Subjects of a New King
Francis Bourdillon, 1881
"He has delivered us from the domain of darkness — and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son." Colossians 1:13
The people to whom the apostle wrote had been heathen, but were now Christians. This was the change of which he spoke. While heathen, they were subjects of the power of darkness — in a state of blindness, sin, and eternal death. But now they were subjects of Christ and partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light. It was a great and wonderful change for which he heartily thanks God, praying at the same time that they might go on to a further knowledge of Him and of His will, and might increase in holiness and in fruitfulness.
Alas, the power of darkness has many subjects still, not only in heathen lands, where they may be reckoned by hundreds of millions — but in Christian countries too. There are numbers who are Christians in nothing but the name — bearing the name of Jesus but not trusting in Him, loving Him, or serving Him. These nominal Christians are still subject to the power of darkness, though light is all around them. A change is necessary; that very change that is mentioned in the text. They need to be delivered from the power of darkness — and to be transferred into the kingdom of God's dear Son. The difference between them and the heathen seems indeed to be great, and so it is in many respects; but they yet need that very change which the heathen need, a change of heart, to be turned from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God.
It concerns us greatly to know whether this change has taken place in us or not. This is a deep, personal question — compared with which all other questions seem trifling indeed. There is no middle state: each person is a subject either of the power of darkness — or of the kingdom of God's dear Son. Which are we? Here are some marks by which we may know:
1. Do we no longer love the works of darkness? The apostle speaks of it as a deliverance, to be set free from the power of darkness. Is it thus that we regard it? And have we been so set free? It is not, indeed, a perfect deliverance yet — for sin still cleaves to us. But do we no longer love sin? Is it our desire, our endeavor, and our prayer — to be freed from it? Do we resist temptation? Do we watch and pray? Do we mourn when we fall? Vain is all knowledge and empty all profession — if the works of darkness are loved and followed still. That person is surely no subject of Christ's kingdom.
2. But there are persons of steady and respectable character who would shrink from the thought of being subject to the power of darkness and who, in truth, are very different in their lives from heinous and open sinners. Let us try them, then, by another test — let us seek a further mark. We need not look beyond the next verse: "In whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins."
Now, can we say that? All Christ's subjects are bound to Him by this tie — they are redeemed by His blood, and forgiven for His sake. Have we this proof that we are His? Have we learned the preciousness of the blood of Jesus, our need of it, its freeness, and its fullness? Do we believe on Him with the heart? Surely one who feels no need of Christ and has no faith in Him and is not a partaker of His redemption — is not yet translated into His kingdom, though he bears His name.
3. Another mark is the state of the affections. Christ's kingdom is not like other kingdoms — it is a government not merely over countries, but over hearts. And this change, spoken of in the text, is a change of heart. What then is the state of our hearts? What do we feel towards Christ? Does this very expression awaken any feeling in us, "His dear Son," the Son of His love? Is He dear to us? Have we any love to Him? All who are true subjects of this king, love Him — do we? Not as we would, I am sure. But do we love Him at all? Have we even the wish to love Him? If not, this is a sad sign that we are not subjects of His kingdom yet.
4. But a subject lives by the regulations of the kingdom to which he belongs — submits himself to its government, and obeys its laws. Do we obey the laws of Christ's kingdom? Do we submit ourselves to the gospel? Do we strive to rule our lives by the word of God ? "For this is the love of God — that we keep His commandments. And His commandments are not burdensome" (1 John 5:3).
Have we this mark of being Christ's, that the commandments of God are not grievous to us? As greatly as we fall short of keeping them — yet do we approve of them and love them? Is it our heart's desire to obey and please our King? Do we "hunger and thirst for righteousness"?
See what Paul's desire was for the Colossians: "So as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to Him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God" (Colossians 1:10). Is that what we wish and pray for? Are our hearts set upon serving our Lord and doing His will? Here is another mark of Christ's subjects — a mark which we must have, if we are really His.
All honest self-examination must humble us, for we cannot but discover . . .
much of sin and corruption in our hearts and lives,
many shortcomings in our duty,
much mixture of evil in our motives.
Yet, if we do find in ourselves scriptural marks of being Christ's — let us not refuse to own them.
Do we no longer love sin or willfully follow it?
Is our faith fixed upon Christ our Redeemer?
Do we love Him, however feebly?
Is it our desire and prayer that we may do His will?
What are these, but so many marks that we are His?
We cannot doubt that this is of sovereign grace — the work of the Spirit. We need not fear to own these marks — there is no self-righteousness in doing so, for it is His work — He wrought the change — He delivered us — He transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son.
If we feel sadly our many shortcomings and inconsistencies, we should but pray the more. Paul prayed for the Colossians, in the same breath in which he thanked God for their conversion. So let us pray, thankfully owning the work of grace — while we beg that it may be still carried on, praising and praying together.
But can you find no such marks? Where are you then — and whose are you? There is no middle kingdom — there is nothing between the power of darkness and the kingdom of Christ. How awful a state, with eternity so near! Yet still deliverance may be had. He who has delivered, can deliver. Jesus is still mighty to save, ready to save. "Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom" (Colossians 1:28). But how long? Each warning voice may be the last — each call may be the closing call. Will you put off still? Will you run the risk of dying undelivered, the subject of the power of darkness — and doomed therefore to be so forever and ever? God forbid!