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, from which all the body by joints and bands having nourishment ministered, and knit together, increaseth with the increase of God. (vv. 18-19)
The natural man is distinctly religious. He does not need to be regenerated in order to feel after God. While it is true of all the unsaved that “there is none that seeketh after God” in the sense of seeking Him for His own sake, yet it has been well said that man is incurably religious. He must have something to worship. And so Satan has supplied him with cults of all descriptions to suit every type of mind.
One of the oldest systems that has come down even to our own day is that of Parseeism, based upon the Zend Avesta, supposed to have originated with the Persian hero and prophet, Zoroaster, or Zarathustra, as he is called in the Persian scriptures. This system teaches a mystical dualism. Ahura Mazda, or Ormuzd, is the infinite God, the Eternal Light. A lesser deity, Ahriman, the Prince of Darkness, sometimes looked upon as the creator of matter, is in constant conflict with the supreme deity. For twelve thousand years he is destined to wage war against the light and then his kingdom of darkness will be destroyed.
This system permeated various schools of thought, and in apostolic days had been widely accepted throughout the Greek and Roman world under the name Mithraism. Its votaries went everywhere proclaiming it as the great unifying world religion. It was a vast secret society, its initiates going from one mystical degree to another until they became adepts.
This satanic system trembled before the advancing hosts of Christianity, and finally sought to combine certain of its views with a part of the Christian revelation. As we have already seen, by an eclectic combination of Judaism, Greek philosophy, and Oriental mysticism, a new religion was formed, divided, however, into many different sects all alike unsound as to Christ, and all rejecting the inspiration of the Holy Scripture and substituting the vain speculations of the human mind. Yet imitations of almost every Christian doctrine were found in some one or other of these systems, but with certain accretions and contradictions that made them most dangerous.
Justin Martyr wrote some years after the apostle John passed from this scene, “Many spirits are abroad in the world and the credentials they display are splendid gifts of mind, eloquence and logic. Christian, look carefully, and ask for the print of the nails.” All these systems denied the true Christ of God who gave Himself for our sins upon the cross of shame. Some, like the Docetists, taught that the humanity of Jesus was simply an appearance, unreal and immaterial. The first epistle of John meets this in a very wonderful way.
Another sect, afterward headed up in Cerinthus, the great arch-heretic of the second century, called by Polycarp, “the firstborn of Satan,” taught that Jesus was the natural son of Joseph and Mary, who died on the cross finally to separate himself from his own sin, but to whom the Christ (identified with the eternal Spirit) came at his baptism and illumination, but left him at the cross. This system seems to be particularly before the mind of the apostle Paul and he combats it in a masterly manner.
In all of these systems knowledge was given the preeminence over faith. The latter, which is confidence in revealed testimony, was repudiated by these theorists who assumed acquaintance with divine mysteries far beyond that of ordinary people and quite in advance of the biblical revelation. In their pride and folly they put a great number of spirit-beings, known as eons, between the soul and the unknowable God. These were all classified and named, as for instance, Reason, Wisdom, Power, and similar divine attributes. All this appeals to the natural man. It sounds like humility to say, “In myself I am so utterly ignorant and unworthy, it is not for me to go directly to God the Father or to Christ the Son. I will therefore avail myself of mediating angels and spirits who can present my cause in a more suitable manner than I can myself.” But it is really pride of intellect, and is the grossest unbelief, when God has declared that “there is… one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus; who gave himself a ransom for all to be testified in due time.” The lowly man will receive what He has made known in His Word.
Through the infinite mercy of God the early church triumphed largely over these satanic efforts to ally these dying cults and systems with Christianity. The Holy Spirit so clearly exposed that the church repudiated in one council after another these vile theories which would have made man his own Savior. But all down the centuries since there have been those who from time to time have taken up certain elements of these discarded schools of thought and sought to foist them upon Christians as though they were new and wonderful truths.
Romanism, with its doctrine of justification by works, purgatorial purification after death, and mediating saints and angels, has simply adopted much that the apostles refused, and palms it off on its credulous dupes as traditional Christianity. Imagine anyone praying to saints and angels, or adoring their images, with the solemn words before him of this eighteenth verse, “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.” How striking the contrast between the expressions “voluntary humility” and “vainly puffed up.”
I recall a friend of my youth, a very gracious and kindly man, who had been brought up from childhood in the Roman communion, with whom I often sought to reason out of the Scripture in order to show him the simplicity of the gospel of Christ. I remember when I asked why he prayed to the blessed Virgin Mary instead of directly to our Lord Jesus how with an air of the greatest humility he answered, “Oh, I am too sinful, too utterly unworthy, to go directly to our blessed Lord. He is infinitely above me, so pure and holy. His majesty is so great that I would not dare to prostrate myself before Him. But I know that no one has such influence with a son as his mother. I know, too, that a pure woman’s tender heart feels for sinners in their sorrows and failures, therefore I go to the blessed Virgin Mary and pour out my heart to her as to my own mother. I plead with her to speak for me to her holy, spotless Son, and I feel sure that she will influence Him as no other could.” This sounds like lowliness of mind and humility of spirit. It is really the most subtle kind of pride, for it involves proposing to be wiser than the revealed Word of God.
There, as we have seen, we read of only the “one mediator.” We learn that “the Father sent the Son to be the Saviour of the world,” that “he bore our sins in his own body on the tree,” that His tender heart was filled with compassion for sinners here on earth. None were too vile or degraded but that they were invited to come to Him. The worst His enemies could say of Him was, “This man receiveth sinners, and eateth with them.” And up there in yonder glory He is the same Jesus that He was when here on earth. We may rest assured that “we have not an High Priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities, but One who was tempted in all points like as we are, apart from sin” (author’s translation), and who is “able to succour those who are tempted.”
In His name we are bidden to “come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace for [seasonable] help.” Why turn aside to angels or saints, however devoted, or even to His blessed mother herself, when we can go directly to Him, assured of His deep interest in all that concerns us? He made intercession for transgressors on the cross; up there at God’s right hand He ever lives to make intercession for those who trust in Him. And so it is not an evidence of humility to say, I am too unworthy to go to Christ. It is only unbelief that would lead one thus to speak. He stands with arms outstretched, pleading with all who are in trouble or distress, “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” What base ingratitude to turn from Him to any other! What amazing folly to think it necessary to have anyone speak for me to Him, when He stands there showing His wounded hands and saying, “Peace be unto you.” It is only pride and unbelief that would put Him off at a distance and bring angels in between.
This voluntary humility and worshiping of angels is in itself a complete denial of the new creation. It fails to recognize the wondrous truth that all believers are one body with their exalted Head. And so the apostle goes on to say, “And 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.” “Holding the Head” is recognizing our link with Him, both in life and by the Spirit. He, the exalted One at God’s right hand, is the source of blessing for all His people in this scene. As of old the holy oil poured upon Aaron’s head “went down to the skirts of his garment” (Ps. 133:2), so now from the Head in heaven blessing in the Spirit’s power comes down to every member of His body on the earth.
It will be observed that the figure of a body is not merely that of a society or, as we would say, an organization. It is far more wonderful than that. It is a divine organism. Just as truly as all the members of a human body form the complete man, so do all believers in Christ, through the Spirit’s baptism, form the one new man. See in this connection 1 Corinthians 12:12-13 and Ephesians 2:15. If out of touch with the Head through failure to apprehend the intimacy of our relation to Him we put anything or any creature between ourselves and Him, we are not holding the Head. Satan knows, as one has well put it, that if he could get but the thickness of a sheet of paper between the Head and the body, all life would be destroyed. This, of course, can never be, but it is sadly possible so utterly to misunderstand our relation to the Head, and so fail to avail ourselves of the supplies of grace that might be ours did we but walk in fellowship with Him, that we would be out of communion with Him and therefore not consciously guided by Him.
We are told that from the Head all the body is nourished, and this through the ministry of joints and bands placed in the body for this very purpose by the Holy Spirit, so that all being knit together grows, or increases, with the increase of God. This is most blessedly expanded and elaborated in Ephesians 4:11-16. There we see how the risen Lord has given various gifts to His church for the perfecting of the saints with a view to the work of the ministry for the edifying of the body of Christ. Note specially verses 15-16 where we are told that He would have us “grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ: from whom the whole body fitly joined together and compacted by that which every joint supplieth, according to the effectual working in the measure of every part, maketh increase of the body unto the edifying of itself in love.” What a marvelous picture is this, and how strikingly does the one passage complement the other, and what responsibility does it put upon each one of us as members of Christ and members one of another!
There are no useless members in this body. Just as in the human body every joint, every ligament, every hidden part, has some service to perform for the good of the whole, even though as yet physicians and surgeons may not fully understand the need of every gland and organ. Though they may speak, as some do, of certain useless parts or discarded vestiges of earlier forms, yet we may be very sure that God in His infinite wisdom has a use for every member of the body. So in the mystical body of Christ let no believer think of himself as useless, as without any special gift, and therefore as having no part in the building up of the whole.
There is one term used in 1 Corinthians 12:28 that is most suggestive. It is the little word helps. Notice how it is sandwiched in between gifts of healings and governments. We may not all have spectacular gifts, but we can all be helps. The apostle writing to one church says, “Ye all being helpers together by prayer.” Here is a service the feeblest saint may perform for the benefit of the whole body.
If in spiritual health each member will function aright for the edification of all; but just as in the natural order diseased members become a menace to the entire body, so Christians out of fellowship with God, in a low or carnal state, are hindrances where they should be helpers. May each one of us be concerned about our responsibility here. May we be so occupied with our blessed, glorified Head, so careful to see that there is nothing interfering with our communion with Him, that He may be able to use us as joints or bands to minister nourishment and blessing to His people that all may be the more knit together because of our faithfulness in seeking to be helpers of one another’s faith, that thus the body may indeed increase with the increase of God.
And now, in closing, let me say a word to my younger brethren in Christ who seek to preach the gospel or to minister for the edification of believers. Bear in mind that if you would be true ministers of Jesus Christ you are to preach the Word and seek to occupy your hearers with the truth of God. Do not, I beg of you, give way to a very common vanity of preachers—speculation in regard to things not revealed. You are not sent forth to acquaint men with unsubstantiated theories nor to occupy their minds with speculative systems. God has entrusted you with His own holy Word, and He holds you responsible to give that out in all its clearness and simplicity. One “Thus saith the Lord” is worth a ton of human thoughts and ideas. Unreliable theological disquisitions and philosophical discussions never saved one poor sinner or comforted a discouraged saint. It is the truth of God, ministered in the power of the Holy Spirit, that alone can accomplish this. All else is but wasting precious time and is dishonoring to the Lord who sent you out to proclaim His truth.
This divinely given message ministered in the power of the Holy Spirit sent down from heaven will awaken the careless, quicken the dead in trespasses and sins, give peace to the anxious, comfort the distressed, and sanctify believers. To substitute the empty dreams of carnal or unregenerate men for this, is the utmost folly. Of old, God said, through Jeremiah, “The prophet that hath a dream, let him tell a dream; and he that hath my word, let him speak my word faithfully. What is the chaff to the wheat? saith the Lord” (Jer. 23:28).
To add to His Word is but to pervert it. Neither tradition, nor the voice of the church, nor yet fancied superior intellectual illumination can complete that which is already perfect—the revelation of the mind of God in His holy Word. “The Bible and the Bible alone” is the foundation of our faith.