John Davenant (1572-1641) on Colossians 1:20

 

John Davenant (1572-1641) on Colossians 1:20

 

Davenant was an Anglican minister, bishop of Salisbury. His commentary on Colossians was first published in Latin in 1627 then translated into English in 1831. In his introductory comments on Colossians 1:20, he makes this observation:

 

But of the work of redemption or reconciliation, he speaks first, generally, as far as it relates to all, in this verse : then, in the two following, specially, as far as it pertains to the Colossians themselves.[1]

 

Here he distinguishes between reconciliation accomplished and reconciliation applied. He says, “The Apostle takes it for granted that the work of reconciliation has been accomplished.”[2] Seeking to protect the work of reconciliation as a trinitarian act, he says:

 

Although, therefore, (as we shall presently shew) the work of reconciliation is attributed to Christ, as the proximate and immediate agent ; yet it is proper to ascribe it to God the Father ; and, by consequence, to the whole Trinity, as the primary cause . . .[3]

 

Focusing on the words “all things” of Colossians 1:20, Davenant says, “This passage is very difficult to be explained : interpreters, therefore, tortured it, and are in return themselves tortured by it.”[4] After discussing various views he concludes as follows:

 

The Apostle, therefore, seems in this distribution [i.e., “all things . . . whether things on earth or things in heaven”] to have intended to comprise divers objects, viz. men and angels ; nay, the whole fabric of the heavenly and earthly creation ; all which in their proper measure participate in this benefit of redemption ; according to that expression of this same Apostle, Ephes i. 10, where he says, That God purposed in the dispensation of the fulness of times . . . to gather together in one, or to renew all things in Christ, both which are in heaven and which are in earth.

When, therefore, the Apostle says, that it pleased God to reconcile all things in himself, as well things in heaven, as things in earth, by the blood of Christ, we say this reconciliation, taken strictly, refers to men alone. For since to reconcile is to renew a friendship broken off by offence, we alone, from among his enemies, are restored unto the love and favour of God, which we had lost by sinning. If we understand it for effectual reconciliation, it regards the elect alone, who constitute, as it were, a community . . . But if we may understand it analogically, it may extend to the blessed angels themselves, and to all creatures.

With respect to angels ; as far as they are confirmed in grace and established in the Divine favour through Christ, so that now it is clearly impossible that any enmity should occur between them and God ; therefore the establishment of angels in Divine grace through Christ, is the same thing as the reconciliation of men by the same.

Neither may we doubt that the angels themselves need the grace of Christ the Redeemer, that is to say, the grace of confirmation and exaltation, though not the grace of reconciliation. For, as they are creatures, they cannot of their own nature be beyond danger of falling. Moreover, that heavenly and glorious union with God, which the blessed angels enjoy in eternal life, is a benefit which surpasses the deserts of any creature whatever ; therefore, not even the angels themselves are admitted into this ineffable bliss of the Divine fruition, but so far forth as they are enrolled under Christ, the head both of angels and men . . . Hence, therefore, it is evident, that the grace of Christ the Mediator is necessary for the happiness even of angels ; not that by it they should be justified and absolved from sin, but that by it they may be confirmed in the Divine love, and exalted to the glorious and abiding participation of God, which transcends the power and dignity of created nature.[5]

 

Davenant claims “all things” includes “the whole fabric of the heavenly and earthly creation.” His closing comments on Colossians 1:20 discuss this. He says:

 

Now, in the last place, as to what pertains to the fabric of the world ; it is certain, as all things were created for man, so by the sin of man all things were in a manner overturned, and subjected to vanity and misery. For so the Apostle expressly teaches us, Rom. viii. 19, &c. The whole world waited for the manifestation of the sons of God ; For the creature was made subject to vanity under hope, because the creature itself also shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption, into the glorious liberty of the children of God. To whom, therefore, will this whole fabric of the world owe its restoration and renovation? Doubtless to Christ the son of God, our Creator and Restorer, who, dying without sin, won the privilege of being the restorer of all things which were fallen to ruin by sin. It may not, therefore, be improperly said, that Christ hath reconciled all things to God, as well the things that be in earth, as the things that be in heaven : men peculiarly, by taking away their sins, and the wrath of God occasioned by sin ; angels analogically ; by taking away the possibility of their falling and of incurring Divine anger : the fabric of the world metaphorically ; in delivering it from the bondage of corruption, and restoring it to its native purity and beauty, when the fulness of the time shall come ; according to that declaration, 2 Pet. iii. 13, We look for new heavens and a new earth, according to his promise.[6]

 

Davenant’s view seems to be echoed by the words of our Confession. The phrases “eternal life” and “through Christ” (2LCF 3.3) are utilized while explaining Colossians 1:20. Though he extends the reconciliation of all things to “the fabric of the world,”[7] something our Confession does not do in chapter 3, he clearly asserts that elect angels are related to the work of Christ which assures their eternal life, a status of life with which the angels were not created and of which they could not attain unless a supra-creative work of God occurred. Also interesting to note is his reference to an analogical sense in which to understand the reconciliation of all things in Colossians 1:20 as it relates to angels.

 

[1] John Davenant, Colossians, A Geneva Series Commentary (1831; reprint, Edinburgh; Carlisle, PA: The Banner of Truth Trust, 2005, reprinted 2009), 233.

[2] Davenant, Colossians, 234.

[3] Davenant, Colossians, 235.

[4] Davenant, Colossians, 244.

[5] Davenant, Colossians, 245.

[6] Davenant, Colossians, 246-47.

[7] Recall that Coxe recognized this view.