Clark Quick Quote
I had reason this morning to post a section of Gordon Clark’s commentary on Colossians 1:24 on another blog so I thought I would share it here as well. The verse is a particularly difficult one:
I now rejoice in my sufferings for you, and fill up in my flesh what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ, for the sake of His body, which is the church….”
As many already know Roman Catholics claim this verse, among other things, supports the idea of purgatory and the practice of indulgences. As one website calling itself “Catholics Untied for the Faith” explains:
Justification is the process by which we are reconciled to God (Titus 3:3-8), partake of God’s nature (2 Pet. 1:4) and become “new creations” (2 Cor. 5:17). Scripture attests that justification not only involves the redemptive act of Christ’s death, but also the continued sacrifices of the People of God, the Church (Jas. 2:14-24). As St. Paul puts it, “Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I complete what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of His body, that is, the Church” (Col. 1:24). This is not because the objective redemption that Christ merited for us is insufficient, but because we must all personally participate in that redemption here and now, in our own lifetimes. The Catholic teachings on justification, the communion of saints, indulgences, and purgatory help explain Colossians 1:24.
One Catholic blogger wrote concerning this passage, which is pretty typical:
Christ did His part, perfectly. And we must do our part. We must be holy as He is holy in order to be in the presence of God. We can seek this holiness diligently in this life and what ever is still impure at our death will be purified by Christ until we are completely HOLY. We say this purification takes place in Purgatory.
Christ’s sufferings, although fully satisfactory for obtaining forgiveness for our sins, leave us under a debt of honor to make right for our personal sins as we are able. Without the infinite Sacrifice of the Spotless Lamb of God, we are all lost, for we as finite beings who have insulted the infinite God have no way to make amends to Him. And so God Himself, in Christ, has paid the infinite price beyond our means, yet we, like Paul, are required to “fill up” what we are capable of. To insist otherwise is to ultimately suggest an “easy” Christianity with no crosses to bear that is not compatible with Scripture.
In response, here is Clark’s take minus some preparatory argumentation:
Paul therefore did not suffer vicariously in propitiating the Father for the sins of the elect. Christ’s vicarious sufferings were complete, adequate, and indefectible. More was neither needed nor possible. Paul suffered, not instead of the church, but on behalf of the church, enduring the persecution entailed by preaching the gospel.
There is another point. A few paragraphs back exception was taken to the phrase “on the cross” as used by Moule. There is indeed a sense in which Christ’s sufferings are “shared” by Christians. We are, shall I say, disturbed by the realization that Christ had to suffer agony for us. References are found in 1 Peter 4:13, Matthew 20:23, and Hebrews 13:13, where Christians are “partakers” of Christ’s sufferings (partaker — to have in common), or where they drink the same cup and are baptized with the same baptism, or even the milder “bearing his reproach.” But in no way do our tribulations fill up or add to Christ’s propitiatory merits. We do, however, suffer on behalf of the church, and in this sense complete the sufferings Christ left uncompleted.
The point of the passage, however, is not that we share in Christ’s sufferings, but that our sufferings are his. As Alford again so well remarks, “All the tribulations of Christ’s body are Christ’s tribulations … and the tribulations of Christ will not be complete till the last pangs shall have passed.”
Thus we can accept Moule’s notion, without his inconsistent distaste for its presuppositions, that there is a predestined amount of suffering yet to be endured before the culmination. In this way we gladly “hasten” the return of our Lord. (61)