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THE ESSENTIAL SUPERIORITY OF THE REVELATION IN THE SON
CRITICAL AND EXEGETICAL NOTES
Hebrews 1:1. God.—Placed abruptly, as the first and emphatic word, in the English translation; and properly so placed, because the unity of God is the truth concerning which the Jews were so supremely jealous, and the message of this treatise could not have been received by the Jews if it had raised the faintest suspicion of sympathy with the Gnostic heresy, that the Old Testament dispensation was the work of another and inferior deity (demiurge). The monotheistic truth was entrusted to the care of the Abrahamic race; and at the present day the great stumbling-block in the way of the Jew’s acceptance of Christianity is the tri-theistic notion which he gets from the form of the Christian teachings concerning the Trinity. Sundry times and in divers manners.—“At many times by many persons.” The writer appears to be thinking of revelations by persons, not of revelations by things. Revelations by persons can be compared with the revelation in the person of the Son. R.V. renders, “by divers portions and in divers manners.” Alford, “in many portions and in divers manners.” Stuart, “in various parts and in various ways.” Webster and Wilkinson, “in manifold portions and manifold methods.” The fragmentary, and consequently imperfect, character of all the earlier revelations is distinctly indicated. The variety of agents and agencies indicates the constant need for precise adaptation to differing conditions. The incomplete and preparatory character of the earlier revelations is indicated at the very beginning of the treatise, and it is the foundation on which the writer’s argument is raised. He had to remove the impression which had been made so deeply on the Jewish mind, that the revelation in the Mosaic system was final and complete. As there must be relativity to imperfect creatures, who are always in some educational stage, no revelation made to them can ever be absolutely final. It should be an advance beyond anything previously given, but it always involves the possibility of an advance beyond itself. It is important to keep the word “revelation” for the Divine matter that is communicated, and the word “inspiration” for the Divine power which rests on the agents employed for communicating it to men. Spake in time past.—Or having spoken then in one way, speaks now in another way. Since the communication of thought from man to man is chiefly made through the agency of words, words must be the principal medium for communicating the thoughts of God to the mind of man. The possibility of a book-revelation was much discussed in the early part of this century; but that is only a detail when the principle—and the historical fact—of a word-revelation is accepted. It only concerns the mode of preserving the words. Revelation is God speaking, putting His thought into some form of words which will allow of our apprehending it. The term λόγος, or “word,” properly means, “that medium or agency which translates one man’s heart to another.” When this treatise was written, no fresh revelation had come from God in any prophet for more than four hundred years. The ministry of John the Baptist is not taken into consideration, because it properly belongs to the Messianic age; and what John had to say did not immediately concern this writer’s argument. It did not in any of its characteristic features belong to the series of the earlier Divine revelations. The fathers.—A Pauline form of expression. See Romans 9:5; Romans 11:28; Romans 15:8. By the prophets.—More precisely in the prophets: not διά, but ἐν; in the persons of the prophets; God in them, speaking by means of them. The word “by” separates the message from the messenger; the word “in” suggests that the messengers were essential to the message; and this prepares for the comparison with the Son, who both brought a message and was the message. Philo says, “The prophet is an interpreter, while God from within whispers what he should utter.” The term “prophets” should here be taken in a comprehensive way, as including all persons whom God has ever been pleased to use as mediums for communicating His will to men.
Hebrews 1:2. These last days.—R.V. “at the end of these days.” Two ideas are suggested; the second is the more suitable.
1. At the end of this present pre-Messianic age of the world.
2. In these days that are the last time. Perhaps it is better to take the words as simply meaning “nowadays,” in our times. The last times are always those in which an author writes. It is not necessary to assume that this writer had in mind the “end of the world.” By His Son.—In a Son. The article is omitted in order to make the point, that the revelation came in One who stood to God in the relation of Son, ἐν υἱῷ; and the absence of the article makes the expression emphatic, “He is Son, and nothing else.” Alford suggests reading, “In Him who was Son of God.” Appointed.—Constituted, ordained. Reference is especially to His revelational and redemptive mission. The eternal Sonship is not in thought here. Heir of all things.—The classical meaning of the Greek word κληρυνόμος is one who either acquires by lot or inherits by death. The writer would set forth that this only Son is virtual possessor with the Father of all things. Made the worlds.—The universe, as apprehended by man’s senses. The material world is the first revelation of God, and the basis of natural religion. All Divine activity in the material, sensible spheres is properly thought of as the operation of the Divine Son. He is the medium of all Divine working in man’s sphere. The exalted and unique pre-eminence of the Son of God is the writer’s topic. For the idea of the Son as Creator of the worlds, compare Ephesians 3:9; Colossians 1:15-19; John 1:3; John 1:10; 1 Corinthians 8:6; Hebrews 1:10. The word αἰῶνας may mean “age,” “period of time”; but that is not to the point here. Alford treats the assertion very comprehensively: “So that the universe, as well in its great primeval conditions, the reaches of space, and the ages of time, as in all material objects and all successive events, which furnish out and people space and time, God made by Christ.” Compare the following sentences from Philo: “You will discover that the Cause of it [the world] is God … and the Instrument the Word of God, by whom it was equipped.” “But the Shadow of God is His Word, whom He used as an Instrument in making the world.”
Hebrews 1:3. Brightness of His glory.—R.V. “effulgence of His glory.” The bright shining forth. Light flowing from a luminous body; seen, as ray, in our atmosphere, and enabling us to apprehend a glory which is wholly beyond mortal vision. “The glory of Christ is the glory of the Father, just as the sun is only revealed by the rays which stream forth from it” (Farrar). Express image.—Impression as of a seal. The word χαρακτήρ may mean a stamping instrument, or one who stamps, or the thing stamped which takes the impress; so exact image. Compare seal and die, picture and photograph, photograph and sculptured figure. Philo says of wisdom, “She is the effulgence of the everlasting Light, the unspotted mirror of the power of God, and the image of His goodness.” The word ὑπόστασις is an exceedingly difficult one to explain, because so many different ideas have been attached to it, and made bases of doctrine. In classical use ὑπόστασις means
(4) substance or essence. In the sense of “person” it was first used by Greek writers after the Arian Controversy began. Athanasius used it as distinct from οὐσία. The general meaning of the figures may be thus given: If God is Light, Christ is the Radiance; if God is Substance, Christ is the Manifestation. The words “by Himself” are not in the original. Purged our sins.—R.V. “made purification of sins.” Stuart says that in Hellenistic Greek the word καθαρισμός is also employed for expiation, and carries the idea of atonement. To make purification by the removal of sins may be illustrated by John 1:29; 1 John 3:5; 2 Peter 1:9. In the LXX, the Day of Atonement is called the Day of Purification. Sat down.—The position at the right hand of one on a throne implies commanding, ruling, administrative authority. For Jehovah’s investiture of the Son of Man with unlimited dominion, see Daniel 7:14; and with supreme dignity, see Ephesians 1:20-21. Farrar says, “The description of Christ in these verses differed from the current Messianic conceptions of the Jews in two respects:
(1) He was Divine and Omnipotent;
(2) He was to die for our sins.”
Hebrews 1:4. Being made.—R.V. “having become.” Christ as Son always was superior to the angels in dignity and essence; the writer asserts that He became mediatorially superior to the angel-ministrants of the old dispensation, as the agent of the sublime scheme of spiritual redemption. By right of inheritance He has a better name. By right of commission He has gained a better name. Compare Philippians 2:9. παρά after the comparative degree is peculiar to this epistle. The new paragraph shows how the name and dignity of Jesus Christ can be established by the testimony of Scripture, the Scripture being treated on the then familiar Jewish method, Messianic references being much more freely recognised than we can approve from strictly logical standpoints.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Hebrews 1:1-4
The Earthly Mission of the Divine Son.—This so-called epistle is remarkable as having no opening salutation or prayer. The beginning is abrupt, as arresting attention, after the manner of the rhetorician. Being addressed to Christian Jews, it opens with the conciliatory assertion of the unity of God. Compare Genesis 1:1. There is one God, from whom has come all the various revelations which men have received. He is God, and only God. The writer belongs to the Alexandrian School, but he has no sympathy with those who regarded the Old Testament system as the work of a demiurge. He would not exalt Christianity by depreciating Mosaism. The stand taken by the writer is distinctly Jewish: “The Lord our God is one Lord.” The former revelations were real revelations, no matter how long a time their coming may have covered, or how various may have been their forms and agencies. Law, prophecy, type, allegory, didactic teaching, promise, threatening, oracle—all may fully be recognised as agencies used for the communication of the Divine will to men. All that need be affirmed is, that the Christ-revelation is higher than any previous revelation, because the conditions demanded a higher. It was an advance along the same line. It is not something altogether new, so there need be no antecedent prejudice against it. It is in the regular—it might even be said the necessary—line of progression. The pious Jew need have no hesitation about taking this step forward. It is but the older opened out, as the bud unfolds into the flower. It is as relative to the age of the writer, and the ages that were coming, as the older revelations had been relative to the ages that were past. It was precisely what the older had prepared for; and no one was called to speak depreciatingly of the preparatory stages of a Divine work which concerned humanity, rather than any mere section of it. The conciliatory character of the opening words of the epistle is quite evident. The writer would have obtained no unprejudiced hearing from a Jewish audience if he had begun by claiming that Christianity was an independent, original, and unconnected revelation. The Jew would have firmly replied, “Since Jehovah has revealed Himself to us, that which is true is not new, and that which is new is not true.” This conciliatory attitude towards the older dispensation enables the writer to affirm that the older and the later revelations can be compared because they lie in the same plane. The revelation in a Son can be compared with revelation in a prophet, or in an angel, because they are all revelations made through human agencies. The person chosen as the agent for the latest revelation is a Son. Christ is indeed the eternal Son, to be thought of as the agency of God when acting in the sphere of created things. But the writer has rather in mind that, for relation to our world, and to ensure our apprehension of His person, relation, and mission, He is constituted Son, because that relationship both fathers and children can so fully understand and enter into. To call Christ the Son is distinctly revelational to us. In a brief passage the writer summarises what, as Son, Jesus came to earth to do.
I. To reveal God to us.—R.V. “who being the effulgence of His glory, and the very image of His substance.” This may seem to be the work of every prophet. Take the deepest view of every man entrusted with a revelation, and we find that he is making God better and more worthily known. Knowledge of God is the eternal life. But we cannot know God save through His revelations of Himself to us. This truth men stoutly resist. In every age they have tried by searching to find out God; and in every age the quest has failed. The religions of the world represent the best success that has been attained, and there is no adequate representation of God in any one of them; and if the best conceptions of all were gathered together, the figure of the Divine would be found incomplete and unworthy. “Lo, these are parts of His ways: but the thunder of His power who can understand?” Precisely the things which cannot be found out aright by unaided man are God’s relationship to us and the character which tones that relationship. Christ came to be the ray in the earthly atmosphere which enabled men to apprehend the mysterious orb of eternal Light. He was the Son revealing the Father. Christ came to be the seal which should declare the stamp which had impressed it—to be a life-character which should make real to us the Divine character. Fatherhood and personal love Christ came to reveal. And so to know God in a way that gives life is to “know Jesus Christ whom He hath sent.” The following points may be developed:
1. God must reveal Himself to be known.
2. God must adapt His revelations, or they will reveal nothing to those who receive them.
3. God must advance His revelations, or they will not meet the needs of a progressive race.
4. God cannot be thought of as ending His revelations while the race continues to be progressive.
II. To bring God’s power for our help.—“And upholding all things by the word of His power.” This is intended to bring home to the Jews and to us the infinite ability of Christ. He is fully competent for the work entrusted to Him. He brings Divine power to the fulfilment of His mission. The writer asserts His oneness with God—the Divine in the human. The impression that God was, in Christ, with men for their help, is precisely the impression of our Lord’s miracles. What the pagans of Lystra felt about Paul and Barnabas, when the lame man was healed, is what we ought to feel about Christ, as we watch Him doing His mighty works. This should satisfy us—God Himself is intervening for us. “God was in Christ reconciling the world unto Himself.”
III. To deal with our sins.—R.V. “when He had made purification of sins”; A.V. “purged our sins.” The thought is a Jewish one. Illustration may be taken from the ceremonies of the “day of atonement.” But the idea is limited here to cleansing or purifying work. Christ came to arrange for the cleansing away of sins. In a sense Christ’s mission was a limited one; and yet it was so truly at the very heart of things as to become unlimited. Sin is man’s supreme woe. It is of no use whatever to deal with its consequences only; it must be dealt with at its root, which is the sinful—and biassed—will of man. In the recovery of the human will is found the great redemptive sphere. But what was probably in the mind of the writer when he thus alluded to sins was the distinction between sins and ceremonial offences, which appears again and again in the epistle. The earlier system dealt, illustratively, with uncleanness. Christianity deals, practically, with moral evil, and effects the purification of sins. And this is the precise Divine intervention that we want. Jesus, God with us, saving us from our sins.
IV. To gain a special power for permanently dealing with our sins.—R.V. “sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high.” Not as One who had completed His work, and could retire to enjoy His rest and reward; but as One who, having done a preliminary part of His work, takes up a fitting position for permanently carrying it on. The visions of Stephen, and of Paul at Damascus, indicate the activity of the glorified Christ. And this epistle argues for a continual and even eternal priesthood. The earthly experience of Jesus involves special fitness for a permanent ministry. “He ever liveth to make intercession for us.” These truths have to be duly illustrated and enforced:
1. God would have us know Him aright—in His Song of Song of Solomon 2:0. God is concerned for our deepest need—and that comes out of our sin.
3. God has made both immediate and permanent provision for meeting our deepest need—in Jesus, who is our Saviour and His Son.
The Gospel in the Old Testament.—Every revelation of God to men is a gospel; it is “good news.” It is a Divine intervention for helping man. It assumes that man is in some condition that calls for the friendly hand. It may be a condition involved in his creaturely dependence, or it may be a condition involved in his wilfulness and sin. It is always in such precise adaptation, and it always has in view such a gracious purpose, that it always is a gospel.
I. It is always a gospel by reason of its relativity. Both the form of it and the substance of it are always precisely adapted to the people to whom it is sent, and to the conditions in which they are placed.
II. It is always a gospel by reason of its limitations. It were no good news for God to tell us now what we could not understand save by living the life of two thousand years hence. It could have been no gospel to tell Abraham what only Peter could understand. We ought not to read too much into the Old Testament revelations, because the grace of them lay in their wise limitations.
III. It is always a gospel because it fits into an advancing series,—each a gracious message within its limits, but nothing standing alone; each having this further gospel in it, that it prepared for something better, and made something better necessary. It created an unrest; it held out a hope: so every early revelation was a gospel which moved men on towards the great gospel of the Son.
SUGGESTIVE NOTES AND SERMON SKETCHES
Hebrews 1:1. God. The Theological Postulate.—The abruptness with which the writer commences his work gives it the character of a treatise rather than an epistle. No Hebrew writer would for one moment entertain the idea of proving that God is: that is the one admitted fact on which all his thinking rests. It is not possible for man to argue on any scientific subject unless he accepts certain facts which cannot be proved, and which it is mutually agreed shall be accepted without proof. Euclid must ask for the acceptance of certain axioms and postulates before he can work out a single mathematical problem. And there is one thing that must be admitted before any theological system can be constructed. It is an absolutely unprovable thing, because every proof that can be offered must rest on assumptions, not on knowledge, since man has no power to know in the sphere to which this primary truth is related. It is the being of God. A man may deny the being of a God. Then we cannot talk theology with him; nor can we give him any idea of his moral duty. Scripture makes no attempt to prove that there is a God. It helps us to apprehend what He is, but not that He is. It starts with the sublime assertion, “In the beginning God.” It proposes to deal only with men who accept that altogether incomprehensible fact as their starting-point. Back of that assertion no man’s intellect can go. The absolute Being, God, no created being ever can know. A beginning, as related to the unknown absolute Being, no man can conceivably imagine. There is nothing possible to us but to begin our thinking with this as our accepted first fact, our foundation truth—God is. God—begin there; one Being; one uncreated, independent Being, sole Source and absolute Controller of all things and beings that exist.
Hebrews 1:1. God First.—The first verse of Holy Scripture asserts something that God has done. “God created the heavens and the earth.” But there is something that goes before the Divine action. God Himself must exist—the uncaused, the eternal Being. “In the beginning God.” This is the place for Him, the only place, the place in which all reverent souls will ever keep Him. The first and foundation-stone of the great temple of revealed truth is a declaration which grasps all space, all being, all time, and bids us see, before them, above them, and altogether independent of them, one lonely, infinite Being, having life in Himself. When there was no heaven and no earth, in the silent, dark eternities, in the beginning, there was God. The first utterance of the Divine Word is altogether beyond the grasp of human reason; the first appeal of Divine revelation is made to faith: and as the revelation proceeds it never makes a greater demand on faith than in its opening sentence. It is well for us to observe this striking fact. No attempt is made in Holy Scripture to prove the being of God. There is the assertion that He is, but no more. The existence of God must be accepted as the beginning of human thinking. A revelation cannot be addressed to people who do not beforehand believe in God. St. Paul, when preaching at Athens, made no attempt to prove the being of God. He assumes His existence: “God that made the world and all things therein.” We are told everywhere a great deal about God’s operations of power and grace; but there is no consideration or discussion anywhere of human doubts about His existence. What may be the reason for this very remarkable fact? One certainly is, that God has set the proofs of His existence so abundantly on His other handiwork that He did not need to rewrite them in His book. He has even put them in the very constitution of our mental nature. We can never see anything without at once thinking there must have been a cause for it; and we follow the chain of causes until we find some living agent. Our minds refuse to stop at anything short of that. We see a book; we cannot help thinking of the writer and the printer. We see a machine; the orderly working of it, or its productions, will not satisfy us. We know there was an inventor and maker. And this peculiarity of our minds leads us back to a living Being, source of all created things. Precisely meeting that peculiarity, in perfect harmony with it, we are surrounded with objects which we did not make, which no man made, trees, flowers, streams, mountains, clouds, creatures; trace back their origin through what developments we may, our mind will push the series on and on until we find some living Being, and then only will it rest. We may leap at once back from the thing to the living Creator; or we may go, slowly and laboriously, under scientific guides, through the long and various processes of development and growth; but at last, when we have reached the beginning, there is God. There is also settled into our souls the conviction of our dependence; no persuasions can remove from us the feeling that we are not self-centred. Our very leaning on each other we feel is but the shadow of the sublimer reality—we all lean on God. Our bodies are dependent on nurture, food, atmosphere. The length of our lives, the measure of our health, the place of our lot, the forms of our diseases, are all things out of our own control. The universal sense of dependence has found universal expression in human worship. In every age and in every land men have felt that they leaned upon a superior and invisible Power, and with rites and offerings they have ever sought to propitiate Him. The first chapter of Genesis is the assertion of God’s eternal existence, and an account of His revelation of Himself in creation. We need not regard the chapter as literally descriptive; indeed, any approach to a scientific description would have been quite unsuited to the Hebrews of Moses’ day. What may be found in the chapter is in perfect harmony with the opening sentence, which declares the absolute unity of God. The chapter asserts the exclusive relation of this one God to everything man can see, or hear, or feel, or know.
I. The relation of God, as Cause and Creator, to the whole circle of existences.—Could any language more perfectly cover the entire fields of human observation, all time, and all things? We may conceive of no created thing, no existing thing, to which Moses has not here attached the assurance, God made it; God ordained it; God arranged it. The chapter includes all the components of the earth’s crust; all the treasures of the mighty deep; all the elements of the atmosphere; all the hosts of heaven, from the ruling sun to the faintest distant star; all the multiplied forms of vegetable life; all the higher forms of animal life; and all the yet higher forms of human life. And in affirming that all existence came from the hand of God, Moses includes all those natural forces and laws which act in creation. Every created thing has a power to act on every other created thing. The sun is holding the earth in its place; but the earth is as truly helping to hold the sun in his. The atmosphere is influenced by and influences the land and the water. Every living being is at once the subject and the source of some material influence. All these powers, laws, forces—whatever name man may give to them—are gathered up by Moses, and he boldly affirms that all these also are from God.
II. The relation of God, as Cause and Arranger, to all the changes of creation.—Changes are going on in nature continually,—changes sometimes, indeed, very silent and very gradual; but sometimes such as men call wild, sudden, wayward. Then, it may be asked, are these changes the introduction of some new power, the working of some new and rival divinity? Is it that some evil spirit has entered into God’s creation, and is conflicting with Him, overturning His plans, producing riot and disorder? That, indeed, men have always been too ready to suspect. Again and again men have taken up the idea of two supreme powers, one good, and the other evil; and the changes of creation and life are represented as being their conflict. Moses shows us one living God at the beginning of all changes, designing all change, and presiding over all change,—dealing with chaos, tohu and bohu, emptiness and confusion; calling forth light, and settling order; separating land from water, and lifting waters from waters. Changes through long periods fitted the earth for man’s abode. But all change God ordered, and over all its processes He presides. No second power can find room; no second deity is wanted. “Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God is one Lord.”
III. The relation of God, as Cause and Controller, to the entire range of development in creation.—The whole field of animal and vegetable life is presented to our view. The order in which Moses arranged the creatures has not been improved in these latter days. First, the low forms of fish-life (water-life), through the egg-bearing classes upwards to the mammals, that bring forth from their own bodies, and suckle their young. All, in their growth and development, are God’s, and the objects of His care. In everything living there is the faculty of reproduction, the power to prolong the existence of its kind. Vegetation casts its seeds and bears its fruits. Animals, from insects to men, are able to preserve their existence generation after generation. We ask: Is this some strange power developed by the creatures themselves? Have they within themselves any creative energies? Are they, in any sense, Divine? No, says this chapter. All this is still only a part of the one plan and the one arrangement. It is the Divine idea of development. God gave, to plant and creature, seed after its kind. We have found then the place for God in the world. He is first, before all things; He is “in the beginning.” Then we have found the place for God in a man’s life. He must be first, always and everywhere first,—first in all a man’s doings; first in all a man’s thoughts; first in all a man’s aims; first in all a man’s interests; first in all a man’s relationships; first in all a man’s worship; and first in all a man’s hopes. And this we constantly affirm: the adequate moral culture of a man is not possible unless he will give to God His due place; and that is first everywhere, and in everything.—Partly from “Age of Great Patriarchs.”
The One God of Judaism and Christianity.—The epistle must be read in the light of the main purpose of its author—“to secure his Hebrew readers against the peril of an apostasy to which they were tempted by the delay of Christ’s personal return, by the persecutions to which they were subjected, and by the splendid memories and exalted claims of the religion in which they had been trained.” Three suggestions have been made as accounting for the absence of the writer’s name.
1. The matter dealt with was so weighty that the writer desired to merge his own personality.
2. A shorter private letter accompanied this.
3. The name is concealed because of the relations between the writer and those to whom he was writing.
The primary religious truth entrusted to the keeping of the Hebrew race is that of the unity of God. Of this truth, ever since the Babylonian Captivity, the Jew has been profoundly jealous. Whatever is taught to the Jew must be in recognised consistency with this primary truth. In the heat of controversy the apostle Paul spoke slightingly of the Mosaic system, as “weak and beggarly elements.” This writer takes care to prevent misunderstanding by his opening sentences. One and the same God is the Author of both Judaism and Christianity. And this involves the necessary relation—we may even say the interdependence—of the two systems. Gnosticism attributed the Old Testament to an inferior and even malignant deity, who was called the “demiurge.”
Divine Revelations.—Revelations come from God to men through Divinely appointed agents and agencies. They are chosen in order to secure adaptation. They are arranged in a progressive order, which we can more or less perfectly recognise. “It has never been God’s method to reveal all His relations to mankind at once. He revealed Himself ‘in many portions.’ He lifted the veil fold by fold. First came the Adamic dispensation; then the Noachic; then the Abrahamic; then the Mosaic; then the prophetic; then the Ezraic; then the Christian.” “The first great truth which God prominently revealed was His Unity; then came the earliest germ of the Messianic hope; then came the Moral Law; then the development of Messianism and the belief in Immortality”; then the mission of the Son (Farrar). Diversity, both in substance and in form, marks all first stages of Divine revelation; but the advancing tendency is towards unity. When preparatory revelations do their appointed work, they make a final and universal revelation possible. The highest revelation only removes the lower and earlier by bringing fully out their best. There is a sense in which Judaism is abrogated: there is a fuller sense in which it lives again in Christianity. There is a direct connection and relation between all revelations that are Divine. There never has been and there never can be such a thing as an isolated Divine revelation. Everything God does and everything God says fits harmoniously into a whole of gracious Divine purpose. This is true of God’s revelations in all lands and in all times.
The Essential Idea of a Prophet.—A prophet is one who becomes a voice for communicating some will of God to the minds of men. But God’s voice comes to men through, by means of, and not over, or as over-mastering, the individuality of the prophet. This is true of the teaching prophets of modern times. And herein the Jehovah prophet and the evangelical prophet are to be distinguished from the pagan receiver and transmitter of oracles, God’s messages to men are sent to men in the forms and with the mental imprint which those who convey them can put upon them. The messages of God are often parabolic, but they are seldom, if ever, enigmatical as oracles usually are.
Divine Selection for Service.—Men in every age are honoured by being Divinely selected for service. There are still such selected men for the ministry of modern days; but their work may be to expound a revelation rather than to carry and find voice for one. It must be borne in mind that the men who expound a revelation may be as truly in the endowment of the Holy Ghost, and their work may be as spiritually authoritative, as that of those who receive a revelation. The only authority in a prophet or teacher which we can recognise is that which comes through absolute committal to the Divine lead.
The Characteristics of Early Revelations.—πολυμερῶς, πολυτρόπως. The first word means in numerous parts or parcels—which, however, were no doubt given at sundry times, so that the rendering in the A.V., though imperfect, is legitimate. The idea is that God did not at once open up the fulness of His mind and unfold to view the treasures of His grace. His plan proceeded on the principle of “here a little” and “there a little.” His revelation was given “piecemeal.” It came “bit by bit,” as the fathers might be able to receive it. The revelation was not only in numerous parts or portions, it was given in divers manners (πολυτρόπως). Our translators received this rather cumbrous translation from the Geneva Version. Wycliffe’s rendering was more literal, in many manners. Tyndale’s was simpler, many wayes. The reference, as the Duke of Manchester correctly remarks, is not to the various modes in which God communicated His mind to the prophets, such as visions, voices, dreams, etc.; it is to the various forms which the subject-matter of the communications was made to assume, as it passed on through the prophets to the people at large. There were commandments. There were promises. There was history. There were exhortations, expostulations, invitations, warnings, pleadings, threatenings. There were predictions and types, parables and proverbs, psalms and songs. God spoke, as Cardinal Cajetan observes, “to the intellect, to the imagination, to the senses” (intelligibiliter, imaginabiliter, sensibiliter). He addressed at one time the principle of hope, at another the principle of gratitude, at another still the principle of competition and rivalry (compare Romans 10:19), then perhaps the principle of fear, or the nobler principle of conscience, and of the consciousness of a certain Divine imperative speaking in authoritative tones within the conscience. Thus “in manifold fashion” did God reveal His mind to the fathers.—J. Morison, D.D.
Monotheism and Purity.—The idea of monotheism and the principle of purity might seem hardly enough to be the chief results of so systematic a discipline as that of the Hebrews. But in reality they are the cardinal points in education. The idea of monotheism out-tops all other ideas in dignity and worth. The spirituality of God involves in it the supremacy of conscience, the immortality of the soul, the final judgment of the human race. For we know the other world, and can only know it, by analogy drawn from our own experience. With what then shall we compare God? With the spiritual or the fleshly part of our nature? On the answer depends the whole bent of our religion and of our morality. For that in ourselves which we choose as the nearest analogy of God will of course be looked on as the ruling and lasting part of our being. If He be one and spiritual, then the spiritual power within us, which proclaims its own unity, and independence of matter, by the universality of its decrees, must be the rightful monarch of our lives; but if there be gods many and lords many, with bodily appetites and passions, then the voice of conscience is but one of those widespread delusions which, some for a longer, some for a shorter period, have before now misled our race. Again, the same importance which we assign to monotheism as a creed we must assign to chastity as a virtue. Among all the vices which it is necessary to subdue in order to build up the human character, there is none to be compared in strength or in virulence with that of impurity. It can outlive and kill a thousand virtues; it can corrupt the most generous heart; it can madden the soberest intellect; it can debase the loftiest imagination. But besides being so poisonous in character, it is above all others most difficult to conquer. And the (Hebrew) people, whose extraordinary toughness of nature has enabled it to outlive Egyptian Pharaohs, and Assyrian Kings, and Roman Cæsars, and Mussulman Caliphs, was well matched (by its strong grip of the unity of God) against a power of evil which has battled with the human spirit ever since the Creation, and has inflicted, and may yet inflict, more deadly blows than any other power we know of.—Bishop Temple.
God in Relations.—“Having of old time spoken.” That is, God put Himself into communication with the moral beings whom He had made in His own image; set Himself in relations with them, and can be known by them only through those relations. Man has always gone astray when He has tried to know what God is essentially, absolutely. Philosophising about God has never proved satisfactory, because man’s faculties, and man’s language, the instrument of his faculties, are altogether below the range. He must be God who would know God’s absolute being and nature. This is indeed involved in the very conception man forms of God. His transcendency is an essential element in the conception. In what sense then can God be known by the moral beings He has made? In the same way as they know everything else. Man knows nothing in essence, but anything and everything in relations. Man is as truly baffled by the essence of a stone as by the essence of God. He can know the stone through its relations, and he can know God through His relations, and in no other way. All the relations to His created world and created beings in which God has been pleased to put Himself are revelations of Himself. And the limit of man’s knowledge of God is God’s revelations of Himself. They come through the speech of men, but they come in many other ways. It was the genius of the Jews to discover God in multiplied and various relations, and their dignity and their mission to the race lay in their fuller and worthier apprehension of God. This was taught in a very significant way to the founder of the Jewish dispensation. When God appeared to Moses in the symbol of the burning bush, Moses, with the natural curiosity of man, asked for the name of Him who spoke to him. It was the way in which he asked for an apprehension of the essence of God. The reply is a virtual refusal. It meant this: “I am Being—that is all you can know concerning Me. What I am to you you can know. You know through what I have been to men before you. I am the God of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob—a God ever standing in relations, which are the only possible and the altogether satisfying revelations.”
Revelations in the World’s Education.—We may rightly speak of a childhood, a youth, and a manhood of the world. The men of the earliest ages were in many respects still children as compared with ourselves, with all the blessings and all the disadvantages that belong to childhood. We reap the fruits of their toil, and bear in our characters the impress of their cultivation. Our characters have grown out of their history, as the character of the man grows out of the history of the child. There are matters in which the simplicity of childhood is wiser than the maturity of manhood, and in these they were wiser than we. There are matters in which the child is nothing and the man everything, and in these we are the gainers. And the process by which we have either lost or gained corresponds, stage by stage, with the process by which the infant is trained for youth, and the youth for manhood. This training has three stages. In childhood we are subject to positive rules which we cannot understand, but are bound implicitly to obey. In youth we are subject to the influence of example, and soon break loose from all rules unless illustrated and enforced by the higher teaching which example imparts. In manhood we are comparatively free from external restraints, and if we are to learn must be our own instructors. First come rules, then examples, then principles. First comes the Law, then the Son of Man, then the Gift of the Spirit. The world was once a child under tutors and governors until the time appointed by the Father. Then, when the fit season had arrived, the Example to which all ages should turn was sent to teach men what they ought to be. Then the human race was left to itself to be guided by the teaching of the Spirit within.—Bishop Temple.
Rabbinical Degrees of Revelation.—The Jewish doctors observed four degrees of Divine revelation. The first they called Prophecy, which included vision and any apparition whereby the will of God was made known. They had a second way of Divine revelation, which they called the Inspiration of the Holy Ghost, whereby the party was enabled without vision or apparition to prophesy, either as prophesying is taken for the foretelling of things to come, or for the resolving of things in doubt. The Rabbins give us the difference between these two, prophecy and inspiration: in prophecy (though it was from the Holy Ghost) a man was cast into a trance or brought into an ecstasy, his senses being taken away; but speaking by inspiration of the Holy Ghost was without any such change in or impressions upon the body. So David and other penmen of the Scriptures wrote by the immediate inspiration of the Holy Ghost, yet without visible apparitions to them or visible change upon them. And in a third way God revealed Himself by Urim and Thummim, which was an answer given by the ephod, or by the stones that were on the breastplate of the high priest. These three ways of Divine revelation, as they observe, ceased in the Second Temple, the Jewish writers having this tradition, that after the later prophets, Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi, the Holy Ghost departed from “Israel,” meaning the Holy Ghost not in the ordinary work of sanctification, but in those extraordinary ways of prophecy, inspiration, and of the Urim and Thummim. There was yet a fourth way of Divine revelation, which they call Batheol, the daughter of a voice, or echo, declaring the will of God immediately from heaven. Such some conceive to be the voice heard from heaven (Matthew 3:17), proclaiming the testimony of God concerning christ. It is manifest that these distinctions are too subtle. It is better to think that Divine revelations differ in kind, but not strictly in degree, because they are always relative to the occasion, and precise, and adapted, and therefore perfect to the occasion. Imperfection and limitation can properly be applied only to our power of recipiency. A similar line of thought may be taken in relation to inspiration.
God.—The abrupt beginning of this epistle claims attention. It reminds us of the abrupt beginning of the book of Genesis. Scripture never proves the being of God. It assumes it. It deals with men only who assume it. In this only have men and the revelation a common platform. This it assumes:
1. God is.
2. God only is.
3. Man can know Him—in part.
4. Man cannot know Him—perfectly.
5. Man’s power of apprehending God is adequate to man’s moral, but not to man’s mental necessities.
Christ the Son.—God had a Word to spell—His own Name. By degrees He did it. At last it came entire. The Word was made flesh. In this epistle the writer labours to show that Christianity was the fulfilment of the idea latent in Judaism—that from the earliest times and in every institution it was implied. This point is considered: The manifestation of God through a Son was implied, not realised, in the earlier dispensation.
I. It was implied, not fulfilled, in the kingly office.—See Psalms 2, 45, 110. David was emphatically the type of the Jewish regal idea. The true King of men is a Son of God; One who is to His fellow-men God and Lord, as the Jewish bride was to feel her royal husband to be to her; One who is a priest; One who may be poor and exiled, yet not less royal. Whence is this idea fulfilled by Judaism? Is it fulfilled in David? In Jesus of Nazareth alone all these fragments, these sundry portions of the revealed Idea of Royalty, met.
II. It was implied in the race of prophets.—They were not merely predictors of the future; the office of the prophet was with the present. He read eternal principles beneath the present and the transitory, and in doing this of course he prophesied the future; for a principle true to-day is true for ever. It was the very condition of his inspiration that he should be one with the people. So far from making him superhuman, it made him more man. He felt with more exquisite sensitiveness all that belongs to man, else he could not have been a prophet. He was more man just because more Divine—more a son of man because more a Son of God. If, then, One had come claiming to be the Prophet of the Race, and was a Sufferer; claiming to be the Son of God, and yet peculiarly man; the Son of man; the Son of man just because Son of God; more Divine because more human,—then this was only what the whole race of Jewish prophets should have prepared them for. God had now spoken by a Son in whom the idea of the true prophet was realised in its entireness.
III. The priesthood continued this idea latent.—The writer of this epistle saw three elements in the priestly idea:
1. That he should be ordained for men in things pertaining to God.
2. That he should offer gifts and sacrifices.
3. That he should be called by God, not be a mere self-assertor.… The spiritual Jew discerned that entire surrender to the Divine Will is the only perfect sacrifice, the ground of all sacrifices, and that which alone imparts to it a significance. He who can offer it in its entireness, He alone is the world’s atonement; He in whose heart the law was, and who alone of all mankind was content to do it, His sacrifice alone can be the sacrifice all-sufficient in the Father’s sight as the proper sacrifice of humanity. He who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without spot to God, He alone can give the Spirit which enables us to present our bodies a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God. He is the only High Priest of the universe.—F. W. Robertson.
Hebrews 1:1-2. The Perfection of the Evangelical Revelation.—“Hath at the end of these days spoken unto us in His Son.” The term “evangelical” is not used in its Scriptural sense, when it is confined to a particular setting of doctrines of sin and atonement. God’s evangel, gospel, good news, is that He has sent to us His Son, and that His Son has something to show to us, something to say to us, and something to do for us. If Divine revelations to men have come in a progressive order, the climax has been reached in the revelation of the Son and through the Son. This may be worked out along several lines. One only we suggest, as having some freshness and point. Take the progressive views of God given in the advancing revelations. Notice the terms and human relationships used for each revelation, and show how the Sonship, which reveals Fatherhood, is the crown and perfection of revelations.
The Son a Spoken Word—“Hath spoken unto us in His Son.” A word is that which conveys the thought of one mind to the mind of another. Anything—not merely speech—that puts what is in your mind into my mind is a word. The word is more than speech; it may be better than speech—a look, a movement, a sign, a vision, a person. Illustrate: Eastern kings consider it a mark of dignity not to speak, but to make their will known by dumb signs. It is said that girls in Lancashire mills, being unable to talk to one another because of the deafening machinery, get into the way of telling each other long tales by the motions of the mouth, face, and arms, without speaking a word. Jesus the Son is the Word which carries to us the most wonderful and most gracious thoughts that God has ever cherished concerning us. He is the love of God embodied. He is come to say, “God loves, and therefore saves.” It is not so much that He has a word to say to us; it is that He is the Word. The Man is the Word; the Personality is the Word; the Son is the Word.
I. A man can be a word.—
1. A prophet can be a word. Illustrate: Samuel, Isaiah, Jeremiah. They were—it is not only that they brought—messages from God.
2. An angel can be a word. The angel who spoke to the shepherds embodied the truth that God is concerned for sinful man.
3. A fellow-man can be a word. Think what impressions for God good men have made upon us. Then the “Man Christ Jesus” can be a word. The humanity of Christ is jealously affirmed. But we must keep before us that it is a whole humanity. We must accept it with its naturalness—true manhood; its uniqueness—typical manhood; its mystery—typical manhood is Divine. St. John uses three terms to vitalise for us the human personality of Christ:
1. “Made flesh”—a real bodily being. This is the impression produced on us by His coming as an infant. A certain unreality is in Adam’s humanity, if we think of him as made a full-grown man.
2. “Dwelt among us.” He made His own personal impression. He was actually put into the common every-day of life.
3. “Full of grace and truth.” The impression that He made was the impression of a character. The closer men come to Christ, the more do they feel that the most wonderful thing about Him was not what He said or what He did, but what He was. The “Man Christ Jesus” was God’s thought of man put into a human life, so that the thought might be influential in our lives. We know, in Christ, what God wants us to be.
II. A son can be a word.—When we apprehend the glory of Christ, we find that it is His Sonship. “The glory as of the Only Begotten of the Father.” The “Man Christ Jesus” is a Son. His character is Sonship. It tells us of the Father, and of the relation in which we should stand to the Father. The glory of Christ’s life on earth being sonship, we can see that this—sonship—must be the glory of our lives in Christ. This is precisely the “spoken word” that Jesus is—Saviour by recovering sons to sonship. But what does that involve for Christ? How does He accomplish that saving work?
1. By the drama of a human life, He must show sonship under human conditions.
2. The winning of the acceptance of His own Sonship.
3. The right to give His standing, as an accepted Son, to us.
4. Gaining the power to help us to be what He represents us as being. The glory of Christ is this—He is perfect Son, and is helping us into His perfect Sonship.
Sonship as a Final Revelation.—“In Christ all the fragments of previous revelation were completed, all the methods of it concentrated, and all its apparent perplexities and contradictions solved and rendered intelligible. Sonship naturally suggests heirship, and in Christ was fulfilled the immense promise to Abraham that his seed should be heir of the world.”—Farrar.
“By His Son.” Revelation by “Son.”—The pronoun, as is indicated by the italic type in our Bibles, has been supplied. There is not even the article in the original. And hence Wakefield translates “by a Son,” and Rotherham “in a Son.” Unhappily, however, for there is no indefinite article in the original. And yet we could not possibly say, in our English idiom, in Son. The area that is covered by the Greek article is by no means coextensive with the area which is covered by the English. And hence we should here either render the phrase in “the” Son, or use the pronoun in “His” Son. It is better to adopt the article. The idea is, in Him who is emphatically Son. The word was of itself so demonstratively conspicuous, that, in the Greek idiom, it could dispense with the demonstrative article. Others, it is true, besides Jesus, are sons of God. The poverty of human language could not, in the currency of common usage, afford to surrender the term to be the exclusive designation of the only begotten One. But, nevertheless, He is Son pre-eminently. He is partaker, not only in a moral point of view, but also physically or metaphysically, of the Father’s nature. He is “true God.” And thus, in relation to the universe, He is the one Prince Royal. “By” or “in” this Son God spoke “in the end of these days.” There is an intentional antithesis to the expression “in” the prophets. God’s speech was indeed “in” the prophets; but yet more emphatically “in” the Son. God’s words were in both. But as neither Son nor prophets were mere mechanical sounding-boards or echoes, but receivers, reproducers, and interpreters, the outcome of words was very different in the two cases.… The Son was Himself, in His very essence, the Word of God. All that He was, as well as all that He said and did, was representation and revelation of the mind and heart of the Father.—J. Morison, D.D.
Last Days.—Last days, or the end of the days, may be only relatively last. The absolute last of Divine revelations to men we cannot possibly know. That revelation under which we live is the last to us: and for our response to it we must be judged. Last days are the fruitage for which earlier days have prepared. The revelation in Christ is the fruitage of all the revelations. In the Divine order all “last days” are beginnings. The last days of winter are the beginning of spring; the last days of childhood are the beginning of manhood; the last days of patriarchism are the beginning of Mosaism; the last days of Christianity will be the beginning of a now unknown something. God’s last days are never abrupt; they are a quiet gliding into the new order.
The Contrast between Servant and Son.—This is brought out by our Divine Lord in His parable of the wicked husbandmen, who, though they had killed the servants, were fully expected to reverence the son, and yield themselves to the persuasion and authority that he brought. Son and servant both fulfil a mission. They differ
(1) in personal rank;
(2) in relation to the Divine mind and will;
(3) and in their direct interest in their work. The Son reveals God in being a Son, as well as by what He said and did and suffered as the Son. Christ Himself is the great revelation. The eternal generation of the Son is an idea that we owe to the Greek Church. The writer of this epistle does not deal with it, but regards Jesus as constituted (or appointed) Son for the purposes of His special redemptive mission. “Generation” is an earthly term which cannot fittingly be applied to spiritual or Divine things. As Son He takes the authoritative place that belongs exclusively to God. God is owner of all things; the Son is owner of all things, because He is heir of all things. The heir to any estate differs essentially from a servant on the estate. The Son may be thought of as God operating in the material, the sense, sphere. Distinguish between God sending a servant to execute some commission for Him, and His being present Himself, in the person of His Son, to execute His own commission. The Son is, as it were, the visibility and materiality of God. Or, as the hymn expresses the sublime truth,—
“God manifestly seen and heard,
And Heaven’s beloved One.”
Hebrews 1:3. The Effulgence of the Glory.—Our Lord is “the brightness of the glory of the Divine Father.” A distinction of personalities is assumed. And it is further assumed that, in the Divine arrangements in reference to creation in general, and human redemption in particular, the Father represents the Godhead, and may therefore be emphatically designated “God.” By the glory of the Father, Schöttgen would understand the Shekinah, or cloud-enveloped pillar of light—a notion too artificial and narrow. We naturally expect a broader and grander idea, such as “the sum of the Divine perfections,” and thus “the essential glory of Deity.” That is a “glory” which has “glowed” from everlasting, and which will glow on for ever, indiminishable. The radical idea would doubtless be derived from a sensuous source, light. The glory of the Lord “shines” where-ever it is revealed (Luke 2:9; Revelation 18:1; Revelation 21:23). At every rift or outlet there is the radiation of that light within, which is inaccessible. “God is Light.” Our Saviour is the brightness of the Divine light or glory. The light shines forth in Him, and then through Him upon creation. “The words,” says Dr. Owen, “denote the Divine nature of Christ; yet not absolutely, but as God the Father in Him doth manifest Himself to us.” The word “brightness” is given in all the old English versions, from Wycliffe downwards. It is the reproduction of the Latin splendor, the Vulgate Version. It is thus a venerable, yet rather a feeble rendering. The idea of eradiation is inherent in the original term (ἀπαύγασμα). Our Lord is the manifestive eradiation of the Divine glory. Wells’ translation of the word is “shining forth.” Jesus is the “effulgence” of the Father’s glory; “ef-fulgence” rather than re-fulgence,” though Erasmus and Calvin give the latter. Our Saviour, indeed, is the image and reflection of the Father, but that is not the representation before us. Effluence is denoted. Rilliet’s rendering is rayonnement. Effulgence is Wynne’s word, and is given by Macknight, Rodolphus, Dickinson, Penn, and many other translators. Milton happily reproduced the idea in the line “Bright effluence of bright essence, increate” (Paradise Lost, iii. 6).—J. Morison, D.D.
Christ as Purger of Sins.—“When He had made purification of sins.” This allusion to our Redeemer’s earthly mission assumes the understanding of its object and its method by the disciples. But they were mostly, if not exclusively, Jews, and would think of the Redeemer’s work with the aid of the figures of the old Mosaic ritual. “Clean” and “unclean” were the great words of the Mosaic system. Only the “clean” were allowed to take part in the Jewish worship. All sorts of things made men ceremonially “unclean.” The unclean man was out of relations. He must be “reconciled” and “restored.” He could only be by becoming clean; then the priest could make purification for him, and then he could be restored as clean. The sacrificial system of Judaism has received so much attention, that the importance of the distinction between “clean” and “unclean” in relation to our Lord’s “purification” and “propitiation” has been neglected. Relative to the eternal temple, the sanctuary of God, the Divine favour, man’s sins have involved his shutting out; he is “unclean,” he cannot pass the gates. With this condition of things Christ dealt. He took on Himself, as a work that He alone would do, He “by Himself,” the work of dealing with man’s uncleanness, and restoring man’s relations to the eternal temple, and to the favour of God. There was nothing to be done in the way of propitiating God, for He must be thought of as distressed by man’s uncleanness, and longing to have him restored. There was much to be done in order to meet the necessary conditions of entrance into the heavenlies; but that work had to be done in man, and therefore for man. Christ had to get man clean in will and purpose (not actually clean, that was not necessary; that was involved, but that might come after); when Christ had man clean in will and purpose, He could represent him as clean before God. He could go into the eternal temple in His own personal right, as a clean man, and get the right to go in for every man whom He had made clean in will and purpose. So Jesus “made purification of sins,” and restored unclean man to the spiritual and eternal temple.
Sitting at the Right Hand of God.—The end and purpose for which Christ ascended was that He might sit on the right hand of God (Luke 20:42; Luke 22:69). Some might suppose that all the prophecies and figures of the Old Testament are fulfilled by the establishment of our Lord’s kingdom upon earth, which we see on all sides; but certainly a great deal more than this is intended, when such particular mention is made in Scripture of a power on the right hand of God being given to our Lord on His ascending to heaven. Thus our Lord Himself, on the Ascension Day, said, “All power is given unto Me in heaven and in earth.” But since we believe Him to be God equal to the Father, and with power equal to the Father from everlasting, how can it be said that power is then given to Him as if for the first time? All this is said of Christ, not as the Son of God, but as the Son of man. It is our poor human nature that is so highly exalted in Jesus Christ and set on the right hand of God; it is that human nature which in Christ overcame the enemy, and returned with garments dyed in blood from Edom. To speak after the manner of men, how is every nation always studious that one of themselves should be in the court of a foreign king, to represent their interests, to speak for them, and through whom they themselves might find access. And even we, says the writer, have through Him admission and approach to the throne of grace. As a ship is secure and steadfast when its anchor is firmly fixed in the land, so amid the waves and storms of this life may our confidence be, if we have our hearts with Christ in heaven (see Hebrews 6:19). St. Paul so often alludes to the doctrine of Christ’s resurrection to urge the necessity of our being risen with Him upon earth; so does he also to that of His being in heaven, as a reason for our being in mind and thought there with Him. As He continued forty days on earth after His resurrection, so after they are risen with Him from the death of sin in baptism have Christians to continue for their pilgrimage on earth, it may be for forty years of trial in the wilderness before they ascend to heaven; but to live as those whose treasure is in heaven, and whose hearts are therefore ever dwelling and abiding there. When our blessed Saviour says that “all power is given Him in heaven and in earth,” He means some great and new power with regard to us, some power to be exercised for our benefit, if we are His true children. And when it is said that He is sitting on the right hand of God, or when He is seen, as by St. Stephen at his death, standing at the right hand of God, this signifies, that whether He is spoken of as sitting, i.e. in a state of rest after His labours, or as standing, i.e. as ready to succour and aid those who call to Him, yet it is always, in both cases, at the right hand of power, i.e. with some wonderful power given unto Him in His Church for our sakes,—power greater than was exercised by Him here on earth before His death; greater than was ever vouchsafed to man before Christ’s ascension into heaven. In two points of view, therefore, have we, Christians, great and extraordinary privileges towards a holy life since the ascension of Christ. First, that we have in Him a Mediator and Intercessor in heaven; and, secondly, that we have on earth the great Comforter, whom He has sent down from the Father.—Isaac Williams, B.D.
The Right Hand of God.—Sitting at the right hand was regarded both among the Greeks and Orientals as entailing the greatest dignity: it was the position of the highest honour, and even involved participation in the royal dignity and power. As an illustration from classical writings we may cite Pindar, who speaks of Minerva as at the right hand of Zeus, associated with him in his sovereignty, and receiving his commands for the other gods. And Callimachus says that Apollo is able to reward the chorus, if they sing to please him, because he sits at the right hand of Zeus. As an illustration from Eastern life, a passage may be quoted from Eichhorn. Ibn Cotaiba says: “The ridafat is the dignity of sitting next to the king. But the radaf (he who holds rank after the king) sits on his right hand; and if the king drinks, the radaf drinks next before all others; and if the king goes out upon an expedition, the radaf sits on his seat and acts in his room till he returns; and if the king’s army goes forth to war, the radaf receives” a fourth part of the booty.”
God is apprehended with the Christ-help.—The glory of God—His essential being—is beyond the vision of the human eye, or the grasp of the human mind. It is said that if a man could stand on the outer edge of the earth’s atmosphere he would find unrelieved darkness, in which no sun or stars could be seen. The sun’s rays in the earth-atmosphere reveal to us the sun; but what we see are the rays, not the sun. The Shekinah glory in the Tabernacle and Temple brought the sense of God’s presence home to Jewish hearts; but what was seen was a light-filled cloud, not God. Moses, with the help of the “back parts,” realised the glory of Jehovah; but what he saw was the after-glow, not Jehovah. So Christ is the ray that reveals God, the Shekinah that declares His presence, the after-glow that suggests His glory. Philo compares man to a coin which has been stamped by the Logos with the being and type of God.
The Revelation of Moral and Spiritual Attributes.—What of God, as the supreme Moral Being, can be apprehended by man Christ came to help him to apprehend. The Christ-revelation is not of God’s natural attributes, but of His moral and spiritual. Therefore the revelation is through a person, and a life of relationships. It is essentially the revelation of the Divine Fatherliness, and not in any sense of any materiality or personality of the Divine Father. We may argue these from the revelation, but the revelation itself concerns character and characteristics.
Providence as Persistent Divine Activity.—The Son bears the same relation to Providence that He does to creation. Philo calls the Logos “the Chain-band of things: Pilot and Steersman of everything. Creator and Upholder by the word of His power.” God operating in the sphere of material things, to create them, or arrange them, or maintain them, or rearrange them, is always God the Son. God can only be thought of as always active, so He is always God the Son; and this is the “eternal Sonship.”
A Son’s Purging Work.—Purging, as applied to sin, is cleansing work, not bearing of penalty.
Hebrews 1:4. Essential Difference between Son and Angel.—The differences between Christ and angels, in a general way, concern their respective ranks and relationships. But the difference that is most impressive is the difference in the authority with which their work is done, and their mission carried through. Angels do God’s will, and with more or less of conflict with their own wills make God’s will their own. Christ does God’s will too, but He does it without any conflict, because God’s will is His own. “I do always the things that please Him.” There is no intention to undervalue angelic ministrations; but it is of supreme importance to set out most clearly that Christ is altogether beyond their range—a different, a higher being. Christ is spoken of as “begotten” (Hebrews 1:5); as “Son” (Hebrews 1:5); angels are said to worship Him (Hebrews 1:6); He is spoken of as “God” (Hebrews 1:8); as “Creator and Controller” (Hebrews 1:10; Hebrews 1:12); as “Throne-sharer” (Hebrews 1:13).
Angel-service as doing God’s Will.—Service must be rendered if it costs us the breaking of our will. Service only becomes liberty and joy when we can rise to the Christ-spirit, and God’s will becomes ours because it is so freely, so fully, and so lovingly accepted. An angel serves with a strain. He makes more or less conscious effort to get and to keep his will in harmony with God’s will. The Son serves without a strain. He never needs to make any effort to get or keep His will in harmony with His Father’s will, for He embodies His Father’s will. We only enter into the full joy of service when we rise above the constraint of the servant into the liberty of the son. Hence the exceeding value of the work the Divine Son does for us, in making His Sonship ours, and putting us into the inheritance with Him. “Heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ.” Sonship was for Christ, and is for us, the “more excellent name.”
ILLUSTRATIONS TO CHAPTER 1
Hebrews 1:1. Occasional Revelations.—There are days on which the sun makes the clouds his chariot, and travels on curtained behind them. Weary of shining before a drowsy, thankless world, he covers the glory of his face, but will not quite take away the blessing of his light; and now and then, as it were in pity, he withdraws the veil for a moment, and looks forth to assure the earth that her best friend is still watching over her in the heavens, like those occasional visitations by which the Lord, before the birth of the Saviour, assured mankind that He was still their God.—Guesses at Truth.
Hebrews 1:2. Christ the Son.—Plutarch tells us that when Themistocles, in the hour of his exile, wished to be reconciled with the king of the Molossians, whom he had previously offended, he took the king’s son in his arms, and kneeled down before the household gods. The plea was successful; in fact, it was the only one the Molossians looked upon as one not to be refused, and so the philosopher found a refuge among them. And do not we come in this way when we approach the Majesty on high? We take hold of the King’s Son.
Hebrews 1:3. Brightness or Effulgence.—The word rendered “brightness” here occurs nowhere else in the New Testament. It means, properly, a reflected splendour, or the light which emanates from a luminous body. The rays or beams of the sun are its “brightness,” that by which the sun is seen and known. The sun itself we do not see; the beams which flow from it we do see. The meaning of this passage is, that if God be represented under the image of a luminous body, as He is in the Scriptures (see Psalms 84:11; Malachi 4:2), then Christ is the radiance of the light, the brightness of that luminary by which only He is known.—Stuart.
CRITICAL AND EXEGETICAL NOTES
Hebrews 1:5. Angels.—Properly, any living being carrying out the Divine will is an angel, a messenger, a servant. But the word “angel” is precisely kept for such messengers as belonged to other than the earthly sphere. The angelophanies of the Old Testament were foreshadowings of the revelation in the “Man Christ Jesus.” Said He.—The interrogation is intended to be a strong negation. Begotten Thee.—Constituted Thee; but the term is designed to indicate the different relation in which Christ stands to God and the angels stand to Him. To angels He is Creator; to Christ He is Father. Three references of the term have been assigned:
(1) the eternal generation of the Son;
(2) His incarnation;
(3) His full manifestation, as the obedient Son, in His resurrection. “The idea of the eternal generation of the Son is the pure offspring of the metaphysics of the Greek Fathers, rather than of New Testament teaching” (Barker).
Hebrews 1:6. Again.—Read as R.V. “when He again bringeth.” First-begotten.—R.V. “firstborn.” Another expression for Son, but adding to Son the right of primogeniture. Son and Heir. Only Son and only Heir. See Revelation 1:5; Colossians 1:15; Colossians 1:18; Romans 8:29; Hebrews 12:22-23. The quotation may be from Psalms 97:7, or Deuteronomy 32:43. The latter is the more probable source, as the LXX. Version reads, “Rejoice, ye heavens, along with Him, and let the angels of God worship Him.”
Hebrews 1:7. The difficulty of this verse lies in its setting inanimate things after animate. Delitzsch renders, “Who maketh His messengers out of winds.” The writer’s point appears to be this: As even material objects may be the messengers or angels of God, so to be an angel in the higher sense is to be no more than a minister of the Divine will. But the Son is one with the Divine will, and in doing that will does His own. Dr. Moulton explains in another way: “The meaning appears to be that God, employing His messengers for His varied purposes, sends them forth in what manner He may please, clothing them with the appearance of the resistless wind or the devouring fire.”
Hebrews 1:8. Sceptre of righteousness.—Lit. “rod of straightness.”
Hebrews 1:10. The 102nd Psalm is not so clearly Messianic; but if the consciousness of the original writer was aware of nothing more definite than a description of the eternity of Jehovah, it is yet competent to an inspired New Testament writer to tell us that this language is applicable to our Lord.
Hebrews 1:14. The word for ministering, λειτουργικά, is not classical, but it is used in the LXX., and it implies “sacred service.” Heirs of salvation.—Because salvation is conceived as both a present state and a final fruition: “Made heirs according to the hope of eternal life” (Titus 3:7). The Jewish conceptions of angels need not be made into a Christian angelology.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Hebrews 1:5-14
The Service of a Servant and the Service of a Son.—The essential dignity of Christ is seen in a contrast between a servant and a son. Angels are taken for the first contrast because they are the highest form of servants that man can conceive, because their work was in the world before that of Moses, and because they were directly associated as ministers with the earlier dispensation. Angels have a very prominent place in the Old Testament Scriptures. They are the servants of the Divine house, agents who do the Divine Master’s bidding, “ministering spirits.” The contrast of angels, the servants, with Christ as the Son is a fair one, because Christ is Himself one of God’s angels, a ministering spirit. He said of Himself: “I am among you as He that serveth”; “I came not to be ministered unto, but to minister.” But the contrast between the Angel-Christ and other angels is very striking and impressive. “To which of the angels has God said at any time, Thou art My son; this day have I begotten thee?” Of the angels this kind of thing is said, “Who maketh winds His angels, and flames of fire His ministers.” Of the Son this unique kind of thing is said, “Thy throne, O God, is for ever and ever; a sceptre of righteousness is the sceptre of Thy kingdom.”
I. Ministry to others is common to a servant and to a son.—The Scripture is full, from Genesis to Revelation, of the ministering of the angels to the sons of God. They kept the way of the Tree of Life, lest our erring first parents should stamp immortality upon their sin. They visited the patriarch Abraham, to give him knowledge of the Divine thought concerning Sodom. They went up and down that ladder of help between earth and heaven which Jacob saw in his night-visions. One mysterious angel wrestled with the anxious patriarch on Jabbok-side, through the long night unto the breaking of the day. He who came down to Sinai to give His fiery law was attended by thousands of angels. Grieved at the sin of His people, Jehovah almost withdrew His promise to go with them, and offered Moses to provide an angel-guide instead. An angel-form cheered Joshua with assurances as he entered on the invasion of Canaan. To Manoah the angel brought the tidings of the coming hero who should be born in his house. Angel-help was so fully realised by the psalmist that he could assure his heart in this—“He shall give His angels charge concerning thee, to keep thee in all thy ways: they shall bear thee up in their hands, lest thou dash thy foot against a stone.” An angel with a drawn sword stood over Jerusalem when David’s presumption must be punished. An angel kept three Hebrew youths safe from harm in the very midst of the fire, and the prayerful man unharmed among the lions. Angels brought the promise of a forerunner, and of a Messiah; and with their joy-songs angels heralded Messiah’s birth. Angels waited on Jesus in His time of temptation. Angels watched the place where they laid Him dead. Angels spoke the promise of His coming again. Angels led apostles out of their prison-house. Angels brought revelations in lonely Patmos. And angels are to be with Jesus when He cometh in His glory. Everywhere we may find illustrations of the many-sided truth, that God uses agents to carry out His purposes of wisdom and grace. Sometimes He uses men; sometimes the various forces of nature; sometimes He calls for the service on our behalf of these creatures of His who belong to other spheres than ours, and yet can come into our spheres, exert influence on us, and even become apprehensible to our senses. There seem to be in some of these angel-manifestations of the Old Testament foreshadowings and suggestions of the glorious incarnation of the Son of God. It is not unreasonable that we should reverently recognise the Angel-Jehovah in Abraham’s visitor, and in Jacob’s night-wrestler. But the work of ministering is not the work of angels alone. It is the noble side of all relationships, human and Divine. It gives the distinction between the spirit of the world and the Spirit of God. The spirit of the world is “getting”; the Spirit of God is “serving.” Seeking the good of himself is man’s temptation to sin. Seeking the good of others is the sure indication of man’s recovery to virtue. Only as he becomes an angel, a “ministering spirit,” does man enter into full kinship with God, with God in Christ. Angels are our helpers; but it is also true that angels are our teachers, our examples. We learn from them what is the noble life, what our life would become if, from us, the self-seeking of our sinfulness were wholly taken away. “Ministering “—that is the Divine idea, for the Divine Being Himself, and for all the creatures that are made in the Divine image. We can rise no higher than that, for that is the sublime height of God Himself. God works. That is true, but His work is a ministry of blessing for His creatures. He is always about our path and our lying down—the infinite Angel, ever doing us good. Call nature-forces by some grand name of law, which takes the living will and beating heart out of them, and you make our human life poor and low indeed. Let the winds be God’s angels, and the storms God’s angels, and the spring-breathings God’s angels, and the gentle rain God’s angels. Winter snow, and spring sunshine, and summer rain, and autumn heat are God Himself ministering—they are His own angel-service to His creatures. When God takes upon Him our human nature, shadows Himself in human form, then we see an angel, a ministering spirit—the Angel of the Covenant. The angel-mark is most plain on all the human life of Jesus. He “went about doing good.” Service was the characteristic of His most blessed life. His lesson on ministering was given in the upper room, when He went round and washed the disciples’ feet. We may call that the great angel-lesson. For the work of Christ’s Church will go into these few words, “ministering unto the necessities of saints.”
II. The ministry of a servant is doing another’s will.—It is the characteristic of a servant that he does not share in his master’s counsels; he “knoweth not what his lord doeth.” He does not understand the plan into which his work fits. Enough for him to receive definite commands without questioning, and to fulfil them without hesitation. The Lord Jesus Christ, recognising this as the characteristic of servants, lifted His relations to His personal disciples into a higher plane. He said to them, “I have called you friends; for whatsoever I have heard of the Father I have made known unto you” (John 15:15). But confidential servants are still servants who take their commands from another. Even if they are permitted to consult with their master, the decision rests wholly with him, and his will is done, not theirs. Even angels cannot be thought of as doing their own will. There are vague allusions to some who “lost their first estate” because they resolved to follow their own wills. Servants are not inventive: they make no plans; they only carry out plans. Their essential attitude is figured in the seraphim of Isaiah’s vision: “Each one had six wings; with twain he covered his face, and with twain he covered his feet, and with twain he did fly”; or, twain he held poised ready in a moment to fly, when a command came from the throne (Isaiah 6:2).
III. The ministry of a son is doing his own will.—Not as distinct from, or opposed to, his father’s will, but as being his father’s will. Ideally, in relation to the exercise of authority, the son’s will is the same as the father’s; and our Lord continually asserted the absolute identity of His will with the Father’s. The servant puts his own will aside in order to do the master’s will. The Son does His own will in doing his Father’s. This indicates an essential distinction between angels and Christ. Some help may be gained from an illustration of the sentiments entertained on a great landed estate. All the officials and servants, even up to the steward, have simply to do the nobleman’s will. But the son and heir is treated with the same respect as the father, and is recognised as having the same unique authority. Applying this distinction between servant and son to the mission of redemption, we see that angels and prophets executed certain parts of the mission that were entrusted to them, but were not in the secret of the connections of the parts, or of the Divine purpose; but Christ, the Divine Son, carried out a mission which was His own design, because His Father’s—the expression of His own love, because of His Father’s love; and it was wrought by His own authority, which was His Father’s. Thus in so many ways the writer of this epistle presses on attention the superiority of the Christian dispensation, in that it was administered by One who occupied so unique a position, who belonged to so different a range of beings.
The highest conception of life, then, is ministering service. However exalted in rank and station a man may be, and whatever his degree of authority may be, his true dignity lies in being, as Christ was, an angel-helper, ever “waiting on his ministering.”
SUGGESTIVE NOTES AND SERMON SKETCHES
Hebrews 1:5. Figurative Use of the Term “Begotten.”—God’s appointment to an office, or, more exactly, His removing of all obstacles and putting a man actually into the office He has appointed for him, is called “begetting him.” Thus David was Divinely begotten when he was set by God as king upon the holy hill of Zion. “I have this day established thee as My chosen king, and thus constituted thee My son.” When this figurative use of the term is clearly apprehended, we are relieved from anxiously endeavouring to understand, what never can be understood, the mysterious eternal relations of the Divine Father and the Divine Son. Our Lord was “begotten” when the fulness of times had come, when preparations were completed, when obstacles were removed, and He could be put into His office, and could begin His work as Messianic Saviour. “Begotten” rather suggests “giving birth to” than “conceiving.”
David’s Son and Lord.—Wonder not to find one and the same to be the Prince and Priest, God and man, the rod and root, the root and the offspring of David his son, and yet his Lord; for these things belong to one Person, who is both God and man; some of them as He is God, and some of them as He is man, and some as God-man.—Jerome.
The Worship of the Angels.—Often the idea of worship in Scripture is not “offering religious homage to,” but “solemnly recognising the dignity of.” It is often what may be understood by “worthship,” or recognising and acknowledging the worth or superiority of a person. That appears to be the idea of the word “worship” in this verse. It is not necessary to the writer’s argument to show that angels offer the Divine Son religious homage; it is to the point to show that they recognise His unique person, His transcendent worth, His special rights, and His extraordinary commission. There may be ranks and orders of angels, as servants, but they never for one moment think of classing Christ even with any in their highest ranks. They worship Him as one altogether beyond the angel, the servant, range.
Fatherhood apprehended through Sonship.—“I will be to Him a Father, and He shall be to Me a Son.” As Son, “the express image of [the Father’s] person.” When Christ came into the world, He said plainly to His disciples, who were supposed to understand Him, “He that hath seen Me hath seen the Father.” We may then say that it is the work of every man to find the Father in Christ. No man has truly seen the Son who has not found the Father in Him. And if we may think of God as our Father, we shall surely have the truest and most trustful view of Him. If God is pleased to reveal Himself to any of His creatures, He must do so through the nature of those creatures. If God determined to show Himself to man, He must not come to him as a cherub or as an angel, but as a man. So we are told, “Verily He took not on Him the nature of angels, but He took on Him the seed of Abraham.” But there are varieties of aspects under which man may be viewed, according to the relationships in which he stands; and besides coming as a man, God must show Himself in some particular form of man. Men are kings, or prophets, or judges, or husbands, or fathers, or sons, or brothers; and God must make choice of the one among the many forms of relationship—forms of manhood—which shall most perfectly represent Him. We need not assume that God has restricted Himself to just one aspect. He is indeed represented as Shepherd, Husband, Friend, Prophet, Priest, and King; but we can have only one feeling—that if God should be pleased in a special manner to choose the form and term of Father, He would come nearest to us, and give us the very tenderest and holiest suggestions concerning Himself. Many try to persuade themselves that they are bound to think of God chiefly as a King. Certain exigencies of Christian doctrine absolutely demand the conception of a Moral Governor. But surely it should not be difficult for us to recognise that the term Father involves all the righteousness, authority, and government included in kingship, and is altogether a higher and profounder conception. None of us can say that we feel our hearts at all stirred by the mention of a king. A king is a person to be feared, obeyed, and served, but not necessarily a person to be loved. But there never has been age or land in which the dearest thoughts, and tenderest memories, and most reverent feelings of men’s hearts, have not gathered round the idea of father and of mother: for men everywhere parents have presented the ideals of all that was pure, and true, and reverent, and good. It must be that we shall come near to God, if He be indeed the “Everlasting Father.” It is sometimes said that the term “Father” will not do for God, because it makes Him out to be all kindness and indulgence, and shrouds all His awful attributes with a veil of love, making Him indeed to be all love. But if it does, what could be more deeply true? Do we not read, “God is love”? When men realise what an uncompromising, searching, holy thing love is, they will never be afraid to say of Him, “God is love.” But this representation of the Fatherhood of God is most imperfect and unworthy. We never for a moment think of passing by justice and authority in order to exalt love, when we call God “our Father.” Would it be fair to say of any good earthly father, “He is all love, all indulgence; there is no justice, no reverence, no government in him”? The better father he is, the more authority he exercises, the more holy fear he demands. What is God to you when you think of Him as King? Do you not feel as if He were shifted right back, out of sight, out of reach—seated on a glorious throne, and you outside the gates, the great shut gates? Thoughts of majesty, glory, august power, and exact judgment, oppress you. You feel that, as a King, tremendous considerations, wide as the infinite creation, sway His decisions, amidst which you may easily become a forgotten trifle. But what is God to you in those moments when you can realise that He is a Father indeed? Is there any failing of reverence for Him? Is your sense of justice, righteousness, law, authority, weakened when you think of Him as Father? You may try to make God great by describing His Kingship; we will sit at the feet of Christ the Son, and learn from Him how rightly to know the true God and eternal life. And Christ shows us a weeping prodigal, pressing his face into a father’s bosom; heart is beating to heart—the one in all the anguish of penitence, the other in all the anguish of pitying, fatherly love. Now the father’s arms are round the restored boy; and who shall say that all highest law is not vindicated, when that father wipes away the tears, and calls for music and dancing, the best robe and the fatted calf? How deep to our hearts it goes if we may call God our Father! Who ever saw weeping rebels lying on kings’ bosoms? It must be that we are deeper, far deeper, into the very heart of truth about God, if He will let us think of Him as our “Father in heaven.” And is this truth of the Divine Fatherhood one which must be put under limitations and restrictions? Must it be anxiously guarded from possible misconceptions, and shielded round as belonging to men only under certain conditions? It is enough to reply, Christ never fenced it off. Christ never limited its application; then why should we? Christ never seemed afraid of preaching it freely everywhere. He evidently expected to bless men, to awaken a new spirit in men, the true spirit, the child-spirit, by telling them of their Father in heaven. If we follow Christ, we too will show men the Father-God everywhere in Christ’s life and teaching; the Father-God especially in death, sacrifice, and atonement. Believe then in the Father. Learn of Christ the Son so to believe. Then the Spirit of the Son will grow strong in you; and from Jesus, your brother, you will learn well how to be a son of the heavenly Father.
Hebrews 1:6. Christ’s Incarnation.—The doctrine of the Divinity of Christ is as important as any in the whole Bible, and it stands not on one or two doubtful passages of Scripture, but on the plainest and almost numberless declarations of the inspired writers. In the passage before us the apostle is showing the infinite superiority of Jesus above the highest orders of created beings; and he adduces a whole series, as it were, of testimonies in proof of this point. The one which we have now read is taken from the 97th Psalm, and confessedly relates to Jesus.
I. Christ is a proper object of Divine worship.—
1. The command contained in the text is itself decisive upon the point. God is a jealous God, and claims Divine worship as His inalienable prerogative; yet He at the same time requires it to be given to His Son. Therefore the Son is worthy of that high honour.
2. The practice of the Christian Church confirms it beyond a doubt. Stephen, full of the Holy Ghost, saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing on the right hand of God, and addressed himself to Jesus. St. Paul under buffetings of Satan applied to Jesus for relief, and was answered; for from that time he “gloried in his infirmities.” The whole Church of God worships Christ.
3. To worship Christ is the highest act of obedience to the Father. Every knee shall bow to Jesus. All must “honour the Son, as they honour the Father.”
II. His incarnation affords a special call to all, both in heaven and earth, to worship Him.—
1. His incarnation affords the brightest discovery of the Divine perfections. The angels had seen God’s wisdom, power, and goodness in the creation and government of the world. But the Incarnation revealed His condescension and grace. The angels sang “Glory to God in the highest,” and so should we.
2. It opens a way for our reconciliation with God. When Christ was manifested in the flesh, His mediatorial work commenced; and that course of sufferings and obedience, which is the meritorious ground of our acceptance, was begun.
3. It reunites men and angels under one Head. Jesus, by becoming man, gathers together again both men and angels under Himself as their common Head. In heaven saints and angels join in one general chorus, ascribing “salvation to God and to the Lamb.” To enforce the injunction we would say:
(1) Welcome Him. Be not indifferent. Sing hosannas. Captious Pharisees may condemn; but if we keep silence, the very stones will cry out against us.
(2) Submit to Him. Jesus has set up His kingdom. “Kiss the Son.” Present your offerings before Him, in token of your allegiance and unreserved subjection to His will.
(3) Depend upon Him. Let His vicarious sufferings and obedience be the stay and support of your souls.
(4) Glory in Him. Since He is the boast of all in heaven, let Him be the boast of all on earth. Let the frame of your hearts be joyous. Exulting and triumphant, worshipping Him here, you shall be brought to worship Him for evermore in heaven above.—Charles Simeon, M.A.
Hebrews 1:7. Material Angels.—The Hebrew words for “angels” and “spirits” (Psalms 104:4) have double meanings; the former denoting also messengers, the latter “winds.” The psalmist thought of those subtle but powerful agents, wind and fire, as created by God, and employed to execute His will. And in perfect accordance with the spirit of the psalmist, the verse is applied here to angels, whose inferiority to our Lord Jesus Christ is indicated by the fact that they are ranked as messengers with these subordinate physical agencies. Sir Harry Vane has this quaint remark, “As man in his bodily state was made dust of the ground, so the angels were made a flame of fire in their natural constitution.” “The force of the passage lies in the vividness with which it presents the thought of the Most High served by angels who ‘at His bidding speed,’ untiring as the wind, subtle as the fire.”
I. The nature of angels.—Spirits.
II. The Lord of angels.—“Who maketh,” etc. What must His own spirituality be who maketh spirit?
III. The ministry of angels.—
1. Their office. “Ministers.”
2. Their activity or zeal. “A flaming fire.”
3. Their dependence. Made ministers.—G. Rogers.
The Psalmist’s Figures.—“Who maketh His angels ‘into’ winds, His ministers ‘into’ flaming fire” (Psalms 104:4). It is a poet who writes. His spirit, at the moment that we listen to him, is in one of its loftiest moods. His language is by no means intended to be strictly scientific or tamely prosaic. It glances, representatively, at the phenomena of storms, and especially of thunder-storms, which have always excited among men a profoundly ethical interest. The rapidity of movement in the perturbed elements, the fury of the gale rising into the hurricane or the tornado, the lurid grandeur of the flashes as they fitfully illumine the over-arching darkness, strike into an attitude of solemn and religious awe every unsophisticated spirit. The psalmist spoke as a true hierophant of nature, and of human nature, when he assumed that in these storms there is the presence and agency of God. And not His solitary presence and agency alone. He is surrounded with His spiritual attendants. And when He has designs of retributive providence to fulfil, He sends them forth on His errands, investing them for the occasion with what phenomena may be befitting—the phenomena of the hurricane, the thunder, or the gleaming bolts of fire. That is, “He makes His angels tempests, His ministers a flame of fire.” When we gaze on the storm-drift, and feel awed by the flashes that leap out from the darkness, lo, God’s ministers are there! His servants are working there!—J. Morison, D.D.
Hebrews 1:8. The Son’s Kingdom is Spiritual.—To convince men of this was the apparently unsuccessful endeavour of our Lord’s public teaching, but more especially of His esoteric teaching of His disciples. The keynote of His kingdom was “righteousness.” The force of His kingdom was moral goodness; and the triumphs of His kingdom were triumphs over moral evil. His dealings with physical and material evils were strictly illustrative of His true work. His kingship and kingdom are indicated in His answer to Pilate: “To this end have I been born, and to this end am I come into the world, that I should bear witness unto the truth. Every one that is of the truth heareth My voice” (John 18:37). Righteousness belongs to character. To work righteousness is to work in man’s moral and spiritual nature. The kingdom of a son is a kingdom of obediences, submissions, and services, and these are things of character—spiritual things.
(1) The Son’s kingdom is a kingdom of spiritual beings.
(2) The Son’s rule is a spiritual rule.
(3) The Son’s aim is a spiritual aim.
(4) The Son’s acceptance with the Father is based on His spiritual work of “bringing sons unto glory.” But the redemptive, regenerative, restorative, and sanctifying work which the Son does in souls will be sure to reach out its influence so as to embrace the body and the earthly relations. The spiritual proves to be the all-inclusive. “The kingdom of God is within you.” Then it is you, wherever you may be found, and in whatever relations you stand.
Hebrews 1:10. The Quotation from Psalms 102:0.—If the writer had deemed it necessary to account for the use that he makes of the passage, he might have unfolded his idea in some such manner as the following: “And in truth, since it is the Son, who, as we have seen, is the manifestive effulgence of the Father’s glory, and the manifestive impress of the Father’s hidden substance; and since, consequently, it is the Son, who, in manifestation of the Father, acted in the creation of the universe, and still acts in the maintenance of all things by the word of His power,—the grand words of the 102nd Psalm are truly and admirably descriptive of His super-angelic glory.” We need to divest our minds of the stiff artificialities of logic which we are too apt to bring with us when we come to the unsophisticated representations of Scripture.—J. Morison, D.D.
Hebrews 1:10-11. The Agency of the Divine Son in Nature.—The writer sees a distinct reference to the Second Person of the Divine Trinity in the allusion of the psalmist. But this must involve a Christian reading of the Old Testament Scriptures, as it would be impossible to prove that the Jews ever thought of their expected Messiah as the Second Person of a Divine Trinity. Indeed, so intense was the Jewish jealousy of their nation’s truth—the unity of God—that it is not conceivable that they ever accepted any formulated doctrine of a Trinity of Persons in the Godhead. We may find intimations of the threefoldness of God in the Old Testament, but it is important that we should recognise the doctrine of the Trinity as a Christian creation. It would seem to have been a prevailing thought of the age of the apostles, that the Divine Son was the agent in the creation of the world; for Philo represents his Logos to have been the instrument in creation. And the apostle Paul (Colossians 1:15-16) makes an important point of this relation: “Who is the image of the invisible God, the first-born of all creation: for in Him were all things created, in the heavens and upon the earth, things visible and things invisible, whether thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things have been created through Him, and unto Him: and He is before all things, and in Him all things consist.” We have to be equally jealous of the two truths, that of the Divine Unity and that of the Divine Trinity. We have to watch carefully lest Tritheism should get into our conceptions, under some subtle guise. Relative to the material world we may think in this way: We may associate God the Father with the design of it; God the Son with the execution of the design; God the Spirit with the quickening of the life in it, which was a part of the design. Or it may be put in this way: God, the one, is the Creator of all things. But when we think of the design of creation, it is God absolute we think of. When we think of earth actually taking shape, it is God acting in the sense-sphere we think of. When we think of that unseen, mysterious thing as associated with material beings, it is the Spirit-God, breathing life, that we think of. The distinctions in God are in our apprehension of Him, whatever else they are.
Hebrews 1:12. His Unfailing Years.—“And thy years shall not fail.” We are asked to adore and to trust this changeless One. But can we? Is He not too unlike ourselves? Must there not be some congeniality of nature, some touch in Him of oneness with us before we can enter into such a fellowship of love and trust? Yes, we do crave a real sympathy; and a real sympathy can only be felt by one who is truly, or who has been truly, in the human conditions. As we are constituted, if we knew God simply as abstract Deity, as infinite Being, with Divine qualities, but without the living, breathing, human presentation of them—if He were God indeed, but not “God manifest in the flesh,” He would not be to us so fully and perfectly, and so much to our hearts’ satisfaction, “the Lord our God.” We need some one unlike ourselves—some one who does not change or pass away; and yet we need some one like ourselves, with all our best affections, our greatest qualities, perfectly realised and enshrined in himself. This we have in Jesus of Nazareth, and alone in Him. Who is it whose “years” shall not fail? He who was born into a human home, who grew up from childhood to manhood like us—He it is whom we are asked to trust. Here is our refuge, and we find a perfect security in it—a security which we need at all times as mortal and as sinful creatures, but of which we feel the need especially when, by common consent, we make a barrier in our thought between the years. Where can a fountain of consolation be found for human weariness, distress, solicitude, sorrow, if not in Him who sounded all depths of mortal misery, travelled through the wide expanse of all human need, died our human death, and rose victor for us in life immortal?—Alex. Raleigh. D.D.
ILLUSTRATIONS TO CHAPTER 1
Hebrews 1:11. God ever the same.—On every Mohammedan tombstone the inscription begins with the words, “He remains.” This applies to God, and gives sweet comfort to the bereaved. Friends may die, fortune fly away, but God endures—He remains.
Contrast of the Created and the Uncreated.—The heavens and the earth—those who know them best have them most, for they know best their glory; but they shall all wax old as doth a garment, and when they shall have served their purpose God shall fold them up and lay them by, and as a vesture shall He change them, and they shall be changed, but He is the same for ever and His years shall not fail. Why should they? What are years to God? Time did not make Him. He made time, and can unmake it, and then it will be eternity, not time, and a thousand years will be as one day, and, what is more, one day will be as a thousand years.—C. Kingsley.
Hebrews 1:14. The Ministry of Angels,—“Are they not all ministering spirits,” says St. Paul, “sent forth to minister to them who shall be heirs of salvation?” In this passage we are plainly taught that ministering to the saints is a standing employment of angels throughout the ages of time. Accordingly they are exhibited in Jacob’s vision of a ladder as “ascending and descending” from heaven to earth and from earth to heaven continually in the discharge of this great duty. According to this declaration also we are furnished by the Scriptures with numerous examples of their actual ministry to the children of God. Thus angels delivered Lot from Sodom, Jacob from Esau, Daniel from the lions, his three companions from the fiery furnace, Peter from Herod and the Jewish Sanhedrim, and the nation of the Israelites successively from the Egyptians, Canaanites, and Assyrians. Thus they conducted Lot, Abraham, and the Israelites in seasons of great difficulty and danger to places and circumstances of safety and peace. Thus they conducted Gideon to the destruction of the Midianites, Joseph and Mary to Egypt, Philip to the eunuch, and Cornelius to Peter, to the knowledge of the gospel through him, and to the salvation of himself, his family, and his friends. Thus angels instructed Abraham, Joshua, Gideon, David, Elijah, Daniel, Zechariah the prophet, Zachariah the father of John the Baptist, the Virgin Mary, the apostles, and their fellow-disciples. Thus they comforted Jacob at the approach of Esau, Daniel in his peculiar sorrows and dangers, Zechariah in the sufferings of his nation, Joseph and Mary in their perplexities, Christ in His agony, the apostles and their companions after His resurrection, Paul immediately before his shipwreck, and the Church universally by the testimony and instruction given in the Revelation of St. John.—Dnight.
Two Kinds of Angels.—The Rabbins have a beautiful bit of teaching buried among their rubbish about angels. They say that there are two kinds of angels—the angels of service and the angels of praise, of which two orders the latter is the higher, and that no angel in it praises God twice, but having once lifted up his voice in the psalm of heaven, then perishes and ceases to be. He has perfected his being; he has reached the height of his greatness; he has done what he was made for: let him fade away. The garb of legend is mean enough, but the thought it embodies is that ever true and solemn one without which life is nought: “Man’s chief end is to glorify God.”—A. Maclaren, D.D.
Angels.—Curious and extravagant notions have been entertained about the angels. The Rabbins taught the strangest things. They say that the ministry of angels may be divided into two parts—that of praising God, and that of executing His behests. In regard to the praising there are six hundred and ninety-four thousand myriads who daily praise the name of God. From sunrise to sundown they say, “Holy, holy, holy,” and from sundown to sunrise, “Blessed be the Glory of God from His place.” Every day ministering angels are created, whose apparent destiny is only to raise the praises of God, after which they pass away into the fiery stream whence they originally issued. A new angel is created to execute every behest of God, and then he passes away. It is characteristic of the Oriental, and especially of the Semitic mind, to see in every event, even the most trivial, a direct supernatural interference, wrought by the innumerable unseen ministers—both good and evil—of the Divine will.
The Sight of the Angels.—As it is given us in the night of this world to behold the heavens studded with stars, great, glorious, and beautiful, in like manner has Scripture opened to our view a sight of the blessed angels. They appear as stars around us, but no unconcerned spectators in their silent watches. Michael, “who is as God”; Gabriel, “the strength of God”; Raphael, “the healing of God” (so their names signify). They are ministering spirits sent by Him, shadows of His presence. He has revealed to us their deep concern for our welfare, their active ministrations about us day and night, and especially their peculiar regard for those who are of a meek spirit, and despised of the world. What a dignity does this shed on our daily life!—Isaac Williams, B.D.
Every Man’s Angels.—In a Turkish allegory every man is said to have two angels—one on his right shoulder, and another on his left. When he does anything good, the angel on the right shoulder writes it down, and seals it, because what is done is done for ever. When he does evil, the angel on the left shoulder writes it down. He waits till midnight. If before that time the man bows his head and exclaims, “Gracious Allah! I have sinned; forgive me!” the angel rubs it out; and if not at midnight, he seals it, and the angel upon the right shoulder weeps.
The Angels of the Grass.—The Talmud says, “There is not a thing in the world, not even a tiny blade of grass, over which there is not an angel set.”
They are evermore around us, though unseen to mortal sight,
In the golden hour of sunshine and in sorrow’s starless night,
Deepening earth’s most sacred pleasures with the peace of sin forgiven,
Whispering to the lonely mourner of the painless joys of heaven.
Seeing all our guilt and weakness, looking down with piteous eyes,
For the foolish things we cling to and the heaven that we despise;
They have been our guardian angels since the weary world began,
And they still are watching o’er us for His sake who died for man.—Anon.
The Angel-helper.—How sentimental ideas of angels cling about us, and may helpfully cling, is illustrated in the story of one Theodorus, a martyr who was put to extreme torments by Julian the Apostate, and dismissed again by him when he saw him unconquerable. Rufinus, in his history, says that he met with this martyr a long time after his trial, and asked him whether the pains he felt were not insufferable. He answered that at first it was somewhat grievous, but after a while there seemed to stand by him a young man in white, who with a soft and comfortable handkerchief wiped off the sweat from his body (which through extreme anguish was little less than blood), and bade him be of good cheer, insomuch as then it was rather a punishment than a pleasure to him to be taken off the rack. When the tormentors had done, the angel was gone.
Ministrant Spirits.—Angels are “all,” without exception, ministrant spirits. Their duties are ever “liturgical,” never lordly or regal. They render the service of lieges to the Lord of the universe, and are busied on the footstool, while Jesus sits on the throne. Even when charged with their highest behests, they but help, in some minor respects, the disciples of our Lord. They are sent forth to minister “for them”—that is, “for their benefit.”—J. Morison, D.D.
Heaven a Place of Universal Ministry.—Dr. George Macdonald makes a quaint character in Thomas Wingfold, Curate, dreamily figure the heavenly state, and, behold, all things seem to go on there even as here on earth. There is buying and selling, but there is no getting gain, because every one has learned the glory of “ministering,” and so each one just serves his brother—each one hoping for nothing again, each one getting everything by getting the service of his brother. Could there be a sublimer, or a more enchanting conception of heaven, the home of God, of whom we may reverently think as the “infinite Angel,” the glorious and eternal Ministrant, who ennobles ministry for all His creatures by His own unceasing service?
Hebrews 1:14. Angel-service.—Service is not an incident in the history of angels; it is their whole history. This category suits the nature of angels so far as we have the means of knowing it. They are associated with the elements and powers of nature—are these under another name. They are changeable in form, appearing now as winds, now as fire. They are perishable, transient, as the pestilence and the storm, as tongues of flame, or the clouds, or the dew. They are one and many in turn: the one splitting up into the many, and the many recombining into one. They are impersonal, or imperfectly personal, lacking will and self-consciousness. Thinking, deliberating, resolving, is not their affair, but execution: “Ye ministers of His, that do His pleasure.” They are incapacitated for rule by the simplicity of their nature. The angel-princes cannot take a wide survey of a nation’s character and desert, like the prophets. They are blind partisans, mere personifications of national spirit. As a matter of course each angel-prince takes his nation’s side in a quarrel. A prince of Persia is on the side of Persia, and the prince of Greece on the side of Greece. A human will is the meeting-place of many forces brought into harmony; an angelic will is a single force moving in a straight line towards a point. Angels are mere manifestations or expressions of the will of God. To impute to them dominion were to infringe on the monarchy of God, it were to reinstate paganism. Angel-worship is nature-worship under another name, not improved by the change of name. No wonder the author of this epistle is so careful to connect angels with the idea of service. It is his protest against the angelolatry which had crept into Israel from Persian sources.—A. B. Bruce, D.D.
How oft do they their silver bowers leave,
And come to succour us who succour want!
How oft do they with golden pinions cleave
The flitting skies like flying pursuivant,
Against foul fiends to aid us militant!
They for us fight, they watch and duly ward,
And their bright squadrons round about us plant,
And all for love and nothing for reward.
Oh! why should heavenly God for men have such regard?—Spenser.
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Hebrews 1". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Third Week after Epiphany