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Sermon III

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.—Col. 1:16.

I.          introduction

The apostle had told us in the former verse that Jesus Christ is the first-born of every creature. The Arians thence concluded that he himself was created out of nothing in order of time before the world. But it is not ‘the first created of any creature,’ but ‘the first-born,’ which noteth a precedency, not only in point of antiquity, but dignity; and is as much as to say, Lord of every creature. For the first-born was the lord of the rest, and the title may be given either relatively or comparatively.

[“Great diversity of sentiment is held concerning the person of Christ. Sabellians deny the distinctions of the Godhead, and say the whole deity is tabernacled in Christ. Arians represent Him as the highest of all created intelligences, the first-born of every creature. Socinians acknowledge Him as human only, and as exalted above other men merely in His official character.” Burns, Jabez. “Attributes of God as Seen in the Divinity of Christ.” Sermon Outlines on the Attributes of God, edited by Al Bryant, Kregel Publications, 1992, p. 9.n “The Arians seem to have contended that, as Christ is called the first-born of all creation, He must be numbered among things created.” Kaye, John. Some Account of the Council of Nicæa, in Connexion with the Life of Athanasius. Francis & John Rivington, 1853, p. 205.

Manton takes up the contention that “first born” means “first created”. The interpretative issue here is the context for the first use of the phrase.  There are two elements which are important for our understanding. First, “first born” is used in the Scripture in two different ways: (1) chronological birth; (2) preeminent station:

“The term is used throughout the Septuagint for the temporally firstborn child from a mother, and the same sense is found in the New Testament (Luke 2:7; Heb 11:28). But the term also indicates the figurative status of preeminence when speaking of Israel as firstborn (e.g., Exod 4:22), the future Davidic king (Ps 89:27), or Wisdom herself (Prov 8:22). In the New Testament, Jesus is the prōtotokos in that he is the one into whom all are conformed (Rom 8:29) and the one to be worshiped (Heb 1:6); the whole church absorbs his identity as the firstborn (12:23), and he is the first one to be resurrected (Rev 1:5). In these references his status, not his birth order, is in view, his superiority more than his temporality. His status is superior because temporally he is before all things, hierarchically311 he is above all things, and ontologically he sustains all things. This matters for anthropology: if Christ is the Prōtotokos, Adam is not simply the prototype for the Second Adam, but Christ is the prior Eikōn-template used to create Adam and Eve. Christ may be the Second Adam, but Adam, then, is the Second Prōtotokos-Eikōn.” McKnight, Scot. The Letter to the Colossians. Edited by Ned B. Stonehouse et al., William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2018, p. 149.

Another element of the analysis concerns the concept of “born”.  Those who speak of the Son as creation will emphasize the concept of birth to demand chronological and ontological procession: there was a time with the Son did not exist. The orthodox position is to understand the filiation of the Son as a relational category:

“The establishment from all eternity of the filial relationship of the second person in the ontological Trinity.* Another way of stating this is the eternal mode of the filiation* of the second person in the Trinity, describing the relational order of His personal subsistence* to the Father’s. Charles Hodge defines the term as “the communication of the same numerical essence whole and entire from the Father to the Son” (Systematic Theology, 1:460). The Father is the source, not of the deity or divine essence of the Son—for all the trinitarian persons possess the undivided divine essence in common—but of His filial relationship. The more common definition of eternal generation in standard theologies (reproduced, alas, in earlier editions of this dictionary!) is the “eternal and necessary act of the first person in the Trinity, whereby he, within the divine Being, is the ground of a second personal subsistence like his own, and puts the second person in possession of the whole divine essence, without any division, alienation, or change” (Louis Berkhof, Systematic Theology, p. 94).”

Cairns, Alan. Dictionary of Theological Terms, Ambassador Emerald International, 2002, p. 148.

Manton is going to concern himself with the first argument: first-born indicates preeminence.]

A.         Relatively; when the rest are of the same stock, or have the relation of brethren to him that hath the pre-eminence. So it is given to Christ with respect to new creatures: Rom. 8:29, ‘That he might be the first-born among many brethren.’

B.         Comparatively only; when several persons or things be compared, though there be no relation between them.

1.         So David is called ‘the first-born of the kings of the earth,’ Ps. 89:27—that is, superior in dignity and honour.

2.         So here it is taken not relatively, for so Christ is primogenitus, the first-born, that he is also unigenitus, the only-begotten. None went before, or come after him, that are so begotten of God.

C.         What he asserteth in that verse, he now proveth by the creation of all things, in ver. 16, and the conservation of all things, ver. 17.

1.         We are now upon the first proof. Surely he that created all things is supreme lord of all things, or hath the right of the first-born over them.

2.         Two ways is Christ said to have a right to the creatures: as God, and as mediator.

a.         His right as God is natural and perpetual;

b.         his right as mediator is by grant and donation. It is a power acquired and obtained.

[There are two claims to sovereignty: First, God is sovereign by his status as Creator. He is king of what he creates. This is “natural” because it comes about the very nature of the relationship. This is “perpetual” because it is inherent in the very existence of God and creation. The second sovereignty comes about through the work of redeeming the rebellious Creation. God grants sovereignty to Christ for his work. This is fitting that Son should also be the King by means of his work of redemption.]

c.         His natural right is antecedent to his actual susception of the office of mediator; for it comes to him by creation. He made all, and it is fit that he should be sovereign and lord of all. But the other power and sovereignty is granted to him as a part of his reward and recompense for the sorrows of his humiliation: Phil. 2:9, 10, ‘Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name above every name; that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth.’