Attention!
Take your personal ministry to the Next Level by helping StudyLight build churches and supporting pastors in Uganda.
Click here to join the effort!

Bible Commentaries

James Nisbet's Church Pulpit Commentary

Hebrews 1

Verses 1-2

THE REVELATION IN JESUS CHRIST

‘God, Who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets, hath in these last days spoken unto us by His Son.’

Hebrews 1:1-Exodus :

To know God must be the great aim of man. Reason says it, and Scripture affirms it. For all things meet in God, Who is alike their fountain, whence they spring—and the glory of them.

Before Christ came, God showed Himself to His creatures through various channels; but all dimly, as it must be in all human experience. But from the time Christ came, He is the one only demonstration. The exhibition of God is the Son—all comes through Christ.

I. God reveals Himself in Jesus Christ as the Word.—How is Christ the Word? Because He is between the Father and us. Precisely what words are between man and his fellow-man. By the word I speak, the latent and unseen thought of my mind conveys itself to your mind and apprehension. By a perfect parallel, the mind of God conveys the ‘Word,’ and you read in the ‘Word’ the mind of God. Then that living ‘Word’—the Lord Jesus Christ—is pleased to reflect Himself in the written ‘Word,’ which is the Bible. And the Holy Ghost enlightening your understanding, you can see and take in, first Christ, and then God in Christ.

II. There is another way in which Christ exhibits the Father.—The first thing you have to do with the work and death and glory of Jesus Christ is to secure your own salvation—so to accept and appropriate it that you have no doubt whatever of your own pardon—and so find perfect peace by the Cross of Christ. This, when done, you will be free to turn it to another account. You can contemplate and study that wonderful plan of man’s redemption as a wonderful exhibition of the mind of God.

III. Every intelligent creature must desire to know the Creator, and every child of God must yearn to know his Father. And God has met the aspiration. But you must seek your satisfaction in the method He has been pleased to appoint. And that method is not by many ways, but by one. ‘God is a Spirit.’ And to us, ‘spirit’ is only a word; we can attach no definite meaning whatever to ‘spirit.’ It is intangible, even to thought or imagination.

Rev. James Vaughan.

Illustration

‘There is a different and somewhat more accurate translation of this passage in the revised version. It replaces the phrase “sundry times” by the phrase “divers portions”; and it changes “by” into “in.” God hath spoken in the prophets; God hath spoken in His Son. The difference between these two little words “by” and “in” is considerable. To speak by the prophets may mean no more than that the prophets were used as a passive means of communication between God and man; just, for instance, as a flute or a trumpet, which lies quietly in the hand of the performer whilst his breath causes it to emit its musical sounds according to his own good will and pleasure. But when God is said to speak in a prophet, we are intended to understand that He enters the being of the man.’

(SECOND OUTLINE)

GOD SPEAKING IN HIS SON

The language employed is significant: ‘By His Son’; or, rather, by One Whose characteristic is that He is ‘Son.’ The prophets were, in a true sense, ‘sons of God.’ So with the angels: they are ‘sons of God.’ And so are all real disciples: ‘Beloved, now are we the sons of God.’ But the great Being here referred to is ‘Son of God’ in a unique and exceptional sense. He is the only-begotten Son. No one can possibly be son as He is Son.

I. Jesus Christ reveals God to us by His words, by His statements, by His teachings, recorded for us in the pages of the New Testament. These words are human utterances; but at the same time they are Divine. They come to us with absolute authority; they remove all difficulties and settle all controversies; they are final, and there is no further communication from heaven to be expected. When God has spoken to us by His Son, it is not likely that He will send us another prophet to succeed Him.

II. Christ Jesus speaks to us by what He is in Himself.—In Himself—in His own person and life—He is a revelation of the Father. ‘He that hath seen Me,’ He tells us, ‘hath seen the Father.’ Even on Calvary, no less than in the other circumstances of His wondrous life, we learn that such as Jesus is, such is the great and invisible Jehovah Himself. It is simply marvellous; for what does it amount to? To this. The life of Christ informs us that God is so wonderfully kind that He takes pleasure in His creatures. In other words, the life of Jesus of Nazareth lets us know that the greatest, and most powerful, and most awful of all Beings is also the gentlest, and the tenderest, and the kindest, and the best.

III. But there is a formidable side to the character of Jesus Christ.—Were it not so, His goodness would be feebleness. No! Jesus is not mere easy-going good nature; nor is God. Jesus showed plainly enough during His ministry amongst us that if judgment was His ‘strange’ work—uncongenial and, so to speak, distasteful work to Him—it was work that He was perfectly capable of executing. Let us bear that in mind. It is essential to a complete view of the Saviour. Without it we should not be able to understand the full force and emphasis of the statement already quoted, ‘He that hath seen Me hath seen the Father.’

Rev. Prebendary Gordon Calthrop.

Illustration

‘Of course, there are depths of meaning treasured up in the words of Christ which the interpreting Spirit will bring out so as to meet the exigencies of the Christian Church. We may expect to be led, if we put ourselves under Divine guidance, into an ever-increasing acquaintance with the thoughts of God as contained in those words. But the Divinehuman utterance of Christ is now complete; and it is at the infinite peril of any man if he presume to add to it or to subtract from it. What we have to do now is simply to take it as we find it; and by the help of the Holy Ghost to understand it, and by the same help of the Holy Ghost to live according to it.’

Verse 5

THE FATHER AND THE SON

‘I will be to Him a Father, and He shall be to Me a Son.’

Hebrews 1:5

The question appropriately suggests itself: How was this prophecy fulfilled? How was God ‘a Father’ to Christ?—how was Christ ‘a Son’ to God? I shall only suggest one or two lines of thought.

I. God had it, in His eternal purpose, to give exceeding glory to His Son.—Let us never forget that, in tracing the life of Christ from the cradle to the grave. It is the clue to all. There was a far design to make Christ infinitely happy; happier than He could have been had He never passed His sad life upon this earth.

II. But see how God dealt with Him.—He humbled him in the very dust. ‘It pleased the Lord to bruise Him.’ And this, this was the way in which God fulfilled His great undertaking to His own Son: ‘I will be to Him a Father.’ But the Cross led to the Crown.

III. And now the other side. How was Christ a Son?—For ever it was in His heart to do His Father’s will. How willing! ‘Lo, I come!’ He set His face as a flint, and was not ashamed. Never, never did He turn back! From a little child, He ‘must be about His Father’s business.’ He, who might, at any moment, have called for ‘more than twelve legions of angels,’ never raised one look to avert one duty or to escape one pain! With that Father—while He was smiting Him—He always was in the closest communion. Into that Father’s ear He poured all His sorrows; and never, for an instant, mistrusted Him.

IV. There is yet one more deep meaning lying in these words.—The whole mystery of our salvation is wrapped up in it. When Christ was born, this day, He was born not a Son only, but a Representative Son. God sees all believers in that ‘Holy Child Jesus.’ There is not one birth only. As Jesus was born in Bethlehem, He is born in humble hearts. And then what God is to Christ, He is to them. Therefore, to every one of us, by virtue of our union to Christ, God says it even as He says it to Jesus, ‘I will be to you a Father.’

—Rev. James Vaughan.

Verse 6

DIVINE WORSHIP

‘Let all the angels of God worship Him.’

Hebrews 1:6

Worship, true worship, in the sense of bowing down before a present Saviour, in the sense of adoring a new-born King, this is a tribute which Christ claims from His servants above all others on the day of His birth. They are the Birthday gifts we are bound to offer Him.

I. The idea of worship as the special tribute of Christmas Day seems strikingly brought out in this Epistle. How full of strange contrasts is our holy religion. How amazing are the apparent contradictions! Surely it is easy, not difficult, as many seem to find it, to understand how the mysteries of religion do not commend themselves to men who have not faith; for, verily, great is the faith that is requisite to remove the mountains of difficulties which present themselves during the Christian pilgrim’s progress from darkness to light, from doubt to certitude, from a timid, hesitating acceptance of the truth to a perfect and implicit faith! Oh faith, strain thy vision; oh imagination, expand thy powers; oh weak human intellect, agonise; mortal brain, torture thyself in striving in vain to realise that this babe, wrapped by its own mother’s hands in the carefully provided swaddling clothes, this babe, born in this wretched shed, lying sweet and peaceful in this bed of straw, is the Mighty God, the Prince of Peace, of Whom it has long years ago been forespoken in sacred prophecy, ‘Let all the angels of God worship Him!’

II. Worship Him?—‘Never!’ said the proudly robed and austere-looking Pharisee. ‘Never,’ said the highly cultured and gifted philosopher, Saul of Tarsus. ‘Never,’ says the Man of Society of to-day, our modern Pharisee, who performs punctiliously all the duties which respectability requires of him, even to the hearing an occasional sermon by a select preacher in some great abbey or cathedral, but who will never worship One in Whom he sees no more than the ‘Babe of Bethlehem,’ or a titular ‘King of the Jews.’ ‘Never,’ says the profound Freethinker of an enlightened century, whose lofty mind revolts from a form of worship which he regards as the childish pageantry of an effete and attenuated superstition.

—Rev. J. H. Buchanan.

(SECOND OUTLINE)

OUR DEBT TO GOD

Worship is what we owe to God and what we give so little of. We are ready to hear about God, to read about Christ, to pray, maybe, for blessings and graces and forgiveness. But to hear about God is not to worship Him. To read His Word is not to worship Him. Even to pray to Him is not really worship in its proper sense.

I. Worship is the homage of the whole man; the bowing down of body, soul, and spirit in an act of adoration to Him as King and Lord and God. We come to church to hear about God and to pray to God—but how little does the thought come into our heads of giving anything to God. I do not mean the giving of alms. I mean the giving of worship. The idea does not cross our minds that we owe God a duty—once a week and on certain great festivals to attend His Court and there pay Him what He demands of us. He is there indeed to instruct us, and to redress our wrongs, and to hear our petitions. But He is there principally to receive from us that worship which He demands of all his rational creatures as a right, and which He will exact.

II. See how it was when Christ was born into this world.—Men did not flock around Him and adore Him. Therefore God the Father summoned the Angel Host to prostrate themselves in adoration before the little Child that rested on its Mother s knee. ‘When He bringeth in His firstbegotten into the world, he saith. Let all the angels of God worship Him.’

III. The Church calls on her children to come and adore God, and give Him the homage which is His due. ‘Oh come let us worship, and fall down, and kneel before the Lord our Maker.’ She does not bid you come and sit down and lounge about and listen; she calls to an act of homage. ‘Let us fall down, and kneel.’ To kneel is to do homage with the body.

IV. But that is not sufficient. The mind must do homage also.—It must be drawn in from worldly and frivolous thoughts, and must be fixed on God, and think of Him with reverence. The soul also must be directed to God in adoration, kindled with love, burning with desire; it must turn towards God in an attitude of mingled fear and fervour.

So only will true worship be given. Worship must be made up of the devotion of body, soul, and mind to God.

Rev. S. Baring-Gould.

Verse 12

THE UNCHANGEABLENESS OF GOD

‘Thou art the same, and Thy years shall not fail.’

Hebrews 1:12

As against our feeling that we have made our own fate, that our sins have laid such hold upon us that we are not able to look up, the redeeming entry of God upon His disordered world is above all the manifestation of His invincible and unchanging love, not to be diverted from its purpose, from the triumphant achievement of the will of love, by any failure of man, by any apparent impossibility of raising man from the pit into which he has sunk himself beyond the reach of human hope.

I. This redeeming power of God to recreate good out of evil is not merely an idea; thank God it is an experience. We know in the history of our own souls how God can renew the life, out of the materials in which our own sins and failings have left it to Him to work, can rebuild the story of our hope. We know enough to know with absolute assurance that there is nothing we can have done or left undone which can have carried us beyond the range of the renewing power of His forgiving and recreative love. The broad lesson of the redeeming love of God, which is writ large for us in the Christmas mystery of God coming down into a world of sin, is reflected in our own experience of its truth and confirmed to be the ground of a future and immediate hope.

II. The invincible power of the unchangeable love of God is in this revelation of experience made more abundantly plain when we consider the unchangeableness of God’s love in relation to our sense of a fate that binds us to be what we have always been. For the unchangeableness of the love is shown in its unfailingly progressive manifestation. At each step in the lesson of life and of experience we see that God is the same, because His compassions fail not, they are new every morning—the same love which we have known all along unfolds fresh glories of hope. The unchanging love of God shows itself in a perpetual surprise. Always it achieves something far beyond what we hoped for or desired. The unchanging love of God says always, ‘Behold, I make all things new.’

III. The crowning wonder of His Redemption is that in the redemption from sin, whether it be the redemption of the world or of our own individual character, the result which we see wrought out of the materials of our failure and our sin attains a revelation of love so perfect and complete, a progress so unfailing, so unchecked, that we cannot conceive or imagine that it could have been greater or more glorious than it is. We cannot conceive it, and we are right. God cannot change. Nothing can change Him, nothing can defeat Him.

—Rev. Wilfrid Richmond.

Illustration

‘From moods of moral depression we rise to a real and living hope as we come face to face with the master truth of the unchangeableness of the Eternal God. He is the same. For it is not mere unchangeableness with which we are face to face. We misconceive the attributes of God whenever we isolate them from one another. It is the unchangeableness of the invincible and eternal love of God with which we are face to face. This is the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end of the Creation of God.’

Verse 14

THE MINISTRY OF ANGELS

‘Are they not all ministering spirits, sent forth to minister for them who shall be heirs of salvation?’

Hebrews 1:14

The word translated ministering is a strictly liturgical one. It means a service of prayer and praise and thanksgiving, and one which the angels render for or rather on behalf of heirs of salvation. All good Christians are heirs of salvation, so the angels are ministering before God on their behalf.

I. What the angels are doing in heaven.—They are offering to God a service of prayer and praise and thanksgiving, not for themselves, but for us, though they share with us in it.

( a) When God’s creation was finished, when He pronounced everything to be very good, then ‘all the sons of God shouted for joy.’ Those sons of God were the angels.

( b) When God would bring in the New Creation by the birth of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, ‘a multitude of the heavenly host’ were seen and heard.

( c) At the last grand triumph, when ‘the kingdoms of this world shall have become the kingdoms of God and of His Christ,’ ‘all the angels stood round about the throne.’

( d) Elsewhere we read of angels with golden harps and vials or censers full of incense which they are offering, and this incense is the prayer of saints.

( e) And so in our Communion Office, words which are, I suppose, in every service, or liturgy as it is called, in all times and places we sing or say: ‘Therefore with angels and archangels,’ etc.

II. What they are doing on earth.—What have they done! Jacob saw them ascending and descending on the ladder which reached to heaven, and what that ladder is St. John tells.

Time would fail me to tell of the ministrations of the angels as they are set down in the Bible. ‘The angel of the Lord encampeth round them that fear Him.’ ‘He shall give His angels charge over thee to keep thee in all thy ways.’

( a) They ministered to our Lard in His agony in the garden as they had done before in the wilderness after the devil left Him.

( b) They brought St. Peter out of prison.

( c) God sent an angel to St. Paul to assure him of the safety of himself and all who were with him in the ship during his perilous journey to Rome.

( d) Further, we are assured that there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner that repenteth.

( e) The angels of little children always behold the face of our Father in heaven.

( f) The angels carry the souls of the faithful into Paradise.

( g) They will finally sever the just from the unjust.

III. There is an order of heavenly beings in the more immediate presence of God who are ever doing Him a ceaseless service of prayers and praises and thanksgivings, and in obedience to His will they are ready to succour and defend us on earth.

( a) They are great in power, for they are the mighty angels who excel in strength.

( b) They are vast in number, for the chariots of God are thousands of angels. There are multitudes of the heavenly hosts. There is an innumerable company of angels.

( c) They are holy, for they do always behold the face of our Father in heaven.

( d) They are divided into ranks and degrees, for there are angels, archangels, thrones, authorities, dominions, mights, powers, seraphim, and cherubim.

( e) They have their rulers all with names, having reference to God—Ithiel, Uriel, Gabriel, and Michael.

( f) They have passed, as we are passing, through a moral trial, for some are the elect and some the fallen angels, the angels which kept not their first estate.

( g) They take part in the great struggle between good and evil; for there was war in heaven, in other words, in the spiritual and moral world.

Illustration

‘Go where he may, the servant of God ever finds the angel of the Lord round about them that fear Him. More than two hundred times angels are mentioned in Holy Scripture; and though no poor widow devoutly reading God’s Word in her cottage, no nation crying to God in famine or distress, sees their visible forms haunting our paths and homes now; yet faith—which appropriates God’s promise—faith, the evidence of things unseen, whispers to the humble believer, these ministering spirits have not ceased to exist, neither are they shut up in enforced idleness.’

(SECOND OUTLINE)

THE ANGELS AS A MEANS OF GRACE

That God has given to us in the holy angels a great means of grace we cannot afford to ignore.

I. The ministry of angels.—I would ask you to think whether the angels are not designed to have great power over us. There is always somebody who thinks well of us, and hopes well for us, and if we do not care much about ourselves (not well enough to do or be our best for very long together) that fact may always serve to consecrate us afresh. Now if we can once get it into our minds and imaginations that the angels think well of us, always see the best of us, always grieve for anything that is less than the best for us, that the angels are always thinking the best for us, and working the best for us, there is a whole world of consecration in the realisation of this thought. They, at any rate, are good! They, at any rate, are beautiful! They, at any rate, are gifted beyond anything of which human gifts enable us to dream. They, at any rate, are loyal to God and near to God; always beholding His face and always working on our behalf. Even a lonely soul on earth is unable to say, ‘No man careth for my soul.’

II. God’s messengers.—How wonderful to think of the angels always observing the Father’s face with such understanding of every shade of expression of it; always able to catch the Father’s will for the salvation of some poor wayward child of His on earth. It makes all life different if we try to learn about, and to put into practical use, our belief in such things as these. They are worth thinking about; they are based upon what is revealed!

III. Treasures of God’s love.—The Bible will help us to work out more and more the problems which God has brought within our reach, and within the sphere of our experience if we choose to read and pray and to work and believe about them. On the other hand, if we shut our eyes to all these mysterious truths what is life for? Do not let it go on until it is too late! Why should we miss, and go on missing, these treasures of God’s love? From to-day let us just register the fact that God is reminding us that this is irreparably lost for those who have no eye open to the glory of the angels, and no ear open to the wisdom of the angels, and no willing response to the loyalty of the angels, and no co-operation with the ministry of the angels. God grant us power to awake to the full sense of the worth of this great means of grace.

Rev. E. S. Hilliard.

Illustration

‘The attitude of the average Christian towards the angels is usually that of indifference. They do not much care whether they exist or not! They do not take their Bibles to find out the facts God has told them about the angels. They take little or no pains to establish relations with them, they are careless about the blessings which God intends to send us through them. So the Church, trying to rescue us from our persistent blindness, has established this festival of St. Michael and All Angels’ Day, and it should act as a reminder of their ministry to us.’

Copyright Statement
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Bibliographical Information
Nisbet, James. "Commentary on Hebrews 1". Church Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/cpc/hebrews-1.html. 1876.