THE apostle, after the superscription and direction of this epistle, wherein he makes mention of his commission, for the exercise of his apostolic office; and after his apostolic benediction, comes to give an account of the cause of the writing of it; namely, he had received comfortable intelligence and information from Epaphroditus, a minister of the gospel, that had laboured among these Colossians, of their receiving the faith, and of their love to the brethren. This was glad news to the apostle; and therefore he tells them, that he was not unmindful, or backward, to return thanks and praise to the Lord, for so good a work begun in them, and for the joy he had received by it; and also to pray for them, making mention of many particulars he sought of God, on their behalf; namely, "That they may be filled with the knowledge of his will, in all wisdom and spiritual understanding;" closing up in thankfulness, ver. 13 in remembrance and rehearsal of the fountain and rise from whence all that grace and goodness received, flowed and sprung, and that is the dear Son of God. Having thus let himself into his own way, namely, the mentioning of the dear Son of God; be takes the opportunity, from an apt connection, to go on according to the main discourse of this epistle, wherein he first sorts his materials, and then falls upon his business. The two main matters he is upon, are, 1. The foundation, and that is the Son of God, expressed, ver. 13:2 The structure raised upon this foundation, and that is redemption through his blood, even the forgiveness of sins.
Here is the distribution of his matter. Now, by and by, having sorted his materials, he falls to work; beginning first with the foundation, which he puts such a lustre upon, that it shines even like the sun; yea, more glorious than the sun in beauty: he sets forth Christ, the foundation, in so many amiable considerations, as to ravish the world. And at ver. 1:5,16 begins to shew his faculty and expertness in this great work, that Christ entrusted him withal; namely, to be a wooer in his behalf, to win people to him, as in a former discourse upon this place, I have told you; and therein, I say, the apostle most rhetorically holds forth every thing, that is of a winning and desirable nature, to draw forth the love of people unto Christ. If people look for beauty, and that catch men; he tells us here, that Christ is an admirable piece of beauty, there is none like to him; saith the church in the Canticles, "He is the chief of ten thousands;" but, behold the beauty he mentions here: "He is the image of the invisible God." In Heb. 1:3 he speaks more fully to the business, "He is the express image of his person, and the brightness of his glory." Here is a face for you, if you be enamoured with beauty, there is none like him. Yea, but some look for, parentage, one of noble blood, and of a great house; as they would have beauty, so they would marry into all honourable family. Well, the apostle wilt tell you, here is a match for you with a witness: here is beauty, and a good race too, lie is not only the express image of God, but he is the first born of God; "The first begotten of every creature," ver. l5 nay, the dear Son of God; here is a stock for you of the highest kindred, he is the heir of glory, the heir apparent, that if you will match for honour into a great house, here are beauty and honour too. Yea, but you will say, it may be, he may be in disgrace, or hath no authority and power; we would have such a one. Christ is such, the whole sovereignty of the world is at his command and disposal; as you would have it to be, so you have it, ver. 16 "All things are made by him, (saith the apostle) whether things in heaven, or things in earth, visible or invisible, principalities and powers, thrones or dominions, all things were made by him, and for him;" as much as to say, every thing is subject unto him, every thing bows their knees to him; and Philip. 2 "He hath a name above every name, given to him that, at the name of Jesus, every knee should bow, whether things in heaven, or things in earth, or things under the earth." Tell me one that hath greater power and authority than he. If you will therefore match with advantage, here is a match for you. But some will say, he may have honour enough himself, but it may be he is a niggard, hard and poor enough; is he bountiful and free?
Beloved, the apostle tells us, Col. 2:10 First, what he hath, he is not only honourable, but rich; "In him dwelleth the fulness of the Godhead bodily." What is that to me, some will say? he may hoard it all up, may have little enough of it; no, but saith "We are compleat in him." He cannot abide to keep any thing to himself; in this he is a householder with a witness; he cannot eat his morsel alone, he must impart that he hath: the tender mother, if she have but a bit, the child must have half with her, and participate thereof. And therefore, John 1:14,16 he is "full of grace and truth, (saith the Holy Ghost) and of his fulness we have received grace for grace." What better husband can you desire, than to have his whole purse at your command? You are not at stint and allowance; you may draw till you are weary; there is no shutting up of the chest of his treasure; he is a fountain set open for you. But to come to our purpose; there are two offices the Holy Ghost is pleased to acquaint us withal, proper unto Christ, as an encouragement to win people unto him. The first is general, in respect of creation and providence over the world; the second is peculiar and special, over the church alone; that is the office mentioned in the text; "He is the head of the body, the church, the beginning."
In the words, you may observe an allegorical proposition, and the exposition of the allegory; the proposition is, "He is the head of the body." The interpretation of it is, "He is the beginning of the church." Again, in these note, 1. Whose office this is that is here spoken of: it is he that is the head, even the image of the invisible God, the dear Son of God. 2. The office itself, what that is, it is "headship; he is the head of the church." 3. Among whom this office is executed, and for whose use he executes it, that. is, the body, interpreted the church, the several members of Christ.
I will not set down any other proposition, but what the apostle hath stated in the text, using his own words, "Christ is the head of the body, the church, the beginning." A head, and so consequently a body, admits of a three-fold consideration; sometimes it is taken naturally, and so proportionably it hath a body politic; but here it is taken spiritually for a spiritual head, and a spiritual body. Christ is the head, and the church is the body; so that this is here a mystical body; and it is called a body, not that it hath a compleatness without a head; but in reference to the head, it is called a part of the whole. A body and a head are but a compleat body indeed. Sometimes the body goes for a part, and sometimes for the whole. Here it is taken for a part only: but that we are to insist upon is, 1. To take into consideration, who is this that is the head? 2. What this office of headship imports unto us. 3. How this head is furnished to the office that is proper for a head to a body. And then, as time will give leave, we will have a word or two of application.
1. Who this head is; you will say, we need not ask the question, it is confessed by all it is Christ: it is true, it is so; but yet there is a mystery in it, and, peradventure, the thoughts of many persons are something more confused in the apprehension of him, as he is head, than haply they might be; and it may be there might be a more clear apprehension of Christ considered as such, than yet there is among us: I will therefore, as clearly as possible state unto you, under what consideration Christ is to be considered, as head of his church, or of his members. Note, for the making way to this, that there are five very distinct things in Christ; and all of them, as you will hear, concur together in him as head of the church.
1. In Christ there is the one only divine nature; there is no God, but the God that Christ is. This is worth your consideration, for the minds of men are apt frequently to distinguish so between God and Christ, as if God were one, and Christ distinctly another, and not God; when, the truth is, there is no other God, but what Christ himself is; "My Lord, and my God," said Thomas. And Col. 2:9 the apostle saith, that "in him dwells the fulness of the Godhead bodily: in the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God," John 1 Christ is God: there is but one God; therefore you are never to separate in your thoughts God from Christ; always as yon look upon Christ, so look upon God; or, as you look upon God, look upon him no otherwise than as he is in Christ, not as if there were another God, besides what Christ is; for there is no such thing.
2. Besides the Godhead, there is the eternal, ineffable personality in Christ; as he is God, so he is the Son: and in this, though we cannot fathom the difference, yet certainly there is a personal difference between the Father and the Son: there is but One God, as I said before, but the persons are three; the Father is one, the Son is another, and the Holy Ghost is another: "There are Three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost, and these three are one." Now, the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Ghost, are not all one personally, but the Son is the Son, and the Father is the Father: but the Godhead of the Father and of the Son is one, that is the true meaning; there is a difference between the person of the Father, and of the Son; but this matter is not to be pried into by human wit; for this, of all the mysteries in scripture, is the pure object of mere faith; there is no human way to illustrate the difference between the eternal Father-hood and the eternal Sonship.
3. In Christ there is a distinct human nature; that is, as this man is not that man: such a distinct individual human nature Christ hath, having a peculiar soul and body of his own; that which was born of the Virgin Mary, and suffered upon the cross; distinct, I say, from our individual souls and bodies.
4. In Christ there is to be considered an ineffable and incomprehensible hypostatical union of the divine nature of the second person in the Trinity, and human nature in one person. There is a difference between the being of God, and man, considered severally, and the being of Christ as mediator: the Godhead of Christ is not the mediator simply, nor his man hood; but God and man in one person, as we cull it, is the mediator.
5. Christ is to he considered not only personally, as he is God and man, being one individual person by himself; but collectively, that is, he is not only Christ, as he is one person of himself but as he himself in that one person is united to the persons of all the elect: he and they make up but one collective body.
In brief, there is a kind of trine-union in Christ; the divine union, which makes the Father and the Son one: the personal union, which makes .the divine nature and the human nature one; the mystical union, which makes Christ, the mediator, God and man, one with all his members. In respect of the last consideration, Christ as he is collectively considered, consists of his own person as head, and of all the elect as members; so that in some sense he cannot be said to be separated, but hath his members knit unto him; a headless body, or a bodiless head, are equally imperfect: if the church be separated from Christ, or Christ from the church, he should, in the last consideration be imperfect. Now in this text, the apostle speaking of Christ, understands him in the last consideration; namely, as God the Son united to the human nature, or rather uniting the human nature unto himself: as these two natures in one person are united unto the church, or members of Christ, so Christ is the head. It is true, sometimes you have expressions of Christ's own, by way of subjection, "My Father is greater than I:" and, "I came not to do mine own will, but the will of him that sent me:" which phrases being not rightly understood, occasion, in the thoughts of men, some conceits as if God were a distinct being from Christ; that Christ makes God greater than himself; whereas the truth is, there is, as I said before, no God but what Christ is: Christ never acknowledges, that the God head of his Father is greater than his own; for, the Father and the Son are but one in the Godhead; and, therefore, when he in his speech hath reference unto God, it is unto the divine nature that is united unto his humanity; and the very nature of God is within himself, and there is no other; therefore there is no distinct God, but that God, that is become man, and is now called Christ; therefore you are never to look upon Christ, but as he is the compleat only true.
What need all this discourse, you will say? I answer, you must have Christ set forth in this consideration or you will never be able to reach that he is the head: therefore the consideration of the second thing will clear the usefulness of the first, what this headship is; the text saith, "He is the beginning," that is, the root and spring from whence things have their first being: now, mark beloved, either the apostle must speak false, when he saith, "he is the beginning," or else you must consider Christ as the only God. All the world grants God to be the beginning of all things; therefore if there be any thing that should be the beginning of being besides Christ, he himself cannot be the beginning of all things; therefore, for the maintenance of this prerogative of Christ being the beginning and fountain, he is to be considered always as the only God. Non,, this word beginning imports unto us, that Christ is first the beginning of being; and, secondly, the beginning of well being: he is the beginning of being in general; "All things were made by him, and without him there was nothing made that was made," John 1:3 As here, "All things were created by him, whether visible or invisible, principalities and powers, thrones or dominions."
1. The main thing the apostle drives at is, that Christ is the beginning of the church, that is, of them, being members of himself: every member of the church of Christ received his first being from him. Consider the original beginning of them, even in eternity itself, if it may be properly called a beginning, it hath its being from Christ himself. Mark the apostle in Eph. 1:3,4 "Blessed be God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ, according as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world." This expression may seem to some, to import a difference between God and Christ, or something distinct one from the other, as if Christ were the subject in whom, and God the author by whom, persons are chosen; but, beloved, properly there is no such thing as Christ distinct from God, so as if he were not God; if God be in Christ, then it is Christ himself, as he is God, that doth it: therefore, if you mark the expression well, yon will see that it is Christ himself that hath chosen us; I confess, the words may have a double reference, either to the Father, or to Christ; and according to this second reference, Christ may be conceived both the object and the fountain too, in whom you are chosen; and the expression, perhaps, will bear both; "According as he hath chosen us in him;" that is, according as the in him chose us; but, however, all comes to one effect, the Father and the Son being one God.
2. To come to particulars: Christ is the beginning of a present possessive being, as persons are members of hint. He is the beginning of a possessive being, or being in possession. Consider the first thing in the being or a member, that is life; which as spiritual, and so peculiar to a member, hath its first rise from Christ himself; mark the expression, Eph. ii. 10. "Created us in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them." You are created of God in Christ Jesus to good works; or, God in Christ hath done it. The very self-same phrase the apostle useth, 2 Cor. 5:19 "God was in Christ reconciling the world unto himself." The truth is, it pleased the divine nature to unite the human nature to itself, and so 1o manage the affairs of the church in those two natures so united; not as if God gave out some of himself to the human nature, and reserved some of itself to itself; but the whole divine nature gave up itself, though only in the second person; "God was in Christ," as much as to say, whole God; the divine nature assumed a human nature, and so makes up a Christ; and thus God is ia Christ, reconciling the world unto himself. You see elsewhere, that the beginning of life in a member of Christ flows from him:" your life is hid with Christ in God." (Col. 3:3) It is such another phrase as the two former; that is, it is hid in that God, who, by being man, is become Christ; for that is all the difference between God and Christ; between God simply and absolutely considered in himself, and considered as ineffably united to the human nature: God, thus united, becomes Christ; and in such a union is reconciling the world unto himself, and takes the church, who is his body. The apostle tells us further, "Now I live," but he presently checks himself, "yet not I, but Christ lives in me." Christ is the soul of the body, and as the body without a soul is dead, so a person without Christ is dead.
I will not enter into that needless dispute of the philosophers, whether the soul be seated in the head principally, or in the heart; but this I am sure of, the life and soul of the church is in the head of it; "I am the way, the truth, and the life;" (John 14:6) he is the life of the soul of man; as the body without the soul is dead, even so, if thence could be such a thing as the body, the church, without Christ, it would be a dead thing; it hath all animal virtue from him alone; it hath all life in all respects frown him: take life in the first-fruits, in its sense or motion, all spiritual sense, motion, actions, and activeness, receive being and beginning only from Christ: "He is given for a covenant to open the blind eyes." (Isa. 42:6,7) All eyes are blind till he opens them; there is no seeing till the body receives sight from the head. The head causeth us also to smell, as well as to see, the sweet savour of the ointment of Christ, that makes the virgins to love him; "Because of the savour of thy good ointments, therefore do the virgins love thee." Now, this savour, being as the smell of a field that the Lord hath blessed, to smell this, is the sole work of Christ himself; also the spiritual taste, to taste how good God is, to relish the sweetness of the spiritual wine well refined upon the lees, is all by the power of Christ, and hath its being from him; so all our feeling, to feel comfort, joy unspeakable, and glorious, all is from Christ; he opens our eyes, bores our ears, and causeth us to smell.
You will say, all this is the work of the Spirit; why do you say it is the work of Christ? Mark what John saith, chap. 16 "He, (that is, the Spirit) shall glorify me: for he shall receive of mine, and shall shew it unto you." The Spirit himself, as he dealeth with the members of Christ, is his agent proceeding from Christ, communicating that that is his to them. So that the Spirit is, as it were, the conduit-pipe, through whom the fulness of the fountain conveys itself, and runs forth to every member.
The Spirit is as the nerves and veins in the natural body. The blood, you know, hath its fountain from the liver; but the veins carry it into every part of the body: and as the natural eye cannot see, except the nerves feed it with visive spirits; so neither can any eye behold the secrets of the Lord, the hidden things of Christ, such as he thanks his Father he reveals unto babes, while he hides them from the wise of the world, except the Lord Christ feeds the members with his own spirit. It is not the eye that sees of itself, but the spirits that come frown the head, cause sight by it; for there may be an eye, and no sight, where the want of these spirits is. Look over alt the book of God, and you will find, that there is no action that comes from the Spirit, but Christ is the head and spring of it; you will find the strength and hearts of people fail when he withdraws himself; it is he that is the strength of them for ever; "Fear not, (saith the text) be not dismayed; I will uphold thee, I will strengthen thee." There must needs be miscarriage for want of power, except Christ come with his strength and power to uphold. Therefore, when Paul exhorts those to whom he writes, to work the works of the Lord, he gives them this counsel: "Be strong in the Lord, and ia the power of his might;" and again, "Put on the whole armour of God."
Now, it is a vain thing to think of taking up of arms, except there be strength to manage them, Saul thought David to be a puny, when he was to fight with Goliath, and had no regard to him, although he might have good armour on; he was too little a man: what Saul thought of David, is true of all the whole armour of God, it is to no purpose, except men be strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might. And therefore, when Paul was in a strait, he begged, and begged again, to have strength given; though he had not an answer to his mind, yet God told him, "My grace is sufficient for thee; my strength is made perfect in weakness." All are weak, but as they have strength in Christ; yea, there is no strength but what is his, and is sent by him. I beseech you, consider, they that have Christ for their head, bare an infinite advantage above the closest hypocrite in the world, though he go never so far: all he doth is but from a weak principle: Christ is not the principle of that he doth; but he that hath Christ for his head, hath a spring of fulness. The Holy Ghost tell us," He is full of grace and truth; and, in him dwells the fulness of the Godhead bodily: and it pleased the Father, that in him all fulness should dwell:" so that you may plainly see, that the preaching of Christ as head, and setting up all his glory, is not the preaching of licentious liberty to men. He that can win a person to be a true member of this head, Christ brings that person into a fat soil; he transplants him from a barren, a rocky one, into a rich one; whereby he comes to abound in all manner of fruitfulness. And certainly, beloved, fruitfulness will be more abundant, as the soul can apprehend itself by true faith, to be a part of this head; for, the head will communicate, that the soul itself cannot contain itself in its own bounds: "The love of Christ constrains me," saith Paul, he can do no otherwise; he that is driven must needs go; Christ drives and makes himself way into his members; he breaks his own way into them, and so sets them on, and puts them forwards.
The again, Christ being the beginning of all our being, is also all prerogatives and privileges whatsoever the church hath; they have no privilege, but as it flows from him; as first of all, even justification itself comes from Christ. It may be, you will object, that the text saith, "That God justifies the ungodly," and how then doth Christ justify them? I say still, that which God doth, Christ doth; God is still in Christ; he doth nothing, but Christ doth all things. All the Father hath, he hath given to the Son; "The Father judgeth no man, an hath committed all judgment to the Son." The meaning, I take it, is this; God as he is simply one divine essence in himself, doth not, in this simple consideration of himself, manage any thing in this kind; but all in his Son: and that, as he is become man. So that whosoever are justified are justified by the Son; and whosoever come to the knowledge of justification, attain to it also by Christ: "We have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit that is of God; that we may know the things that are freely given us of God." (1 Cor. 2:12)
Now, this Spirit is the Spirit of Christ; so then, the knowledge of the things freely given us of God, is by the Spirit. Nothing can acquaint the soul, and satisfy it of an interest in Christ, and being a member of his, but the Spirit of God; that must resolve the case at last, do what you can; every thing is dumb and silent, but as he speaks; the word of God, even the word of grace, is a dumb letter, but as the Spirit speaks in it, or with it; and so of all things: and therefore, beloved, know, you run into those two great evils, the Holy Ghost speaks of, Jer. 2:13 "Forsaking the fountain of living water, and digging to your-selves cisterns that can hold no water;" while you forsake Christ, the spring and fountain, and go to pump and fetch any thing, you take from any besides him: if you run to creatures, you make not Christ the beginning.
You will say, you suppose and believe Christ to be the beginning in all. But, I say, is this good, shall he be but supposed? and shall services be set up to take up all the affections, suits, and pleadings of your hearts? How hath Christ all the priority? In Col. 1:18 he is said to be the head of the body, the church, "That he might have the preeminence in all things." Why do the people then run to other things, and magnify and extol them, while Christ shall not have a good word? Nay, they are afraid to speak out of things that are his, for fear of giving liberty to sin, and charge people to take heed of the setting forth of Christ, and grace by him, as a dangerous doctrine; so seldom daring to speak of his excellencies, and of the excellent privileges and benefits that come by, and from him; nor of the freeness of those things that are conveyed unto us, in and through him. And why? Oh! this will make men run into all manner of licentiousness and profaneness, without control; and so Christ shall be suppressed, for fear of giving liberty, and, in the mean while, other things shall be set up above Christ; the divine rhetoric of repentance, and humiliation; the prevalency of tears to wash away sin, and our conscionable walking to commend ns to God at the last day; here must be a magnifying of man's righteousness; and when these things come to be examined, they are but rhetorical expressions. Beloved, God grant that our rhetoric may advance him, that is to be advanced, and keep all other things in their own places, that are to be kept low, that nothing may bare the pre-eminence of Christ, he being the head and beginning of all things; that the people of God may go with their buckets to the wells of salvation, and draw waters of life from thence, and not run to muddy puddles. The zeal of the Lord Christ, who bath so magnified the riches of his grace to the sons of men, should eat up your spirits, and raise up your souls against every thing that raises itself up, to exalt itself above him. If Christ be not the beginning, but something else, let that have the pre-eminence; but, if he be, let him have it. As Elijah once said to the idolatrous Israelites, that had forsaken the Lord, and set up the works of their own hands instead of him: "If Baal be God, then worship him; but if God be God, then serve and worship him:" so I say unto you; if you will acknowledge Christ to be the beginning, let it appear in setting him up above all other things in your hearts and thoughts; make him your sanctuary, and refuge, wail upon him for all things: why are your hearts so cast down? It may be, corruptions prevail within you; fear not, is not there enough in the fountain to refresh thee, and supply thee with strength against them? Doth satan seek to overcome you by his temptations, and like a roaring lion, to devour you? He is able to tread down satan under your feet.
Beloved, will you starve ye in a cook's shop, as they say? Is there such plenty in Christ, and will yon perish for hunger? You will answer, it may be, you would close with him, you would go to him for supply with all your hearts, but you dare not, yon are afraid he will reject you, if you come to him. Beloved, come to Christ, and he will not cast you off. Would you have joy and peace? Come to him, and the God of peace will fill you with all peace and joy in believing. Would you have your iniquities subdued? come to him, and sin shall not have dominion over you, saith the apostle; for, "Ye are not under the law, but under grace;" for it is the grace of God that brings salvation from sin, as well as from wrath; and "this grace of God, (saith the apostle) will teach you to deny all ungodliness and worldly lusts." There is no greater motive to encourage man to venture upon any thing that Christ puts him upon, than that he hath him to enable and lead him through it. In the mean time, give me leave to put one caution to you: Christ, I say, being the head, and as the head being the beginning, the supplier of all things pertaining to life and godliness; if there be any person that either now, or at any other time, make these most desperate conclusions from any thing that they have heard, as that they may continue to sin, and go on in iniquity, Christ hath died for them; let them sin as much as they can, they cannot out-sin the death of Christ; if there be any person that charges any such untruth upon any minister, and will collect such blasphemies from the doctrine of the gospel of Christ, let them know, that God will either bring them to see the greatness of their folly, and to be ashamed of it; or, for ought I know, they may have their deserved portion in the lowest part of hell. I dare be bold to say, there is no people, who are so prejudicial to the gospel of Christ, as such stumbling blocks are; nor unto trembling hearts that would fain close with the free grace of God in Christ, as such persons that take liberty to sin, that grace may abound; causing the gospel to be evil spoken of, and detested, and that scandalous name to be raised upon it, that it is a doctrine of liberty. Beloved, "as he that hath called you is holy, so be ye holy in all manner of conversation;" and he that hath called you, will make you holy, as he is holy.
1. In a word, here is matter of exhortation; if Christ be the head and the beginning of all things, look up to the head, suck at it, draw from it, let nothing draw you from that.
2. Here is matter of consolation to all the members of Christ; as long as the head hath in itself, the body shall never want. Such a head Christ is, that hath all fulness in him, he can never be drawn dry; he is not as the springs Job speaks of, brooks that fail in summer, but this spring is of such excellent nature, that he makes an everlasting spring in the heart, whereinto he pours himself: so saith he, "He that drinketh of the water that I shall give him, shall never thirst, but the water shall be in him a well, springing up unto eternal life." Know assuredly, and be confident of it, God must cease to be God, before there can be a lack of supply of what is useful for you. Christ is head, and as such, he is God, as well as man: God himself then must be drawn dry before you shall want any thing that is good for yon: therefore, let satan and all the world set themselves against you, you shall never have cause to say, all the springs are dried up, now there is no hope of any more supply; for certainly the Lord will maintain and continue that which he hath undertaken; "I am God, and change not, therefore ye sons of Jacob are not consumed."