10. — The Firstborn

In Colossians 1, the Son's title, "Firstborn of all creation," is closely associated with that of "Image of the invisible God." The Son of the Father's love is, in a single sentence, declared to be both the one and the other: "Son of His love … Who is Image of the invisible God, Firstborn of all creation." In relation to the Godhead or Deity He is the Image, and in relation to all created things He is the Firstborn; moreover, both these relations are combined in His blessed Person, from which they each take their incomparable character. It is the Son Who is Image and Who is Firstborn.

Representation and dignity underlie these two relations of the Son respectively. In sending His Son into the world, the love of God in respect of us has been manifested (1 John 4:9) for the Son of the Father's love is the Image of the invisible God, representing and displaying Him Who is love.

Also, when that Son is "found in fashion as a man," He is ranked as "Firstborn," for the whole creation pales into insignificance in comparison with the all-surpassing glory of His Person even as, in the essential nature of things, He Who builds the house has much more honour than the house itself (Heb. 3:3). The Creator-Son possesses the dignity of "Firstborn" when by incarnation He enters the sphere of His own creation. This dignity is His inherent right as the Son.

What does "Firstborn" mean?

It is to be noted at the outset that, when applied to the Lord Jesus, "Firstborn" or "First-begotten" is not followed by "Son"; so that we do not read in scripture of "Firstborn Son" as we do of the "Only-begotten Son." We learn, therefore, that the Eternal One Whom we worship is the Firstborn because He is the Son: "His Son … Who is … Firstborn." The Son takes the title of "Firstborn" in His own inherent right of Sonship, eternally possessed, and not as a title acquired by priority of birth or beginning of existence. He is not the Firstborn, because He was the first to be born.

In scriptural usage, the term "firstborn" signifies pre-eminent rights with regard to paternal authority, status, property, and the like. It means, therefore, first of rank in the family, and this foremost rank may or may not arise from order of birth or primogeniture (see 1 Chron. 26:10).

For example, Jacob used the term "firstborn" in this general sense of dignified excellence when blessing his unworthy eldest son, Reuben: "Thou art my firstborn, my might, and the beginning of my strength, the excellency of dignity, and the excellency of power" (Gen. 49:3). Such was the precedence in rank that the title of "firstborn" gave Reuben over the other sons of Jacob, though in his case its value to him and his descendants was to a great extent lost through his own sinful failure.

Now, it will be seen from the context of Col. 1:15 that supremacy and excellence are inseparably associated with the use of the title of "Firstborn" in this passage. The reason why the Son of the Father's love is "Firstborn of all creation" is plainly stated: it is "because by Him were created all things." The Son's degree of superiority is that elevation which the Creator possesses above His own creation. Because the Son made the earth and the heavens, He necessarily, when He appears for our redemption, takes the dignity of "Firstborn" in relation to the earth and the heavens and to all contained in them.

The Firstborn not always the one Born first

Amongst men, priority of birth usually bestows the firstborn rights, but not always. According to the natural order of birth, Esau possessed the birthright, yet it was transferred to Jacob the younger. Although David had many sons of earlier birth than Solomon (1 Chron. 3), yet the regal successional rights to the throne of David were granted to the latter. This is a striking instance, for on that account Solomon appears in the Messianic pedigree, traced through Abraham and David (Matt. 1:6), though he was not the eldest son of David (cf. 1 Kings 2:22). It was God's sovereign grace that conferred this high distinction of "firstborn" upon the son of David and Bathsheba (Ps. 89:27), showing that primogeniture was not always followed for firstborn rights. Solomon was not the first to be born of the sons of David, yet he became the firstborn in the royal family, and inherited the crown of Israel.

Again, we find this distinction holds good when the term is applied nationally. Here, too, "firstborn" implies, not priority in the date of becoming a nation, but an exalted precedence over other nations. For instance, Egypt had a place of eminence among the nations before the call of Abram. Yet, centuries after, before the posterity of Abram were redeemed from bondage, Jehovah's message to Pharaoh was "Israel is My son, even My firstborn … Let My son go" (Ex. 4:22-23).

Later in their history, this same beautiful metaphor was used by Jeremiah in connection with the predicted restoration of the nations of Israel from their scattering among the Gentiles. In the outgoings of Jehovah's "everlasting love," even to the apostate ten tribes, He says, "I will bring them" back, "for I am a Father to Israel, and Ephraim is My firstborn" (Jer. 31:1-9).

Clearly, then, "firstborn" Israel was not the first nation to be formed, for Egypt and many other nations preceded it (Gen. 10); nor was "firstborn" Ephraim the "eldest" of the tribes of Jacob. In each case, "firstborn" indicated a relative position compared with others, and this privilege was not based upon priority of existence, but upon the favour and election of God.

We conclude, therefore, that "firstborn" in scriptural usage does not always mean "the first one to be born of those that are born," but that it does sometimes mean "the first in rank of those that are born." The latter sense is the one in which the term "Firstborn" is applied to our Lord in Colossians 1 and elsewhere, He being the Creator, and not a created being.

The Son styled "Firstborn of all Creation"

In the scriptures, the Holy Spirit sets manifold guards to the sacred Person of the Son Who became flesh. When Jehovah came down upon Mount Sinai in sight of all the people of Israel, He commanded Moses to "set bounds," lest any of them should profanely intrude into the mystery of the divine Presence on the mount (Ex. 19)

And, in Colossians, the Spirit "sets bounds" to guard the glory of the Son. When He mentions that the Son of the Father's love came into the world to secure for us "redemption [through His blood], the forgiveness of sins" (Col. 1:14), He at once affirms His supreme dignity as "Firstborn of all creation" (Col. 1:15) , together with His vast and all-comprehending creatorial work which establishes that dignity beyond all question (Col. 1:16-17). Thus, in the Son of the Father's love, the Holy Spirit has united before our eyes the Creator and the cross, that we may everlastingly adore and worship, love and serve Him, confessing His eternal Sonship-glory, which was undiminished even in the lowest depths of His humiliation, to which He was pleased to descend.

Our Lord is "the second Man," not the first (1 Cor. 15:47), and yet is called "the Firstborn of all creation." The Son is, therefore, accorded the title of "Firstborn," not by reason of the date of the incarnation, which, indeed, was comparatively late in the history of creation and of man.* No, His unequalled and incomparable excellence arises from His own intrinsic glory as Son, displayed by Him in creation and its works.

{*"'Begotten' or 'born,' in relation to the Son in the Godhead, cannot be allowed to mean a point of time, or subsequence … but simply the nearest relationship, or community of nature, between the Son and the Father. Was He or was He not Son from all eternity, as the Father was Father from all eternity? or are we to reason from manhood, and infer that because a father precedes his son, so it is in the Godhead? This I believe to be Arianism, and as baseless in Scripture as in sound reasoning, if we reason from the revealed nature of Godhead." Bible Witness and Review, 1:374.}

It is in this terse account of creation (vers. 16, 17) that the Spirit both testifies to the Son's personal glory, and "sets bounds" to the inquisitive intrusions of the human intellect. In His detailed description of the Son's creative work, He leaves not a single loophole for unbelieving man to suggest an exception, which might seem to invalidate His claim that the Son of the Father's love is the Creator of the whole creation. He created all things both personally in His own right, and instrumentally to the purpose and glory of God. Therefore, according to the Spirit's teaching, nothing can pass the fixed barrier between the Son, the Creator, on the one hand, and, on the other hand, the created, produced by Him. The whole creation sprang into being at His voice and by His hand. The Son, therefore, is before and above the whole creation.

The range of the Son's handiwork described in these brief utterances in Colossians is so extensive that even the mightiest of celestial beings are included. "He is before all" moreover, "all things" now subsist together by Him. Therefore, on these grounds of relative existence and maintenance, the Son takes precedence of all His works. Being Himself Uncreated, Uncaused, He is "Firstborn of all creation."

By this revelation, the Spirit has "set bounds" to isolate thereby the Son in His own proper majesty and transcendent glory, marking off the Creator from the creature by impassable barriers, lest the proud thoughts of man should violate the Son's essential glory by presuming upon His self-humiliation to abase Him still more, on the one hand, and set up some rival to His supremacy, on the other.

"Oh, love beyond all telling,
Beyond all ken or thought,
Which, Thou, O blessed Saviour,
To us from heaven hast brought!
In Thee we see united
Both God and man in one;
Hence power and love unmeasured
Combined in Thee are shown.

The power of the Creator
Gives glory to Thy name;
The love of the Redeemer
Enhances all Thy fame:
Creator and Redeemer,
Almighty Saviour Lord,
The power and love that saved us
For ever be adored."

The Use of the word, "Creature"

"The Firstborn of every creature" (A.V.) is a less faithful rendering of the original than "Firstborn of all creation," and the propriety of this change is acknowledged by scholars generally, the reason being that in this clause "created things" are viewed collectively rather than individually. It is, of course, true that the Creator of the whole creation or the universe is also the Creator of all its parts. And it is equally true that when the Son appears among men "in the likeness of men" He in His own inherent right is "Firstborn of every creature" as well as "Firstborn of all creation." Nevertheless, the correct phraseology adds the maximum beauty and value to the text, as it must always do in every inspired writing, and is always worth seeking on this account.

This particular correction from "creature" to "creation" should itself act as a warning. We must know and respect the "bounds" divinely set to guard the sanctity of the Person of the Son, and we must not allow either our imagination or our logic to trespass upon forbidden ground. We have no liberty to choose our own words in speaking of the Son. And to do so without warrant would be to fall into dangerous and presumptuous error. To this danger we are ever liable, and our only safeguard against our own irreverent fancies and those of others is to cleave implicitly to the precise utterances of the Spirit concerning the Son, "Whom no man knows."

"Man" but not "Creature"

In point of fact, while the ever-blessed Son is in Colossians 1 described as "Firstborn of all creation" (ktisis) , we do not discover in this title nor in any part of scripture that the Son became part of His own creation (ktisis) , nor that He is anywhere in the Holy Spirit's language called a creature (ktisma).

But, as with holy caution we seek to trace the "bounds set" by the Spirit in the names and titles of the Incarnate Son, we read elsewhere that He was made a little lower than the angels. We also find in several places that inspired tongues and pens call Him "Man" in a way which shows us that He became "Man" most truly and definitely. Paul speaks of Him as "the man (anthropos) Christ Jesus" (1 Tim. 2:5), and Peter of Him as "a man (aneer) approved of God among you" (Acts 2:22). Indeed, the Lord speaks of Himself as "a man (anthropos)" (John 8:40). But in vain do we search the scriptures for any reference to that Blessed One as "a creature," and therefore, we feel bound to respect the reserve of the Spirit in this matter, and to restrict ourselves to the language of revelation in regard to the incarnation.

In this connection, we do not forget that words are sometimes used in a poetical or metaphorical sense, but in such instances no one would contend seriously for their literal meaning. The Spirit of Christ in the psalmist, speaking of the Holy Sufferer, said, "I am a worm, and no man" (Ps. 22:6). The expression is a figurative one, and refers to His abandonment upon the cross. And no one sees any contradiction between the "no man" of the Psalm and the Lord's own words of Himself to the Jews, "a Man that has told you the truth" (John 8:40). The language of David is poetical, while that in John is historical and literal, but both are expressive of the truth contained in the two passages respectively. *

{*It is by way of poetical emphasis of Christ's humiliation that "creature" is used in the lines, "Who hast a creature's form assumed That creatures God might know." The licence of the hymn-writer took him beyond the wording of Scripture "the form of a servant." The precision of expository prose is not always found along with the ardour and exuberance of verse.}

But the very suggestion to apply the word, "creature," to the Son in its literal sense is repulsive to our spiritual instincts. Yet some have ventured with more boldness than reverence to do so, and to infer that because the Son is truly God and truly Man, which scripture plainly teaches, they may say with equal accuracy and meetness that He is "God and Creature."

But this inference goes beyond revealed truth. And in view of the significant silence of scripture and the lack of divine permission, it would have been wiser to have said like Job, "I will lay mine hand upon my mouth. … I will proceed no further" (Job 40:4-5). "Man" is authorized by the usage of the Spirit, but "creature" is not.

Let us cultivate a becoming reticence of language in speaking of these Holy Mysteries, and remember that the glories on the Mount of Transfiguration vanished altogether when Peter's depreciatory words concerning the Father's Beloved Son were uttered, though they were spoken sincerely enough. That striking rebuke of the apostle's unruly tongue coming from the cloud of glory is surely recorded for our warning (Mark 9:1-8).

Why is the term, "Creature," avoided in Scripture?

It must always be difficult to assign reasons for the absence of a given word from scripture, but sometimes the positive truths revealed there enable us to discern the propriety of the omission. And the truths revealed concerning the Son certainly indicate that to Him "creature" is an inapplicable word, and derogatory to His glory. We know "the Spirit of truth, and the spirit of error" (1 John 4:6) finding the former throughout the scriptures, and the latter throughout man's commentaries thereon.

"Creature" (ktisma) is a general designation of animated nature, covering in its wide scope every variety of being produced at the will of the Creator. Few words, if any, have a broader significance than "creature," embracing, as it does, everyone and everything except the Creator Himself, God. All, however great their diversity, are included in its range. Gabriel and Satan are both creatures. So were Pharaoh and Moses, Herod and John the Baptist, Nero and Paul. The lion and the lamb, the eagle that flies and the worm that crawls are alike creatures. Creaturehood is their nature, and they can have no other. But we will never use the confusing and dishonouring, because ambiguous, word, "creature," of the Blessed Lord Jesus, but rather, like one of old, confess to Him with adoring fervour, "Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God."

We believe that it is in the wisdom of God, guarding thereby the glory of the Son, that "creature" is withheld from every scriptural designation of Him. The Holy Spirit avoided every ambiguous word that might lead us to think less worthily of the Son than we ought to think. It is true that we may safely affirm that every man is a creature, but obviously we cannot even in human speech say that every creature is a man. And if we were to say of a certain man that he is but "a poor creature," it would be understood that we spoke of that man with some disparagement and contempt. And there lies the danger that a similar element of disparagement and contempt would be conveyed by us when this word is applied to our Lord, and that in consequence His name would be blasphemed among His enemies by us, and His glory dimmed in our own eyes to some extent.

Let us, therefore, moved by reverence and godly fear, refrain from using this unauthorized word when speaking of the Lord. Neither let us ignore these particular boundaries of revealed truth concerning the Son set up by the Spirit of God to safeguard His glory. We are not entitled to call Him "creature," because He is Man, any more than we are entitled to call Him "Brother" because He calls us His "brethren" (Heb. 2:11-12).

The Son in Manhood

It is a revealed truth that the Son at His incarnation became "Man." The words of scripture are distinct and definite that the Lord from heaven was the Second Man (anthropos), 1 Cor. 15:47. Being Man, He was, therefore, of that class in the diversified orders of earthly creaturehood, to which God assigned the rank of highest eminence and the office of earthly government. The first man received this place of superiority by the express appointment of Jehovah, Who breathed into Adam's nostrils the breath of life. Hence, man by the exceptional manner of his creation is distinguished from other created beings on the earth, all of which were from the beginning placed under his dominion (Gen. 1:28; Gen. 2:7). The Lord Jesus during His earthly ministry frequently spoke of Himself as "the Son of man."

But, while man (anthropos) by his special creation is the noblest class of God's creatures on the earth, we must not forget what degradation sin has brought upon that class. Adam was the earthly creature who sinned, introducing death and judgment to his whole race (Rom. 5:12) , and also as a consequence of his sin, subjecting the whole creation to vanity (Rom. 8:20). But now the grace of God which carries with it salvation for all men (anthropos) has appeared (Titus 2:11). And as "by man (anthropos) came death, by man (anthropos) came also the resurrection of the dead" (1 Cor. 15:21).

Accordingly, the Lord Jesus was in due time made a little lower than the angels for the suffering of death (Heb. 2:9). In becoming man, He became a little lower than the angels for man's redemption. Scripture teaches us this measure of His descent for our meditation and praise but it does not teach us that He was made "lower" than man, as well as angels; nor does it introduce the vague term, "creature," in speaking of His humiliation. The gospel is that even as by one man sin entered into the world, so God's free gift in grace is by the One Man, Jesus Christ (Rom. 5:12, 19). In describing the Incarnate Son and His work, "man" is specified, but "creature" is avoided.

The Mediator, the Man Christ Jesus

Therefore, when the Son of the Father's love came in flesh into His own creation, He appeared as Man, truly and in all respects as a Man, sin excepted. The Son Incarnate is the Mediator, for "God is one, and the Mediator of God and men one, [the] man Christ Jesus" (1 Tim. 2:5). In this great mystery, the Holy Spirit speaks of manhood, never of creaturehood. Godhead and manhood are, in the text just quoted, declared to be the comprehending limits of this mediatorship. To extend or to modify these limits by the introduction of "creaturehood" is a foolish disregard of the precision of scriptural language. Our Mediator is the Man Christ Jesus. The Son stooped "down to man's estate and dust" "For man — oh, miracle of grace! For man, the Saviour bled."

This truth of the Son in manhood touches us very deeply, ourselves by nature being of this sinful race. We would fain break out in exulting and adoring praise for God's great love wherewith He loved us, sending His Son into the world that we might know His love. We marvel more and more at the grace and glory of the Eternal Son, Who deigned to become Man for the accomplishment of His redeeming work, Firstborn of all creation, though taking upon Himself the bondman's form, and also the Mediator of God and men.

When we read of the Son on earth, moving visibly among His own dependent creation, we find the unerring pen of the Holy Spirit describes Him as "Man." We are amazed at the "mind which was in Christ Jesus," when we behold the Incarnate Son ranked in the highest order of terrestrial beings, but pre-eminent in humility — the "Man approved of God." It is an eternal wonder that He became a Man at all, and still more that, being so, He should humble Himself yet further — so far as the death of the cross. There and then did He descend into "the lowest deeps" of shame, suffering and abandonment for the glory of God.

But up to and throughout that awful cataclysm of judicial woe upon the cross the Incarnate Son passed with unvaried nature. Neither His suffering for sins nor the suffering of death made him "lower" than man. Indeed, it was needful that as Man He should be there for men. It was as Son of man that He gave His life a ransom for many; it was as Son of God He "loved me, and gave Himself for me;" so we read, and so we believe.

We are encouraged to continue our meditations upon this sublime theme because we learn from the apostle's prayer in Colossians 1 that the character of our walk will be improved in proportion to our knowledge of the essential glories of the Son. A progressive walk is shown to be dependent upon our progress in the "full knowledge" of the will of God in all wisdom and spiritual understanding, and upon our progress too in the "full knowledge" of God Himself (Col. 1:9-10). And this "full knowledge" involves, as is clear from the revelations in the subsequent verses, the "spiritual understanding" of the essential glories of the Son, to Whose fellowship we have been called. May they be to our edification and our growth in the knowledge of Him as a result of these meditations.

These revelations were originally communicated to counteract the mischievous teachings that were then spreading among the Colossian saints. Man's imagination was engaged in the unhallowed and unlicensed occupation of defining the personal nature of our Lord. This gave occasion for the rich and precious unfoldings of His personal glories revealed by the Holy Spirit in this Epistle. And these unfoldings are now the special portion of all those who have been translated by the Father into the kingdom of the Son of His love (Col. 1:13). Let us seek to receive them as such in all "lowliness of mind."

Worshipping the Creator and Redeemer

In this kingdom of light and love, as we surely are, we shall not tire of sitting at the feet of the Firstborn to ponder again and again His unique and incomparable excellences as they are set out in these verses. Here we see the vast panorama of the whole creation, visible and invisible, unrolled before us in its staggering immensities; and here we learn that the One "in Whom we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins," is the Creator and Sustainer of it all!

As we see this creatorial glory of the Son of the Father's love reaching back in its potentiality ere time began, is not a chord of deepest adoration struck immediately within our souls? Can we not anticipate the song of praise by restored Israel to their Creator God, and say to one another, "Oh, come, let us worship and bow down; let us kneel before the Lord our Maker" (Ps. 95:6)? If we do sit unmoved now as we read verses 15-17, we shall not when we see Him "as He is."

Then we shall fall down before Him that sits upon the throne, and worship Him that lives to the ages of ages. Then shall we cast our crowns before the throne, and say, "Thou art worthy, O our Lord and [our] God, to receive glory and honour and power; for Thou hast created all things, and for Thy will they were, and they have been created" (Rev. 4:11).

We unfeignedly bless God for these precious unveilings (Col. 1:15-18) of the eternal past of the Son of His love. For we note that all the fifteen pronouns in verses 15 to 20 inclusive are in apposition with the noun, Son (Col. 1:13). Each dependent sentence, therefore, declares some fresh glory of the Son, to Whom they all relate, and in Whom they all combine with a transcendent harmony. The sight of His glories moves us to exclaim, like the bride of old, "My beloved is to me a cluster of henna-flowers in the vineyards of Engedi" (Cant. 1:14).

The Son Before All Things

Moreover, the pre-existence of the Son is affirmed in the passage with remarkable definiteness. We read, "He is before all things" (Col. 1:17). The important stress laid on the subject in this simple sentence must not be overlooked. The special force of the pronoun is perhaps lost to the English reader, but in the original Greek the emphatic pronoun, autos, is employed, which means, very self. So that it is declared that "He Himself," or "His very self" is "before all things." It is He (that is, the Son) and no other. The Person of the Son preceded the universe, and He is also the universal Cause.

Again, while the pronoun establishes the Son's external personality "before all things," the verb establishes His existence prior to all created things: "He is," not was, "before all things" and beings. It is the scriptural phrase signifying absolute, timeless existence. The Holy Spirit uses it here of the Son, as Jesus did of Himself, when He said to the Jews, "Before Abraham was, I am" (John 8:58), and as God said of Himself to Moses, when sending him to the children of Israel, "I am has sent me to you" (Ex. 3:14).

With what simple force and what ravishing beauty this brief sentence in verse 17 immediately follows the recital of the creatorial glory of the Son, Who is the Image of the Invisible God, the Firstborn of all creation! He! this Very One, ever-existing, ever-living — the Firstborn — is before all things! This short statement makes the Son's pre-existence very clear to the simplest of us; and indeed the Father's revelations concerning the Son are written for His "babes" (Matt. 11:25). May we be preserved from the wisdom and prudence of this age, which blind the heart to the eternal beauties in the Son, often using as a veil the words of good men.

The "all things" which the Son precedes in existence are His creation. Is it not a joy to our souls to meditate upon this greatness and majesty of our Lord? Are not our very hearts thrilled as we remember that the heavens and the earth are "the work of His fingers"? All things! whether we consider the universe and its contents in terms of space — the heavens, the earth, the sea —; or in terms of time — the past reaching back to the beginning of all, the present filling our life's little day, the future with endless ages beyond — we know that the Son, in Whom we now behold the Father's love, is before all, for "by (en, in virtue of) Him all things were created."

Thus, we have seen in our meditation upon this phrase, "He is before all things," that the Son's eternal existence as the Son of the Father's love is thereby affirmed. The term, "Firstborn," as we have seen, is expressive of the pre-eminent dignity and worth creationwards belonging to the Son because He is the Creator of all. In fact, the whole context forbids us to think that "first" is used as an adverb of time, or that "born" implies that the Son was "born before all creation"; but confirms the thought that "Firstborn" expresses, not His origin, but His relation to the universe.

The Son Supreme in Creation, but not Independent

It may be convenient for purposes of reference to place together the statements in verses 16, 17 concerning the Son's relations to the universe as Creator and Sustainer.

(1) By (en, in virtue of) Him all things were created;

(2) By (dia, by means of) Him all things were created;

(3) For (eis, the end and object) Him [all were created];

(4) By (en, in virtue of) Him all things consist (ver. 17).

From these revelations we learn that the Son of the Father's love has a fourfold relationship to the whole creation or universe, each differing but all harmonizing.

(1) The Son acted in virtue of His own power in creation.

(2) The Son acted as the direct instrument in creation.

(3) The Son's honour and glory are the end of creation.

(4) The Son's power upholds the whole creation.

These Colossian truths are revealed to us in sequence that we may see their marvellous correlation, which exists only because of the Deity of the Son. First (1) , we behold His absolute supremacy, for He created all things in virtue of His own inherent power and right. Then (2) , by changing the preposition from en to dia (not observable in the A.V.), the Spirit unfolds that in the work of creation the Son "acted instrumentally for God the Father's glory."

While, therefore, the Son in His own personal right is the Active Cause of all creation, He also in that same work acted, not independently, but mediately. What was done by Him was the act of the full Godhead, even as we read in Genesis, that Elohim said, "Let US make man in OUR image" (Gen. 1:26). So in Eph. 3:9 (where "by Jesus Christ" is omitted in revised versions) God is said to be the Creator of all.

Thus, from these revelations recorded by the Holy Spirit, faith discerns the communion of the Son with the Father even in pre-creation days; for in the work of creation the Son according to the inscrutable relations in the Godhead acted both in His own right and on behalf of Another; there ever existed absolute community of nature and purpose between the Father and the Son.

This truth of the eternal unity of the Father and the Son becomes very sweet to us as well as marvellous when we recollect that it is illustrated in the preservation of Christ's sheep as well as in the making of the worlds. None can pluck them out of My hand; none can pluck them out of My Father's hand; I and My Father are One; said the Good Shepherd (John 10:29-30). The unity of the Father and the Son is displayed both in the circle of creation and in the circle of redemption.

Created for Him and Upheld by Him

Further, we again see how the intrinsic glory of the Son is protected by "a wall, great and high." The Spirit, having spoken (2) of the Son as the Agent in creation, jealous to maintain the pre-eminence and purity of the Son's glory untarnished before our eyes, lest our minds should even for a moment entertain the thought that this agency in creation involves anything derogatory to His Immutable Being, adds the clause, "and for (eis) Him" (3). As the Son is the First, so He is the Last. While all things were created through Him, it is at the same time true that all things were created for His glory. The purpose of creation is focused in the Son. The universe exists for the glory of the Son, even as it does for the glory of the Lord God Almighty, Who was, and Who is, and Who is to come (Rev. 4:8-11).

Hence, as we by the enabling of the Holy Spirit look behind the whole scheme of creation, we see that the Son fills no secondary or subordinate place. He alone is the Supreme Architect and Builder, and He is also the end and object of its existence. But even more is revealed. To enhance His glory yet further, the Spirit gives the additional revelation that "all things subsist together by (in virtue of) Him," (4). The Son's omnipotence continues in unceasing activity towards the universe. The Son of the Father's love maintains the existence and energy and functioning of all created things, ever and always.

This knowledge of the Son is truly wonderful in our eyes, beloved. But having this knowledge of the Son, Whom no one knows save the Father (Matt. 11:27), communicated to us by the Father, let us not fail to honour the Son of His love, both in His creative and in His judicial and redemptive glory, even as we honour the Father (John 5:22-23).

The early Entrance of Leavening Doctrine

No doubt these truths concerning the Son have a prophylactic value, to use a medicinal term. They not only promote spiritual health, but they prevent doctrinal disease. They were unfolded to the saints at Colosse to destroy the germs of poisonous theories regarding the Person of the Lord, even then existing among them. It is well-known that these germs afterwards developed rapidly, notwithstanding this testimony of the Holy Spirit against them and by the fourth century they had become widespread heterodoxies, corrupting the churches in all directions.

The evil doctrines rampant at that time were of many varieties, but the notorious Arius taught that the Son was a secondary God, created by the Father before all worlds, that He was the very highest of all creatures, and that by Him as a subordinate all things were created. This subtle but deadly blow at the full Deity of our Lord was virtually anticipated and condemned in the Colossian Epistle as well as in other parts of scripture. The truths of its first chapter that have been before us in these pages give the direct lie to this damnable doctrine.

It may perhaps be inquired why any mention should be made in these meditations of such false and wicked thoughts of a bygone age. But alas, when evil and perverse things are once spread among the saints, their pernicious influence persists among the people of God both at the time and in succeeding generations. Arius died in A.D. 336, but Arianism and kindred errors, though formally condemned, have never been thoroughly eradicated. During the past sixteen centuries, the hateful teaching has revived over and over again in varying forms under various names.

And, in our day, as might be expected when Christendom is fast filling to the full its cup of apostasy, the doctrine of the full Deity of the Son is assailed with as great, if not greater, vehemence than ever. At any rate, the outbreaks occur with alarming frequency, and in the least expected quarters, sometimes violently, sometimes speciously, but in effect always denying in some way the revealed glories of the Son of God, and bringing pain to every faithful heart.

Warning against Infection

The reply, therefore, to the suggested inquiry is that, on account of the present perilous times, the matter is mentioned by way of warning against the present danger that is threatening the saints. And it is noteworthy that in this very context (Col. 1:28) , the apostle, as a preacher of Christ, links "warning" with "teaching" as a Christian duty; "warning every man, and teaching every man." It was because of the menace to the faith in its very groundwork that the apostle's letter had the double character of admonition and exposition. In an epidemic, precautionary measures are broadcast for the public safety, while in normal times these protective measures are not required. Dangerous departure from the truth at Colosse called forth the apostolic ministry suitable to correct such departure. The knowledge of the truth is the appointed safeguard against every lie (1 John 2:21), and the only effective one.

The erroneous notion that the Ever-blessed Son was inferior to God, because, as it was alleged, He was created to act as God's deputy in the work of creation, is completely exploded by these concise utterances of the Spirit, simple, yet sublime in their simplicity. The perverse and evil allegations of the heretic were anticipated by the Spirit of truth, Who revealed that in creation the Son exercised the incommunicable powers of the Deity, and is therefore "over all, God blessed for ever. Amen" (Rom. 9:5).

Was it said in the fourth century by these traducers that the Son was subordinate in Deity when He created all things? The apostle speaking by the Spirit had in the first century shown that not only was the universe created by (dia) the Son as the active Instrument, but the universe was created by (en) Him, that is, in virtue of His own personal, intrinsic (not derived) power (ver. 16). There was no subordination in the Deity, but in the work of creation the Son was Principal as well as Agent, acting in His own proper personal right, while acting also in absolute co-operation with the Father. As the Son said, "My Father works hitherto, and I work" (John 5:17), intimating, as the Jews to whom He was speaking understood, that He was equal with, not subordinate to God.

We rejoice to know that the Blessed Son of the Father was obedient in a glory of perfection throughout His pathway of service. We remember that He said Himself, "The Son can do nothing of Himself, but what He sees the Father do." His whole life was a complete conformation to the Father's own activities. And this glory we beheld, writes the apostle.

But, as if to guard against any carnal conclusion that this obedience of the Son implies His subordination in the Godhead, the Son added, "What things soever He (the Father) does, these also does the Son likewise" (John 5:19). There is, therefore, in essential Being and essential Doing, perfect equality between the Father and the Son. Moreover, this "doing" of the Son of the Father's love includes the creation of all things, as we are taught in the Epistle to the Colossians.

The Son No Creature either Before or After Incarnation

While all thought of the Son's subordination in Deity is contrary to Colossians 1, so also is the blasphemous assertion that He is a creature, first and highest of all creatures, but yet a creature. This scripture declares that He is the Creator of "all things," using this comprehensive phrase four times in the two verses (16, 17). The Creator is not a creature; He creates, but is not created. The Son created all, but He did not create Himself.

Yet some, who would not apply the unbecoming term, creature, to the Son in His eternal essence, do not hesitate to apply it to Him in His incarnation. They declare that the holy humanity of our Blessed Lord was a special creation, and on this unfounded assumption they claim that it is permissible to speak of Him as a "creature."

But there is not a word of scripture to justify this use of the ugly, unsavoury expression. The Holy Spirit does not write of the Lord as a creature, nor as One created either before the worlds were made, or at His incarnation. We read of His birth, not of His creation. Why not let holy sobriety and godly prudence govern our language in matters like this, wherein the utmost scrupulousness is demanded? We should beware of adding any words of our own choosing to the scriptural vocabulary concerning the Son.

Woman-born, Not Created

In the word of God, the incarnation of the Son is recorded, not as a creation, but as a birth: we read that "the birth of Jesus Christ was on this wise …" (Matt. 1:18; Matt. 2:1). God created Adam the first man, but Eve gave birth to Cain and Abel (Gen. 1:27; Gen. 4:1-2). In the case of Adam, life in maturity was directly bestowed by Jehovah upon the inanimate dust of the ground, of which man was formed by his Creator; but in the case of Cain and Abel, their infant life was received by transmission from their living parents. And the whole of Adam's race began their being in a similar manner.

Now the manner of our Lord's entrance into the world was by birth, not by special creation as Adam's. His imminent birth with its miraculous character was specially announced to Mary by the angel, who said to her in her virginity, "The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee: therefore also that Holy Thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God" (Luke 1:35). In these words, the personal agency of the Holy Spirit acting in unspeakable power upon Mary is plainly promised, and also the consequent birth of the "Holy Thing" to be called Son of God.

It is, however, a mere gloss upon this text to claim that according to its teaching the Lord's "holy humanity was created" — that it was "brought into existence by the creative act of the Holy Spirit of God." Nothing is stated here or elsewhere in scripture which implies that the birth of Jesus Christ was "a creative act," that is, in the sense that the birth was a production of something from nothing. Such a theory rests upon the imagination of man, not upon revealed fact in scripture.

Son of God Before and When Born

The manner in which the overshadowing power of the Highest wrought upon Mary is not described. She herself declared, "He that is Mighty has done to me great things; and holy is His name" (Luke 1:49). But, whatever the secret and inscrutable operation of the Holy Spirit, divine power ensured that He Who was born of Mary was called the Son of God. The fullness of time had come, and God "sent forth His Son, come of woman" (Gal. 4:4). It was His own Son Whom God so sent, "in likeness of flesh of sin" for the condemnation of sin in the flesh (Rom. 8:3).

Sonship is plainly predicted of Him Who was born of the virgin Mary. He was Son of God before His birth, for God sent His own Son; and He was Son of God after His birth, for this was His name according to Gabriel's instructions to the mother (Luke 1:35), while Isaiah's prophecy (Isa. 7:14) was fulfilled also, according to which His name was Immanuel, that is, God with us (Matt. 1:22-23). As then He was God both before and after His birth, so He was Son of God both before and after His birth.

The Seed of the Woman

Here, in Bethlehem, was the Seed of the woman, as dimly foretold in Eden (Gen. 3:15); and therefore the birth is unparalleled in human history. But its marvel of marvels is that the Holy One of God was born without taint of sin of a woman who herself was born in sin and shapen in iniquity (Ps. 51:5), a state true of every member of the whole race. The explanation of the unique miracle was given to Joseph by the angel of the Lord; "that which is conceived (or begotten) in her is of the Holy Ghost" (Matt. 1:20). By His sacred and pervasive influence, every trace of evil was excluded and every risk of contamination was avoided. Speaking in typical language, the fine flour was kneaded with oil. And He Who was born of Mary was the thrice-holy Son of God.

With the profoundest gratitude and praise it is recognized that this event was of God in a manner that no like event has ever been, or ever will be. The virgin birth of Jesus was unique, marvellous, miraculous, as a birth. At that point of time "the Word became flesh." This is scriptural language, but we do not read that this "flesh" was created, as is sometimes stated without adequate authority.*

{*If it be said, by way of palliation, that "creating" is employed, not in the absolute sense of calling out of nothingness into being, but in the secondary sense of fashioning by divine power out of something already created, it may very properly be inquired why "creating" should be used at all in this solemn connection? If "creation" has this ambiguous sense, why not avoid the term altogether, as scripture does?

The attempt made to justify this unwholesome phrasing by a quotation from J.N.D. (Coll. Writings, vol 10, p. 521) stultifies itself. It should have been seen from the passage itself that J.N.D. deliberately refrains from applying the word, "creature," to the Lord. He is speaking of the "personal connection, in incarnation, between God and the creature — God and man in one person."

Now, in these words, J.N.D. first refers to "God and the creature"; and by the latter term, he plainly alludes to Rom. 8:20-22 — to the creature in bondage to corruption, whose deliverance will come about through the Incarnate Son. But J.N.D. does not write "God and creature in one person," but "God and man in one person." It was in becoming man, that the Son was the "personal connection" "between God and the creature." The two commas enclosing the words, "in incarnation," which appear in the Coll. Wr., but which are omitted in two reprints of the words, make the meaning of the author clear and unmistakable. His reference is to the mediatorial, not the creatorial, connection between God and the creature.

W.K.'s words have also been forced out of their contextual meaning with a like object. W.K. does not speak of the Lord becoming a creature, but of His being in the place or sphere where the creatures of His hand were. His words, which occur in a condensed report of his lectures, cannot be so construed without violence. He says, "He never took the creature place until He became a man, and then must needs be the first-born. Even if He had been the last-born literally, He must still be the first-born." And again, "He was firstborn, because He Who entered the sphere of human creaturedom was the Creator, and therefore must necessarily be the firstborn" (Lectures on the Colossians, pp. 19, 20). The phrases, "the creature place," and "the sphere of human creaturedom," clearly refer to His environment, and not to His person, as some have assumed.}

Indeed, it is inaccurate and misleading, seeing it is a plain departure from scripture, to assert that the human nature of Christ was created (that is, formed out of nothing) in the virgin's womb. Mary undoubtedly had her part in the sacred mystery, as the angel said to her, "Thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son" (Luke 1:31). But to assert that the Lord's "holy humanity was created by a creative act of the Holy Spirit" is in effect to deny the angel's words to Mary herself concerning her conception.

Scripture does not divide between the Deity and the humanity of the Incarnate Son, even in the womb of the virgin. Believing that the Person of the Eternal Son abode unchanged and unchangeable when He became the woman's Seed, we are content to be ignorant because we are confident that the method of the Incarnation is inexplicable to the human mind, though scripture describes it so simply as "the birth of Jesus Christ" (Matt. 1:18).

The Body Prepared

In the Epistle to the Hebrews, the Holy Spirit applies to the coming of the Lord into the world a quotation from Psalm 40, in which the Son, the Messiah, describes His own incarnation: "a body hast Thou prepared (or, framed) Me" (Heb. 10:5). There is no hint of "creation" here, but in this important passage, where the mind of the Spirit is to teach us the unique nature of that body, so that "the body of Jesus Christ" was suited to become the sacrificial offering to God "once for all" (ver. 10), the word "created" is avoided, and "prepared" is used. On account of its peculiar origination this "body" had its own special feature, which was its intrinsic and unequalled holiness, secured by the agency of the Holy Spirit, in order that the Son's obedience "to death, even the death of the cross" might be displayed therein.

The Son was pleased to assume this body in His incarnation. Becoming flesh was His mode of entrance into the place of a Servant that He might reveal the Father in a world of spiritual darkness and moral squalor. Consequently, by His incomparable life and ministry in that precious body, we are made privy to divine relations between the Father and the Son, which are recorded in John and elsewhere.

Moreover, in the Son's disclosures on earth of these inscrutable heavenly intimacies, the Father's glory suffered no tarnish. Nay, such was the exquisite perfection and fullness of the Son's service that this glory was even enhanced in consequence. Hence, viewing His path from the point of its completion, the Son said to the Father, "I have glorified Thee on the earth." On the earth! In this wilderness world, shrouded, as it is, in uncomprehending darkness (John 1:5), God, Who is Light and Love, has been fully manifested by the Son in His humiliation and obedience; and His lowly labours were crowned with the Father's glory. What a body was needful for such high displays! "A body hast Thou prepared Me." Precious body! Priceless, sinless, humanity was there! Yet in "likeness of sinful flesh" to become a sacrifice for sin (Rom. 8:3)! It was He Who "bare our sins in His own body on the tree" (1 Peter 2:24).

"Lo, I come" was the joyous utterance of the Son in the eternal past, no less than in the due time when He assumed the prepared body in the time and manner appointed for His coming into the world (Heb. 10:5). "He was to come by the woman, more fully man thus than Adam, but conceived of the Holy Spirit, as was neither Adam nor any other: so truly did God fit a body for the Son that even in human nature He alone should be the Holy One of God.

"Not otherwise would it have suited the Son, either as the constant object of the Father's delight all through the days of His flesh, as the adequate vessel of the Holy Spirit's power in service, or as the sin-offering at last. How different from us, who even when born of God are anointed only as under the efficacy of His blood! His body was the temple of God without blood" (W.K., Exposition of the Epistle to the Hebrews, p. 181).

The Created "New Thing" of Jeremiah

An attempt has been made by some to justify the application of the term, "creature," to our Lord by a reference to one of the prophecies of Jeremiah, as if it foretold the birth of Jesus Christ from a virgin, and spoke of the birth as a creation of Jehovah. The actual words of the prophet alluded to are, "The Lord (Jehovah) has created a new thing in the earth, A woman shall compass a man" (Jer. 31:22).

It is assumed by these expositions that, seeing the Lord's birth in time was absolutely unique in character, His birth was the "new thing" which Jehovah promised to create in the earth; and on this supposition the conclusion is based that it is scriptural to speak of the Lord as a "creature."

But, on examination, their bold interpretation of Jeremiah's prophecy seems far-fetched, and to lack the support of the context. There is possibly some confusion, too, with Isaiah's prophecy (Isa. 7), which clearly predicts that, through the conception of a virgin, God (Immanuel) will be with His people for their ultimate deliverance from their enemies, though the land of Judah will previously be desolated by the overwhelming power of the king of Assyria.

But Jeremiah's theme is distinct from that of the earlier prophet. He does not set forth, like Isaiah, a coming Deliverer of the house and lineage of David, but the heartfelt repentance, especially of Ephraim, the idolatrous house of Israel, which will be the moral preparation for the restoration to blessing of the whole nation. It is not, as in Isaiah, the Saviour God appearing among the people by a marvellous birth, but the cleansing of their inward parts to receive the new covenant that Jehovah will make with the house of Israel and the house of Judah (Jer. 31:31-34). Jeremiah therefore foretells that the restored people themselves will be a "new thing" created in the earth.

Truly, the later prophet, like Isaiah, speaks of a "virgin" (ver. 21), but not in connection with the miraculous advent of their Messiah and Deliverer. Jeremiah's reference is definitely to "the virgin of Israel," whom he also addresses as "Thou backsliding daughter." In the "new thing" the prophet has in view those who will be blessed, not the One Who will bless them. He sees that in the day of restoration the virgin remnant of Israel will keep herself morally pure, and free from all defilement with the idolatry of Babylon (see Rev. 14:3-5). Jeremiah's promise is that Israel shall in that day turn again to the cities of the land (ver. 21) from which she had been driven. It may be added that he uses this same figure, "virgin," in connection with the nation in other parts of his prophecies (Jer. 14:17; Jer. 18:13; Jer. 31:4).

In the next verse, the prophet refers to the end of Israel's scattering among the nations, of their wandering on the earth for their sins as vagabonds, like branded Cain: "How long wilt thou wander about (or, hither and thither) , thou backsliding daughter?" The answer to this question is, until the day of their national repentance. And then immediately the prophet goes on by a striking metaphor to show how this restoration will be caused: "For Jehovah has created a new thing in the earth, a woman shall encompass a man."

The "new thing" is the real, Spirit-wrought, penitence of both Judah and Ephraim, and their joint establishment in their own land in the days of the new covenant. This repentance of both the houses of Israel will be an unprecedented event in the long history of the stiff-necked and obdurate generation. Then the people shall confess their guilt (Isa. 53) , and lament for their sins; and there shall be the "great mourning in Jerusalem" (Zech. 12:10-14).

This unanimous repentance Jehovah Himself will "create," for He will pour out upon them the spirit of grace and supplications (Zech. 12:10). The change of the nation's heart by the removal of the veil upon it (2 Cor. 3:16) is the work of the God of their fathers, Who raised up Jesus, and exalted Him "for to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins" (Acts 5:30-31). Jehovah will "create" in them a clean heart, as David, a type of the remnant in his blood-guiltiness, prayed for himself (Ps. 51:10). He will make a new heart and a new spirit in His people, taking away their stony heart, as Ezekiel prophesied (Ezek. 11:19; Ezek. 36:26).

The Woman of Weakness and the Man of Strength

Truly, a strikingly "new thing" on the earth will be seen in the millennial day when the people of Israel who during so many, many centuries had disobeyed Jehovah both under law and under grace, and who had rejected their Messiah both in His humiliation and in His exaltation, turn at long last to the Lord, owning their presumptuous sins and proving His abundant mercy. The whole world's wonder in that day will be that the unclean nation has then become holy to the Lord, that the little has become great, and the weak strong.

For how few and feeble will the Jewish remnant be that shall be saved! Only the "third part" will be brought through the consuming fires of the great tribulation, but to that "little flock," Jehovah will say, "It is My people" (Zech. 13:9), and He will hear their prayers and give them the kingdom. But it will be when they are in their weak and broken state nationally, that they will look to God, Who will be their strength; then, as the prophet expressively said, "a woman shall encompass a man."

We take it, then, that in this bold and vigorous metaphor, "woman" is used as a symbol of the nation of Israel in her state of confessed weakness and fear immediately before her restoration. The use of this particular metaphor by Jeremiah is not an isolated instance in prophetic language. Isaiah also employs the same figure to convey a condition of weakness and apprehension in the nation of Egypt: "In that day shall Egypt be like women; and it shall be afraid and fear because of the shaking of the hand of the Lord of hosts" (Isa. 19:16). "Woman" as a figure of effeminacy occurs also in Isa. 3:12; Jer. 51:30; Nahum 3:13.

As "woman" figuratively signifies feebleness, so "man" is the symbol of strength, stated in contrast. In this passage (Jer. 31:22) , great power is the sense emphatically, because the word used in the original (gever) means a mighty man. It is not the more frequent word for man (enosh) , which means man in his frailty.

When, therefore, "a woman shall encompass a man," the weak nation shall become possessed of strength. This forcible promise of Jehovah instills the hope that the utter weakness of the remnant of Israel will in a future day be the chosen occasion for the display, on their part in a way never before seen on the earth, of preternatural national strength, which He, the God of their strength, will supply.

The Order of Nature reversed

The ways of God in His sovereign mercy and grace seldom follow the laws He Himself has established for His human creatures. They strike us by contrast, not by comparison. Therefore, the ultimate outpouring of His mercy upon unbelieving Israel will in man's judgment seem an anomaly in God's righteous dealing with nations. And this arresting character of His restoring mercy to the Jews has been anticipated by the Holy Spirit in the metaphor we are considering.

That a woman should encompass a man is contrary to the original order set up at the creation. At the beginning, the woman was created for the man, and not the man for the woman; headship was bestowed upon Adam, not upon Eve (1 Cor. 11:9). But, according to this prophetic figure, Jehovah will, in due course, create a "new thing" nationally involving the reversal of the natural order of earthly government. In the millennium, world empire will not be held by the nation possessing an irresistible might over all others, but supreme power and authority in the earth will be seen resting upon a nation long notorious among men for her womanly weakness.

What status at present have the wandering seed of Abraham among the peoples of the earth! No king, no territory, no army, no navy, no temple, no priesthood! But in her revival, of which Jeremiah speaks, the repentant nation will "encompass" or possess a marvellous strength, whereby all her mighty foes shall be utterly overthrown. Then the resuscitated nation will be like the forlorn and destitute Ruth, come to Bethlehem from the land of idolatry; claiming kinship of the opulent Boaz (the man of strength, as his name implies) , and in that imparted strength from him building the house of Israel in glory (Ruth 4:9-12).

No Reference to the Virgin Birth

In this examination of this prophecy, we have been unable to discover any foundation for the claim of some interpreters that Jeremiah, in this somewhat obscure language, foretold the birth of our Lord. Also, it appears to be an unwise and unfounded assumption that this prophecy in any way supports the statement that the Incarnation was a special "creation" by Jehovah, or affords any licence to speak of our adorable Lord as a "creature."

It may be added for further confirmation that in this passage, the word "woman" (neqebah) does not signify a virgin or unmarried maiden (almah), the latter term being the one used in Isaiah 7:14, which has direct prophetic reference to Mary, the virgin "mother of Jesus." There is, therefore, no identity between the two predictions, nor analogy even, except that both relate to a "new thing," and Scripture tells of many "new" things.

There have been many surmises as to the precise meaning of the passage, but the most satisfactory interpretation of Jeremiah's veiled language is that it is a prediction of the recovery of Israel in the hour of her extreme weakness and dire persecution. It will be remembered that in the Apocalypse, John sees the nation under the figure of a persecuted woman, fled into the wilderness, and the great red dragon making war with the remnant of her seed (Rev. 12). Nevertheless, Israel will eventually receive invincible strength, and will be the conquering Deborah of that day; and the Lord will sell the future Sisera "into the hand of a woman" (Judges 4:9) , as He did the Canaanite oppressor.

J.N.D., in his Synopsis, makes the following comment upon the passage: "In verse 22, I see only weakness. Israel, feeble as a woman, shall possess and overcome all strength — seeing that strength manifests itself in that which is very weakness."

An analogous instance of the use of imagery, arresting because of its allusion to what is unknown in natural experience, is found in Jeremiah 30:6-7, where the future time of Jacob's trouble is compared with a man travailing with child. That tribulation will be unexampled in the world's history (Matt. 24:21), and its unprecedented character is implied in the striking metaphor used by the prophet.