3. “Hearing these things of you,” Paul would say, “I heartily rejoice in your good beginning.” Apparently he was not the one who first preached to them. In the first verse of the second chapter he speaks of his care for them and others who have not seen his face, and he also intimates here that the Colossians learned of Christ and the Gospel from Epaphras, Paul’s fellow servant.
5. This is his chief prayer and desire for them and if it is fulfilled there can be no lack. The words are, “be filled”; that is, not only hear and understand God’s will, but be come rich in the knowledge of it, with ever increasing fullness. “You have begun well; you are promising shoots. But something more than a good beginning is required, and the knowledge of God’s will is not to be exhaustively learned immediately on hearing the Word. On the contrary it must be constantly pursued and practiced as long as we live if it is ever to be rounded and perfected in us.
8. Paul would gladly have a spiritualknowledge of these things increase in us until we are enriched and filled wholly assured of their truth. Sublime and glorious knowledge this, the experience of a human heart which, born in sins, boldly and confidently believes that God, in his unfathomable majesty, in his divineheart, has irrevocably purposed and wills for all men to accept and believe it that he will not impute sin, but will forgive it and be gracious, and grant eternallife, for the sake of his beloved Son.
10. Now, since this knowledge of the Gospel is so difficult to attain and so foreign to nature, it is necessary that we pray for it with all earnestness and labor to be increasingly filled with it, and to learn well the will of God. Our own experience testifies that if it be but superficially and improperly learned, when one is overtaken by a trifling misfortune or alarmed by a slight danger or affliction, his heart is easily overwhelmed with the thunderbolts of God’s wrath as he reflects: “Woe to me! God is against me and hates me.” Why should this miserable “Woe!” enter the heart of a Christian upon the occasion of a little trouble? If he were filled with the knowledge of God as he should be, and as many secure, self complacent spirits imagine themselves to be, he would not thus fear and make outcry.
His agitation and his complaint, “ O LordGod! why dost thou permit me to suffer this?” are evidence that he as yet knows not God’s will, or at least has but a faint conception of it; the woe exceeds the joy. But full knowledge of God’s will brings with it a joy that far overbalances all fear and terror, ay, removes and abolishes them altogether.
11. Therefore let us learn this truth and with Paulpray for what we and all Christians supremely need full knowledge of God’s will, not a mere beginning; for we are not to imagine a beginning will suffice and to stop there as if we had comprehended it all. Everything is not accomplished in the mere planting; watering and cultivation must follow. In this case the watering and cultivating are the Word of God, and prayer against the devil, who day and nightlabors to suppress spiritualknowledge, to beat down the tender plants wherever he sees them springing up; and also against the world, which promotes only opposition and directs its wisdom and reason to conflicting ends. Did not God protect us and strengthen the knowledge of his will, we would soon see the devil’s power and the extent of our spiritual understanding.
12. We have a verification of this assertion in that poetical work, the book of Job. Satan appears before God, who asks ( Job 1:8): “Hast thou considered my servant Job? for there is none like him in the earth, a perfect and upright man, one that feareth God.” And Satan answers on this wise: “Yea, thou hast surrounded him with thy protection and kept me at bay; but only withdraw thy hand and I venture I will soon bring him around to curse thee to thy face”; as he afterward did when he afflicted Job with ugly boils and in addition filled him with his fiery arrows terrifying thoughts of God. Further, Christ said to Peter and the other apostles: “Satan asked to have you, that he might sift you as wheat: but I made supplication for thee, that thy faithfail not.” Luke 22:31
13. Therefore, although we have become Christians and have made a beginning in the knowledge of God’s will, we ought nevertheless to walk in fear and humility, and not to be presumptuous like the soon wearied, secure spirits, who imagine they exhausted that knowledge in an instant, and know not the measure and limit of their skill. Such people are particularly pleasing to the devil, for he has them completely in his power and makes use of their teaching and example to harm others and make them likewise secure, and unmindful of his presence and of the fact that God may suffer them to be overwhelmed. Verily, there is need of earnest and diligent use of the Word of God and prayer, that Christians may not only learn to know the will of God, but also to be filled with it. Only so can the individual walk always according to God’s will and make constant progress, straining toward the goal of an ever increasing comfort and strength that shall enable him to face fears and terrors and not allow the devil, the world, and flesh and blood to hinder him.
SPIRITUAL KNOWLEDGE BRINGS INCREASING JOY.
14. Such is the nature of this fullness of knowledge that the possessor never becomes satiated with it or tired of it, but it yields him ever increasing pleasure and joy, and he is ever more eager, more thirsty, for it.
As the Scriptures declare, “They that drink me shall yet be thirsty.” Ecclus 24, 21. For even the dear angels in heaven never become sated with fullness of knowledge, but as Peter says, they find an everlastingjoy and pleasure in the ability to behold what is revealed and preached to us. Peter 1:12. Therefore, if we have not a constant hunger and thirst after the full and abundant comprehension of God’s will — and certainly we ought to have it in greater degree than the angels — until we, too, shall be able to behold it eternally in the lifeeverlasting, then we have but a taste of that knowledge, a mere empty froth, which can neither refresh nor satisfy us, cannot comfort us nor make us better.
17. It is God’s will that we, too, should learn to accustom ourselves to these things through temptation and affliction, though these be hard to bear and the heart is prone to become agitated and utter its cry of woe. We can quiet our disturbed hearts, saying: “ I know what is God’s thought, his counsel and will, in Christ, which he will not alter: he has promised to me through his Son, and confirmed it through my baptism, that he who hears and sees the Son shall be delivered from sin and death, and live eternally.”
20. By way of explanation Paul adds the words, “all spiritualwisdom and understanding.” This is not the wisdom of the world. There is no necessity to strive and to endure persecution for that which concerns itself with other than spiritual matters. Nor is it the wisdom of reason, which indeed presumes to judge of divine things, but yet can never understand them; on the contrary, although it accepts them, it quickly falls away into doubt and despair.
21. “Wisdom” signifies with Paul, when he places it in apposition with “spiritual understanding,” the sublime and secretdoctrine of the Gospel of Christ, which teaches us to know the will of God. And a “wise man” is a Christian, who knows himself and can intelligently interpret God’s will toward us and how we perceive his will by faith growing and obediently living in harmony with it. This wisdom is not devised of reason; it has not entered into the heart of man nor is it known to any of the princes of this world, as Paul says in 1 Corinthians 2:8
22. But there is necessary to the full completion of wisdom something which the apostle calls “understanding”; that is, a careful retention of what has been received. It is possible for one having the spiritualwisdom to be overtaken by the devil through a momentary intellectual inspiration, or through anger and impatience, or even through greed and similar deceitful allurements. Therefore it is necessary here to be cautious, alert and watchful in an effort to guard against the devil’s cunning attacks and always to oppose him with his own spiritualwisdom, that he may not be undeceived. The Pauline and scriptural use of the word “understanding” signifies the ability to make good use of one’s wisdom; to make it effective as a test whereby to prove all things, to judge with keen discernment whatever presents itself in the name and appearance of wisdom. Thus armed, the souldefends itself and does not in any case violate its own discretion. To furnish himself with understanding, the Christian must ever have regard to the Word of God, must put it into practice, lest the devildazzle his mind with some palaver and error and deceive him before he is aware of it. This Satan is well able to do; indeed, he uses every art to accomplish it if a man be not on his guard and seek not counsel in God’s Word. Such is the teaching of David’s example, who says in <19B911>Psalm 119:11: “Thy word have I laid up in my heart, that I might not sin against thee.” And again in verse 24: “Thy testimonies also are my delight and my counselors.”
23. A man may be familiar with God’s Word, yet if he walks in self security, concerned about other matters, or if perhaps being tempted he loses sight of God’s Word, it may easily come to pass that he is seduced and deceived by the secretcraft and cunning of the devil; or of himself he may become bewildered, losing his wisdom and being unable to find counsel or help even in the most trivial temptations. For the devil and reason, or human wisdom, can dispute and syllogize with extraordinary subtlety in these things until one imagines to be true wisdom that which is not. A wise man soon becomes a fool; men readily err and make false steps; a Christian likewise is prone to stumble; ay, even a good teacher and prophet can easily be deceived by reason’s brilliant logic. Essentially, then, Christians must take warning and study, with careful meditation, the Word of God.
24. We read of St. Martin how he would not undertake to dispute with heretics for the simple reason that he was unwilling to fall into wrangling, to rationalize with them or to attempt to defeat them by the weapon of reason, the sole means whereby they pointed and adorned all their arguments, as the world always does when opposing the Word of God.
25. By close examination and comparison with God’s Word, the standard and test, you may clearly prove the Papacy to be not the Church of Christ, but a sect of Satan; it is filled with open idolatry, lies and murder, which its adherents fain would defend. These things the Church of Christ does not endorse, and to tax it with resolving, appointing, ordering and demanding obedience to that which is at variance with the Word of God, is to do the Church wrong and violence.
27. We must not, then, regard nor follow the counsels of human wisdom, but must keep ever before us God’s will as revealed by his Word; we are to abide by that for death or life, for evil or good. If war or other calamity results complain to him who wills and commands us to teach and believe our doctrine. The calamity is not of our effecting; we have not originated it. And we are not required to prove by argument whether or no God’s will is right and to be obeyed. If he wills to permit persecution and other evils to arise in consequence of our teaching, for the trial and experience of true Christians and for the punishment of the ungrateful, let them come; and if not, his hand is doubtless strong enough to defend and preserve his cause from destruction, that man may know the events to be of his ordering. And so, praise his name, he has done in our case. He has supported us against the strong desires of our adversaries. Had we yielded and obeyed them, we would have been drawn into their falsehood and destruction. And God will still support us if we deal uprightly and faithfully in these requirements, if we further and honor the Word of God, and be not unthankful nor seek things that counterfeit God’s Word.
30. The Scriptures record many instances of failure in this matter of understanding. A notable one is found in the thirteenth chapter of First Kings. A man of God from the kingdom of Judah, who had in the presence of King Jeroboam openly denounced the idolatry instituted by the king, and had confirmed his preaching and prophecy by a miracle, was commanded by God not under any circumstances to abide in the place whither he had gone to prophesy, nor to eat and drink there. He was to go straight home by another way than the route he had come. Yet on the way homeward he allowed himself to be persuaded by another prophet, one who falsely claimed to have a revelation from God, by an angel, commanding him to take the man of God to his home and give him to eat and drink. While they sat together at the table the Word of the Lord came to the inviting prophet and under its inspiration he told the other that he should not reach home alive. The latter, departing on his journey, was killed on the way by a lion, which remained standing by the body and the ass the man of God had ridden, not touching them further, until the old prophet came and found them. He brought the body home on the ass and buried it, commanding that after his own death he should be laid in the same grave. Such was God’s punishment of the prophet who allowed himself to be deceived and obeyed not God’s express command. However, his soulsuffered not harm, as God testified by the fact the lion did not devour his body but defended it. Now, in what was the prophet lacking? Not in wisdom, for he had the Word of God. He lacked in understanding, allowing himself to be deceived when the other man declared himself a prophet whom the angel of the Lord had instructed. The man of God should have abided by the word given to him, and have said to the other: “You may be a prophet, indeed, but God has commanded me to do this thing. Of that I am certain and I will be governed by it. ! will regard no conflicting order, be it in the name of an angel or of God.”
NEITHER REASON NOR FEELINGS A RIGHT JUDGE.
31. So it is often with man today, not only in doctrinal controversy but in private affairs and in official capacity. He is prone to stumble and to fail in understanding when not watchful of his purposes and motives, to see how they accord with the wisdom of God’s Word. Particularly is his understanding unreliable when the devil moves him to wrath, impatience, dejection, melancholy, or when he is otherwise tempted. Often they who have been well exercised with trials become bewildered in smalltemptations and uncertain what course to take. Here must one be watchful and not go by his reason or his feelings, but remember God’s Word or ascertain if he does not know what it is — and be guided thereby. When tempted man cannot judge aright by the dictates of reason. Therefore he ought not to follow his own natural intelligence nor to act from hasty conclusions. Let him be suspicious of all his reasoning and beware the cunning of the devil, who seeks either to allure or to intimidate us by his specious arguments. First of all let man call upon the understanding born of his wisdom in the Gospel, what his faith, love, hope and patiencecounsel, in fact, what God’s will eloquently teaches everywhere and in all circumstances if only one strive, labor and pray to be filled with such knowledge.
33. What is meant by “walking worthily of the Lord” we have heard in other epistles, namely to believe, and to confess the faith by doctrine and life, as people worthy of the Lord and of whom the Lord can triumphantly say: “These are my people Christians who live and abide in what they have been taught by the Word, who know my will and obediently do and suffer for it.”
36. By this power and might of God must we be strengthened in faith. We must strive after such divine agency and by the help of the Word persevere and pray, that there may be not only a beginning, but a continuation and a victorious end. So shall we become ever stronger and stronger in God’s might. Whatever we do, it must not be undertaken in and by our own strength. We must not boast as if we had our selves accomplished it, but must rely upon God, upon his strength and support. Certainly it is not due to our ability but to his own omnipotent agency if one remains a Christian, steadfast in the knowledge of God and not deceived nor conquered by the devil.
He makes the ordeal unbearably hard and long to patience, even apparently without end. His scheme is to accomplish by unceasing persistence what he cannot attain by the severity and multitude of his temptations; he aims to wear out one’s patience and to discourage his hope of conquering. To meet these conditions there is necessary, in addition to patience, long suffering, which holds out firmly and steadfastly in suffering, with the determination: “Indeed, you cannot try me too severely or too long, even though the trial continue to the end of the world.” True, knightly, Christianstrength is that which in conflict and suffering is able to endure not only severe and manifold assaults of the devil, but to hold out indefinitely. More than anything else do we need to be strengthened, through prayer, with the power of God, that we may not succumb in such grievous warfare, but achieve the end.
CHRISTIANS SHOULD REJOICE AND BE THANKFUL.
38. And your patience and long suffering, Paul says, must be exercised “with joy.” In these severe, multiplied and long temptations you must not allow yourselves to be filled with sad and depressing thoughts. You are to be hopeful and joyous, despising the devil and the troubles and tumults of the world and himself. Rejoice because you have on your side the knowledge of the divine will in Christ, and his power and glorious might, and doubt not that his omnipotence will help you through.
39. Finally the apostle enjoins us to give thanks, or to be thankful. Forget not, he would say, the unspeakable benefits and giftsGod has bestowed upon you above all men on earth. He has richly blessed you, and liberated you from the power and might of sin, death, hell and the devil, wherein you would, for all you could help yourselves, have had to remain eternally captive; he has appointed you for eternalglory, making you co heirs with the saints elected for his eternalkingdom; and he has made you partakers of all eternal, divine, heavenly blessings. In your sufferings and conflicts, remember these glories ordained for and given to you, and remembering rejoice the more and willingly fight and suffer to obtain possession, to enjoy the fruition, of what is certainly appropriated to you in the Word and in faith.
41. Paul now expatiates on the things that call for our gratitude to God the Father. He sums up the whole teaching of the Gospel, showing us what is ours in Christ and giving a glorious and comforting description of his person and the blessing he brings. But first, he says, we ought, above all, to thank God unceasingly for the knowledge of his revealedGospel In it we have no smalltreasure. Rather, it is a possession with which all the gold, silver and other riches of this world, all the earthly joy and comfort of this life, are not to be compared. For it means redemption from eternal, irreparable loss and ruin under God’s eternal, unbearable wrath and condemnation. And this wretchedness was the result of our sin. We were committed to sin and without help, without deliverance, ay, we were captive in such blindness and darkness that we did not recognize our misery; much less could we devise and effect our escape. Now, in place of this misery, we have, without any merit on our part, any preparation, any deed or design, ay, without even a thought, assuredly received, through God’s unfathomable grace and mercy, redemption, or the forgiveness of sins.
43. But because an eternal, unchangeable sentence of condemnation has passed upon sin for God cannot and will not regard sin with favor, but his wrathabides upon it eternally and irrevocably redemption was not possible without a ransom of such precious worth as to atone for sin, to assume the guilt, pay the price of wrath and thus abolishsin.
44. This no creature was able to do. There was no remedy except for God’s only Son to step into our distress and himself become man, to take upon himself the load of awful and eternalwrath and make his own body and blood a sacrifice for the sin. And so he did, out of his immeasurably great mercy and love towards us, giving himself up and bearing the sentence of unending wrath and death.