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1. For every high priest, etc. He compares Christ with the Levitical priests, and he teaches us what is the likeness and the difference between them; and the object of the whole discourse is, to show what Christ’s office really is, and also to prove that whatever was ordained under the law was ordained on his account. Hence the Apostle passes on at last to show that the ancient priesthood was abolished.
He first says that the priests were taken from among men; secondly, that they did not act a private part but for the whole people; thirdly, that they were not to come empty to appease God, but furnished with sacrifices; fourthly, that they were not to be exempt from human infirmities, that they might more readily succor the distressed; and lastly, that they were not presumptuously to rush into this office, and that then only was the honor legitimate when they were chosen and approved by God. We shall consider briefly each of these points.
We must first, however, expose the ignorance of those who apply these things to our time, as though there was at this day the same need of priests to offer sacrifices; at the same time there is no necessity for a long refutation. For what can be more evident than that the reality found in Christ is compared with its types, which, being prior in time, have now ceased? But this will appear more fully from the context. How extremely ridiculous then are they who seek by this passage to establish and support the sacrifice of the mass! I now return to the words of the Apostle.
Taken from among men, etc. This he says of the priests. It hence follows that it was necessary for Christ to be a real man; for as we are very far from God, we stand in a manner before him in the person of our priest, which could not be, were he not one of us. Hence, that the Son of God has a nature in common with us, does not diminish his dignity, but commends it the more to us; for he is fitted to reconcile us to God, because he is man. Therefore Paul, in order to prove that he is a Mediator, expressly calls him man; for had he been taken from among angels or any other beings, we could not by him be united to God, as he could not react down to us.
For men, etc. This is the second clause; the priest was not privately a minister for himself, but was appointed for the common good of the people. But it is of great consequence to notice this, so that we may know that the salvation of us all is connected with and revolves on the priesthood of Christ. The benefit is expressed in these words, ordains those things which pertain to God. They may, indeed, be explained in two ways, as the verb καθίσταται has a passive as well as an active sense. They who take it passively give this version, “is ordained in those things,” etc.; and thus they would have the preposition in to be understood; I approve more of the other rendering, that the high priest takes care of or ordains the things pertaining to God; for the construction flows better, and the sense is fuller. (84) But still in either way, what the Apostle had in view is the same, namely, that we have no intercourse with God, except there be a priest; for, as we are unholy, what have we to do with holy things? We are in a word alienated from God and his service until a priest interposes and undertakes our cause.
That he may offer both gifts, etc. The third thing he mentions respecting a priest is the offering of gifts. There are however here two things, gifts and sacrifices; the first word includes, as I think, various kinds of sacrifices, and is therefore a general term; but the second denotes especially the sacrifices of expiation. Still the meaning is, that the priest without a sacrifice is no peacemaker between God and man, for without a sacrifice sins are not atoned for, nor is the wrath of God pacified. Hence, whenever reconciliation between God and man takes place, this pledge must ever necessarily precede. Thus we see that angels are by no means capable of obtaining for us God’s favor, because they have no sacrifice. The same must be thought of Prophets and Apostles. Christ alone then is he, who having taken away sins by his own sacrifice, can reconcile God to us.
(84) The former view is what is commonly taken, “is appointed;” and it comports with the subject in hand — the appointment of the priest, as it appears evident from what follows in verses 5 and 6. — Ed.
2. Who can, etc. This fourth point has some affinity to the first, and yet it may be distinguished from it; for the Apostle before taught us that mankind are united to God in the person of one man, as all men partake of the same flesh and nature; but now he refers to another thing, and that is, that the priest ought to be kind and gentle to sinners, because he partakes of their infirmities. The word which the Apostle uses, μετριοπαθεῖν is differently explained both by Greek and Latin interpreters. (85) I, however, think that it simply means one capable of sympathy. All the things which are here said of the Levitical priests do not indeed apply to Christ; for Christ we know was exempt from every contagion of sin; he therefore differed from others in this respect, that he had no necessity of offering a sacrifice for himself. But it is enough for us to know that he bare our infirmities, though free from sin and undefiled. Then, as to the ancient and Levitical priests, the Apostle says, that they were subject to human infirmity, and that they made atonement also for their own sins, that they might not only be kind to others when gone astray, but also condole or sympathize with them. This part ought to be so far applied to Christ as to include that exception which he mentioned before, that is, that he bare our infirmities, being yet without sin. At the same time, though ever free from sin, yet that experience of infirmities before described is alone abundantly sufficient to incline him to help us, to make him merciful and ready to pardon, to render him solicitous for us in our miseries. The sum of what is said is, that Christ is a brother to us, not only on account of unity as to flesh and nature, but also by becoming a partaker of our infirmities, so that he is led, and as it were formed, to show forbearance and kindness. The participle, δυνάμενος is more forcible than in our common tongue, qui possit , “who can,” for it expresses aptness or fitness. The ignorant and those out of the way, or erring, he has named instead of sinners, according to what is done in Hebrew; for שגגה, shegage, means every kind of error or offense, as I shall have presently an occasion to explain.
(85) “The classic or philosophic use of the word μετριοπαθεῖν, may be briefly explained. The Stoics maintained that a man should be ἀπαθὴς, i.e., not subject to passions, such as anger, fear, hope, joy, etc. The Platonists on the other hand averred that a wise man should μετριοπαθὴς, moderate in his affections, and not ἀπαθὴς. The leading sense, then, or the word μετριοπαθεῖν, is to be moderate in our feelings or passions.” — Stuart.
But this is not exactly its meaning here. Schleusner, quoting the Greek Lexicographers, shows that it was used in the sense of being indulgent, or of acting kindly and forgivingly, or forebearingly; and this seems to be its meaning in this passage. The sentence is rendered by Macknight, “Being able to have a right measure of compassion on the ignorant and erring.” It may be rendered, “Being capable of duly feeling for the ignorant and the erring,” or the deceived, that is by sin. See as to the ignorant Leviticus 5:17; and as to the deceived by passions or interest, see Leviticus 6:1 — Ed.
4. And no man, etc. There is to be noticed in this verse partly a likeness and partly a difference. What makes an office lawful is the call of God; so that no one can rightly and orderly perform it without being made fit for it by God. Christ and Aaron had this in common, that God called them both; but they differed in this, that Christ succeeded by a new and different way and was made a perpetual priest. It is hence evident that Aaron’s priesthood was temporary, for it was to cease. We see the object of the Apostle; it was to defend the right of Christ’s priesthood; and he did this by showing that God was its author. But this would not have been sufficient, unless it was made evident that an end was to be put to the old in order that a room might be obtained for this. And this point he proves by directing our attention to the terms on which Aaron was appointed, for we are not to extend them further than God’s decree; and he will presently make it evident how long God had designed this order to continue. Christ then is a lawful priest, for he was appointed by God’s authority. What is to be said of Aaron and his successors? That they had as much right as was granted them by the Lord, but not so much as men according to their own fancy concede to them.
But though this has been said with reference to what is here handled, yet we may hence draw a general truth, — that no government is to be set up in the Church by the will of men, but that we are to wait for the command of God, and also that we ought to follow a certain rule in electing ministers, so that no one may intrude according to his own humor. Both these things ought to be distinctly noticed for the Apostle here speaks not of persons only, but also of the office itself; nay, he denies that the office which men appoint without God’s command is lawful and divine. For as it appertains to God only to rule his Church, so he claims this right as his own, that is, to prescribe the way and manner of administration. I hence deem it as indisputable, that the Papal priesthood is spurious; for it has been framed in the workshop of men. God nowhere commands a sacrifice to be offered now to him for the expiation of sins; nowhere does he command priests to be appointed for such a purpose. While then the Pope ordains his priests for the purpose of sacrificing, the Apostle denies that they are to be counted lawful priests; they cannot therefore be such, except by some new privilege they exalt themselves above Christ, for he dared not of himself to take upon him this honor, but waited for the command of the Father.
This also ought to be held good as to persons, that no individual is of himself to seize on this honor without public authority. I speak now of offices divinely appointed. At the same time it may sometimes be, that one, not called by God, is yet to be tolerated, however little he may be approved, provided the office itself be divine and approved by God; for many often creep in through ambition or some bad motives, whose call has no evidence; and yet they are not to be immediately rejected, especially when this cannot be done by the public decision of the Church. For during two hundred years before the coming of Christ the foulest corruptions prevailed with respect to the priesthood, yet the right of honor, proceeding from the calling of God, still continued as to the office itself; and the men themselves were tolerated, because the freedom of the Church was subverted. It hence appears that the greatest defect is the character of the office itself, that is, when men of themselves invent what God has never commanded. The less endurable then are those Romish sacrificers, who prattle of nothing but their own titles, that they may be counted sacred, while yet they have chosen themselves without any authority from God.
5. Thou art my Son, etc. This passage may seem to be farfetched; for though Christ was begotten of God the Father, he was not on this account made also a priest. But if we consider the end for which Christ was manifested to the world, it will plainly appear that this character necessarily belongs to him. We must however bear especially in mind what we said on the first chapter; that the begetting of Christ, of which the Psalmist speaks, was a testimony which the Father rendered to him before men. Therefore the mutual relation between the Father and the Son is not what is here intended; but regard is rather had to men to whom he was manifested. Now, what sort of Son did God manifest to us? One indued with no honor, with no power? Nay, one who was to be a Mediator between himself and man; his begetting then included his priesthood. (86)
(86) This passage, “Thou art my Son,” etc., in this place, is only adduced to show that Christ was the Son of God: Christ did not honor or magnify or exalt himself, (for so δοξάζω means here,) but he who said to him, “Thou art my son,” etc., did honor or exalt him. This is the meaning of the sentence. The verse may thus be rendered, —
5. So also Christ, himself he did not exalt to be a high priest, but he who had said to him, “My son art thou, I have this day begotten thee.”
It is the same as though he had said, “Christ did not make himself a high priest but God.” And the reason why he speaks of God as having said “My Son,” etc., seems to be this, — to show that he who made him king (for the reference in Psalms 2:7 is to his appointment as a king) made him also a high priest. And this is confirmed by the next quotation from Psalms 110:1; for in the first verse he is spoken of as a king, and then in verse 4 his priesthood is mentioned. — Ed.
6 As he saith in another place, or, elsewhere, etc. Here is expressed more clearly what the Apostle intended. This is a remarkable passage, and indeed the whole Psalm from which it is taken; for there is scarcely anywhere a clearer prophecy respecting Christ’s eternal priesthood and his kingdom. And yet the Jews try all means to evade it, in order that they might obscure the glory of Christ; but they cannot succeed. They apply it to David, as though he was the person whom God bade to sit on his right hand; but this is an instance of extreme effrontery; for we know that it was not lawful for kings to exercise the priesthood. On this account, Uzziah, that is, for the sole crime of intermeddling with an office that did not belong to him, so provoked God that he was smitten with leprosy. (2 Chronicles 26:18.) It is therefore certain that neither David nor any one of the kings is intended here.
If they raise this objection and say, that princes are sometimes called כהנים cohenim, priests, I indeed allow it, but I deny that the word can be so understood here. For the comparison here made leaves nothing doubtful: Melchisedec was God’s priest; and the Psalmist testifies that that king whom God has set on his right hand would be a |kohen| according to the order of Melchisedec. Who does not see that this is to be understood of the priesthood? For as it was a rare and almost a singular thing for the same person to be a priest and a king, at least an unusual thing among God’s people, hence he sets forth Melchisedec as the type of the Messiah, as though he had said, “The royal dignity will not prevent him to exercise the priesthood also, for a type of such a thing has been already presented in Melchisedec.” And indeed all among the Jews, possessed of any modesty, have conceded that the Messiah is the person here spoken of, and that his priesthood is what is commended.
What is in Greek, κατὰ τάξιν according to the order, is in Hebrew, על דברתי ol-deberti, and means the same, and may be rendered, “according to the way” or manner: and hereby is confirmed what I have already said, that as it was an unusual thing among the people of God for the same person to bear the office of a king and of a priest, an ancient example was brought forward, by which the Messiah was represented. The rest the Apostle himself will more minutely set forth in what follows.
7. Who in the days, etc. As the form and beauty of Christ is especially disfigured by the cross, while men do not consider the end for which he humbled himself, the Apostle again teaches us what he had before briefly referred to, that his wonderful goodness shines forth especially in this respect, that he for our good subjected himself to our infirmities. It hence appears that our faith is thus confirmed, and that his honor is not diminished for having borne our evils.
He points out two causes why it behooved Christ to suffer, the proximate and the ultimate. The proximate was, that he might learn obedience; and the ultimate, that he might be thus consecrated a priest for our salutation.
The days of his flesh no doubt mean his life in this world. It hence follows, that the word flesh does not signify what is material, but a condition, according to what is said in 1 Corinthians 15:50, “Flesh and blood shall not inherit the kingdom of God.” Rave then do those fanatical men who dream that Christ is now divested of his flesh, because it is here intimated that he has outlived the days of his flesh for it is one thing to be a real man, though endued with a blessed immortality; it is another thing to be liable to those human sorrows and infirmities, which Christ sustained as long as he was in this world, but has now laid aside, having been received into heaven.
Let us now look into the subject. Christ who was a Son, who sought relief from the Father and was heard, yet suffered death, that thus he might be taught to obey. There is in every word a singular importance. By days of the flesh he intimates that the time of our miseries is limited, which brings no small alleviation. And doubtless hard were our condition, and by no means tolerable, if no end of suffering were set before us. The three things which follow bring us also no small consolations; Christ was a Son, whom his own dignity exempted from the common lot of men, and yet he subjected himself to that lot for our sakes: who now of us mortals can dare refuse the same condition? Another argument may be added, — though we may be pressed down by adversity, yet we are not excluded from the number of God’s children, since we see him going before us who was by nature his only Son; for that we are counted his children is owing only to the gift of adoption by which he admits us into a union with him, who alone lays claim to this honor in his own right.
When he had offered up prayers, etc. The second thing he mentions respecting Christ is, that he, as it became him, sought a remedy that he might be delivered from evils; and he said this that no one might think that Christ had an iron heart which felt nothing; for we ought always to consider why a thing is said. Had Christ been touched by no sorrow, no consolation could arise to us from his sufferings; but when we hear that he also endured the bitterest agonies of mind, the likeness becomes then evident to us. Christ, he says, did not undergo death and other evils because he disregarded them or was pressed down by no feeling of distress, but he prayed with tears, by which he testified the extreme anguish of his soul. (87) Then by tears and strong crying the Apostle meant to express the intensity of his grief, for it is usual to show it by outward symptoms; nor do I doubt but that he refers to that prayer which the Evangelists mention, “Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me,” (Matthew 26:42; Luke 22:42;) and also to another, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46.) For in the second instance mention is made by the evangelists of strong crying; and in the first it is not possible to believe that his eyes were dry, since drops of blood, through excessive grief, flowed from his body. It is indeed certain that he was reduced to great straits; and being overwhelmed with real sorrows, he earnestly prayed his Father to bring him help. (88)
And what application is to be made of this? Even this, that whenever our evils press upon us and overwhelm us, we may call to mind the Son of God who labored under the same; and since he has gone before us there is no reason for us to faint. We are at the same time reminded that deliverance from evils can be found from no other but from God alone, and what better guidance can we have as to prayer than the example of Christ? He betook himself immediately to the Father. And thus the Apostle indicates what ought to be done by us when he says that he offered prayers to him who was able to deliver him from death; for by these words he intimates that he rightly prayed, because he fled to God the only Deliverer. His tears and crying recommend to us ardor and earnestness in prayer, for we ought not to pray to God formally, but with ardent desires.
And was heard, etc. Some render the following words, “on account of his reverence” or fears but I wholly differ from them. In the first place he puts the word alone ἐυλαθείας without the possessive “his”; and then there is the preposition ἀπὸ “from,” not ὑ πὲρ “on account of,” or any other signifying a cause or a reason. As, then, εὐλάθεια means for the most part fear or anxiety, I doubt not but that the Apostle means that Christ was heard from that which he feared, so that he was not overwhelmed by his evils or swallowed up by death. For in this contest the Son of God had to engage, not because he was tried by unbelief, the source of all our fears, but because he sustained as a man in our flesh the judgment of God, the terror of which could not have been overcome without an arduous effort. Chrysostom interprets it of Christ’s dignity, which the Father in a manner reverenced; but this cannot be admitted. Others render it “piety.” But the explanation I have given is much more suitable, and requires no long arguments in its favor. (89)
Now he added this third particular, lest we should think that Christ’s prayers were rejected, because he was not immediately delivered from his evils; for at no time was God’s mercy and aid wanting to him. And hence we may conclude that God often hears our prayers, even when that is in no way made evident. For though it belongs not to us to prescribe to him as it were a fixed rule, nor does it become him to grant whatsoever requests we may conceive in our minds or express with our tongues, yet he shows that he grants our players in everything necessary for our salvation. So when we seem apparently to be repulsed, we obtain far more than if he fully granted our requests.
But how was Christ heard from what he feared, as he underwent the death which he dreaded? To this I reply, that we must consider what it was that he feared; why was it that he dreaded death except that he saw in it the curse of God, and that he had to wrestle with the guilt of all iniquities, and also with hell itself? Hence was his trepidation and anxiety; for extremely terrible is God’s judgment. He then obtained what he prayed for, when he came forth a conqueror from the pains of death, when he was sustained by the saving hand of the Father, when after a short conflict he gained a glorious victory over Satan, sin, and hell. Thus it often happens that we ask this or that, but not for a right end; yet God, not granting what we ask, at the same time finds out himself a way to succor us.
(87) “Prayers and supplications” are nearly of the same meaning; the first word means a request, a petition, strictly a prayer; and the last an earnest or humble entreaty. The last word is found only here in the New Testament; once in the Septuagint, in Job 41:3; and once in the Apocrypha, Genesis 9:18. Hesychius, as quoted by Schleusner, gives παράκλησις, request, entreaty, as its meaning: it comes from ἱκέτης, a suppliant. The word ἱκετηρία, which is here used means first an olive branch wrapped in wool, carried by suppliants as a symbol of entreaty and hence used often in the sense of entreaty and supplication. — Ed.
(88) Stuart on this passage very justly observes, “If Jesus died as a common virtuous suffered, and merely as a martyr to the truth, without any vicarious suffering laid upon him, then is his death a most unaccountable event in respect to the manner of his behavior while suffering it; and it must be admitted that multitudes of humble, sinful, meek and very imperfect disciples of Christianity have surpassed their Master in the fortitude, and collected firmness and calm complacency which are requisite to triumph over the pangs of a dying hour. But who can well believe this? Or who can regard Jesus as a simple sufferer in the ordinary way upon the cross, and explain the mysteries of his dreadful horror before and during the hours of crucifixion?”
What is referred to is certainly inexplicable, except we admit what is often and in various ways plainly taught us in God’s word, that Christ died for our sins. — Ed.
(89) The idea of the effect of hearing, that is deliverance, is no doubt included in εἰσακουσθεὶς, “having been heard,” as it is sometimes in the corresponding word in Hebrew; so that Stuart is justified in the rendering it delivered, — “and being delivered from that which he feared.” It is rendered the same by Macknight, “and being delivered from fear.” Both Beza and Grotius render the last word fear; and this is its meaning as used in the Septuagint. — Ed
8. Yet learned he obedience, etc. The proximate end of Christ’s sufferings was thus to habituate himself to obedience; not that he was driven to this by force, or that he had need of being thus exercised, as the case is with oxen or horses when their ferocity is to be tamed, for he was abundantly willing to render to his Father the obedience which he owed. But this was done from a regard to our benefit, that he might exhibit to us an instance and an example of subjection even to death itself. It may at the same time be truly said that Christ by his death learned fully what it was to obey God, since he was then led in a special manner to deny himself; for renouncing his own will, he so far gave himself up to his Father that of his own accord and willingly he underwent that death which he greatly dreaded. The meaning then is that Christ was by his sufferings taught how far God ought to be submitted to and obeyed.
It is then but right that we also should by his example be taught and prepared by various sorrows, and at length by death itself, to render obedience to God; nay, much more necessary is this in our case, for we have a disposition contumacious and ungovernable until the Lord subdues us by such exercises to bear his yoke. This benefit, which arises from the cross, ought to allay its bitterness in our hearts; for what can be more desirable than to be made obedient to God? But this cannot be effected but by the cross, for in prosperity we exult as with loose reins; nay, in most cases, when the yoke is shaken off, the wantonness of the flesh breaks forth into excesses. But when restraint is put on our will, when we seek to please God, in this act only does our obedience show itself; nay, it is an illustrious proof of perfect obedience when we choose the death to which God may call us, though we dread it, rather than the life which we naturally desire.
9. And being made perfect, or sanctified, etc. Here is the ultimate or the remoter end, as they call it, why it was necessary for Christ to suffer: it was that he might thus become initiated into his priesthood, as though the Apostle had said that the enduring of the cross and death were to Christ a solemn kind of consecration, by which he intimates that all his sufferings had a regard to our salvation. It hence follows, that they are so far from being prejudicial to his dignity that they are on the contrary his glory; for if salvation be highly esteemed by us, how honorably ought we to think of its cause or author? For he speaks not here of Christ only as an example, but he ascends higher, even that he by his obedience has blotted out our transgressions. He became then the cause of salvation, because he obtained righteousness for us before God, having removed the disobedience of Adam by an act of an opposite kind, even obedience.
Sanctified suits the passage better than “made perfect.” The Greek word τελειωθεὶς means both; but as he speaks here of the priesthood, he fitly and suitably mentions sanctification. And so Christ himself speaks in another place, “For their sakes I sanctify myself.” (John 17:19.) It hence appears that this is to be properly applied to his human nature, in which he performed the office of a priest, and in which he also suffered. (90)
To all them that obey him. If then we desire that Christ’s obedience should be profitable to us, we must imitate him; for the Apostle means that its benefit shall come to none but to those who obey. But by saying this he recommends faith to us; for he becomes not ours, nor his blessings, except as far as we receive them and him by faith. He seems at the same time to have adopted a universal term, all, for this end, that he might show that no one is precluded from salvation who is but teachable and becomes obedient to the Gospel of Christ.
(90) The word τελειωθεὶς, means here the same as in Hebrews 2:10. Stuart gives it the same meaning here as in the former passage, “Then when exalted to glory,” etc.; but this does not comport with what follows, for it was not his exaltation to glory that qualified him to be “the author (or the causer or effecter) of eternal salvation,” but his perfect or complete work in suffering, by his having completely and perfectly performed the work of atonement. And that his suffering in obedience to God’s will, even his vicarious suffering, is meant here, appears also from the following reference to his being a priest after the order of Melchisedec. The meaning then seems to be, that Christ having fully completed his work as a priest, and that by suffering, became thereby the author of eternal salvation. — Ed
10. Called of God, or named by God, etc. As it was necessary that he should pursue more at large the comparison between Christ and Melchisedec, on which he had briefly touched, and that the mind of the Jews should be stirred up to greater attention, he so passes to a digression that he still retails his argument.
11. He therefore makes a preface by saying that he had many things to say, but that they were to prepare themselves lest these things should be said in vain. He reminds them that they were hard or difficult things; not indeed to repel them, but to stimulate them to greater attention. For as things that are easily understood render us slothful, so we become more keenly bent on hearing when anything obscure is set before us. He however states that the cause of the difficulty was not in the subject but in themselves. And indeed the Lord speaks to us so clearly and without any obscurity, that his word is rightly called our light; but its brightness become dim through our darkness. (91) This happens partly through our dullness and partly through our sloth; for though we are very dull to understand the truth of God, yet there is to be added to this vice the depravity of our affections, for we apply our minds to vanity rather than to God’s truth. We are also continually impeded either by our perverseness, or by the cares of the world, or by the lusts of our flesh. Of whom does not refer to Christ, but to Melchisedec; yet he is not referred to as a private man, but as the type of Christ, and in a manner personating him.
(91) The literal rendering is “Of whom we have many a word to say, and hardly explainable,” or hard to be explained. This hardness of explanation was however owing to their dullness of comprehension, as Calvin justly observes. “Hard to be uttered” of our version is not correct; nor is “hard to be understood” of Doddridge right. Macknight gives the true meaning, “difficult to be explained.” Beza’s is the same. The reason is added “Since dull (or sluggish) ye are become in ears,” or in hearings. To be dull in ears is to be inattentive; but to be sluggish in ears seems to mean stupidity, slowness of comprehension. The latter is evidently meant here; that is, a tardiness or slowness in understanding. To hear with the ear is in the language of Scripture to understand. (Matthew 11:15; John 8:43; 1 Corinthians 14:2.) Hence to be sluggish in ears is to be slow or tardy in understanding the Word of God. Stuart therefore gives the sense, “Since ye are dull of apprehension.” — Ed.
12. For when for the time ye ought, etc. This reproof contains in it very sharp goads to rouse the Jews from their sloth. He says that it was unreasonable and disgraceful that they should still continue in the elements, in the first rudiments of knowledge, while they ought to have been teachers. “You ought,” he says, “to have been the instructors of others, but ye are not even disciples capable of comprehending an ordinary truth; for ye do not as yet understand the first rudiments of Christianity.” That he might, however, make them the more ashamed of themselves, he mentions the “first principles,” or the elements of the beginning of God’s words, as though he had said, You do not know the alphabet. We must, indeed, learn through life; for he alone is truly wise who owns that he is very far from perfect knowledge; but we ought still to profit so much by learning as not to continue always in the first principles. Nor are we to act in such a way, that what is said by Isaiah should be verified in us,“
There shall be to you a precept on precept, a precept on precept,” etc. (Isaiah 28:10;)
but we ought, on the contrary, so to exert ourselves, that our progress may correspond to the time allowed us.
Doubtless, not only years, but days also, must be accounted for; so that every one ought to strive to make progress; but few there are who summon themselves to an account as to past time, or who show any concern for the future. We are, therefore, justly punished for our sloth, for most of us remain in elements fitted for children. We are further reminded, that it is the duty of every one to impart the knowledge he has to his brethren; so that no one is to retain what he knows to himself, but to communicate it to the edification of others. (92)
Such as have need of milk. Paul uses the same metaphor in 1 Corinthians 3:2; and he reproaches the Corinthians with the same fault with what is mentioned here, at least with one that is very similar; for he says, that they were carnal and could not bear solid food. Milk then means an elementary doctrine suitable to the ignorant. Peter takes the word in another sense, when he bids us to desire the milk that is without deceit, (1 Peter 2:2;) for there is a twofold childhood, that is, as to wickedness, and as to understanding; and so Paul tells us, “Be not children in understanding, but in wickedness.” (1 Corinthians 14:20.) They then who are so tender that they cannot receive the higher doctrine, are by way of reproach called children.
For the right application of doctrines is to join us together, so that we may grow to a perfect manhood, to the measure of full age, and that we should not be like children, tossed here and there, and carried about by every wind of doctrine. (Ephesians 4:14.) We must indeed show some indulgence to those who have not yet known much of Christ, if they are not capable as yet of receiving solid food, but he who has had time to grow, if he till continues a child, is not entitled to any excuse. We indeed see that Isaiah brands the reprobate with this mark, that they were like children newly weaned from the breasts. (Isaiah 28:9.) The doctrine of Christ does indeed minister milk to babes as well as strong meat to adults; but as the babe is nourished by the milk of its nurse, not that it may ever depend on the breast, but that it may by degrees grow and take stronger food; so also at first we must suck milk from Scripture, so that we may afterwards feed on its bread. The Apostle yet so distinguishes between milk and strong food, that he still understands sound doctrine by both, but the ignorant begin with the one, and they who are welltaught are strengthened by the other.
(92) Our version of this clause is very literal and compact, and sufficiently plain, “For when for the time ye ought to be teachers.” Its elegance and conciseness are not retained either by Macknight or by Stuart. What is implied in the words, “for the time,” is sufficiently evident without being expressed. As to the following sentence, “Ye have need,” etc., some difficulty has been found in the construction. I render it as follows, “Ye have again need of this — that some one should teach you the first principles of the oracles of God.” I take τίνα to be accusative before “teach.” The word “oracles” is used by Peter in the same sense, as designating the doctrines of the Gospels, 1 Peter 4:11. — Ed
13. For every one who uses milk, or, who partakes of milk, etc. He means those who from tenderness or weakness as yet refuse solid doctrine; for otherwise he who is grown up is not averse to milk. But he reproves here an infancy in understanding, such as constrains God even to prattle with us. He then says, that babes are not fit to receive the word of righteousness, understanding by righteousness the perfection of which he will presently speak. (93) For the Apostle does not here, as I think, refer to the question, how we are justified before God, but takes the word in a simpler sense, as denoting that completeness of knowledge which leads to perfection, which office Paul ascribes to the Gospel in his epistle to the Colossians 1:28; as though he had said, that those who indulge themselves in their ignorance preclude themselves from a real knowledge of Christ, and that the doctrine of the Gospel is unfruitful in them, because they never reach the goal, nor come even near it.
(93) This is the view of Grotius and others, but some regard “the word of righteousness” as a paraphrasis for the Gospel; and Stuart renders it, “the word of salvation.” Dr. Owen says that the Gospel is called “the word of righteousness,” because it reveals the righteousness of God, Romans 1:17. It may also be so called, because it reveals and contains the truth, the full truth, partly revealed previously. The word “righteousness” has this meaning both in the Old and New Testaments. See Psalms 3:4; Isaiah 45:19; and Matthew 21:23, 2 Corinthians 11:15. “The ministers of righteousness” in the last text are opposed to false ministers. — Ed.
14. Of full age, or perfect, etc. He calls those perfect who are adults; he mentions them in opposition to babes, as it is done in 1 Corinthians 2:6; Ephesians 4:13. For the middle and manly age is the full age of human life; but he calls those by a figure men in Christ; who are spiritual. And such he would have all Christians to be, such as have attained by continual practice a habit to discern between good and evil. For he cannot have been otherwise taught aright in the truth, except we are fortified by his protection against all the falsehoods and delusions of Satan; for on this account it is called the sword of the Spirit. And Paul points out this benefit conferred by sound doctrine when he says, “That we may not be carried about by every wind of doctrine.” (Ephesians 4:14.) And truly what sort of faith is that which doubts, being suspended between truth and falsehood? Is it not in danger of coming to nothing every moment?
But not satisfied to mention in one word the mind, he mentions all the senses, in order to show that we are ever to strive until we be in every way furnished by God’s word, and be so armed for battle, that Satan may by no means steal upon us with his fallacies. (94)
It hence appears what sort of Christianity there is under the Papacy, where not only the grossest ignorance is commended under the name of simplicity, but where the people are also most rigidly prevented from seeking real knowledge; nay, it is easy to judge by what spirit they are influenced, who hardly allow that to be touched which the Apostle commands us to handle continually, who imagine that a laudable neglect which the Apostle here so severely reproves, who take away the word of God, the only rule of discerning rightly, which discerning he declares to be necessary for all Christians! But among those who are freed from this diabolical prohibition and enjoy the liberty of learning, there is yet often no less indifference both as to hearing and reading. When thus we exercise not our powers, we are stupidly ignorant and void of all discernment.
(94) The word for “senses” means literally the organs of the senses, such as the eyes, the ears, etc., but here as signifying the senses themselves, as seeing, hearing, tasting, and smelling, by means of which those grown up are enabled by long experience to know what is good and wholesome for them, and also what is bad and injurious. By this comparison, which is here carried out fully, he intimates that the grown up in Christian truth attain by the habit of exercising all the senses or faculties of their minds, a capacity to distinguish between good and evil, between truth and error, in religion.
The doctrine of reserve cannot be drawn from this passage; for though the Apostle says that they were not capable, owing to their sloth, or taking strong food, he yet lays it before them. — Ed.
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Calvin, John. "Commentary on Hebrews 5". "Calvin's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 12 / Ordinary 17