Col_2:19. Not holding the Head, from which all the body by joints and bands having nourishment ministered, and knit together, increaseth with the increase of God.
WHILST the Apostles were yet in the full exercise of their ministry, all manner of heresies sprang up in the Church. The Jewish converts brought with them their partiality for the Mosaic ritual, and insisted on the continued observance of it: and the heathen converts introduced the dogmas of their philosophy; on which they insisted, as rendering Christianity more conformable with the sentiments to which they had been accustomed. Hence the Apostle Paul, in the chapter before us, repeatedly cautioned the Colossian saints against both the one and the other of these heretical deceivers. “Beware,” says he, “lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ [Note: ver. 8.].” Again, “Let no man judge you in meat, or in drink, or in respect of an holy-day, or of the new moon, or of the Sabbath-days; which are a shadow of things to come: but the body is of Christ [Note: ver. 16, 17.].” And then, in reference to both the characters, he says, “Let no man beguile you of your reward, in a voluntary humility, and worshipping of angels, intruding into those things which he hath not seen, vainly puffed up by his fleshly mind, and not holding the Head.” It seems that some of the Jewish converts were inclined to rely on angels, as their mediators with God; for God having employed them in the dispensation of his law, they thought it probable that he would make use of them as his instruments also in communicating the blessings of the Gospel. With the heathen converts, the idea of an intermediate kind of deity was quite familiar; and, consequently, coalescing easily with the Jewish teachers in their veneration of angels, they formed, in the Church, a party, which it required all the zeal and authority of the Apostle to suppress. It was to counteract their influence that the Apostle suggested, in the words of my text,
A solemn caution not to depart from Christ—
It is here taken for granted, that Christians are all united to Christ by faith, as their living Head. But the Apostle declared, that the persons who were thus endeavouring to subvert the faith of the Colossians did not hold Christ as their Head; and that to embrace their sentiments would, in effect, be to renounce Christ. And
This was true with respect to them at that time—
[To worship angels, and employ them as mediators with God, was indeed proposed under an idea of “humility;” since it was supposed, that it would be presumptuous in man to apply directly to God, except through the intervention of some creatures of a higher stamp and order; but if they came to him through them as their mediators, they could not then fail of obtaining the Divine favour. But, whilst this was recommended as an indication of humility, it proceeded, in fact, from nothing but pride: for, by “intruding into things which they had not seen,” and presuming to go beyond what God had revealed, they shewed that they were “vainly puffed up by their fleshly mind.” And, in recommending the adoption of these sentiments, they did eventually “rob men of their reward,” instead of securing it to them by any additional bonds. In truth, they did not themselves “hold fast the Head,” the Lord Jesus Christ; and, so far as they prevailed, they actually severed persons from Christ; and thereby ruined their immortal souls.]
And it is equally true with respect to many at this time—
[The whole Romish Church sanctions the worshipping both of saints and angels: and, not content with having Christ as their mediator, they make use of the Virgin Mary as their intercessor; and place as much confidence in her, as in the Lord Jesus Christ himself. Need I say, what is the origin of this, or what its effect will be? It is recommended under a pretence of “humility:” but it is the offspring of pride and carnality; it is recommended in order to secure the reward of heaven; but it beguiles of that reward all who embrace so fatal a system.
And what are they better, who require some internal qualifications in us, as a warrant for us to apply to Christ? The Papists commend new mediators to us, in order to our obtaining of acceptance with Christ; and these other deceivers require new qualifications in us for the same end. And these, no less than the former, go beyond the Scriptures, requiring of us what God himself has never required. All the qualification which God requires for our approach to Christ is, that we thirst after him, and be willing to accept his proffered benefits: “If any man thirst, let him come unto me and drink;” and “Whosoever will, let him come and take of the water of life freely.” The substitution of any other terms, whatever men may pretend, is the fruit of pride: for it is an avowal, that we look for mercy at his hand as the reward of some kind or degree of goodness in ourselves; and, in effect, it transfers a portion at least of his glory to ourselves. It denies the entire freeness of divine grace, and makes salvation in part to be of works. The consequence of this will be, that all who are thus led to renounce their hold of Christ, must perish. They are beguiled of their reward, and betrayed to their everlasting ruin.]
To this solemn caution is annexed,
A most urgent reason for adhering to him—
It is by union with the Lord Jesus Christ that the whole Church subsists—
[There is the same union betwixt Christ and his Church as there is betwixt the head and members of the natural body. From the head the vital spirits may be said to flow throughout the whole body: nourishing every part, diffusing strength throughout the whole system, and combining all the members, so as to call forth and concentrate their respective offices for the good of the whole. Thus it is that all the members of Christ’s mystical body receive life and strength from him: all are fitted for the discharge of their several duties: all are made to possess one common interest, and to act for one common end. There is not one life in the head, and another in the members: it is one life that pervades them all: and this, too, in the mystical body of Christ, no less than in our own natural body. It is “not we that live, but Christ that liveth in us [Note: Gal_2:20.]:” yea, “Christ himself is our life: [Note: Col_3:4.]:” and by his continued agency within us, we “increase with the increase of God.”
What then must be the event, if we be cut off from him? We perish of necessity, as the members when severed from the head. Is this, then, no reason why we should guard against the introduction of error, especially of such errors as will have the effect of separating us from him?
But we may further observe, that,]
It is by union with Christ that the whole work of grace is carried on in the soul of every believer—
[As there is “a body of sin, called the old man,”in us by nature, so is there “a new man” in us by grace: and all the different graces, of which this new man consists, are nourished by the same divine principle; and either decline or grow together, according as this is communicated to us, or withheld. A man may have in his natural body a greater measure of force and vigour in some one organ or member than in others: the eye, the ear, the hand, the foot, may possess some appropriate and distinguished excellence: but, whatever affects the system generally, must affect the body in every part, and produce a corresponding diminution or increase of its powers. Now, if our connexion with the Lord Jesus Christ is kept close, and our communications from him abound, we shall have all our graces lively, and vigorous, and active: but if there be any thing to intercept the communications of his grace, every grace will languish and decay.
Say, then, whether in this view also we are not concerned with all care and diligence to “hold fast the Head?” Whether we consider the interests of the Church collectively, or the welfare of every individual believer, there does appear a necessity to watch against any interruption of our union with Christ, and to seek from him incessant supplies of grace and strength: for “through him we can do all things [Note: Php_4:13.];” but “without him we can do nothing [Note: Joh_15:5.].”]
Behold from hence,
How wonderfully simple is the Gospel of Christ!
[If we enter into the deep mysteries of religion in an abstract way, the wisest and most acute are soon out of their depth: but if we take them as represented by Scripture images, the weakest and most ignorant Christian has as clear a conception of them as the most learned in the universe. The connexion between the head and the body, and the dependence of the members on the head, may be more scientifically described by a learned man; but they are not a whit more justly apprehended by him, than by the poorest of mankind. Yet does this image contain the whole of vital Christianity; which consists in this one thing, “a life of faith on the Son of God, as having loved us, and given himself for us.” Beloved brethren, take with you this image: conceive of the Lord Jesus Christ as your head, from whom all vital influence proceeds. Look to him for a communication of that influence to your soul. Bear in mind, that, except as aided by power from him, you can do no more than your members could if separated from your head. Remember, that as every member of your body is alike under the influence of your head, so must every disposition of your soul be under the controul and influence of Christ: and, as there is no schism in the body, no member affecting independence, or living regardless of the head, so let there be no want of attention to any individual grace; but go to Him for a supply of all, that all may be strengthened, and that you may grow up in all things into Christ, your living head. Let your wisdom, your righteousness, your sanctification, your complete redemption, be all viewed as in him, and all be derived continually from him, according to the measure of the gift which he sees fit to impart.]
The danger of departing from it in the least degree—
[The persons who proposed the worshipping of angels did not mean to renounce Christ; and had they been told that their conceit was in reality a separation of themselves from him, they would have denied that any such consequences could follow. And so it is when persons are looking for some goodness of their own whereon to found their hope, or to warrant their application to Christ; they have as little idea of the evil which they commit, or of the consequences that must ensue. But remember, that self must he altogether renounced; must be renounced by us, as much as it must by the fallen angels, if salvation were at this moment offered to them. All that we ever can have, is in Christ: it is treasured up in him for our use, and must be received from him. There is not any thing which must not be “received out of his fulness:” and, if you will not come to him for it, you must inevitably and eternally perish. He is a jealous God: he will not admit of rivals: he will not endure that his glory should in any respect or degree be given to another. Whatever, therefore, any man may pretend, or whatever specious appearance any sentiment may assume, whether of superior wisdom, or deeper humility, or more ardent zeal, admit nothing, for one moment, that may interfere with the honour of the Lord Jesus: but be contented to receive all from him, to depend altogether upon him, and to give him the glory of all that you either receive or do. In a word, be to him what your members are to your head. This idea is extremely simple. Suffer nothing to set it aside, or to interfere with it. Carry it into effect in your daily life and conversation: and fear not, but that if you glorify him in this world, you shall be glorified with him in the world above.]