"If then ye be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth. For ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God. When Christ, who is our life, shall appear, then shall ye also appear with him in glory (Colossians 3.1-4)."
Having dwelt somewhat elaborately on the resurrection of our divine Redeemer from the dead, and of that immortality which he brought to light for all his members when he abolished death, and when he, having spoiled principalities and powers, made a shew of them openly, triumphing over them in it. Rising from the dead, he ascended up on high, bearing to the realms of glory the life and immortality of all his members, having obtained eternal redemption for them, is sat down on the right hand of God, angels and principalities being made subject to him. Fully accepted in the courts of glory in his mediatorial work, he forever lives as the Resurrection and Life of his people, all of whom, having part in his resurrection, in him have reached their heavenly places, are presented in him, are in him accepted of the Father; as under the law the whole harvest was accepted in the acceptance of the first fruits, or first ripened sheaf, so his people are in him presented without spot or blemish, and their resurrection, their life and immortality within the veil is hid with him in God, and so perfectly identified with him that when he shall appear they shall also appear with him in glory. We will in this article attempt to urge upon the consideration of the saints the admonitions of our text as based upon these divine assurances. "Seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God." In perusing this subject there are several inquiries suggested requiring to be answered, and among them, First, The place or seat which is occupied by our risen and exalted Prince and Savior, on the right hand of God. Secondly, The things which are with him, and after which we are to seek, and how they may be distinguished from the things which are on the earth. Thirdly, Why we should seek the things which are above, and why we should not seek the things which are on the earth. Fourth, How, or in what manner we are instructed to seek the things which are above, by setting our affection on things above, and by repudiating the things which are on the earth, and by mortifying our members which are upon the earth.
First. That our Lord Jesus Christ ascended up into the heaven of eternal glory, where all the glorified saints and holy angels dwell, and where all his children shall ultimately find the consummation of their happiness, the sacred Scriptures do not allow us to doubt. But still the seat which he now occupies at the right hand of God the Father is the seat of his Mediatorial glory. That seat is upon the throne of his spiritual kingdom. The inspiration of the Holy Ghost has testified through the apostle that God has "raised him from the dead, and set him at his own right hand, in the heavenly places, far above all principality and power, and might and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this world, but also in that which is to come, and hath put all things under his feet, and gave him to be the head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him that filleth all in all (Ephesians 1:20-23." It is as the Mediatorial Head of the church that he is thus "exalted to be a Prince and a Savior, to give repentance unto Israel, and the remission of sins (Acts 5:3 1)." In his eternal Godhead he could not be exalted to any higher glory than that which he eternally possessed. But in his mediatorial relation to his church, he had bowed his heavens and come down; had descended to the lowest parts of the earth; was made flesh, made of a woman, made under the law, had humbled himself; though he were a Son, yet learned he obedience, and became obedient unto death, even the death on the cross, had slumbered in the grave; but now being raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, by the immortality of his own indwelling and eternal God-head, he is made both Lord and Christ. He is as the risen and exalted Savior inaugurated in his throne as King of saints and Priest unto the Most High God, and wears his imperial crown, and sways his sovereign and irresistible sceptre over all principality and power, having all power in heaven and in earth, extending over all flesh, that he may give eternal life unto as many as his Father has given him. God has given us the record of his Son. In that most sacred record we find it written that "the heathen raged, and the kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together against the Lord, and against his anointed," etc. "Yet," saith God, "have I set my King over his holy hill of Zion, and hath given him the heathen for his inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth for his possession, and he shall break them with a rod of iron, and dash them in pieces like a potter's vessel." (Read the second Psalm.) In his exaltation he ascends up where he was before, to the glory which he had with his Father before the world was made, and is made higher than the heavens. Unto him, as the Son, the Father has said, "Thy throne, O God, is forever and ever; a sceptre of righteousness is the sceptre of thy kingdom. Thou hast loved righteousness and hated iniquity: therefore God, even thy God, hath anointed thee with the oil of gladness above thy fellows." Nor is this all. God hath said to him in the same connection, "Thou, Lord, in the beginning hast laid the foundation of the earth: and the heavens are the work of thy hands. They shall perish, but thou remainest, and, as a vesture shalt thou fold them up, and they shall be changed; but thou art the same, and thy years shall not fail (Hebrews 1:8-12)." But still in all this amazing exaltation, grandeur and supreme glory, he does not leave the precincts of his kingdom; all this indescribable glory is the glory of his kingdom, and the fullness of his mediatorial power. His kingdom being spiritual comprehends all his spiritual subjects in heaven and in earth, as he is from everlasting to everlasting and his throne is forever and ever. Those who are redeemed from the earth and quickened by his spirit are brought from the East, and from the West, and from the North, and from the South, and sit down in this kingdom with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Our natural birth develops in us no capacity to see this spiritual kingdom; no human excellence can fit us to enter it: for "except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom." "Flesh and blood cannot inherit it (John 3:3; I Corinthians 15:50)." Those who are gathered into it do not leave it when they die. The Savior did not leave it when he ascended up to where he was before. The apostles are still in his kingdom, and still occupy their thrones of judgment. Their flesh may slumber in their graves, but no place can be vacated in the kingdom where the risen and exalted Jesus presides in the throne of his everlasting kingdom. Death shall depose all earthly kings and time sweeps all their thrones and powers away. The elements of nature must be dissolved, and even the natural heavens shall depart. But to the Son of God, and to him only is it said, "Thy throne, O God, is forever and ever."
In this spiritual kingdom are the heavenly places, or the many mansions, to which our exalted Savior has raised his people, and in which he makes them sit, in him. All whom he has redeemed and raised up have in their earthly relations occupied earthly places, legal places, places of pollution, sin, condemnation, wrath and death; but in him who is our Resurrection and our Life, we are raised up from under the law, from guilt, from wrath, from death and from the grave, and with him we now occupy the place of his feet, which he has made glorious, the place where his honor dwelleth; these, in distinction from our places in the flesh and under the law, are truly heavenly places in Christ Jesus. All the vicissitude of the children of God, in being changed from glory to glory by the Spirit, all our spiritual emotions, enlargements and abasements, in the spiritual life, are heavenly places. In the closet, or in the banqueting house, in songs of praise, in the fellowship of the saints, in communion with God, and in all the order and ordinances of the gospel we find and fill our heavenly places in Christ Jesus now; and when we shall quit this militant state we hope to sit in heavenly places of more unmingled and uninterrupted bliss, and to be perfectly released from all the trials, sorrows, tribulations, doubts and fears to which we are now subject. But what pen shall describe the heavenly places of our final triumphant state, when leaving the streams which now make glad the city of our God, we shall bask in the fullness of immortal joys at the Fountain Head above? It doth not yet appear what we shall be, but we know that when he shall appear we shall be like him. Then shall we reach the mark of the prize of our high calling in Christ Jesus our Lord to which we now are pressing forward.
This heavenly kingdom where God has set his King is on the right hand of God. David in spirit saw the Queen, the bride, the Lamb's wife, brought to the King, all glorious within, with clothing of wrought gold, and shining in raiment of fine needle work, and standing at the right hand of the divine majesty, in gold of Ophir (Psalm 45:7-14). The seat of Christ on the right hand of God shows that all the perfections of eternal deity approve the Mediatorial work and government of our heavenly King, and where he is, there shall his children be.
Secondly. We are to speak of the things which are above, and after which we are exhorted to seek. What things are they? First of all in the order laid down, our Lord has instructed his disciples to seek the kingdom itself, and God's righteousness, and leave it for God, who knoweth all our need, to supply all of earthly comforts that in his wisdom we require. We have shown that the kingdom of God and his righteousness are above, and where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God. The imperative command to seek it first shows that with his saints it is to have the precedence of every thing else. Worldly cares, necessities, and wants for the body, as to what we shall eat, or drink, or wherewith we shall be clothed, can never be of sufficient importance to justify a disciple of Jesus Christ in neglecting the kingdom and government of our blessed Lord and Master. Therefore our obedience to Christ should always be first and paramount. As soon as we are born of the Spirit, this charge is upon us. Until we are born of the Spirit, we are destitute of the necessary capacity to seek the kingdom of God; because it is spiritual, and totally invisible to all who are not born again. "Verily, verily," saith Jesus, "except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God." "Marvel not that I said unto thee, Ye must be born again." The kingdom is spiritual, and all the things which are above in the heavenly places are spiritual, and the Scriptures positively testify that none of the faculties, senses, and avenues of intelligence to the natural understanding of man can possibly know the things of the Spirit. "As it is written, Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man the things which God hath prepared for them that love him; but God hath revealed them unto us by his Spirit: for the Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God." The things of the Spirit can only be known by revelation of the Spirit. "But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God; for they are foolishness unto him; neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned (I Corinthians 2:9,14)." But as soon as a man is born again, "That which is born of the Spirit is spirit," and all such children shall be taught of God; and God, who has hidden these things from the wise and prudent of mankind, has revealed them unto babes. As soon then as we are born of the Spirit, we are first of all things commanded to seek the kingdom of God and his righteousness. As the new born babe requires the care, nurture and affection of its mother, so all who are born of the Spirit require the protection, watch care and maternal offices of that Jerusalem which is above, which is the mother of us all. The direction is not to seek some kingdom, or some church, or some religious establishment organized by men, but the kingdom of God. There is no time to spare; not a moment can we delay without disobedience, and disloyalty to our King. The place to serve him is in his kingdom, and that kingdom is his church. He says, "If ye love me, keep my commandments." As soon as his love is shed abroad in our hearts, we have the reliable evidence that we are born again, and that it is time to fly to the arms of that Jerusalem which is the mother of all those who, as Isaac was, are the children of promise. But beware of her whose house is the way to hell, going down to the chambers of death; for "Now she is without, now in the streets, and lieth in wait at every corner (Proverbs 7:12,27)." The kingdom of God differs widely from all other kingdoms, as God's righteousness differs from filthy rags. When you find the kingdom of God, you will also find his righteousness. His kingdom is where he reigns, where he rules, where his laws, ordinances, doctrine, and order prevails, and no where else. Find his kingdom, and you will find there your best friends and kindred, and there God your Savior reigns. You are not to seek his kingdom and your own righteousness, for they will not agree. Some of the children have feared to take the yoke of Jesus, and obey their Savior's commands, because they are not satisfied with their own righteousness. Poor erring child, that is not the kind you are directed to seek. Could you find as much of your own righteousness as the old Pharisees boasted of, it would do you no good.
"Nothing in your hand you bring
Simply to his cross you cling."
Nothing short of God's own righteousness can justify us in his sight; and the more you accumulate of your own to prepare you for his kingdom, the worse off you will be. Cast from you all the filthy rags of your own righteousness, and if you be risen with Jesus, seek his kingdom and his righteousness, and strive to enter in, and to abide within her gates; for Jesus has said, Many shall seek to enter in and shall not be able. But, "Blessed are they that do his commandments, that they may have right to the tree of life, and may enter in through the gates into the city (Revelations 22:14)." The things which are above, and which all who are risen with Christ should seek for embrace all spiritual things, the bread of life, the waters of salvation, the light and liberty of the gospel, the fellowship of the saints, the laws, ordinances, and institutions of the house of God, the doctrine, discipline, walk and deportment enjoined upon the saints; these are all spiritual, and all pertain to the kingdom of heaven which is above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God. Finally, all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ Jesus are above. And "Every good and perfect gift cometh down from the Father of Lights, with whom there is no variableness, nor shadow of turning." Abundant encouragement is given to the children of the resurrection to seek those things; for in rising with him, they are partakers of those characteristic marks which belong to and distinguish the heirs of promise from all others, as the blessed of the Lord. They are poor in spirit to whom the kingdom of heaven is given, for it is their Father's good pleasure to give it to them. They are mourners whom God has promised to comfort. They are the meek who shall inherit the earth. They hunger and thirst after righteousness, and they shall be filled. They are merciful, and they shall obtain mercy. They are peace makers, and shall be called the children of God. They are persecuted and reviled for righteousness sake, but great is their reward in heaven. To the people thus described by our Lord, he gave the gracious assurance, "Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened (Matthew 5:3, and 7:7)." The things which are above are essential to our comfort, and to God's declarative glory; they are worthy of our highest aspirations; so that to seek them is a duty as well as a privilege to all who are risen with Christ. But those who are not risen with him are still among the dead, and have neither the desire, knowledge, life nor ability to seek; therefore, to them no such command or encouragement is given.
Thirdly. Why should we seek those things which are above? Some of the reasons given are these: "For ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God." In what sense are we dead? We have not yet laid off the body of our flesh, for we are still subject to the strife and enmity of our fleshly passions, lusts, affections, and the vain desires of our old carnal and depraved nature, and still find a law in our members warring against the law of our mind, bringing us into captivity to the law of sin which is in our flesh. If we were delivered from this, and our mortality were already swallowed up of life, we should no longer require to be admonished to mortify our members which are upon the earth, or to crucify the old man with his affections and lusts. When freed from the body of this death, we shall require no exhortations to seek the things which are above.
Still, those who are risen with Christ are dead in the sense of what the apostle is dwelling in the context. They are crucified with Christ. "In whom also ye are circumcised, with the circumcision made without hands, in putting off the body of the sins of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ. Buried with him in baptism, wherein also ye are risen with him," etc. "Wherefore if ye be dead with Christ, from the rudiments of the world, why, as though living in the world, are subject to ordinances, which all are to perish with the using, (Colossians 2:11,12,20,22)." Elsewhere the same apostle has testified that the saints are dead to the law by the body of Christ, and married, and now under law to him that is risen from the dead; and now as risen with him, we are not to dig up Moses, the dead husband, whom God has buried, nor touch, nor taste, nor handle those ordinances which belonged, in their time, to a worldly sanctuary, as carnal ordinances, which all were to perish with the using. Dead, henceforth and forever to the law, and risen with Christ to a higher and more exalted state, we are above the rudiments of the world, and are to count ourselves dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto righteousness. By the circumcision of Christ, the flesh is cut off, and we who are of the circumcision are to worship God in the spirit (not in carnal ordinances), rejoice in Christ Jesus (not in Moses, or the law of carnal commandments represented by him), and have no confidence in the flesh. "Ye are dead," possessing no quickened principle, faculty, or element of our fleshly nature by which it is possible for us to serve God acceptably; for the body is dead because of sin, and is put off by the circumcision of Christ. Without this circumcision we cannot arise with Christ into his spiritual kingdom; for with our flesh we always serve the law of sin; and "This I say, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God." "So then they that are in the flesh cannot please God. But ye are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if so be the spirit of Christ dwell in you. Now if any man have not the spirit of Christ, he is none of his. And if Christ be in you, the body is dead because of sin, but the spirit is life because of righteousness. But if the spirit of him that raised up Jesus from the dead dwell in you, he that raised up Christ from the dead shall also quicken your mortal bodies by his spirit that dwelleth in you (Romans 8:8-1 1)." Our flesh has not risen with Christ; it is still flesh, carnal nature, corrupt and mortal, and in it there can nothing good be found; but if in spirit we are risen with Christ, having the Spirit of him that raised up Jesus, as the quickening, resurrection life and spirit of God, then have we the assurance that our mortal bodies shall by that indwelling resurrection spirit be raised up from the dead a spiritual, incorruptible, and immortal body, changed and fashioned like his glorious body. Have we not, on this division of our subject, presented sufficient reasons why we that are dead unto sin should not continue in sin, or we that are dead to the law should not attempt to serve God in the oldness of the letter, or on any legal workmongrel principles, or why we who are risen with Christ to a higher, holier state should seek those things which are above? It may seem gratuitous and uncalled for to show or attempt to give any further reason why we should obey the admonitions of the word; it is enough to know that it is enjoined by the authority of our King.
Fourthly. We close this extended article with a few remarks in which we call the attention of the saints to the manner of seeking, as marked out by the apostle. Both affirmatively and negatively, we are instructed as to the course enjoined. Affirmatively, "Set your affections on things above." On the very things which we are commanded to seek; things pertaining to the kingdom and exaltation of Christ, the things of the Spirit, in the enjoyment of which our carnal or fleshly nature cannot participate; cherish an affectionate regard for them; count them your peculiar treasure, more to be desired than choice gold. Bind them to your heart; let not the remembrance of them slip from your mind, or be displaced by the cares, trials, reproaches, crosses or persecutions which may intercept your pathway. Like Moses, choose rather to suffer the afflictions with the people of God than to enjoy the pleasure of sin; and esteem the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures of Egypt. In setting our affections on Christ and the things of his kingdom, he has said: "If ye love me, keep my commandments." And we are to love one another with a pure heart fervently, love his courts, the assemblies of his saints, his house of prayer. Preferring Jerusalem above our chief joys. Preferring the society of our kindred in Christ to that of earthly society. Esteem our place in the church of God as more honorable, more sacred, more pleasant, and of infinitely greater worth than thrones of power or records of earthly fame. And with the psalmist, reducing and condensing all our desire in one, let that one thing be that we may dwell in the house of the Lord forever, enquiring in his holy temple.
"Not on things of the earth." If we love the world, the love of the Father is not in us. True, we have a nature which is of the world, which has not risen with Christ, and which loves the world, and would allure, captivate and draw us away from God, and from the contemplation of those heavenly things which are above. But these are the vile affections of the flesh; and the love of the Father is not in our flesh. The carnal (fleshly) mind is enmity against God, it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be. Hence the Christian is admonished to put off the old man, crucify, mortify, and resist all the carnal propensities of our fleshly nature, deny ourselves of all ungodliness and worldly lusts, and to live soberly, righteously and godly in this present world. The things of this life which are needful, we should receive from the hand of God with thanksgiving, and use them in his fear, as not abusing them, knowing that their fashion passeth away. But we may not make idols of them by bestowing our affections on them, so as to neglect our high and holy vocation, or sell any of our birthright privileges in the house of God for their tempting pottage. How is it with us, brethren? Are we walking according to this divine rule? Are our affections withdrawn, as they should be, from the world and its vanities? Do we never neglect our spiritual privileges to secure some earthly object? Let us heed the admonition of the word, "Forsake our vain delights, and bid the world farewell." Renounce it with its alluring charms and vanities, and see that our affections rest on things which are above.
How desirable the state suggested by our subject. Our affections withdrawn from the earth, our conversation in heaven, swerved by no worldly attraction or allurement, from the pathway of holiness, and saying in our hearts,
"Our joys are all packed up and gone,
Our eager souls would follow them
To our eternal home."
Signs of the Times June 1, 1868