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THE HIGHER RESPONSIBILITIES OF HIGHER REVELATIONS
CRITICAL AND EXEGETICAL NOTES
THE rhetorical character of the epistle is indicated in the hortatory passages that are so freely inserted. The exhortation here, Hebrews 2:1-4, introduces the reason for the peril of apostasy. It was the temporary humiliation of the Son which, unless its purpose was clearly understood, might so easily be misapprehended, and lead to a denial of His pre-eminence and Divine dignity. This brings the writer again to his argument. The humiliation of the Son was a necessity for the carrying through and perfecting of His high-priestly work.
Hebrews 2:1. Therefore.—Because such superiority belongs to Christ as the Author and Head of the new dispensation. It is an Eastern idea to honour an invited guest by sending a servant of the highest rank to call him to the feast. Meeting this idea, the writer sets forth the supreme dignity of Christ as giving special claim to the invitation He brings. More earnest heed.—Scripture conceives of attention as an effort of will, with a view to the active obedience of what is heard. Diligent application of the mind. Intelligent understanding is the proper basis of faith. We have heard.—Distinct reference to the gospel as the Divine revelation made to us. Slip.—R.V. “lest haply we drift away from them.” The word παραρρυῶμεν has two meanings:
(1) to fall, stumble, perish;
(2) to suffer to flow from memory, to forget. The Greek usage, as collected by Wetstein, is, “to flow as liquids.” Best translation is, “lest we should glide by them.” Not “run out as leaky vessels,” a rendering first given in the Genevan Testament, 1557 A.D. “Unless the mind be held closely to the words that God has spoken, it must drift away from them, and from the salvation which they promise.”
Hebrews 2:2. Word.—Reference is to the law given on Sinai, and said to have been given by “the disposition of angels.” See Acts 7:53; Galatians 3:10; Deuteronomy 33:2. Was stedfast.—Proved steadfast, its sanctions being fully upheld. Transgression.—The figure in this word is lost in the English translation. It is “walking alongside of,” and so, not walking in the path. The reference is to positive, intentional sin. Disobedience.—The figure in this word is “hearing”: “to hear beside”; so “to hear by stealth,” or inaccurately. Moral heedlessness. The reference is to negative sin, or neglect. Recompence of reward.—Pay for conduct. Reward of retributive justice, including punishments. A wide use of the term “reward.”
Hebrews 2:3. We escape.—We to whom the revelation ministered by the Son has come. Escape the judgment that must fall on those more highly privileged. Great salvation.—Proper word for the mission of the Son. The Jewish revelation may be called a “government,” or a “regulation”; it was not evidently a salvation. The greatness is especially seen in its having a Divine Administrator. By the Lord.—Jesus Himself. Compare directly in the Son, and indirectly by the medium of angels and Moses. Confirmed.—Ratified. Them that heard.—Apostles and first disciples, of whom the writer of this epistle was not one. The more unquestionable the gospel message was, the greater was the responsibility of those to whom it came.
Hebrews 2:4. Signs.—Tokens or indications of the near presence of God; a seal of power put on the person who accomplishes the miracle. Wonders.—Astonishing events, which the beholder can reduce to no law with which he is acquainted. Christ’s miracles are never called “wonders” only. Divers miracles.—Or manifold powers. Principal reference is intended to the miracles and spiritual endowments of the early Church. “Wonders,” indicating the effect on bystanders; “signs,” indicating that they had a moral purpose; “miracles,” or proofs of the presence and working of a Divine power; “gifts,” endowments for use, such as tongues, and power to interpret. The word “gifts” should be “distributions.”
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Hebrews 2:1-4
Three Great Things.—A remarkable feature of this epistle is the frequent introduction of hortatory passages, which remind us of the preacher rather than of the letter-writer. Those passages reveal the distinctly practical object of the writer. He is concerned with doctrine for the sake of its practical applications to life and conduct, rather than for the sake of its theological interests. Ever before his mind is the danger of the Jewish Christians relapsing from their Christian profession into their old and formal Judaism. And in dealing with them he does not wholly trust to argument as an appeal to mind; he uses urgent persuasions—the personal force—as an appeal to heart. “Out of the heart are the issues of life.” But it should be borne in mind that the appeals are made to persons with Jewish feelings and associations, and are precisely adapted to them.
1. “How shall we escape?” implies recognised peril. In the writer’s mind are the judgments which came on the unfaithful under the old covenant. These are representative of the judgments which come on those who are unfaithful to God’s covenant with man. To that covenant all of us are found unfaithful, and all of us stand exposed to judgment.
2. Neglect implies that a way of rescue has been provided. What was the way under the old covenant? Illustrated by the arrangement of cities of refuge. The way of bringing sacrifice; sin, trespass, burnt offerings. These foreshadow and represent the spiritual sacrifice which Christ offered, and which we offer—“our bodies a living sacrifice.”
3. Neglect further implies some preoccupation hindering attention. The preoccupation of some mistaken views. What would lead an old Jew to neglect sacrificing?
4. The greatness of the salvation implies a serious increase of peril for the negligent. That older salvation from ceremonial penalty was a great salvation. It was God’s own intervention. Now the salvation is from sins, and involves the sacrifice of God’s own Song of Song of Solomon 5:0. The tone of the question “How escape?” implies the hopelessness of finding any other rescue. As addressed to the Jewish Christians, it pleads in this way: You cannot fall back on the old, now you know its essentially preparatory character, and its limited, ceremonial range. And certainly you cannot fall away to idolatrous schemes, seeing that your old religion was so decided an advance upon them. Once advance, you can never go back.
I. The great salvation.—A Divine intervention for man’s relief and help. God’s constant work is redeeming; that work, at its highest level, is redemption from sin. Think of the greatness of this salvation.
1. In its sphere—sin’s penalty and power.
2. In its range—all humanity.
3. In its agency—personal surrender and self-sacrifice. These are not, however, immediately present to the writer’s mind. He sees the greatness of the salvation
(1) in the Agent working it out;
(2) in the agents conveying the report of it;
(3) in the miracles supporting the agents.
II. The great responsibility.—“How shall we escape?” The plea is based on the universally working law that “privilege brings responsibility.” This is one of the truths of fact that were prominent in our Lord’s teaching. But it is very easy for men to say, “Then we are better off without the privilege, and may envy the heathen who have none.” We must not think thus, because our glory and our joy lie in advance, in progress. Animals make no progress. Birds build their nests to-day just as they built them in the trees of Paradise. For a man to hear the gospel is for him to become another man. He can never be the same again. He has stepped up into privilege. He must be judged in the light of the new knowledge.
III. The great condemnation.—“If we neglect.” Apply to the Jewish Christians, who were not rejecting, only neglecting. In some audiences it might be necessary to plead that Christ was being rejected. In ordinary congregations the danger is not rejection, but neglect. There is:
1. The neglect of indifference.
2. The neglect of preoccupation.
3. The neglect of shaken confidence. Rejection may be the sin of the one here and there. Neglect is the sin of the many. But is it reasonable to make so much depend on simple neglect? It is, if you recognise what moral character is shown in rejection, and what in neglect. Neglect is more hopeless than rejection. Those who reject may think again. Those who neglect let the opportunity slip by. For those who neglect there is the misery of having missed eternal life because they would make no effort.
SUGGESTIVE NOTES AND SERMON SKETCHES
Hebrews 2:1. “Let slip.”—You know how it is when water is poured into a leaky bucket: it runs out quickly; it is very soon all gone. When we have bad memories, our minds are such a leaky vessel; the things that we are taught run away from us as water runs through a sieve. And so this lesson about holding fast is a very important one; it is the same duty that the angel in the Apocalypse urges on the Christians of the “seven Churches.”—R. Newton.
Drifting.—Drifting! drifting! that is the precise word. The boat is unanchored. It is at the moment in a quiet place; but by-and-by the tide ebbs and bears it in its bosom on to the middle of the current, and then it is carried out and away, and perhaps, if no one has observed its motions, irrecoverably lost.—Dr. Tayler.
Drifting from Christ.—“Lest haply we drift away.” Those who deliberately renounce their Divine hope are few; those who make shipwreck of faith by imperceptibly getting further and further away are many. This drifting away is possible:
1. Because we are not always moored to Christ when we are brought to Him.
2. Because there are powerful adverse currents which tend to carry us from the Saviour.
3. Our departure from Christ may be for some time imperceptible. To drift from Christ is to drift to ruin.
(1) It is to forsake the only refuge for sinful men.
(2) It is to disregard the supreme claims of Christ.
(3) It is to resist the grace that has brought us close to Him. Conclusion:
1. If we are moored to Christ, our blessedness consists in the maintenance of close fellowship with Him.
2. Though we are close to Christ, we are in great peril until we are anchored there.
3. If we are drifting away from Christ, everything depends on our returning before we get further off.—Charles New.
Drawn on to the Coral Reefs.—In the Southern Seas sailing vessels, when there is no wind, dare not approach the islands nearer than two or even three miles. Currents constantly flow towards the land, and they insensibly act upon the vessels, so that they drift to destruction on the coral reefs.
Drifting from the Truth.—The idea is, that these Jewish Christians, to whom the epistle was addressed, were in danger of being carried away from the gospel of Christ, just as a vessel will be drifted down the stream unless it is held firmly to its anchorage, or unless there is constant exertion on the part of those who are on board to resist the current. There was a strong tide running, and unless they gave earnest heed to the gospel they would be swept away into their old Jewish life.—R. W. Dale.
Hebrews 2:3. Great Salvation because Great Saviour.—On the intrinsic greatness of the salvation the writer does not dwell. It is implied in the unique dignity and commission of Him through whom it is given. To the Jewish Christians the message of the salvation came:
1. Direct from Christ.
2. Then from those who actually knew Christ.
3. And their testimony was sealed by the miracles of healing and blessing which they wrought.
No escaping if there is neglecting.—Consider the argument of this epistle. It is an argument against apostasy. These Hebrew Christians were in danger of going back to an effete Judaism; but “the Old Testament dispensation, with its prophets and priests and Temple and sacrifices, was only a type of Christ, and was to disappear when Christ Himself had come.” The revelation of God in His Son is the culminating revelation. That having been made, that which has led to it and introduced it is no longer necessary, and to cling to it is to cling to superfluity. The man who trusts in Jesus is safe whether the Temple fall or stand, whether he worship within its precincts or be thrust out of them. Then the epistle goes on to substantiate this truth by various argumentation. Angels, the messengers of God, had to do with the introduction of the old economy; but Christ, the Founder of the new economy, is superior to angels. His title is superior. He is called the Son of God. No angel was ever called the son of God in such terms as would involve sameness of nature with God; but Christ is. Therefore He is superior; but angels are required to worship Christ. Therefore, again, He is superior. Then, again, the angels are called winds and lightning—names implying servitude; but Christ is He at whose behests the angels go forth as winds and as lightnings; and so, as King over them, Christ is their superior. And therefore, since Christ is thus the superior of angels, the dispensation which He Himself personally introduced must be higher in authority, and more enduring in existence. This, then, is the first argument in substantiation of the theme of the epistle. But the Bible is the most practical of books. Let a truth but be established, and at once it springs to press that truth in application. So before another argument is introduced to substantiate further the mighty theme of the epistle, the discussion tarries for pressing the truth it has carried home. If, though this preparatory dispensation was less in authority and grandeur, yet if even this lower and lesser word spoken by angels and delivered to men by Moses was nevertheless a word most firm; if disobedience even to that lower and lesser word was always followed with its threatened penalty,—then how shall we escape if we neglect this so great salvation; this word, the highest and most precious possible, which the Son of God Himself has come to tell us? Such is the setting of the inspired argument. A most pertinent question, How shall we escape if we neglect?
1. There can be no further and other Divine revelation as to salvation from sin. In Christ dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily (Ephesians 2:9). God cannot speak more plainly than He has spoken by His Song of Song of Solomon 2:0. There can be no other and further Divine sacrifice for sin. God has nothing more to give than He has already given. Even infinity does not possess a preciousness beyond that of the only begotten Song of Song of Solomon 3:0. Our own good works cannot possibly match or go beyond the efficacy residing in the finished work of Christ. To trust in them, rather than in what He has done, is not only folly—it is sacrilege.
4. No sacramental rite administered by man can possibly equal the completed atonement wrought by Christ and ministered by the Holy Spirit to the believing soul.
5. In every sense this salvation is a salvation utmost. In no way can we touch or pass beyond that limit. How, then, can we escape if we neglect?
6. And to neglect it is to refuse it.
Responding to our Privileges.—Perhaps you have not noticed the force of the text as it stands in its connection. It really is a very serious warning to converted people; the neglect referred to is the sort of neglect to which professing Christians are tempted. It sets us upon the inquiry, “How may you and I, who have so long borne the Christian name, be found to-day neglecting the responsibilities, claims, and duties of the ‘great salvation’?” The epistle to the Hebrews is distinctly addressed to Hebrew Christians, to Christians who had been Jews, and for the most part devout and zealous Jews. From the tone of the epistle we gather, that these Judaic Christians were placed under some special perils and temptations. There was evidently some grave danger of their returning upon the formalities of that Mosaic system out of which they had come. The writer seems deeply impressed with the peril, the disgrace, the hopelessness, of apostasy. The danger of those Hebrew Christians recurs in every age. It is ours to-day as truly as it was theirs yesterday. Those who have gained a spiritual religion are exposed to the temptation to pass back upon a sensuous religion. The religion of the surrendered will and the heart’s love is difficult to maintain; easily we come to substitute for it a religion of attending services, observing sacraments, and pressing conduct into moulds. The Christian Jews addressed in this epistle had stepped up out of formal Judaism into spiritual Christianity. They had served the law written upon tablets of stone; now they had learned to serve the law written on the mind and heart. They had been religious by following and obeying rules; they had become religious by responding to Divine inward inspirations. They had been associated with a material Temple; they had now discovered that man can be the “temple of the Holy Ghost, and the Spirit of God can dwell in him.” They had lived by the letter; they now lived in the Spirit. But it was only with extreme difficulty that they could keep up in that high, spiritual atmosphere. We can quite understand their difficulty. The interests of the old Mosaic system clung to them. They had been the associations of their earliest years. Judaism was the religion of their childhood and youth. Every sentiment of reverence and affection gathered round the old system. No man ever yet found it easy to grow out of his youth-time associations. Some of us to-day can scarcely say that we have quite outgrown that hard, unloving Calvinism which was the atmosphere of our boyhood. It is stern work this growing in spiritual things. And formal religion, which gives us something for the eyes to look on, for the hands to handle, and for the knees to do, always has a strange fascination for sense-bound man. Formal religion, that requires routine, but asks for no mind and no feeling, always has been attractive, and it always will be. The many will always find a sort of contentment in that lower stage. Enough for them to ask, “What good thing can I do to inherit eternal life?” The sad thing is, that the religion of forms and ceremonies should even keep its fascination for those to whom the glories of spiritual religion have once been unfolded. Well may the apostle exclaim, in a passion of indignation, “But now, after that ye have known God, or rather are known of God, how turn ye again to the weak and beggarly elements, whereunto ye desire again to be in bondage? Ye observe days, and months, and times, and years. I am afraid of you, lest I have bestowed upon you labour in vain.” And we must take into due account another fact. The advocates of the Mosaic system, who resisted the claims of Christianity, were intensely active in demanding continued obedience to the Jewish laws and rules. What are called “Judaising teachers” followed Paul everywhere, and persisted in claiming that every Christian convert should keep Mosaic rules; should be circumcised, should make vows, should observe rites, and should bring sacrifices, just as if he were a Jew. They declared that the formal religion could never be superseded, could never rise into anything higher or more spiritual. The New Testament tells us of the peril of falling back on formal Judaism from spiritual Christianity. The history of the first three centuries of the Church shows us the peril of falling back on paganism from spiritual Christianity. It is a sad story. The Gentile converts brought in Gentile ways, and soon Christianity became the old paganism, with new associations. The Church ritual that is so fascinating to men to-day, is, in almost every detail, old pagan ritual carried in to the ruinous overlaying of spiritual Christianity. It is of course possible, in a spirit of self-complacency, for us to say that all this concerns the apostolic Christians and the early Church Christians, and it is very sad, but then it has nothing whatever to do with us. I want to show you that, in forms and ways suitable to our own cases, this danger of falling from spiritual religion back upon formal religion is precisely the danger to which you and I are exposed to-day. We need the warning, lest we too should be found “neglecting the great salvation.” Our own religion begins in formality and routine. Mother makes us say our prayers, and sees that we say them regularly; and it is only saying prayers. Mother takes us to the services, and sees that we behave suitably. For long years every child’s, every boy’s, religion is in the Judaic stage. It consists in doing things that ought to be done. Then may come the experience which we call “conversion”; the soul’s awakening to personal relation with Divine and eternal things. We rise, in that hour of personal decision, to spiritual religion. But it is as hard for us to keep up there, in that spiritual region, as it was for the converted Jew to keep up in the refined atmosphere of spiritual Christianity. You and I are always ready to fall back on our old boy-religion of ordered prayers, attended services, and shaped conduct. We have no harder task than that of keeping ourselves right up in that spiritual realm, which, in the power of God’s Spirit, we have entered. You can easily become a formal Christian. It will cost you much and constant watchfulness and endeavour if you keep a spiritual Christian. The tendency is an ever-enduring and universal one. It belongs to biassed and deteriorated human nature; and the epistle to the Hebrews has always been wanted, and will always be wanted, because it deals with this tendency. It does so partly by a series of arguments, and partly by a series of persuasions. These are blended in a very striking way throughout the epistle, each branch of the argument being followed by a characteristic warning or persuasion. The argument is mainly a rhetorical comparison between the agents and mediators employed in connection with the two dispensations—the Jewish and the Christian—and between the sacrifices required in the two dispensations. We only now take the first of these comparisons. What has to be compared is the two Divine dispensations, the two great religious systems established by the Divine revelation—the formal system of Judaism, the spiritual system of Christianity. It must first of all be made perfectly clear that these systems were not antagonistic. They are related to each other; they are in no sense opposed to each other. They may be helpfully compared; they may never be contrasted. They stand in an order of time. That is not first which is spiritual, but that which is carnal, and afterward that which is spiritual. The one is the preparation for the other, the necessary preparation; it is the schoolmaster that trains for the life in Christ. The earlier unfolds into the later, and it may pass away when it has done its preparation work. The seed we sow in the ground is preserved by the husk, and the germ of the future plant is fed by the starch stored in the seed. But when the germ bursts forth into leaf, the flour and the husk may die. They have done their work, and passed into the plant that is to be. The spring bud is encased in a sheath, and protected while it is maturing; but when the flower opens, the sheath may fade and drop off. It has done its work, and really lives still in the beauty of the summer flower. The children’s scrap-books and picture-books are put away on the shelf—every home has a big pile of them: they seem to be useless; nay, they live on in the cultured power to read which they have quickened and trained. The apostle Paul puts the matter in a clever and suggestive sentence: “When that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away. When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child; but when I became a man, I put away childish things.” Ceremonial Judaism is as the toys in the cupboard, and as the picture-books on the shelf. They have had their day, and done their work, but we do not want them now. Somehow we never quite lose our interest in the toys and the books; and some never lose interest in formal Judaism. But the Spirit of the Lord has come, and “where the Spirit of the Lord is there is liberty.”
I. In the passage from which the text is taken the agents of the two dispensations are compared. It was the received opinion of the Jews that their law was given on Mount Sinai “by the disposition of angels.” That was thought to declare the supreme grandeur of the revelation, of the law-giving. Angels! But what are angels? What are angels more than we? Are they not all ministering spirits? Created dependent servants, executing their Lord’s bidding, even as we are? The spiritual revelation and law given from Mount Sion came by Jesus Christ, God’s only-begotten and well-beloved Son, who is the “heir of all things, and by whom God made the world; who is the brightness of the Father’s glory, and the express image of His person; who upholds all things by His own power.” The applications and enforcements of the Mosaic law were made by a series of prophets, among whom were many great, many extraordinary men. “God who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets.” The applications and enforcements of spiritual Christianity are made by the apostles of Jesus. The word at first was “spoken by the Lord,” but “it was confirmed unto us by them that heard Him.” On the face of it, therefore, this new revelation of God’s will to men is altogether higher and nobler: it brings to us higher privileges; it involves us in heavier responsibilities; it can crush us with heavier penalties. This is the argument, and this is its attendant persuasion: “Therefore we ought to give the more earnest heed to the things which we have heard, lest at any time we should let them slip. For if the word spoken by angels was stedfast, and every transgression and disobedience received a just recompence of reward; how shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation?” It is suggestive that the old dispensation and the new one should both be called a “salvation.” It is evidently named from its initial incident. Its true beginning was the great and glorious redemption of Israel from the Egyptian bondage, when Pharaoh’s chariots and host were cast into the sea, and Israel walked a wondrous way, and began their national life from those farther shores as a delivered, redeemed people. They sang in their song of triumph, “The Lord is become my salvation: He is my God, and I will prepare Him an habitation; my father’s God, and I will exalt Him.” But that “salvation” brought Israel under the claim to serve Jehovah, and Jehovah only. They were bound to receive, and to obey strictly and carefully, all the law that Jehovah might be pleased to declare to them; and seeing that they were a nation in its child-stage, Jehovah graciously adapted His revelation and His law to them, gave the knowledge of His will through elaborate pictures of rites, and ceremonials, and observances, and ruled conduct by precise laws covering all their daily life and relations—“a people saved by the Lord.” They knew their Lord’s will; and “every transgression and disobedience received a just recompence of reward.” And so the new dispensation is called a “salvation,” “so great salvation,” because it too began with a great and glorious redemption—the redemption wrought in the ministry and sacrifice of our Lord Jesus Christ. And that redemption brings us under claim to serve Jehovah Christ. We are bound to receive and obey His law in everything. And that law, in its most searching spiritual way, takes motive, principle, feeling, enriches them with new force, and so affects all our conduct from within. The ransomed of the Lord ought to respond to all the claims and responsibilities involved in so “great salvation.”
II. The penalties of the two dispensations are compared.—There is an appearance of severity in the Mosaic sanctions. But we need not misunderstand it or exaggerate it. All first education is necessarily precise and severe. It ought to be. Parents and school-teachers properly begin by requiring exact obedience on penalty of punishments and deprivations. Joubert finely says that the universal law of training is “force till right is ready.” There is a severe side to Christianity, though it does not show as plain as the severe side of Judaism. It is severer: its demands are more comprehensive and searching; they concern motive and feeling. Its penalties are severer: they come upon the soul; they break off its relations with God; they involve “the second death.” “Of how much sorer punishment are they worthy” whose neglect of the great salvation may be figuratively described as “trampling underfoot the Son of God, counting the blood of the covenant an unholy thing, and doing despite unto the Spirit of grace.” That severer side of spiritual Christianity directly concerns you and me. With what condition of religious life may we think the warnings deal?
1. Penalties hang over all who pass back upon formality. “Having begun in the Spirit, are ye now made perfect in the flesh.” I beseech you, search and see whether formalism has crept into any of the features of your religious life. Once your soul shaped all your doings and relations. Is it now thus with you? The routine is kept up, the order is gone through; but there is no soul inspiring it now. You say your prayers; you do not pray. You attend the services; you do not worship. You observe sacraments; you do not feed with ever-fresh appetite upon the Bread of Life. There is a terrible disease from which men suffer, often for a long time without knowing it. The very substance of the heart actually hardens. There is a strange dropping-well at Knaresborough, Eng. As the water falls on living substances it encrusts them with stone. That “disease” has its religious counterpart; that “well” has its religious antitype. Scripture describes the man who has fallen back from spiritual upon formal religion: He is “dead while he liveth.” The penalty of formal religion, what is it? To be dead, soul-dead. What more awful penalty can you possibly think of?
2. Penalties hang over all who shrink from gospel responsibilities. Neglecting the salvation is neglecting the things the salvation involves. These I will only state in two forms:
(1) We are put into the school of Christ. It is perilous work to show ourselves unwilling to learn of Him.
(2) We are put into the rule of Christ. And it is perilous work to shrink from any form of the obedience to which He calls us. What hope of escape, in the great testing day, can the unspiritual Christian have? What hope of escape can the disobedient Christian have? What hope of escape can the negligent, unfaithful Christian have? “Every man’s work shall be tried of what sort it is.” Are you neglecting any of the claims, responsibilities, duties, of this great, this spiritual salvation? What—say what is your hope of escape in the testing day of God?
Hebrews 2:4. Spiritual Gifts witnessing to the Salvation.—“Gifts of the Holy Ghost, according to His own will.” The writer has evidently in mind the extraordinary gifts which were bestowed on the early Church. The disciples were bidden by their ascending Lord to “tarry in Jerusalem, until they were endued with power from on high.” What that power was, and what were the outward signs of its coming, we learn at the Day of Pentecost. What the power developed into, and how it differentiated, so as to gain adaptation to every necessity of the Church, St. Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 12:8-11; and he most carefully associates the gift or power with the presence of the indwelling Spirit. “For to one is given through the Spirit the word of wisdom; and to another the word of knowledge, according to the same Spirit: to another faith, in the same Spirit; and to another gifts of healings, in the one Spirit; and to another workings of miracles; and to another prophecy; and to another discerning of spirits: to another divers kinds of tongues; and to another the interpretation of tongues: but all these worketh the one and the same Spirit, dividing to each one severally even as He will.” In the possession of these gifts the Church has one of its best evidences of the “great salvation.” The bestowment of the gift is God’s direct witness to the “salvation.”
I. Gifts are special enduements of power.—The man who has the gift has something which he had not before. It might or it might not bear relation to some natural faculty. But it was something new.
II. Every person regenerate in Christ had some special gift.—This truth has not been fully apprehended; and so the gift of each disciple has neither been looked for by himself nor by others; and consequently the Church is full of men with unused, and so virtually lost gifts.
III. The gifts are the sign of the presence and the inworking of the Divine and indwelling Spirit.—This is their deepest significance. We have them only because we have the Spirit. The Spirit comes to us before the gifts.
IV. The presence of the Holy Spirit is the seal of our personal salvation.—And so the gifts which declare that we have the Spirit witness that we are the saved ones on whom the Lord has “set His mark.”
ILLUSTRATIONS TO CHAPTER 2
Hebrews 2:3. Perils of simply neglecting.—Simply neglect the great salvation, and you will make your everlasting ruin sure. Many foolish, faithless parents have killed their child, not by administering slow poison, or striking an assassin-knife through its young heart, but by the simple neglect of the first laws of health. Many parents, too, have wrung their hands in agony over a ruined son, fallen into disgrace, not because they have led that son into ruin, but because they had let him alone, and left him to rush into the cause of his misery unrestrained. Neglect was the boy’s ruin. There is no need for a man to row towards Niagara’s cataract—resting on his oars is quite enough to send him over the awful verge into eternal ruin.—T. L. Cuyler.
The Insult of neglecting Religion.—I can understand that man who says, “I have examined all the evidence, I have weighed and tested every argument, and I have come to the conclusion that the Bible is a fable, Christianity is a romance, and all that it says of eternity, death, and judgment the visions of a mere baseless dream.” I pity and deplore his conclusions; but there is a consistency about it. I very much doubt if it be not a greater insult to God to neglect religion, which is altogether inexcusable, than it is to reject it.—Dr. Cumming.
How escape?—The question “How shall we escape?” implies
(2) provided rescue;
(3) neglect of provision;
(4) consequent increase of peril; and
(5) hopelessness of finding any other rescue.
Hebrews 2:4. The Temporary Mission of Miracles.—A gardener, when he transplanteth a tree out of one ground into another, before the tree takes root, sets stays to it, and poureth water at the root of it daily; but when it once taketh root he ceaseth to water it any more, and putteth away the stays that he set to uphold it, and suffereth it to grow with the order and influences of the heavens. So the Lord, in planting of religion. He put miracles as helps to stay it; but when it was once confirmed and fastened, and had taken deep rooting, He took away such helps; so that, as St. Augustine hath it, He that looketh for a miracle is a miracle himself; for if the death of Christ will not work faith, all the miracles in the world will not do it.—Spencer.
Cycles of Miracles.—The power and acceptableness of the evidence afforded by miracles is relative to the age to which they are given. Therefore it will be found that they have always come in cycles, and only in cycles.
CRITICAL AND EXEGETICAL NOTES
Hebrews 2:5. World to come.—The new dispensation. Rabbinical teaching was divided under two heads:
(1) hâ‘ôlâm hazzeh (the present world), and
(2) hâ‘ôlâm habbâ (the world to come). The period referred to in this verse is that which succeeds the exaltation of Christ. But the word used by the writer strictly means “the inhabited earth.”
Hebrews 2:6. The writer brings this quotation from the 8th Psalm to show that man is recognised as inferior to angels. This he admits must apply to Jesus, the Head of the new dispensation. He has therefore to meet the Jewish objection, that Judaism, ministered by angels, must be a higher dispensation than Christianity, which was ministered by a man. Notice that this writer does not affirm the Davidic authorship of the psalm. The quotation is taken from the LXX. Version. The writer’s thought may be thus given:” According to Scripture the world is subjected to man, not to angels. We ought therefore to cherish high notions of man’s dignity. Man has not, however, yet gained his full sovereignty. There is hope for him now; for we do see the “Man Christ Jesus,” though humiliated for a purpose, crowned with glory and honour, and constituted the Head of the race. In Him and through Him man will reach His full dignity.” “There is One in whom the Divine purpose is fulfilled in all its parts.”
Hebrews 2:9. To understand this verse we must keep in view the Jewish objection which the writer is combating. It may be stated thus: “The Christ whom you are so greatly exalting was only a man, and suffered an ignominious death.” He replies: “There was a necessity for that humiliation to share our humanity, and a necessity for that experience of death. And on the ground of consenting to that humiliation, and suffering that death, He is crowned with glory and honour.” Compare St. Paul’s glorying in “Christ and Him crucified.” Taste death.—Passing through a complete human experience. For every man.—In order to gain redemptive power on every man.
Hebrews 2:10. Became Him.—God, rhetorically described in the next clause. Many sons.—An assertion of the relation of man to God which Christ the Son fully represents. Captain.—Better, “Bringer-on.” Christ is the living Leader of souls. “Author” is a suitable term. Perfect.—In the sense of “perfectly competent.” But two thoughts seem to be included:
(1) perfectly fitted for His work of bringing on;
(2) perfect, as crowned with glory and honour, for reward. It became God to give the reward. Sufferings.—The characteristic lot of humanity.
Hebrews 2:11. Sanctifieth.—The LXX. and the New Testament use of the word ἁγιάζω is the selecting out, and adopting for, God’s service. It suggests the moral side of the Redeemer’s work. All of one.—Of one and the same human nature. If Christ was to exert moral power on us, manifestly He must be a moral being in our sphere, and familiar with our experience. Brethren.—Real brother-men. The full value of our Lord’s humanity in relation to His complete redemptive work is only now coming into the full view of theologians.
Hebrews 2:14. Partakers of flesh and blood.—This opposes the errors of the Docetæ. The devil.—A deadly power of leading men into sin is ascribed to the devil (see John 16:11; Ephesians 2:2; Ephesians 6:12; 1 Corinthians 2:15; 2 Corinthians 4:14). Stuart explains, “To render null the deadly power of Satan is to prevent the effects of it, as bringing men to incur the sentence of spiritual death.”
Hebrews 2:15. Fear of death.—Not physical dying, but the sin-sense, which darkens the future.
Hebrews 2:16.—R.V. “For verily not of angels doth He take hold, but He taketh hold of the seed of Abraham.” Does not redemptively interest Himself in angels.
Hebrews 2:17. Behoved Him.—It was as becoming as it certainly was necessary. High priest.—This allusion rhetorically introduces the writer’s next comparison. The great point impressed in this chapter is, that the Son accomplishes His redemptive work largely through the power of sympathy; to secure that sympathy He must have fellow-experience with man in His sufferings and death.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Hebrews 2:5-18
The Representative Manhood of the Divine Son.—It is necessary to deal with this passage as a whole, because only one subject is really treated in it. The writer has referred to the angels, and has shown the superiority of Jesus to them in being the Divine Son. But he had spoken of the angels as “ministering spirits.” Not men; not in the earthly range; and so not effective agents in accomplishing human redemption. If he had dwelt upon the superiority of Christ to angels, he must also recognise His temporary inferiority to angels. If he dwells first on the primary truth of our Lord’s Deity, he must also present the equally essential truth of His humanity. “He was made a little lower than the angels” by becoming a man; and a man He must become if He would accomplish the redemption of man. “The temporary humiliation was the voluntary and predestined means whereby alone He could accomplish His redemptive work.” But the writer approaches his theme from a fresh and somewhat unusual side; we might almost say that he comes round to it in an indirect way. This is his point, “The voluntary humiliation of Jesus was a necessary step in the exaltation of humanity.”
I. God’s promise to man is vindicated in Christ.—In having the limitations of a human body, with its five senses, man is made “a little lower than the angels”; but in the earth-sphere where he, in the body, is placed he is supreme, he is lord, everything is subject to him. So God constituted his relations. Amid all earthly things man stands first, “crowned with glory and honour.” “Set over the works of God’s hands,” the entire material universe. And having “all things put in subjection under his feet.”
1. Rule in the earthly and human spheres is in no sense given to angels. “Unto the angels did He not subject the inhabited earth [margin, R.V.] whereof we speak.”
2. But, as a matter of fact, this complete rule, which God designed for him, has never yet been realised by ordinary man. “Now we see not yet all things put under him.” That fact is explained by man’s wilfully breaking loose from the laws and conditions which God had arranged, and so bringing sin and death into the world, things which are entirely beyond man’s control, by which he has always been mastered. All things then are not subject to the ordinary man. There is very much that is subject to him. In one direction he is limited. Death, and the sin which makes it a necessity, man cannot control.
3. This complete rule over absolutely all things in the earth-sphere is realised in one Man, the representative Man, the “Man Christ Jesus.” The Son was made “a little lower than the angels,” made a man, in order that He might deal with the one thing—death—which man had no power to conquer. As a man only was it possible for Him to “taste death,” and in the very experience of it conquer it. “Through death He might bring to nought him that had the power of death.” It was as if an alien power held death; and from him man could never wrest it; so all his life, master whatsoever he might, man was afraid of death, and subject to its bondage. Christ the man won for man the mastery of the one thing that completed man’s mastery of the earth, and now, in Christ, God’s promise to man is realised—“all things are in subjection unto Him.”
II. See how much is involved in the vindication.—Death is only a climax and result. It involves so much. And He who gains the mastery of death must gain with it the mastery of all that it involves.
1. It is the climax of sin. “Sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death.” Then it must be evident that Christ has gained the power to deal with and master human sin.
2. But the writer has another thing in mind. Suffering is in the world, as God’s disciplinary agency for the correcting of sin. And He who conquers death for man, and masters sin for man, must also have the power to deal with suffering. And just as He yielded to death and took all its bitterness away, so He yielded to suffering and took all its bitterness away nay, even gained His power to sanctify suffering, and take away sin by suffering—was made a perfect Bringer on of souls to glory by suffering. What have we then in Christ when we can fully embrace the double truth of His Deity and His humanity?
1. His sympathy—born of actual experience—in our times of suffering.
2. His representative triumph over death, which secures us relief from the “fear of death.”
3. The destruction of death itself in its relation to sin; and His present living mastery—as our Head—of the sins that bring on death, and the sufferings that were necessary to exhibit the evil of sin, and to discipline man in his efforts to master sin. “It behoved Him to be made in all things like unto His brethren,” that He might deliver them from their sin and death bondage, and come into their lives as a sympathetic and efficient spiritual helper.
(In “Suggestive Notes” see passage from Moses Stuart.)
SUGGESTIVE NOTES AND SERMON SKETCHES
Hebrews 2:5. “The Infinite Superiority of Jesus to the Angels is not diminished but rather enhanced by the temporary humiliation which was the voluntary and predestined means whereby alone He could accomplish His redemptive work.”
The Temptableness of Christ’s Manhood.—“Temptation of its own nature involves suffering, and it is too generally overlooked that though our Lord’s severest temptations came in two great and solemn crises—in the wilderness and at Gethsemane—yet Scripture leads us to the view that He was always liable to temptation, though without sin, because the temptation was always repudiated with the whole force of His will throughout the whole course of His life of obedience.” It is indeed essential to any and every moral being that he shall be temptable, and it shall be possible to yield to temptation and fall. This truth is illustrated in the legend of the fall of the angels. Too often angels are thought of as untemptable. What is promised to us is not a future removal of the liabilities of the moral nature, which we shall always have, but a Divine life in our will, which will give us the absolute security that Christ enjoyed.
The Objection to Salvation by a Fellow-man.—As the Jews, one and all, conceded that the dispensation of the Messiah would be of a higher order than that of Moses, proof that Jesus was the sole mediator or head of the new dispensation, and that angels were not employed as mediators or internuntii in it, would satisfy them that Jesus was superior to angels. But the unbelieving Jew would be likely to urge the seeming absurdity of renouncing subjection to a dispensation of which angels were the mediators, and of acknowledging a subjection to one of which the professed head and mediator appeared in our nature. It was repulsive to the feelings of the unbelieving Jews, that one to all appearance like a man, and made up of flesh and blood in the same manner as themselves, should advance a claim to the exalted honour of a superior and Divine nature. The writer concedes the fact entirely, that Jesus had a nature truly and properly human. But instead of granting that this proves the new dispensation to be inferior to that of Moses, he proceeds to adduce evidence from the Old Testament Scriptures, to show that man, or the human nature in the person of the Messiah, should be made Lord of the universe. Consequently, in this nature, Jesus the Messiah is superior to angels. Nay, more, it was becoming that God should exalt Jesus, in consequence of His obedience unto death. To suffer this death, He must needs take on. Him a nature like ours. And as His object was the salvation of men (and not of angelic beings), so He participated in the nature of men, in order that by experience He might know their sufferings, temptations, and trials, and thus be prepared, in a peculiar manner, to be compassionate and ready to succour. The sum of the whole is: “The possession of a human nature by Jesus is far from being a reason why the ancient dispensation (of which angels were the internuntii) is preferable to the new one; for—
1. This very nature is exalted far above the angels.
2. Without participating in this nature, Jesus could not have made expiation for sin by His death.
3. The possession of such a nature did contribute in a peculiar and endearing manner to constitute Him such a Saviour as men could approach with the greatest boldness and confidence, in all their wants and in all their woes” (Moses Stuart).
Hebrews 2:8. The Limited Supremacy of Man.—Scripture is no story of the material universe. Man is the central figure there, or, to speak more truly, the only figure; all else serves but as a background for him. He is not one part, not the highest merely in the scale of its creatures, but the lord of all; all the visible creation borrow their wealth and significance from their relationship to him. Such he appears in the ideal worth and dignity of his unfallen condition; even now, when only a broken fragment of the sceptre with which he once ruled the world remains in his hands, such he is commanded to regard himself still.—Trench.
Man a King.—Man is a king; God hath put a crown upon his head, and not only so, but hath given him a territory and subjects (see Genesis 1:26), where what David means by “all things” is in the same manner enumerated. St. Paul, however, extends the meaning of “all things” far beyond this. David’s “all things” and Paul’s “all things” are not the same: the one is thinking of the visible world, the other of the invisible world; the one speaks of that within us, the other of that which is to come. The words may be true of man, but in their higher sense they are truer of Christ as the great Head of mankind, and of man only in Him, in whom only is to be seen their proper fulfilment.—J. S. Perowne, D.D.
Man’s Authority in Creation.—The trust of material things committed to man, as recorded in Genesis 1:26; Genesis 1:28, man has fully responded to. It may be truly said that no living creature has been unable to yield to his authority: no nature-force has refused to be yoked to do his bidding; and no combination of difficult circumstances has baffled his masterfulness. But man has failed to rule himself. Having made the fatal mistake in not ruling himself, he cannot now recover his power of moral self-command. Christ, the ideal Man, came to this world to give man back his lost power over himself. His redemption is the recovery of man to his ideal. It is the completing of man’s supremacy over everything, by winning for him the supremacy over himself. The sign of man’s limited supremacy is his absolute inability to mate and master death, which is the issue and seal of sin. Before death man stands morally helpless, because before sin he is ineffective. Then the Saviour of man must show that He can, as man, deal efficiently with sin, by dealing, as man, efficiently with death. In man’s name, and for man, and as man, Jesus wrestled with death, and conquered it; and so He has gained for man his full supremacy. In Christ “all things” are now put under him.
Burning the Earth.—Any one casually reading this verse might imagine that the last clause refers to the “thorns and briars,” especially as this idea seems to be supported by comparison of the passage with Isaiah 9:18; Isaiah 23:12, etc. The original Greek, however, for “whose” (ἧς) is in the singular number, and must relate to the land, “which beareth thorns and briars.” St. Paul alludes to the custom, common to the Romans, and other heathen nations, of burning the barren fields, or, rather, the stubble, etc., standing upon them, according to Virgil, who, in his book on husbandry (Georg., i. 84), lays down this rule:—
“’Tis well to set on fire the barren fields,
And burn in crackling flames the stubble light.”
Hebrews 2:8-9. Manhood crowned in Jesus.—The text brings before us a threefold sight. It bids us look around; and if that sadden us, it bids us look up, and thence it bids us draw confidence to look forward. There is an estimate of present facts, there is a perception by faith of the unseen fact of Christ’s glory, and there follows from that the calm prospect for the future for ourselves and for our brethren.
I. Look at the sight around us.—“We see not yet all things put under man.” It is a sight of human incompleteness. Where are the men of whom any portion of the psalmist’s words are true. Look at them—are these the men of whom he sings? Visited by God! crowned with glory and honour! having dominion over the works of His hands! Is this irony or fact?
1. Let consciousness speak.
2. Let biographies speak.
3. Let observation speak.
II. Look upwards to Jesus.—Christ in glory appears to the author of this epistle to be the full realisation of the psalmist’s ideal. Our text deals only with the exalted dignity and present majesty of the ascended Lord; but both the ascended Christ upon the throne, and the historical Christ upon tho earth, teach us what man may be, the one in regard of dignity, the other in regard of goodness. Here is a fact. Such a life was verily once lived on earth—a life of true manhood, whatever more it was. And that life is to be our standard. In Jesus Christ is the type; and, albeit it is alone in its beauty, yet it is more truly a specimen of manhood than the fragmentary, distorted, incomplete men are who are found everywhere besides. Christ is the power to conform us to Himself, as well as the pattern of what we may be. But what does Scripture teach us to see in the exalted Lord?
1. A perpetual manhood. There is a strong tendency in many minds to think of Christ’s incarnation and humanity as transitory, the wearing of a garb of human nature but for a moment. The Biblical representation is, that for evermore, by an indissoluble union, the human is assumed into the Divine, and that “to-day and for ever” He remains the Man Christ Jesus. Without this truth, that mighty work which He ever carries on, of succouring them that are tempted, and having compassion with us, were impossible.
2. A corporeal manhood. The resurrection and ascension of Jesus Christ are our great reasons for believing that man, in his perfect condition, has body as well as spirit. And that belief is one chief means of giving definiteness and reality to our anticipations of a future life.
3. Transfigured manhood. The natural body changed into the spiritual body.
4. Sovereign manhood. Here is a Man exalted to absolute, universal dominion.
III. Look forward.—The day is coming wherein men shall be all that God proposed, and all that their Saviour is. Christ is the measure of man’s capacities. He is the true pattern of human nature. Christ is the prophecy and pledge of man’s dominion. From Christ comes the power by which the prophecy is fulfilled, and the pattern reproduced in all who love Him. He is more than Pattern—He is Power; more than Specimen—He is Source; more than Example—He is Redeemer. The answer to my own evil conscience, to the sad inferences from man’s past and present, to the conclusions which are illegitimately sought to be extended from man’s material place in a material universe to man’s spiritual place as an immortal and moral being, lies in that twofold sight,—Christ on His cross the measure of man’s worth in the eyes of God, and of man’s place in the creation; Christ on the throne the prophecy of man’s dignity, and of His most sure dominion.—A. Maclaren, D.D.
Hebrews 2:9. The Bitter Cup.—Jesus on the cross! Why is He there? By the force of circumstances? Hell and earth had conspired against Him. Every power and device which malice could summon are there to play their infernal part in His crucifixion. He dies by the hand of the law, moved by hatred; no—but by the grace of God. Did He die for expediency’ sake? Must one life be sacrificed to assert the rights of truth and justice? No—but “by the grace,” etc. “For God so loved the world,” etc., and “delivered Him up for us all.” The cup was sometimes the emblem of bitterness. So in Isaiah 51:17 : “Awake, awake, stand up, O Jerusalem, which hast drunk at the hand of the Lord the cup of His fury; thou hast drunken the dregs of the cup of trembling, and wrung them out.” The cup of hemlock. And He said in Gethsemane, “The cup which the Father hath given Me, shall I not drink it?” “They gave Me also gall for My meat; and in My thirst they gave Me vinegar to drink” (Psalms 69:21).
I. The death of Christ was an act of voluntary submission to the will of the Father.—The admiral of the Orient had a beautiful son of thirteen years, who was on board with him in the battle of the Nile. He was at his post according to his father’s orders when the ship took fire, and he stood at his post until the powder magazine was fired, and the ship blown to atoms. This is a faint picture of the terrible sufferings through which the Son of God passed. In the garden the storm began to rage, and the flames issued from the hold; then He cried, “Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from Me.” But there was no answer. Again He cried, with blood-sweat running down His brow, but no answer. The storm raged more furiously. The nails are driven through His hands and feet. He is on the cross, and the flames of hell are burning around Him. He cried again, “My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?” But no answer. Crash goes the vessel, and down He sank into the gulf of death. “It is finished!” The heavens are black with the smoke. The earth trembles. The old ship of the ceremonial law which had weathered many storms, and borne thousands of precious souls on its deck to glory, is totally wrecked. The old Aaronic priesthood is shattered, and the Son of God goes down in the catastrophe to show that there is One who obeys the Divine behests even unto death. All ye fallen angels behold Him, and ye stiff-necked sons of men witness the One who follows the Captain’s orders to the bitter end! “For this cause the Father loveth Me,” etc. “Lo, I come, O God, to do Thy will,” etc. He tasted death by the grace of God, and the cup was drained by the lip of love.
II. The death of Christ is the highest demonstration of God’s mercy.—The gracious promise at Eden’s gate—the woman’s seed; the breath of mercy tempering the moral law on Sinai, “Keeping mercy for thousands,” etc.—all was mercy. As the lamb dies on the ancient altar, mercy speaks of repentance and peace. On Calvary wisdom is out of sight, power is in the shade; but mercy stands before justice in full array. Jesus dies because God is merciful.
III. The death of Christ is the mightiest instrument for man’s salvation.—It is the lever with which God lifts up the human race. It has opened the way to the Father—a sacrifice for sin. In the light of the cross justice shines brighter than in the bowers of Eden. He has made the law honourable. Be not afraid; the living way to the Father through His flesh is straight and safe. It has dealt a deadly blow to sin. The hero and the suitors. Taking down the old bow, and striking home the arrow. Sin dies: the death-scene and funeral were witnessed on Calvary.
IV. Jesus is crowned with everlasting glory.—There is no more bitterness in the cup.—Weekly Pulpit.
Hebrews 2:10. The Physical Suffering, or Cross of Christ.—The apostle is here virtually making answer to Anselm’s famous question, “Cur Deus Homo.” In the previous verse, finding Jesus made a little lower than the angels, and, for the suffering of death, crowned with glory and honour, it is as if the apostle’s mind began to ask: Why did He suffer thus, or come in the way of suffering at all? Why could not God, the Almighty, strike out the needed salvation by a shorter method, without suffering, viz. by His omnipotent force? Whereupon He makes answer, virtually, that force is out of the question, because the needed salvation is a purely moral result, which can be accomplished only by moral means and motives. The declaration of the apostle’s answer is, that God, the Almighty, must needs work morally in such a case, and not by force; and that Christ, the Leader, is made perfect, or perfectly competent, as regards the moral new creation, or bringing up into glory, by His cross and the tragic eloquence of His death. Let then our question be: Why should Christ, in the redeeming of souls and bringing them unto glory, subject Himself to physical suffering?—what, in other words, were the necessities and uses of that suffering? The question is here confined to physical suffering. He encountered two distinct kinds of suffering—mental and bodily—that which belongs to burdened feeling and wounded sensibility, and that which is caused by outward privation, or violence done against the physical nature. In the New Testament the word “suffering” is only applied to the latter. But physical suffering, taken by itself, or as being simply what it is in itself, is never a thing of value. On the contrary, it is, so far, a thing on the losing side of existence. It is not, in fact, a commodity of any kind, exchangeable or not exchangeable, but a simple incommodity, a quantity purely negative, and a worse than worthless fact. And this is true of Christ’s suffering. Taken as physical pain simply, nothing is to be made of it. It has no relation to personal desert; and, regarding the Divine order of the Sufferer, it is even a shocking anomaly, which reason cannot comprehend, and faith only can accept. God does not exact a retributive suffering, even in what is called His justice, because He wants so much in quantity to even the amount of wrong, but only that He may vindicate the right and testify His honour to it by a fit expression. It may be said: Are not the physical sufferings of Christ what are called, in the Scripture, His sacrifice for sin? And what is the use of sacrifice but to atone God’s justice? But the fact is, that all the sacrificial and lustral figures set forth the sacrifice, not as a way of reconciling God to us, but of reconciling us to God. And so universally—I do not know the instance where Christ’s cross and physical suffering are conceived as a making satisfaction to God’s justice. It is quite conceivable that Christ could have been incarnated into the world in such a way as to involve no physical liability at all. There was no necessary condition of physical suffering implied in His Messiahship. Why then did He come under conditions of suffering? what uses did He expect to serve by it, such as would compensate the loss? It was done that He might be made perfect by such suffering,—perfect, that is, not in His character, but in His official competency; perfect as having gotten power over men, through His sufferings, to be the sufficient Bringer-on, or Captain, He undertakes to be, in bringing many sons unto glory. Coming down to do a work of love, He simply took the liabilities of a human person doing such a work. What then is the manner and degree of that power over men’s convictions and feelings which Christ obtained by His physical suffering?
I. The manner in which, by His physical suffering, He magnifies and sanctifies the law in men’s convictions.—The true Christian idea is that Christ is magnifying the law and making it honourable, not before the remote altitudes, but before the sinning souls of this world by whom it has been trampled. Christ came into the world with a perfect right to be exempted from physical suffering. There is nothing in His character to require this kind of discipline, or even to make it just. He also had power to put all suffering by, and sail over the world as the stars do, in a region of calm and comfort above it. But He would not infringe on the penal order of God’s retributions. Having taken humanity, He takes all the judicial liabilities of human society under sin, preferring in this manner to submit Himself to the corporate order of God’s judgments, and testify in that manner His profound homage to law and justice. He will let the world be to Him just that river of vinegar and gall which its sins have made it to itself. So He bears the world’s bitter curse, magnifying, even by His pains, the essential sanctity of law and justice. He powerfully honours that justice in its dealings with the world, by refusing to let even His innocence take Him out of the murderous and bloody element it mixes. Hence the marvellous, unheard of power His life and gospel, and especially His suffering death, have exerted in men’s consciences.
II. The physical suffering of Christ has an immediate value, under that great law of human nature, that ordains the disarming of all wrong, and the prostration of all violence, by a right suffering of the evils they inflict.—Nothing breaks the bad will of evil so completely as to have had its way, and done its injury, and looked upon its victim. When the wrath of transgression hurls itself upon the Lord’s person, sparing not His life, nor even letting Him die easily or in respect, the bad will is only the more fatally broken, that, accomplishing so much in a way so dreadful, it has yet accomplished nothing. Suffering kills, how often, the wrong-doing that inflicts it.
III. The sublime morality or moral worth of Jesus could never have been sharply impressed, except for the sensibilities appealed to by His physical suffering.—If He had lived in condition, and died as one admired for His excellence, the real depth of His virtue could never have been conceived. All the most effective powers of moral impression contained in His character would have been wanting if He had not borne the lot of wrong and bitter suffering.
IV. It is only by His suffering in the flesh that He reveals or fitly expresses the suffering sensibility of God.—As certain as God has any sensibility, such as belongs to a perfect mind and heart, that sensibility must be profoundly moved by all misery, impurity, and wrong. Impassible, physically speaking, He is not impassive to evils that offend or grieve His moral perfections. He suffers because He is a perfect being, and according to the measures of His perfection. This Christ, for our salvation’s sake, has taken the flesh and suffered even death in order to impress. Nature, in her scenes and objects, had no power to express this moral pain of God’s heart. The ancient providential history was trying, always vainly, to elaborate the same. Nothing could ever express it but the physical suffering of Jesus. And everything turns here on the matter of physical suffering; for, to our coarse human habit, nothing else appears at first to have much reality. And here comes to view the relation of the agony to the cross. One is the reality, the other is the outward sign or symbol. In one view it is even a scandal that we make so much more of the cross than we do of the agony. The grand thing to be revealed is that which stands in the agony; and the superior value of the cross, or physical suffering, lies in the fact that it comes to us, at our low point, speaking to us of the other, in a way that we can feel.
V. It was necessary that Christ should suffer in the body, and get power over men by that kind of suffering, because the world itself is put in a tragic economy, requiring its salvation to be an essentially tragic salvation.—Human history is tragic in its characters and scenes, and its material generally. The great crimes are tragic, and the great virtues scarcely less so. So if Christ will pluck away eternal judgment for the world, He must bleed for it. So great a salvation must tear a passage into the world by some tragic woe. The tragic power of the cross takes hold of all that is dullest and hardest and most intractable in our sin, and moves over palsied nature, all through, in mighty throbs of life. And this is Christianity, meeting us just where we most require to be met. Christ is a great Bringer-on for us, because He suffers for us. Christianity is a mighty salvation, because it is a tragic salvation.—Horace Bushnell, D.D.
The Moral Necessity for Christ’s Death.—Unlike St. Paul, the writer never enters into what may be called “the philosophy of the plan of salvation.” He never attempts to throw any light upon the mysterious subject of the antecedent necessity for the death of Christ. He dwells upon Christ’s death almost exclusively in its relation to us. The expression which he here uses, “it was morally fitting for Him,” is almost the only one which he devotes to what may be called the transcendent side of Christ’s sacrifice—the death of Christ in its relation to God. The “moral fitness” here touched upon is the necessity for absolutely sympathetic unity between the High Priest and those for whom He offered the perfect sacrifice (Luke 24:46). Philo also uses the phrase “it became Him.”—Farrar.
Perfect through Suffering.—The text gains clearness if for the word “Captain” we put the more general term “Leader,” or read the verse thus: “In bringing many sons to glory, to make the Bringer-on of their salvation perfect through suffering.” By “perfect” we understand perfectly efficient to sustain and to fulfil His office, and to accomplish His work, of “bringing many sons unto glory.”
I. The sufferings of Jesus.—
1. Some of the deepest, though least comprehensible, of the sufferings of the Lord Jesus must have come out of His very being and nature. He was God, with all the feeling of God towards sin and its consequences. His body of flesh and blood must have been to Him a constant limitation and burden. That human nature which Jesus took, He took as it was—no longer the perfect thing of the Eden Paradise, but lowered, enfeebled, in some strange ways a bruised and wounded thing, shaped and fitted through long years to be the agency of man’s depraved will and sinful soul. A sinful nature the Son of God could not take; but a bodily nature as marred and enfeebled by sin He did take; and we can but very unworthily conceive the strain on His daily life of the effort to utter His pure soul through that frail and feeble body. And that Divine-human being was not set in seclusion, and fitted to a place where no annoyance should reach it. It was put in the very midst of the world, and the world’s worst. A pure soul can only be happy in pure surroundings. Ensphere true goodness in evil, and you may not thereby turn the good to evil, but you cannot help piercing, wounding, grieving, goodness to the very heart.
2. Some of the sufferings of Jesus must have come out of His unusual capacity for sympathy. To sympathise is to have a fellow-feeling with a sufferer, and to take his burden upon our heart. Then if Christ bore the burden of the sins and sorrows of this grief-loaded, weary earth of ours, must He not have suffered? Even love is scarcely possible without suffering. The worthier the love is, the more it makes us one with its object; and if it unites us with his joys, makes us keenly sensible of his sorrows, and deeply touched by his sins.
3. Something of the sufferings of Jesus appear as we consider the work He undertook.
(1) Part of that work was to make men see and feel that God was their Father. The memory of their sufferings and sacrifices on our behalf make precious to us our earthly father and mother. If God is to be apprehended by us as our heavenly Father, it can only be in the revelation of His fatherly sacrifices and sufferings, borne in the endeavour to redeem us, and win us away from evil. But that work Jesus the Son must do. That revelation of the fatherliness of God He must make.
(2) He was to demonstrate to men the evil of sin. Men can never know that save through its consequences. Death—the death of peace and purity and hope—is the great revealer of sin. So our Lord let men see in Himself the evil of sin. He laid Himself open to the fiercest attacks, and rudest buffetings, and deepest anguish that sin could bring upon a man. He put Himself into our human nature, that in suffering He might show the world what sin is, and what sin can do. The corruption of Greece was shown up when it had spent itself in the hemlock-death of its great teacher Socrates. The utter and hopeless badness of humanity is seen in this—men even turned out and crucified incarnate virtue, in the person of God’s dear Son.
II. How did the sufferings of our Lord fit Him to be the Bringer-on of sons to glory?—
1. Those sufferings brought Him experience. God saves moral beings by bringing moral forces to bear on them. He brings the most persuasive influence by giving to us a human Saviour. We want to feel sure that He has experience, and an experience like ours. If He has indeed trodden our valleys of humiliation, then He does know our human life altogether, and can help us.
2. The sufferings of Jesus set Him most fully in the love and trust of His people. He might have been the founder of a religious ceremonial; but a new religious system could never bring any soul to glory. He might have been a great reformer; but a reformation is not necessarily a salvation. He might have been a teacher, with new truths and principles; but to furnish stimulus for the intellect of man is not to change and renew his heart. No man can be really a new man until his heart is reached. Our Lord Jesus, then, if He is to save the world, must get into the world’s heart. He must draw out to Himself the full affection of a man’s soul. But how shall that be done? By an exhibition of perfect purity and beauty? Men can admire without loving. By a revelation of Divine claims? Men are too busy to heed them; and unless God utters His laws amid thunders such as those of Sinai, men will not heed. Then let us adore the Divine solution of the mystery. God sets before men a sacrificed, suffering, dying Saviour. No man can pass by the cross of Calvary altogether unmoved, for suffering is sacred to every man. The suffering Saviour gets into the world’s heart, according to His own word, “I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto Me.”
3. The sufferings of Jesus, in their result, showed the way open, through suffering, to glory. Suffering is God’s witness to the evil of sin. Every pain, wrong, passion, disease, is a letter designed to help us in spelling out the abominableness of sin. Yet the grace of God turns the evil into good, changes earthen clay into better than fine gold, compels suffering to become even a pathway to glory. God sent His own Son to tread that pathway first; and He opens the way for us. We watch Him struggling through the common sorrows of a human life, through the over-crowding sorrows of an ignominious death, and we behold Him, at last reaching a throne of everlasting dominion, and seated for ever on the right hand of God. Along that pathway to a like glory He is leading us. Apply:
1. Jesus is the Bringer-on of sons to glory.
2. Jesus is the only Bringer-on.
Hebrews 2:11. Christ the Friend.—This verse is a statement of the union that exists between Christ and His people, and of the perfect sympathy which the Elder Brother feels for the other members of the family of God.
I. The vitality of the union that exists between Christ and His Church.—
1. The union between Christ and a believer is not so much one of co-operation as one of incorporation. For as my limbs are a part of my body, as the branch is part of a tree, so Christ and His people are verily and indeed members one of another. And the union between Christ and His true Church—the members of His body—can never be dissolved.
2. Treat this truth as a solemn reality. Do not think of it as a mere theory or doctrine or speculation. It is a great fact to live by day by day.
3. Since the Saviour and His people are together sons of one God, He in His love and condescension annihilates the distance that is between them, and He calls them brethren. He is “the firstborn among many brethren.” He “is not ashamed to call them brethren.”
II. Connected with this truth there is the assurance of Christ’s constancy.—There is no sorrow, no emotion, that we need hide from our “Brother” in heaven; for there is no pang that the members feel which is not felt by Him. Nor is there any interruption to His sympathy.
Application.—As Christ is “not ashamed to call us brethren,” let none of us be ashamed of Him. And remember that to confess Christ is to maintain His authority when it is despised, to uphold His laws when they are contemned, to oppose His enemies where we may make enemies ourselves. Let us thus confess Christ our Friend.—Canon Bell.
Hebrews 2:11-13. The Perfect Manhood of Christ.—“Sanctify” in the text, and throughout this epistle, does not refer to the cleansing work of the Spirit, but to the atoning work of the Son. The teaching of the text is—the perfect manhood of our blessed Lord.
I. The proposition.—That “both He that sanctifieth and they who are sanctified are all of one.” Of one what? “Father,” “family,” “race,” “blood,” “character”? No; of one “nature” (Hebrews 2:10). The perfect manhood of the Son of God is part of our faith, and the very foundation of our hope of heaven. The disciples needed all the evidence of His stupendous miracles, the dazzling scene of His transfiguration, the crowning proof of His resurrection, to convince them that He was perfect God; we need to feel that if in any respect He had been unlike “His brethren,” it would have defeated one great purpose of His mission. He was precisely “of one” with us.
1. In person. His body, though always a chaste and perfect temple in which the fulness of the Godhead might dwell, had none of that superhuman glory with which we so often associate it. John the Baptist “knew Him not” till he saw the Spirit descend on Him. “Is not this the carpenter’s son?” Mary supposed “Him to be the gardener.”
2. In this perfect body there was enshrined as perfectly human a soul. The conditions of the Incarnation required that both natures should exist in all their perfectness, in unity of person, but without any confusion of substance—and these two conditions were fulfilled in the Saviour. We have no more right to deify the Saviour’s manhood than to humanise His Godhead. The human soul of the Saviour was so far distinct from His Deity as to be in every respect finite. His human soul was not possessed of an unassailable purity. As a human soul He wept, He prayed, He suffered.
3. This oneness of nature between the Christian and His Lord is dependent not simply on the memory that He was incarnate once, but on the fact also that He is incarnate now. Never was the Saviour more truly a man than He is now. Note His appearances to His disciples after His resurrection, the manner of His ascension. He is “God over all”; but no less surely is He perfect Man, throbbing with the memory of human sorrow, touched with the feeling of human infirmity, filled with sympathy for human nature.
II. The confirmation of this doctrine in the Scriptures (Hebrews 2:12-13).—The first is taken from Psalms 22:22—a psalm prophetic of our Lord’s sufferings.
1. “I will declare … unto My brethren.” This prophecy was fulfilled. “No man hath seen God,” etc. “I have declared Thy name unto them, and I will declare it.”
2. “In the midst of the Church I will sing praise unto Thee.” This was fulfilled. Immediately before His passion they sang a hymn.
3. He engaged in human employments; and while we share in these employments, we are truly of one with Him. What honour! He is not ashamed to call you His brother, sister, mother.
(1) To Christians. How often since you have named the Saviour’s name has He been “ashamed to call” you brethren? Are you faithful or faithless? How often ashamed to confess Him before a sneering world? “If any man sin, we have an Advocate with the Father.” “Seeing then that we have such a High Priest passed into the heavens, Jesus … let us come boldly to the throne of grace,” etc.
(2) To unconverted. Seek Him now. Religion is here presented in its most alluring form. Come. Plead His atonement, and know what it is to be “all of one” with Christ.—Frederic Greeves, D.D.
Hebrews 2:14. The Personality of the Devil.—This was one reason why the Son of God took on Him our nature, that He might put Himself into circumstances where death was possible, in order that by dying He might free us from our ancient enemy. He has won the victory, and it is our fault if we are not free.
I. The being who was to be reduced to impotence by the death of Jesus Christ.—What do we know about his history, character, his power of affecting ourselves and our destiny? Some say:
1. “It is an unpleasant subject.” Nothing is gained, and much is lost, by shrinking from fact because fact is disagreeable. Religion, beyond everything else, should have the courage to look truth in the face.
2. “The devil is an unprofitable subject for discussion.” Much, practically, depends on our believing in him or not. We are more profoundly affected by feeling ourselves close to a living being, than by feeling ourselves under the vague and more intangible influence of a negative principle. When it is embodied in a living intelligence—in a living will—the case is very different. How can evil itself be, strictly speaking, a principle! Evil is a perverted selfish quality of the will of an already existing personal creature. Evil could not exist apart from such a creature unless the will of such a creature was free. When we speak of the personality of Satan; we mean that he is an intelligence capable of reflecting on his own existence; he is a will which has had the power of determining its destiny.
II. There is no real room for question as to the existence of a personal evil spirit, if we believe the Bible to be a trustworthy source of information on the subject.—All that implies personality is attributed to Satan in Holy Scripture, as distinctly as it is attributed to God. The New Testament representation is fuller and more sustained than that of the Old Testament. Jesus Christ spoke of Satan’s personality: e.g. in parable of the sower; the saying about Judas; His denunciation of the Jews. His prayer bequeathed to us, “Deliver us from the Evil One.” The facts of human life bear out what we learn from the lips of Jesus Christ. There are two points in the Christian representation of the Evil One to which attention should specially be given.
1. Satan was not always what he is now. He was once a glorious archangel. He became what he is now by his own act and deed. The Bible always represents Satan, not as a self-existent, evil being, but as a fallen and apostate angel. There is no such thing in the universe of the almighty and all-good God as a self-existing, originally created devil.
2. The Satan of Scripture has limited, although extensive, powers. It is a mistake to think of this being as omnipresent. He is often enough in the way—not always—not everywhere. His power is only for a given period.
III. “How can you reconcile the continued toleration of such a being as the Evil One by God, with His attributes of goodness and almightiness?”—The Master of the universe sees farther than we do, and will one day, perhaps, enable us to understand in a measure these rules of His government which perplex us now.
IV. Let us fix in our minds the words and lessons of the text.—Sin brought death. Jesus, as man, invaded this region of human experience, and conquered for Himself and for us its old oppressor. Let us follow the guidance of faith. The lessons of Calvary do not lessen with the lapse of time; and, among these, not the least blessed is the enfeeblement of Satan, and the deliverance of those who, through fear of death, would else be all their lifetime subject to bondage.—H. P. Liddon, D.D.
Hebrews 2:15. The Fear of Death a Lifelong Bondage.—It is not possible to over-estimate the value to humanity of the “sanctity of human life.” It is the primary law stamped upon the new human race when it stepped forth from the Ark to take possession of a cleansed earth. “Whoso sheddeth man’s blood, by man shall his blood be shed: for in the image of God made He man” (Genesis 9:6). The sanctity of life is the basis of society, for it makes every man jealous of his brother’s life for the sake of preserving his own. There is no safety for any one in lands where this primary law for humanity is not recognised. But there is, of necessity, an apparently bad side to this good law. It involves dread of death. And this dread is universal. It applies to all beings in whom is the breath of life. It is natural. But the moral nature of man at once puts a new sanctity on life, and a new dread on death. The moral being man has brought sin into the world, and put a new significance upon death. In the consciousness of having sinned there has come the fear of penalties that must attend upon the sin, and a dread of death as taking us where those penalties must be endured. So the consciousness of sin has put on men a life-long dread of death. And that dread has come to be so stamped upon the race that it seems like a second nature, and the good cannot shake themselves altogether free of it. The saintly soul could only say this much, “I am not afraid of death, but I am afraid of dying.” What can give us liberty from this enslaving fear? Only the possession of a new life—soul-life—which death is altogether powerless to touch. Over the animal-life of man death has its power. Over the real life, the soul-life, when quickened in the power of the Holy Ghost, through faith in Christ, death has no power. The life in Christ is a spiritual and eternal life. Jesus Himself said, “He that believeth in Me shall never die.” By the new life He gives, He delivers those who “through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage.”
Hebrews 2:16-18. Christ made like us in all things.—Two points in which Christ was different from us:
1. In being God as well as man.
2. In being without sin. In these things He had to be unlike His brethren, or He could not have been a Saviour at all. In all other things it behoved Him to be made like unto us. There was no part of our condition that He did not humble Himself unto.
1. He passed through all the terms of our life from childhood to manhood. He was an infant of days. He bore the trials and pains of boyhood. He suffered the afflictions and anxieties of manhood.
2. He tasted the difficulties of many situations in life.
3. He had special trials in connection with His own family.
4. He was assailed by Satan.
5. He was tested by God. The purpose of His human experience was:
(1) to make an atonement for our sins;
(2) to succour His people under their trials.—R. M. McCheyne.
Hebrews 2:17. Priestly Reconciliations.—“To make propitiation for the sins of the people.” There is no attempt to explain precisely how the high priest made the propitiations. Attention is fixed upon his ability to do it; and the ability is found very largely to depend upon his personal character. He could make propitiation because he was a “merciful and faithful high priest”—merciful by reason of his common experience with those whom he represented. He well understood their sins of frailty and of will, because he shared them. If a rebellious nation sent an intercessor to plead for pardon, they would select one of themselves, one most deeply interested in all their trouble, and the best and most acceptable man among them. That man would not only propitiate by what he said and did—he would propitiate by what he was; for standing before the king, that man would show what the people were, and wanted to be. He would embody the people to the view of the king; and nothing could possibly propitiate a king like such a living persuasion that his people had come to be right, were right, and meant to be right. Along this line the old priestly reconciliations of Mosaism gain simple and natural explanation. The high priest was acceptable to Jehovah, because he was in right relations. But he stood for the people, and they were as acceptable as he, because they were in the same right relations. Along this line the propitiation of Jesus can be explained. He is personally acceptable to God as a man, but He stands before God for all who are in the same relations of purposed love and obedience as He; and they are accepted in and with Him.
Sympathetic Intercession.—When a tender-hearted mother would plead with the judge for a child about to be condemned, how would her tears trickle down, what weeping rhetoric would she use to the judge, for mercy! Thus the Lord Jesus is full of sympathy and tenderness (Hebrews 2:17), that He might be a merciful High Priest; He has left His passion, yet not His compassion. An ordinary lawyer is not affected with the cause he pleads, nor does he care what way he goes; it is his profit makes him plead, not affection. But Christ intercedes feelingly; it is His own cause which He pleads in the cause of His people.—T. Watson.
Hebrews 2:18. The Helper of the Tempted.—In promise (Genesis 3:15) and in fact (Matthew 4:1) the Saviour’s work from the very first is associated with the tempted; and put His mission in any words you will, you cannot hide the link which unites Christ unto the tempted, and the tempted unto Christ. Wherefore did we need a Saviour, if not because we were overborne with evil, and of ourselves had not strength enough to cope with it? A Christ who could not help me in my temptations would be no Saviour to me. He might startle me with revelations, astonish me by works, amaze me with power, awe with holiness, instruct me by teaching; but if in the infirmity of my moral weakness He could not stand by my side, put His shoulder to my shoulder, and help me to fight the daily battle of my daily life, whatever else He might be to me, He could never be my Saviour; for it is only as we are made strong to resist and overcome temptation that we can be saved. This relation of Christianity to the tempted is, in fact, one of the secrets of its hold upon the human heart. To be a Christian at all we must start from the consciousness of weakness; and the religion of Christ is the religion of the strong, only by being first the religion of the weak. Christ is the Helper of the tempted, by sympathy learnt in the endurance of the same temptations from which He came to save. Some things can only be learnt by experience. Sympathy is one. There were some things which were not Christ’s to know, until like us, by bitter human experience, He had learnt them for Himself. He shared our experience of temptation in its full completeness. Wherever we are tempted, so was He—through the senses, the appetite, the reason, the imagination, the affection, the ambition, the will—tempted wherever there seemed a point of vantage for the tempter. The three temptations on the threshold of His public work were representative. They were representative of temptations in His unrecorded history, of the number and intensity of which we can form no idea. We cannot too fully accept the great doctrine of the completeness of our Lord’s humanity. By sympathy, learnt through the temptations of a common human experience, Christ is the Helper of the tempted. But sympathy does not seem enough; we want strength. Will this sympathy of Christ bring us strength? It will. The sphere of sympathy is spiritual, and within that sphere there is nowhere to be found such strength as that which comes from sympathy. Its power is electric. Men, naturally cowards, by sympathy have been made brave, and there is no trial of human suffering which sympathy has not enabled men and women courageously to bear. Amongst the world’s regenerating influences there is none for a moment comparable to the sympathy of Christ. For the sympathy of the strong helps always to strengthen the weak. If I wanted to strengthen a morally weak man, I would link him with a man as strong as he was weak, quite sure that the companionship would act on him like a tonic, or be to him like the sweet, fresh breath of mountain air. And thus it is that Christ, in His great sinless strength, is the Helper of the tempted. Let this be no empty doctrine to you, no mere point of theology, or article in a creed, void of all reality and force. Let it be a living truth, as vital as your own heart’s blood. It will nerve you for mastery over the infirmities of your nature. It will inspire you to resist the evils of an evil world. And it will help you to victories of faith and love, to conquests of conscience, and of character like unto your Lord’s.—Johnson Barker, LL.B.
Experience the Secret of Moral Power.—“He himself hath suffered being tempted.” The reality of our Lord’s human experiences is constantly enforced by the apostles. In the early days of the Church there was a tendency to present the Divinity of Christ in such a way as to imperil the truth of His real, flesh and blood, humanity. It was thought derogatory to a Divine Saviour to represent Him as sharing the common woes of the human lot. But unless we see worthily our Lord’s veritable humanity, it must be impossible for us to understand how He can be a power of redemption to us. He is our Saviour only through His manhood.
I. Moral beings can only learn through experience.—A moral being is not intellectual only. He has a further sphere of feeling and emotion. He is a being with a will, which can be influenced by his mind, but is much more influenced by principles and feelings. And experience alone affects the feelings. See how a moral being is made, and is developed. Life does it; experience does it: learning can do but a little of it. Christ could not have taken rank with us as a moral being if He had not shared the experience which makes us moral beings. “In all points tempted like as we are.”
II. Moral beings get power to help one another only through a common experience.—It is somewhat strikingly said of Tennyson that he had no experience of vice, and so all the sins in his poetry are human frailties. It is constantly observed that the best religious workers in any class of society are persons belonging to the class who have full experience of the class. If Christ was to gain moral power to help man, He must have the experience of man, of all that is essential to man, not of all that is accidental to sin. The experience of man’s conflicts was essential, but not the experience of man’s defeats. It is not essential to man to fail in the moral struggle. Illustrate from man’s moral power to
(1) sympathise with;
(2) to strengthen;
(3) to advise;
(4) to deliver, his brother. He can only do it out of experience. This must be true of Christ as the typical moral Helper of humanity.
ILLUSTRATIONS TO CHAPTER 2
Hebrews 2:10. Captain of our Salvation.—We are the soldiers of Jesus Christ. Now that which nerves the soldier’s arm and strengthens his heart as he goes forth to battle, is not so much the multitude of the army of which he forms a part, as the character of the chief whom he is following. It is related that in one of the Duke of Wellington’s battles a portion of the army was giving way, under the charge of the enemy, when he rode into the midst of them. A soldier called out in ecstasy, “There’s the duke—God bless him! I’d rather see his face than a whole brigade”; and these words, turning all eyes to their chief, so reassured his comrades that they repulsed the foe. For he is beside us, they felt, who was never defeated yet, and will not be defeated now. A military friend with whom I conversed on this subject said, that though he had never heard the anecdote, he could well conceive it to be true: the presence of that distinguished general, he added, was at any time worth five thousand men.—Tait.
“Perfect” as applied to Christ.—The Greek word translated “perfect,” which occurs very often in this epistle, was used among the heathen in a specific sense; for instance, one thoroughly initiated into the arcana, or other mysteries, was called a “perfect” man. The meaning was not morally or personally perfect, but thoroughly acquainted with all the facts or mysteries of the caste or service. Our blessed Lord was made perfect by being thoroughly acquainted with human nature in all its points, save that of sin, and so became the author of eternal salvation by being initiated into all the sorrows and woes of humanity.—Dr. Cumming.
Blessings coming through Suffering.—In proportion as a horse is well trained and gentle, he had to suffer in being broken in. The white beautiful teeth of a little child, that look so much like ivory, cause much pain before they grow up in that regular row. A gentleman in Hartford (America) had a beautiful little daughter. But oh, how her parents grieved when they found that she was deaf and dumb, and could never speak or hear. She was bright and lovely, and no child among them all nestled so near a father’s heart as little Alice; and so anxious was he for her, that he had no rest till the Deaf and Dumb Asylum was established, at which hundreds of such unfortunate children have been educated; so that all this great good may be said to have grown out of the sufferings of little Alice.—Dr. Todd.
Hebrews 2:14. Christ’s Victory over Satan.—When the devils saw Christ on the cross, there stood the exulting fiend, smiling to himself, “Now I have the King of glory in my dominion, I have the power of death, and I have the power over the Lord Jesus.” He exerted that power till Christ died in bitter anguish. But how short-lived was that hellish victory, how brief the Satanic triumph! When Christ cried, “It is finished!” He shook the gates of hell. Down from the cross the Conqueror leaped, pursued the fiend with thunder-bolts of wrath. Swift to the shades of hell did the fiend fly, and swift descending went the Conqueror after him, and seizing him, dragged him to His chariot-wheel—dragged him up the steeps of glory, the angels shouting all the while. He had led captivity captive, and received gifts for men.—C. H. Spurgeon.
Life given for life.—When Mahomet, the second of that name, besieged Belgrade, in Servia, one of the captains at last got upon the wall of the city, with his colours displayed. A noble Bohemian espying this, ran to the captain, and clasping him fast about his middle, asked one Capistranus, standing beneath, whether it would be any danger of damnation to his soul if he should cast himself down headlong with that dog (so he termed the Turkish captain), to be slain with him. Capistranus answered that it was no danger at all to his soul. The Bohemian forthwith tumbled himself down, with the Turk in his arms, and so by his own death saved the life of all the city. Such an exploit as this Christ plays upon the devil. The devil, like the great Turk, besieged not only one city, but even all mankind. Christ alone, like this noble Bohemian, encountered with him; and seeing the case was so, that this dog, the devil, could not be killed stark dead, except Christ died also, therefore He made no reckoning of His own life, but gave Himself to death for us, that He only dying for all the people, by His death our deadly enemy might for ever be destroyed.—Old Author, 1610.
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Hebrews 2". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Christ the King / Proper 29 / Ordinary 34