Who is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of every creature:…
I. CHRIST IN HIS PRE-INCARNATE STATE. This dignity is represented by two brief clauses dealing with —
1. His relation to the God head, "image." There is a distinction between image and likeness. Likeness represents superficial resemblance, as when two leaves from the same tree are said to be like each other; image indicates resemblance by participation in the same life by reproduction of essence. Likeness is that which is superficial and partial, image that which is essential and exhaustive. Our Lord is that representation of God which God could not but have. Whatever of glory dwells in the Eternal Father is eternally imaged in His Son.
2. His relation to the universe.
(1) "In Him all things were made," i.e., the creative energy not only passed through Him, as the volume of a river's waters passes through its rock-hewn channels, but the creative energy dwells in Him, belongs to Him, as the life of His life, essentially and eternally.
(2) In Him also all things consist, stand together; in Him the universe finds its unity and coherence. We talk about the laws of nature. If it were possible for us to trace the laws of nature and of history to their point of convergence, we should find that to be nothing less than the personal sovereignty of Jesus Christ.
(3) He is the universal Governor. For Him all things exist, to serve His purpose and to manifest His glory. Jesus Christ is the first, efficient, and final cause of all created existence.
3. Now these separate clauses are dove-tailed into the clause preceding them, "the firstborn," for that expression does not mean that our Lord is the first creature, either in time or in rank. The emphasis must be put upon both adjectives, "firstborn." The primacy of Jesus Christ in the creation is the primacy of birth. He alone is born, not made; all other things are made, not born; and there is a very marked distinction between these two. Our thoughts are born of our intelligence; our works are the product of our hands. The things that we make are outside of ourselves; they may perish, and our being be not affected; but the thoughts that are born within us and of us are a part of our being; when you touch them you touch yourself. Our Lord's place in the universe is that of the firstborn; His own being is rooted in the very being of God, as inseparable from Him as thought is from being. Therefore He is called the Eternal Word of God. Thought always precedes achievement, just as a great cathedral is born in the mind of the architect before the click of a chisel is heard. Even so is Christ the first born of creation as holding in His living thought all the realms and ages. Thus far the essential majesty of the Divine Christ. This is a glory that blinds us, but does not kindle nor transfigure us.
II. The apostle passes to THE GLORY OF HIM WHO TABERNACLED IN HUMAN FLESH. As creation finds in Him its head, unity, and coherence, so also does the kingdom of grace. These are not two systems, joining each other as two circles might have their contact at a single point, or overlapping, but are one, because the sovereignty of each and both is invested in Christ.
1. In His relation to redemption Christ is "the beginning, the firstborn from among the dead," not the first who came forth from the grave in rank or time. His relation to the kingdom of grace as to that of nature is birth, i.e., in Him the resurrection finds its original and eternal home. It is net merely said that He is risen, but that He is "the Resurrection and the Life."
2. As He is said to be the source of spiritual creative energy, so also is it declared that the authority of spiritual control is vested in Him. He is Head of the Church, to whom alone our prayers are to be addressed, and through whom alone the answer of God can come to us. Between us and God there are no hierarchies of principalities and powers, no army of saints and martyrs. The way is clear through Christ. There is but one Mediator. Just as the head interprets, gathers up, and responds to the multitudinous demands of the body that are telegraphed along the nervous filaments of sensation, so also does Christ, as the Head of His Church, interpret her needs and respond to her prayers. The heart does not always pray as do the lips, and our wishes are sometimes very different from our wants: but the great Head of the Church knows how to interpret, and always pierces to the deepest need. And so when the strength of our hands fails us, and our wisdom is staggered by the problems that front us, a larger wisdom and a mightier hope come pulsing into our feebleness.
3. Great prerogatives are these, but they are not a temporary investiture. They belong to Him by eternal right, "for it pleased the Father that in Him all fulness should dwell." Grace has in Him its eternal dwelling place. And so long as the redeemed shall endure will He be their loving and loved Head. For in Him both God and man find their sufficient and eternal reconciliation.
4. This great reconciliation is not merely problematical and partial, it is positive and universal. The tenses are in the past. We are living to-day, not in the dispensation of the wrath of God, but in the dispensation of His redeeming grace. God is sending forth His ministers, bidding all to repent, assuring them that the feast is ready, and that it is only waiting for the guests. The age of demoralization passed away eighteen hundred years ago. The age of reconstruction began when on the cross our Lord said, "It is finished!" That was the burial of the old, as it was the birth of the new; and ever since, and until the end of time, in spite of opposition and apparent defeat, all things have been and shall be working together for good, and surely, though slowly, advancing the cause of God's eternal righteousness.
III. PRACTICAL INFERENCES.
1. We have been led by the apostle to the most exalted conceivable position whence we can look out on the works of God and upon the history of the world. We have been led through all the grades of being, from matter in its crudest form to mind in its loftiest manifestation, and we have seen that in Christ the whole universe of created existence finds its unity and coherence, while the awful struggle of right against wrong, truth against falsehood, find in Him its consummation and ending. This is something that neither science nor philosophy can give. In Him all contradictions are solved between the seen and the unseen, the created and the uncreated, the sin of man and the righteousness of God.
2. If it be true that both creation and redemption find in Christ their living centre, then it is also plain that only in proportion as we enter into the mind of Christ can we understand aright either the works of God, or the history of the race, or the revelation of His character and purposes in Scripture.
3. Here, too, is the only solution of the vexed question of Christian union. How shall that unity be brought about? Certainly not by creeds nor by forms. There is only one name, one sign, that can subdue us all, and that is the sign that must conquer the world, the flaming cross of Jesus Christ. When we bow before that, and all our faces are turned reverently toward the One on the throne, then shall enmity perish, and we shall be one, even as He and the Father are one.
4. The incomparable dignity of our Lord should awaken in us a three-fold attachment.
(1) It should awaken in us a feeling of reverence. As no one of us would think of standing before a throned king without becoming humility, it behoves us when we come into our Creator's presence to bow with reverence at His feet.
(2) But incomparable as is His dignity, it is for ever joined with our common nature; and therefore, while it calls for reverence it also calls for trust. He is the Head of the Church, and therefore we ought to come not only reverently, but confidently and boldly. There ought to be joy as well as reverence in our worship and in our service.
(3) This incomparable dignity ought also to fill us with assurance and courage.
(A. J. F. Behrends, D. D.)
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