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Chapter 1 Special Thanksgiving to the Father
Giving thanks unto the Father, which hath made us meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light: who hath delivered us from the power of darkness, and hath translated us into the kingdom of his dear Son. Colossians 1:12-13
Our first text is a mine of riches. I anticipate the difficulty I may experience in expressing the depths of these verses and the regret I may feel in concluding this chapter because I am not able to dig out all the gold that lies in this precious vein. I admit that I lack the power to truly grasp, as well as the ability to present, the volume of truths that has been condensed into these few sentences. We are exhorted to give "thanks unto the Father." This counsel is simultaneously needed and advantageous for each and every one of us. My friends, I think we scarcely need to be told to give thanks to the Son. The remembrance of His bleeding body hanging upon the cross is ever present to our faith. The nails and the spear, His griefs, the anguish of His soul, and His agonizing sweat make such tender, touching appeals to our gratitude that they will always prevent us from ceasing our songs and will often fire our hearts with rekindling rapture in praise of Christ Jesus. Yes, we will bless You, dearest Lord. Our souls are all on fire. As we survey the wondrous cross, we cannot but shout,
O for this love let rocks and hills Their lasting silence break, And all harmonious human tongues The Savior’s praises speak.
It is very much the same with the Holy Spirit. I think we are made to feel our dependence on His constant influence every day. He abides with us as a present, personal Comforter and Counselor. Thus, we praise the Spirit of Grace who has made our hearts His temple and who works in us all that is gracious, well-pleasing, and virtuous in the sight of God.
THE PRAISEWORTHY FATHER If there is any one Person in the Trinity whom we are more apt to forget than the others in our praises, it is God the Father. In fact, some people even get a wrong idea of Him, a slanderous idea of our God whose name is Love. They imagine that love dwells in Christ, rather than in the Father, and that our salvation is due more to the Son and to the Holy Spirit, rather than to our Father God. Let us not be numbered with the ignorant, but may we receive this truth for ourselves: we are as much indebted to God the Father as we are to any Person of the Sacred Three. Our heavenly Father loves us as much and as truly as any of the worthy Three Persons does. God the Father is as truly worthy of our highest praise as either the Son or the Holy Spirit is.
THE SOURCE OF GOD’S WORKS A remarkable fact, which we should always bear in mind, is this: in the Scriptures most of the operations that are described as being the works of the Holy Spirit are ascribed to God the Father in other passages. Do we not say that God the Holy Spirit quickens (John 6:63) the sinner who is dead in sin? It is true, but you will find in another verse that it is said, "The Father raiseth up the dead, and quickeneth them" (John 5:21). Do we say that the Spirit is the Sanctifier and that the sanctification of the soul is a work of the Holy Spirit? Yes, but you will find a phrase in the opening of Jude’s epistle in which he wrote, "To them that are sanctified by God the Father" (Jude 1:1). Now, how are we to account for this? I think it may be explained this way. God the Spirit comes to us by the direction of God the Father. Therefore, whatever acts are performed by the Holy Spirit are truly done by the Father, because He sends forth the Spirit. The Spirit is often the instrument "although I do not say this in any way to detract from His glory" by which the Father works. It is the Father who says to the dry bones, "live" (Ezekiel 37:5); it is the Spirit who, going forth with the divine word, makes them live. The quickening is due as much to the Father’s word as to the Spirit’s influence that went with the word. Since the word came with all the bounty of free grace and goodwill from the Father, the quickening is due to Him. It is true that the Holy Spirit is the seal upon our hearts:
In whom ye also trusted, after that ye heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation: in whom also after that ye believed, ye were sealed with that holy Spirit of promise.(Ephesians 1:13)
And grieve not the holy Spirit of God, whereby ye are sealed unto the day of redemption. (Ephesians 4:30)
The Holy Spirit is the seal, but it is the Eternal Father’s hand that stamps the seal. God the Father gives His Spirit to seal our adoption:
But when the Comforter is come, whom I will send unto you from the Father, even the Spirit of truth, which proceedeth from the Father, he shall testify of me.(John 15:26)
Ye have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father.(Romans 8:15) I repeat, many of the works of the Spirit can ultimately be attributed to the Father because He works in, through, and by the Spirit. I ought to make the observation here that the works of the Son of God are, every one of them, intimately connected with the Father. The Son came into the world because His Father sent Him. The Son calls His people because His Father already gave them into His hands. When the Son redeemed the chosen race, was not the Son Himself the Father’s gift? Did not God send His Son into the world so that we might live through Him? So then, the Father, the great Ancient of Days, is ever to be extolled; and we must never omit the full homage of our hearts to Him when we sing that sacred doxology:
Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. In order to stimulate your gratitude to God the Father, I want to discuss this glorious passage in Colossians in detail, as God enables me. If you look at the text, you will see two blessings in it. The first has to do with the present; it concerns our fitness to receive "the inheritance of the saints in light." The second blessing, which must go with the first, for indeed it is the effective cause of the first, is related to the past. Here we read of our deliverance from the power of darkness. Let us meditate a little upon each of these blessings. Then, I will endeavor to show the relationship that exists between the two.
A PRESENT BLESSING
The first blessing that comes to our notice is this: God the Father has qualified us as partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light. It is a present blessing. This is not one of the mercies laid up for us in the covenant that we have not yet received. Rather, it is a blessing that every true believer already has in his hand. Those future mercies in the covenant, of which we now have a down payment while we wait for their full possession, are just as rich and just as certain as those that have already been bestowed on us with abundant lovingkindness. However, they still are not so precious in our enjoyment. The mercy we have in hand is, after all, the main source of our present comfort.
Already Qualified Besides, what a blessing this is! Made to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light. The true believer is fit for heaven; he is qualified to be a partaker of the inheritance and that is right now, at this very moment. Does this mean that the believer is perfect, that he is free from sin? No, my friends, where could you ever find such perfection in this world? If no man but a perfect man could be a believer, then what would the perfect man have to believe? Could he not walk by sight? When he became perfect, he might cease to be a believer. No, it is not such perfection that is meant, although perfection is implied and assuredly will be given as the result. In no way does this mean that we have a right to eternal life from any doings of our own. We have a fitness for eternal life, a suitability for it, but we have not earned it by our works. Even now, in ourselves we deserve nothing from God except His eternal wrath and His infinite displeasure.
The Bride to Be What, then, does this phraseology mean? It means just this: we are so far qualified that we are "accepted in the beloved" (Ephesians 1:6), adopted into the family, and enabled by divine favor to dwell with the saints in light. For example, a woman is chosen to be a bride. She is qualified to be married and fit to enter into the honorable state and condition of matrimony, but at present she does not have on the bridal garment and is not like the bride adorned for her husband. You do not yet see her robed in her elegant attire and wearing her finest jewels, but you know she is fit to be a bride, because she has been received and welcomed as such into the family of her fiancé. Likewise, Christ has chosen His church to be married to Him. She has not yet bathed herself and lain in the bed of spices for a little while. She has not yet put on her bridal garment and all the beautiful array in which she will stand before the Father’s throne. Notwithstanding, however, there is a fitness in her to be the bride of Christ. There is such a fitness in her character, such a grace-given adaptation in her to become the royal bride of her glorious Lord and a partaker of the enjoyments of bliss, that it may be said of the church as a whole, and of every member of it, that they are "meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light."
Of Infants and Acorns The original Greek word hikanoo, which was translated as "meet," bears some of the meaning of suitability, although I cannot give the exact idiom. It is always difficult when a word is not used often. I am aware of this word being used only twice in the New Testament. The words suitable, fit, or sufficient may often be substituted for the word meet. God the Father hath made us meet [sufficient, suitable, worthy, fit] to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light." I cannot express my idea of the meaning of this phrase without giving another illustration. When a child is born, it is at once endowed with all the faculties of humanity. If those powers are lacking at birth, they will not appear later on. The baby has eyes, hands, feet, and all its physical organs. Of course, these are rather undeveloped at birth. The senses, although perfect from the first, must be gradually refined, and the understanding gradually matured. The infant can see only a little; it cannot discern distances. The newborn can hear, but it cannot hear distinctly enough at first to know from what direction the sound comes. However, you never find a new leg, a new arm, a new eye, or a new ear growing on that child. Each of these powers will expand and enlarge, but still there is a complete person there at birth. Thus, the child is sufficiently equipped to become an adult. Let God in His infinite providence cause the infant to be nourished and give it strength and increase, and the babe has a sufficient, inherent ability to reach adulthood. It does not lack arm or leg, nose or ear --you cannot make it grow a new member--nor does it require a new member, either, because all are there. In a similar manner, the moment a man is regenerated, there is every faculty in his new creation that there will be, even when he gets to heaven. His faculties only need to be developed and brought out. He will not gain a new power; he will not get a new grace. Rather, those abilities that he had previously will be developed and brought out. We are told by the careful botanist that in an acorn there is every root and every bough and every leaf of the future tree in embryo, which only require being developed and brought out in their fullness as the parts of an oak tree. Similarly, in the true believer, there is a sufficiency or meetness "to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light." The believer does not require that a new thing be implanted in him, but rather that what God has instilled in the moment of regeneration would be cherished and nurtured and made to grow and increase, until it comes unto perfection and he enters into "the inheritance of the saints in light." This is, as near as I can give it to you, the meaning and interpretation of the text, as I understand it.
Equipped by the Father However, you may ask me, "In what sense is this fitness for eternal life the work of God the Father? Have we already been made meet for heaven? How is this the Father’s work?" Looking at the text, I will answer you in three ways: First, what is heaven? We read that it is an inheritance. Secondly, who are fit for an inheritance? Sons are. "If a son, then an heir" (Galatians 4:7). Thirdly, who makes us sons? God the Father does. "Behold, what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God" (1 John 3:1). A son has the capacity for an inheritance. The moment the son is born, he is qualified to be an heir. All that is needed is for him to grow up and be able to manage the possession. However, he is fit for an inheritance from the first. If he were not a son, he could not inherit as an heir. Now, as soon as we become sons of God, we are suited to inherit. There is in us the capacity, the power, and the potential to have an inheritance. The prerogative of the Father is to adopt us into His family.
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, which according to his abundant mercy hath begotten us again unto a lively hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance incorruptible, and undefiled, and that fadeth not away, reserved in heaven for you. (1 Peter 1:3-4) Do you not see that, since being adopted is really the meetness for inheritance, it is the Father who has made us "meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light"?
Sanctified by the Father to Inherit Heaven is an inheritance, but whose inheritance is it? It is an inheritance of the saints. It is not an inheritance of sinners, but of saints "that is, of the holy ones" of those who have been made saints by being sanctified. Turn to the Epistle of Jude, and you will see at once who it is that sanctifies. You will observe the moment you fix your eyes upon the passage that it is God the Father. In the first verse you read, "Jude, the servant of Jesus Christ, and brother of James, to them that are sanctified by God the Father" (Jude 1:1). It is an inheritance for saints, and who are saints? The moment a man believes in Christ, he may know himself to have been truly set apart by the covenant decree. He finds this consecration, if I may use that word, verified in his own experience, for he has now become "a new creature" (2 Corinthians 5:17) in Christ Jesus, separated from the rest of the world. Then it is manifest and made known that God has taken him to be His son forever. The meetness that I must have, in order to enjoy the inheritance of the saints in light, is my becoming a son. God has made me and all believers sons; therefore, we are meet for the inheritance. So then, that meetness has come from the Father. Therefore, how justly the Father claims and deserves our gratitude, our adoration, and our love!
From the Father of Lights You will observe, however, it is not merely said that heaven is the inheritance of the saints, but that it is the inheritance of the saints "in light." So the saints dwell in light--the light of knowledge, the light of purity, the light of joy, the light of love, pure ineffable love, the light of everything that is glorious and ennobling. There they dwell, and if I am to appear fit for that inheritance, what evidence must I have? I must have light shining into my own soul. But, where can I get it? Do I not read that "every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down"? Yes, but from whom? From the Spirit? No, "from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning" (James 1:17). The preparation to enter into the inheritance in light is light, which comes "from the Father of lights." Therefore, my fitness, if I have light in myself, is the work of the Father, and I must give Him praise. QUALIFIED THREE WAYS Do you see then, that as there are three nouns used here--the inheritance of the saints in light--so we have a threefold meetness? We are adopted and made sons so that we are qualified to inherit. God has sanctified us and set us apart. And then, He has put light into our hearts. All this is the work of the Father, and in this sense, we are "meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light." Let me make a few general observations here. Beloved, I am persuaded that if an angel from heaven were to come right now and single out any one believer, there is not one believer who is unfit to be taken to heaven. You may not be ready to be taken to heaven at this time; by this I mean that, if I foresaw that you were going to live, I would tell you that you were in a certain sense unfit to die. But if you were to die now where you are, you are fit for heaven if you believe in Christ. You have a meekness even now that would take you there at once, without being committed to purgatory for a season. You are even now fit "to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light." You have but to gasp your last breath, and you would be in heaven. There would not be one spirit there more fit for heaven than you, nor one soul more adapted for the place than you are. You will be just as fitted for heaven’s element as those who are nearest to the eternal throne. This should make the heirs of glory think much of God the Father. When we reflect, my friends, on our state by nature and how fit we are to be firebrands in the flames of hell--yet to think that we are, at this very moment, if God Almighty willed it, fit to sweep over the golden harp-strings with joyful fingers, that our heads are fit this very night to wear the everlasting crown, that our bodies are fit to be girded with those fair white robes throughout eternity--I say, this makes us think gratefully of God the Father. This makes us clap our hands with joy and say, "Thanks [be] unto the Father, which hath made us meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light." Do you not remember the penitent thief? Just a few minutes before his conversion, he had been cursing Christ. I do not doubt that he had joined with the other, for it is written, "They that were crucified with him reviled him" (Mark 15:32). Not one, but both--they both reviled Him. And then, a gleam of supernatural glory lit up the face of Christ, and the thief saw and believed. "Jesus said unto him, Verily I say unto thee, To day [though the sun is setting] shalt thou be with me in paradise" (Luke 23:43). No long preparation was required, no sweltering in purifying fires. It will be the same with us. We may have been in Christ Jesus, to our own knowledge, only seven days, or we may have been in Him for seven years or seven decades--the date of our conversion makes no difference in our fitness for heaven, in a certain sense. It is true, indeed, that the longer we live, the more grace we have tasted, the riper we are becoming, and the more fit we are to be housed in heaven. However, that is a different sense of the word; that quality is the meetness that the Holy Spirit gives. In contrast, regarding the fitness God the Father gives, I repeat that the tiny blade of corn, the tender growth of gracious wheat that has just appeared above the surface of conviction, is as fit to be carried up to heaven as the fully grown corn in the ear. The sanctification by which we are sanctified by God the Father is not progressive; it is complete at once. We are now adapted for heaven, now fitted for it; by and by we will be completely ready for it and will enter into the joy of our Lord (Matthew 25:21). I might have entered more fully into this subject, but I am short of space. I am sure I have left some knots still tied, but you must untie them yourselves, if you can. Let me recommend that you untie them on your knees--the mysteries of the kingdom of God are studied best when you are in prayer.
A PAST MERCY The second mercy is mercy that looks backward. We sometimes prefer the mercies that look forward, because they unfold such a bright prospect: "Sweet fields beyond the swelling flood." However, here is a mercy that looks backward. It turns its back, as it were, on the heaven of our anticipation and looks back on the gloomy past and the dangers from which we have escaped. Let us read the account of it: "Who hath delivered us from the power of darkness, and hath translated us into the kingdom of his dear Son." This verse is an explanation of the preceding one, as I will show you shortly. But just now let us survey this mercy by itself.
Under the Power of Darkness My friends, what a description we have here of the manner of men we used to be! We were under "the power of darkness." Since I have been musing on this text, I have turned these words over and over in my mind: "the power of darkness." It seems to me one of the most awful expressions that man ever attempted to expound. I think I could deliver a discourse about it, if the Holy Spirit helped me, which might make every bone in your body shake. The power of darkness! We all know that a moral darkness weaves its awful spell over the mind of the sinner. Where God is unacknowledged, the mind is void of judgment. Where God is not worshipped, the heart of man becomes a ruin. The chambers of that dilapidated heart are haunted by ghostly fears and degrading superstitions. The dark places of the reprobate mind are tenanted by vile lusts and noxious passions, like vermin and reptiles, from which we turn with disgust in open daylight. Even the force of natural darkness is tremendous. With the solitary confinement that is practiced in some of our penitentiaries, the very worst results are produced if the treatment is prolonged. If one of you were to be taken right now, led into some dark cavern, and left there, I can imagine that, for a moment, not knowing your fate, you might feel a childlike kind of interest about it. There might be, perhaps, a laugh as you found yourself in the dark. There might, from the novelty of the surroundings, be some momentary kind of curiosity excited. You might even feel a flush of silly joy. In a little time you might endeavor to compose yourself to rest. Possibly you would even go to sleep. But, if you should awake and still find yourself down deep in the bowels of earth, where never a ray of sun or candle light could reach you, do you know the next feeling that would come over you? It would be a kind of idiotic thoughtlessness. You would find it impossible to control your desperate imagination; your heart would say, "O God, I am alone, so terribly alone, in this dark place." How you would look frantically all around! Since you would never catch a glimmer of light, your mind would begin to fail. Your next stage would be one of increasing terror. You would fancy that you saw something, and then you would cry, "If only I could see something, anything, whether friend or foe!" You would feel the dark sides of your dungeon. You would begin to scratch and scribble on the walls, as David did before king Achish (1 Samuel 21:13). Agitation would seize you. If you were kept there much longer, delirium and death would be the consequence. We have heard of many who have been taken from the penitentiary to the lunatic asylum. The lunacy is produced partly by the solitary confinement and partly by the darkness in which they are placed. In a recent report written by the chaplain of Newgate Prison, there are some striking observations about the influence of darkness as a method of discipline. Its first effect is to shut the culprit up with his own reflections and make him realize his true position in the iron grasp of the outraged law. I think the defiant man, who has come in cursing and swearing, when he has found himself alone in darkness, where he cannot even hear the sound of passing traffic from the streets and can see no light whatsoever, is quickly subdued. He gives in and grows tame. "The power of darkness" literally is something awful. If I had time, I would enlarge upon this subject. We cannot properly describe what "the power of darkness" is, even in this world. The sinner is plunged into the darkness of his sins, and he sees nothing, he knows nothing. Let him remain there a little longer, and his joy of curiosity "the hectic joy that he now has in the path of sin" will die away. A spirit of slumber will then come over him. Sin will make him drowsy, so that he will not hear the voice of the Spirit, crying to him to escape for his life. Let him continue in his life of sin, and by and by it will make him spiritually an idiot. He will become so set in sin that common reason would be lost on him. All the arguments that a sensible man could receive would only be wasted on him. Let him go on, and he will proceed from bad to worse, until he acquires the raving mania of a desperado in sin. Let death step in, and the darkness will have produced its full effect: he will come into the delirious madness of hell. Only the power of sin is needed to make a man more truly hideous than human thought can realize or language can express. Oh, "the power of darkness!" Now my friends, all of us were under this power once. It is but a few months or years--a few weeks with some of you--since you were under the power of darkness and of sin. Some of you had only gotten as far as the curiosity of sin; others had gone as far as the sleepiness stage; a good many of you had gone as far as the apathy of it; and some of you may have been almost caught up in the terror of it. You had so cursed and sworn, you had so yelled out your blasphemies, that you seemed to be ripening for hell. But, praised and blessed be the name of the Father, He has "delivered [you] from the power of darkness, and hath translated [you] into the kingdom of his dear Son." Translated by the Father
Having thus explained this term "the power of darkness" to show you what you were, I want to examine the next phrase, "and hath translated us." What a unique word this translated is. You probably think it means the process by which a word is interpreted to retain the original meaning when the expression is rendered in another language. That is one meaning of the word translation, but it is not the meaning here. The word is used by Paul in this sense: the taking away of a people who have been dwelling in a certain country and planting them in another place. This is called translation. We sometimes hear of a bishop being translated or transferred from one jurisdiction or district to another. Now, if you would like to have this concept explained, let me give you an overview of an amazing instance of a great translation. The children of Israel were in Egypt under taskmasters who oppressed them very severely and brought them into iron bondage. What did God do for these people? There were over two million of them. He did not temper the tyranny of the tyrant; He did not influence the pharaoh’s mind to give them a little more liberty. Instead, God translated His people. With a high hand and an outstretched arm, He took every one of His chosen men, women, and children bodily out of Egypt, led them through the wilderness, and translated them into the kingdom of Canaan, where they were settled. What an achievement that was! With their flocks and their herds and their little ones, the whole host of Israel went out of Egypt, crossed the Jordan, and came into Canaan! My dear friends, the whole of the Exodus was not equal to the achievement of God’s powerful grace when He brings one poor sinner out of the region of sin into the kingdom of holiness and peace. I believe it was easier for God to bring Israel out of Egypt, to split the Red Sea, to make a highway through the pathless wilderness, to drop manna from heaven, to drive out the giant inhabitants, it was easier for Omnipotence to do all this than to translate a man "from the power of darkness? into the kingdom of his dear Son." This is the grandest achievement of God Almighty. I believe that the sustenance of the whole universe is even easier than the changing of a bad heart and the subduing of an iron will. But, thanks be to the Father, He has done all that for you and for me. He has brought us out of darkness. He has translated us by taking up the old tree, which had struck its roots ever so deep "taking it up roots and all"and then planting it in good soil. He had to cut the top off, it is true "the high branches of our pride" but the tree has grown better in the new soil than it ever did before. Who ever heard of transplanting as huge a tree as a man who has grown for fifty years in sin? Oh, what wonders our Father has done for us! He has taken the wild leopard, tamed it into a lamb, and purged away its spots. He has regenerated the poor sinner--oh, how black we were by nature! Our blackness permeated our beings to the center of our hearts. But, blessed be His name, He has washed us white and is still carrying on the divine operation, and He will yet completely deliver us from every taint of sin and will finally bring us "into the kingdom of his dear Son." Here then, in this second mercy, we discern from what and how we were delivered" God the Father has "translated us."