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by Adam Clarke
The Epistle to the Hebrews, on which the reader is about to enter, is by far the most important and useful of all the apostolic writings; all the doctrines of the Gospel are in it embodied, illustrated, and enforced in a manner the most lucid, by references and examples the most striking and illustrious, and by arguments the most cogent and convincing. It is an epitome of the dispensations of God to man, from the foundation of the world to the advent of Christ. It is not only the sum of the Gospel, but the sum and completion of the Law, on which it is also a most beautiful and luminous comment. Without this, the law of Moses had never been fully understood, nor God's design in giving it. With this, all is clear and plain, and the ways of God with man rendered consistent and harmonious. The apostle appears to have taken a portion of one of his own epistles for his text - Christ is the End of the Law for Righteousness to them that Believe, and has most amply and impressively demonstrated his proposition. All the rites, ceremonies, and sacrifices of the Mosaic institution are shown to have had Christ for their object and end, and to have had neither intention nor meaning but in reference to him; yea, as a system to be without substance, as a law to be without reason, and its enactments to be both impossible and absurd, if taken out of this reference and connection. Never were premises more clearly stated; never was an argument handled in a more masterly manner; and never was a conclusion more legitimately and satisfactorily brought forth. The matter is everywhere the most interesting; the manner is throughout the most engaging; and the language is most beautifully adapted to the whole, everywhere appropriate, always nervous and energetic, dignified as is the subject, pure and elegant as that of the most accomplished Grecian orators, and harmonious and diversified as the music of the spheres.
So many are the beauties, so great the excellency, so instructive the matter, so pleasing the manner, and so exceedingly interesting the whole, that the work may be read a hundred times over without perceiving any thing of sameness, and with new and increased information at each reading. This latter is an excellency which belongs to the whole revelation of God; but to no part of it in such a peculiar and supereminent manner as to the Epistle to the Hebrews.
To explain and illustrate this epistle multitudes have toiled hard; and exhibited much industry, much learning, and much piety. I also will show my opinion; and ten thousand may succeed me, and still bring out something that is new. That it was written to Jews, naturally such, the whole structure of the epistle proves. Had it been written to the Gentiles, not one in ten thousand of them could have comprehended the argument, because unacquainted with the Jewish system; the knowledge of which the writer of this epistle everywhere supposes. He who is well acquainted with the Mosaic law sits down to the study of this epistle with double advantages; and he who knows the traditions of the elders, and the Mishnaic illustrations of the written, and pretended oral law of the Jews, is still more likely to enter into and comprehend the apostle's meaning. No man has adopted a more likely way of explaining its phraseology than Schoettgen, who has traced its peculiar diction to Jewish sources; and, according to him, the proposition of the whole epistle is this: -
Jesus of Nazareth Is the True God
And in order to convince the Jews of the truth of this proposition, the apostle uses but three arguments:
1. Christ is superior to the angels.
2. He is superior to Moses.
3. He is superior to Aaron.
These arguments would appear more distinctly were it not for the improper division of the chapters; as he who divided them in the middle ages (a division to which we are still unreasonably attached) had but a superficial knowledge of the word of God. In consequence of this it is that one peculiar excellency of the apostle is not noticed, viz. his application of every argument, and the strong exhortation founded on it. Schoettgen has very properly remarked, that commentators in general have greatly misunderstood the apostle's meaning through their unacquaintance with the Jewish writings and their peculiar phraseology, to which the apostle is continually referring, and of which he makes incessant use. He also supposes, allowing for the immediate and direct inspiration of the apostle, that he had in view this remarkable saying of the rabbins, on Isaiah 52:13 : "Behold, my servant will deal prudently." Rab. Tanchum, quoting Yalcut Simeoni, part ii., fol. 53, says: זה מלך המשיה, "This is the King Messiah, who shall be greatly extolled, and elevated: he shall be elevated beyond Abraham; shall be more eminent than Moses; and more exalted than ממלאכי השרה the ministering angels." Or, as it is expressed in Yalcut Kadosh, fol. 144: משיה גדול מן האבות ומן משה ומן מלאכי השרה Mashiach gadol min ha-aboth; umin Mosheh; umin Malakey hashshareth. "The Messiah is greater than the patriarchs; than Moses; and than the ministering angels." These sayings he shows to have been fulfilled in our Messiah; and as he dwells on the superiority of our Lord to all these illustrious persons because they were at the very top of all comparisons among the Jews; he, according to their opinion, who was greater than all these, must be greater than all created beings.
This is the point which the apostle undertakes to prove, in order that he may show the Godhead of Christ; therefore, if we find him proving that Jesus was greater than the patriarchs, greater than Aaron, greater than Moses, and greater than the angels, he must be understood to mean, according to the Jewish phraseology, that Jesus is an uncreated Being, infinitely greater than all others, whether earthly or heavenly. For, as they allowed the greatest eminence (next to God) to angelic beings, the apostle concludes "that he who is greater than the angels is truly God: but Christ is greater than the angels; therefore Christ is truly God." Nothing can be clearer than that this is the apostle's grand argument; and the proofs and illustrations of it meet the reader in almost every verse.
That the apostle had a plan on which he drew up this epistle is very clear, from the close connection of every part. The grand divisions seem to be three: -
I. The proposition, which is very short, and is contained in chap. Hebrews 1:1-3. The majesty and pre-eminence of Christ.
II. The proof or arguments which support the proposition, viz.: -
Christ Is Greater than the Angels
1. Because he has a more excellent name than they, chap. Hebrews 1:4, Hebrews 1:5.
2. Because the angels of God adore him, Hebrews 1:6.
3. Because the angels were created by him, Hebrews 1:7.
4. Because, in his human nature, he was endowed with greater gifts than they, Hebrews 1:8, Hebrews 1:9.
5. Because he is eternal, Hebrews 1:10, Hebrews 1:11, Hebrews 1:12.
6. Because he is more highly exalted, Hebrews 1:13.
7. Because the angels are only the servants of God; he, the Son, Hebrews 1:14.
In the application of this argument he exhorts the Hebrews not to neglect Christ, chap. Hebrews 2:1, by arguments drawn,: -
1. From the minor to the major, Hebrews 2:2, Hebrews 2:3.
2. Because the preaching of Christ was confirmed by miracles, Hebrews 2:4.
3. Because, in the economy of the New Testament, angels are not the administrators; but the Messiah himself, to whom all things are subject, Hebrews 2:5.
Here the apostle inserts a twofold objection, professedly drawn from Divine revelation: -
1. Christ is man, and is less than the angels. What is man - thou madest him a little lower than the angels, Hebrews 2:6, Hebrews 2:7. Therefore he cannot be superior to them.
To this it is answered:
1. Christ as a mortal man, by his death and resurrection, overcame all enemies, and subdued all things to himself; therefore he must be greater than the angels, Hebrews 2:9.
2. Though Christ died, and was in this respect inferior to the angels, yet it was necessary that he should take on him this mortal state, that he might be of the same nature with those whom he was to redeem; and this he did without any prejudice to his Divinity, Hebrews 2:10-18.
Christ Is Greater than Moses
1. Because Moses was only a servant; Christ, the Lord, Hebrews 3:2-6.
The application of this argument he makes from Psalms 95:7-11, which he draws out at length, Hebrews 3:7-18; Hebrews 4:1-13.
Christ Is Greater than Aaron, and All the Other High Priests
1. Because he has not gone through the veil of the tabernacle to make an atonement for sin, but has entered for this purpose into heaven itself, Hebrews 4:14.
2. Because he is the Son of God, Hebrews 4:14.
3. Because it is from him we are to implore grace and mercy, Hebrews 4:15, Hebrews 4:16, and Hebrews 4:1, Hebrews 4:2, Hebrews 4:3.
4. Because he was consecrated High Priest by God himself, Hebrews 5:4-10.
5. Because he is not a priest according to the order of Aaron, but according to the order of Melchisedec, which was much more ancient, and much more noble, chap. 7. For the excellence and prerogatives of this order, see the notes on Hebrews 7:26.
6. Because he is not a typical priest, prefiguring good things to come, but the real Priest, of whom the others were but types and shadows, 8:1-9:11. For the various reasons by which this argument is supported, see also the notes on Hebrews 8:1-13 (note) and Hebrews 9:0 (note).
In this part of the epistle the apostle inserts a digression, in which he reproves the ignorance and negligence of the Hebrews in their mode of treating the sacred Scriptures. See Hebrews 5:11, and chap. 6.
The application of this part contains the following exhortations: -
1. That they should carefully retain their faith in Christ as the true Messiah, Hebrews 10:19-23.
2. That they should be careful to live a godly life, Hebrews 10:24, Hebrews 10:25.
3. That they should take care not to incur the punishment of disobedience, Hebrews 10:32-37, and Hebrews 12:3-12.
4. That they should place their whole confidence in God, live by faith, and not turn back to perdition Hebrews 10:38; Hebrews 12:2.
5. That they should consider and imitate the faith and obedience of their eminent ancestors, chap. 11.
6. That they should take courage, and not be remiss in the practice of the true religion, Hebrews 12:12-24.
7. That they should take heed not to despise the Messiah, now speaking to them from heaven, Hebrews 12:25-29.
III. Practical and miscellaneous exhortations relative to sundry duties, chap. 13.
All these subjects, (whether immediately designed by the apostle himself, in this particular order, or not), are pointedly considered in this most excellent epistle; in the whole of which the superiority of Christ, his Gospel, his priesthood, and his sacrifice, over Moses, the law, the Aaronic priesthood, and the various sacrifices prescribed by the law, is most clearly and convincingly shown.
Different writers have taken different views of the order in which these subjects arc proposed, but most commentators have produced the same results.
For other matters relative to the author of the epistle, the persons to whom it was sent, the language in which it was composed, and the time and place in which it was written, the reader is referred to the introduction, where these matters are treated in sufficient detail.
the Fifth Week after Easter