The Firstborn.

C. D. Maynard.

Christian Friend, vol. 13, 1886, p. 225.

The righteousness of God was witnessed by the law and the prophets, although only manifested by the cross, resurrection, and glorification of our Lord. The witnessing was to the manifestation what the shadow is to the substance - a resemblance and a contrast. The outline may be simpler, but the fulness is wanting. Now the shadows are left by the Lord doubtless to help us to understand better the reality. One of the most interesting of these shadows is found in the relative position and fate of the firstborn of the clean and unclean animals. In them we have a wonderful picture of the Saviour, the sinner, and the atonement.

If I think of the relative status in nature and under the law of the clean and unclean beasts, clearly the clean have the advantage. Noah shows us this when he takes seven to one into the ark. When I remember this I am struck with the fact that the firstling of the unclean creature has greatly the advantage over that of the clean; for it may freely enjoy life, though only on the ground of redemption; but the other is absolutely doomed to death. Thus we read, "The firstling of unclean beasts shalt thou redeem." (Num. 18:15.) But the firstling of a cow, a sheep, a goat, that is, of clean animals, "thou shalt not redeem; they are holy: thou shalt sprinkle their blood upon the altar," etc. These two classes of animals represent two men - the unclean or sinful man, and the holy man. Man looked at as the race, including of course every individual save One, stands side by side with the unclean animal, and this not from any act of our own which made us guilty, but from our birth, from which, through the first man's sin, we were constituted sinners, and by nature children of wrath. So we find coupled with the redemption of the unclean firstling - "The firstborn of man shalt thou surely redeem." This teaches the unholy nature of man. In a similar way we find man associated with the ass in Ex. 13, reminding us of Zophar's word, "Though man be born like a wild ass's colt," giving man the thought of the naturally insubordinate character of our hearts - They are "not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be." So we see man away from God, under condemnation, and needing a Saviour from his birth. This corresponds with the end of Romans 5: "By one man's disobedience many were made sinners." But also we see redemption as large as the ruin - "The firstling of unclean beasts shalt thou redeem." There stands the open door of salvation for all. "By one righteousness the free gift was towards all to justification of life."

Now in the midst of redemption-mercy there was One for whom there was none. For the firstling of the clean beast there was no escape from death. Strange may seem the reason: it was holy. The unclean might find an escape, the holy never. What a riddle this presents to the natural mind! It seems subversive of all justice, and it would be of all human and legal righteousness. But what a vivid picture it is of God's righteousness in saving the sinner! Here was the will of God, our sanctification. This must be by sacrifice; namely, by the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once. (Heb. 10:10.) Our Lord comes to do that will. He takes the place in infinite grace of the clean animal, being Himself the firstborn of every creature, and "that holy thing," as Luke declares. Now the absolute doom of the firstborn of the sheep, etc., pictures His awful position as thus come, shut up without escape to judgment. True He looked beyond it to that right-hand place where there are pleasures for evermore; and He could say, "Thou wilt shew me the path of life;" and, "The lines are fallen unto me in pleasant places." But it was nevertheless true that the weight of that judgment into which He had to go was on His spirit. His enemies, ignorant of the truth, correctly expressed it in the bitter and cruel taunt, "He saved others; Himself He cannot save." As the end draws near we find Him fully alive to the situation, but absolutely undeterred by it. So we read, "Jesus therefore, knowing all things that should come upon Him, went forth, and said unto them, Whom seek ye?" As indeed in the garden the terror of it was upon His holy spirit - "O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me: nevertheless, not as I will, but as thou wilt." It is not possible - "Thou shalt not redeem." There is the type - "Thou shalt sprinkle their blood upon the altar." So too the, for the time, unanswered prayers for deliverance in Ps. 22 - "I cry in the daytime, but thou hearest not" Now in all this depth of suffering, shut in to judgment, "deep calleth unto deep at the noise of Thy waterspouts," we see the wonderful perfection of the Lord. He justifies God in the midst of all - "Thou art holy, O thou that inhabitest the praises of Israel." The depth of His trial proved how truly He was holy. There was no answer of evil to be wrung from His heart. There was a Man in whom only good was, and only good could come forth; thus He was a sweet savour to God. All men much tested had utterly failed - Job and others - and must range themselves, as we must, side by side with the unclean beast. In Christ we find the only antitype of the clean animal, and (consequence to Him of His grace and love to us) He was the only One for whom there was no escape; so that through the grace of God there might be for the sinner who believes in Him.

If we carry on further the history of the firstborn, it is full of interest and instruction. The firstborn of Israel were saved by the blood at the passover; but those so redeemed were specially and peculiarly God's. "Sanctify unto me all the firstborn, whatsoever openeth the womb … is mine." (Exodus 13:2.) Thus the firstborn was not merely redeemed from death, it was bought for God - "Ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your bodies … which are God's."

Now the history of the firstborn was this: God had His tabernacle, with its varied and multiplied services, to perform which required an immense number of men. Now this service belonged to the firstborn, but their places were taken by the tribe of Levi. Each Levite represented a firstborn man in Israel. The number of eldest children that exceeded the number of that tribe were redeemed by five shekels of silver each. (Num. 3:46-48, and 8.) Thus the Levites were in a special way a redeemed company. Clearly they are thus typical of Christians, both in our redemption and in the claim God has upon us for service as redeemed. "I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God" (redemption-mercies here) "that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service."

The firstborn thus viewed has, so to speak, a double history from his redemption, and so have we. First, he dies in his substitute, then he lives as a servant in the Levite. And this finds its antitype in the believer now - We are dead with Christ. (Romans 6:8.) That is the end of our history as responsible children of Adam - "I am crucified with Christ." So the Israelitish father might say, "My son has died in that lamb." Then that history ends. But "nevertheless I live." Now we have a new life - "Christ liveth in me." At this point we have the Levite before us, saved from death, but devoted to God. The individuality remains the same, of course; but I am dead as a child of Adam, I live as a child of God - redeemed and born of Him. Thus we get our double privilege and responsibility, both to reckon ourselves dead to sin, and alive unto God in Christ Jesus our Lord. Christ is not only the firstborn who dies, but also the firstborn who lives. He is the first from the dead. Thus it is blessed to think of Him in triumph over all His enemies, and in grace associating us with Himself. "He who sanctifieth and they who are sanctified are all of one." We are through grace the church of the firstborn ones whose names are written in heaven, also "a kind of firstfruits of His creatures." When we see our association with Christ - and may we know it better - we would thankfully own that all our blessings flow from grace through His being shut up without escape to death. Thus only could the purposes of God towards us be accomplished. Now if we are firstborn with Christ, so to speak, still God's counsel secures for Him as always the pre-eminence - "For whom He did foreknow, He also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren." C. D. Maynard.