THE HERITAGE OF THE SAINTS IN LIGHT
Col. 1:12:—"Giving thanks unto the Father who made us meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light."
Our passage is one of those fervent descriptions of the blessed state of the saved soul in which the writings of Paul abound. It occurs in the midst of the prayer which he says he has been offering for the Colossians ever since their conversion. The Colossians were not brought to Christ by his own preaching, but by that of his faithful minister in the Gospel, Epaphras. And when Epaphras brought him the good news of the turning of the many at Colossse from darkness to light, the heart of the Apostle overflowed with thanksgiving. From that day, he says, he has been continually thanking God for the Colossian Christians, and mingling with his thanks earnest petitions for their Christian walk.
The gist of his petition is that they—so lately brought to Christ and so surrounded by danger— should be filled with the knowledge of God's will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding, so that they might walk worthily of the Lord unto all pleasing. Two points are to be noted here.
The thing which Paul desires for the Colossian converts is that they may, in their walk and conversation, be well pleasing to Christ. This is
expressed by means of a term of rather startling strength; a term which in its classical usage bore an implication of cringing subjection to the whims of another and was applied to the sycophant and the flatterer. Of course, the nobler association with Christ voids it of its unworthy suggestions, but there is left on the mind a strong impression of the fullness of the devotion which the Apostle would fain see in the lives of Christians to their Lord. External service—eye service—is not enough; our thoughts must run ahead of the command and all our lives be suffused with this principle—that we may be well pleasing to Christ. This is what the Apostle asks in behalf of the Colossian converts.
The second thing to be noted is that Paul expected this perfection of service to be mediated by perfection of knowledge. What he directly asks for is that these converts may be filled with the knowledge of God's will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding—and the word used here for "knowledge" is the term for precise, full, accurate, profound knowledge. He prays directly that they may have the knowledge—in order that they may walk worthily of their Lord unto all kinds of pleasing. Obviously it seemed to the Apostle that the pathway to a right life lay through a right knowledge. It was only as they knew the will of God that they could hope to please Christ in action. Knowledge comes thus before life and is the constructive force of life. Thus the Apostle teaches us the supreme value of a right and profound and exact knowledge of Divine things. Not as if knowledge were the end—life, undoubtedly, is the end at which the saving processes are directed; but because the sole lever to raise the life to its proper height is just right knowledge. It is life—the right life—that the Apostle is praying for in behalf of the Colossians: but he represents knowledge—right knowledge—as possessing the necessity of means to that life.
The nature of this right life is perhaps sufficiently outlined in the single phrase in which Paul gives expression to his longing. He says that he is asking that the Colossians may walk worthily of the Lord in every kind of pleasing. It is a Christpleasing life that he wishes for them. But it is not the Apostle's way to content himself with broad phrases. And he proceeds at once to suggest more fully what kind of a life he conceives a Christ-pleasing life to be. There are three characteristics which he throws into emphasis. It must be a fruitful life. It must be a stable life. It must be a thankful life. Here is the way he develops its idea. That ye may walk worthily of the Lord unto every kind of pleasing, he says— (1) by bearing fruit and yielding increase in every good work, through the knowledge of God; (2) by being strengthened in every sort of strength according to the might of His glory, unto all obedience and long-suffering; (3) by joyfully giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified us for our share in the lot of the saints in the light. Abounding fruitfulness in good works; strong patience in the trials of life; joyful thankfulness for the blessings of salvation; these are the traits of the Christian walk which shall be worthy of the Lord unto all pleasing; these are the marks of that life on which our Saviour will smile.
Now it is particularly to the third of these traits of a Christ-pleasing life that our text draws our attention to-day. It is one of the marks of right Christian living when we are joyfully thankful to the Father of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ for our introduction into the blessings of the Christian life. For, more accurately speaking, that is the substance of the thanksgiving which the Apostle desires to see illustrated in the Colossian Christians. The terms in which he expresses it are worth our careful consideration. "With joy, giving thanks to the Father," he phrases it, "who made us sufficient for a share of the lot of the saints in light." The ground of the thankfulness which he would fain find in them is that supernal act of the Father of our Saviour by which he has introduced us into the company and endowed us with the heritage of the saints. Of course, the reminiscence of our primal estate as aliens from the household of God underlies the thought; but it is not explicitly adverted to until the next verse. What is emphasized here is the wonder of the act by which we were transformed into fellow-citizens of the saints, and fellow-heirs with them of God. That, says the Apostle, is the ground of a thanksgiving on our part which should transfuse our whole life and by which our life will be characterized as a Christian one.
For the development of the thought, let us emphasize in turn the four chief elements which seem to enter most prominently into it. These words of the Apostle would seem to advise us, then, of at least these important facts:
1. That the saints have a heritage.
2. That the heritage of the saints is "in the light."
3. That it is God and God alone who has the power to introduce men into this heritage.
4. That it is a matter of profound thanksgiving to men, therefore, when they find themselves invested with this heritage—a thanksgiving which should transform their whole lives and make them conscious debtors to God to such an extent that henceforth they should live to Him and His glory should be their one pursuit—in a word, that they should walk worthily of the Lord unto all pleasing.
That the saints have a heritage is obviously the central implication of the passage. What Paul wishes his readers to be thankful for is their capacitating by the Father for their share "in the inheritance of the saints." Our term "heritage" may indeed be misleading in this connection. The Greek term may not naturally emphasize the same connotations, possibly may not contain all that we are'accustomed to think of in connection with it. It may be better to use the word "lot," for example, and speak of "the lot" of the saints. The main implication is that of a possession which becomes ours, not by our earning it but by gift from another. What the saints obtain is not merited by them, is not theirs by right and their own desert; it is allotted to them. The language is founded on and is reminiscent of the allotment of Canaan to the Tribes which composed the ancient people of Jacob. As in that typical transaction the whole land was the gift of God to the people and was allotted to the several tribes and families, each having his own portion, so, in the antitype, the saints are conceived as having in possession their allotted heritage, in which each has his specific portion which is to be his indisputably and his forever. As under the Old Testament, so under the New, there remains a land, a country, an abiding home, for the people of God, into which abode the true Joshua leads them to their rest. And this, I say, is the fundamental implication of the passage.
The designation of this country of the saints as "in the light" follows a symbolism which pervades the whole Bible, and the grandeur of which is, perhaps, liable to be missed by us through our very wontedness to it. Throughout the Scriptures "light" is used as the designation of all that is of consummate and unapproachable perfection, whether in the physical, intellectual, moral or spiritual spheres. In contrast with the darkness of sorrow and peril we have the light of joy and safety; in contrast with the darkness of death we have the light of life; in contrast with the darkness of error we have the light of truth; in contrast with the darkness of sin we have the light of holiness; in contrast with the darkness of destruction we have the light of salvation. Physically, intellectually, ethically, spiritually, savingly, "light" is all that is pure and true, bright and holy and blissful. And light is the heritage of the saints. It is the sphere in which God lives, for we are to walk in the light as He is "in the light." It is the glorious city built foresquare of luminous stones, in which the saints have their real citizenship and the "light" of which is God Himself. God Himself is "light" and we, as His children, are the "children of light." In Him is no darkness at all, or as the strongly emphatic language of John seems to say, "Darkness is not in Him; no not in any way"—not in the way of physical infirmity, of intellectual error, of moral fault, of spiritual stain, or of sullied blessedness. In Him and in Him only, who dwelleth in light inaccessible, is there no darkness,—no, not in any way.
Meanwhile we fairly wallow in darkness. But for the saints there is a heritage "in the light" that streams out from the Throne of God, that light which is the source and condition of all life, and health, and strength, and all knowledge and righteousness, holiness and bliss. There lapped in the actinic rays of the "light of life," dwell the saints. There each has his appointed portion, his home. There each obtains his own higher qualities of knowledge, righteousness, holiness and bliss; and becoming thus luminiferous is made himself a "light bearer" in the world. All this and more is meant by the Apostle when he tells us of the "heritage of the saints in light."
Now he tells us further that it is God and God alone who can introduce men into this glorious region of "the light." It is God who is light and all the light that is in the world streams from Him. We, on our part, are under the dominion of "darkness," and darkness has filled our hearts. How can we be rescued from the rule of darkness and translated into the kingdom of the Son of God's love? Obviously it is only by an act of God, the Light, Himself shining into our darkened heart. And so the Apostle tells us, declaring that it is God who has made us meet for a share in the heritage of the saints. Our English word "meet" probably only brokenly represents the Greek word which he employs. In the Greek word the idea of sufficiency, adequacy, ability, is more prominent than that of worthiness, suitability. The notion conveyed is, perhaps, not so much that God has made us fit, worthy, to be in the Kingdom of light—though that in any event is included, and as to the thing itself is not inharmonious with the Apostle's main intention; but that He has made us able to enter into this state. Immersed in the kingdom of darkness, or worse than that, with the kingdom of darkness within ourselves, we were incapable of entering the kingdom of light. We needed to be made "sufficient," "competent," "adequate," "capable," to be "qualified," "capacitated" for entering into our portion in the allotment of the saints. There was no power in us for entering these light-sown regions; our natural home was elsewhere. Only by a creative act of God were we able to enter upon their sacred precincts.
You see the idea is not that we had the power to enter but not the fitness to abide there; it is that we had no power to enter—the light striking us in the face drove us away because we were of the darkness and incapable of the light. It was God and God alone who made us able to receive a portion in the inheritance of the saints in light; He alone who delivered us from the authority (we were under its authority) of darkness and translated us into the kingdom of the Son of His love. And we will utterly fail to catch Paul's real meaning unless we feel profoundly how entirely he ascribes the totality of the transaction by which we are vested with a heritage among the saints "in the light" to God and to God alone. It is to God and not to ourselves—not to our fellow-men, nor yet to angels,—to God and to God alone, that we owe it that our part is with the saints in the light. It is He that has qualified, capacitated, competentized, sufficientized us, for our part in the lot of the saints.
And it is just on this basis that He calls on us to spend our lives in one long thanksgiving to God, as the one who has enabled us for our share in the heritage of the saints in the light. Thanksgiving presupposes indebtedness. The nature of the indebtedness is already enshrined in the one word "who made us competent," but it is richly developed in the subsequent verses. We were held under the power of darkness; we have been delivered from it and translated into the Kingdom of the Son of God's love. We were under the curse of sin; we have received in Him redemption, even the forgiveness of sins. In this great rescue we have been made sufficient for both things. There is obviously an objective and a subjective side to it; an ideal and an actual possession involved. But the upshot of it all is— that God has taken us out of darkness with all that that involves and placed us in the light, with all that that involves. And as children of the light we must rejoice in the light—which light God is.