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And thus ye see briefly in what sense Christ is set at the right hand of God: His Divine nature, or the person of the Word, sits in the equality of Majesty and glory, and of all the Divine attributes; the human nature sits above all created things, but yet beneath God, viz. endued with majesty, and the greatest glory adapted to it, and of which it can be capable.
Those things being explained, it remains that we shew the force of this argument: Christ sitteth on high at the right hand of God; therefore we ought to seek and affect the things which are above. There are two reasons which strengthen this consequence. The first derived from the love of all the faithful to the Head and Saviour Christ Jesus. It is a common saying, The mind is where it loves, not where its actual scat is : and that saying in the Gospel is also well known, Where the treasure is, there will the heart be also, Matt. vi. 21. Since then Christ, who is the love and delight of the souls of the faithful, is placed in the heavens at the right hand of God, it is needful for every pious and holy soul to flee towards that celestial place as by a straight course, and in heart and mind especially to have conversation there daily. That saying of Paul, Phil. i. 23, I have a desire to depart and to be with Christ, flowed from this affection. The inferior members can never be well if they be disjointed and separated from their head : it is no wonder, therefore, if all the faithful mount to heaven as much as they can, and strive to join themselves to Christ their Head.
The other cause is derived from the influence of the head over the members. For Christ sits not idle at the right hand of the Father, but imparts saving grace to all his people, and supplies them with strength to trample under foot earthly things, and seek those which are above. For Christ being exalted bath attractive virtue, he draws all his people upward, and suffers them not to cleave to the earth. Even as the heavenly sun draws upwards by his power, gross and earthly vapours; so Christ, the Sun of Righteousness, separates our gross and rigid souls from the dregs of earthly things, and by his efficacious working raises them to heavenly. The argument, therefore, is derived from what is possible or feasible : as though he had said, Although ye cannot by the strength of nature seek and affect the things that are above, yet by the aid of Christ sitting at the right hand of God, and drawing you to himself by the Spirit of grace, ye are now able to accomplish that. I can do all things, says the Apostle, through Christ strengthening me, Phil. iv.
Hence we infer,
1. There is no reason why we should fear the hosts of our spiritual enemies, the devil, the world, and the flesh; because Christ our Saviour is more powerful than all these, inasmuch as he is exalted at the right hand of God, far above all creatures. What fear of the world is there to him, who hath God for his guide through the world? Cyprian, De Orat. Dom. Human persecution shall not shake the mind, but Divine protection shall strengthen faith. Idem, De exhort. martyr. cap. 10.
2. This ought to induce a perpetual exercise of faith, that as often as we are troubled with earthly desires, forthwith we should look up to heaven, we should contemplate Christ sitting at the right hand of God, and seek spiritual strength from him. Thus Stephen was even supported against the very terrors of death, Acts vii. 55.
3. They are not true and living members under Christ the Head, whose minds are not directed heavenward. For wheresoever the carcase is, thither will the eagles be gathered together, Matt. xxiv. 28.
So much for the inducements to seek those things which are above.
Verses 3, 4. For ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God; When Christ who is our life shall appear, then shall ye also
appear with him in glory.
That the things which are above were to be sought by the Colossians, and so by all believers, is proved by two reasons; from our resurrection with Christ, and from the exaltation of Christ himself. The Apostle now enters upon that other part of his admonition, by which he forbids us to seek and to affect earthly things; and he corroborates it by two other arguments. The first taken from our spiritual death; for ye are dead: to which he adds a silent occupation; your life is hid. The latter is derived from the certain expectation of future glory. And this certainty is shewn by the circumstance of the time assigned when this life of glory shall be given us; namely, when Christ shall appear. We shall begin from the former reason.
For ye are dead] Namely, to sin, to the world, and to the flesh; as the Apostle constantly testifies. Reckon ye yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, Rom. vi. 11. The world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world, Gal. vi. 14; And elsewhere, They who are Christ's have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts. Here let us consider two things : How we are dead; and, How much this consideration prevails to the slighting of earthly things.
As to the first; They that are born again are dead to sin, not because sin is wholly eradicated and extirpated from their mortal body; for this would oppose every one's experience who perceives within himself the fuel of sin: but because its dominion is broken, weakened, and debilitated; because its power is gradually subdued by the operation of grace; because at length it shall be wholly overcome and extinguished by the perfection of glory. Whoever, therefore, are born again in Christ are dead to sin, because all their sins are abolished, in the sacrament of regeneration, as to the guilt; because they are sealed to be entirely abolished, even as to the act, and begin to be abolished by the Spirit operating within; finally, because believers are bound to mortify them, on account of the vow of mortification undertaken at baptism. Therefore, as in common language we say that he is already a dead man, against whom sentence of death is passed ; so we rightly say, that they who are born again are dead, or that sin is already dead in them, because in their baptism the sentence of death was as it were passed against sin; the execution of which sentence is forth with begun, is daily proceeding, and at length completed. It was not badly said by Parisiensis, De legib. cap. 28, All sin is reckoned to be dead that hath not extinguished the life of grace; wherefore it is accounted dead, since it is not permitted to rule. It would be easy to confirm this by many testimonies of the Scriptures. For they every where teach, that those who are born again in baptism not only die to sin sacramentally, but also receive the Spirit of Christ, by whose virtue and efficacy the lusts of the flesh are really mortified in them. Rom. vi. 6, We know that our old man is crucified with Christ, that the body of sin might be destroyed. They moreover teach, that we stipulated with God, to the perpetual study of mortification and a godly life: Thus speaks Peter, Epis. i. cap. iii. 21, where he calls baptism the answer of a good conscience towards God. We now understand what the Apostle meant with himself, when he says that the Colossians are dead; and in what sense Christians are said to be dead to sin by their baptism.
Now it remains that we examine, in the second place, the reason of this consequence, Ye ought not to seek, or set your affections on earthly things, because ye are dead: Which is most forcible on many accounts.
First, it prevails from the removal of the cause to the removal of the effect. For the effects of the dominion of sin are to savour and to seek earthly things : but in those who are dead to sin, sin has lost this lordly power: it cannot, therefore, compel them to unlawful lusts. The Apostle affirms this in express words, Rom. vi. 7, He who is dead is free from sin : and ver. 14, Sin shall not have dominion over you. This may be illustrated from the similitude of a tyrant who formerly flourished and domineered, but was afterward wounded, subdued, and cast into prison. For as he, whilst protected by his guards, held the citadel, ruled the miserable citizens, and compelled them to obey his commands ; but after he had been stripped of his defence, forced from his citadel, overcome, and bound, was derided and despised by all, neither had any one who regarded his directions: so sin, whilst it lives in the unregenerate man, urges and impels him to all wickedness; but after its dominion is broken, it can do nothing except to those who voluntarily give up themselves to it again.
Secondly, when the Apostle reasons, Ye are dead, therefore ye ought to savour earthly things, an argument is deduced by a simile. For as bodily death severs men from all commerce with earthly things, so this spiritual mortification ought to estrange our minds from the study and desire of earthly things. Bodily death of necessity wrests men from all worldly concerns; spiritual mortification, by a certain divine operation, withdraws us from the love of these things : To be dead, then, means this, that they who have the Holy Spirit mortifying within them the lusts of the flesh, are able, by his assistance, to despise earthly things, and desire those that are heavenly. Paul affords a remarkable specimen of this, who was so much removed from the desire of earthly glory, as to regard as dung whatever is desirable and glorious in the eyes of the world.
Lastly, the Apostle's conclusion is supported by what is honourable and due. It is honourable, that they who have died sacramentally in baptism, should shew in their life that they are really mortified. It is due, that they who have vowed the mortification of the flesh in baptism, should exercise the duty of mortification by a contempt of earthly things. And thus ye see this consequence, Seek not earthly things, because ye are dead, is most firmly sustained by the force of many reasons. Now let us deduce some observations or doctrines.
1. A Christian serving the lusts of sin, is a deserter and voluntary captive. For he is delivered from the service of sin, this tyrant being weakened and smitten with a deadly wound. See the miserable and shameful condition of these in 2 Pet. ii. 19, 20: Of whom a man is overcome, of the same is he brought in bondage. For if after they have escaped the pollutions of the world through the knowledge of the Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, they are again entangled therein, and overcome, the latter end is worse with them than the beginning.
2. There is no cause why a Christian should despond, because he perceives in himself the rebellious motion of sin, unless he obeys its lusts, and is himself drawn headlong into rebellion, For, notwithstanding these enticements of sin, he who neither yields the consent of the will,