Head of the Body
We read nothing of any “Body of Christ” (in the sense in which we are now considering it), until Christ is a man in heaven. Figure, as of course it is, the appropriateness of the figure depends upon this, that it is a relationship to Christ as Man of which it speaks. Being a figure, we are to examine its force as such, as Scripture develops it, expecting to find in it the instruction which all figures have: for, as in Israel’s history, the “things that happened to them” (not merely can be used in a typical sense, but) “happened to them for types” (1 Cor. 10:11), so we may be sure also that in nature everywhere, according to the design of God, the clothing of the natural is but the veil of the spiritual; nor shall we “materialize too much” by allowing the glory of the light to shine through its earthly tabernacle.
This at once reminds us that the Lord compares His body with the temple of God, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up: He spake of the temple of His body” (John 2:19 and 21). And this is directly in the line of John’s testimony, that “The Word was made flesh and tabernacled among us; and we beheld His glory,—glory as of an Only-begotten with the Father, full of grace and truth” (chap. 1:14). Here it is said, “was made flesh,” not because He assumed nothing but a human body, but because in taking flesh, He came within the sphere of human observation and knowledge,—here the direct revelation of His glory began: He was in the world and the light of it.
The body prepared Him was as the instrument of His Spirit by which His words and works made known the unique obedience which proclaimed Him the Second Man; while over all, through all, shone, in strange yet blessed harmony with this, the higher glory. Thus the body of Christ was the tabernacle or temple of God on earth.
Now the apostle, speaking of the responsibility of Christians, as flowing from their relationship to Christ, uses the same figure and connection of thought. The Church, as baptized by the Spirit of God, is one body, and that the body of Christ (1 Cor. 12:13, 27). Christians are also the temple of God for the same reason, the Spirit of God dwells in them (chap. 3:16). These thoughts are here no further connected, but in another place in the same epistle (chap. 6:15–20) he does connect them further, and applies them to the individual Christian and to his body as indwelt by the Holy Ghost. “Your bodies,” he says, “are members of Christ...Do ye not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost, which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own? For ye are bought with a price; wherefore glorify God in your body.”
Here in the Christian, as in Christ, the body is the temple of God, He being glorified in it by the devotion to Him of those members in which humanity even in its highest faculties is manifested. The practical life glorifies Him, not only in the character exhibited in it, but this as the fruit of divine grace acting in virtue of Christ’s blessed work, and by the Spirit of God.
It is not, of course, of the Church that the apostle is speaking, but of the individual; and therefore it is that he says that “your bodies are the members of Christ”—he could not go further. Yet the basis is the same, the being “joined to the Lord” by the Spirit; and the individual is thus in the same way the temple of God as the whole Church is. Thus far, at least, the individual represents the whole, the “living stone” represents or shows the nature of the whole building.
As the “body prepared” Him was that in which the Word was manifested, and the Life, thus seen, became “the Light of men,” so now in the night of His personal absence, He has a Body in which (though not in that original brightness) the same Light shines. Thus the Body of Christ is always spoken of as here, in the place of manifestation. The Church is “the epistle of Christ, read and known of all men, written with the Spirit of the living God upon fleshy tables of the heart,”—written with the rays of that glory hidden from the world, but to faith unveiled: “for God who caused the light to shine out of darkness, has shined in our hearts, to give out the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Cor. 3–4:6). Thus “we have the mind of Christ” (1 Cor. 2:16): in the body of Christ, as energized by His Spirit, and controlled by the unseen Head in heaven, the life of Christ continually renews itself on earth. For the body speaks of living activities, of an organic unity in which communion is wrought out in the ministry of every member to the whole: for no member of a body liveth. to itself, and the love of Christ to His own is reproduced in the mutual service which is love’s outflow, and for which He who knows best our interests has provided by the variety and inequality of the gifts He has given, that we may be bound the more together by our mutual dependence.
Such is the Church which is Christ’s body, in the thought of it which Scripture gives. The hindrances to realization of this, Scripture dwells upon also fully, and we are made to feel them painfully and continually. But these do not come within our purpose to consider now; as, indeed, it is not even the Church itself which is the object before us, but Christ in His relation to it. This, while it is in Him unspeakable condescension and grace, is even thus His glory forever, and shall fill the hearts of all the hosts of heaven with His praise. Yea, “unto God” shall “be glory in the Church by Christ Jesus, throughout all the generations of the age of ages” (Eph. 3:21, Gk.).
In Corinthians the Church is contemplated in its order, fellowship, and service. It is the Body of Christ (1 Cor. 12:27), and therefore Christ is its Head, but the Head is not explicitly brought before us, save incidentally, “nor again the Head to the feet, I have no need of you.” I apprehend no difficulty in applying this to Christ. The Church is, in that divine purpose which is the glory of divine grace, His “fulness:” the Head must have a body; and it is because of this wonderful relationship, that it is said, where speaking of the unity of the body notwithstanding its many members, “so also is the Christ.” Some are beginning to apply even this to the Church exclusively—“the anointed Body.” And they tell us even that, its being the complement of Christ is not the idea of Scripture, and that, if here we take in Christ, the eye and ear which the apostle instances as parts of the body would belong to the Head; but even in Ephesians and Colossians the “Body is looked at as complete in itself, though deriving” from Christ. Nay, even “the force of ‘He gave Him to be Head over all things to the assembly which is His body,” is said to be only “that He might in all things have the pre-eminence—be chief.” “All these things,” it is finally urged, “are only human figures;” “we have been materializing too much.”
Now it is granted, at once, that the “body of Christ,” as applied to the Church, is a figure, and therefore also the Lord’s headship. They are figures of realities, to convey which all words are feeble. To materialize them would be profanity; but to take them as language the most suited that could be found to make us know what may be known and what God would have us know,—to take them at their fullest worth, therefore, instead of diminishing that worth, and so casting slight upon the communication of the Spirit who gave them,—this is what surely becomes us. The apostle himself assures us that we do “see by means of a mirror, in an enigma” (1 Cor. 13:12, Gk.). Must we not, therefore, scan the more closely, look the more needfully into, all the words of the enigma?
Now, it is certain, the apostle uses these terms, “head” and “body,” very distinctly and determinately, in reference to the relationship between Christ and the Church. They are words not once merely, or casually used. We can see, indeed, that the figure fails before the full reality: for the body has to grow up to the stature of the Head (Eph. 4:15), and from the Head all the body maketh increase to the upbuilding of itself (16). Yea, Christ nourisheth and cherisheth the Church: for we are members of His body (5:29, 30). And in Colossians we have a similar statement (2:19).
Thus the Body does surely “derive from the Head;” but that does not show that Headship of the body does not (so we are told) express authority. Certainly it is the very thing which in relation to the body the head would express; and this is, I think, why the apostle can speak of the eye and ear as in the body rather than the head. For eye and ear are not the governing part: the hearing ear goes with the spirit of obedience; it is the very part anointed with the blood in the Old Testament to express this. While the Church sees also, and is governed intelligently. But the head presides—governs. The crown is put on the head. To say, “not even the head16 to the feet” is to say as much as can be said.
Again, “wives, submit yourselves unto your husbands as unto the Lord: for the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the Head of the Church” (Eph. 5:23). Will it be said that here there is no question of authority?
Mere authority, it is true, does not give the proper thought of headship, which springs out of relationship, with common interests, and generally implies a representative character. Head and body, while of course they may be contrasted with one another as such, are yet in union so intimate that any completeness of one without the other could only be the completeness of a corpse. Scripture certainly does not contemplate it as to the Church in Corinthians, as we have seen. It is negatived three times over by “the Head to the feet,” so also is the Christ,” and “ye are the body of Christ.”
We might leave the passages in Ephesians and Colossians to speak for themselves; only it is good to realize how God in them would lift us up as much as possible to the height of His glorious thoughts. Thus in Ephesians (1:22, 23), “He put all things under His feet, and gave Him to be Head over all things to the Church which is His body, the fulness of Him that filleth all in all.” There are the words, but how are we to interpret them? That Christ should be Head over all things,—that is not difficult to understand if He be what He is, the Creator of all things, the One for whom all was created, the One by whom all things subsist, and, yet again, the One who has been pleased to link Himself eternally with this creation of His by the manhood which He has assumed. But the apostle says, “Head over all things to the Church:” why and how “to the Church”? That cannot mean to limit what is absolute. It cannot mean (what would be a small thing to say in such connections as we have here) that to the Church God has made Him preeminent in all things,—even if that were the meaning of “Head over all.” No, but this headship over all shows the fulness of His resources for that to which He is Head in such sort 17 that it is His Body. The Head over all is Head to a people so by the Spirit united to Him, that they are one with Him as a body is with its head; thus His fulness, as the head must have a body in order that there should be a complete man. Yet, most marvelous to say, He who is in relation to this Body as His fulness, is Himself divine and filling all in all!
We can trace these thoughts in Colossians also, though with characteristic difference of presentation: “For in Him dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily, and ye are complete in Him, who is the Head of all principality and power...the Head, from which all the body, by joints and bands having nourishment ministered and knit together, increaseth with the increase of God” (Col. 2:9, 10, 19).
It has been said by some one that we never read of the body of Christ in heaven: and true that is, surely, of the whole present time. The Church is not yet in heaven, and is never spoken of as part here, part there. The condition of the dead is not the question, though every saint absent from the body is present with the Lord. But against the Church the gates of Hades cannot prevail; and it remains upon earth until caught up to meet the Lord in the air, completed then by the recovery of all the many that in the meanwhile have been removed by death.
Till then the Body will not have reached the full stature of its blessed Head, so as to be perfectly fitted to Him, a work which is now being carried on by the continual energy of the Spirit of God, working by the gifts of His grace to accomplish this result. When this is accomplished, we cannot for a moment suppose that what has been carefully wrought out will come to an end, and serve no eternal purpose. We might as well think that our own bodies, perfected by the change of the living or by resurrection from the dead, will then have fulfilled their purpose and be laid aside forever. Into the future of each we are indeed given to see little; but this should no more in one case than the other, hinder our belief in that future. We feel also that we can evidently infer from the service of the body here, a good deal as to its future purpose. What the body is to us now, that (only perfected) will it be to us forever. May we not as rightly infer that what the Body of Christ is to Him now, that (only perfected, for perfected we know it is to be) it will be to Him forever? And we have seen the actual link in meaning between our bodies and His: the scripture figures given us of God for our instruction may be counted on to instruct and not deceive us.
The body is the servant of the mind, and in all its parts speaks of special adaptation to its various needs. As we think of it often, and prove it in the diseased and maimed conditions which are the result of sin, we may deem it little beside a hindrance to the activity of the soul—a clog upon it. Yet the simple fact that we are destined to an eternity in the body should make us dismiss such hasty inferences. The body is, as we are at present constituted, a necessity even to the work of the mind itself in many ways; and the mind trains it, disciplines it, as well as uses it according to its will.
In how much may one apply this to the Body of Christ, while of course fully remembering how entirely it is of grace, not of necessity, that He is found in such relationship as this implies with men His creatures. Here, indeed, how often seeming an obstruction to His will, the light of life how little shining out of us so as to be His commendatory “epistle” in the world, the Body how little, as to display, the temple of His glory yet! Still, the very discipline of His hand upon us, the experience of a grace which abides with us and does not give us up, the learning however slowly and imperfectly, something of His path, His cup, His baptism, all this assures us, of what His word reveals—a purpose to have us with Himself and for Himself, a drilled, disciplined, at last perfected “Body,” through which His Spirit will work out purposes of His love, of which as yet we can know little, but which will reveal a special, divinely given oneness with Himself, in which He will be glorified, His heart satisfied, as He sees in it the fruit of the travail of His soul. And to God shall be glory in the Church by Christ Jesus, through all the generations of the age of ages. Amen.
16 If the body is “complete in itself,” and Christ is not here the head, what is this “head of the church,” (if it mean any thing) which is not Christ?
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