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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 consist.” Let us now consider the meaning of this expression, “the first-born of every creature,” and let me shew—
I. What the expression does not and can not mean.
The first-born of every creature A strange expression l and one which, seeming to assign our Lord a place among creatures, sounds so strangely that, in some degree perplexed, we are ready to ask what the apostle can mean by applying such a questionable term to the eternal Son of God 2 For, though he honors him with the foremost place, still he seems to place him in the rank of creatures. Now, there are those who say that Christ was a mere "man; and this expression, beyond all doubt, cuts the ground out from below their feet. The first-born of every creature—these words, assigning to our Lord, at he very least, the highest place among the highest angels, do not leave the Socinian an inch of ground to stand on. But do they not, it may be asked, seem to countenance the Arian heresy—the doctrine of those who hold that, although the highest and noblest of all created things, our Lord, notwithstanding, is still a creature ? Is it so? Have we mistaken his true character? Shall we find, in going to glory, that, as ardent love is prone to do, we have exaggerated his excellences; and that while another occupies the throne of heaven, Jesus is but the first in her noble peerage, the highest and oldest of her ancient nobility? Even as being the first of creatures in point of rank and age, as one who lwelt with God when there was none other than himself, as one whose life dates back beyond the far remote period when seas first rolled, and stars shone, and angels sang, Jesus were an object, next to God he were the object of our deepest interest. Yet if our blessed Lord is only a creature, however great his power, exalted his rank, pure his nature, lofty his intellect, and incalculable the years of his age, I cannot trust him with my soul; I cannot depend on him for salvation; I cannot, dare not worship him, nor overleap this barrier, Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve. The Apostle John once saw a strange sight in heaven. Yet, if, as the first-born of every creature, our Lord be but a creature, nor hold divinity within a human shrine, I undertake to show you one yet more strange. There appeared, says the apostle, a great wonder in heaven; a woman clothed with the Sun, and the moon under her feet, and upon her head a crown of twelve stars: and she being with child, cried, travailing in birth, and pain to be delivered. That in heaven Yet, if Jesus, though created prior to all others, and in rank next therefore to God, is, after all, but a creature, this mystic woman, so superbly clad and crowned, so strangely pregnant and pained in heaven, offers no wonder so inexplicable as these angels do, who worship at the Saviour's feet; nor in that upper world, where there are neither births nor burials, do her birth-pang cries sound so strange in my ears, as that command from the excellent majesty, Let all the angels of God worship him. If he is not God, how can the law, which forbids me to worship any but God, allow to angels what it denies to man 2 Can that be right in them which is wrong in us? Can that be true worship in heaven which were idolatry on earth 2 If it be sin to render divine worship to a creature here, it appears to me that it would be but further wrong, and a deeper wrong, an aggravation of the sin, to worship one in heaven; and, therefore, startled by an expression which seems to rank our Lord with creatures, we might, at the first blush of the thing, address Paul in the words of the men of Athens. Having astonished her philosophers, having preached in Jesus and resurrection from the grave a doctrine which her boldest spirits had never ventured to imagine, and having, by news such as these news-seekers had never dreamed of thrown the city into commotion, they hurried him away to the Areopagus, saying, Thou bringest certain strange things to our ears: we would know therefore what these things mean. We might be disposed to say the same to Paul. He brings strange tidings to our ears—he calls Christ “the firstborn of creatures.” What does he mean? Well, what he does not mean is very plain from the way in which he conjoins this verse with the next. In the same breath, and as part of the same sentence, the apostle says that He created all things. Created all things! But he could not create himself, and he was therefore himself uncreated ; and Paul therefore never could mean to say that our Lord, however high might be the rank assigned him, was to be placed in the rank of creatures. No man inspired of God, no logician like the apostle, no person even of common sense, could write, nor would men of ordinary reason and intelligence believe, a thing so absurd and self-contradictory as, that anything could create itself, or a thing created possess creating power. To create, to call something out of nothing, be it a dying spark or a blazing sun, a dew-drop cradled in a lily's bosom, or the vast ocean 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 2 where is he that hath taken venison, and brought it me, and I have eaten of all before thou camest, and have blessed him 2 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