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THE RESURRECTION OF OUR SAVIOUR CONSIDERED, AS AN ARGUMENT FOR SEEKING THINGS ABOVE.
If ye then be risen with Christy seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth at the right hand of God. Set your affections on things above, not on things on the earth.—Col. iii. 1, 2.
THE apostle in this Epistle (as his manner is in all the rest), having laid the doctrine of the gospel for a foundation, and endeavoured to rectify some errors, both in doctrine and practice, which the Christians at Colosse were seduced into, by the guile and arts of false teachers and apostles; as particularly the worship of angels, and, out of a pretence of humility, addressing themselves to God by their mediation, which is the particular scope and design of this Epistle: the apostle, I say, having in the former part of if endeavoured to set them right in this mat ter, and to establish their minds in the faith and doctrine of Christ, in the latter part of it exhorts them to a conversation answerable to the doctrine of Christ, to a holy and heavenly life, at the be ginning of this third chapter: “If ye then be risen with Christ, seek the things which are above, where Christ sitteth at the right hand of God. Set your affections on things above, not on things on the earth.”
This inference is drawn from what he had said at a good distance before; namely, at the 12th verse 345of the former chapter; “Being buried with him in baptism, wherein also ye are risen with him, through the faith of the operation of God, who hath raised him from the dead.” “Being buried with him in baptism:” for the full understanding of this expression, we must have recourse to that parallel text, (Rom. vi. 3-5.) which will explain to us the meaning of this phrase: “Know ye not that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ, were baptized into his death? therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death, that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. For if we have been planted together in the likeness of his death, we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection.” Where we see, that “to be baptized into the death and resurrection of Christ,” is to be baptized into the similitude and likeness of them; and the resemblance is this;—that as Christ being dead was buried in the grave, and after some stay in it, that is, for three days, he was raised again out of it by the glorious power of God, to a new and heavenly life, being not long after taken up into heaven to live at the right hand of God; so Christians, when they were baptized, were immersed into the water three times, their bodies being covered all over with it; which is therefore called, our being “buried with him by baptism into death;” and after some short stay under water, were raised, or taken up again out of it, as if they had been recovered to a new life; by all which was spiritually signified, our dying to sin, and being raised to a Divine and heavenly life, “through the faith of the operation of God;” that is, by that Divine and supernatural power, which raised up Christ from the dead. So 346that Christians from thenceforth were to “reckon themselves dead unto sin; but alive unto God through Jesus Christ,” as the apostle speaks, (Rom. vi. 11.)
Now upon this ground, that we are “buried with Christ in baptism,” and “risen with him to a new and heavenly life,” the apostle founds the exhortation in the text, “If ye then be risen with Christ, seek the things which are above, where Christ sitteth at the right hand of God. Set your affections on things above; not on things on the earth.” So that the words are an earnest exhortation to a Divine life, and a spiritual and heavenly conversation. In which there are two things to be considered:
First, The duty we are exhorted to, which is heavenly-mindedness. “Seek the things which are above;” and “Set your affections on things above.”
Secondly, The arguments by which the apostle urgeth and presseth this exhortation. “If ye be risen with Christ, seek the things which are above;” and “Seek the things which are above, where Christ sitteth at the right hand of God.” So that my work will be,
First, To shew the nature of the duty to which we are exhorted. And,
Secondly, The force of the arguments which are used to persuade us to it.
First, For the nature of the duty to which we are exhorted; and it is expressed both affirmatively and negatively.
1. Affirmatively; and the apostle useth two several expressions. “Seek the things which are above;” and, “Set your affections on things above.”
2. Negatively; “And not on things on the earth.” And this seems to be added, not only to explain and ascertain the object, and to add vehemence and 347earnestness to the exhortation; but likewise to set off the excellency of the object, by way of opposition and comparison. On the things that are above, and not upon those pitiful and inferior things which are upon the earth. And likewise to shew the in consistency of these, and the impossibility of seeking and setting our affections upon both in an intense degree. For that would be to have two chief ends, to love God and mammon; to serve two masters, which our Saviour hath told us is impossible. But this I shall use afterwards, as an argument to enforce the exhortation.
To explain the nature of this duty, I shall consider the act and the object.
I. For the act, here are two words used to express it, ζητεῖτε and φρονεῖτε, seek, and set your affections; and in these two words, these four things seem to be comprehended—an act of our under standings about these things; the ardency of our affections; and the activity of our endeavours in the pursuit of them; and a clear preference of the things which are above, to the things of the earth, when they come in competition. For these two words do comprehend, not only the power of our understandings, and wills, and affections, and an earnest attention and application of mind to these things; but the activity of our endeavours about them.
1. Here is implied an act of our understandings, that we should mind and think upon these things, that we should often consider them, and meditate upon them; that heaven should be much in our thoughts, and the glory and excellency of that state which we hope to attain to, and by what ways and means we may come to be made partakers of that blessed inheritance.348
2; It implies, likewise, an act of our affections; that we heartily love and desire the things that are above, with that ardency and vehemency of affection, which is proportionable to the worth and excellency of them. And both these are included in the word φρονεῖτε, which is sometimes translated to mind, sometimes to set our affections upon a thing.
3. Activity and industry in the prosecution of these things, if by any means we may attain them. And this is implied in the word ζητεῖτε, “seek the things which are above.” When we know there are such treasures in heaven, so great a reward laid up for good men, joys so unspeakable and full of glory, and when our understandings have dwelt so long upon these things as to work upon our affections, these, like so many springs of motion, will set our endeavours on work, for the obtaining of what we so much love and desire, and will make us inquisitive, with the young man in the gospel, “What good thing we shall do, that we may inherit eternal life;” by what means we may best secure our title to heaven and happiness; and very industrious to acquire those qualities and dispositions, which will fit us for heaven, and the blessed sight and enjoyment of God; nay, by which we may begin this happy state here, by our conversation in heaven, whilst we are sojourning here below, as “pilgrims and strangers in the earth.”
4. It implies a clear preference of the things above to the things of the earth, when they come in competition. And in this sense the word φρονεῖν is observed to be used in good authors, for taking part with, and adhering to, one side, when two parties or interests come in competition. And, indeed, this phrase and form of speech, when the thing is expressed 349affirmatively and negatively, is very often used by way of comparison, when two things come in competition. “Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth: but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven. Labour not for the meat that perisheth, but for that which endureth to eternal life.” So here, “Set your affections on things above, not on things on the earth.” When heaven and earth come in competition, the happiness of the next life, and the enjoyments of this, the interest of your souls, and of your bodies, “the things which are not seen, and are eternal, and the things which are seen, and are but temporal;” a holy, and heavenly, and virtuous life, and a sensual and sinful course, “choose the better part,” stick to that which is the true and lasting interest; prefer heaven before earth, and the care of your souls to that of your bodies, things eternal to things temporal, and a holy and virtuous life, which leads to heaven, to those sinful and vicious practices which will sink men into perdition. For that this also the apostle means by “things on the earth,” sinful lusts and practices, seems very probable from what follows: (ver. 5.) “Mortify, therefore, your members, which are upon the earth.”
II. Let us consider the object of this act, what it is that we are to seek and set our affections upon; and that is “the things which are above.”
1. The glorious God and Father of all, and his blessed and eternal Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit of God; these are the great objects of our contemplation and adoration. And then the holy angels, and “the spirits of just men made perfect,” who are examples to us, of doing the will of God here on earth, as it is done by them in heaven.
2. The blessed state and condition which we aspire 350after in the next life, with all the joys and glories of it, “such as eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man.”
3. The dispositions to be acquired, and the actions and duties to be performed by us, as necessary qualifications and means for the obtaining of this happiness, and bringing us to the possession of it; all these are comprehended in the latitude of the object, “the things which are above.”
And to seek, and mind, and set our affections upon these, is to do those things, which the consideration of each of these respectively calls for; so to meditate on God and mind him, as to fear, and love, and serve him; to seek his glory as our last end, and the enjoyment of him as our chief good; to seek his favour above all things, and to sue to him as the fountain of all grace, and “the giver of every good and perfect gift,” and of all blessings temporal, spiritual, and eternal, by the powerful intercession of his Son, the great and only Mediator between God and man, to be obtained for us, and to be wrought in us, by the powerful virtue and operation of the Holy Spirit. So to mind the angels and blessed saints above, as to aspire after their society, by imitating their virtues, and “being followers of those, who through faith and patience have inherited the promises.” So to meditate on our future blessedness, as to raise our hearts and affections above this world, and effectually to engage us to fit ourselves for that blessed state and condition, that we may be “meet to be made partakers of that glorious inheritance.” And, lastly, so to mind all the duties and means necessary and conducing to our salvation, as effectually to perform them; to order our lives, and all the actions of them, with a regard to eternity; in a 351word, to omit and neglect nothing that may further and promote the great design of our eternal salvation, and to do nothing that may contradict or hinder it. This is to seek and “set our affections upon the things that are above,” And thus I have done with the first thing I propounded, the nature of the duty which we are exhorted to. I proceed to the
Second thing I propounded, which was, to consider the force of the arguments which are used to persuade us to it. Here are three arguments in the text to this purpose; two of them are express, and the third of them implied.
L “If ye be risen with Christ, seek the things which are above.”
II. “Seek the things which are above, where Christ sitteth at the right hand of God.”
III. The transcendent and incomparable excellency of the things above, in comparison of earthly things. This is intimated in the opposition, “set your affections on the things which are above; and not on things on the earth.” I shall briefly shew the force of each of these arguments.
I. “If ye then be risen with Christ, seek the things which are above.” That is, if ye believe his resurrection, if ye will be conformed to him in it, if ye be made partakers of the power and virtue of it.
1. If ye believe the resurrection of Christ. The resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ, was the great seal of his ministry, and confirmation of his doctrine: and one great branch of his doctrine was heavenly-mindedness, that we should “lay up for ourselves treasures in heaven, because where our treasure is, there will our hearts be also;” that we should “first seek the kingdom of God, and the righteousness thereof.”352
2. If we will bear a conformity and resemblance to him in his resurrection. He is our great pattern and example which the gospel propounds to us; and that we may have the nearer conformity to him, the apostle doth not only propose the virtues of his life to our imitation, but where we cannot literally imitate him, the apostle urgeth spiritual conformity, that those things which he did and suffered in his body, we should do and suffer spiritually; as Christ “died for sin,” so we should “die to sin;” as he literally “rose again from the dead, so, in conformity to him, we should be spiritually “raised to newness of life.” “As he ascended into heaven,” so we should “ascend thither also in our hearts and affections.” (Col. ii. 12.) “Buried with him in baptism, wherein also ye are risen with him, through the faith of the operation of God, who hath raised him from the dead.” (Rom. vi. 4, 5.) “Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death, that like as Christ was raised up from the dead, by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. For if we have been planted together in the likeness of his death, we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection.” To be raised from the dead, is in order to a new life. So the apostle tells us: (ver. 9-11.) “Knowing that Christ being raised from the dead, dieth no more, death hath no more dominion over him. For in that he died, he died unto sin once: but in that he liveth, he liveth unto God. Likewise reckon ye also yourselves to be dead, indeed, unto sin; but alive unto God, through Jesus Christ our Lord.” As the resurrection of Christ was in order to a better and happier life, to his ascension into heaven, and his living with God: so, in conformity to Christ, our spiritual resurrection should be in order 353to a heavenly and Divine life. And what is the meaning of all this? but that men are apt to imitate those whom they love, and do affect to resemble them as much as they can. And therefore, to endear our duty to us, the mortification of our lusts, and a holy life, the apostle tells us, that hereby we bear a conformity to Christ, the great object of our love and imitation.
3. If ye be made partakers of the power and virtue of his resurrection. The resurrection of Christ is not only a pattern, but hath a power and efficacy in it, to raise us to a spiritual and heavenly life. When Christ rose, he did not rise alone, but many of the bodies of the saints who were dead rose with him, to signify to us the power of his resurrection. It communicated a virtue to those who had an interest in the merits of his death and sufferings, whereby they are enabled to live a new and heavenly life. (John xi. 25.) “I am the resurrection and the life; he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live.” (Eph. i. 19.) “And what is the exceeding greatness of his power to us-ward, who believe, according to the working of his mighty power, which he wrought in Christ, when he raised him from the dead.” (Phil. iii. 10, 11.) “That I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death; if by any means I may attain the resurrection from the dead.” (Col. ii. 1, 3.) “And you being dead in your sins, and the uncircumcision of your flesh, hath he quickened together with him.” Now this power is derived to us by “believing on him who raised up Jesus from the dead, that he is also able to raise us, who are dead in trespasses and sins, to a Divine and heavenly life.” The354
Second argument is contained in these words—“Seek the things which are above, where Christ sitteth at the right hand of God.” Which words do declare to us the exaltation of Christ’s human nature, and his being advanced to be the king and governor of his church, having all power and judgment committed to him. (Luke xxiv. 26.) Christ’s ascension, and his sitting at the right hand of God, is called, his entering into his glory: “Ought he not to have suffered these things, and then to enter into his glory?” That is, to be invested with all power and authority for the good of the church. But most particularly the apostle describes this: (Eph. i. 20-22.) “And set him at his own right hand in heavenly places, far above all principalities, and powers, and might, and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this world, but that which is to come; and hath put all things under his feet, and given him to be head over all things to the church.”
And now the force of this argument is from the relation that is between the head and the members, between Christ and Christians. The members have an affection for the head, which makes them aspire heavenwards; and the head hath an influence upon the members. “If I be lifted up from the earth (says our Lord), I will draw all men unto me.” This is spoken of his crucifixion, signifying what death he should die, as the text tells us, (John xii. 32, 33.) But it is proportionably true of his ascension, and sitting at the right hand of God; for there is a power and virtue in the resurrection of Christ, and in his ascension into heaven, as well as in his death, to draw all men to him. The gift of God’s Holy Spirit is the fruit of his ascension and 355exaltation “at the right hand of the Majesty on high:” and it is by the powerful operation of the Spirit of God upon our hearts, that we are raised to newness of life, and our affections fixed upon heavenly thing’s. We are naturally bowed down to the earth, and inclined to the things of this world, Curvæ in terris animæ, et cælestium inanes: but our glorified Saviour, sitting at the right hand of God, by the power of his Spirit, draws our affections to him. The
Third and last argument, which is but implied in the text, is the transcendent and incomparable excellency of heavenly things, above things on the earth, which the apostle intimates by the opposition; “Set your affections on things above; not on things on the earth.” Earthly things are perishing and transitory, gross and unsatisfactory, and cannot be the felicity of an immortal soul, being neither suited to the spiritual nature, nor to the immortal duration of our souls: they can neither satisfy us while we live, nor preserve us from death, nor comfort us in it, nor accompany us into the other world, nor contribute any thing to our happiness there; and if they can do nothing towards our happiness, why should we set our hearts upon them? They that seek for happiness in earthly things, are like the women sitting over our Saviour’s sepulchre, with their faces bowed down to the earth—they seek the living among the dead: our happiness is not here, it is risen, it is above. Let our hearts ascend thither, where our happiness and our treasure is. Why should we bestow our affections upon these low and mean things, when there are incomparably better objects to fix them upon?
The inference from all this shall be to engage and persuade us by all these arguments and considerations, 356“to seek and mind the things which are above, where Christ sitteth at the right hand of God;” and “to have our conversation there, where our Saviour is, and from whence also we look for him again, to change these vile bodies, that they may be made like unto his glorious body, according to the working of that mighty power, whereby he is able to subdue all things to himself.” Let all our actions have relation to another world, and our conversation declare, that we are “mindful of another country, that is a heavenly.” Is Christ our head risen and ascended into heaven? Let us in our hearts and affections follow him thither, and patiently wait until he receive our souls, and raise our bodies, and take us wholly to himself, that we may be “for ever with the Lord.”
The resurrection of Christ is a demonstration of a future state after this life, and a pledge of a blessed immortality in another world. For our Lord by his resurrection from the dead, hath conquered death, and abolished it, “and brought life and immortality to light.” He is “the first-fruits of them that slept,” and his resurrection is an earnest and assurance of ours; and from thence the apostle makes this inference, “Therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye steadfast and unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord; forasmuch as ye know, that your labour shall not be in vain in the Lord.” The belief of a future state after this life, should put us upon the most earnest and vigorous endeavours to secure this happy condition to ourselves: “If by any means (as the apostle expressed! it,) we may attain the resurrection of the dead.” It should raise us above the world and the lusts of it, above all the terrors and temptations of it.357
As, on the one hand, the serious thoughts of our mortality should check our eager pursuit of this world; so, on the other hand, the belief of a life to come should quicken our endeavours for the obtaining it: seeing we hope for so happy a state, we should prepare ourselves for it by purity, and holiness of heart and life, by perseverance, and “a patient continuance in well-doing. What manner of persons ought we to be, in all holy conversation and godliness,” who have such hopes and expectations? “Every man that hath this hope in him, purifieth himself, even as he is pure.” Now that “life and immortality are brought to light by the gospel,” what greater, what other design can any man propose to himself, than to be happy for ever? For such a prize, who would not strive, and run, and take any pains? Who would not deny himself “the pleasures of sin, which are but for a season;” resist temptations, and conflict with difficulties, and glory in tribulations and sufferings, and be constant and “faithful to the death, in hope of that eternal life, which God that cannot lie hath promised?”
In our pursuit of the things of this world, we usually prevent enjoyment by expectation: we anticipate our own happiness, and eat out the heart and sweetness of worldly pleasures, by delightful forethoughts of them; so that when we come to possess them, they do not answer the expectation, nor satisfy the desires which were raised about them, and they vanish into nothing: but the things which are above, are so great, so solid, so durable, so glorious, that we cannot raise our thoughts to an equal height with them; we cannot enlarge our desires beyond a possibility of satisfaction. Our hearts 358are greater than the world; but God is greater than our hearts; and the happiness which he hath laid up for us, is like himself incomprehensibly great and glorious. Let the thoughts of this raise us above this world, and inspire us with greater thoughts and designs, than the care and concernments of this present life.
We all profess most firmly to believe, that after a few days we shall leave this world, and all the enjoyments of it, and go to the place from whence we shall not return; that we shall enter upon an un changeable state of happiness or misery, according as we have demeaned ourselves in this present life; that great care and diligence is necessary to “work out our own salvation;” that there must be a great preparation of ourselves, by unspotted purity of heart and life, to make ourselves “meet for an inheritance with them that are sanctified;” that we must labour, and strive, and run, and fight, “and give all diligence, to make our calling and election sure;” that we had need to “watch and pray always, that we may be accounted worthy to escape the judgment of the great day, and to stand before the Son of man.” Such thoughts as these should continually possess our souls, and heaven should be always in our eye, as if, with St. Stephen, “We saw the heavens opened, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God,” to see how we behave ourselves here below; and when “we have fought a good fight, and finished our course, and kept the faith, to receive us to himself, that where he is, there we may be also.”
“To whom, with the Father, and the Holy Ghost, be all honour and glory now and for evermore. Amen.”359
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