11. — The Fullness of the Godhead

"For in Him all the fullness [of the Godhead] was pleased to dwell. … For in Him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily" (Col. 1:19, N.Tr.)

"For in Him all the fullness was pleased to dwell. … For in Him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily" (Col. 2:9, W.K.)

The Psalmist, looking abroad upon the world of nature around him, exclaimed, "O Lord (Jehovah), how manifold are Thy works! in wisdom hast Thou made them all: the earth is full of Thy riches" (Ps. 104:24). In Colossians 1 the believer is invited to survey even greater works than these, and in a wider sphere. Reading these verses, he might well adapt the language of the Psalm, and exclaim, O Lord, Thou Son of the Father's love, how manifold are the works of Thy power and Thy love! The earth and the heavens are full of the riches of Thy glory and Thy grace!

In the apostle's recital of these glories of the Son, we may observe their holy order — a harmony of heaven beyond the power of the human mind to invent. We see the evidences of His glory distributed under two great categories. There are (1) the works of His power and wisdom before His incarnation, and (2) the works of His grace and truth after His incarnation.

The first class (1) embraces the whole of the original creation in its vastness and variety: we behold the Son, in Whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins, as the Creator and Sustainer of the universe (Col. 1:15-17). The second (2) comprehends His operations in the sphere of the new creation: wherein we behold, as the final result, the removal of sin, and the reconciliation in righteousness of all things on the earth and in the heavens (Col. 1:18-20).

This widespread panorama of the works of the Lord is marvellous in our eyes, and we delight to behold that the Personal centre of it all is the Son of the Father's love, in Whom all the fullness of the Godhead is pleased to dwell. In Him, we even now have redemption, the forgiveness of sins (ver. 14); and from this little platform in His kingdom where redeeming love has safely set us, we look out with the eyes of revelation into the ever-widening expanses of eternity, and discern with holy rapture the countless glories of the Eternal Son, Who Himself fills all things (Eph. 4:10).

The Fullness Dwells in the Reconciler

It is to be remarked that in this passage the revelation of the ever-abiding fullness in the Son is associated with His work of reconciliation (vers. 18-20) rather than with His work of creation (vers. 15- 17). How evident is the jealous care of the Spirit of God to preserve the honour of the Son! Reconciliation involves the elimination of sin from the defiled heavens and the polluted earth. Side by side with the very mention of this work stands the declaration that in the Reconciler all the fullness is pleased to dwell (ver. 19); His full personal glory in the Deity is concerned in His accomplishment of redemption.

This work entailed bloodshedding, the cross, and death itself (vers. 20, 21); did it, therefore, in any degree whatsoever detract from the intrinsic personal glory of the Son of God? Or, do any inquire whether the Son is of inferior rank in the Godhead., because God's enemies are reconciled to Him by the death of His Son (Rom. 5:10) , and because death is attributed to the Son, but never to the Father, nor to the Holy Spirit?

All such insinuating questions are anticipated and answered here; for the Spirit writes, "In Him all the fullness was pleased to dwell" (ver. 19, W.K.). The Son has no inferior or secondary position in Deity, since the whole fullness of the Godhead has a permanent abiding-place in Him. It was not an incomplete fullness, nor a portion only of the fullness, but the fullness in its perfect entirety, nothing of Deity lacking or diminished in any respect, or at any time. He is "the Son of the Blessed," and "God blessed for ever" (Mark 14:61-62; Rom. 9:5).

The Fullness is Personal

Moreover, the fullness found pleasure in dwelling in the Son. The fullness, therefore, is not an abstract quality or attribute. The emotion of good pleasure or delight can reside only in a person. It was God the Father Who expressed His good pleasure in His beloved Son on the holy mount (2 Peter 1:17). But this passage in Colossians, correctly rendered, does not speak of the Father taking pleasure, but of "all the fullness," intimating that there is a latent reference in the phrase to a Person Who finds delight in dwelling in Him, the incarnate Son.

Further, "dwelling" and "reconciling" are both personal acts; and it is expressly said that all the fullness is pleased to dwell in Him, and also to reconcile all things by Him to Himself. It is a Person, therefore, Who is before the mind of the inspiring Spirit, and it can be no other than the Son in His Deity, Who is the theme of the passage throughout. Notice how the succession of pronouns in vers. 19, 20 mark the continuity of the personal reference to Him: "in Him;" "His cross;" "by Him;" "to Himself;" "by Him." All the fullness is pleased to dwell … to reconcile … to Himself — the Son.

The Spiritual Value to us of the Son's Personal Glory

The doctrines of redemption and reconciliation are thus tinctured with the personal glory of Christ not only for our instruction, but also to awaken our worship.

It is the sight and the knowledge of the Person Who suffered and died that touches our hearts. Beholding the hands and the side of the Risen Saviour, even dull Thomas exclaimed, "My Lord and my God! "

It is the central feature, therefore, of our priestly instruction in Colossians 1 that the Son has the first place or the pre-eminence in all things. Whether in the exercise of His mediatorial functions or otherwise, in Him the fullness of the Godhead has a permanent abode. Hence, God being in Christ, God was perfectly manifested in flesh among men. God Who is Light and God Who is Love shone in Him. Yet man's darkness did not comprehend nor yield to the Light, nor did man's enmity vanish before that display of Love. More must be done by God for man to remove the barriers against His light and His love.

Reconciliation was needed, to which truth the passage now brings us. Peace could be made only "by the blood of His cross." Through this, we who believe are now reconciled; and upon the same basis, the whole universe of heavenly and earthly things will in the future be reconciled, and will become a scene of divine delight. For, as all the fullness finds His (or, Its) good pleasure in dwelling in Him, so all the fullness finds His delight in reconciling all things to Him or to Itself.*

{*See J.N.D.'s New Translation and his footnotes on the passages (Col. 1:19; 2:9). It may be noticed that he uses the neuter pronoun three times in the context: — "to reconcile … to Itself" (ver. 20); "now has It reconciled" (ver. 21); "to present you holy … before It" (ver. 22). The neuter pronoun is used in these cases to mark their grammatical relation to "fullness," which is of the neuter gender in the Greek.}

Are we not glad to have such revelations as these? How sweet to our souls to discover in this passage that the whole universe, now defiled by sin and hostile to God, will be reconciled to Him in Whom all the fullness dwells — to the Son of the Father's love! Truly, as we sing, "His joys our sweetest joys afford, They taste of love divine." And we may add to the couplet that His glories "our sweetest joys afford," for they too "taste of love divine."

The Italics in verse 19

It will have been noticed that in the former part of this paper Col. 1:19 has been quoted differently from the A.V., which reads "It pleased the Father that in Him should all fullness dwell." The R.V. agrees with the A.V., except that "the" is added before "fullness." The literal rendering is, "In Him all the fullness was pleased to dwell."

The fact that the words, "the Father," are placed in italics in both versions proves that in both cases the translators had to admit that no equivalent of these words is found in the original tongue, and that the two words inserted express their own interpretation of the passage, namely, that it was the Father's good pleasure that all fullness should dwell in the Son.

As a general truth, this pleasure of the Father in the Son is without doubt true, but the question is whether it is the truth conveyed in this passage. And a little inquiry shows that the interpretation is without proper foundation, for it overlooks or ignores the true grammatical subject of the verb, "was pleased," which is "all the fullness," and it introduces the words, "the Father," into the passage without textual authority.

Moreover, the words in italics dislocate the whole grammatical sentence, which occupies verses 19 and 20. This sentence contains the principal verb, "was pleased," and two dependent infinitive verbs, "dwell," and "reconcile," both of which relate to the subject, "all the fullness." The text is faithfully rendered by W.K.: "In Him all the fullness was pleased to dwell; and by Him to reconcile the universe to Him."

The same scholar says, commenting on the R.V. of " verse 19 where the old fault of the A.V. reappears… The doctrine is as bad as the version, and derogatory to the Son as well as the Spirit in our Epistle, and (in) the very part where the prime object is to assert the glory of Christ in every way."

The best that can be said of the common rendering of the verse is that it contains a part of the truth; but of what a great deal it robs us. For in this Epistle, fullness or plenitude is used to denote the totality of the essential nature, powers, and attributes of Deity. This term implies that, not only the Father, but the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit were pleased to dwell in Him. It was the fullness; and more, all the fullness, all that is comprehended in God.*

{*The following remarks by W.K. on the insertion of the words, "the Father," may be of further help. "There is a peculiar phraseology in the passage, which may have led the English translators to put in 'Father' in verse 19. If the conjecture be correct, they did it not so much because of this verse as of the following, the 20th — 'to reconcile … to Himself.' They could not make out how it could be to Him unless it were to the Father; but I think the context is purposely so framed, because it is intended to skew us, unless I am greatly mistaken, that all the fullness of the Godhead dwelt in Christ, not one Person of that divine fullness acting to the exclusion of the rest. They all had one counsel, not barely similar counsels, as so many creatures might, but one and the same. Hence the object is not to contrast one Person with another, but to state that all the fullness was pleased in Him to dwell. It is put in this general form purposely" (Lectures on the Colossians, p. 23).}

In chap. 2:9, the same term is in an ampler phrase applied to the Son: "in Him (Christ) dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily." All that is inherent in Deity has a permanent abode in Him. The added clause, "of the Godhead," does not appear in 1:19, where we have in the preceding context (vers. 15-17) the Godhead or Deity of the Son strongly emphasized, and this truth is there-fore embodied in the words, "all the fullness." Accordingly, J.N.D. adds the clause, "of the Godhead," in brackets in Col. 1:19. See the N. Tr. and the instructive footnote relating to these words given in it.

The words "Godhead" and "Deity"

Christ is our all, and scripture often reveals the blessings grace has given us side by side with a revelation of the glories of Christ in Whom they are made ours. We are by this association reminded that He is the measure and the certitude of all we receive. Accordingly, we find here that the fullness of our blessedness is associated with the fullness of Christ's Person: "in Him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily; and ye are complete (filled full) in Him" (Col. 2:9).

This particular unfolding to us is a supremely elevating truth concerning our adorable Lord. In Him all the fullness of the Godhead has come down to us — bodily; also in Him we have that completeness needful for our acceptance before God! The incarnate Son is thus our perfect Mediator between God and man; in Him God is presented, and in Him man is accepted!

Godhead, the prominent word in this passage, is a word of our English tongue, adequately expressive of the original noun, theotees, and has been used during the past six centuries in the various successive English translations of this verse.

The suffix, head, indicates the presence and embodiment of all the essential qualities and attributes of God — indeed, God Himself. It is allied in origin to the suffix, hood, found with a similar significance in words like manhood, motherhood, priesthood, Godhood (occasionally), implying in each case all the status, ability, dignity, necessary to being so-and-so.

Thus, manhood comprehends everything that is proper or essential to a man, and that distinguishes a man from every other order of beings. And, in like manner, Godhead signifies God in the absolute nature of His Being, comprising all that He is in Himself, and in none beside Himself.

In view of this recognized usage, it is a misapprehension of the meaning of "the compound nature of the English word" to speak, as some have recently done, of the word "Godhead implying relation with the creation," as if -head meant Head of creation. Their definition is untrue, there being nothing "relative" in the word itself. Its meaning given in the English dictionaries is "divine personality"; "divine nature or essence"; "the character or quality of being God." Therefore, "Godhead" may be "properly used to convey The Absolute," as well as "Deity," its Latin equivalent or synonym. Indeed some prefer the plain English word to its foreign relation.

There can be no doubt that God Who was manifest in flesh, Who was in Christ, was before the writer's mind in the word, Godhead, when he wrote the simple but profound lines:

"We see the Godhead-glory
Shine through that human veil;
And, willing, hear the story
Of love come here to heal."

The Use of the Word "Divinity "

It may not be inappropriate in this place to refer to the word, divinity, as distinguished from Godhead or Deity, with which, however, it is sometimes confounded. Both the latter are, as already noted, faithful translations of the Greek word, theotees, which occurs only in Col. 2:9. This word means "Godhead in the absolute sense" (J.N.D.), and is distinct in meaning from theiotees, occurring in Rom. 1:20, which signifies the character of God, rather than God Himself.

The word in Romans is applied by the apostle to what may be observed of God in the works of nature — His creatorial majesty, might, and wisdom. These attributes are included in His theiotees, divinity, but are not His Essential Being. On the other hand, all the fullness of the theotees dwells in Christ bodily.

To mark this important distinction between the two words, "Godhead" in Rom. 1:20 is replaced by "divinity" in the R.V., the New Tr., in W.K.'s Notes on Romans, and in other translations. "Godhead" is reserved for the rendering of theotees in Col. 2:9, where Deity in the fullest, most absolute sense is required both by the word and its context.

It is always well to note the inspired values of scriptural words, particularly of those relating to the Person of our adorable Lord. And in view of the prevailing denials and detractions of the Ever-blessed Son, it is specially important to mark this distinction between the terms, Deity and Godhead, on the one hand, and divinity on the other, and to remember that the latter should never be regarded as a synonym or as the equivalent of the former two.

As evidence that this warning against ambiguity in this respect is not needless, it may be recalled that a well-known series of Lectures on the Deity of Christ was entitled, most inaptly in the interests of truth, "The Divinity of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ." It is regrettable also that many speak of "our divine Lord," "the Christ divine," forgetting how they disparage that Blessed One by such "faint praise," through using a vague description of Him, in which Arius, Socinus, and those who bring not "the doctrine of the Christ" would readily join. Let us in this sacred subject, above all others, seek to use the sacred word, "not to be condemned, that he who is opposed may be ashamed, having no evil thing to say about us" (Titus 2:8).

"O Thou peerless One,
Great God revealed in flesh, the living link
'Twixt Godhead and my soul! be Thine the praise,
The loving worship of a loving heart,
Rich in Thyself, for, oh, however filled,
Howe'er exalted, holy, undefiled,
Whatever wealth of blessedness is mine,
What am I, Lord? an emptiness, a nothing.
Thou art My boast, in Whom, all fullness dwells
Of the great Godhead, Thou Whose name I bear,
Whose life is mine, Whose glory and Whose bliss,
All, all are mine."