observance ( John 1:16 ). They assume, in this character of judges in the Church, to deny to Christian men, walking in faith and love ( Colossians 1:4 ) and having Christ's peace within their hearts ( Colossians 3:15 ), "the prize of their calling" ( John 1:18 ), because they will not accept their notions and practices. They issue their decrees, "Touch not, taste not," etc., as if they were the very law of God ( John 1:22 , John 1:14 ). They are "humble" before the powers of the invisible world, and zealous to offer them a worship which they repudiate and abhor ( John 1:15 ; Revelation 19:10 ; Revelation 22:9 ); but rob Christ of his honour ( John 1:18 , John 1:19 , John 1:23 ), and are proud and self willed towards their brethren "whom they have seen." They heap upon the body invented and misdirected severities ( John 1:23 ), while they are governed by "the mind of the flesh" ( John 1:18 ). They aggrandize themselves, while they destroy the Church of God ( John 1:19 ).

II. THE COMPLETE CHRIST OUR COMPLETENESS . ( John 1:9-13 .) For the Christian everything depends on what he thinks of Christ and makes him to be. Christ's glory is his security. His greatness and the greatness of our interest in him are commensurate. For "he gave himself for us" ( Galatians 2:20 ). Our salvation is not merely a work of Christ, a something wrought out for us, and (externally) conferred upon us; it is "Christ in us" ( Colossians 1:2 ; Ephesians 3:17 ; Galatians 1:16 ; John 14:20 ; John 17:26 ). And St. Paul virtually says, "In robbing Christ of his glory, your new teachers are robbing you of your salvation. By so much as his position is lowered, his fulness diminished, by so much is your spiritual life imperilled and impaired. Whatever is taken away from the completeness of his Person and the sufficiency of his mediation, is taken away at the same time from your assurance of pardon ( John 1:13 ; Colossians 1:14 ) and your motives for holiness ( Colossians 3:1 , Colossians 3:2 ), from the ground of your faith ( John 1:6 , John 1:7 ), and the certainty of your heavenly prize ( John 1:18 ; Colossians 1:23 ; Colossians 3:15 ). Whatever touches his person touches the centre and vital spring of your life in God, the anchor of your immortal hopes, and the foundation on which rests the whole fabric of the Church" ( John 1:19 ; Ephesians 2:20-22 ; Matthew 16:15-18 ). 1.

2 . But Christ's fulness does not simply "dwell in him," terminating in himself; it is an active, out flowing fulness, that seeks to make us in turn complete in him ( John 1:10 ; Ephesians 1:23 ; Ephesians 3:19 ; Ephesians 4:8-13 ; John 1:14 , John 1:16 ; John 17:22 , John 17:23 , John 17:26 ). The Judaizers of Colossae, as we understand their position, were urging on their Gentile disciples that they should complete their imperfect Christian state by circumcision and the adoption of various ritual observances (including worship of the angels along with Christ) and bodily austerities ( John 1:16-23 ). These requirements they enforced by philosophical reasoning, under considerations of the symbolic meaning of ancient rites and the beneficial effect upon the soul of the regimen prescribed as cleansing and elevating to its proper level man's spiritual nature. St. Paul acknowledges by implication that, to a certain extent (but see John 1:23 b), the aim of this teaching is right; but the means it inculcates he utterly disallows, being "not according to Christ." The whole tendency of the system was to draw away attention and trust from Christ. Other objections, such as might easily present themselves, he does not care to argue.

III. THE BAR REMOVED : THE VEIL LIFTED . ( Romans 6:14 , Romans 6:15 .) What the individual Christian now realizes for himself in Christ—his new life in God and the cleansing and sanctifying of his nature—is but the personal appropriation of that which was revealed to the whole world and addresses itself to the wants of human nature everywhere. It meets the conditions brought about by God's previous dealings with mankind ( Colossians 1:23 , Colossians 1:26-28 ; Romans 1:2-5 ; Romans 16:25-27 ; Acts 14:15-17 ; Acts 17:26-31 ; Hebrews 1:1 , Hebrews 1:2 ). In two respects the apostle signalizes the earlier relations of men to God as imperfect: two hindrances there were to that "access to the Father" now secured ( Ephesians 2:18 ; Romans 5:2 ; Hebrews 7:19 ; Hebrews 10:19-22 )—hindrances congruous in nature and effect., felt in the quick and instructed religious consciousness of Judaism more keenly than elsewhere—that are "taken out of the way" in Christ. There was the law with its condemning voice for the conscience, and the angelic mediation with its terrors and its mysteries for the heart and understanding. The first guilty pair "hid themselves from the presence of the Lord among the trees of the garden" ( Genesis 3:8 ); and a sinful, weak-hearted people, chosen to be brought near unto him, said, "Let not God speak with us lest we die" ( Exodus 20:19 ). And God in mercy and in justice heard their prayer. He veiled himself behind his laws and his providence, behind the forms of nature, and the oracles of prophecy, and the progress of history, and the flashing forth of his glory in the angels of his presence, until Law, the παιδαγωγός ," ordained through angels," should have done its work, "and the fulness of the times should be come" ( Galatians 3:19-24 ; Romans 5:20 ).

1. Till then it was increasingly felt that the law with its decrees was against us . It "wrought wrath" ( Romans 4:15 ). It brought us "under a curse" ( Galatians 3:10 ). It stirred up and brought to its crisis in an agony of self despair the conflict between the better nature and the worse in man ( Romans 7:7-25 ). It invoked death with its anticipatory terrors as the seal to its authority and the witness to our guilt ( Romans 5:12-14 , Romans 5:21 ; Romans 7:24 ; 1 Corinthians 15:56 ). The list of its commandments is but a catalogue of our offences, a tale of debts, not one of which we are prepared to meet, and yet which must be discharged "to the uttermost farthing." In Christ's cross, God has, at a stroke, wiped out the whole bill of our offences. He has removed it from between us and himself; and nailed it, with Christ's body, to the cross, where he bids us read, "There is now no condemnation to them who are in Christ Jesus" ( Romans 8:1 ; Romans 3:26 ). This the apostle had taught already, and it is the glory of his earlier Epistles, addressed to Churches infested with Pharisaic Judaism and its teaching of salvation by works of law, to have established this truth in the understanding and the faith of the Church for all time.

2 . But the philosophic Judaism with which he has now to deal requires him to insist more strongly on the immediate revelation of God himself to the world that is made in Christ. Now that One has been "manifested at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself" ( Hebrews 9:26 ; Isaiah 59:2 ), it is possible to behold God by a nearer vision. With the revelation of his pardoning mercy and sin-avenging justice in Christ, "the Son of his love" ( Ephesians 2:4 ; Romans 3:26 ), he makes known his inmost name and nature. To Israel, in comparison with other nations, "God was nigh" ( Deuteronomy 4:7 ; Le 20:26); and yet even Israel complains, "Verily thou art a God that hidest thyself" ( Isaiah 45:15 ). He "came with ten thousand of his holy ones, and from his right hand went a fiery law for them" ( Deuteronomy 33:2 ); and "the earth shook, the heavens also dropped at the presence of God" ( Psalms 68:8 ). "He made the clouds his chariot; "his" way was in the sea, and his path in the great waters, and his footsteps were not known" ( Psalms 77:19 , Psalms 77:20 ). The mystic veil that screened his presence was as splendid as the law by which he ruled the consciences of men was stern and terrible. But in Christ, he "laid his glory by." God appeared in the Babe of Bethlehem, in the Man of sorrows, in Christ crucified, as the Father of the children of men. He bids all his angels worship and wait upon the lowly form of the Son of man, and the elements of nature (more closely linked with the angelic powers, perhaps, than we can imagine) are made to do his bidding, "that all may honour the Son, even as they honour the Father" ( John 5:23 ). "They shall call his name Immanuel, God with us" ( Matthew 1:23 ). None had "seen God at any time;" the angels that had been his ministers, the glories of the created world in which he robed himself ( Psalms 102:26 ; Psalms 104:2 ), these could not utter his Name: "the only-begotten Son which is in the bosom of the Father, the Word made flesh, he declared him" ( John 1:14 , John 1:18 ). "The veil is done away in Christ." But "the same veil," which in St. Paul's day hung between the Jewish mind and the true knowledge of God, "remaineth unlifted" for those who will not behold "the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ" ( 2 Corinthians 3:14 ; 2 Corinthians 4:3-6 ). God at once "reconciled the world unto himself" and unveiled himself to the world in him. This is the sum of these two verses.

Colossians 2:16-23 .—Sect. 6

The claims of the false teacher.

The Colossian error is the earliest Christian heresy, understanding the word in its stricter sense as denoting a movement in the direction el' error, originating within the Church itself. It first answers to the terms of St. Paul's prediction in Acts 20:29-31 . The powerful Judaizing reaction with which St. Paul and the Gentile Church had previously to struggle, and which drew from him the Galatian and Roman Epistles, was negative and retrograde in its character, originating from without rather than from within the Church, and stimulated by the increasing violence and desperation of Jewish national feeling. But here we discern the rise of a heterodox school of thought within Christianity itself. At this point, first of all, were those elements of error introduced, those seeds of division sown, which ripened into the wild and disastrous Gnostic apostasy of the second century; and that may be said to have persisted to the present day. For our inveterate and multiplied ecclesiastical divisions and our deeply rooted doctrinal differences, with the animosities and prejudices that attend them, show too plainly that the rents which then began to open in the Church's unity are far from being closed. Accordingly, the Colossian error presents heresy in its germinal form. It contains and combines in itself the root principles and incipient forms of those errors which have most widely prevailed in after ages. It unites evil tendencies which afterwards parted asunder and became opposed to each other, which seem indeed to be radically inconsistent. But this was an age of eclecticism and amalgamation. Moreover, there is a latent contradiction inherent in falsehood and error. It must needs be inconsistent and witnesses against itself. Its principles, when carried forward and pushed to their issues in logic and practice, become mutually destructive; and the system built upon them and the party which has espoused them of themselves break up into contending fragments. Hence the shifting phases and combinations of religious error—Protean, many headed—under which the same elements constantly reappear, identical in essence, incessantly varying in form. "The truth as it is in Jesus" is alone self consistent, harmonious, and enduring. But who will assure himself that he has in all things, so far as he might, truly ascertained and followed it?

THE FIRST HERESY . We have distinguished in the Colossian heresy four elements of error, which may be roughly designated under the names of rationalism, ceremonialism, mysticism, and asceticism. They are the heresies, respectively, of the intellect, of the religious instinct, of the spiritual consciousness, and of the moral will,—aberrations, each of them, of functions belonging to the highest and divinest part of man's nature.

1 . The false teachers are evidently rationalists. It is this characteristic which the apostle first expressly specifies ( Acts 20:8 , Acts 20:23 ), and to which the whole tenor of the Epistle bears witness (see, especially, Colossians 1:9 , Colossians 1:28 ; Colossians 2:2-4 ; Colossians 3:10 , Colossians 3:16 ; and compare the introductory remarks in our homiletics, sect. 2, I. and sect. 5, I.). They construed Christianity in terms of their preconceived philosophic theory. They were philosophers first, and Christians afterwards, or only Christians so far as their philosophy permitted. Christ was not the centre of their thoughts, the Master of their intellect and heart ( Colossians 2:19 ; Colossians 3:11 ); but they made an idol of their intellectual system, and he must perforce be made to pay homage to it and fit himself into some limited and vacant space where it might he able to make room for him! Not in Christ, it appears, but in themselves and in "the tradition of men," were "the treasures of wisdom and knowledge," out of which the Christian teaching, in its uncultured crudeness and poverty of thought, must have its errors corrected and its deficiencies supplied! But the philosophy of these Colossian illuminati was clearly wrong in its views both of the world and of human nature; and no one would be found now to advocate it. Their attempts to recast and rationalize Christianity proved an utter failure, and bore fruit in the next age only in immorality and schism. Their wisdom was but a "wisdom of words" ( Acts 20:2 , Acts 20:3 ); they were "ever learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth" ( 2 Timothy 3:7 ). Every system of philosophy, every scheme of human life, which attempts to patronize and to pervert to its own purposes the Christian teaching, has, we may be sure, a like doom awaiting it. St. Paul does not seek to check the rationalistic movement at Colossae by mere repression, by discouraging intellectual inquiry. On the contrary, he impresses on his readers again and again the necessity of a better understanding, a deeper knowledge of "the mystery of God" ( Colossians 1:6 , Colossians 1:9 , Colossians 1:10 , Colossians 1:15-23 ; Colossians 2:1-4 ; Colossians 3:10 , Colossians 3:16 ). It was their slight and imperfect Christian education which laid them open to the attacks of sophistry and a shallow philosophy. The letter is one that appeals to and stimulates Christian thought in an extraordinary degree, and is itself a theological discipline. The spurious and plausible guests, "the knowledge falsely so called" ( 1 Timothy 6:20 ), which was fascinating the Colossians, could be cast out only by the epignosis, the advanced and perfect knowledge (compare homiletics, sects. 1, III . and 4, I., II .). What Lord Bacon said of atheism may apply with equal truth to heresy: "A little philosophy inclineth men's mind to atheism; but depth in philosophy bringeth men's minds about to religion."

2 . With their philosophical, a priori interpretation of Christianity, the false teachers of Colossae combined a love of ceremonialism and a devotion to the externals of worship. Here we note the Jewish element in their training, while their Greek sympathies and habits of thought betray themselves in their fundamental philosophic bias. The motive of their religiousness was, however, radically different from that of the traditional Jewish legalism, and St. Paul deals with it in quite another method from that which he follows in Galatians. The "philosophers" of Colossae valued Jewish ritual for its expressiveness and symbolic truth, and practised it as a means of spiritual self culture rather than in mere obedience to law. Hence they insisted much on the sacred seasons and feasts, on the distinctions of meats (verses 16, 17), on circumcision (verse 11), and studied greatly the art of worship (verses 18, 23); while, like the Essenes, they attached little importance to the sacrificial system of Judaism. So, at least, we should infer from the apostle's silence on these latter topics, as contrasted with the leading part they play in the Epistle to the Hebrews. Their system was Jewish in its materials, but wholly different from the Jewish in spirit and tendency. But their piety was wanting in spiritual depth and reality, or they could scarcely have failed to recognize in Christ "the Image of God" ( Colossians 1:15 ), and the "new and living way" to the Father. God was to them so far off that they would not seek to approach him directly in the Person of his Son, but supposed a whole hierarchy of mediators necessary, to make worship possible. He was, in their view, a great abstract Infinitude, no "living Father," no listening, answering Presence. Their religion was an elaborate artifice, beneficial chiefly in its reaction on themselves; and their God was shrouded, like an Oriental monarch, behind a multitude of vague and fugitive mediators, whom practically they worshipped instead of him. A like result ensues wherever the idea of a personal God is obscured and weakened in the minds of men, whether by philosophical reflection making him a formula, or by superstitious ignorance treating him as a fetish. For true worship is the converse—"in spirit and in truth" ( John 4:23 , John 4:24 ), of the human children with their living Father in heaven. And this cannot well be maintained where an ornate ceremonialism overpowers the senses and fills the imagination with its external pomp; or where the living God "in whom we live," and Christ the "one Mediator" ( 1 Timothy 2:5 ), are so distant from the realizations of faith, that angels, or departed saints, or the blessed virgin mother, or earthly priests and confessors, are thrust in to fill the void, and are made in reality to intercept the soul's reverence and devotion. There may be a sincere "zeal for worship" in the anxious study of ecclesiastical dress and decoration, and under the sensuous impressiveness of a splendid and elaborate ritualism. But this is not what "the Father seeketh" ( John 4:23 , John 4:24 ), and such aids to devotion often hinder his children from seeking him. Our worship must, indeed, have its forms; and order and propriety ( 1 Corinthians 14:40 ) must he studied in their regulation, and in all the appointments of the house of God. And men of varying temperament and mental habit are aided by a greater or less degree, and by different kinds, of outward expression in their worship. But when the form is cultivated for its own sake, and the sensuous and the artistic predominate over and displace the spiritual, the end of worship itself is frustrated, and the service that professes to be rendered to the Most High becomes a mockery to him, and a blind to his worshippers that effectually hides him from them. Yet this tendency has often a strong attraction for devout and humble spirits, "delighting in humility" (verses 18, 23); who love to worship, and readily bow before any superior influence, but are not so anxious to "worship what they know" ( John 4:22 ). A multiplying of the objects of worship (verse 18) very commonly attends the excessive elaboration of its forms; for both are due to the same cause, and are the manifestations of a religion weak in spiritual faith in God. The dissatisfaction and emptiness of soul which ensue on seeking God thus, lead to our making still more cumbrous and exacting the forms of devotion, and to our resorting to new mediators and new methods of approach to him, till Christian worship sinks into a round of ritual performance and semi-idolatry, and becomes an imposture in itself and an aversion to thoughtful, truth-seeking men.

3 . There was, in the third place, a strong vein of false mysticism in the Colossian heresy. This element, in the nature of the case, is more difficult to distinguish and to delineate than those already set forth. The mysticism of Greece was chiefly derived and fed front Oriental sources. Pythagoras, in the latter half of the sixth century B.C., founded a school of mystical and ascetic philosophy, whose principles were largely adopted in the comprehensive system of Plato. The Pythagorean and Platonic mysticism was at this time greatly in vogue, especially in Asia Minor and in Egypt, where it found a congenial soil. The Alexandrine school of Philo imported its principles into Judaism. The Neo-Platonism, in which, in the fourth and fifth centuries A.D., pagan philosophy made a last splendid struggle for existence, and which has left deep marks of its influence on the development of Christian thought, was a revival of Greek mysticism in a more intense and religious form. The Montanism of the second century, a product of the same Phrygian soil on which the Colossian heresy sprang up, attested the persistence of the mystic tendency within the Church. Its later manifestations, as allied now with pantheistic rationalism, now with devout ceremonialism, now with rigid asceticism, we cannot endeavour here to follow. There has always been in the Church a mystical school, side by side with the rationalistic, and the ritualistic or sacerdotal. And, within certain limits, the mystic principle has its rights, and must be recognized as essential to spiritual religion. To mysticism, the spiritual consciousness of the individual is the source and the test of truth. God is to be reached by intuition. Meditative contemplation, aided by suitable initiatory and disciplinary symbolic rites, is the way of salvation, whoso goal is absorption in the Divine nature. Such was the teaching of ancient mystics generally; and the esoteric doctrines introduced at Colossae were, doubtless, of the same stamp. That God, indeed, reveals himself by his Spirit to the individual consciousness, is the teaching of St. Paul, and, as we believe, of the whole Bible ( Romans 8:16 ; Galatians 1:16 ; Psalms 139:1-24 ., etc.). But when the inner consciousness, the spiritual reason, is regarded as in itself the primary source of revelation, then error begins and hallucination supervenes. The mind turns itself in upon its own self-generated phantasies, instead of fixing its gaze on the historical revelation of God and seeking to comprehend and mirror its glory ( 2 Corinthians 3:18 ; 2 Corinthians 4:6 ; Romans 1:20 ; Psalms 19:1-14 ., etc.). The Colossian errorist, walking in the light of his self confident, self contemplating reason, saw visions of angels as he imagined, and heard messages and teachings that were but the echo of his own speculations. With these deceived and deceiving subjective imaginings the apostle confronts the actual historic Person and work of Christ, as the supreme Object of contemplation and of trust ( Colossians 1:13-15 , Colossians 1:21 , Colossians 1:22 , Colossians 1:27-29 ; Colossians 2:6 , Colossians 2:7 ; Colossians 3:11 , Colossians 3:15-17 ). Only through "belief of the truth" come the testifying and sanctifying visitations of "the Spirit of the truth" ( 2 Thessalonians 2:9-14 ; Ephesians 1:13 ; 14; Acts 2:33 ; Acts 19:1-7 ). The objective revelation of God to the soul and the subjective attestation and experience of its power are reciprocally linked together, and advance pari passu. Compare the teaching of Christ in promising the Holy Spirit to his disciples ( John 14:15-24 ). The doctrine of the Holy Spirit was indirectly but vitally affected by the Colossian error; and this topic, though not brought forward in this Epistle, is prominent in the Ephesian letter, which is in many respects a complement to this and, in our belief, is "the letter" to be sent "from Laodicea" for the perusal of the Colossian Church ( Colossians 4:16 ). "Christ the Mystery of God," "Christ in you the hope of glory,"—this is the apostle's mysticism, the true mystery that is to expel the false, unhallowed mysteries, that seek by self-directed intuitions and self-invented lustrations and incantations to penetrate the secrets of the spiritual world and to enter into union with the Infinite.

4 . In the sphere of morals and practical life, the Colossian, errorists inculcated a strict asceticism. This part of their system is consistent with each of the other three, though it proceeded rather from its philosophical and mystical than from its Judaistic and ceremonial constituent factor. In the early Christian ages, asceticism was frequently associated with theoretic rationalism; in later times, it has been more frequently the ally of a sacerdotal type of Christianity. Asceticism was a thing foreign to Judaism. It was a religion too healthy and practical for that. Psalm cxxviii, expresses what has always been the true religious feeling of Israel in regard to the blessings of this life. The Pharisaic yoke was indeed "grievous to be borne, and pressed on the externals of life with the weight of a slavery; but, after all, it concerned matters which habit makes comparatively easy, and its spirit was that of a formal legalism, aiming at precision in the performance of all external acts, and by no means valuing hard treatment of the body in itself. But the latter was the distinguishing feature of the new Colossian ethics, as of the ethics of Eastern mysticism and of Christian monachism, and, in some sort, of Puritanism too.

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