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in the hollow of God's hand, mole-hill or mountain, the dancing notes of a sunbeam or the rolling planets of a system, a burning seraph or a feeble glow-worm, one of the ephemera that takes wing in the morning and is dead at night, or one of the angels that sang when our Lord was born ; whatever be the thing created, the power to create is God's, the act of creation his; and, therefore, since Paul says that Jesus Christ created all things, he cannot mean to depose our Lord from the throne of divinity, and lower God's only begotten son to the level of a created being.
II. Consider what this phrase, “the first-born of every creature," does mean.
Eli trembled for the ark of God. And dear as that ark, which rash hands had borne into the battle-field, to the devout, blind old priest, is our Lord's divinity to us. The loss of that broke his neck, the loss of this would break our hearts. But this expression gives no cause for anxiety about Christ's honors. It does not detract from, but rather illustrates his divinity ; and is a figure of speech, under which that doctrine lies as firm, solid, immovable, as the living rock beneath the flush of flowers and the green sward that cover it. Paul has clothed the doctrine in a Jewish metaphor, and to understand it aright, we must examine it, not with Christian, but with Jewish eyes. For that purpose, let us study this expression by the light of these two cases :
Isaac is old and blind. He is sitting in his tent like a man who is making his will-engaged, although death was yet distant, in deathbed arrangements. His youngest son, who has passed himself off for his elder brother, and thereby stolen that brother's rights, has just gone out, when Esau, as ignorant as his father of the trick that had been so cleverly but so foully played, enters, saying, Let my father arise, and eat of his son's venison, that thy soul may bless me. The old man, knowing that he had already given away the blessing, and believing that he had bestowed it upon Esau, surprised at the request, says, Who art thou? I am thy son, thy first-born Esau, was the answer. It struck Isaac with sudden and dire alarm. Fearful that he had given away what he could not recall, and, under the impression that he was the first-born, had conferred on another rights belonging to Esau, he trembled very exceedingly, and said, “Who? where is he that hath taken venison, and brought it me, and I have eaten of all before thou camest, and have blessed him ? yea, and he shall be blessed. Now, the truth flashed on Esau, and, startling the tents around, he utters “a great and exceeding bitter cry.” Unaccustomed to tears, he wept like a woman; and the calm, subdued, but deep grief of the good old man mingled with the wild, sweeping, terrible, impetuous torrent of Esau's passions. But vain the flood of grief! He found no place of repentance, though he sought it carefully with tears. Behold, said Isaac, as he spoke of him who had won the game, and won it by passing himself off as the first-born, I have made him thy lord, and all his brethren have I given him for servants. And so you see from this case, that to be what Esau really was, and what Jacob said he was, to be the first-born, and obtain the rights belonging to that condition, was, as a matter of law and order, to be heir and lord of all.
From the tent of the patriarch, turn now to the palace in Jerusalem. An old man, worn out with wars and troubles fills the throne—the sceptre shaking
in his palsied hands. It is necessary that Jehoshaphat —for this old king is he-have a coadjutor and successor; and in seven sons who stand before him, we should think that he had room for choice. What is his decision ? To the six younger he gave great gifts of silver, and of gold, and of precious things, with fenced cities in Judah, but the kingdom, it is said, gave he to Jehoram. And why? What moved him to that? His princely qualities? He had none. He was a bloody monster; for his father's ashes were hardly cold, when he murdered, in cold blood, all these, his brethren. The kingdom, it is said, gave he to Jehoram ; because he was the first-born. And there, again, you see, that to be the first-born, or to get the rights belonging to that position, was to be heir and lord of all.
Thus, springing from the customs of the country, and by long use and wont, the expression “ first-born," became among the Jews just another word for head, lord, sovereign proprietor of all. Of this fact, let me add, we have a most remarkable example in the language of some Jewish rabbins. They have not hesitated to apply the very term to God himself, calling Jehovah The First-Born of the World ; and that in honor, in deepest reverence—meaning thereby to exalt him above all creatures, as prince, and king, and Lord of all. See now, how that which seemed at first sight contrary to our Lord's divinity, is not only consistent with it, but confirmatory of it. In pronouncing him " the first-born of every creature," my text exalts Jesus above all creatures, and crowns him divine Head, and Lord, and Sovereign of all. It proclaims one of his many royal titles, and invests him with the insignia of universal empire. Revealing the divine heights from
which he descended to the humiliation of Calvary, how should it endear him to our hearts, and recommend him to our glad and grateful acceptance! Calvary grows in wonder, our sins sink deeper in guilt, and our souls rise higher in value, as we contemplate the glory from which he stooped, to bow his head in death upon an ignominious cross ; dying, as is never to be forgotten, “ the propitiation for our sins : and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world."
III. Our Lord, as in this sense, “ the first-born of every creature,” existed before all.
One day the door of Egypt's palace is thrown open, and Joseph-a model of beautiful manhood, mind in his eagle eye, strength in his form, majesty in his manner, and on his countenance that lofty look which bespeaks high virtue and integrity—enters, accompanied by his father. The old man’s step was slow and feeble ; the old man's eyes were dim with age; a few thin silver locks mingled with the snowy beard that flowed down his breast, as he came forward leaning on Joseph's arm, and bending beneath the weight of years. Struck by the contrast, and moved to respect by the patriarch's venerable aspect, Pharaoh accosted him with the question, How old art thou ?
Age naturally awakens our respect. “Thou shalt rise up before the hoary head, and honor the face of the old man.” That beautiful and divine command touches a chord in every heart, and sounds in harmony with the best feelings of our nature; and so a Greek historian tells how, in the pure and early and most virtuous days of the republic, if an old man entered the crowded assembly, all ranks rise to give room and place to him. Age throws such a character of dignity
even over inanimate objects, that the spectator regards them with a sort of awe and veneration. We have stood before the hoary and ivy-mantled ruin of a bygone age with deeper feelings of respect than ever touched us in the marble halls and amid the gilded grandeur of modern palaces; nor did the proudest tree which lifted its umbrageous head and towering form to the skies ever affect us with such strange emotions as an old, withered, wasted trunk that, though hollowed by time into a gnarled shell, still showed some green signs of life. Nor, as we lingered beneath the shades of that ancient yew, could we look on such an old tenant of the earth without feelings of veneration, when we thought how it had been bathed by the sun which shone upon the cross of Calvary, and had stood white with hoar-frost that Christmas night on which angels sang the birth of our Saviour King.
It is a curious thing to stand alone beside a swathed, dark, dusty mummy, which some traveler has brought from its tomb on the banks of the Nile; and to mark with wonder how the gold-leaf still glitters on the nails of the tapering fingers, and the raven hair still clings to the mouldering skull, and how, with the arms peacefully folded on the breast, and the limbs stretched out to their full extent, humanity still retains much of its original form. But when we think how many centuries have marched over that dead one's head ; that in this womanly figure, with the metal mirror still beside her, in which she had once admired her departed charms, we see, perhaps, the wife of Joseph, perhaps the royal maid, who, coming to give her beauty to the pure embraces of the Nile, received the infant Moses in her kind protecting arms, our wonder changes into a sort of awe.