In pursuing our Meditations on the exaltation of our gracious Lord to the right hand of the Father, we would recall to the mind of our readers a point on which we have already dwelt, that the deep mystery, and, we may add, the special blessedness of the glorification of Jesus, consist mainly in this, that it is in our nature that he is thus exalted to the highest place of dignity and power. Besides the unspeakable benefits and blessings which flow down to the Church from this exaltation of her glorious Head, the honor thus put upon human nature itself is beyond all expression or conception. That a nature, originally and intrinsically inferior to angelic, should be elevated and exalted far above all principality and power, and every name that is named not only in this world, but also in that which is to come, this is the grand and solemn mystery on which the Apostle would have us fix the eyes of our enlightened understanding, and receive into our believing heart as a special fruit of the gift of the Spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Christ.
Let us, then, endeavor to follow out a little further this blessed theme, as not only displaying the infinite wisdom and love of God, but as comprising in it boundless supplies of strength, encouragement, and consolation to those who, stripped of all hope or help in self, look to a risen and enthroned Mediator, High Priest, and Advocate to plead their cause, fight their battles, supply their needs, subdue their iniquities, and save them to the uttermost as ever coming to God by him.
When the Son of God condescended to take our nature into union with his own divine Person, he, by that act of love and power, qualified it not only to share in the lowest depths of his humiliation, but to participate also in the loftiest heights of his heavenly glory. For it was an indissoluble union; and therefore no circumstances of depth or height, of suffering on earth or of glory in heaven, could separate what was thus forever joined together. But as the humiliation of our blessed Lord went before his exaltation, and was the necessary introduction to it, according to his own words, "Ought not Christ to have suffered these things, and to enter into his glory?" so must we learn by experience the one, before we can learn by experience the other. In other words, we must view by faith, experimentally know, and make as it were some personal acquaintance with Christ in his humiliation, to fit and prepare us to view, know, and make some personal acquaintance with him in his exaltation.
The Scriptures therefore always connect the two together, as may be seen by comparing Phil. 2:5-11 with Heb. 12:2. As a part of this humiliation, our Lord was, as the Apostle speaks, "made a little lower than the angels." (Heb. 2:9.) How wondrous that he who, as the Son of God, made angels (Col. 1:16), should be made inferior to them, and even need and receive their ministering aid and support. (Matt. 4:11; Luke 22:43.) O the depths of humiliation to which the blessed Redeemer stooped, carrying down into their lowest point that pure, spotless, holy humanity which he had assumed into union with his divine Person as the Son of God. And let us ever bear carefully in mind that humiliation is not degradation. Our blessed Lord "humbled himself" by a voluntary act of surpassing grace; and it was no more in the power of men or circumstances to debase him of his glory than of lying witnesses to strip him of his innocency. The spotless purity of his sacred humanity, as in union with his divine nature, and as filled with and upheld by he Holy Spirit, preserved it from degradation in its lowest humiliation. The crown of thorns and the purple robe, the mocking knee of the Roman soldier and the taunting scoff of the Jewish priest, though they called forth the grace, did not tarnish the glory of our suffering Lord. His holy obedience to his Father's will in drinking the bitter cup, his meek dignity amid the worst of insults, and his calm resignation to all the weight of suffering which God or man laid upon him, all shone forth the more conspicuously under every attempt to dishonor him. It is most sweet and blessed to look down as it were into some of those depths of humiliation into which the Redeemer sank, and to see that in the lowest depths of his soul travail, when he was poured out like water, and his heart, broken with grief and sorrow, was melted within him like wax, he was, in the midst of all, the glorious Son of God, though then the suffering Son of man; and that he was the same Jesus yesterday when hanging on the cross, as he is today at the right hand of his Father, and will be forever in the realms of heavenly bliss!
Now it is a view by faith of the humiliation of Jesus which prepares us for a view by faith of the exaltation of Jesus, the two being, as we have observed, so closely and intimately connected together. The eye of our faith must be ever fixed on Jesus, for the Person of Christ is the grand object of faith, and to lose sight of him is to lose sight of the Way, the Truth, and the Life. As then faith views, contemplates, and acts upon the blessed Lord in the lowest depths of his humiliation, so faith—the same faith, for there is but "one faith" (Eph. 4:5)—views, contemplates, and acts upon him in the heights of his glorious exaltation. And there is this peculiar feature and blessedness in faith's having viewed, and as it were made acquaintance with him in his humiliation, that it can carry this acquaintance with him into his exaltation. Is he not the same Jesus now that he was on earth? He is exalted, it is true, to an inconceivable height of glory, so that when John saw him, even as if in some measure veiled, he fell at his feet as dead. But he is the same Jesus now as when he was the man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; and as he wears the same human body, so he has the same tender, compassionate heart. All that he was upon earth as Jesus, he is in heaven still. All that tenderness and gentleness, all that pity to poor sensible sinners, all that compassion on the ignorant and on those that are out of the way, all that grace and truth which came by him and were manifest in him, all that bleeding, dying love, all that sympathy with the afflicted and tempted, all that power to heal by a word all manner of sickness and disease, all that surpassing beauty and blessedness whereby he is to those who have seen him the chief among ten thousand and the altogether lovely one, he not only retains in the highest heavens, but is, so to speak, endowed with greater capacity to use them, for all power is given to him in heaven and earth, and all things are put under his feet, and that not only for his own sake, but that he might be the Head over all things to the Church. Returning, then, to our exposition, we are thus brought to see some of the special benefits and blessings which flow down to the Church out of the exaltation of her glorious Head.
i. The first named by the Apostle is that God has "put all things under his feet." There is an allusion here to the language of Psalm 8. In that Psalm, the psalmist having contemplated with wonder and admiration the glory of the starry heavens, turns his thoughts upon man as compared with them, apparently so base and insignificant. But the Holy Spirit in him, as a Spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Christ, directs him to view man not as man, but to view man in the God-man, and to contemplate human nature not as we see it daily in ourselves and others, but as assumed into union with the Person of the Son of God, and thus, though by natural constitution made a little lower than the angels, yet, after the ascension of Jesus, exalted to sovereign rule and dominion.
Under this view by faith of the dominion given to the exalted God-man, he breaks forth in the following exalted strain—"What is man, that you are mindful of him? and the son of man, that you visit him? For you have made him a little lower than the angels, and have crowned him with glory and honor. You made him to have dominion over the works of your hands; you have put all things under his feet." That such was the mind of the Holy Spirit in that psalm may be clearly seen by comparing with it the inspired comment on it, Heb. 2:6-10, and observing also the reference made to it, 1 Cor. 15:25-27, the whole forming a remarkable instance of what we may call the pregnancy of Scripture, and showing what depths of divine truth are laid up in passages beyond the reach of the common eye. And yet, read in the light of this interpretation, how appropriate the whole is, and what light it casts on the original donation of dominion in Adam. Adam, we know, was a type of Christ (1 Cor. 15:45-49); and thus the dominion given him over every living thing that moves on the earth (Gen. 1:28) was typical of the dominion which should be given to the second Adam, he recovering all, and more than all, that Adam forfeited and lost, and, by his incarnation, exalting human nature as it never could have been exalted, even if Adam had continued in his state of created innocency.
The putting of all things under the feet of Jesus, thus highly exalted, seems to imply three things:
1. The voluntary submission of friends.
2. The compulsory subjection of foes.
3. The subjection of all things, events, and circumstances.
1. The voluntary submission of friends. One grand distinction between those that are Christ's and those that are not, is that the one meekly and submissively take his yoke upon them as being made willing in the day of his power; while the others say in heart, if not in lip, "We will not have this man to reign over us." Driven at first by necessity, and then subdued and overcome by the discoveries of his grace and the power of his word as made spirit and life to their souls, Jesus' blood-bought people fall at his feet, and acknowledge him as their Lord and their God. They not only believe the gospel, but obey it, for it has been "made known to them for the obedience of faith" (Rom. 16:26); and as it is the desire of their souls to be in everything subject to Christ (Eph. 5:24), to keep his commandments, to do his will, and live to his praise, so it is their chief grief and complaint that they cannot do the things that they would on account of the strength and power of the sin that dwells in them. But he who has brought them to his feet will perfect that which concerns them, and will in his own time and way bring into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ. (2 Cor. 10:5.)
2. But the words specially point out the compulsory subjection of foes. As God has put all things under Christ's feet, every one will be made, eventually, subject to his dominion; for this dominion is prospective as well as present. "We see not yet," says the Apostle, "all things put under him" (Heb. 2:8); but "he must reign until he has put all enemies under his feet." (1 Cor. 15:25.) The kings of the earth may set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together against the Lord and against his anointed; but God has set Jesus upon his holy hill of Zion, and he will break them with a rod of iron, and dash them in pieces like a potter's vessel. Fear not, then, your foes, you trembling saints. As the typical Joshua brought forth the captive kings, and bade the men of Israel put their feet on their necks (Josh. 10:24), so Jesus puts his feet, and would have you, by faith, put yours on the neck of your enemies—enemies, not personally or privately, enemies, not from jarring and quarreling, strife and contention, but enemies as enemies to Christ, enemies of God and godliness. They may rage and rave, may persecute and oppress you; but Jesus has them all under his feet, and, sooner or later, you will see them all fall before you. Commit your way unto the Lord, wait patiently upon him, and you will see all the workers of iniquity, sooner or later, cut down like the grass, and wither as the green herb.
3. But in putting all things under his feet, God has put also under them all things, events, and circumstances. How vast, how numerous, how complicated are the various events and circumstances which attend the Church of God here below, as she travels onward to her heavenly home! What an intricate maze they often seem and how much they appear opposed to us, as if we never could get through them, or scarcely live under them. Now, if all things as well as all persons are put under Jesus' feet, there cannot be a single circumstance over which he has not supreme control. Everything in providence and everything in grace are alike subject to his disposal. There is not a trial or temptation, an affliction of body or soul, a loss, a cross, a painful bereavement, a vexation, grief, or disappointment, a case, state, or condition, which is not put under Jesus' feet. He has sovereign, supreme disposal over all events and circumstances. As possessed of infinite knowledge he sees them, as possessed of infinite wisdom he can manage them, and as possessed of infinite power he can dispose and direct them for our good and his own glory. How much trouble and anxiety should we save ourselves, could we firmly believe, realize, and act on this! If we could see by the eye of faith that every foe and every fear, every difficulty and perplexity, every trying or painful circumstance, every looked-for or unlooked-for event, every source of care, whether at present or in prospect, are all, as put under his feet, at his sovereign disposal, what a load of anxiety and care would be often taken off our shoulders.
ii. But God has not only put all things under his feet, but has also given him to be "the Head over all things to the Church." This point we therefore have now to consider.
In the early part of our exposition, we pointed out that the relationship which Christ bears to the Church as her covenant Head, and the relationship which the Church bears to him as his mystical body, form, as it were, the key-note to the whole of the Epistle. Unless, therefore, we clearly see and continually bear in mind this mutual relationship of Head and members, we shall lose much of the peculiar force and beauty of every doctrine, declaration, and precept revealed or enforced in it, and have very dim and imperfect views either of the glory of Christ, or of the grace bestowed on the Church. It is indeed a subject so surpassing all human thought or conception, that we need not wonder at our inability to rise up to it; except by the power of divine teaching, and a faith of God's special giving. And yet this relationship of Christ to the Church, whereby he was constituted her glorious Head, and she made his mystical body, had a special place in the counsel of the Lord which stands forever, and deeply engaged those thoughts of his heart which are to all generations. For the Church, the Son of God came into this world, and took upon him her nature in the womb of the Virgin; for her he lived, for her he obeyed, for her he suffered, bled, and died; for her he rose again, and for her he ascended on high, and had all things put under his feet. It is, then, as her Head that he is now over all things. Bearing all this carefully in mind, let us now view what this headship means and implies.
1. It means, first, that the Lord Jesus is the Church's Head in a way of pre-eminence. Has not our natural head a pre-eminence over all the members of our body; and is not this its distinguishing feature? Its very commanding position in the body, the way in which it is set over the other members in its high and exalted place, gives our head an acknowledged pre-eminence. But this pre-eminence it uses and exercises for the benefit of the whole body. So it is with the headship of Christ. Its very pre-eminence is for the benefit of the members. Here, then, we see the way in which the offices which the Lord Jesus sustains are sustained by him as the Head of the Church for her special benefit. As her Head he intercedes for her as High Priest within the veil; as her Head he teaches and instructs her as Prophet; and as her Head he guides, directs, and rules over as King. This invests the offices of Christ with such peculiar force and blessedness that every transaction carried on by him in connection with them is as the Church's risen and glorious Head. This relationship gives them, if we may use the word, a special definiteness, as well as invests them with a peculiar tenderness. Does he, as High Priest, ever present before his Father the merits of his sufferings, blood shedding, and death? Is that sweet incense ever rising and filling the courts of heaven with unspeakable fragrance? It is for the Church as her risen and glorified Head that he thus pleads and intercedes.
He is the Church's Representative in the courts above, and thus his very presence there as her Head is a sure pledge of the prevalence of his intercession for her. Can she fail or have her suit rejected, with such an Advocate to plead her cause?
Similarly, what tenderness and definiteness does the Headship of Christ give to his office as Prophet. How tenderly does a husband teach a wife! What a docile affectionate pupil does he find in her! How he can mingle words with smiles, and counsels with kisses! (Song 1:2.) As Milton beautifully says of Eve, anticipating a relation from Adam of the discourse of the angel, "From his lip, Not words alone pleased her."
So also viewed as King. Jesus is no arbitrary monarch to his Church, but an enthroned Husband who rules for her and in her; who claims her heart, for he has fairly won it, and her loving obedience as best for her own happiness. His dominion over her, therefore, is the gentle, loving dominion of a husband over a wife, or, to preserve the figure, the rule of our natural head over the members of our body. For the body our eyes see, for the body our ears hear, for the body our lips speak. What we should do, where we should go, how we should act, what we should follow, what we should shun, how we should walk, run, fight, stand still, and do everything but turn back, our head advises and directs. So it is with our spiritual Head.
2. He is, therefore, secondly to the Church a Head of influence. This he manifests chiefly in three ways, that is, as a Source of life, of movement, and of strength.
1. In him we live, for he is "our life." (John 14:6; Col. 3:4.) From him it was first derived, for "the Son quickens whom he will;" (John 5:21); and by him it is maintained, for he has promised, "Because I live you shall live also." While the Head lives, the body cannot die.
2. From him too comes all spiritual movement—all activity, energy, warmth, zeal, earnestness. Does the hand firmly grasp the sword? Does the foot move actively forward? Is there any willing service rendered to the cause of truth, to the afflicted saints, to the poor and needy? Is there any labor of love to distinguish the doer from the talker, the warm-hearted, self-denying, tender, sympathizing follower of Jesus from the lazy, self-indulgent, dry, and daring professor? It comes from Jesus as a living Head.
3. So also as the Church's living Head of influence; he is the source of all her strength. "All my springs," said one of old, "are in you." The Head spoke thus once to one of its suffering members, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my strength is made perfect in weakness." And what did the strengthened member reply? "Most gladly; therefore, will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me."
But we must hasten to a close. The Church is here declared to be "his body, the fullness of him which fills all in all."
In the mind of God, and as chosen in Christ, the Church is a perfect body. It is, therefore, the fullness of Christ. Just as our head and members, in their union with each other, form one perfect harmonious body, so is it with Christ and the Church. As the natural head would be incomplete without the body, as the body would be incomplete without the head, so it is with Christ mystical, and his body the Church. Each lacks the other, and the union of both makes the whole complete. The Son of God, by becoming incarnate, needed a body of which he should be the Head. Without it, he would be as a bridegroom without the bride, a shepherd without the sheep, a foundation without the building, a vine without the branches. He did not need the Church as the Son of God, but he needed her as the Son of man. In that sense, therefore, she is "his fullness." In her all his love is complete, his work complete, his grace complete, his glory complete; and when she is brought home to be forever with him in glory, then all the purposes of God, all his eternal counsels of wisdom and grace, will be complete.
In this sense we may understand the expression, "the fullness of him that fills all in all." What a wonderful thought it is that he who, as the Son of God, fills all in all—fills all places with his omnipresence, should yet deign to have a relative fullness in is body the Church! Thus there is not only his universal presence, but his gracious presence, with which he fills, according to the measure of their capacities, his saints while here below; for it is he who, out of his own fullness, now supplies all their need; whose mind he fills with a knowledge of himself; whose hearts he fills at times with joy unspeakable, and full of glory; whose consciences, by the application of his precious blood, he fills with peace; whose wills he fills with earnest longings and spiritual desires, as well as submission under afflictions; and whose affections he fills, by drawing them up in love to himself, and to all who love him. And there is also his glorious presence, with which he will fill all the members of his glorified body, when, according to his prayer, they shall be with him where he is, that they may behold his glory, which the Father has given him.
But what heart can conceive or tongue express the treasures of grace and glory which are thus revealed and brought to light in the chapter of which we have attempted the exposition? With all our desire, and attempt to unfold these heavenly mysteries to the spiritual understanding and believing reception of our readers, we feel how short we have come of setting before them these deep mysteries of our most holy faith. Still, we would desire to commend them to the blessing of that holy and gracious Spirit, by whom they have been recorded in the word of truth; and seeking pardon for everything defective or inconsistent, of which we may have been guilty, we now, in closing our exposition of this wondrous chapter, cast our bread upon the waters, hoping it may be found, after few or many days, to the glory and praise of a Triune God.