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Bible Commentaries

Expositor's Dictionary of Texts

Hebrews 1

Verses 1-14

Hebrews 1:1

In the fulness of time both Judaism and Paganism had come to nought; the outward framework, which concealed yet suggested the Living Truth, had never been intended to last, and it was dissolving under the beams of the Sun of Justice which shone behind it and through it The process of change had been slow; it had been done not rashly, but by rule and measure, 'at sundry times and in divers manners'; first one disclosure and then another, till the whole evangelical doctrine was brought into full manifestation.

Newman, Apologia Pro Vita Sua (ch. I.).

'Here,' Mr. Gladstone writes in his introduction to Sheppard's Pictorial Bible, 'we perceive one of the high prerogatives of the Scriptures which helps to explain their close and elastic adaptation to the progressive needs of our race. No other sacred books are so minutely and exactly divided by periods and by authorship. No others cover so vast a range of time and of diversified human history. They began for a family, and they ended for a world. Not given at once and in stereotype, but "at sundry times and in divers manners".'

A great number who chose to write on subjects that came within the relations of the Christian system, as on the various views of morals, the distinctions and judgments of human character, and the theory of happiness, with almost unavoidable references sometimes to our connection with Deity, to death, and to a future state, ought to have written every page under the recollection that these subjects are not left free for careless or arbitrary sentiment since the time that 'God has spoken to us by His Son'; and that the finest composition would be only so much eloquent impiety, if essentially discordant with the dictates of the New Testament.

John Foster, On the Aversion of Men of Taste to Evangelical Religion (ch. VII).

References. I. 1. H. Martin, Preacher's Magazine, vol. xviii. p. 159. Bishop Westcott, The Incarnation and Common Life, p. 277. Expositor (6th Series), vol. iii. p. 39; ibid. vol. vi. p. 409; ibid. vol. vii. p. 86. I.1, 2. E. J. Hardy, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lvi. p. 203. T. F. Crosse, Sermons (2nd Series), p. 1. R. J. Campbell, City Temple Sermons, p. 1.

Christianity and Judaism

Hebrews 1:1-3 (R.V.)

These verses contain two main divisions of thought:

I. A contrast between the Old Revelation and the New.

II. The Nature and Work of the Son of God.

1. A Contrast between the Old Revelation and the New. Bishop Westcott writes: 'The contrast between the Old Revelation and the New is marked in three particulars. There is a contrast (a) in the method, and (6) in the time, and (c) in the agent of the two revelations.' 'God, having of old time spoken to the fathers in the prophets, in many portions and in divers manners, hath spoken in these last days in His Son.' The law of progression, which is stamped on creation, seen in God's providential government of the world, and experienced in the work of the Spirit in the individual soul, is clearly evidenced in Divine revelation. God did not at once open up the fulness of His mind, and unfold to view the treasures of His grace. His revelation was given 'piecemeal' in numerous portions ( πολυμερῶς ). Each fragment is in advance of that which went before.

'God, having of old times spoken unto the fathers in the prophets by divers portions and in divers manners, hath at the end of these days spoken unto us in His Son.' The same voice spoke in both; but in the utterances of the prophets there were but partial gleams, glances, aspects, and scattered fragments of revelation. In the Son there was unparalleled fulness. This stage of revelation is in vast advance of earlier stages of Divine communications. 'The perfect manifestation takes up into itself the broken and imperfect voices. The dream fades in the reality, the vision melts in the tangible image, the type is lost in the antitype, the historical event is merged in One who professes to be the source of all history.' The prophets were the chords through which the heavenly music sounded; the Incarnate Son of God was the complete instrument which gave to man the perfect melody of heaven. 'Every prophet added his own touch to the glorious picture of the days of the New Covenant, until, after sufficient elaboration of the main figure, the painters all withdrew, and let fall the curtain for awhile. The Person is already depicted, who shall raise this curtain again, and with His own hand trace for His contemporaries the fulfilment of the prophecy.' The Son of God unites in Himself the whole of God's revelation.

2. The Nature and Work of the Son of God. I can only comment on the grand sentences, 'Who being the effulgence of His glory, and the very image of His substance,' with great brevity. Dr. Newman, in his Arians, says that the word 'effulgence' expresses 'the essentially ministrative character of the person of the Son'. Dr. Owen writes: 'The words denote the Divine nature of Christ; yet not absolutely, yet as God the Father in Him doth manifest Himself to us'. A luminous body is perceived by the splendour which streams forth from it. The Son is 'the brightness of the Father's glory'.

The verse which we are now considering is an epitome of the first two chapters of this Epistle. The first chapter is one continued argument for the Deity of Christ; the second chapter for His humanity; and then in the first verse of the third chapter the writer bids us consider how by reason of His twofold nature He is fitted to be the 'High Priest of our profession, Christ Jesus'. He is human, and can suffer in the same nature that sinned. He is Divine, and therefore He is able to meet the requirements of a law promulgated by an infinite Being, and to offer a sacrifice of an infinite value. Christ, in His twofold nature, is a bridge which spans the abyss which separates a holy God from sinful man. The ultimate reason for the Incarnation is to be found in the sin of man The effulgence of 'God's glory' and 'the very image of His substance' in our nature 'put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself. He 'Himself purged our sins'. In this passage we are standing on the mountain-summit of the Incarnation, and we see around us seven mighty peaks in this Alpine region of thought. Let us gaze upon the first group of four. (1) The God-man is the end of all history. He 'is appointed heir of all things'. (2) He is the beginning of all history. In Him and for Him God made 'the world' the ages all that exists and moves in time. He is the spring from which all the streams of time have risen, as well as the sea into which they flow. He is the final cause of all human life. He is not only the goal of Judaism, but the climax of the world's history. (3) He is before all history. He is from everlasting, 'the brightness of God's glory, the express image of His person'. The Son is co-eternal with the Father. 'In order to the being of a Son there must be a Father; but it is no less true that in order to the being of a Father there must be a Son. Fatherhood is no older than Sonship, the one is only as the other is.' (4) He is throughout all history. He 'upholdeth all things by the word of His power'.

J. W. Bardsley, Many Mansions, p. 45.

Hebrews 1:2

Where can you find the mind of the Christian theologian of that early day better set forth than in the Epistle to the Hebrews, whoever may be the writer? And what position does he take up? Hebe-gins by stating that the Son of God is the 'heir of all things, through Whom also He made the worlds'; 'Who being the effulgence of His glory, and the express image of His person, and upholding all things by the word of His power, when He had made purification of sins, sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high; having become so much better than the angels, as He hath inherited a more excellent name than they'; and then he goes on to argue at length that whereas the higher spiritual orders of being whom the Jews called angels, and who were God's ministers, though not bound by earthly conditions, all rank beneath the Son of God, this Son of God nevertheless manifested Himself in this petty world of ours to purify us from sin, and obtain for us the blessedness which sin forfeits. Of course I do not dream of attributing to any writer of the first century speculations like Professor Whewell's on The Plurality of Worlds. But I do say that such writers had gathered, probably from the time of the Babylonian exile, a very steadfast belief in a vast hierarchy of beings in power far superior to man, and that their belief in this hierarchy of superior beings in no degree affected their conviction that the redemption of man from sin is a work worthy of the Divine Incarnation, and of that Divine suffering to which the Incarnation led and in which it was fulfilled.

R. H. Hutton, Contemporary Thought and Thinkers, vol. 1. pp. 293, 294.

References. I. 2. H. Wace, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lviii. p. 140. I. 2, 3. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xlv. No. 2635. I. 3. W. H. Hutchings, Sermon Sketches (2nd Series), p. 162. Expositor (4th Series), vol. vi. p. 77; ibid. (6tb Series), vol. viii. p. 201; ibid. vol. x. p. 198; ibid. vol. xi. p. 447. I. 6. F. St. John Corbett, The Preacher's Year, p. 13. Expositor (5th Series), vol. ii. p. 82; ibid. (6th Series), vol. v. p. 150; ibid. vol. x. p. 113.

Hebrews 1:7

There comes a terrible moment to many souls when the great movements of the world, the larger destinies of mankind, which have lain aloof in newspapers and other neglected reading, enter like an earthquake into their own lives when the slow urgency of growing generations turns into the tread of an invading army or the dire clash of civil war, and grey fathers know nothing to seek for but the corpses of their blooming sons, and girls forget all vanity to make lint and bandages which may serve for the shattered limbs of their betrothed husbands. Then it is as if the Invisible Power that has been the object of lip-worship and lip-resignation became visible, according to the imagery of the Hebrew poet, making the flames his chariot and riding on the wings of the wind.... Then it is that the submission of the soul to the Highest is tested, and even in the eyes of frivolity life looks out from the scene of human struggle with the awful face of duty, and a religion shows itself which is something else than a private consolation.

George Eliot, in Daniel Deronda.

References. I. 9. Expositor (6th Series), vol. xii. p. 66. I. 10. Ibid. (4th Series), vol. ii. p. 248. 1. 10-12. H. S. Holland, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lix. p. 69. Hebrews 1:11

In Dr. Andrew Bonar's study hung the text he was so fond of, and had had printed for himself, But Thou remainest. A lady called to see him one day in great sorrow and depression of mind. Nothing seemed to bring her any comfort. All at once, as they talked together, Dr. Bonar saw her face light up, and she said, 'You don't need to say anything more, I have got what I need,' and she pointed to the words of the text which had caught her eye, But Thou remainest.

Reminiscences, p. 93.

Reference. 1.11. J. W. Whiton, Beyond the Shadow, p. 3.

Hebrews 1:11-12

The generations of man are but the hours of a season, a little longer than a single year. The memory of them is trampled in by the million feet of their successors, themselves in turn to be trampled in as swiftly and cared for no more. But the stars which we see are the stars which they saw. Time has not dimmed their brilliance, or age made them loiter on their course. Time for them is not. They are themselves the measurers and the creators of time. Have they too their appointed end? 'They shall perish, but Thou shalt endure. They all shall wax old like a garment; as a vesture shalt Thou change them, and they shall be changed. But Thou art the same, and Thy years shall not fail.' Is this true? No answer peals to us out of the abysses of space. No evidence can be alleged to satisfy a British jury.

Froude, Oceana (ch. 11).

References. I. 12. W. Richmond, Church Family Newspaper, vol. xiv. p. 12. Expositor (6th Series), vol. vii. p. 280.

St. Michael and All Angels

Hebrews 1:14

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.

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, for what I should call the service of the Invisible Altar of Trust. Yes, there is an Invisible Altar of Trust, and there is not a person in this church that has not been made better at some time or other in their lives, and who has not known what it is to be strengthened by somebody's power of belief in them. Possibly the belief is in no way justified, yet the fact alone that the belief was held by somebody has stirred many a man and woman up to better things. 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.

II. God's Messengers. The angels always can choose, because they see our Father's face, perfectly catching His expression and those suggestions for our good which the Father sends for us in that way through them. 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 decipher the meaning of every alteration in that expression; 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? Is life given to us that we go on missing every day all the treasures of His ingenuity and love? I suppose, when we get beyond death, and see more clearly than we can see here, and understand more widely than we can understand now, all that God has planned for our salvation from the beginning of eternity I suggest, I say, there will be nothing more absolutely painful, nothing that will make a more complete hell, than the consciousness of all we have missed, the conviction beyond death of the value of all we have ignored this side of the grave. 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 today 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 cooperation with the ministry of the angels.

Hebrews 1:14

And is there care in heaven? And is there love

In heavenly spirits to these creatures bace,

That may compassion of their evilles move?

There is: else much more wretched were the cace

Of men then beasts. But O! th' exceeding grace

Of highest God that loves his creatures so,

And all His workes with mercy doth embrace,

That blessed Angels he sends to and fro,

To serve to wicked men, to serve his wicked foe.

How oft do they their silves bowers leave,

To come to succour us that succour want!

How oft do they with golden pineons cleave

The flitting skyes, like flying Pursuivant,

Against fowle feendes to ayd us militant!

They for us fight, they watch and dewly ward,

And their bright Squadrons round about us plant;

And all for love, and nothing for reward.

O! why should heavenly God to men have such regard?

Spenser's Faerie Queene (II. VIII. 1, 2).

Hebrews 1:14

Cardinal Vaughan says: 'We are touched by the love of our God as shown towards us in the ministry of His hidden angels, but I think the exhibition of His love is even more touching as vouchsafed through those who are our fellow-travellers along the road of life.'

References. I. 14. R. F. Horton, The Hidden God, p. 183. W. P. S. Bingham, Sermons on Easter Subjects, p. 134. I. 31. Expositor (4th Series), vol. vi. p. 132.

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Bibliographical Information
Nicoll, William Robertson, M.A., L.L.D. "Commentary on Hebrews 1". Expositor's Dictionary of Text. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/edt/hebrews-1.html. 1910.