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when he was under bondage to it. Witness the splendid passage in which he exults in the confidence he can cherish as a Christian man, and spurns the idea of inferior beings having power to endanger his eternal security: "I am persuaded that neither angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate me from the love of God, which is in Jesus Christ our Lord." 1
The Colossian Christians, however, had not attained to this confidence. They were entangled in a heresy that accentuated in the strongest way the belief in principalities and powers, and the subjection of men to them. Holding that angelic beings were permitted to exercise influence over the lives and destinies of men, they were withdrawing from Christ the worship and service of which He was the sole legitimate object, in order to bestow them on these intermediary intelligences. The belief in the mediation of angels had resulted, as it must ever result, in the degradation of Christ to an inferior place in faith and life, and in the removal of the Father, who had graciously revealed Himself in Christ, to a distance that made Him practically inaccessible. Against all this Paul lifted up his voice. He will brook no rival to his Master in the affections of men. Christ is the sole Mediator between God and the human race. Angels and principalities have no power either to hinder or to promote our fellowship with the Father in Him. All such beings are under Christ. He is Lord and Head, not only of the Church, but of all " principalities and powers," Supreme in the Universe of Being. In Him Christians are complete:2 in need of nothing that He cannot give them either for the perfection of their religious state, or for the realisation in them of the Divine Ideal of life.
This pre-eminence of Christ over created intelligences is traced back by the apostle to His Priority to them in origin, in a passage where He is called the " First Born of 1 Rom. viii. 38-39. 1 Col. ii. 10.
all creation." 1 But this reference to the Cosmical Significance of Christ is not meant to explain His Supremacy over the angels, but simply to make it more credible. The death of Christ is the true explanation. One effect of the Cross, as we have seen, was to liberate man from enslavement to supernatural powers. To use the expressive language of chap. ii. 15, "God had on the Cross stript Himself" of that vesture of created intelligences under which He had formerly appeared to men; and in token thereof Christ had been exalted over all created beings. "Let no man," exclaims the apostle, " by bringing you into subjection to angels and the ascetic practices that follow, rob you of your prize (the prize won for you when God triumphed in the Cross), by a voluntary humility and worshipping of angels, vainly puffed up in his fleshly mind and not holding the Head."2
It will be apparent, I trust, from what has been said, that in all this teaching about the Headship of Christ over unseen powers, Paul was setting forth an aspect of Christ's Exalted Activity that had a profound religious significance for those to whom he wrote. Christ could not be a Second Adam to men unless He were Supreme over the angelic world, to which they, as fallen under sin, had become subject, and unless He were in this way the fulfilment of Man's Destiny to be Sovereign over all things. This idea is more fully worked out in the Epistle to the Hebrews, and constitutes one interesting point of connection between that Epistle and the Pauline writings.3
But it may be asked, What is the worth or value of this doctrine for us, who have no lively belief in angels, and are not troubled by the thought of intermediate beings coming between us and God? Has not this truth of Christ's supremacy over angelic intelligences lost significance for 1 Col. i. 15. 2 Col. ii. 15-18. s Heb. ii. 5-9.
us, since we have lost all practical belief in that to which it appeals? The religious consciousness does not indeed now conceive of the world as ancient thought conceived of it,—a sphere in which unseen agents are continually at work, producing the phenomena that make up what we call the course of nature.1 Where the ancient mind saw spiritual beings or angelic powers engaged in carrying out the will of God, viewed as friendly or hostile according as the events they were the instruments of bringing to pass affected the weal or the woe of men, we see natural forces acting according to sequences that we term laws. Besides, the thinking of the world at that time was ruled by the notion of the intrinsic evil of matter: the belief in intermediate beings rested on the supposition that matter could not have been created by God Himself, but was the work of beings that emanated from Him in an endless series, becoming less and less perfect as they receded from the original source of all. The scientific view of the world by which we are all influenced nowadays makes it difficult for us to throw ourselves back into this ancient habit of mind. And yet although we speak of the laws of nature where they spoke of angels, the same problem faces us that faced them, and we are not brought any nearer to a solution of it than they were, by our altered conceptions. The existence of evil and suffering in the world is a problem that baffles us, as it baffled them. We encounter the same difficulty in rising from the facts of nature to faith in God. The scientific knowledge of the world does not help us; it has rather increased the difficulty, for it reveals to us the working in nature, as the very law of its progress, of the principle of evolution, which, through a selfish and ruthless struggle, sanctions and perpetuates cruelty and wrong. We seem to be removed farther from God than before by that
1 See Illingworth's interesting chapter on the " Development of the Conception of Divine Personality " in his Bampton Lectures.
knowledge of the processes of nature, so relentless in their operation, that we call science. The same fears are suggested to our minds by the aspect of a world that has so much to perplex and terrify us. A dread creeps over us, as if we might find that God and nature were hopelessly apart. And this feeling comes to affect our religious experience, and tempts us to say, Christ may be indeed the Lord of the inner life, the Saviour of the soul, the Head of His believing people, but His rule reaches not beyond. Nature rolls on in its course, governed by forces that science can give account of, but whose action cannot be related in any way to faith, or to the God of love and righteousness whom faith embraces. Thus we slip back into the error of the Colossians, who, while they gave Christ a certain place in their thoughts, acknowledged the angels to be the real influences on human affairs, and were in bondage to them; only in the place of angels we put, what is their equivalent to us, the laws of nature and the forces of the universe, that work out their results in reckless disregard of human happiness.
Now, when Paul held up the Exalted Christ as the "Head of all principalities and powers," he meant that the love of God in Christ is Supreme over all the forces that govern the world and bear on human happiness. These forces were viewed by him, in accordance with the thought of his age, as angelic agencies. But were he present with us to-day, and to speak to us in the language appropriate to our conceptions of things, would his message not be substantially the same? The Dominion of the Christ (would he not say ?) is over all things visible and invisible. There are no powers, however destructive they appear to be, or however opposed to the moral life of man, that are not under Him, that cannot be made to work out the perfection of man by faith in His love. Misfortune, unfavourable environment, maladjustment of circumstances, heredity, perverse habit, and other forces hostile to our highest good, that arise out of the physical system of things, are subject to the spiritual power embodied in Jesus Christ. They who have fellowship with Him in faith and love are victorious over the evil that assails them from this lower plane of existence, and can attain, in spite of them, to the Perfect Life. And do not human experience and history bear witness to the truth of Christ's Sovereignty over nature in this sense? Do they not bear witness to a power at work in those who believe in Him, that is stronger to lift them up and make them holy, than are the forces of evil to drag them down? Are we not taught thereby that Christ's dominion is coextensive with the world of nature and humanity, that He opposes a Divine Power and All-Triumphant Love to all influences, from whatever quarter they come, which retard or threaten to make impossible the true progress of man? The " Head of all principalities and powers," He is clothed with ability to subdue all things for those who believe in Him and are ruled by His Spirit.
I can only in a sentence point out the bearing of this view on the practical Ideals that are now to regulate human life and conduct. As long as the Colossian Christians thought that the authority of Christ was contested or restricted by other powers in the world that shared authority with Him, they cultivated a false spirituality. Looking with fear and suspicion on the material world, that was supposed to be under the government of spirits, they practised asceticism, and strove to reach what seemed to them the higher perfection that belonged to beings that are immaterial. A dualistic way of thinking ever leads to a false ideal of life, and, viewing the world as evil, aims at a spirituality that is unreal, and leaves the nature we have unsanctified. In insisting on the universal Headship of Christ, Paul warns us against the ascetic ideal under