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Later Developments: Christ The Fulness Of God, The Head Of The Church And Of All PrinciPalities And Powers

The subject of the present lecture is the development in the later Epistles of Paul, the so-called Epistles of the Imprisonment, of that doctrine of Christ which in its main features we have now considered. And I shall confine myself at this time to the Epistles to the Ephesians and Colossians, reserving the teaching of Philippians for the lecture to follow, where its special contribution to our subject will find its proper place. No one can fail to be struck by the contrast these two Epistles present to those from which we have hitherto drawn our material for this study. They evidently belong to a much later period in the history of the planting of the Church. That to the Ephesians marks the close of the epoch with which the earlier Epistles deal. We hear only the echoes of the controversy that rages so loudly in the letters that were penned by the apostle under the strain of the conflict which he had carried on with the Jewish section of the Church. The battle had been won when the letter to the Ephesians was written. The ideal of a new society, of which believing Jews and Gentiles were members on equal terms,—that ideal of which Paul had been so powerful an advocate,—is now an accomplished fact. This splendid achievement of the Christian faith gives him occasion to expatiate on God's eternal purpose to reconcile to one another in Christ all sections of the human race.1 And if this Epistle is manifestly an eirenikon, marking the peaceful settlement of the controversy which the announcement of the free grace of the Gospel had provoked and encountered in the first days of the Church's history, that to the Colossians as plainly marks the beginning of a new era; for it places us in the thick of a second controversy,— this time not with national but with intellectual exclusiveness,—a controversy that grew in intensity as time went on, and that was destined to reach dimensions and to involve in it issues that made it one of the most memorable in which the Church was ever engaged.

And the point of interest for us is that both Epistles are remarkable for the fresh points of view from which the Person and Work of Christ are regarded in them, and for the impressiveness both of the ideas and of the language in which these are couched, in reference to the Supremacy of Christ. New terms are applied to His Person; significant hints crop up as to the bearing of His Work and Influence on superhuman intelligences. Such is the wealth of language called forth by the contemplation of the Exalted Son of God, that we seem to lose sight of the historic Jesus in the blaze of glory that surrounds the throne. This advance of thought in reference to the Divine Pre-eminence of Christ, has been represented as so pronounced as to amount to a change of view that is inconsistent not only with the Pauline authorship of these

1 Eph. i. Io-ii, ii. 13-18. "The Christian doctrine," says Principal Rainy, " rests upon and rises out of the Christian facts,—the persons, the transactions, the events." And again, "Christian doctrine is the light that illuminates for us the transactions of a divine history" {Development and Delivery of Christian Doctrine, pp. 100-101). The doctrine of the Epistle to the Ephesians is a case in point. The reconciliation of Jew and Gentile had been wrought out and had become a fact of history. The theology of the Epistle is the Divine interpretation of that fact, and of the work of Christ in its bearing upon it.

Epistles, but with their having been written in the apostolic age. With regard to the Epistle to the Colossians in particular, with which we have chiefly to do in this connection, it is alleged that the use in it of terms that were current in later speculative discussions points to its having been written in the middle of the second century, and suggests the propriety of regarding it as a monument of the great conflict with heathen systems of thought through which the Church then passed. It has, however, as it seems to me, been conclusively shown, both by Lightfoot and Klopper in their splendid contributions to the elucidation of this Epistle, that there is nothing in it that requires us to refer its composition to sub-apostolic times, and that the entire course of thought becomes luminous when we regard it as directed against a system of error that was Jewish in its origin, and was certainly influential in apostolic times in circles liable to be affected by it. We know comparatively little of the Jewish sect of the Essenes, but we are sure that the mediation and worship of angels were prominent features of their religious system, and that the Ideal of life which they practised was modelled on the spirituality of angelic intelligences. And once assume that a leaven of that sort had invaded the Churches on the Lycus through their Jewish adherents, we shall then have a sufficient background of historic fact for the understanding of the Epistle, and a sufficient explanation of the emphasis placed on the higher aspects of Christ's Person and Work.1 It is another and distinct question whether it came from Paul's pen, and whether we are warranted in drawing from it material for our reconstruction of his thought. The

'Ritschl infers from the mention of those who abstained from flesh and wine in Rom. xiv. 21, that there was in the Church of Rome also a leaven of the doctrine of the Essenes. He accounts for the presence of Jews in Rome and Colosse by the dispersion through the cities of the empire of the Jews whom Pompey had carried off from their native land as prisoners of war {Altkath. Kirclu, 233).

answer will depend on the estimate we form of its teaching, and whether we regard the ideas it contains as a development of truth found in germ in the undisputed writings of the apostle, or whether we must view them as a fresh departure pointing to another mind. The more we consider the matter, the more does the former view commend itself. A mind like Paul's, ever in living contact with the truth, might well be stimulated to make an advance in the apprehension of his Master's Greatness by the crisis that arose when men attempted to engraft the ideas of that Jewish sect on the Christian faith.

The inevitable tendency of these outside ideas was to lower Christ in the esteem of believers, to exalt other beings to a share of the worship that belonged exclusively to Him, and to encourage the ascetic treatment of the body rather than communion with the Risen Lord. Paul must have felt that the truth of the Christian Religion itself was at stake when the question was raised, Where is Christ in the universe of being, what rank does Me hold in relation to other intelligences and to God? He knew he could give, out of the consciousness of the New Life in Christ, an answer to these questions that met the wants that had given birth to them, and that overcame the error into which men fell when they tried to answer them by speculations of their own; and he hastened to give the answer. He was not afraid to use the terms that were current in these speculations, because he could fill them with ideas that made them express the very truth of the Christian faith. We need not wonder that in its advocacy of the universal Supremacy of Christ, his teaching bears the impress of the system of thought he opposed. It is the same truth that we find in the Epistles of an earlier period, but unfolded and applied to meet new circumstances, cast into the mould of the theological thought of the time. If we assume Paul to be the writer, his procedure is a fine instance of wisdom in the performance of the task by which the Christian theologian is confronted in ages of intellectual movement and spiritual unrest,—the task of adapting the eternal truths of religion to the wants of the new age by seizing on the thoughts that set forth its aspirations and gropings after certainty, in order to point men to the revelation of God in Christ for the satisfaction of every craving that is rooted in our religious nature.

We find, then, in these Epistles a doctrine of the Exalted Christ that undoubtedly exhibits an enhanced sense of the Greatness of His Person; and the progress of statement in this direction is along the various lines of truth that set forth the thought of the apostle in the earlier letters. And I proceed to indicate as briefly as I can the development of the original elements of the Pauline Christology under each of the three heads of the preceding lectures, the interpretation of the Person of Christ we find here, as well as of His work, and of His present relations to mankind.


With regard to the interpretation ol the Person of Christ that is characteristic of the Epistles now under review, it is to be observed, on the one hand, that while a new terminology is used, the idea of His Archetypal Significance is still plainly the master-thought, and, on the other, that the terms employed emphasise more strongly the qualitative as well as quantitative distinction between Christ and other men. The new terms applied to Christ are "the Fulness of God," 1 and "the Image of the Invisible God."2 These correspond with the designation of Him as the " Spiritual man" and "Son of God," but they give us a grander view of His Pre-eminence over the human race. 1 Col. ii. 9, i. 19. 3 Col. i. 15.

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