Commentary on the Bible, by Adam Clarke, , at sacred-texts.com
The salutation of Paul and Timothy to the Church at Colosse, Col 1:1, Col 1:2. They give thanks to God for the good estate of that Church, and the wonderful progress of the Gospel in every place, Col 1:3-6; having received particulars of their state from Epaphroditus, which not only excited their gratitude, but led them to pray to God that they might walk worthy of the Gospel; and they give thanks to Him who had made them meet for an inheritance among the saints in light, Col 1:7-12. This state is described as a deliverance from the power of darkness, and being brought into the kingdom of God's dear Son, Col 1:13, Col 1:14. The glorious character of Jesus Christ, and what He has done for mankind, Col 1:15-20. The salvation which the Colossians had received, and of which the apostle had been the minister and dispenser, Col 1:21-26. The sum and substance of the apostle's preaching, and the manner in which he executed his ministry, Col 1:27-29.
Paul, an apostle - by the will of God - As the word αποστολος, apostle, signifies one sent, an envoy or messenger, any person or persons may be the senders: but the word is particularly restrained to the messengers of the everlasting Gospel, sent immediately from God himself; and this is what St. Paul particularly remarks here when he calls himself an apostle by the will of God; signifying that he had derived his commission from an express volition or purpose of the Almighty.
And Timotheus - Though Timothy is here joined in the salutation, yet he has never been understood as having any part in composing this epistle. He has been considered as the amanuensis or scribe of the apostle.
To the saints - Those who professed Christianity. See the note on Eph 1:1.
Which are at Colosse - Instead of εν Κολοσσαις, at Colosse, or among the Colossians, ABC, and many other excellent MSS., with both the Syriac, Coptic, Slavonic, Origen, Gregory Nyssen, Amphilochus, Theodoret, Damascenus, Theophylact, and others, read εν Κολασσαις in Colassa, or among the Colassians; and this is most probably the true reading. That this city perished by an earthquake, a short time after the date of this epistle, we have the testimony of Eusebius. That which at present is supposed to occupy the site of this ancient city is called Konos. For other particulars see the preface to this epistle.
Grace be unto you - See on Rom 1:7 (note).
And the Lord Jesus Christ - This clause is omitted by many MSS., several versions, and some of the fathers. Griesbach has left it out of the text, not, in my opinion, on sufficient evidence.
We give thanks to God - Who is the author of all good; and from whom the grace, which has produced your conversion, has sprung by his mission of Christ Jesus. See the note on Eph 1:15, Eph 1:16 (note).
Since we heard of your faith - This is very similar to Eph 1:15. And it is certain that the apostle seems to have considered the Church at Ephesus, and that at Colassa to have been nearly in the same state, as the two epistles are very similar in their doctrine and phraseology.
Which is come unto you - The doctrine of the Gospel is represented as a traveler, whose object it is to visit the whole habitable earth; and, having commenced his journey in Judea, had proceeded through Syria and through different parts of Asia Minor, and had lately arrived at their city, every where proclaiming glad tidings of great joy to all people.
As it is in all the world - So rapid is this traveler in his course, that he had already gone nearly through the whole of the countries under the Roman dominion; and will travel on till he has proclaimed his message to every people, and kindred, and nation, and tongue.
In the beginning of the apostolic age, the word of the Lord had certainly free course, did run and was glorified. Since that time the population of the earth has increased greatly; and, to follow the metaphor, the traveler still continues in his great journey. It is, the glory of the present day that, by means of the British and Foreign Bible Society, Bibles are multiplied in all the languages of Europe; and by means of the Christian missionaries, Carey, Marshman, and Ward, whose zeal, constancy, and ability, have been rarely equalled, and perhaps never surpassed, the sacred writings have been, in the compass of a few years, translated into most of the written languages of India, in which they were not previously extant. In this labor they have been ably seconded by the Rev. Henry Martyn, one of the East India Company's chaplains, who was taken to his great reward just when he had completed a pure and accurate version of the New Testament into Persian. The Rev. R. Morrison, at Canton, has had the honor to present the whole of the New Testament, in Chinese, to the immense population of that greatest empire of the earth. May that dark people receive it, and walk in the light of the Lord! And, by means of the Wesleyan missionaries, the sacred writings have been printed and widely circulated in the Singhalese and Indo- Portuguese, through the whole of the island of Ceylon, and the pure word of the Gospel has been preached there, and also on the whole continent of India, to the conversion of multitudes. Let every reader pray that all these noble attempts may be crowned with unlimited success, till the earth is filled both with the knowledge and glory of the Lord. Talia secla currite! Amen.
And bringeth forth fruit - Wherever the pure Gospel of Christ is preached, it is the seed of the kingdom, and must be fruitful in all those who receive it by faith, in simplicity of heart.
After καρποφορουμενον, bringeth forth fruit, ABCD*EFG, many others, both the Syriac, Erpen's Arabic, the Coptic, Sahidic, Ethiopic, Armenian, Slavonic, Vulgate, and Itala, together with many of the fathers, add και αυξανομενον, and increaseth. It had not only brought forth fruit, but was multiplying its own kind; every fruit containing seed, and every seed producing thirty, sixty, or a hundredfold. This reading is very important, and is undoubtedly genuine.
The grace of God in truth - Ye were fruitful, and went on increasing in the salvation of God, from the time that ye heard and acknowledged this doctrine to be of God, to spring from the grace or benevolence of God; and received it in truth, sincerely and uprightly, as his greatest gift to man.
As ye also learned of Epaphras - who is for you - Who this Epaphras was we cannot tell; only it is likely that he was a Colossian, and became, by the call and grace of Christ, a deacon of this Church, faithfully labouring with the apostle, to promote its best interests. Some think that he is the same with Epaphroditus, Epaphras being a contraction of that name, as Demas is of Demetrius; and it is remarkable that one of the Slavonic versions has Epaphroditus in this place. That he was a Colossian is evident from Col 4:12 : Epaphras, who is one of you, ὁ εξ ὑμων· some think that he was the first who preached the Gospel among this people, and hence called an apostle. He was raised up among themselves to be their minister in the absence of the apostle, and he showed himself to be worthy of this calling by a faithful discharge of his ministry, and by labouring fervently for them all, and pressing them forward, that they might stand perfect and complete in all the will of God.
Your love in the Spirit - So we preached, and so ye believed. The heavenly flame in the heart of this minister communicated itself to those who heard him; it was like priest like people. They enjoyed a spiritual, energetic ministry, and they were a spiritual people; they had a loving spirit, and love through the Spirit of God which dwelt in them. And of this love of theirs in the Spirit, and particularly towards the apostle, Epaphras gave full proof, not only by describing to the apostle the affection they felt for him, but in presenting to him those supplies which their love to him caused them to furnish.
For this cause - See on Eph 1:15-16 (note), where the same sentiment occurs.
That ye might be filled - Nothing could satisfy the apostle, either for himself or his hearers, but the fullness of the blessing of the Gospel of peace. The Colossians had knowledge, but they must have more; it is their privilege to be filled with it. As the bright shining of the sun in the firmament of heaven fills the whole world with light and heat, so the light of the Sun of righteousness is to illuminate their whole souls, and fill them with Divine splendor, so that they might know the will of God, in all wisdom and spiritual understanding; in a word, that they might have such a knowledge of Divine things as the Spirit of truth can teach to the soul of man.
That ye might walk worthy of the Lord - Suitably to your Christian profession, exemplifying its holy doctrines by a holy and useful life. See the notes on Eph 4:1; and on Phi 1:27 (note).
Unto all pleasing - Doing every thing in the best manner, in the most proper time, and in a becoming spirit. Even a good work may be marred and rendered fruitless by being done improperly, out of season, or in a temper of mind that grieves the Holy Spirit.
Being fruitful in every good work - See on Col 1:6 (note). St. Paul exhorts the Christians at Colosse,
1. To walk - to be active in their Christian calling.
2. To walk worthily - suitably to the dignity of that calling, and to the purity of that God who had called them into this state of salvation.
3. To do every thing unto all pleasing; that God might be pleased with the manner, the time, the motive, disposition, design, and object of every act.
4. That they should be fruitful; mere harmlessness would not be sufficient; as God had sown good seed, he expected good fruit.
5. That every work should be good; they must not be fruitful in some works and fruitless in others.
6. That they should increase in religious knowledge as time rolled on, knowing, by genuine Christian experience, more of God, of his love, and of his peace, day by day.
Strengthened with all might - That they might be able to walk worthy of the Lord, bring forth fruit, etc. See the notes on Eph 3:13, etc.
According to his glorious power - According to that sufficiency of strength which may be expected from him who has all power both in the heavens and in the earth.
Unto all patience - Relieving, hoping, and enduring all things.
With joyfulness - Feeling the continual testimony that ye please God, which will be a spring of perpetual comfort. See the notes on Eph 4:2.
Giving thanks unto the Father - Knowing that ye have nothing but what ye have received from his mere mercy, and that in point of merit ye can never claim any thing from him.
Which hath made us meet - Ἱκανωσαντι· Who has qualified us to be partakers, etc. Instead of ἱκανωσαντι, some MSS. and versions have καλεσαντι, called; and B (the Codex Vaticanus) has both readings. Giving thanks unto the Father, who hath called and qualified us to be partakers.
Of the inheritance - Εις την μεριδα του κληρου. A plain allusion to the division of the promised land by lot among the different families of the twelve Israelitish tribes. The κληρος was the lot or inheritance belonging to the tribe; the μερις was the portion in that lot which belonged to each family of that tribe. This was a type of the kingdom of God, in which portions of eternal blessedness are dispensed to the genuine Israelites; to them who have the circumcision of the heart by the Spirit, whose praise is of God, and not of man.
Of the saints in light - Light, in the sacred writings, is used to express knowledge, felicity, purity, comfort, and joy of the most substantial kind; here it is put to point out the state of glory at the right hand of God. As in Egypt, while the judgments of God were upon the land, there was a darkness which might be felt yet all the Israelites had light in their dwellings; so in this world, while the darkness and wretchedness occasioned by sin remain, the disciples of Christ are light in the Lord, walk as children of the light and of the day, have in them no occasion of stumbling, and are on their way to the ineffable light at the right hand of God. Some think there is an allusion here to the Eleusinian mysteries, celebrated in deep caves and darkness in honor of Ceres; but I have already, in the notes to the Epistle to the Ephesians, expressed my doubts that the apostle has ever condescended to use such a simile. The phraseology of the text is frequent through various parts of the sacred writings, where it is most obvious that no such allusion could possibly be intended.
Delivered us from the power of darkness - Darkness is here personified, and is represented as having εξουσια, power, authority, and sway; all Jews and Gentiles, which had not embraced the Gospel, being under this authority and power. And the apostle intimates here that nothing less than the power of God can redeem a man from this darkness, or prince of darkness, who, by means of sin and unbelief, keeps men in ignorance, vice, and misery.
Translated us into the kingdom, etc - He has thoroughly changed our state, brought us out of the dark region of vice and impiety, and placed us in the kingdom under the government of his dear Son, Υἱου της αγαπης αὑτου, the Son of his love; the person whom, in his infinite love, he has given to make an atonement for the sin of the world.
In whom we have redemption - Who has paid down the redemption price, even his own blood, that our sins might be cancelled, and we made fit to be partakers of the inheritance among the saints in light.
The clause, δια του αἱματος αυτου, Through his blood, is omitted by ABCDEFG, and by most others of weight and importance; by the Syriac, Arabic of Erpen, Coptic, Ethiopic, Sahidic, some copies of the Vulgate and by the Itala; and by most of the Greek fathers. Griesbach has left it out of the text. It is likely that the reading here is not genuine; yet that we have redemption any other way than through the sacrifice of Christ, the Scriptures declare not. The same phrase is used Eph 1:7, where there is no various reading in any of the MSS., versions, or fathers.
The forgiveness of sins - Αφεσιν των ἁμαρτιων· The taking away of sins; all the power, guilt, and infection of sin. All sin of every kind, with all its influence and consequences.
Who is the image of the invisible God - The counterpart of God Almighty, and if the image of the invisible God, consequently nothing that appeared in him could be that image; for if it could be visible in the Son, it could also be visible in the Father; but if the Father be invisible, consequently his image in the Son must be invisible also. This is that form of God of which he divested himself; the ineffable glory in which he not only did not appear, as to its splendor and accompaniments, but concealed also its essential nature; that inaccessible light which no man, no created being, can possibly see. This was that Divine nature, the fullness of the Godhead bodily, which dwelt in him.
The first-born of every creature - I suppose this phrase to mean the same as that, Phi 2:9 : God hath given him a name which is above every name; he is as man at the head of all the creation of God; nor can he with any propriety be considered as a creature, having himself created all things, and existed before any thing was made. If it be said that God created him first, and that he, by a delegated power from God, created all things, this is most flatly contradicted by the apostle's reasoning in the 16th and 17th verses. As the Jews term Jehovah בכורו של עולם becoro shel olam, the first-born of all the world, or of all the creation, to signify his having created or produced all things; (see Wolfius in loc.) so Christ is here termed, and the words which follow in the 16th and 17th verses are the proof of this. The phraseology is Jewish; and as they apply it to the supreme Being merely to denote his eternal pre-existence, and to point him out as the cause of all things; it is most evident that St. Paul uses it in the same way, and illustrates his meaning in the following words, which would be absolutely absurd if we could suppose that by the former he intended to convey any idea of the inferiority of Jesus Christ.
For by him were all things created, etc - These two verses contain parts of the same subject. I shall endeavor to distinguish the statements of the apostle, and reason from them in such a way as the premises shall appear to justify, without appealing to any other scripture in proof of the doctrine which I suppose these verses to vindicate.
Four things are here asserted:
1. That Jesus Christ is the Creator of the universe; of all things visible and invisible; of all things that had a beginning, whether they exist in time or in eternity.
2. That whatsoever was created was created For himself; that he was the sole end of his own work.
3. That he was prior to all creation, to all beings, whether in the visible or invisible world.
4. That he is the preserver and governor of all things; for by him all things consist.
Now, allowing St. Paul to have understood the terms which he used, he must have considered Jesus Christ as being truly and properly God.
I. Creation is the proper work of an infinite, unlimited, and unoriginated Being; possessed of all perfections in their highest degrees; capable of knowing, willing, and working infinitely, unlimitedly, and without control: and as creation signifies the production of being where all was absolute nonentity, so it necessarily implies that the Creator acted of and from himself; for as, previously to this creation, there was no being, consequently he could not be actuated by any motive, reason, or impulse, without himself; which would argue there was some being to produce the motive or impulse, or to give the reason. Creation, therefore, is the work of him who is unoriginated, infinite, unlimited, and eternal. But Jesus Christ is the Creator of all things, therefore Jesus Christ must be, according to the plain construction of the apostle's words, truly and properly God.
II. As, previously to creation, there was no being but God, consequently the great First Cause must, in the exertion of his creative energy, have respect to himself alone; for he could no more have respect to that which had no existence, than he could be moved by nonexistence, to produce existence or creation. The Creator, therefore, must make every thing For himself.
Should it be objected that Christ created officially or by delegation, I answer: This is impossible; for, as creation requires absolute and unlimited power, or omnipotence, there can be but one Creator; because it is impossible that there can be two or more Omnipotents, Infinites, or Eternals. It is therefore evident that creation cannot be effected officially, or by delegation, for this would imply a Being conferring the office, and delegating such power; and that the Being to whom it was delegated was a dependent Being; consequently not unoriginated and eternal; but this the nature of creation proves to be absurd.
1. The thing being impossible in itself, because no limited being could produce a work that necessarily requires omnipotence.
2. It is impossible, because, if omnipotence be delegated, he to whom it is delegated had it not before, and he who delegates it ceases to have it, and consequently ceases to be God; and the other to whom it was delegated becomes God, because such attributes as those with which he is supposed to be invested are essential to the nature of God. On this supposition God ceases to exist, though infinite and eternal, and another not naturally infinite and eternal becomes such; and thus an infinite and eternal Being ceases to exist, and another infinite and eternal Being is produced in time, and has a beginning, which is absurd. Therefore, as Christ is the Creator, he did not create by delegation, or in any official way.
Again, if he had created by delegation or officially, it would have been for that Being who gave him that office, and delegated to him the requisite power; but the text says that all things were made By him and For him, which is a demonstration that the apostle understood Jesus Christ to be truly and essentially God.
III. As all creation necessarily exists in time, and had a commencement, and there was an infinite duration in which it did not exist, whatever was before or prior to that must be no part of creation; and the Being who existed prior to creation, and before all things - all existence of every kind, must be the unoriginated and eternal God: but St. Paul says, Jesus Christ was before all things; ergo, the apostle conceived Jesus Christ to be truly and essentially God.
IV. As every effect depends upon its cause, and cannot exist without it; so creation, which is an effect of the power and skill of the Creator, can only exist and be preserved by a continuance of that energy that first gave it being. Hence, God, as the Preserver, is as necessary to the continuance of all things, as God the Creator was to their original production. But this preserving or continuing power is here ascribed to Christ, for the apostle says, And by him do all things consist; for as all being was derived from him as its cause, so all being must subsist by him, as the effect subsists by and through its cause. This is another proof that the apostle considered Jesus Christ to be truly and properly God, as he attributes to him the preservation of all created things, which property of preservation belongs to God alone; ergo, Jesus Christ is, according to the plain obvious meaning of every expression in this text, truly, properly, independently, and essentially God.
Such are the reasonings to which the simple letter of these two verses necessarily leads me. I own it is possible that I may have misapprehended this awful subject, for humanum est errare et nescire; but I am not conscious of the slightest intentional flaw in the argument. Taking, therefore, the apostle as an uninspired man, giving his own view of the Author of the Christian religion, it appears, beyond all controversy, that himself believed Christ Jesus to be God; but considering him as writing under the inspiration of the Holy Ghost, then we have, from the plain grammatical meaning of the words which he has used, the fullest demonstration (for the Spirit of God cannot lie) that he who died for our sins and rose again for our justification, and in whose blood we have redemption, was God over all. And as God alone can give salvation to men, and God only can remit sin; hence with the strictest propriety we are commanded to believe on the Lord Jesus, with the assurance that we shall be saved. Glory be to God for this unspeakable gift! See my discourse on this subject.
He is the head of the body - What the apostle has said in the two preceding verses refers to the Divine nature of Jesus Christ; he now proceeds to speak of his human nature, and to show how highly that is exalted beyond all created things, and how, in that, he is head of the Church - the author and dispenser of light, life, and salvation, to the Christian world; or, in other words, that from him, as the man in whom the fullness of the Godhead bodily dwelt, all the mercy and salvation of the Gospel system is to be received.
The beginning, the first-born from the dead - In Co1 15:20, Christ is called the first-fruits of them that slept; and here, the chief and first-born from the dead; he being the first that ever resumed the natural life, with the employment of all its functions, never more to enter the empire of death, after having died a natural death, and in such circumstances as precluded the possibility of deception. The αρχη, chief, head, or first, answers in this verse to the απαρχη, or first-fruits, Co1 15:20. Jesus Christ is not only the first who rose from the dead to die no more, but he is the first-fruits of human beings; for as surely as the first-fruits were an indication and pledge of the harvest, so surely was the resurrection of Christ the proof that all mankind should have a resurrection from the dead.
That in all - he might have the pre-eminence - That he might be considered, in consequence of his mediatorial office, as possessing the first place in and being chief over all the creation of God; for is it to be wondered at that the human nature, with which the great Creator condescended to unite himself, should be set over all the works of his hands?
For it pleased the Father that in him should all fullness dwell - As the words, the Father are not in the text, some have translated the verse thus: For in him it seemed right that all fullness should dwell; that is, that the majesty, power, and goodness of God should be manifested in and by Christ Jesus, and thus by him the Father reconciles all things to himself. The πληρωμα, or fullness, must refer here to the Divine nature dwelling in the man Christ Jesus.
And, having made peace through the blood of his cross - Peace between God and man; for man being in a sinful state, and there being no peace to the wicked, it required a reconciliation to be made to restore peace between heaven and earth; but peace could not be made without an atonement for sin, and the consequence shows that the blood of Christ shed on the cross was necessary to make this atonement.
To reconcile all things unto himself - The enmity was on the part of the creature; though God is angry with the wicked every day, yet he is never unwilling to be reconciled. But man, whose carnal mind is enmity to God, is naturally averse from this reconciliation; it requires, therefore, the blood of the cross to atone for the sin, and the influence of the Spirit to reconcile the transgressor to him against whom he has offended! See the notes on Co2 5:19, etc.
Things in earth, or things in heaven - Much has been said on this very obscure clause; but, as it is my object not to write dissertations but notes, I shall not introduce the opinions of learned men, which have as much ingenuity as variety to recommend them. If the phrase be not a kind of collective phrase to signify all the world, or all mankind, as Dr. Hammond supposed the things in heaven may refer, according to some, to those persons who died under the Old Testament dispensation, and who could not have a title to glory but through the sacrificial death of Christ: and the apostle may have intended these merely to show that without this sacrifice no human beings could be saved, not only those who were then on the earth, and to whom in their successive generations the Gospel should be preached, but even those who had died before the incarnation; and, as those of them that were faithful were now in a state of blessedness, they could not have arrived there but through the blood of the cross, for the blood of calves and goats could not take away sin. After all, the apostle probably means the Jews and the Gentiles; the state of the former being always considered a sort of Divine or celestial state, while that of the latter was reputed to be merely earthly, without any mixture of spiritual or heavenly good. It is certain that a grand part of our Lord's design, in his incarnation and death, was to reconcile the Jews and the Gentiles, and make them one fold under himself, the great Shepherd and Bishop of souls. That the enmity of the Jews was great against the Gentiles is well known, and that the Gentiles held them in supreme contempt is not less so. It was therefore an object worthy of the mercy of God to form a scheme that might reconcile these two grand divisions of mankind; and, as it was his purpose to reconcile and make them one, we learn from this circumstance, as well as from many others, that his design was to save the whole human race.
And you, that were sometime alienated - All men are alienated from God, and all are enemies in their minds to him, and show it by their wicked works; but this is spoken particularly of the Gentiles. The word απαλλοτριοω, which we render to alienate, to give to another, to estrange, expresses the state of the Gentiles: while the Jews were, at least by profession, dedicated to God, the Gentiles were alienated, that is, given up to others; they worshipped not the true God, but had gods many and lords many, to whom they dedicated themselves, their religious service, and their property. The verb αλλοτριοω, to alienate, being compounded here with the preposition απο, from, signifies to abalienate, to estrange utterly, to be wholly the property of another. Thus the Gentiles had alienated themselves from God, and were alienated or rejected by him, because of their wickedness and idolatry.
Enemies in your mind - They had the carnal mind, which is enmity against God; and this was expressed in their outward conduct by wicked works. See the note on Rom 5:10. The mind is taken here for all the soul, heart, affections, passions, etc.
In the body of his flesh - By Christ's assumption of a human body, and dying for man, he has made an atonement for sin, through which men become reconciled to God and to each other.
To present you holy - Having saved you from your sins.
Unblamable - Having filled you with his Spirit, and written his law in your hearts, so that his love, shed abroad in your hearts, becomes the principle and motive to every action. The tree therefore being good, the fruit is also good.
And unreprovable - For, being filled with love, joy, peace, meekness, gentleness, and goodness, against these there is no law; and as they were called to love God with all their heart, soul, mind, and strength, and their neighbor as themselves, the whole spirit and design of the law was fulfilled in them, for love is the fulfilling of the law.
In his sight - At the day of judgment. None can enjoy heaven who have not been reconciled to God here, and shown forth the fruits of that reconciliation in being made holy and unblamable, that, when they come to be judged, they may be found unreprovable.
If ye continue in the faith - This will be the case if you, who have already believed in Christ Jesus, continue in that faith, grounded in the knowledge and love of God, and settled - made firm and perseveringly steadfast, in that state of salvation.
And be not moved away - Not permitting yourselves to be seduced by false teachers.
The hope of the Gospel - The resurrection of the body, and the glorification of it and the soul together, in the realms of blessedness. This is properly the Gospel Hope.
To every creature which is under heaven - A Hebraism for the whole human race, and particularly referring to the two grand divisions of mankind, the Jews and Gentiles; to both of these the Gospel had been preached, and to each, salvation by Christ had been equally offered. And as none had been excluded from the offers of mercy, and Jesus Christ had tasted death for every man, and the Jews and Gentiles, in their great corporate capacity, had all been invited to believe the Gospel; therefore, the apostle concludes that the Gospel was preached to every creature under heaven, as being offered without restrictions or limitations to these two grand divisions of mankind, including the whole human race.
Rejoice in my sufferings for you - St. Paul always considers his persecutions, as far as the Jews were concerned in them, as arising from this simple circumstance - his asserting that God had chosen the Gentiles, and called them to enjoy the very same privileges with the Jews, and to constitute one Church with them.
It was on this account that the Jews attempted his life at Jerusalem, when, in order to save it, he was obliged to appeal to Caesar; the consequences of which persecution he was now suffering in his imprisonment in Rome. See on Col 4:2 (note).
That which is behind of the afflictions of Christ - I have still some afflictions to pass through before my race of glory be finished; afflictions which fall on me on account of the Gospel; such as Christ bore from the same persecuting people.
It is worthy of remark that the apostle does not say παθηματα, the passion of Christ, but simply θλιψεις, the afflictions; such as are common to all good men who bear a testimony against the ways and fashions of a wicked world. In these the apostle had his share, in the passion of Christ he could have none. He trod the wine press alone, of the people there were none with him.
His body's sake - Believers, both of Jews and Gentiles, who form that one body, of which Christ is the head.
Whereof I am made a minister - Having received especial commission from God to preach salvation to the Gentiles.
According to the dispensation - Κατα την οικονομιαν· According to the Gospel economy or institution; the scheme or plan of salvation by Christ crucified.
To fulfill the word of God - The Greek πληρωσαι τον λογον του Θεου may be translated, fully to preach the doctrine of God. See Rom 15:19, and the note there. Were we to take the word in its common meaning, it might signify to accomplish the purpose of God, as predicted by the prophets.
The mystery which hath been hid - The mystery is this: that God had designed to grant the Gentiles the same privileges with the Jews, and make them his people who were not his people. That this is what St. Paul means by the mystery, see Eph 3:3, etc.
Made manifest to his saints - It is fully known to all who have embraced the doctrine of Christ crucified; to all Christians.
The riches of the glory - God manifests to these how abundantly glorious this Gospel is among the Gentiles; and how effectual is this doctrine of Christ crucified to the salvation of multitudes.
Which is Christ in you, the hope of glory - In this and the following verse there are several remarkable particulars: -
I. We find here the sum and substance of the apostle's preaching.
1. He preached Christ, as the only Savior of sinners.
2. He proclaimed this Christ as being in them; for the design of the Gospel is to put men in possession of the Spirit and power of Christ, to make them partakers of the Divine nature, and thus prepare them for an eternal union with himself. Should it be said that the preposition εν should be translated among, it amounts to the same; for Christ was among them, to enlighten, quicken, purify, and refine them, and this he could not do without dwelling in them.
3. He preached this present and indwelling Christ as the hope of glory; for no man could rationally hope for glory who had not the pardon of his sins, and whose nature was not sanctified; and none could have pardon but through the blood of his cross; and none could have glorification but through the indwelling, sanctifying Spirit of Christ.
II. We see the manner in which the apostles preached.
1. They warned every one - they showed every man his danger; they proved that both Jews and Gentiles were under sin; and that the wrath of God was revealed against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men; that time and life were uncertain; and that now was the day of salvation.
2. They taught every man in all wisdom - they considered the world in a state of ignorance and darkness, every man being through sin ignorant of himself and God; and the apostles taught them to know themselves, viz., that they were sinners, wretched, helpless, and perishing; and they taught them to know God, in his purity, justice, and truth, and in his mercy through Christ Jesus. Thus they instructed men in all wisdom; for the knowledge of a man's self and his God constitutes all that is essentially necessary to be known for present and eternal happiness.
III. The end which the apostles had in view in thus preaching Christ: to present every man perfect in Christ Jesus. The words τελειον εν Χριστῳ, perfect in or through Christ, signify two things:
1. That they should be thoroughly instructed in the doctrines of Christianity, so that they should know the truth as it is in Jesus.
2. That they should be made partakers of the grace of the Gospel, so that they might be saved from all their sins, and be filled with His fullness. The succeeding chapter amply proves that nothing less than this entered into the apostle's design. Men may dispute as they please about Christian perfection, but without it no soul shall ever see God. He who is not saved from all sin here, cannot, to his joy, see God hereafter. This perfection of which the apostle speaks, and to which he labored to bring all men, was something to be attained in and through Christ. The apostles preached Christ in the people; and they preached him as crucified for mankind. He who died for them was to live in them, and fill their whole souls with his own purity. No indwelling sin can be tolerated by an indwelling Christ; for he came into the world to save his people from their sins.
IV. We see who were the objects of the apostle's ministry: the Jews and Gentiles; παντα ανθρωπον, every man, the whole human race. Every man had sinned; and for every sinner Christ had died; and he died for them that they might be saved from all their sins. The apostles never restrained the offers of salvation; they made them frankly to all, believing that it was the will of God that all should believe and be saved: hence they warned and taught every man that they might, at the day of judgment, present every man perfect in Christ Jesus; for, although their own personal ministry could not reach all the inhabitants of the earth, yet it is by the doctrines which they preached, and by the writings which they have left on record, that the earth is to be filled with the knowledge and glory of God, and the souls of men brought to the enjoyment of the fullness of the blessing of the Gospel of peace.
Whereunto I also labor - In order to accomplish this end, I labor with the utmost zeal and earnestness; and with all that strength with which God has most powerfully furnished me. Whoever considers the original words, αγωνιζομενος κατα την ενεργειαν αυτου την ενεργουμενην - εν δυναμει, will find that no verbal translation can convey their sense. God worked energetically in St. Paul, and he wrought energetically with God; and all this was in reference to the salvation of mankind.
1. The preceding chapter contains the highest truths in the Christian religion, conveyed in language peculiar to this apostle; a language never taught by man, clothing ideas as vast as the human mind can grasp, and both coming immediately from that inspiration of the Almighty which giveth understanding.
2. What the apostle says on the Godhead of Christ has already been distinctly noted; and from this we must conclude that, unless there be some secret way of understanding the 16th and 17th verses, which God has nowhere revealed, taken in their sober and rational sense and meaning they must for ever settle this very important point. Let any man of common sense and reason hear these words, whose mind had not been previously warped by any sentiment on the subject, and who only knew, in religious matters, this one great truth, that there is a God, and that he made and governs all things; and then let him be asked, Of whom doth the apostle speak this? Would he not immediately answer, He speaketh of God? As to the difficulties on this subject, we must consider them difficulties rather to our limited intellect, than as belonging to the subject. We can know but little of an infinite and eternal Being; nothing, properly speaking, but what himself is pleased to reveal. Let us receive, this with gratitude and reverence. See my discourse on the sum and substance of apostolic preaching.