And you are complete in him, which is the head of all principality and power:
1. Christ is the one infallible Teacher of the Church. Elsewhere you tread on the deceptive sand or treacherous marsh which by an appearance of solidity lures you to proceed and then sinks under your weight. His teaching alone places you on the rock. Ancient mariners sailed by the light of the stars, but when clouds intervened they were beset with dangers. Taking the words of Jesus you shall cross the sea of life with safety, but if you allow human philosophy, tradition, priesthoods, etc., to intervene, your course must be perilous.
2. He is the Head of the Church, and alone has a right to command in spiritual things. We honour the Fathers, love the names of saints and reformers, but we must not make them lords. "One is your Master."(1) The constitution of His Person qualifies Him for this spiritual throne. Divine knowledge, wisdom, power, dwell in Him, united to tenderest human sympathies.
(2) Moreover He purchased us with His own blood, and His people are made willing subjects by the power of His Spirit.
3. The spiritual increase of the Church is derived from Him. Religious progress is a growing up into Him in all things. Christ is our life. Reject Him, and you are cast forth as a severed branch and burned; but united to Him a Divine virtue shall pass into your soul, and you shall be made "perfect and entire, wanting nothing."
4. These things being so, the teaching that has a tendency to draw us away from Christ is to be rejected. The apostle warns the Colossians against errors which would have this effect. The things he names are still in the world under different forms, and his advice is as needful as ever. They were in danger from —
1. St. Paul does not speak against love of knowledge, for this is as natural as the desire for food. Nor did he suppose that the gospel had anything to fear from it. False religions may thrive in ignorance as bats in the dark, but: pure Christianity, like the eagle, delights to look the sun in the face. Be philosophers if you will, explore the wonders of nature, and the gospel will no more suffer than the finding of new planets will extinguish the sun.
2. But the Colossian philosophy was the vain and bewildering theories of men. Speculations concerning God are of little value, for He is found not by our searching, but by his revealing, and that in Him in whom dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead. Extinguish this light and hold in your hand the torch of philosophy, and what do you make of the black expanse before you — the many gods of the heathen, the no-God of the atheist, the blind necessity of the fatalist, or nothing but matter with the materialist, or nothing bat God with the pantheist?
3. Three things are certain.
(1) Man must have a religion.
(2) He cannot discover a satisfying one by himself.
(3) He should receive thankfully that provided by Christ, who is our life and in whom we are complete.
II. THE TRADITIONS OF MEN.
1. By tradition we mean doctrine, precept, custom not named in the Word of God. Jewish traditions, embodied in the Talmud, were mingled at Colossae with mental philosophy and the truths of the gospel. This Paul regarded as injurious to spiritual life.
2. The belief in tradition is not extinct. The Greek and Roman Churches receive it as a rule of faith co-ordinate with the Bible. And other Churches, more pure and enlightened, are not entirely free.
(1) There are traditional systems of spiritual truth. Men of other days melted the Divine doctrines and cast them in human moulds. The gospel bears the same relation to these forms as a painting to its frame. We may change the frame, but must not efface a single feature of the picture.
(2) There is a traditional mode of speech with which you must clothe the truth or be suspected of heresy.
3. Tradition is at best an uncertain guide. It may be a pillar of fire, or an ignis fatuus. But we have the words of Jesus, the glorious and everlasting gospel; and our faith should rest in that, and not in fairy tales of Jewish, Roman, or Protestant tradition. "Ye are complete in Him."
III. THE SACRED SITES AND SEASONS OF A FORMER DISPENSATION (ver. 16). Many are still Jewish in their feelings.
1. To many the Lord's day is still the Jewish Sabbath. Yet its very name shews it to be a different day, and can we fear for its sancitity while we regard it as commemorative of the resurrection. Moreover, it is necessary for rest and devotion. Keep it, then, as given, not by Moses, but by Christ.
2. Baptism as set forth in the New Testament is beautiful and instructive. It acknowledges our sinfulness, symbolizes the purification of the Spirit, and puts a seal on the baptized that he belongs to Christ. But when it is regarded as regenerative, and as creating a relation which it only recognizes, the sign is mistaken for the thing signified, and a simple ordinance converted into a fruitful error.
3. The Lord's Supper, in its simplicity, is an impressive representation of Christ's sufferings, a vivid expression of His love, an historical evidence for the gospel. Men have built monuments to keep their names in human memory, but time has blotted them out. Therefore our Saviour ordained for His memorials productions of nature that will last as long as the world. Penetrate their meaning, and you will understand what Christ is to you. But when the idea of spiritual magic is introduced, instead of being helpful to piety, it becomes a stumbling-block and an offence.
IV. THE WORSHIP OF ANGELS (ver. 18). This old error still lives. The honour paid by Rome to angels exceeds that paid to Christ. It was an error to think that we in England had done with her for ever. She is very busy in this land, and wherever her teaching is received angels are worshipped. We should avoid her and repudiate her claims. Begone, spirit of error; that we may behold God in Jesus Christ. We are "complete in Him."
(T. Jones, D. D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: And ye are complete in him, which is the head of all principality and power: