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Jesus, and of the love which ye have to all the Saints. This, it is said, implieth that the Colossians were not converted by Paul; and that he had only heard of their being converted by some other teacher. But the apostle might express himself in that manner, consistently with his having converted the Colossians, because it was his custom, when absent from the churches which he had planted, to make inquiry concerning their state, 1 Thess. iii. 5. that he might know whether they persevered in maintaining that great article of the Christian faith, which he was so anxious to establish, but which was every where opposed by the Judaizing teachers, namely that both Jews and Gentiles, under the gospel, were entirely freed from obedience to the law of Moses as a term of salvation; and that obedience to the gospel, was the only thing required in order to men's acceptance with God. This doctrine the apostle, Col. i. 26. termed The mystery which was kept hid from the ages and from the generations ; and, ver. 27. The mystery concerning the Gentiles, which is Christ to them the hope of glory.
Wherefore, when Epaphras came from Colosse to the apostle, it is natural to think, that according to his usual manner, he inquired concerning the state of the Colossians : And being informed by him that the greatest part of them persevered in the true faith of the gospel, Col. i. 8. notwithstanding the attempts of the false teachers to seduce them, he was greatly elated, and with perfect propriety said to them, chap. i. 3. We give thanks to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ always when we firay for you. 4. Having heard of your faith in Christ Jesus, and of the love which ye have to all the saints.-Besides, it ought to be remembered, that the apostle spake in the same manner, of the faith and love of other churches and persons, of whose conversion he himself was undoubtedly the instrument. Compare Philemon, ver. 5. with ver. 19. of that epistle. See also 1 Thess. iii. 6. and note 1 on Ephes. i. 15.—Wherefore, the passage under our consideration, is no proof at all that the Colossians were indebted to some other teacher than Paul, for their faith in the gospel.
The second passage, quoted from Paul's epistle to the Colossians, to prove that he never preached the gospel in Colosse, Laodicea, and Hierapolis, is chap. ii. 1. I wish you to know how great a combat I have for you, and for them in Laodicea, and for as many as have not seen my face in the flesh. But this by no means implies, that the brethren in Colosse and Laodicea had not seen the apostle, when he wrote this letter to them. For, as Theodoret justly observes in his preface to this letter, the apostle's meaning is, that his combat was for the converted Gentiles in Colosse and Laodicea, who doubtless had often seen his face ; and not for them alone, but for as many as had not seen his face in the flesh ; that is, for all the converted Gentiles every where, and in every age of the world. That this is the true meaning of the expression, Theodoret proves from the next verse, where the apostle does not say, “ that your heart may be comforted,” as he would have done, if the Gentiles of Colosse and Laodicea had been of the number of those who had not seen his face in the flesh ; but that their heart, namely, who have not seen my face, may be comforted as well as yours.
In the third place, it is alleged, that the apostle himself points out Epaphras as the spiritual father of the Colossians, chap. i. 7. As ye have also learned it from Epaphras. But in my opinion, the word also, indicates the direct contrary. The Colossians had learned the true doctrine of the gospel, not from the apostle alone, but they had learned it from Epaphras also, who as a faithful minister of Christ, and fellow-labourer with the apostle, after his departure had not failed to put the Colossians in mind of his doctrine. Besides, if Epaphras had converted the Colossians, the apostle instead of saying, chap. iv. 12. Epaphras who came from you, a servant of Christ saluteth you, would rather have said, as Lardner has observed, Epaphra: by whom ye believed; or somewhat to the like purpose, expressive of the obligations they lay under to him.
The following are the arguments which prove that Paul converted the Colossians. First, This apostle speaking of the Christian church, says, chap. i. 25. Whereof I am made a minister, according to the dispensation of God, which was given me on your account, fully to preach the word of God. But if the dispensation of God was given Paul on account of the Colossians, fully 10 preach the word of God, can it be imagined, that, notwithstanding he was so often in Phrygia, he would neglect his commis. sion so far, as never to preach the gospel in Colosse? --Secondly, Throughout the whole of this epistle, the apostle and the Colossians are represented as taking a special interest in each others affairs, like persons who were bound to each other by the strongest ties of friendship. For example, chap. ii. 5. Though in the flesh I be absení, yet in spirit I am with you, rejoicing when I see your oriler, and the firmies of your faith.-In
like manner, chap. iv. 7. All things concerning me, Tychicus a beloved brother, and faithful minister, and fellow servant in the Lord, will make known to you. 8. Whom I have sent to you for this very purpose, that he may know the state of your affairs and comfort your hearts. Nay, as a person for whose opinion the Colossians had the highest regard, he bare testimony to them concerning Epaphras their own pastor, chap. i. 7. that he was a faithful minister of Jesus Christ with respect to them, and chap. iv. 13. had much zeal for them, and for those in Laodicea, and those in Hierapolis : all which are expressions of such an affection, as would naturally subsist between persons converted to the faith of the gospel, and him who had converted them.—Thirdly, The apostle wrote the salutation to the Colossians with his own hand, as he did to the other churches, which were planted by himself, and who knew his hand-writing. Whereas in his epistle to the Romans, who were strangers to him, the salutations were written by Tertius.-Fourthly, That the Colossians were converted by an apostle, appears from chap. ii. 6. Seeing then ye have received Christ Jesus the Lord, walk ye in him ; 7. Rooted in him, and built upon him, and made firm in the faith, even as ye have been taught, abounding in it with thanksgiving. This the apostle could not have said to the Colossians, if their only teacher had been Epaphras, or any other who was not an apostle. See also chap. i. 6. From the day ye heard it, and knew the grace of God in truth. These things, as Dr. Lardner very well observes, Can. vol. ii. chap. 14. shew that the Colossians were converted by an apostle. Now, who should this be but Paul himself, who made so many journeys into their country, and preached there with such success ?
Upon the whole, we may believe, that the churches in Colosse, Laodicea, and Hierapolis, were planted by St. Paul, with the assistance of Timothy in particular; and therefore in writing this epistle, Timothy joined the apostle, as one well known to the Colossians, and greatly respected by them.
Of the Occasion of writing the Epistle to the Colossians.
When the news of Paul's confinement at Rome reached the Christians in Colosse, they sent Epaphras, (a native of their city, chap. iv. 12. and formerly an idolater, chap. i. 13. but now a Christian minister in their church, chap. i. 7.) all the way to Rome to comfort the apostle, by declaring the affection which the Colossians bare to him as their spiritual father, chap. i. 8. and to give him an account of their state, and to bring them back word how matters went with him, chap. iv. 7.-9.
From Epaphras the apostle learned, that the greatest part of the Colossians persevered in the faith, and were remarkable for their love to all the brethren, chap. i. 4. But that certain false teachers had persuaded some of them to worship angels, and to abstain from animal food, and to observe the Jewish festivals, new moons, and sabbaths, and to mortify their bodies by long continued fastings : In short, to practise the rites of the law of Moses as absolutely necessary to their salvation, chap. ii. 16.—23.
Long before the light of the gospel shone on the world, the Greeks had introduced their philosophy into many of the countrịes of the Lesser Asia, and among the rest into Phrygia, where it would seem the doctrines of Pythagoras and of Plato were much admired.—The followers of Plato held, that the government of the world is carried on by beings inferior to the gods, but superior to men, such as the Jews believed angels to be. These they called AdsMoves, a name which in the Greek language signifies Divinities : and these they enjoined their sect to worship, on account of their agency in human affairs. See Coloss. ii. 8. note 2.—The philosophy of Pythagoras led to a different discipline. They held, that mankind had all lived in some preexistent state, and that for the sins committed by them in their pre-existent state, some of their souls were sent into human bodies, and others of them into the bodies of brutes, to be punished for, and to be purged from, their former sins. Wherefore, believing the whole brute creation to be animated by human souls, they held it unlawful to kill any thing which hath life, and abstained wholly from animal food. Withal, effectually to free themselves from the vices and pollutions contracted in their pre-existent state, they practised repeated and long conLinued fastings and other severities, for the purpose of thoroughly subjecting the body with its appetites to the soul.
From the things which the apostle Paul hath written to the Colossians, it appears that, before their conversion, some of them had embraced the discipline of Pythagoras, and others of them the philosophy of Plato; and that the Judaizers who came to Colosse, the more effectually to recommend the law of Moses to the Christians in that city, had affirmed that Pythagoras derived his discipline, and Plato his dogmas, from the writings of Moses. That these false teachers made use of an argument of this kind, to recommend the Jewish institutions to the Colossians, is the more probable, as some of the early Christian writers, and, if I am not mistaken, some of the Jewish writers also in the first ages, affirmed the very same fact. See Ryan's, history of the effects of religion on mankind, Sect. 2. The truth is, the Pythagorean discipline bears some resemblance to the abstinence from unclean meats, and to the fastings enjoined in the law of Moses. But, be this as it may, it cannot be denied that the Pythagorean precepts, both concerning the abstinence from animal food, and concerning the mortification of the body by fasting and other severities, together with the doctrines of Plato concerning the agency of angels in human affairs, and the honour which is due to them from men on that account, are all expressly condemned by the apostle in his epistle to the Colossians. This being the case, may we not believe that the Judaizing teachers, who, it is well known, artfully suited their tenets to the characters and prejudices of the persons whom they addressed, talked to the Colossians, in a plausible and pompous manner, concerning the dignity and office of angels, and represented them as proper objects of worship to mankind, on account of the blessings which they received through their ministry; and even insinuated, that, to render mankind complete in knowledge, new revelations of the will of God, more perfect than those made by Christ, might be expected through the ministry of angels, who they affirmed were better acquainted with the will of God, than it was possible for Christ to be; as, according to them, he was nothing but a man. Nay, these impostors may have gone so far, as to obtrude their own false doctrines on the Colossians, as new revelations made to them by angels.-Farther, in proof of the agency of angels in human affairs, and to shew that they are proper objects of men's worship, they would not neglect to tell the Colossians, that the law of Moses was given by the ministry of angels, and that angels conducted the Israelites into Canaan.. And with respect to such of the Colossians as were tinctured with the Platonic philosophy, we know that to persuade them to worship angels, or at least to make use of their mediation in wor. shipping God, they affirmed that it was arrogance in sinners to worship God without some mediator, and therefore they exhorted the Colossians, as an exercise of humility becoming them, to send up their prayers to God by the mediation of angels; which they said was more acceptable to God, and more effectual, than