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it to the Cross; having put off from Himself (i.e. as one divests himself of a garment) the principalities and the powers, He made a show of them openly, triumphing over them in it.” Two errors characterised the religion of these Colossians: they worshipped angelic powers, and they practised a ritual designed to liberate them from the flesh and to conform them to an angelic spirituality. Their angelic worship and their law-observance were very closely connected. Underlying both was the belief that they were subject to the angels, and that the authority of the angels over them was declared in those legal enactments about meats and drinks that they observed so scrupulously. The belief of Judaism in regard to angels, which has left its stamp especially in the later Epistles of Paul, is a subject requiring more thorough investigation than has been given to it, before this passage and its significance for the first readers of it can be fully appreciated. But evidently the aim of the writer is to show that Christ has freed men from their real or fancied subjection to the angels, inasmuch as in His death He has abolished the law. By releasing men from the law and its obligations, Christ had broken the authority of the angels over men, for its unfulfilled obligations had been the hold that these angelic powers had upon them,—a hold which the Colossians acknowledged by the law-observance that entered into their religious life. The apostle would point out to them, that the abolition of the law accomplished by Christ in His death was in its effects equivalent to the subjection of the angels to a power greater than their own, and involved the freedom of men who had formerly been in bondage to them. A view of Christ's death in its relation to law that is strange to us whose minds are so little exercised with questions about angels, but a view that had a profound significance for those to whom angels were a power to be reckoned i Col. ii. 18.
2 Col. ii. 16, 20–23. 3 See note A on The Angelology of St. Paul.
with in their religious life, as much so as sin and guilt are to us. It is a view also very closely connected with the Headship of Christ over the angels which is emphasised here as a distinctive Feature in the Picture of the Mediatorial Glory of the Risen Lord. This Doctrine of the Headship we now proceed to consider, as the third point in the marked development of the Doctrine of Christ that characterises these Epistles.
When we inquire, then, as to the account they give us of the activity of the Exalted Christ, we are struck by one feature of difference between it and the account in the earlier Epistles; and that is, the frequency with which the term HEAD occurs in describing the relation of the Risen Christ to men, and the insistence on the ideas which it suggests. The Headship of Christ over man is indeed implied in the idea of the function of the Second Adam as that idea is worked out in Romans v. 12-19. But of this Headship in relation to man, which certainly seems to follow from His place and Function as the Progenitor of a spiritual Race, we do not hear much in the Epistles under consideration. It is His relation, first, to the Church or New Humanity, and, second, to the world of supernatural intelligences, that is emphasised in them. Of both He is said to be the Head.
1. He is HEAD OF THE CHURCH, the ecclesia, “which is His Body."1 Now, we do not find Him so designated till we come to these Epistles. In the earlier, the apostle spoke of Him as “ Lord” and “Spirit,” but not as “Head.” The idea of Christ as the Indwelling Spirit, which, as we saw, is so supreme in the apostolic thought, is certainly present in Ephesians and Colossians; it underlies the whole structure of the thought, and occasionally finds very definite expression. But his language in describing the Indwelling of Christ is new. It is not as Spirit that He is now conceived of as related to us. Indeed, as I have already pointed out, the Spirit is only once mentioned in the Epistle to the Colossians; and the absence would be inexplicable but for the fact that the term “ Head,” which is used so often, includes in it the idea of Spirit, and has the advantage of combining the two notions of Immanence and Transcendence which, as we saw in last lecture, set forth the relations to men of the Exalted Saviour as Spirit and as Lord.
i Col. i. 18; Eph. iv. 15.
Headship is a larger conception than Lordship: it implies not only authority over us, as the latter does, but union with us. As Head, Christ is organically related to His people, and one with them. They partake of His life. As Head He is the noblest member of the organism. His office is not only to direct the activities of the Body, but to send fresh life into its members, so as to secure the health and growth of them all. He also represents the body, and takes the initiative in its movements, having first undergone the experiences which His members now share with Him. The term brings out, better than any other, both the distinctiveness of Christ and His community of Life and Spirit with His people ; for the Head and the members have the same Life in them, the one originating and directing its outflow, the others receiving and appropriating it, that they may grow up in all things unto Him.
The germ of this fruitful idea is found both in Romans and i Corinthians, where Christ is declared to be the Bond or uniting element of the whole Body of believing men: “We, who are many, are one body in Christ, and severally members one of another”?; and again, “ As the body is one and hath many members, and all the members are one body, so also is Christ.” 3 The truth in these passages is
1 Eph. iii. 17; Col. iii. 4. ? Rom. xii. 4-5. 3 1 Cor. xii. 12.
that Christ is the animating Soul or Spirit who dwells in believers and makes them one Body; while in the later Epistles it is not as the Soul, but as the Head of the Body of believers, that He is referred to. But evidently Ilead and Spirit or Soul are congruous conceptions; and the same author might freely use the one term or the other, according as he had in view the truth of the controlling Authority to which Christians are subject, or the Life they share in common with their Lord. In the early Epistles it is the latter truth that is prominent; hence we hear much there of the Indwelling Spirit. But circumstances had emerged by the time the later Epistles were written that made it necessary for the apostle to shift the emphasis to the other truth which Headship taught. Everywhere scattered communities were appearing, each with its gifts, its beginnings of organisation, its recognised and variously endowed members contributing blessings on which the Church's life and growth depended; and it became necessary to enunciate the truth of the subjection of all to a supreme Authority, in following whose inspiration and direction the various communities would work together towards the attainment of a common end. It is not surprising that we should hear much now of the Headship of Christ and the recognition by the Churches of One all-controlling Authority. The term, as we have seen, combines both ideas of supreme Direction and a common Life, which are the two aspects of the relation of the Exalted Christ to His people. While the former idea, I think, is the more prominent, we would certainly err were we to exclude the latter idea of Life from Paul's use of the term in these Epistles. The basis of Christ's Headship over the ecclesia is declared by him to be His vital relation to it. He is the Head of the Body, “who is the beginning, the First Born from the Dead.” 1 He is the first who has entered on a Life that is in its own nature victorious over death; and being so, He is the “Beginning" or the living Principle of a new creation,—a passage in which the notion of Head is brought into very close connection with that of the Second Adam, and where Headship is thought of, not only as the Source of authority over, and of direction to, His Church, but also and chiefly as the Source of its Divine and Supernatural Life.
i Col. i. 18.
2. But the most striking evidence that these Epistles contain of progress in the estimate of the Greatness of the Exalted Christ is furnished by the doctrine taught in them (especially in the Epistle to the Colossians) of the HEADSHIP OF CHRIST OVER ALL PRINCIPALITIES AND POWERS. Now, it would be an entire mistake to suppose that in asserting Christ's Sovereignty over the world of Celestial Beings, Paul is teaching truth that had a merely speculative interest for himself or for his readers. Nothing could be further from the fact. The belief in angels—in their existence and functions in the government of the world, and in the ordering of everyday events—was an influential article of religious faith at this period. The idea prevailed that God could have no direct communication with the world, characterised as it is by so much that is undivine. The interval between the Infinite and the Finite was, in the vulgar imagination, peopled with beings of various orders and gradations, all concerned in the work of mediating between the Most High and His creatures on earth. The Judaism of Paul's day was dominated by this idea. The Gospel, by its revelation of a way of direct access to God in Christ, had emancipated Paul from all notions of the power and influence of angels in the religious life; but no doubt, before he was converted, he shared the common belief of his countrymen on the subject, and there are indications in the Epistles that his mind sometimes went back to those early days
Col. ii. 10.