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the church was, at that time, troubled with “ enticing
words, philosophy, and vain deceit, after the rudi"ments of the world." He also shows, by borrowing arguments from evangelical doctrines, in order to combat legal teachers, and by the inferences which he draws from those arguments, that certain Judaizing Christians burthened the consciences of the Colossian converts, by enjoining on them the observance of the ceremonial law: the necessity of circumcision (ver. 11;) of keeping particular days (ver. 16.;) and of abstaining from divers kinds of meats (ver. 16, and 21.;) from which, as an intolerable yoke, the Fathers bad deemed it necessary to deliver the Gentile church. Collate Acts xxv. with Gal. v.3, 4, &c.
FOURTHLY, If we rightly consider what is said concerning Epaphras, at the commencement and conclusion of the epistle, we shall probably infer, that, while he was earnestly commending to Paul the faith and love of the new converts, and while glowing with holy zeal for their welfare; he moved the apostle by his entreaties, to dispatch this letter to Colosse and Laodicea: (chap. i. ver. 8. and chap. iv. ver. 12. and 13.) The joy consequent on sending the epistle, was doubtless shared by Tychicus (Acts xx. ver. 4.;) by Onesimus, himself a Colossian; (b) by Aristarchus (Acts, chap. xix. ver. 29. and chap. xx. ver. 4.;) by Mark (Acts, chap. xii. ver. 12. and chap. xv. ver. 37. 38.;) by Jesus surnamed Justus, by Epaphras, De
mas, and Luke (Acts xxvii. ver. 1.;) names dear to the Colossians, and with which they were well acquainted (Col. iv. ver. 7.) &c.
Here we may remark, that the Acts of the Apostles, and especially the fifteenth chapter of them, are frequently adduced to explain the Occasion of writing this epistle. The historical books, and in particular that just mentioned, throw light on all the other books of the New Testament; the historical books of the Old Testament perform the same service for the Prophets; and the books of Moses elucidate the writings of both Testaments. But Chap. xv. of the Acts, is of special assistance in attaining to a right understanding of the epistles of St. Paul.
The Apostle's Scope. These points being premised, we may easily ascertain the Scope of the whole epistle. This was, that Paul, in obedience to his duty as an apostle, might confirm the Colossian converts in the doctrines of faith, and in seeking after that holiness which flows from them. Collate chap. ii. ver. 1-7, with chap i. ver. 9–12. It was also, that he might seasonably heal the breaches made by Jewish errors, which had spread, and were perbaps still prevailing; and that he might deliver the church from the evils which these errors had induced; as well as avert from it, those which he foresaw would be consequent on this “vain deceit."
It very evidently appears from the whole structure
of the epistle, that the sole reason the apostle had for so carefully confirming the Colossians in the purer doctrines of faith, was a fear lest they should be injured by the pernicious opinions of heretical men. Hence, this, like many of St. Paul's epistles, may and ought to be termed polemical; and the apostle himself makes all the doctrines stated have a reference to it, when he says-“This I say (T8To de Asya) lest
any man should beguile you with enticing words;"> chap. ii. ver. 4. The declaration contained in these words should be well considered, as we recognize in it the true and genuine Scope of the whole epistle, expressed in Paul's own words; and thence we may likewise safely conclude it to be of the polemical kind. That this mode of announcing the Scope of a whole book is usual in Scripture, we may learn from 1 Tim. chap. iii. ver. 14. John chap. xx. ver. 31. 1 John chap. ii. ver. 26. 2 Peter chap. iii. ver. 1. &c.
The Method. The method of managing a controversy which our apostle adopts, is not to enter the lists with his antagonists, and thus gratify their desires to contend (a practice from which he testifies that his mind was most abhorrent, 1 Cor. chap. xi. ver. 16.;) but his plan was, to address an epistle to those churches that were infested with false teachers, and by confirming them in the principles of genuine doctrine, to foil the attempts of the adversaries of the truth,
The controversy which he holds in the epistle before us, was the principal one of that age, and engaged the special attention of the apostle of the Gentiles. His discussion of it has proved a considerable blessing to posterity, because the mode of obtaining salvation depended so much on the present controversy, as to involve in its own, the decision of almost every other question. Hence, if we weigh the apostle's Scope, and examine his method of treating it, we must necessarily set a high value on this epistle, and consider it as fundamental; as one that embraces the Order, Structure, and Harmony of the Christian system with so peculiar a propriety, that not only the young convert cannot desire a more excellent confirmation of the doctrines he has espoused; but even the more established, those who have groaned under many and various temptations, may revert to these first principles with avidity and delight, and find the repose which they had vainly sought elsewhere.
Historical Recapitulation of the Scope. The Scope of the apostle may be briefly stated thus. Epaphras had brought to Paul, the glad tidings of the conversion of the Colossians, and faithfully set forth the dangers with which they were threatened; and as the apostle felt especially concerned for the welfare of those churches to whom he had not himself preached the gospel, and consequently for that at Colosse; as he was anxious they should preserve their
purity of faith, and that integrity of life which is the fruit of it; he wrote this epistle to them, by virtue of his Office, under the influences of the Spirit, and perhaps actuated by the intreaties of faithful Epaphras. In it, he fully explains the proper foundations of the Christian doctrine, in order that the Colossians might be assured, that the way into which they were guided by the ministry of Epaphras, was the saving and right way. He also wisely and providently endeavours to avert from them all heterodox opinions, and all danger of corruption either in doctrine or practice.
The Division. With respect to the Division of the epistle, it is so plain and natural as easily to be distinguished by the attentive reader. After the Inscription (chap. i. ver. 1, 2 ) the epistle may be said to comprehend an Exordium, chap. i. ver. 3—8; a Proposition, ver. 9--12; a Confirmation, chap. i. ver. 13, to chap. iv. ver. 7; and a Conclusion.
The Exordium. The Exordium evidently unfolds the Occasion of writing, and therefore does not require a regular analysis. But it is worthy of particular remark, that the apostle has placed that first, which, following the natural order, we should have placed last. The Exordium would then have rup thus:--" Epaphras has declared to me your love “ in the Spirit, and that God by his ministry, has “made you partakers of the Gospel and its blessed « fruits. Understanding, therefore, your faith and