As there is ever, more or less, a degree of shadow and sadness connected with the end of the year, so there is generally a measure of brightness and hopeful expectation at its commencement. The mistakes, failures, and disappointments of the past have, so the natural man thinks, been left behind, and the exultant hope of a brighter and more successful experience dawns upon his mind. He forgets the striking observation of the wise man: "That which hath been is now; and that which is to be hath already been; and God requireth that which is past." Man may forget his past in the busy rush of his daily life; but God never does, for He has proclaimed that every man shall be judged according to his works. All, therefore, are accountable to Him, and hence it is written, "As I live, saith the Lord, every knee shall bow to Me, and every tongue shall confess to God. So, then, every one of us shall give account of himself to God." (Romans 14:11, 12.)
Remembering this, living indeed in the constant recollection of it, in view of our manifestation before the judgment-seat of Christ, we desire to call attention to a new commencement, which not only has no disappointments in store, but which also introduces us to the prospect of an eternal day of unclouded joy. This new beginning is CHRIST, Christ in resurrection, Christ as the Firstborn from the dead. To understand this, some consideration must be given to the last descriptive term - the firstborn from the dead. Death is thus pointed out as the close of the old period, and resurrection as the beginning of the new order of things. Death was the consequence of sin; and the cross of Christ, inasmuch as He glorified God there, by enduring all that God's glory required on account of sin - all the judgment due to what we were and what we had done - was really the termination of God's trial of man under responsibility. The first man came to an end there, under the just judgment of God. Until this is seen, there can be no proper apprehension of the significance of the resurrection of Christ.
Together with the disappearance of the first man from the eye of God, the world in which he had lived came under judgment, and its prince was cast out. There was thus, if we may so speak, a clean sweep, the ending up of everything. The first man and his world came under a common doom. But this only gave the occasion for the revelation of the eternal counsels of God. Before the foundation of the world, God, in the sovereignty of His grace, had chosen a people in Christ, that they should be holy, and without blame before Him in love; and the foundation for the accomplishment of these counsels was laid in the death and resurrection of Christ. His death was the end of the responsible man's history in the flesh; His resurrection, while it was the display of His victorious power over sin, death, and Satan, was also the commencement of that new creation, of which He is the centre and the glory, and in which all things are made new, as suited to His condition as the Second Man who is out of heaven.
It must not be forgotten that Christ, in incarnation, was the Second Man; and it is only as we remember this that we can understand the language of John, who speaks of Him as "from the beginning," this "beginning" dating from His introduction into this world. But while He was the Second Man, when He became flesh and dwelt among us, He was not in the condition of the Second Man until after His resurrection. In His life here, He was in the form of a servant, in fashion as a man, "in the likeness of sinful flesh"; in resurrection this was all changed, and now, for the first time, God's eternal thought for man in redemption was realized and set forth. It is on this account that He is termed "the beginning" in our scripture; and the words, "the Firstborn from the dead" are added to mark the fact that He became this in resurrection. The similar expression in Rev. 3:14, "the beginning of the creation of God," differs only in this, that here our attention is directed rather to the nature and character of the new creation, as seen in a risen and glorified Christ.
One word must be said as to the context in Colossians. Immediately after describing our blessed Lord as the Firstborn from the dead, it proceeds, "That in all things He might have the pre-eminence." The apostle had already spoken of Him as the first-born of every creature, or "before all creation," and he explains that this place belongs to Him in virtue of His creatorship: "For by Him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, 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." If, that is, the Creator Himself steps, so to speak, into His own creation, He must, of necessity, take the first place, and this is one of the glories of His supremacy. Then, on introducing us into the new circle of the Church, we are also reminded that He has the first place in it, for He who is the head of His body, the Church, is the Beginning, the Firstborn from the dead, that in all things He might have the pre-eminence. Thus, wherever Christ is, whether regarded as connected with the first creation or the new, He is first - in the absolute pre-eminence of His personal and acquired glories.
But the point to be pressed at this moment is, that if God now dates everything (we speak reverently) from the resurrection of Christ, so must we, if we would be in communion with His mind. Think for one moment of the unspeakable significance of this truth. All men are in a state of spiritual death; and Christians are, by the grace of God, associated with the death of Christ, so that it can be said of them, "Ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God." There is only one Man, therefore, before the eyes of God, only one in life, the Life itself, and this is He who is the Firstborn from the dead. That it is He who is our life is also blessedly true; but it is He who is this, and He is our life in resurrection. He is consequently our new beginning, and, so regarded, His resurrection will be invested with new light and power for our souls. Entering into this, we shall not be occupied with our birth into this world, or with times and seasons, but everything for us will be associated with Christ as risen out of death and glorified.
All will admit the truth of this as doctrine; but what we want is to be in the power of the truth. After a new language is learned, many continue to think in their own, and to translate their thoughts into the new as required. Many Christians are like this. They live the old life, notwithstanding they profess to have died with Christ, and endeavour to use the new life, life in a risen Christ, as the vehicle for the expression of their old thoughts, feelings, and affections. What wonder that constant failure 'narks their path? that their Christian lives are characterized by sorrow and disappointment? New wine must, as our Lord teaches, be put into new bottles. The old life must be refused, and grace must be sought to always bear about in the body the dying of Jesus, that the life also of Jesus may be manifested in our body. Possessing Christ, we then have to learn, that we came to an end before God in His cross, and that our true life is Himself who is the Firstborn from the dead. Then we shall indeed apprehend that He, the risen One, is also our beginning.
It may be further remarked that Christ, as so presented to us, is the Pattern and Model of all the redeemed. As before remarked, in Christ risen and glorified we behold God's eternal thought for all His redeemed; and His servant, Paul, has taught us that God has predestinated us to be conformed to the image of His Son, "that He might be the Firstborn among many brethren." Nothing short of this would correspond with His purpose, or satisfy His heart. Our Lord Himself speaks of the same thing when He says, "For their sakes I sanctify myself, that they also might be sanctified through the truth." The truth of what He is as the glorified Man, although ever the Eternal Son, is the means, brought home to the soul in the power of the Holy Ghost, of bringing us into growing moral conformity to Him now, and into His likeness actually when our bodies also partake of the efficacy of redemption. "As is the heavenly, such are they also that are heavenly. And as we have borne the image of the earthy, we shall also bear the image of the heavenly." What a prospect is thus opened out before the eye of faith! And what an unfolding of the grace of our God, in that He has thus purposed to have us ever before Himself, in eternal association with His beloved Son, and in perfect conformity to His image!
"There Christ, the centre of the throng,
Shall in His glory shine;
But not an eye those hosts among
But sees His glory Thine."
It is, therefore, a great cardinal truth of Scripture, that Christ is the Beginning, the Firstborn from the dead. And what comfort it ministers to our souls to recall the fact that He is the beginning, God's new beginning, as victorious over death, and in a scene outside of and beyond death! We may now anticipate its consummation; for if any man be in Christ [there is] a new creation: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new; and it is but a very little while until the time when God shall wipe away all tears from the eyes of His people; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away. Together with this, the divine proclamation will be made from the eternal throne, "Behold, I make all things new." Blessed is he who, with an assured interest through faith in the efficacy of the finished work of Christ, can look forward with certainty to the perpetual enjoyment of this perfect state with all God's redeemed!