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Sermon II

Who is the image of the invisible God, the first-born of every creature.—Col. 1:15.

The apostle having mentioned our redemption, doth now fall upon a description of the Redeemer. He is set forth by two things:—

First, His internal relation to God.

Secondly, By his external relation to the creature.

Doct. It is a great part of a believer’s work to have a deep sense of the Redeemer’s excellency imprinted upon his mind and heart.

[Outline of this sermon]

Here I shall show:—

            How it is set forth in this verse.

            Why this should be much upon our minds and hearts.

How it is set forth in this scripture:—

I.          That he is ‘the image of the invisible God.’

II.         ‘The first-born of every creature.’

I.          For the first expression there I shall consider:—

A.         What belongs to an image.

B.         In what respects Christ is the image of God.

C.         How he differeth from other persons.

I.          [The Image of the Invisible God]

A.         What belongeth to an image, and that all this is in Christ. In an image there are two things—impression and representation. Both are in Christ. There is a divine impression upon him[1], and he doth represent God to us.

1.         For impression, there is:—

a.         Likeness; for an image must be like him whom it representeth. [That is, if Christ is the image of the invisible God, then Christ must somehow represent God. Manton does not always “show his work.” Having raised a point, he moves to implications where conclusions or questions. But he does not always spell out the in-between step. Here, having said that Christ is the image of the invisible God, we come to two problems: (1) we may not make images of God, and (2) how can anything represent an invisible God? He combines both of these problems into a single question.]

i.          An artificial image of God, or such as may be made by us, is forbidden upon this account. Is. 40:18

ii.         [We are forbidden to make an image because]What is there among all the creatures that can be like such an infinite and almighty essence? or by what visible shape or figure would they represent or resemble God?

2.         Deduction and derivation.  [This is the image of a father to son] … .it is verified in Christ because of his eternal generation. Like him, because begotten of him.

a.         There is not a likeness in a few things, but a complete and exact likeness;

i.          …Heb. 1:3, ‘The express image of his person.’

ii.         There is not only likeness, but equality. [The argument here relies upon two logical propositions based upon the nature of God. It is also a nice bit of writing]

iii         God cannot

                        [1] make a creature equal to himself, nor

                        [2] beget a son unequal to himself.

3.         Representation; for an image it serveth to make known and declare that thing whose image it is.

a.         [He begins with a line from the Nicene Creed, the Son is described as “God of God, light of light”]. If light produce light, the light produced doth represent the light and glory producing….

b.         And this is the reason why the word invisible is added, because God, who in his own nature is invisible, and incomprehensible to man, revealeth himself so far as is necessary to salvation to us by Christ.  [“There is no hidden God, no Deus Absconditus, no God behind the back of the Lord Jesus.” T.F. Torrance, ‘War Service’, Unpublished Memoir, 49. https://www.academia.edu/36455985/_There_is_no_God_Behind_the_Back_of_Jesus_Christ_The_Mediation_of_Christ_in_the_Theology_of_T_F_Torrance%5D

c.         Visible things are known by their visible images, with more delight, but not with more accuracy.

i.          The image is not necessary to know the thing; but here it is otherwise. We cannot know God but by Christ: John 1:18, ‘No man hath seen God at any time; the only-begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him.’

ii.         God is invisible, and incomprehensible by any but Jesus Christ, who being his only Son, and one in essence with the Father, he doth perfectly know him, and reveal unto mankind all that they know of him. …

B.        In what respects Christ is the image of God.

1.         In respect of his eternal generation. So Christ is ‘the express image of his person’—not substance, but subsistence[2].

a.         [This explanation only makes sense after you understand the term. See the footnote.] We do not say that milk is like milk, nor one egg like another, because they are of the same substance; so Christ is not said to be of the same substance, but of the same subsistence.

b.         He is, indeed, of the same substance with him whom he doth resemble, but the image is with respect to the subsistence; so he resembleth the Father fully and perfectly. There is no perfection in the Father but the same is in the Son also. He is eternal, omnipotent, infinite in wisdom, goodness, and power[3].

2.         As God incarnate, or manifested in our flesh; so the perfections of the Godhead shine forth in the man Christ Jesus, in his person, word, and works.

a.         In his person. They that had a discerning eye might see something divine in Christ: John 1:14, ‘We beheld his glory, as the glory of the only-begotten of the Father.’ There is the as of similitude, and the as of congruity; as if a mean man taketh state upon him, we say he behaveth himself as a king, but if we say the same of a king indeed, we mean he behaveth himself king-like, that is, becoming the majesty of his high calling. So we beheld his glory as, &c., that is, such a glory as was suitable and becoming God’s only Son….

b.         In his word; where God is revealed to us savingly, so as we may be brought into communion with him, so it is said, ‘lest the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine unto them,’ 2 Cor. 4:4. As God shineth forth in Christ, so doth Christ shine forth in the gospel. …

c.         His works—all which in their whole tenure and contexture showed him to be God-man. If at any time there appeared any evidence of human weakness, lest the world should be offended and stumble thereat, he did at the same time give out some notable demonstrations of his divine power. When he lay in a manger at his birth, a star appeared, and angels proclaimed his birth to the shepherds; when he was swaddled as an infant, the wise men came and worshipped him; when he was in danger of suffering shipwreck, he commanded the winds and the waves, and they obeyed him; when he was tempted by Satan, he was ministered unto by the angels, Mat. 4:11; when they demanded tribute for the temple, a fish brought it to him, Mat. 17:26; when he was deceived in the fig-tree (which was an infirmity of human ignorance), he suddenly blasted it, discovering the glory of a divine power; when he hung dying on the cross, the rocks were rent, the graves opened, the sun darkened, and all nature put into a rout. Though he humbled himself to purchase our mercies, yet he assured our faith by some emissions and breakings forth of his divine power. …

C.         How he differeth from other persons; for the saints also are made after the image of God. Col. 3:10; Eph. 4:24. [This raises an important issue: how is the question of the “image of God” used with respct of Christ and the respect of us.] I answer,—There is a great difference between the image of God in man and the image of God in Christ.

1.         Man resembleth God but imperfectly. [Manton is going to raise three distinct ways in which the “image” differs between Christ and other humanity.]

a.         Man was made, and is now made, after the image of God, but with much abatement of this high perfection which is in Christ, for he hath all the substantial perfection which his Father hath. [By “abatement” he refers to what was lost in the Fall. However, he does not here define what happened to the image. This has been a contentious issue throughout the history of theology.]

b.         In other creatures there is some resemblance, but no equality: [He here references Phil. 2:6]

c.         other creatures are made like God, but he is begotten like God.

2.         It is derivative from Christ. God would recover man out of his lapsed estate by setting up a pattern of holiness in our nature.

a.         [The “good” of Rom. 8:28 is defined in 8:29 as being conformed to the image of the Son.]

b.         None was fit to restore this image of God that was lost, but God incarnate, for thereby the glory of God was again visible in our nature.

c.         [Why must it be God incarnate?] God is a pure spirit, and we are creatures, that have indeed an immortal soul, but it dwelleth in flesh; therefore to make us like God, ‘the Word was made flesh,’ that he might represent the perfections of God to us, and commend holiness by his own example.

II.        Secondly, The next thing ascribed to Christ is that he is ‘the first-born of every creature:’

[This is itself a contentious area of theology historically. What does this mean.]

A.        [Explanatory, generally]

1.         that is, born of God before any creature had a being, or begotten of the Father of his own proper essence, and equal with him before anything was created and brought forth out of nothing.

2.         [The dispute] But here the adversaries of the eternal Godhead of Christ triumph, and say, The first-born of the creatures is a creature, one of the same kind.

a.         I answer

i.          —If we grant this that they allege, they gain nothing, for Christ had two natures—he was God-man. As God, he is the Creator, and not a creature; for the apostle proveth that ‘by him all things were made:’ but as man, so he is indeed a creature.

ii..        This double consideration must not be forgotten: Rom. 1:3, 4. Our Lord Jesus Christ was ‘made of the seed of David according to the flesh, but declared to be the Son of God, with power according to the Spirit;’ therefore we must distinguish between Christ and Christ, what he is according to the Spirit, and what he is according to the flesh.

b. I answer—

i.          That metaphors must be taken in the sense in which they are intended.

B.         Now what is the apostle’s intention in giving Christ the appellation of the first-born?

Four things are implied by this metaphor:—

[1.] Identity of nature.

[2.] Likeness of original.

[3.] Antiquity.

[4.] Dignity.

1.         Nothing else can be insinuated into the mind of man by such a form of speech but identity and sameness of nature between the brethren, which is true as to Christ’s humanity

a.         [In Hebrews 2: 11 & 14, Christ is referred to as the brother of human beings because he has taken on flesh and blood.]

b.         [What then of first born?] ’ or [1] priority of time, for the first-born is before all the rest; or [2] else dignity, authority, and pre-eminence.

2.         Now, which of these doth the apostle intend? [In Colossians 1:16, the first born of every creature.]

a.         The two last— [time and pre-emince]

i.          the pre-existence of Christ before anything was made, as appeareth by this reason, ver. 16, ‘For by him all things were made, whether they be in heaven or in earth;’ and also his dignity and authority above them, as appeareth by the frequent use of the word. [Proof of this point] For the first-born in families had authority over the rest. When Jacob had got the birthright, this was a part of Isaac’s blessing:

ii.         Sovereignty was implied in the birthright, so David is called ‘the first-born of the kings of the earth,’ Ps. 89:27, as the most glorious amongst them.

iii.        So here nothing else is intended but that Christ is in time and dignity before all creatures.

C.         Thirdly, Though Christ be called the first-born of every creature, it doth not imply that he is to be reckoned as one of them, or accounted a creature.

1.         [Looking to the context of Colossian 1:15-20, Manton draws out some points]

a.         But here it is not the first-born amongst the creatures, but the first-born of every creature.

b.         And for further confirmation, here is not identity of nature, for he is not at all of the same nature with the angels—those principalities and thrones, dominions and powers, spoken of in the next verse—nor issued of the same stock with any of them.

c.         Mark, he is called the first-born, not first created, which must be understood of his divine nature and eternal generation of the Father before all creatures. The creatures are not begotten and born of God, but made by him. So Christ is primogenitus—that is, unigenitus, the first-born, that only-begotten.

d.         In the following verse he is brought in, not as a creature, but the creator of all things. The first-born is not the cause of the rest of the children…..

[Part Two]  Why this excellency of our Redeemer should be so deeply impressed upon our minds and hearts? For many reasons.

I.          This is needful to show his sufficiency to redeem the world.

A.        [The problem to be solved] The party offended is God, who is of infinite majesty; the favour to be purchased is the everlasting fruition of God; and the sentence to be reversed is the sentence of everlasting punishment.

1.         Therefore, there needed some valuable satisfaction to be given to reconcile these things to our thoughts; that we may be confident that we shall have redemption by his blood, even the remission of sins.

A.         [This makes for an interesting aspect of theology. Manton is not trying to prove the point to the satisfaction of an abstract logical argument. Rather he asks a different question. When we consider the peril that we find ourselves in as a result of sin; the seemingly impossible circumstance: an infinite evil to remedied by something equal merit; how could we have confidence that such a thing could be done? This is a key element of salvation by faith alone: I am to trust my salvation wholly to the work of another. A second argument implicit in this construction: He is seeking to demonstrate the supremacy of Christ Socinians, who denied the pre-existence of Christ. He is making an argument to persuade. The structure of the argument is here as follows: The problem of sin raises an issue of an infinite debt which requires an equally infinite payment [to change the terms slightly from Manton’s formulation]. If Christ were merely a created being, he would be insufficient to satisfy this debt. Therefore, Christ must not be a created being.]

B.         There are three things that commend the value of Christ’s sacrifice—the dignity of his person, the greatness of his sufferings, and the merit of his obedience.

i.          But the two latter without the former will little quiet the heart of scrupulous men. [This gets to his point regarding the Socinians] His sufferings were great, but temporary and finite—the merit of his obedience much; but how shall the virtue of it reach all the world?

ii.         And if he be but a mere creature, he hath done what he ought to do. I confess a fourth thing may be added—God’s institution, which availeth to the end for which God hath appointed it;

iii.        but the scripture insists most on the first—the dignity of his Person—which putteth a value on his sacrifice: Acts 20:18; Heb. 9:13, 14; at least there is an intrinsic worth.

iv.        This answers all objections. [The objections: Hell is eternal. The eternity of any one person is not enough to answer for the eternity of another. How then can the suffering on man for a limited time answer to the multiple eternities of all human beings? The answer is in the merit of his person. An infinity of my suffering cannot answer for my own sin, much less your sin. But Christ’s merit is such that can answer for all.] His sufferings were temporary and finite; but it is the blood of God,—he hath offered up himself through the eternal Spirit.

B.        To work upon our love, that Christ may have the chief room in our hearts.

1.         [The first point answers to the intellectual point: Christ must have divine merit, because he answers to an infinite debt. This second point goes to the affect this should have upon us. Notice, that Manton does not rest in an intellectual case but now makes an affective argument.]

2.         There is no such argument to work upon our love as that God over all, blessed for ever, should come to relieve man in such a condescending way: 1 John 3:16, ….

3.         There was power discovered in the creation, when God made us like himself out of the dust of the ground; but love in our redemption, when he made himself like us.

4.         The person that was to work out our deliverance was the eternal Son of God.

5.         That God that owes nothing to man, and was so much offended by man, and that stood in no need of man, having infinite happiness and contentment in himself, that he should come and die for us! Hereby perceive we the love of God. When we consider what Christ is, we shall most admire what he hath done for us.

C.         Thirdly, That we may give Christ his due honour; for God will have all men to honour the Son as they honour the Father, John 5:23, he being equal in power and glory.

1.         The setting forth of his glory is a rent due to him from all creatures. We are to praise him both in word and deed, in mind, and heart, and practice, which we can never do unless we understand the dignity of his person.

2.         [This idea of paying rent may sound quite foreign as if it were a “work” and not grace. Or paying someone back for a gift. However, we need to think carefully on this point. First, Manton is alone in using such an image. Here is an example (among many) from a contemporary, “Let God alone have the glory of outward mercies; do not crown thine own head with laurel, but pay thy rent of laud and praise to God alone, who is the true landlord.” Swinnock, George. The Works of George Swinnock, M.A. James Nichol; James Nisbet and Co.; G. Herbert, 1868, p. 61. A great deal of work has been done of late to understand the patron client relationship of the Roman work where the grace of the patron created a relationship in the client of return, but never in any kind which would approximate what was received.

“In recent years, James A. Kelhoffer has contributed a number of articles exploring some important features of 2 Clement. His seminal article, “Reciprocity as Salvation: Christ as Salvation Patron and the Corresponding ‘Payback’ Expected of Christ’s Earthly Clients according to the Second Epistle of Clement” has informed the concluding observations about the applied theology of the book.20

    The article analyzes the widely misunderstood concept of ‘payback’ or ‘repayment’ (αντιμισθία) that … believers owe to Christ. Much of the secondary literature is laden with theological polemics (e.g., the author perverts Paul’s gospel of grace, rather than an attempt to understand this concept relative to social relationships in antiquity). I argue that Second Clement presents Christ as salvific benefactor and patron. Christ offers salvation to those who accept the terms of his patronage, terms that include the obligation to render ‘payback’—for example, in the form of praise, witness, loyalty, and almsgiving. A failure to accept these terms would jeopardize the relationship between Christ and his earthly clients and thus call their salvation into question. As a corollary, I propose that a likely purpose for Second Clement was to convince a Christian audience that the benefits of salvation come with recurring obligations to Christ, their salvific patron.21

“Kelhoffer’s insights point the way ahead for understanding the relationship between correct behavior and soteriology in this writing and thus its ultimate message. A summary of these thoughts follows, supplemented by my own comments. As a background to his argument, Kelhoffer explores the sociology of the patron-client relationship in Roman society.” Varner, William. Second Clement: An Introductory Commentary. Edited by Paul A. Hartog and Shawn J. Wilhite, Cascade Books, 2020, pp. 42–43.]

3          We are apt to have low thoughts of Christ, therefore we should often revive the considerations that may represent his worth and excellency. [This last comment is interesting when considered from a context of acting toward Christ. Our failure to be engaged in “setting forth his glory” as “rent” can be the result of low thoughts of Christ. But, doing such actually raises our thoughts of Christ. To praise is to objectively give praise, but when understood rightly will also subjectively increase our praise.]

D.        Fourthly, That we may place all hope of salvation in him, and may make use of him to the ends which he came to accomplish. ….

E.         Fifthly, That we may the better understand two things:—

1.         The humiliation of the Son of God.

a.         [This is a principle argument of Manton’s Socinian opponents: he could not be God incarnate if he were so humbled. Manton explains a covering.]

b.         …. Now, how did he humble himself? Was he not still the image of God in our nature? Yes, but the divine glory and majesty was hidden under the veil of our flesh: little of it did appear, and that only to those who narrowly did observe him; the brightness of his glory did not conspicuously shine forth…..

2.         It showeth us how the image of God may be recovered; if we be changed into the likeness of Christ, for he is the image of God.

a.         [By example] His merit should not only be precious to us, but his example. It is a great advantage not only to have a rule but an example; because man is so prone to imitate, that an example in our nature maketh it the more operative.

i.          His excuse is ready at hand: we are flesh and blood—what would you have us do? Therefore Christ came incarnate to be an example of holiness. He had the interests of flesh and blood to mind as well as we; and so would show that a holy life is possible to those that are renewed by his grace.

ii.         He obeyed God in our nature; therefore in the same nature we may obey, please, and glorify God, though still in a self-denying manner. The foundation of it is laid in the new birth.

b.         [By the Spirit] The Spirit that formed Christ out of the substance of the Virgin, the same Spirit is ready to form Christ in you. He maketh new creatures; so that there is not only Christ’s example, but Christ’s power.

III.       [Application]

A.         Use 1. Then let the excellency and dignity of Christ’s person be more upon your minds and hearts; think often of those two notions in the text—that he is the image of the invisible God, that therein you may be like him. You cannot be the image of God so as he was, but you must be in your measure…..

B.         Use 2. Consider, again, that he is Lord of the whole creation, and therefore called ‘the first-born of every creature.’ Well, then, we should be subject to him, and with greater diligence apply ourselves to the obedience of his holy laws, and use the means appointed by him to obtain the blessedness offered to us.

1.         There is in us a natural sentiment of the authority of God, and we have a dread upon our hearts if we do what he hath forbidden; but we have not so deep a sense of the authority of Christ, and play fast and loose with religion, as fancy and humour and interest lead us.

2.         Now, from this argument, you see we should honour the Son as we honour the Father, and be as tender of his institutions as we are of the commandments evident by natural light; for he is not only the messenger of God, but his express image, and the first-born of every creature.

3          Not to believe him, and obey him, and love him, is to sin, not only against our duty, but our remedy and the law of our recovery.

[1] The impress which God makes upon Christ: something stamped.

[2] Manton is casually dropping some sophisticated philosophical terms into his sermon.  “What is common and general is predicated of the included particulars. Essence, then, is common as being a form [eidos, class, form], while subsistence is particular. It is particular not as though it had part of the nature and had not the rest, but particular in a numerical sense, as being individual. For it is in number and not in nature that the difference between subsistences is said to lie. Essence, therefore, is predicated of subsistence, because in each subsistence of the same form the essence is perfect. Wherefore subsistences do not differ from each other in essence but in the accidents which indeed are the characteristic properties, but characteristic of subsistence and not of nature. For indeed they define subsistence as essence along with accidents. So that the subsistence contains both the general and the particular, and has an independent existence, while essence has not an independent existence but is contemplated in the subsistences. Accordingly when one of the subsistences suffers, the whole essence, being capable of suffering. is held to have suffered in one of its subsistences as much as the subsistence suffered, but it does not necessarily follow, however, that all the subsistences of the same class should suffer along with the suffering subsistence.” It goes on a great length along these lines. John Damascene. “An Exact Exposition of the Orthodox Faith.” St. Hilary of Poitiers, John of Damascus, edited by Philip Schaff and Henry Wace, translated by S. D. F. Salmond, vol. 9b, Christian Literature Company, 1899, p. 50.

[3] “Thus, therefore, we confess that the nature of the Godhead is wholly and perfectly in each of its subsistences, wholly in the Father, wholly in the Son, and wholly in the Holy Spirit. Wherefore also the Father is perfect God, the Son is perfect God, and the Holy Spirit is perfect God. In like manner, too, in the Incarnation of the Trinity of the One God the Word of the Holy Trinity, we hold that in one of its subsistences the nature of the Godhead is wholly and perfectly united with the whole nature of humanity, and not part united to part4. The divine Apostle in truth says that in Him dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily5, that is to say in His flesh. And His divinely-inspired disciple, Dionysius, who had so deep a knowledge of things divine, said that the Godhead as a whole had fellowship with us in one of its own subsistences6. But we shall not be driven to hold that all the subsistences of the Holy Godhead, to wit the three, are made one in subsistence with all the subsistences of humanity. For in no other respect did the Father and the Holy Spirit take part in the incarnation of God the Word than according to good will and pleasure But we hold that to the whole of human nature the whole essence of the Godhead was united. For God the Word omitted none of the things which He implanted in our nature when He formed us in the beginning, but took them all upon Himself, body and soul both intelligent and rational, and all their properties. For the creature that is devoid of one of these is not man. But He in His fulness took upon Himself me in my fulness, and was united whole to whole that He might in His grace bestow salvation on the whole man. For what has not been taken cannot be healed.” John Damascene. “An Exact Exposition of the Orthodox Faith.” St. Hilary of Poitiers, John of Damascus, edited by Philip Schaff and Henry Wace, translated by S. D. F. Salmond, vol. 9b, Christian Literature Company, 1899, p. 50.