World Wide Study Bible
a Bible passage
Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and Timothy our brother,
2 To the saints and faithful brothers and sisters in Christ in Colossae:
Grace to you and peace from God our Father.
Paul Thanks God for the Colossians
3 In our prayers for you we always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, 4for we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love that you have for all the saints, 5because of the hope laid up for you in heaven. You have heard of this hope before in the word of the truth, the gospel 6that has come to you. Just as it is bearing fruit and growing in the whole world, so it has been bearing fruit among yourselves from the day you heard it and truly comprehended the grace of God. 7This you learned from Epaphras, our beloved fellow servant. He is a faithful minister of Christ on your behalf, 8and he has made known to us your love in the Spirit.
9 For this reason, since the day we heard it, we have not ceased praying for you and asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of God’s will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, 10so that you may lead lives worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, as you bear fruit in every good work and as you grow in the knowledge of God. 11May you be made strong with all the strength that comes from his glorious power, and may you be prepared to endure everything with patience, while joyfully 12giving thanks to the Father, who has enabled you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the light. 13He has rescued us from the power of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of his beloved Son, 14in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.
The Supremacy of Christ
15 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; 16for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers—all things have been created through him and for him. 17He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that he might come to have first place in everything. 19For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, 20and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross.
21 And you who were once estranged and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, 22he has now reconciled in his fleshly body through death, so as to present you holy and blameless and irreproachable before him— 23provided that you continue securely established and steadfast in the faith, without shifting from the hope promised by the gospel that you heard, which has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven. I, Paul, became a servant of this gospel.
Paul’s Interest in the Colossians
24 I am now rejoicing in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am completing what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church. 25I became its servant according to God’s commission that was given to me for you, to make the word of God fully known, 26the mystery that has been hidden throughout the ages and generations but has now been revealed to his saints. 27To them God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. 28It is he whom we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone in all wisdom, so that we may present everyone mature in Christ. 29For this I toil and struggle with all the energy that he powerfully inspires within me.
1 Paul an Apostle. I have already, in repeated instances, explained the design of such inscriptions. As, however, the Colossians had never seen him, and on that account his authority was not as yet so firmly established among them as to make his private name 278278 “Son simple et priué nom;” — “His simple and private name.” by itself sufficient, he premises that he is an Apostle of Christ set apart by the will of God. From this it followed, that he did not act rashly in writing to persons that were not known by him, inasmuch as he was discharging an embassy with which God had intrusted him. For he was not bound to one Church merely, but his Apostleship extended to all. The term saints which he applies to them is more honorable, but in calling them faithful brethren, he allures them more willingly to listen to him. As for other things, they may be found explained in the foregoing Epistles.
3. We give thanks to God. He praises the faith and love of the Colossians, that it may encourage them the more to alacrity and constancy of perseverance. Farther, by shewing that he has a persuasion of this kind respecting them, he procures their friendly regards, that they may be the more favourably inclined and teachable for receiving his doctrine. We must always take notice that he makes use of thanksgiving in place of congratulation, by which he teaches us, that in all our joys we must readily call to remembrance the goodness of God, inasmuch as everything that is pleasant and agreeable to us is a kindness conferred by him. Besides, he admonishes us, by his example, to acknowledge with gratitude not merely those things which the Lord confers upon us, but also those things which he confers upon others.
But for what things does he give thanks to the Lord? For the faith and love of the Colossians. He acknowledges, therefore, that both are conferred by God: otherwise the gratitude were pretended. And what have we otherwise than through his liberality? If, however, even the smallest favors come to us from that source, how much more ought this same acknowledgment to be made in reference to those two gifts, in which the entire sum of our excellence consists?
To the God and Father. 279279 “A Dieu qui est le Pere. Il y auroit mot a mot, A Dieu et Pere;” — “To God who is the Father. It were literally, To God and Father.” Understand the expression thus — To God who is the Father of Christ. For it is not lawful for us to acknowledge any other God than him who has manifested himself to us in his Son. And this is the only key for opening the door to us, if we are desirous to have access to the true God. For on this account, also, is he a Father to us, because he has embraced us in his only begotten Son, and in him also sets forth his paternal favor for our contemplation.
Always for you, Some explain it thus — We give thanks to God always for you, that is, continually. Others explain it to mean — Praying always for you. It may also be interpreted in this way, “Whenever we pray for you, we at the same time give thanks to God;” and this is the simple meaning, “We give thanks to God, and we at the same time pray.” By this he intimates, that the condition of believers is never in this world perfect, so as not to have, invariably, something wanting. For even the man who has begun admirably well, may fall short in a hundred instances every day; and we must ever be making progress while we are as yet on the way. Let us therefore bear in mind that we must rejoice in the favors that we have already received, and give thanks to God for them in such a manner, as to seek at the same time from him perseverance and advancement.
4. Having heard of your faith. This was a means of stirring up his love towards them, and his concern for their welfare, when he heard it that they were distinguished by faith and love. And, unquestionably, gifts of God that are so excellent ought to have such an effect upon us as to stir us up to love them wherever they appear. He uses the expression, faith in Christ, that we may always bear in mind that Christ is the proper object of faith.
He employs the expression, love towards the saints, not with the view of excluding others, but because, in proportion as any one is joined to us in God, we ought to embrace him the more closely with special affection. True love, therefore, will extend to mankind universally, because they all are our flesh, and created in the image of God, (Genesis 9:6;) but in respect of degrees, it will begin with those who are of the household of faith. (Galatians 6:10.)
5. For the hope which is laid up for you in heaven. For the hope of eternal life will never be inactive in us, so as not to produce love in us. For it is of necessity, that the man who is fully persuaded that a treasure of life is laid up for him in heaven will aspire thither, looking down upon this world. Meditation, however, upon the heavenly life stirs up our affections both to the worship of God, and to exercises of love. The Sophists pervert this passage for the purpose of extolling the merits of works, as if the hope of salvation depended on works. The reasoning, however, is futile. For it does not follow, that because hope stimulates us to aim at upright living, it is therefore founded upon works, inasmuch as nothing is more efficacious for this purpose than God’s unmerited goodness, which utterly overthrows all confidence in works.
There is, however, an instance of metonymy in the use of the term hope, as it is taken for the thing hoped for. For the hope that is in our hearts is the glory which we hope for in heaven. At the same time, when he says, that there is a hope that is laid up for us in heaven, he means, that believers ought to feel assured as to the promise of eternal felicity, equally as though they had already a treasure laid up 280280 “Vn tresor en seure garde;” — “A treasure in safe keeping.” in a particular place.
Of which ye heard before. As eternal salvation is a thing that surpasses the comprehension of our understanding, he therefore adds, that the assurance of it had been brought to the Colossians by means of the gospel; and at the same time he says in the outset, 281281 “Il dit auant que passer plus outre;” — “He says before proceeding farther.” that he is not to bring forward anything new, but that he has merely in view to confirm them in the doctrine which they had previously received. Erasmus has rendered — it the true word of the gospel. I am also well aware that, according to the Hebrew idiom, the genitive is often made use of by Paul in place of an epithet; but the words of Paul here are more emphatic. 282282 “Ont yci plus grande signifiance, et emportent plus;” — “Have here more significancy, and are more emphatic.” For he calls the gospel, καψ ἐξοχήν, (by way of eminence,) the word of truth, with the view of putting honor upon it, that they may more steadfastly and firmly adhere to the revelation which they have derived from that source. Thus the term gospel is introduced by way of apposition 283283 The term apposition, in grammar, signifies the putting of two nouns in the same case. — Ed.
6 As also in all the world it brings forth fruit. This has a tendency both to confirm and to comfort the pious — to see the effect of the gospel far and wide in gathering many to Christ. The faith of it does not, it is true, depend on its success, as though we should believe it on the ground that many believe it. Though the whole world should fail, though heaven itself should fall, the conscience of a pious man must not waver, because God, on whom it is founded, does nevertheless remain true. This, however, does not hinder our faith from being confirmed, whenever it perceives God’s excellence, which undoubtedly shews itself with more power in proportion to the number of persons that are gained over to Christ.
In addition to this, in the multitude of the believers at that time there was beheld an accomplishment of the many predictions which extend the reign of Christ from the East to the West. Is it a trivial or common aid to faith, to see accomplished before our eyes what the Prophets long since predicted as to the extending of the kingdom of Christ through all countries of the world? What I speak of, there is no believer that does not experience in himself. Paul accordingly had it in view to encourage the Colossians the more by this statement, that, by seeing in various places the fruit and progress of the gospel, they might embrace it with more eager zeal. Αὐξανόμενον, which I have rendered propagatur, (is propagated,) does not occur in some copies; but, from its suiting better with the context, I did not choose to omit it. It also appears front the commentaries of the ancients that this reading was always the more generally received. 284284 “This” (καὶ αὐξανόμενον) “is the reading of the Vatican and all the most ancient authorities.” — Penn. — Ed
Since the day ye heard it, and knew the grace. Here he praises them on account of their docility, inasmuch as they immediately embraced sound doctrine; and he praises them on account of their constancy, inasmuch as they persevered in it. It is also with propriety that the faith of the gospel is called the knowledge of God’s grace; for no one has ever tasted of the gospel but the man that knew himself to be reconciled to God, and took hold of the salvation that is held forth in Christ.
In truth means truly and without pretense; for as he had previously declared that the gospel is undoubted truth, so he now adds, that it had been purely administered by them, and that by Epaphras. For while all boast that they preach the gospel, and yet at the same time there are many evil workers, (Philippians 3:2,) through whose ignorance, or ambition, or avarice, its purity is adulterated, it is of great importance that faithful ministers should be distinguished from the less upright. For it is not enough to hold the term gospel, unless we know that this is the true gospel — what was preached by Paul and Epaphras. Hence Paul confirms the doctrine of Epaphras by giving it his approbation, that he may induce the Colossians to adhere to it, and may, by the same means, call them back from those profligates who endeavored to introduce strange doctrines. He at the same time dignifies Epaphras with a special distinction, that he may have more authority among them; and lastly, he presents him to the Colossians in an amiable aspect, by saying that he had borne testimony to him of their love. Paul everywhere makes it his particular aim, that he may, by his recommendation, render those who he knows serve Christ faithfully, very dear to the Churches; as, on the other hand, the ministers of Satan are wholly intent on alienating, by unfavourable representations, 285285 “Par faux rapports et calomnies;” — “By false reports and calumnies.” the minds of the simple from faithful pastors.
Love in the Spirit I take to mean, spiritual love, according to the view of Chrysostom, with whom, however, I do not agree in the interpretation of the preceding words. Now, spiritual love is of such a nature as has no view to the world, but is consecrated to the service of piety, 286286 “Mais est commencee et comme consacree a l’adueu de la piete et cognoissance de Dieu;” — “But is commenced and, as it were, consecrated to the service of piety and the knowledge of God.” and has, as it were, an internal root, while carnal friendships depend on external causes.
9. For this cause we also. As he has previously shewn his affection for them in his thanksgivings, so he now shews it still farther in the earnestness of his prayers in their behalf. 288288 “Comme il a ci dessus demonstré l’amour qu’il auoit enuers eux, en protestant qu’il s’esiouit de leurs auancemens, et en rend graces a Dieu, aussi le fait — il maintenant en son affection vehemente, et continuation de prier;” — “As he has already shewn the love which he cherished towards them, by declaring that he rejoices in their proficiency, and gives thanks to God for it, so he does the same now by his intense eagerness and perseverance in prayer.” And, assuredly, the more that the grace of God is conspicuous in any, we ought in that proportion specially to love and esteem them, and to be concerned as to their welfare. But what does he pray for in their behalf? That they may know God more fully; by which he indirectly intimates, that something is still wanting in them, that he may prepare the way for imparting instruction to them, and may secure their attention to a fuller statement of doctrine. For those who think that they have already attained everything that is worthy of being known, despise and disdain everything farther that is presented to them. Hence he removes from the Colossians an impression of this nature, lest it should be a hinderance in the way of their cheerfully making progress, and allowing what had been begun in them to receive an additional polish. But what knowledge does he desire in their behalf? The knowledge of the divine will, by which expression he sets aside all inventions of men, and all speculations that are at variance with the word of God. For his will is not to be sought anywhere else than in his word.
He adds — in all wisdom; by which he intimates that the will of God, of which he had made mention, was the only rule of right knowledge. For if any one is desirous simply to know those things which it has pleased God to reveal, that is the man who accurately knows what it is to be truly wise. If we desire anything beyond that, this will be nothing else than to be foolish, by not keeping within due bounds. By the word συνέσεως which we render prudentiam, (prudence,) I understand — that discrimination which proceeds from intelligence. Both are called spiritual by Paul, because they are not attained in any other way than by the guidance of the Spirit.
For the animal man does not perceive the things that are of God.
(1 Corinthians 2:14.)
So long as men are regulated by their own carnal perceptions, they have also their own wisdom, but it is of such a nature as is mere vanity, however much they may delight themselves in it. We see what sort of theology there is under the Papacy, what is contained in the books of philosophers, and what wisdom profane men hold in estimation. Let us, however, bear in mind, that the wisdom which is alone commended by Paul is comprehended in the will of God.
10. That ye may walk worthy of God. In the first place he teaches, what is the end of spiritual understanding, and for what purpose we ought to make proficiency in God’s school — that we may walk worthy of God, that is, that it may be manifest in our life, that we have not in vain been taught by God. Whoever they may be that do not direct their endeavors towards this object, may possibly toil and labor much, but they do nothing better than wander about in endless windings, without making any progress. 289289 “Mais ils ne feront que tracasser çà et là, et tourner a l’entour du pot (comme on dit) sans s’auancer;” — “But they will do nothing else than hurry hither and thither, and go about the bush (as they say) without making progress.” Farther, he admonishes us, that if we would walk worthy of God, we must above all things take heed that we regulate our whole course of life according to the will of God, renouncing our own understanding, and bidding farewell to all the inclinations of our flesh.
This also he again confirms by saying — unto all obedience, or, as they commonly say, well-pleasing. Hence if it is asked, what kind of life is worthy of God, let us always keep in view this definition of Paul — that it is such a life as, leaving the opinions of men, and leaving, in short, all carnal inclination, is regulated so as to be in subjection to God alone. From this follow good works, which are the fruits that God requires from us.
Increasing, in the knowledge of God. He again repeats, that they have not arrived at such perfection as not to stand in need of farther increase; by which admonition he prepares them, and as it were leads them by the hand, to an eagerness for proficiency, that they may shew themselves ready to listen, and teachable. What is here said to the Colossians, let all believers take as said to themselves, and draw from this a common exhortation that we must always make progress in the doctrine of piety until death.
11. Strengthened with all might. As he has previously prayed that they might have both a sound understanding and the right use of it, so also now he prays that they may have courage and constancy. In this manner he puts them in mind of their own weakness, for he says, that they will not be strong otherwise than by the Lord’s help; and not only so, but with the view of magnifying this exercise of grace the more, he adds, according to his glorious power. “So far from any one being able to stand, through dependence on his own strength, the power of God shews itself illustriously in helping our infirmity.” Lastly, he shews in what it is that the strength of believers ought to display itself — in all patience and long-suffering. For they are constantly, while in this world, exercised with the cross, and a thousand temptations daily present themselves, so as to weigh them down, and they see nothing of what God has promised. They must, therefore, arm themselves with an admirable patience, that what Isaiah says may be accomplished,
It is preferable to connect with this sentence the clause, with joy. For although the other reading is more commonly to be met with in the Latin versions, this is more in accordance with the Greek manuscripts, and, unquestionably, patience is not sustained otherwise than by alacrity of mind, and will never be maintained with fortitude by any one that is not satisfied with his condition.
12. Giving thanks. Again he returns to thanksgiving, that he may take this opportunity of enumerating the blessings which had been conferred upon them through Christ, and thus he enters upon a full delineation of Christ. For this was the only remedy for fortifying the Colossians against all the snares, by which the false Apostles endeavored to entrap them — to understand accurately what Christ was. For how comes it that we are carried about with so many strange doctrines, (Hebrews 13:9) but because the excellence of Christ is not perceived by us? For Christ alone makes all other things suddenly vanish. Hence there is nothing that Satan so much endeavors to accomplish as to bring on mists with the view of obscuring Christ, because he knows, that by this means the way is opened up for every kind of falsehood. This, therefore, is the only means of retaining, as well as restoring pure doctrine — to place Christ before the view such as he is with all his blessings, that his excellence may be truly perceived.
The question here is not as to the name. Papists in common with us acknowledge one and the same Christ; yet in the mean time how great a difference there is between us and them, inasmuch as they, after confessing Christ to be the Son of God, transfer his excellence to others, and scatter it hither and thither, and thus leave him next to empty, 292292 ”Ils le laissent quasi vuide et inutile;” — “They leave him in a manner empty and useless.” or at least rob him of a great part of his glory, so that he is called, it is true, by them the Son of God, but, nevertheless, he is not such as the Father designed he should be towards us. If, however, Papists would cordially embrace what is contained in this chapter, we would soon be perfectly agreed, but the whole of Popery would fall to the ground, for it cannot stand otherwise than through ignorance of Christ. This will undoubtedly be acknowledged by every one that will but consider the main article 293293 Statum The term is commonly employed among the Latins like στάσις among the Greeks, to mean the point at issue. See Cic. Top. 25. — Ed of this first chapter; for his grand object here is that we may know that Christ is the beginning, middle, and end — that it is from him that all things must be sought — that nothing is, or can be found, apart from him. Now, therefore, let the readers carefully and attentively observe in what colors Paul depicts Christ to us.
Who hath made us meet. He is still speaking of the Father, because he is the beginning, and efficient cause (as they speak) of our salvation. As the term God is more distinctly expressive of majesty, so the term Father conveys the idea of clemency and benevolent disposition. It becomes us to contemplate both as existing in God, that his majesty may inspire us with fear and reverence, and that his fatherly love may secure our full confidence. Hence it is not without good reason that Paul has conjoined these two things, if, after all, you prefer the rendering which the old interpreter has followed, and which accords with some very ancient Greek manuscripts. 294294 It is stated by Beza, that some Greek manuscripts have τῷ Θεῷ καὶ Πατρὶ, (to God and the Father,) and that this is the reading in some copies of the Vulgate. Wiclif (1380) reads, “To God and to the Fadir.” Rheims (1582) “To God and the Father.” — Ed At the same time there will be no inconsistency in saying, that he contents himself with the single term, Father. Farther, as it is necessary that his incomparable grace should be expressed by the term Father, so it is also not less necessary that we should, by the term God, be roused up to admiration of so great goodness, that he, who is God, has condescended thus far. 295295 “S’est abbaisé iusques là de vouloir estre nostre Pere;” — “Has abased himself so far as to be willing to be our Father.”
But for what kindness does he give thanks to God? For his having made him, and others, meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints. For we are born children of wrath, exiles from God’s kingdom. It is God’s adoption that alone makes us meet. Now, adoption depends on an unmerited election. The Spirit of regeneration is the seal of adoption. He adds, in light, that there might be a contrast — as opposed to the darkness of Satan’s kingdom. 296296 “Afin qu’il y eust vne opposition entre les tenebres du royaume de Satan, et la lumiere du royaume de Dieu;” — “That there might be a contrast between the darkness of Satan’s kingdom, and the light of God’s kingdom.”
13. Who hath delivered us. Mark, here is the beginning of our salvation — when God delivers us from the depth of ruin into which we were plunged. For wherever his grace is not, there is darkness, 297297 “Là il n’y a que tenebres;” — “There is nothing but darkness.” as it is said in Isaiah 60:2
Behold darkness shall cover the earth, and thick darkness the nations; but the Lord shall arise upon thee, and his glory shall be seen upon thee.
In the first place, we ourselves are called darkness, and afterwards the whole world, and Satan, the Prince of darkness, 298298 “One of the names which the Jews gave to Satan was חש — darkness” — Illustrated Commentary. — Ed under whose tyranny we are held captive, until we are set free by Christ’s hand. 299299 “Iusqu’a ce que nons soyons deliurez et affranchis par la puissance de Christ;” — “Until we are delivered and set free by the power of Christ.” From this you may gather that the whole world, with all its pretended wisdom and righteousness, is regarded as nothing but darkness in the sight of God, because, apart from the kingdom of Christ, there is no light.
Hath translated us into the kingdom. These form already the beginnings of our blessedness — when we are translated into the kingdom of Christ, because we pass from death into life. (1 John 3:14.) This, also, Paul ascribes to the grace of God, that no one may imagine that he can attain so great a blessing by his own efforts. As, then, our deliverance from the slavery of sin and death is the work of God, so also our passing into the kingdom of Christ. He calls Christ the Son of his love, or the Son that is beloved by God the Father, because it is in him alone that his soul takes pleasure, as we read in Matthew 17:5, and in whom all others are beloved. For we must hold it as a settled point, that we are not acceptable to God otherwise than through Christ. Nor can it be doubted, that Paul had it in view to censure indirectly the mortal enmity that exists between men and God, until love shines forth in the Mediator.
14. In whom we have redemption. He now proceeds to set forth in order, that all parts of our salvation are contained in Christ, and that he alone ought to shine forth, and to be seen conspicuous above all creatures, inasmuch as he is the beginning and end of all things. In the first place, he says that we have redemption 300300 “Redemption et deliurance;” — “Redemption and deliverance.” and immediately explains it as meaning the remission of sins; for these two things agree together by apposition 301301 The following explanation of the meaning of the term apposition is furnished in a marginal note in our author’s French version: “C’est quand deux noms substantifs appartenans a vne mesme chose, sont mis ensemble sans conionction, comme par declaration l’vn et l’autre;” — “This is when two substantive nouns, relating to the same thing, are placed together without being conjoined, as if by way of explanation, the one and the other.” For, unquestionably, when God remits our transgressions, he exempts us from condemnation to eternal death. This is our liberty, this our glorying in the face of death — that our sins are not imputed to us. He says that this redemption was procured through the blood of Christ, for by the sacrifice of his death all the sins of the world have been expiated. Let us, therefore, bear in mind, that this is the sole price of reconciliation, and that all the trifling of Papists as to satisfactions is blasphemy. 302302 “Blasphemes execrables;” — “Execrable blasphemies.”
15. Who is the image of the invisible God. He mounts up higher in discoursing as to the glory of Christ. He calls him the image of the invisible God, meaning by this, that it is in him alone that God, who is otherwise invisible, is manifested to us, in accordance with what is said in John 1:18,
— No man hath ever seen God: the only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, hath himself manifested him to us.
I am well aware in what manner the ancients were accustomed to explain this; for having a contest to maintain with Arians, they insist upon the equality of the Son with the Father, and his (ὁμοουσίαν) identity of essence, 303303 See Calvin on the Corinthians, vol. 1, p. 196, n. 1. while in the mean time they make no mention of what is the chief point — in what manner the Father makes himself known to us in Christ. As to Chrysostom’s laying the whole stress of his defense on the term image, by contending that the creature cannot be said to be the image of the Creator, it is excessively weak; nay more, it is set aside by Paul in 1 Corinthians 11:7, whose words are — The man is the IMAGE and glory of God
That, therefore, we may not receive anything but what is solid, let us take notice, that the term image is not made use of in reference to essence, but has a reference to us; for Christ is called the image of God on this ground — that he makes God in a manner visible to us. At the same time, we gather also from this his (ὁμοουσία) identity of essence, for Christ would not truly represent God, if he were not the essential Word of God, inasmuch as the question here is not as to those things which by communication are suitable also to creatures, but the question is as to the perfect wisdom, goodness, righteousness, and power of God, for the representing of which no creature were competent. We shall have, therefore, in this term, a powerful weapon in opposition to the Arians, but, notwithstanding, we must begin with that reference 304304 “Relation et correspondance;” — “Reference and correspondence.” that I have mentioned; we must not insist upon the essence alone. The sum is this — that God in himself, that is, in his naked majesty, is invisible, and that not to the eyes of the body merely, but also to the understandings of men, and that he is revealed to us in Christ alone, that we may behold him as in a mirror. For in Christ he shews us his righteousness, goodness, wisdom, power, in short, his entire self. We must, therefore, beware of seeking him elsewhere, for everything that would set itself off as a representation of God, apart from Christ, will be an idol.
The first-born of every creature. The reason of this appellation is immediately added — For in him all things are created, as he is, three verses afterwards, called the first-begotten from the dead, because by him we all rise again. Hence, he is not called the first-born, simply on the ground of his having preceded all creatures in point of time, but because he was begotten by the Father, that they might be created by him, and that he might be, as it were, the substance or foundation of all things. It was then a foolish part that the Arians acted, who argued from this that he was, consequently, a creature. For what is here treated of is, not what he is in himself, but what he accomplishes in others.
16. Visible and invisible. Both of these kinds were included in the foregoing distinction of heavenly and earthly things; but as Paul meant chiefly to make that affirmation in reference to Angels, he now makes mention of things invisible. Not only, therefore, have those heavenly creatures which are visible to our eyes, but spiritual creatures also, been created by the Son of God. What immediately follows, whether thrones, etc., is as though he had said — “by whatever name they are called.”
By thrones some understand Angels. I am rather, however, of opinion, that the heavenly palace of God’s majesty is meant by the term, which we are not to imagine to be such as our mind can conceive of, but such as is suitable to God himself. We see the sun and moon, and the whole adorning of heaven, but the glory of God’s kingdom is hid from our perception, because it is spiritual, and above the heavens. In fine, let us understand by the term thrones that seat of blessed immortality which is exempted from all change.
By the other terms he undoubtedly describes the angels. He calls them powers, principalities, and dominions, not, as if they swayed any separate kingdom, or were endowed with peculiar power, 305305 “Ayent vertu ou puissance d’eux — mesmes;” — “Have power or authority of themselves.” but because they are the ministers of Divine power and dominion. 306306 “Sont executeurs de la puissance Diuine, et ministres de sa domination;” — “Are the executors of God’s power, and ministers of his dominion.” It is customary, however, that, in so far as God manifests his power in creatures, his names are, in that proportion, transferred to them. Thus he is himself alone Lord and Father, but those are also called lords and fathers whom he dignifies with this honor. Hence it comes that angels, as well as judges, are called gods. 307307 See Calvin on John, vol. 1: p. 419. Hence, in this passage also, angels are signalized by magnificent titles, which intimate, not what they can do of themselves, or apart from God, but what God does by them, and what functions he has assigned to them. These things it becomes us to understand in such a manner as to detract nothing from the glory of God alone; for he does not communicate his power to angels as to lessen his own; he does not work by them in such a manner as to resign his power to them; he does not desire that his glory should shine forth in them, so as to be obscured in himself. Paul, however, designedly extols the dignity of angels in terms thus magnificent, that no one may think that it stands in the way of Christ alone having the pre-eminence over them. He makes use, therefore, of these terms, as it were by way of concession, as though he had said, that all their excellence detracts nothing from Christ, 308308 “N’oste rien a la gloire de Christ;” — “Takes nothing from the glory of Christ.” however honorable the titles with which they are adorned. As for those who philosophize on these terms with excessive subtlety, that they may draw from them the different orders of angels, let them regale themselves with their dainties, but they are assuredly very remote from Paul’s design.
17. All things were created by him, and for him. He places angels in subjection to Christ, that they may not obscure his glory, for four reasons: In the first place, because they were created by him; secondly, because their creation ought to be viewed as having a relation to him, as their legitimate end; thirdly, because he himself existed always, prior to their creation; fourthly, because he sustains them by his power, and upholds them in their condition. At the same time, he does not affirm this merely as to angels, but also as to the whole world. Thus he places the Son of God in the Highest seat of honor, that he may have the pre-eminence over angels as well as men, and may bring under control all creatures in heaven and in earth.
18. The head of the body. Having discoursed in a general way of Christ’s excellence, and of his sovereign dominion over all creatures, he again returns to those things which relate peculiarly to the Church. Under the term head some consider many things to be included. And, unquestionably, he makes use afterwards, as we shall find, of the same metaphor in this sense — that as in the human body it serves as a root, from which vital energy is diffused through all the members, so the life of the Church flows out from Christ, etc. (Colossians 2:19.) Here, however, in my opinion, he speaks chiefly of government. He shews, therefore, that it is Christ that alone has authority to govern the Church, that it is he to whom alone believers ought to have an eye, and on whom alone the unity of the body depends.
Papists, with the view of supporting the tyranny of their idol, allege that the Church would be (ἀκέφαλον) without a head, 309309 See Institutes, vol. 2, p. 11. if the Pope did not, as a head, exercise rule in it. Paul, however, does not allow this honor even to angels, and yet he does not maim the Church, by depriving her of her head; for as Christ claims for himself this title, so he truly exercises the office. I am also well aware of the cavil by which they attempt to escape — that the Pope is a ministerial head. The name, however, of head is too august to be rightfully transferred to any mortal man, 310310 “Est si honorable et magnifique qu’il ne pent estre transferé a homme mortel;” — “Is so honorable and magnificent, that it cannot be transferred to a mortal man.” under any pretext, especially without the command of Christ. Gregory shews greater modesty, who says (in his 92nd Epistle, 4th Book) that Peter was indeed one of the chief members of the Church, but that he and the other Apostles were members under one head.
He is the beginning. As ἀρχὴ is sometimes made use of among the Greeks to denote the end, to which all things bear a relation, we might understand it as meaning, that Christ is in this sense (ἀρχὴ) the end. I prefer, however, to explain Paul’s words thus — that he is the beginning, because he is the first-born from the dead; for in the resurrection there is a restoration of all things, and in this manner the commencement of the second and new creation, for the former had fallen to pieces in the ruin of the first man. As, then, Christ in rising again had made a commencement of the kingdom of God, he is on good grounds called the beginning; for then do we truly begin to have a being in the sight of God, when we are renewed, so as to be new creatures. He is called the first-begotten from the dead, not merely because he was the first that rose again, but because he has also restored life to others, as he is elsewhere called the first-fruits of those that rise again. (1 Corinthians 15:20.)
That he may in all things. From this he concludes, that supremacy belongs to him in all things. For if he is the Author and Restorer of all things, it is manifest that this honor is justly due to him. At the same time the phrase in omnibus (in all things) may be taken in two ways — either over all creatures, or, in everything. This, however, is of no great importance, for the simple meaning is, that all things are subjected to his sway.
19. Because it hath pleased the Father that in him. With the view of confirming what he has declared respecting Christ, he now adds, that it was so arranged in the providence of God. And, unquestionably, in order that we may with reverence adore this mystery, it is necessary that we should be led back to that fountain. “This,” says he, “has been in accordance with the counsel of God, that all fullness may dwell in him.” Now, he means a fullness of righteousness, wisdom, power, and every blessing. For whatever God has he has conferred upon his Son, that he may be glorified in him, as is said in John 5:20. He shews us, however, at the same time, that we must draw from the fullness of Christ everything good that we desire for our salvation, because such is the determination of God — not to communicate himself, or his gifts to men, otherwise than by his Son. “Christ is all things to us: apart from him we have nothing.” Hence it follows, that all that detract from Christ, or that impair his excellence, or rob him of his offices, or, in fine, take away a drop from his fullness, overturn, so far as is in their power, God’s eternal counsel.
20. And by him to reconcile all things to himself. This, also, is a magnificent commendation of Christ, that we cannot be joined to God otherwise than through him. In the first place, let us consider that our happiness consists in our cleaving to God, and that, on the other hand, there is nothing more miserable than to be alienated from him. He declares, accordingly, that we are blessed through Christ alone, inasmuch as he is the bond of our connection with God, and, on the other hand, that, apart from him, we are most miserable, because we are shut out from God. 311311 “Bannis de la compagnie de Dieu;” — “Banished from the society of God.” Let us, however, bear in mind, that what he ascribes to Christ belongs peculiarly to him, that no portion of this praise may be transferred to any other. 312312 “Tant excellent soit-il;” — “However excellent he may be.” Hence we must consider the contrasts to these things to be understood — that if this is Christ’s prerogative, it does not belong to others. For of set purpose he disputes against those who imagined that the angels were pacificators, through whom access to God might be opened up.
Making peace through the blood of his cross. He speaks of the Father, — that he has been made propitious to his creatures by the blood of Christ. Now he calls it the blood of the cross, inasmuch as it was the pledge and price of the making up of our peace with God, because it was poured out upon the cross. For it was necessary that the Son of God should be an expiatory victim, and endure the punishment of sin, that we might be the righteousness of God in him. (2 Corinthians 5:21.) The blood of the cross, therefore, means the blood of the sacrifice which was offered upon the cross for appeasing the anger of God.
In adding by him, he did not mean to express anything new, but to express more distinctly what he had previously stated, and to impress it still more deeply on their minds — that Christ alone is the author of reconciliation, as to exclude all other means. For there is no other that has been crucified for us. Hence it is he alone, by whom and for whose sake we have God propitious to us.
Both upon earth and in heaven. If you are inclined to understand this as referring merely to rational creatures, it will mean, men and angels. There were, it is true, no absurdity in extending it to all without exception; but that I may not be under the necessity of philosophizing with too much subtlety, I prefer to understand it as referring to angels and men; and as to the latter, there is no difficulty as to their having need of a peace maker in the sight of God. As to angels, however, there is a question not easy of solution. For what occasion is there for reconciliation, where there is no discord or hatred? Many, influenced by this consideration, have explained the passage before us in this manner — that angels have been brought into agreement with men, and that by this means heavenly creatures have been restored to favor with earthly creatures. Another meaning, however, is conveyed by Paul’s words, that God hath reconciled to himself. That explanation, therefore, is forced.
It remains, that we see what is the reconciliation of angels and men. I say that men have been reconciled to God, because they were previously alienated from him by sin, and because they would have had him as a Judge to their ruin, 313313 “A leur confusion et ruine;” — “To their confusion and ruin.” had not the grace of the Mediator interposed for appeasing his anger. Hence the nature of the peace making between God and men was this, that enmities have been abolished through Christ, and thus God becomes a Father instead of a Judge.
Between God and angels the state of matters is very different, for there was there 314314 “En eux;” — “Among them.” no revolt, no sin, and consequently no separation. It was, however, necessary that angels, also, should be made to be at peace with God, for, being creatures, they were not beyond the risk of falling, had they not been confirmed by the grace of Christ. This, however, is of no small importance for the perpetuity of peace with God, to have a fixed standing in righteousness, so as to have no longer any fear of fall or revolt. Farther, in that very obedience which they render to God, there is not such absolute perfection as to give satisfaction to God in every respect, and without the need of pardon. And this beyond all doubt is what is meant by that statement in Job 4:18, He will find iniquity in his angels. For if it is explained as referring to the devil, what mighty thing were it? But the Spirit declares there, that the greatest purity is vile, 315315 “Que la plus grande purete qu’on pourroit trouuer, ne sera que vilenie et ordure;” — “That the greatest purity that could be found will be nothing but filth and pollution.” if it is brought into comparison with the righteousness of God. We must, therefore, conclude, that there is not on the part of angels so much of righteousness as would suffice for their being fully joined with God. They have, therefore, need of a peace maker, through whose grace they may wholly cleave to God. Hence it is with propriety that Paul declares, that the grace of Christ does not reside among mankind alone, and on the other hand makes it common also to angels. Nor is there any injustice done to angels, in sending them to a Mediator, that they may, through his kindness, have a well grounded peace with God.
Should any one, on the pretext of the universality of the expression, 316316 “Sous ombre de ce mot, Toutes choses;” — “Under the pretext of this word, All things.” move a question in reference to devils, whether Christ be their peace maker also? I answer, No, not even of wicked men: though I confess that there is a difference, inasmuch as the benefit of redemption is offered to the latter, but not to the former. 317317 “Est offert aux meschans et reprouuez, et non pas aix diables;” — “Is offered to the wicked and reprobate, but not to devils.” This, however, has nothing to do with Paul’s words, which include nothing else than this, that it is through Christ alone, that, all creatures, who have any connection at all with God, cleave to him.
21. And whereas ye were formerly. The general doctrine which he had set forth he now applies particularly to them, that they may feel that they are guilty of very great ingratitude, if they allow themselves to be drawn away from Christ to new inventions. And this arrangement must be carefully observed, because the particular application of a doctrine, so to speak, affects the mind more powerfully. Farther, he leads their views to experience, that they may recognize in themselves the benefit of that redemption of which he had made mention. “You are yourselves a sample 318318 “Vn miroir;” — “A mirror.” of that grace which I declare to have been offered to mankind through Christ. For ye were alienated, that is, from God. Ye were enemies; now ye are received into favor: whence comes this? It is because God, being appeased by the death of Christ, has become reconciled to you.” At the same time, there is in this statement a change of person, for what he has previously declared as to the Father, he now affirms respecting Christ; for we must necessarily explain it thus, in the body of HIS flesh
The term διανοίας (thought) I explain, as employed by way of amplification, as though he had said, that they were altogether, and in the whole of their mental system, alienated from God, that no one may imagine, after the manner of philosophers, that the alienation is merely in a particular part, as Popish theologians restrict it to the lower appetites. “Nay,” says Paul, “what made you odious to God, had taken possession of your whole mind.” In fine, he meant to intimate, that man, whatever he may be, is wholly at variance with God, and is an enemy to him. The old interpreter renders it (sensum) sense. Erasmus renders it mentem, (mind.) I have made use of the term cogitationis, to denote what the French call intention. For such is the force of the Greek word, and Paul’s meaning requires that it should be rendered so.
Farther, while the term enemies has a passive as well as active signification, it is well suited to us in both respects, so long as we are apart from Christ. For we are born children of wrath, and every thought of the flesh is enmity against God. (Romans 8:7.)
In wicked works. He shews from its effects the inward hatred which lies hid in the heart. For as mankind endeavor to free themselves from all blame, until they have been openly convicted, God shews them their impiety by outward works, as is more amply treated of in Romans 1:19. Farther, what is told us here as to the Colossians, is applicable to us also, for we differ nothing in respect of nature. There is only this difference, that some are called from their mother’s womb, whose malice God anticipates, so as to prevent them from breaking forth into open fruits, while others, after having wandered during a great part of their life, are brought back to the fold. We all, however, stand in need of Christ as our peace maker, because we are the slaves of sin, and where sin is, there is enmity between God and men.
22. In the body of his flesh. The expression is in appearance absurd, but the body of his flesh means that human body, which the Son of God had in common with us. He meant, therefore, to intimate, that the Son of God had put on the same nature with us, that he took upon him this vile earthly body, subject to many infirmities, that he might be our Mediator. When he adds, by death, he again calls us back to sacrifice. For it was necessary that the Son of God should become man, and be a partaker of our flesh, that he might be our brother: it was necessary that he should by dying become a sacrifice, that he might make his Father propitious to us.
That he might present us holy. Here we have the second and principal part of our salvation — newness of life. For the entire blessing of redemption consists mainly in these two things, remission of sins, and spiritual regeneration. (Jeremiah 31:33.) What he has already spoken of was a great matter, that righteousness has been procured for us through the death of Christ, so that, our sins being remitted, we are acceptable to God. Now, however, he teaches us, that there is in addition to this another benefit equally distinguished — the gift of the Holy Spirit, by which we are renewed in the image of God. This, also, is a passage worthy of observation, as shewing that a gratuitous righteousness is not conferred upon us in Christ, without our being at the same time regenerated by the Spirit to the obedience of righteousness, as he teaches us elsewhere, that
Christ is made to us righteousness and sanctification.
(1 Corinthians. 1:30.)
The former we obtain by a gratuitous acceptance; 319319 “Par l’acceptation gratuite de Dieu, c’est a dire pource qu’il nous accepte et ha agreables;” — “By God’s gratuitous acceptance, that is, because he accepts of us, and regards us with favor.” and the latter by the gift of the Holy Spirit, when we are made new creatures. There is however an inseparable connection between these two blessings of grace.
Let us, however, take notice, that this holiness is nothing more than begun in us, and is indeed every day making progress, but will not be perfected until Christ shall appear for the restoration of all things. For the Cœlestinians 320320 The followers of Cœlestius, who, along with Pelagius, held views subversive of the doctrine of original sin, the necessity of divine grace, and other doctrines of a kindred character. — Ed. and the Pelagians in ancient times mistakingly perverted this passage, so as to shut out the gracious benefit of the remission of sins. For they conceived of a perfection in this world which could satisfy the judgment of God, so that mercy was not needed. Paul, however, does not by any means shew us here what is accomplished in this world, but what is the end of our calling, and what blessings are brought to us by Christ.
23. If ye continue. Here we have an exhortation to perseverance, by which he admonishes them that all the grace that had been conferred upon them hitherto would be vain, unless they persevered in the purity of the gospel. And thus he intimates, that they are still only making progress, and have not yet reached the goal. For the stability of their faith was at that time exposed to danger through the stratagems of the false apostles. Now he paints in lively colors assurance of faith when he bids the Colossians be grounded and settled in it. For faith is not like mere opinion, which is shaken by various movements, but has a firm steadfastness, which can withstand all the machinations of hell. Hence the whole system of Popish theology will never afford even the slightest taste of true faith, which holds it as a settled point, that we must always be in doubt respecting the present state of grace, as well as respecting final perseverance. He afterwards takes notice also of a relationship 321321 “Vne relation et correspondence mutuelle;” — “A mutual relationship and correspondence.” which subsists between faith and the gospel, when he says that the Colossians will be settled in the faith only in the event of their not falling back from the hope of the gospel; that is, the hope which shines forth upon us through means of the gospel, for where the gospel is, there is the hope of everlasting salvation. Let us, however, bear in mind, that the sum of all is contained in Christ. Hence he enjoins it upon them here to shun all doctrines which lead away from Christ, so that the minds of men are otherwise occupied.
Which ye have heard. As the false apostles themselves, who tear and rend Christ in pieces, are accustomed proudly to glory in the name of the gospel, and as it is a common artifice of Satan to trouble men’s consciences under a false pretext of the gospel, that the truth of the gospel may be brought into confusion, 322322 “Demeure en confus, et qu’on ne scache que c’est;” — “May remain in confusion, and it may not be known what it is.” Paul, on this account, expressly declares, that that was the genuine, 323323 “Vray et naturel;” — “True and genuine.” that the undoubted gospel, which the Colossians had heard, namely, from Epaphras, that they might not lend an ear to doctrines at variance with it. He adds, besides, a confirmation of it, that it is the very same as was preached over the whole world. It is, I say, no ordinary confirmation when they hear that they have the whole Church agreeing with them, and that they follow no other doctrine than what the Apostles had alike taught and was everywhere received.
It is, however, a ridiculous boasting of Papists, in respect of their impugning our doctrine by this argument, that it is not preached everywhere with approbation and applause, inasmuch as we have few that assent to it. For though they should burst, they will never deprive us of this — that we at this day teach nothing but what was preached of old by Prophets and Apostles, and is obediently received by the whole band of saints. For Paul did not mean that the gospel should be approved of by the consent of all ages 324324 “Car Sainct Paul n’ a pas voulu dire que l’approbation de l’Euangile dependist du consentement de tous siecles;” — “For St. Paul did not mean to say, that the approbation of the Gospel depended on the consent of all ages.” in such a way that, if it were rejected, its authority would be shaken. He had, on the contrary, an eye to that commandment of Christ,
Go, preach the gospel to every creature; (Mark 16:15;)
which commandment depends on so many predictions of the Prophets, foretelling that the kingdom of Christ would be spread over the whole world. What else then does Paul mean by these words than that the Colossians had also been watered by those living streams, which, springing forth from Jerusalem, were to flow out through the whole world? (Zechariah 14:8.)
We also do not glory in vain, or without remarkable fruit and consolation, 325325 “Ne sans vn fruit singulier et consolation merueilleuse;” — “Not without remarkable fruit, and wonderful consolation.” that we have the same gospel, which is preached among all nations by the commandment of the Lord, which is received by all the Churches, and in the profession of which all pious persons have lived and died. It is also no common help for fortifying us against so many assaults, that we have the consent of the whole Church — such, I mean, as is worthy of so distinguished a title. We also cordially subscribe to the views of Augustine, who refutes the Donatists 326326 The Donatists were a sect that sprung up in Africa during the fourth century, and were, vigorously opposed by Augustine. — Ed. by this argument particularly, that they bring forward a gospel that is in all the Churches unheard of and unknown. This truly is said on good grounds, for if it is a true gospel that is brought forward, while not ratified by any approbation on the part of the Church, it follows, that vain and false are the many promises in which it is predicted that the preaching of the gospel will be carried through the whole world, and which declare that the sons of God shall be gathered from all nations and countries, etc. (Hosea 1:10-11.) But what do Papists do? Having bid farewell to Prophets and Apostles, and passing by the ancient Church, they would have their revolt from the gospel be looked upon as the consent of the universal Church. Where is the resemblance? Hence, when there is a dispute as to the consent of the Church, let us return to the Apostles and their preaching, as Paul does here. Farther, lest any one should explain too rigidly the term denoting universality, 327327 “Ce mot, Toute;” — “This word, All.” Paul means simply, that it had been preached everywhere far and wide.
Of which I am made. He speaks also of himself personally, and this was very necessary, for we must always take care, that we do not rashly intrude ourselves into the office of teaching. 328328 “De prescher et enseigner;” — “Of preaching and teaching.” He accordingly declares, that this office was appointed him, that he may secure for himself right and authority. And, indeed, he so connects his apostleship with their faith, that they may not have it in their power to reject his doctrine otherwise than by abandoning the gospel which they had embraced.
24. I now rejoice. He has previously claimed for himself authority on the ground of his calling. Now, however, he provides against the honor of his apostleship being detracted from by the bonds and persecutions, which he endured for the sake of the gospel. For Satan, also, perversely turns these things into occasions of rendering the servants of God the more contemptible. Farther, he encourages them by his example not to be intimidated by persecutions, and he sets forth to their view his zeal, that he may have greater weight. 329329 “Et monstre le grand zele qu’il auoit, afin qu’il y ait plus de poids et authorite en ce qu’il dit;” — “And shews the great zeal that he had, that there may be greater weight and authority in what he says.” Nay more, he gives proof of his affection towards them by no common pledge, when he declares that he willingly bears for their sake the afflictions which he endures. “But whence,” some one will ask, “arises this joy?” From his seeing the fruit that springs from it. “The affliction that I endure on your account is pleasant to me, because I do not suffer it in vain.” 330330 “M’est douce et gracieuse, pouree qu’elle n’est point inutile;” — “Is sweet and agreeable to me, because it is not unprofitable.” In the same manner, in his First Epistle to the Thessalonians, he says, that he rejoiced in all necessities and afflictions, on the ground of what he had heard as to their faith. (1 Thessalonians 3:6, 7.)
And fill up what is wanting. The particle and I understand as meaning for, for he assigns a reason why he is joyful in his sufferings, because he is in this thing a partner with Christ, and nothing happier can be desired than this partnership. 331331 “Ceste societe et conionction;” — “This fellowship and connection.” He also brings forward a consolation common to all the pious, that in all tribulations, especially in so far as they suffer anything for the sake of the gospel, they are partakers of the cross of Christ, that they may enjoy fellowship with him in a blessed resurrection.
Nay more, he declares that there is thus filled up what is wanting in the affliction of Christ. For as he speaks in Romans 8:29,
Whom God elected, he also hath predestinated to be conformed to the image of Christ, that he may be the first-born among the brethren.
Farther, we know that there is so great a unity between Christ and his members, that the name of Christ sometimes includes the whole body, as in 1 Corinthians. 12:12, for while discoursing there respecting the Church, he comes at length to the conclusion, that in Christ the same thing holds as in the human body. As, therefore, Christ has suffered once in his own person, so he suffers daily in his members, and in this way there are filled up those sufferings which the Father hath appointed for his body by his decree. 332332 “It is worthy of remark, that the Apostle does not say παθηματα, the passion of Christ, but simply θλιψεις, the aff1ictions; 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.” — Dr. A. Clarke. — Ed. Here we have a second consideration, which ought to bear up our minds and comfort them in afflictions, that it is thus fixed and determined by the providence of God, that we must be conformed to Christ in the endurance of the cross, and that the fellowship that we have with him extends to this also.
He adds, also, a third reason — that his sufferings are advantageous, and that not merely to a few, but to the whole Church. He had previously stated that he suffered in behalf of the Colossians, and he now declares still farther, that the advantage extends to the whole Church. This advantage has been spoken of in Philippians 1:12. What could be clearer, less forced, or more simple, than this exposition, that Paul is joyful in persecution, because he considers, in accordance with what he writes elsewhere, that we must
carry about with us in our body the mortification of Christ, that his life may be manifested in us? (2 Corinthians 4 10.)
He says also in Timothy,
If we suffer with him, we shall also reign with him: if we die with him, we shall also live with him, (2 Timothy 2:11-12)
and thus the issue will be blessed and glorious. Farther, he considers that we must not refuse the condition which God has appointed for his Church, that the members of Christ may have a suitable correspondence with the head; and, thirdly, that afflictions must be cheerfully endured, inasmuch as they are profitable to all the pious, and promote the welfare of the whole Church, by adorning the doctrine of the gospel.
Papists, however, disregarding and setting aside all these things, 333333 “Mais quoy? Les Papistes laissans tout ceci;” — “But what? Papists leaving all this.” have struck out a new contrivance in order that they may establish their system of indulgences. They give the name of indulgences to a remission of punishments, obtained by us through the merits of the martyrs. For, as they deny that there is a gratuitous remission of sins, and allege that they are redeemed by satisfactory deeds, when the satisfactions do not fill up the right measure, they call into their help the blood of the martyrs, that it may, along with the blood of Christ, serve as an expiation in the judgment of God. And this mixture they call the treasure of the Church 334334 See Calvin’S Institutes, vol. 2, p. 237, and Calvin on Corinthians, vol. 1, p. 68. , the keys of which they afterwards intrust to whom they think fit. Nor are they ashamed to wrest this passage, with the view of supporting so execrable a blasphemy, as if Paul here affirmed that his sufferings are of avail for expiating the sins of men.
They urge in their support the term ὑστερήματα, (things wanting,) as if Paul meant to say, that the sufferings which Christ has endured for the redemption of men were insufficient. There is no one, however, that does not see that Paul speaks in this manner, because it is necessary, that by the afflictions of the pious, the body of the Church should be brought to its perfection, inasmuch as the members are conformed to their head. 335335 “We are not to suppose that our Lord left any sufferings to be endured by Paul, or any one else, as the expiation of the sins or the ransom of the souls of his people... The filling up spoken of by the Apostle is not the supplementing Christ’s personal sufferings, but it is the completing that share allotted to himself as one of the members of Christ, as sufferings which, from the intimacy of union between the head and the members, may be called his sufferings. Christ lived in Paul, spoke in Paul, wrought in Paul, suffered in Paul; and in a similar sense, the sufferings of every Christian for Christ are the sufferings of Christ.” — Brown’s Expository Discourses on Peter, vol. 3, pp. 69, 70. — Ed. I should also be afraid of being suspected of calumny in repeating things so monstrous, 336336 “Tels blasphemes horribles;” — “Such horrible blasphemies.” if their books did not bear witness that I impute nothing to them groundlessly. They urge, also, what Paul says, that he suffers for the Church. It is surprising that this refined interpretation had not occurred to any of the ancients, for they all interpret it as we do, to mean, that the saints suffer for the Church, inasmuch as they confirm the faith of the Church. Papists, however, gather from this that the saints are redeemers, because they shed their blood for the expiation of sins. That my readers, however, may perceive more clearly their impudence, allow that the martyrs, as well as Christ, suffered for the Church, but in different ways, as I am inclined to express in Augustine’s words rather than in my own. For he writes thus in his 84th treatise on John: “Though we brethren die for brethren, yet there is no blood of any martyr that is poured out for the remission of sins. This Christ did for us. Nor has he in this conferred upon us matter of imitation, but ground of thanksgiving.” Also, in the fourth book to Bonifacius: “As the only Son of God became the Son of man, that he might make us sons of God, so he has alone, without offense, endured punishment for us, that we may through him, without merit, obtain undeserved favor.” Similar to these is the statement of Leo Bishop of Rome; “The righteous received crowns, did not give them; and for the fortitude of believers there have come forth examples of patience, not gifts of righteousness. For their deaths were for themselves, and no one by his latter end paid the debt of another.” 337337 The reader will find the same passage as above quoted by Calvin in the Institutes, vol. 2, pp. 238, 239. See also Calvin on the Corinthians, vol. 1, p. 69, n. 1. — Ed.
Now, that this is the meaning of Paul’s words is abundantly manifest from the context, for he adds, that he suffers according to the dispensation that was given to him. And we know that the ministry was committed to him, not of redeeming the Church, but of edifying it; and he himself immediately afterwards expressly acknowledges this. This is also what he writes to Timothy,
that he endures all things for the sake of the elect, that they may obtain the salvation which is in Christ Jesus.
(2 Timothy 2:10.)
he willingly endures all things for their consolation and salvation.
Let, therefore, pious readers learn to hate and detest those profane sophists, who thus deliberately corrupt and adulterate the Scriptures, in order that they may give some color to their delusions.
25. Of which I am made a minister. Mark under what character he suffers for the Church — as being a minister, not to give the price of redemption, (as Augustine dexterously and piously expresses himself,) but to proclaim it. He calls himself, however, in this instance, a minister of the Church on a different ground from that on which he called himself elsewhere, (1 Corinthians 4:1,) a minister of God, and a little ago, (Colossians 1:23,) a minister of the gospel. For the Apostles serve God and Christ for the advancement of the glory of both: they serve the Church, and administer the gospel itself, with a view to promote salvation. There is, therefore, a different reason for the ministry in these expressions, but the one cannot subsist without the other. He says, however, towards you, that they may know that his office has a connection also with them.
To fulfill the word. He states the end of his ministry — that the word of God may be effectual, as it is, when it is obediently received. For this is the excellence of the gospel, that it is the
power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth.
God, therefore, gives efficacy and influence to his word through means of the Apostles. For although preaching itself, whatever may be its issue, is the fulfilling of the word, yet it is the fruit that shews at length 339339 “Toutesfois c’est a proprement parler, le fruit qui monstre en fin;” — “Yet it is, properly speaking, the fruit that shews at last.” that the seed has not been sown in vain.
26. Hidden mystery. Here we have a commendation of the gospel — that it is a wonderful secret of God. It is not without good reason that Paul so frequently extols the gospel by bestowing upon it the highest commendations in his power; for he saw that it was
a stumblingblock to the Jews, and foolishness to the Greeks.
(1 Corinthians 1:23.)
We see also at this day, in what hatred it is held by hypocrites, and how haughtily it is contemned by the world. Paul, accordingly, with the view of setting aside judgments so unfair and perverse, extols in magnificent terms the dignity of the gospel as often as an opportunity presents itself, and for that purpose he makes use of various arguments, according to the connection of the passage. Here he calls it a sublime secret, which was hid from ages and generations, that is, from the beginning of the world, through so many revolutions of ages. 340340 “D’annees et sieclcs;” — “Of years and ages.” Now, that it is of the gospel that he speaks, is evident from Romans 16:25, Ephesians 3:9, and other similar passages.
The reason, however, why it is so called, is demanded. Some, in consequence of Paul’s making express mention of the calling of the Gentiles, are of opinion, that the sole reason why it is so called is, that the Lord had, in a manner, contrary to all expectation, poured out his grace upon the Gentiles, whom he had appeared to have shut out for ever from participation in eternal life. Any one, however, that will examine the whole passage more narrowly, will perceive that this is the third reason, not the only one, in so far, I mean, as relates to the passage before us, and that other in the Romans, to which I have referred. For the first is — that whereas God had, previously to the advent of Christ, governed his Church under dark coverings, both of words and of ceremonies, he has suddenly shone forth in full brightness by means of the doctrine of the gospel. The second is — that whereas nothing was previously seen but external figures, Christ has been exhibited, bringing with him the full truth, which had lain concealed. The third is, what I have mentioned — that the whole world, which had up to this time been estranged from God, is called to the hope of salvation, and the same inheritance of eternal life is offered to all. An attentive consideration of these things constrains us to reverence and adore this mystery which Paul proclaims, however it may be held in contempt by the world, or even in derision.
Which is now revealed. Lest any one should turn aside to another meaning the term mystery, as though he were speaking of a thing that was still secret and unknown, he adds, that it has now at length been published, 341341 “Publié et manifesté;” — “Published and manifested.” that it might be known by mankind. What, therefore, was in its own nature secret, has been made manifest by the will of God. Hence, there is no reason why its obscurity should alarm us, after the revelation that God has made of it. He adds, however, to the saints, for God’s arm has not been revealed to all, (Isaiah 53:1,) that they might understand his counsel.
27. To whom God was pleased to make known. Here he puts a bridle upon the presumption of men, that they may not allow themselves to be wise, or to inquire beyond what they ought, but may learn to rest satisfied with this one thing that it has so pleased God. For the good pleasure of God ought to be perfectly sufficient for us as a reason. This, however, is said principally for the purpose of commending the grace of God; for Paul intimates, that mankind did by no means furnish occasion for God’s making them participants of this secret, when he teaches that he was led to this of his own accord, and because he was pleased to do so. For it is customary for Paul to place the good pleasure of God in opposition to all human merits and external causes.
What are the riches. We must always take notice, in what magnificent terms he speaks in extolling the dignity of the gospel. For he was well aware that the ingratitude of men is so great, that notwithstanding that this treasure is inestimable, and the grace of God in it is so distinguished, they, nevertheless, carelessly despise it, or at least think lightly of it. Hence, not resting satisfied with the term mystery, he adds glory, and that, too, not trivial or common. For riches, according to Paul, denote, as is well known, amplitude. 342342 “Signifient magnificence;” — “Denote magnificence.” He states particularly, that those riches have been manifested among the Gentiles; for what is more wonderful than that the Gentiles, who had during so many ages been sunk in death, so as to appear to be utterly ruined, are all on a sudden reckoned among the sons of God, and receive the inheritance of salvation?
Which is Christ in you. What he had said as to the Gentiles generally he applies to the Colossians themselves, that they may more effectually recognize in themselves the grace of God, and may embrace it with greater reverence. He says, therefore, which is Christ, meaning by this, that all that secret is contained in Christ, and that all the riches of heavenly wisdom are obtained by them when they have Christ, as we shall find him stating more openly a little afterwards. He adds, in you, because they now possess Christ, from whom they were lately so much estranged, that nothing could exceed it. Lastly, he calls Christ the hope of glory, that they may know that nothing is wanting to them for complete blessedness when they have obtained Christ. This, however, is a wonderful work of God, that in earthen and frail vessels (2 Corinthians 4:7) the hope of heavenly glory resides.
28. Whom we preach. Here he applies to his own preaching everything that he has previously declared as to the wonderful and adorable secret of God; and thus he explains what he had already touched upon as to the dispensation which had been committed to him; for he has it in view to adorn his apostleship, and to claim authority for his doctrine: for after having extolled the gospel in the highest terms, he now adds, that it is that divine secret which he preaches. It was not, however, without good reason that he had taken notice a little before, that Christ is the sum of that secret, that they might know that nothing can be taught that has more of perfection than Christ.
The expressions that follow have also great weight. He represents himself as the teacher of all men; meaning by this, that no one is so eminent in respect of wisdom as to be entitled to exempt himself from tuition. “God has placed me in a lofty position, as a public herald of his secret, that the whole world, without exception, may learn from me.”
In all wisdom. This expression is equivalent to his affirming that his doctrine is such as to conduct a man to a wisdom that is perfect, and has nothing wanting; and this is what he immediately adds, that all that shew themselves to be true disciples will become perfect. See the second chapter of First Corinthians. (1 Corinthians 2:6.) Now, what better thing can be desired than what confers upon us the highest perfection? He again repeats, in Christ, that they may not desire to know anything but Christ alone. From this passage, also, we may gather a definition of true wisdom — that by which we are presented perfect in the sight of God, and that in Christ, and nowhere else. 343343 “Et non en autre;” — “And not in another.”
29. For which thing. He enhances, by two circumstances, the glory of his apostleship and of his doctrine. In the first place, he makes mention of his aim, 344344 “Son travaille et peine;” — “His labor and trouble.” which is a token of the difficulty that he felt; for those things are for the most part the most excellent that are the most difficult. The second has more strength, inasmuch as he mentions that the power of God shines forth in his ministry. He does not speak, however, merely of the success of his preaching, (though in that too the blessing of God appears,) but also of the efficacy of the Spirit, in which God manifestly shewed himself; for on good grounds he ascribes his endeavors, inasmuch as they exceeded human limits, to the power of God, which, he declares, is seen working powerfully in this matter.