THE HIDDEN LIFE
Col. 8:1-4, especially 3:—"Your life is hid with Christ in God."
We cannot hope to empty so great a text as this into our minds and hearts in the course of a quarter of an hour's study of it. It is a great fountain filled with refreshment. But we may like to sip a little of its strengthening waters. To do so, let us in a very simple way just glance at its contents.
And first we observe that the text assumes a fact. Its opening words, "If then ye were raised together with Christ" posit a fact beneath all that it has further to say. And the resurrection here adverted to implies a previous death; and looking back to the preceding chapter, we find it also mentioned. Here, then, are the two wings of the fact assumed: "If ye died with Christ from the rudiments of the world"; "If then ye were raised together with Christ." At the bottom of all, then, lies this great fact, the fundamental fact of the Christian religion: that Christ died and rose again. On this great fundamental fact everything in our present passage is based. But not upon it as a bare fact, without further significance than that it happened. For it is no more a fact that Christ died than that He died for our sins; and no more a fact that He rose again than that He rose again for our justification.
This then is the fact assumed in our text, that Christ died for our trespasses and was raised again for our justification. But if He died for our sins, He died to take them away, and His death did take them away. All those for whose sins Christ died, died then with Him in the death which He accomplished on the cross; died with Him to sin, that they might no longer be sinners. And if He was raised again for our justification, He rose again to usher us into acceptance with God and into all that is involved in that great word, life, and His resurrection has brought us into God's favour and into life indeed. All those for whom He rose again, rose again with Him, therefore; rose again with Him to life that they might live again to God. And here now is the great fact in its fullness which Paul assumes and lays at the base of our present passage: the great fact of the participation of Christians in Christ's death and rising again.
If we be Christians at all, we are such only in virtue of the fact that when He died, He died for us, and we, therefore, died as sinners with His death; and that when He rose again for our justification, we rose again into newness of life with Him,—the life that we now live is a new life, from a new spring, even the Spirit of Christ which He as the risen Lord has sent down to us. This is the great fact of participation in the saving work of Christ, with all that it involves. And what we have here is an assertion that such a participation involves seizing of us bodily and lifting us to another and higher plane. We were sinners, and lived as sinners; we lived an earthly life, in the lowest sense of that word. But now we have died with Christ as sinners and can live no more as sinners; we have been raised together with Him and can live only on the plane of this new life, which is not in sin, not "in the earth," but in heaven. In a high and true sense, because we have died to sin and been raised to holiness, we have already passed out of earth to heaven. Heaven is already the sphere of our life; our "citizenship is in heaven"—we are citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven, and have the life appropriate thereto to live.
And now we observe, secondly, that on this fact the Apostle founds an exhortation. "If then ye were raised together with Christ, seek the things that are above." The exhortation is simply to an actual life consonant with our change of state. If we have participated in Christ's death for sin and rising again for justification; so that with Him we died to sin and rose again unto holiness; live accordingly. If we have thus died as sinners, as earth born, and earth confined crawlers on this low plane, and been raised to this higher plane, even a heavenly one, of living— show in walk and conversation that the change has been a real one. It is an exhortation to us to
be in life real citizens of the heavenly kingdom to which we have been transferred; to do the duties and enter into the responsibilities of our new citizenship. It is just as we might say to some newly enfranchised immigrant: You have left that country of darkness in which you were bred, where no liberty of action or of worship existed; you have been received into our free America, and have been clothed with the rights and duties of citizenship in this great Republic; now live worthily of your new citizenship; be now in life and thought no longer a serf but a freeman. So, Paul says in effect, you have passed out of the realm of sin and death, out of the merely earthly sphere; you have been made a citizen of the heavenly kingdom; do the deeds and live the life conformable to your great change.
And we observe, again, that the Apostle describes to us the nature of this heavenly life to which we are committed, by passing out of the earthly into the heavenly sphere through participation in the death and rising again of Christ. "Seek the things that are above." "Set your mind on the things that are above, not on the things that are upon the earth." What is meant by seeking the heavenly things rather than the earthly? We may, at least, say that the following is meant.
To seek the things that are above, in distinction from those that are upon the earth, means primarily to seek what is good and refuse what is evil. It is an exhortation to a moral life as opposed to an immoral one. It is an exhortation to a life of purity and holiness as opposed to a life of sin. This at least is made evident to us by the immediately succeeding context. For just after giving the exhortation to seek the "things that are above and not the things that are upon the earth," the Apostle explains what the things that are upon the earth are which we are to refuse. "Mortify, therefore," he adds, at once, "your members that are upon the earth; fornication, uncleanness, passion, evil desire and covetousness." And he proceeds also to explain what the heavenly things are which we are to seek: "Put on, therefore, as God's elect, holy and beloved, a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, long-suffering" and the like. These, then, are "the things that are above" which we are to seek: and those "the things that are upon the earth" that we are to keep ourselves free from, and, when they are already in us as members, which we are "to mortify," to "slay." But this is as much as to say that the heavenly life which, as those who have shared in Christ's death and resurrection, we are to live, is, first of all, a moral life, or better, a holy life, a life of purity and virtue, as distinguished from a life of sin. And this, indeed, follows from its very conception, for our death with Christ was a death to sin and our rising with Him
was a rising out of sin,—which is the death of the soul,—to a new life, spiritual life, which in its very idea is holiness. Before all else, this, then, is to seek the things that are above: to put aside the sin that so easily besets us and to live holily as becomes saints.
But this fundamental conception—and all inclusive conception, too, when rightly understood—hardly exhausts, when only thus broadly stated, the matter as it lies in the Apostle's mind here. On closer observation we see that the Apostle has also a special application of it in mind, and we need to note it. Let us say, then, that the seeking of the things that are above, means here also this: the seeking of the things that are really good in contradistinction to those that are apparently good. For if the subsequent context is the professed explanation of the fundamental meaning of the exhortation, the preceding context, furnishing the occasion of the special form which the exhortation takes, is the explanation of this. "If, therefore, ye were raised together with Christ." Now, in this preceding context, the Apostle was attempting to save his readers from a grave heresy which had shown itself in their region. The characteristic of this heresy was that, along with certain speculative errors, a specific moral teaching was offered: a moral teaching of apparently high and lofty nature. The Apostle does not deny that the principles thus pressed upon his converts as a rule of life had the appearance of goodness, and of wisdom: "which things have a show of wisdom in severity to the body." He does not deny that there were real evils to be met. There were gross indulgences of the flesh to which men were prone: intemperance, impurity and all the catalogue of such evils. How apparently wise and right to preach: Handle not, nor taste, nor touch! Should Christian men fail to join in this great cyclone of moral reform? If they did, were they not open to the charge of indifference to morality itself—the very mark and sign of their profession of having died to sin and been raised again to righteousness?
Paul's deliberate judgment is that all such precepts are precepts of men; that their tendency is to enslave men again under the yoke of legalism— men who had become free in Christ. And his deliberate exhortation is, to keep to the path of seeking the really good instead of these apparent goods. His exhortation becomes thus an exhortation to seek what we call the religious, rather than the moral way to reform man and the world. When men come saying, Touch not, taste not, handle not, Paul says they are offering you an inoperative mode of saving the world from sin; they are offering you law which only condemns, not grace in which alone is saving power. He says, reject such human commandments, and be content to hold fast to the Head—that Christ who has created all these things, whose they are, and who has given them to you for use, though, of course, not for abuse. He says, you are living on a higher plane than this earthly one of precepts and prohibitions; see that you live on this higher plane; seek the real good even if you are evil-spoken of, because you refuse a path of apparent good, one which has a show of wisdom, indeed, but is no real "specific" against the evils of the flesh.
But there is yet another special aspect of the exhortation, growing immediately out of these facts, which we must notice. Just because the seeking of the really good as over against the apparent good will necessarily bring misunderstanding, and even misrepresentation (for they that called the Master Beelzebub are not likely to mince matters in speaking of his followers), Paul represents the seeking of the things above, as a seeking of the hidden good, as distinguished from the open, publicly recognized good. This life of ours is a hidden life; hid with Christ in God. God, not the world, is the sphere in which it is passed. Christ is it itself. And Christ is now with God. The Christian in seeking heavenly things must not seek to be known of the world to be good, but only to be seen of God. It belongs to the Pharisee, not to the Christian, to do good to be seen of men. It is a hidden life he leads; and he must be content to be misunderstood and misrepresented, even persecuted for righteousness' sake; for him it is not appearances, or even appearance that he seeks; it is only the good. Not that his good shall always be unrecognized. There comes a day of manifestation; "When Christ is manifested, then shall ye be manifested with him, in glory." For that day of the revelation of all, he can afford to and he must wait.
But there is more in this hidden life than this. Here is an intimation of the quiet of the Christian life; here is also an intimation of its perfection. It is better than men know or even dream. The Christian is to refuse men's commands of "Touch not, taste not, handle not," not because he is indifferent to morality, but because he has a better morality and a better way. He is not to fall behind human morality; he is to transcend it. He seeks not law but grace; he seeks not to make the outside of the platter clean—how diligently men are willing to work at that!—but to make the heart clean. His remedy for the world's ills, as for his own, is—a life hid with Christ in God. He points to Christ who can make pure the heart, from which are the issues of life, and, in His name and as His servant, he refuses all the outward inoperative nostrums which are offered as specifics for the deep disease of humanity; because they have no help or profit in them. He refuses the bad medicine only in favour of the good.
And now let us pass on to observe that the Apostle adduces motives for this heavenly walk. And the motives he presents are three, drawn from the past, the present and the future.
There is a motive drawn from the past. "If then ye were raised with Christ." The motive presented is our gratitude to our Lord for the great work He has done for and in us. That we have been made partakers of so great benefits is reason enough for striving to walk worthily of Him. This motive is the same as, "The love of Christ constraineth us."
There is a motive drawn from the present. "For your life is hid with Christ in God." Notice here that Christ is described as, not the humiliated Christ, but the exalted Christ—"He is seated on the right hand of God." The motive presented is that as we all are one with Him, who is exalted to the right hand of God, we are to walk worthily of our high dignity. Noblesse oblige. If we are co-regnant with Christ, how should a king in this world walk? As grovelling in its dust and dirt? As subject to man's petty precepts? No! As superior to all the prescriptions of men and as above all the temptations to evil, because one with Christ and possessing a life hid with Him in God.
There is a motive drawn from the future. "When Christ, who is our life, shall be manifested, then shall we also with him be manifested in glory." The vindication, even before men, will come. We shall not always be misunderstood; we shall have the reward. And what a reward! Co-manifestation with Christ in glory! Do not our hearts spring within us with hope and joy!