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Thus, the incommunicable attributes of Divinity, and the common properties of humanity stand out equally clear in our Lord's life and person. And just such a conjunction of things apparently irreconcileable presents itself to our attention in the description given of Jesus Christ in this verse. In this clause, he is described by a term sacred to God; we pass on to the next, and step at once from the throne of the heavens down into a grave. In these words, " the beginning," we behold him presiding at the creation of the universe ; by those which follow, “ the first-born from the dead," we are carried in fancy to a lonely garden, where, all quiet within, Roman sentinels keep watch by a tomb, or where, as they fly in pale terror from the scene, we see him who had filled the eternal throne, and been clothed with light as with a garment, putting off a shroud, and leaving a tomb. What key is there to this mystery, what possible way of harmonizing these things, but this, that Christ, while man, was more than man, one who has brought together properties so wide apart as dust and divinity, time and eternity, eternal Godhead and mortal manhood ? What comfort to us, as well as glory to him, in this combination! Should it not dissipate every care and fear, to think that our Saviour, friend, and lover, has the heart of a brother and the hand of God ?
Let us now consider that clause of this verse in which our Lord is called “the beginning.”
I. This term expresses his divine nature.
I have read a story of a blind man, who, determined to rise above his misfortune, and to pursue knowledge under the greatest difficulties, set himself to study the nature of light and colours. This much he had learned,
that, while these differ in intensity, it is the red-coloured ray that glares strongest on the eye. He flattered himself that he had at length mastered a subject which must remain forever more or less of a mystery to one, as he was, born blind ; and so, when asked what he thought red was like, he replied-evident satisfaction at his acquirements lighting up his sightless face-that he fancied it like the sound of a trumpet. Though we may smile at an answer so wide of the mark, his difficulty in describing colours is more or less ours in describing God. It were easier for these fingers to close upon the world, for this hand to hold the great globe within its grasp, than for any finite mind to comprehend the infinite fulness of God. " It is high, I cannot attain unto it." “ He stretcheth out the north over the empty place, and hangeth the earth upon nothing. By his Spirit he hath garnished the heavens, his hand hath formed the crooked serpent. Lo, these are part of his ways; but how little a portion is heard of him? but the thunder of his power, who can understand ?!?
Just as that blind man borrowed terms from sounds to express the objects of sight, and therefore did it very imperfectly, even so, familiar only with what is visible, palpable, finite, we have to borrow terms from these things to describe the invisible, the God who is encased in no body, and confined within no bounds. And as I have seen a father, to make a thing plain to his little child, take the boy on his knee, and, forgetting his own learning, dropping all correct and philosophical language, speak to the child after the manner of a child, so our heavenly Father condescends to speak of himself to us. Did he make the heavens and the earth? They are the work of his hands. Does he
rule the storm ? He holds the winds in his fist. Are those tremendous powers of nature, the earthquake and the volcano, obedient to his will ? Like conscious guilt in presence of her judge, the earth trembles at his look, and at his touch the mountains smoke. Does he constantly watch over his people? As a kind mother's eye, whatever be her task, follows the movements of her infant, so that if it fall she may raise it, or if it wander too near the fire, the cliff, or the brink of a stream, she may run to pluck it out of danger, God's eyes run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to show himself strong to them whose hearts are perfect towards him. Does it thunder? It is the voice of the Lord ; the lightning cloud that comes driving up the sky is his chariot, and when flash blazes upon flash, his arrows go abroad. His presence is now an eye, now a hand, now an arm, and now a shield. His love is a kiss, his anger is a frown. Are his mercies withdrawn? He repents. Are they restored ? He returns. Does he interpose in any remarkable way? He plucks his hand from his bosom, and, like one who goes vigorously to work, the blacksmith who wields the hammer, or the woodman who plies the axe, he makes bare his arm. And when inspiration, attempting one of her loftiest flights, seeks to express the greatness of his majesty, she turns the heavens into a sapphire throne, spangled all with stars, and taking up this great globe rolls it forward for God to set his feet on. “ Thus saith the Lord, the heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool.” Thus, by terms borrowed from our bodies, and properties, and circumstances, God describes himself, and among other instances of that kind, there is one where he employs the very term here applied to Jesus in my text. For
the purpose of teaching us that he is before all, that he is the cause and the end of all, with such condescension as a father shows to his little children, he takes the Greek alphabet, and selecting the first and the last letters, as those within which all else are included, le says, “I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the ending, saith the Lord, which is, and which was, and which is to come, the Almighty.”
He must be God who is almighty. He must be God who is, and was, and is to come; and since “ the beginning" is another title applied in that passage to the same august, and infinite, and adorable Being, by applying it to our Lord, Paul pronounces him divine, and around the head which was once pillowed on a woman's bosom, and once bowed in death upon a cross, he throws a halo of uncreated glory. A man worshipped in heaven; a babe adored on earth ; the infant's advent sung by angels; sable night throwing off her gloom, and breaking into splendour above his mangercradle ; one whom many well remembered, as if it were but yesterday, carried in Mary's arms or playing with the boys of Nazareth, now claiming to be older than Abraham ; his step on the water lighter than a shadow's, his voice on the waters mighty as God's; the prompt obedience of unruly elements ; the sullen submission of reluctant devils, as they retired back, and farther back before that single man, like a broken band retreating in the face of an overwhelming force ; the hand that was nailed to the cross freely dispensing crowns of glory, and opening the gates of heaven to a dying thief; the earth trembling with horror, and the sun turned mourner because they were murdering their Lord; the adoring admiration of the great apostle who, contemplating an infant cradled in a manger, a
man hanging on a bloody tree, a tomb and its lonely tenant, found heaven too low, and hell too shallow, and space too short, to set forth the greatness of the love that gave the Saviour to die for us ; these marvels, otherwise utterly inexplicable, have their key in " the mystery of godliness;" Jesus Christ was “ God manifest in the flesh.” What a precious truth! The blood of Calvary being, as Paul calls it, the blood of God, may well have virtue in it to cleanse from all sin, so that though our sins be as scarlet, they shall be white as snow, though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool.
II. This term,“ the beginning,” expresses Christ's relation to his church and people.
The beginning of a tree is the seed it springs from. The giant oak had its origin in the acorn. From that dry, hard shell, sprung the noble growth that laughed at the storm, in the course of time covered broad acres with its ample shade, and built the ship that, with wings spread to the wind, flies under a Bethel flag, to bear the gospel to heathen lands, or, opening her ports, rushes on the bloody slave-ship, and fights the battle of humanity on the rolling deep. Now, as a seed, Jesus Christ was one apparently of little promise. According to the prophet, he was, in the eyes of men, a root out of a dry ground. He was all his lifetime despised and rejected ; yet out of him has grown that church which shall bear the blessings of salvation to the ends of the earth, and pursue her bloodless, victorious course, till continents and islands have knelt at his feet. All the kingdoms of this world shall become the kingdoms of our Christ.
A house, again, begins at the foundation. The first