The Fullness in Christ
July 21st, 1957 @ 10:50 AM
THE FULLNESS IN CHRIST
Dr. W. A. Criswell
7-21-57 10:50 a.m.
You’re sharing with us the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas. This is the pastor bringing the eleven o’clock morning message entitled The Pleroma in Christ Jesus. In our preaching through the Word, we are in the first chapter of the book of Colossians, Paul’s letter to the church at Colosse, and the text is the nineteenth verse of the first chapter. And the reading of the passage is from verse 12 through verse 20:
Giving thanks unto the Father, who hath made us meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light:
Who hath delivered us from the power of darkness, and hath translated us into the kingdom of His dear Son:
In whom we have redemption through His blood, even the forgiveness of sins:
Who is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of every creation:
For by Him were all things created, that are in heaven, that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by Him, and for Him:
And He is before all things, and by Him all things hold together.
And He is the head of the body, the church: who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead; that in all things He might have the preeminence.
For it pleased the Father that in Him should all fullness, plērōma, dwell;
And, having made peace through the blood of His cross, by Him to reconcile all things unto Himself; by Him, I say, whether they be things in earth, or things in heaven.
And the text: "For it pleased the Father that in Him should all fullness – plērōma – dwell" [Colossians 1:19].
Our passage is deep and broad and wide. Who could explore its depths? Who could recount its infinite meaning and reference? I have stood on the shores of the Pacific Ocean in California, and as I stood there and looked over the face of the great deep, I thought, "How little of its vastness do I see!" I have watched the waves of that ocean lave the shores of China, of Borneo, of the Philippines, of Okinawa, of the Japanese islands, of Wake, of the Hawaiian group – so big, so expansive, so vast. And what I see of it, as I stand on the shore, is so small.
So with this text: when we explore its depths, we shall be able to see but a small part of its infinite beauty and its immeasurable meaning. "For it pleased the Father that in Him," in Christ Jesus, "should all fullness dwell" [Colossians 1:19]. That fullness in Christ is intrinsic. It is essential. It is inherent. It is in His nature. It is in His person. It’s because of who He is and what He is. "It pleased the Father that in Him" – in the man Christ Jesus – all fullness of grace and wisdom and power and mercy should dwell.
In us, there is want, and need, and barrenness, and emptiness. There is sin and death. There is utter want in us. ‘"Vanity of vanity,’ saith the Preacher . . . ‘all is vanity’" [Ecclesiastes 1: 2]. "The grass withereth, the flower fadeth . . . " [Isaiah 40: 8]. "All flesh is as grass . . . " [1 Peter 1:24]. There is in us an utter, an absolute lack of merit. Paul cried in the seventh chapter of the Book of Romans: "For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh,) there dwelleth no good thing . . . " [Romans 7:18]. There is in human nature a vast desert – a void, a waste, an emptiness, an illimitable want and lack. There dwelleth in us – in humanity, in human nature – the dragon of sin and the bittern of sorrow [Romans 3:23]. Our humanity is nothing but a soil for the planting of the seeds of death. In us, there is need and lack and want.
But in Him, in Christ Jesus, "It pleased the Father that in Him should all plērōma" – all plenitude, all sufficiency, all adequacy, all omniscience and omnipotence – "all fullness should dwell in Him" – in the person of Christ Jesus, our Lord. In the second chapter and the ninth verse of the same book, Paul wrote: "For in Him dwelleth all the fullness of the Godhead bodily" [Colossians 2:9]. Christ is not a myth or a fiction. Christ is not an emanation or an eon or an influence or a law or a principle, but Christ is a full-orbed personality into which God hath placed the fullness of deity and of superlative, pristine, glorious, perfect manhood.
The glorious chapter that we read in the first of the Revelation presented for us a full-length portrait of the glorious person Christ Jesus: our God, our Creator, our Redeemer, and the Judge of all the earth – clothed with a long and flowing robe [Revelation 1:13] – a picture of His kingship; His hair and His head, white as snow, white like wool [Revelation 1:14] – a picture of His preexistence, of His eternity; His eyes as a flame of fire [Revelation 1:14] – a picture of His omniscience, His all knowing; and His mouth with a two-edged sword [Revelation 1:16] – the omnipotent, immutable Word of the living God; and His countenance as the sun shineth in its strength [Revelation 1:16] – a picture of the glory and worshipful majesty of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, and our Savior. "For it pleased the Father that in Him should all fullness dwell" [Colossians 1:19] – a full-orbed complete personality.
Our Lord Jesus magnified His offices, not the offices magnified Him. He is officially a prophet and a priest and a king, but His fullness does not lie in the prophetic mantle, or in the priestly ephod, or in the royal vestments, but it lies intrinsically, inherently, essentially in the person, the excellency of Jesus Himself. And all of His promises and all of His works find their worth and their grace and their merit from the excellence of His person. He gives grace to the word that He says, and He gives power and unction to the promise that He makes.
"Yea," said Paul, "the promises of God are everlastingly yea and amen in Him, in Christ Jesus" [from 2 Corinthians 1:20] Yea, Paul would say, in the person of the Lord Jesus Christ, there is efficacy and power given to all of those mediatorial offices that He has assumed between God and man and man and God. The excellence of His sacrifice, the efficacy of His atonement, the marvelous saving power of His blood lies in the excellence of His person. It lies in who He is.
In this marvelous verse – in the fifteenth: "Who is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation" [Colossians 1:15] – of every creature, Paul never got away from the vision of the Damascus road when he saw the Lord in the way and His face above the brightness of the midday Meridian Syrian sun [Acts 9:1-9].
A theological professor wrote in a theological magazine recently that Jesus Christ is a landmark, not a goal. By that he meant we’ll soon pass Him by, like a great mountain, but we’re going on and pressing forward to greater things and nobler things and finer things – and who knows but that someday there may come to this earth a greater Christ, a better Jesus, and a more perfect revelation. How different Paul! The Lord may be a landmark to that theological professor but not to the apostle Paul to whom Christ is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of every creation [Colossians 1:15].
In the Arian-Athanasian Christological controversy, Arius, the heretic, said this passage here refers to the creation of Jesus Himself. He Himself is a creature, though first in time and first in rank, yet a creature Himself.
Oh, no! Paul, by using this expression "the firstborn of every creature" – he meant by that two great ideas: one, that Christ is preexistent – that He is God. It refers to His deity. "By Him were all things created . . . and for Him everything is that is" [from Colossians 1:16]. His second idea in that is that He has dominion and sovereignty over all things. Christ is separate and stands above and apart [from] all of the creation of the universe. "He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation" [from Colossians 1:15]. Not only is the Lord Jesus intrinsically, inherently, essentially all fullness, the plērōma of God, but He achieved that same fullness by virtue of His mediatorial offices: His suffering, His sacrifice, His tears, His agony, His sobs and cries, His blood and His death. There is a fullness of grace and of mercy and of atoning, saving power in Christ that is immeasurable and illimitable. God hath stored up in Him, our Savior, a plenitude of love and mercy for all of His people for all time.
I remember reading in the fifty-third chapter of Isaiah: "For it pleased the Father to bruise Him. He hath made His soul an offering for sin. He numbered Him among the transgressors. It pleased the Father to bruise Him" [Isaiah 53:10. 12]. Now, it pleases the Father that in Him should all fullness dwell [Colossians 1:19]. "Wherefore God also hath highly exalted Him, and given Him a name which is above every name: that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow . . . and every tongue should confess . . . " [from Philippians 2:9-11]. "For it pleased the Father that in Him should all fullness dwell" [Colossians 1:19].
And after His death, He was raised from the dead for our justification [Romans 4:25], and He hath ascended on high [Ephesians 4:8]. He hath "taken captivity captive and hath given gifts unto men" [from Ephesians 4:8] It pleased God that, in Him, He should be made of God "unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption" [1 Corinthians 1:30]. He is the one that "shutteth and no man openeth, and openeth and no man shutteth" [from Revelation 3:7].
The Lord God is more glorified in Jesus Christ – in the glory of His person, in the excellence of His sacrifice, in the merit of His life – than in all of the excellencies of creation. There is nothing of the majesties in nature and there is nothing of the excellencies in providence that can compare with the immeasurable worth and the incomparable glory of Jesus Christ, God’s Son and our Savior. "For it pleased the Father that in Him should all fullness dwell" [Colossians 1:19].
All of you who have been listening to the 8:15 o’clock services know that this morning and the next Lord’s Day morning, at 8:15, I am preaching on the types in the Old Testament – the shadows of the Old Testament that adumbrate the glorious realities in the new covenant and the new dispensation.
Our Lord Jesus Christ is the substance of which they were the shadow. He is the fullness of which they are the foretaste. Shadows and types and adumbrations are sweet and precious, but in Jesus we have the thing: the actuality, the reality, the substance itself [Hebrews 9:24, 10:11-12]. He is our tabernacle and our altar and our sacrifice [Hebrews 13:10]. He is our incense and our prayer. He’s our mediator and our God [John 20:26-29; 1 Timothy 2:5; Hebrews 9:15]. He is our all in all. All the shadows and all the types and all the adumbrations and all of the prophecies and all of the ceremonies and the ordinances – all of them find their meaning and their fruition in Him. "For it pleased the Father that in Him should all fullness dwell" [Colossians 1:19].
An adumbration, a pattern, a type, a sacrifice – these may be precious, but they do not suffice to save us [Hebrews 10:1-4]. They may be vastly instructive, but they cannot forgive or wash away our sins. We need not the pattern of heavenly things, but we need the heavenly things themselves. No bleeding bird, no slaughtered bullock, no running stream, no scarlet wool or hyssop could suffice for the washing away of our sins [Hebrews 10:1, 4] We find all of those types and adumbrations and pictures – we find their reality and their actual image in Jesus Christ, our Lord.
All that the Old Testament meant, all that the prophet saw, all that the Levitical system typified – we find its fullness in Jesus Christ, our Lord [Matthew 5:17]. Were it not for that, we would still be crying with the prophet Micah: "Wherewith shall I come before the Lord, and bow myself before the high God? Should I come before Him with rams, with burnt offerings and sacrifices? Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, or with thousands of rivers of oil?" [from Micah 6:6-7] Nay. Nay.
In the great Book of the Hebrews – listen to it:
Sacrifices and offerings Thou wouldest not, but a body hast Thou prepared for Me.
Lo, I come (in the roll of the book it is written of Me) to do Thy will, O God.
And now we are sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ our Lord.
[from Hebrews 10:5, 7, 10]
All the old sacrifices, all of the old ordinances, all of the old types, all of the old adumbrations, all of the old shadows find their meaning, their consummation, their fullness in Christ. "For it pleased the Father that in Him should all fullness dwell" [Colossians 1:19] – not only intrinsically, in His person, but achieved also by the offices, the things that He suffered, His atoning grace that stored up mercy for the saving of us – of you, of me.
Now, "for it pleased the Father that in Him should all fullness dwell" [Colossians 1:19]. That is perpetuity. Our Savior, the same yesterday and today and forever, for the Son endureth forever [from Hebrews 13:8]. He is a priest forever after the order of Melchizedek [Hebrews 5:6]. He is the author of an eternal salvation [Hebrews 5:9] and His name shall endure forever [Psalm 135:13]. The fullness of Jesus Christ was and is and shall be and forevermore. The fount that flowed from the wounds of the Lord on Calvary flowed on the other side of the mountain and it flowed on this side of the mountain. All of the saints of the old covenant were saved by looking to Him in type – in ceremony, in ordinance, in adumbration. All of us who are saved since that day are saved by looking to Him who is the meaning and the fulfillment of it all: "that in Him should all fullness dwell" [Colossians 1:19].
And that merit, that atoning grace, that efficacious sacrifice is able now and shall continue to be able to save until this world comes to that last and final day when it is delivered to the devouring fire [2 Peter 3:10]. His blood shall be able until the last one of God’s elect come in and bow in faith and receive from His gracious hands those mercies that save the soul and preserve us for Him forever [Hebrews 10:14]. "For it pleased the Father that in Him should all fullness dwell" [Colossians 1:19].
That is constancy and availability. "All fullness dwell." If a man dwells in the house, he lives there. That’s where he is. He dwells there. He lives there. "It pleased the Father that in Him should all fullness dwell." There is grace. There is mercy. There is pardon. There is forgiveness. When we knock at that door of prayer, prayer is present. When a sinner cries, "Lord, be merciful unto me," mercy has not gone on a journey [John 6:37]. Mercy is not asleep. Mercy is there. "It pleased the Father that in Him should all fullness dwell" [Colossians 1:19].
"There is life for a look at the Crucified One. There is life at this moment for thee" [from "There is Life for a Look," by Amelia M. Hull, c. 1832] – not at some canonical hour, not at some other appointed time, but now, here, any time, any place, for any man. "For it pleased the Father that in Him should all fullness dwell" [Colossians 1:19]. Constancy, I say, and accessibility – one that we can touch. "For we have not," says the author of Hebrews, "a high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, though without sin. Wherefore, therefore, let us come boldly to the throne of grace, that we might find grace in the day of need and help in the time of trouble" [from Hebrews 4:15-16].
Anybody can approach. Anybody can knock at the door. This God-man, Christ Jesus, was in all things meek and lowly and humble and accessible [Matthew 11:29, 21:5]. A woman who was so ill could touch the hem of His garment, and she was healed [Luke 8:43-48]. A blind man who couldn’t see could cry to Him [Mark 10:46-52], and in the busy journey up to the great city [Mark 10:32], He stopped to heal. He not only touched our ill – nay, Himself, He bear our infirmities and carried our sicknesses [Isaiah 53:4; Matthew 8:17].
In all ways was He such that they who knew Him best loved to be near Him most. Even the publicans and the sinners rejoiced to gather round to hear what He had to say [Luke 15:1]. Oh, what an available grace! What an open fount! What a flowing stream! What an efficacious sacrifice! "For it pleased the Father that in Him should all fullness dwell" [Colossians 1:19].
There. There. Like any humble peasant would be free and welcome to come and kneel at the manger of the Child [Luke 2:15-20], so any lost sinner free and welcome to come and kneel at the foot of the cross to receive grace and help and forgiveness [Luke 7:37-39, 44-48; 1 Timothy 1:15]. "For it pleased the Father that in Him should all fullness dwell" [Colossians 1:19].
And now, may I speak for just a moment on the all-adequacy of that fullness? "For it pleased the Father that in Him should all fullness dwell" [Colossians 1:19]. There is perpetuity always. There is constancy and availability. Anyone may come. There is more than enough for us all. "That all fullness should dwell in Him." We have no need to turn to the supposed successors of the apostles and inquire at their hands and ask of them. No. We have Christ who is all sufficient and all-adequate and enough.
Why should we turn from the fullness of Christ and supplicate at the emptiness of men? What need have we for a hierarchy of bishops, or a conclave of cardinals, for a fallible, infallible vicar when we have Christ Himself? What need have we to turn to these modern theologies and these philosophical novelties and ask at their hands for the answer to the cry of our soul? If these new dilettante can find in their rituals or in their ceremonials or in their philosophical aberrations or in their new theology anything of worth, let them have it. We will not envy them. We have the Lord Himself, and He is enough.
Their candles may burn brightly, but we have the Son. They may say they are the successors of the apostles, but we are the followers of the Lamb Himself. They may be all wise in their own eyes, but we dwell with infinite and incarnate Wisdom itself. They may go to their manmade cisterns to drink [Jeremiah 2:13], but we shall pause by the fountain of the river of the water of life that liveth and abideth forever [John 4:14].
Oh, why turn aside from the flowing fountain to drink at a broken cistern? Why turn aside from the glory of the knowledge of the revelation in the face of Jesus Christ to grope through the dark with a manmade caper? Why not walk in the light of the glory of God in Jesus Christ our Lord? "For it pleased the Father that in Him should all fullness dwell" [Colossians 1:19].
All of the need of the saints of earth are answered in Him [Philippians 4:19], and all of the need of the saints in heaven are answered in Him. He is the fullness and the light and the glory not only of the church militant but of the church triumphant. If they drink at the stream of the water of life, it proceedeth out of the throne of God and of the Lamb [Revelation 22:1]. If they reign as kings and priests, they do so in His glorious power [Revelation 5:10]. If they are dressed with vesture and garment white as snow, it is because they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb [Revelation 7:14]. There is no temple there [Revelation 21:22]. Our Lord is the temple of it. There’s no light of the sun there [Revelation 21:23]. Our Savior is the light of it. His theme is their song [Revelation 15:2-4]. Their joy is the marriage supper of the Lamb [Revelation 19:4-9], and their worship is Jesus Christ, our Savior, whom they bow and before whom they worship and love day and night, world without end. "For it pleased the Father that in Him should all fullness dwell" [Colossians 1:19].
And may I say a last, brief word to these, to us, who are lost sinners: some of us saved by grace, some of us having never bowed in the presence of the great King, our God and Savior? He is our all in all. He is. He giveth power to the faint [Isaiah 40:29]. He lifteth up and encourageth the weary [Isaiah 40:31]. He forgives sin [Luke 7:40-50]. All our need is in Him [Matthew 11:28-30].
Why should a man come, and by himself, in himself, seek to make up the deficiencies of his life when all fullness is in Him? Why should a man come to the river of the water of life and bring a thermos of water? Why should a man come to the marriage supper of the Lamb and bring meat and bread? Why should a man come to the streets of glory and bring paltry gifts of gold or of silver? Oh, my brother and my friend, is there not enough and to spare in Him? Is there not? Cannot He feed our souls? Cannot He give us water of life to drink? Cannot He be our all sufficiency, our all, our whole need?
Why come bringing paltry things at His feet? Why not let Him be the fullness, the grace, the forgiveness, our all in all? Why not? Why not? Weak, then He can be our strength [Philippians 4:13]. Sinful, then He is our forgiveness [Ephesians 1:7]. Hungry, then He is our manna [John 6:35]. Thirsty, He is our water of life [John 7:37]. Lost and undone, then He is our pilot and way [John 14:6]. Why not? Not of myself, but of Him that He might be our all in all; all grace and glory unto Him who loved us and gave Himself for us and washed us in His blood and made us kings and priests unto God [Revelation 1:5-6]. Why not bow before Him?
While we sing this song of invitation, in this throng in the balcony, down these stairwells and here to the front, would you come? "Here, Pastor, I give you my hand. I give my heart in faith and in trust to God." Would you come? A family of you into the fellowship of the church, one somebody you, into that aisle and down here to the front confessing the Lord as Savior, putting your life into the church. As God shall say the word and lead the way and make the appeal, would you come while we stand and while we sing?