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Bible Commentaries

Charles Simeon's Horae Homileticae
Hebrews 1

 

 

Other Authors
Verse 3

DISCOURSE: 2268

CHRIST’S ASCENSION TO GLORY

Hebrews 1:3. Who being the brightness of his glory, and the express image of his person, and upholding all things by the word of his power, when he had by himself purged our sins, sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high.

A REVELATION of God, by whatever means or instrument it may be communicated, demands our solemn attention. But Christianity requires the highest possible degree of reverence, because the Messenger, by whom it was promulgated, as far surpassed all other instruments in excellence, as the truths delivered by him are of deeper and more mysterious import. It is in this view that the Apostle introduces this sublime description of Christ; in which we may notice,

I. The dignity of his person—

We cannot conceive any expressions more grand than these which are here applied to Christ, and which set forth,

1. His essential dignity—

[The Father is the fountain, and the archetype of all perfection. Of him Jesus is a perfect copy. As the impression on the wax corresponds with all the marks and lineaments of the seal, so is Jesus “the express image” of the Father in every particular, insomuch that “he who hath seen him hath seen the Father [Note: John 14:9.].” But the Father is, in himself, invisible to mortal eyes [Note: 1 Timothy 1:17; 1 Timothy 6:16.]; it is in Christ only that he is seen: on which account Christ is called “the image of the invisible God [Note: Colossians 1:15.].” And as all the glory of the sun is seen in the bright effulgence of its rays, so is all the glory of the Godhead seen in the face of Jesus Christ [Note: Colossians 2:9. 2 Corinthians 4:6.].]

2. His official dignity—

[It was Jesus who made the worlds [Note: ver. 2 and John 1:3.]: and he it is who upholds them by the same “powerful word” that first spake them into existence [Note: Colossians 1:17.]. By him all things maintain their proper courses, and the order first assigned them. Nor is there any thing that happens either in the kingdom of providence or of grace, which does not proceed from his will, or tend to his glory. There is nothing so small but it occupies his attention, nothing so great but it is under his controul [Note: Matthew 10:29-30.]. Every thing that is good owes its existence to his immediate agency, and every thing that is evil, to his righteous permission.]

Intimately connected with this is,

II. The diversity of his ministrations—

As in the Church there are “diversities of administrations and of operations [Note: 1 Corinthians 12:4-6.]” under Christ, who is the author of them, so in the work of Christ himself there is a diversity of ministrations.

1. He “purged our sins” by his blood on earth—

[Sin needed an atonement, and such an atonement as no created being could offer. Jesus therefore, the Creator himself, undertook to make an atonement for us, and such an one as should satisfy divine justice on our behalf, and put honour on that law which we had violated. For this end he assumed that nature which had sinned, and endured the curse due to our iniquities. When he had only to create or to uphold the universe, his word was sufficient: but when he came to redeem the world, nothing would suffice but his own precious blood. Other priests offered the blood of bulls and of goats as typical expiations: but, to make a true and proper atonement, Jesus was forced to offer up “himself.” His prayers and tears were insufficient: if he would purge away our sins, he must do it “by himself,” by “pouring out his soul unto death.”

This is what Jesus undertook to do; nor did he ever draw back till he could say, “It is finished.”]

He ascended to complete his work in heaven—

[The high-priest, after offering the sacrifice, entered within the vail, to present it there. Thus Jesus “passed into the heavens,” the place where he was to finish his ministrations. In the presence of all his disciples he ascended thither, giving thereby a decisive evidence that nothing further remained for him to do on earth. But a further evidence of this arises from the posture in which he ministers in heaven. The priests under the law stood, because they needed to repeat the same sacrifices continually: but Jesus having offered one sacrifice once for all, “sat down at the right hand” of God, the place of supreme dignity and power. From this we inter the perfection of his sacrifice on earth [Note: Hebrews 10:11-12.]; and are assured, that whatever remains to be done by him within the vail, is transacted in an authoritative manner, all power being given to him to “save to the uttermost” them that trust in him.]

We may learn from hence,

1. The security of those who believe in Christ—

[Who is it that interests himself for them? “Jehovah’s Fellow [Note: Zechariah 13:7.].” Who bought them with his blood? The God of heaven and earth [Note: Acts 20:28.]. Who has undertaken to keep them? He that “upholdeth all things by his word [Note: Colossians 1:17-18].” Who is continually engaged in completing their salvation? He that is constituted Head over all things for this very purpose [Note: Ephesians 1:22-23.]. What then have they to fear either from their past guilt, or their present weakness? Let them only be strong in faith, and “none shall ever pluck them out of his hand [Note: John 10:28.].”]

2. The danger of those who are yet in unbelief—

[In proportion to the dignity of this adorable Saviour must be the guilt of rejecting him. This is frequently insisted on in this epistle [Note: Hebrews 2:3-4; Hebrews 10:28-29.]. Let us lay it to heart. To neglect this Jesus is such a mixture of folly and ingratitude, of impiety and rebellion, as involves in it the highest degree of criminality, and subjects us to the heaviest condemnation [Note: Deuteronomy 18:18-19.]. Let those who are guilty of this neglect remember that “the enemies of Jesus shall all become his footstool:” and let them kiss the Son, lest he be angry, and they perish without a remedy [Note: Psalms 2:6; Psalms 2:9-10; Psalms 2:12.].]


Verse 6

DISCOURSE: 2269

CHRIST’S INCARNATION

Hebrews 1:6. When he bringeth in the First-begotten into the world, he saith, And let all the angels of God worship him.

IF God had been pleased to try our faith, he might have required us to believe whatsoever he should reveal, even though he should mention it but once: but, in condescension to our weakness, he has given us a great variety of testimonies to confirm every fundamental doctrine of our holy religion. The doctrine of the divinity of Christ is as important as any in the whole Bible: and it stands, not on one or two doubtful passages of Scripture, but on the plainest, and almost numberless declarations of the inspired writers. In the passage before us the Apostle is shewing the infinite superiority of Jesus above the highest orders of created beings; and he adduces a whole series, as it were, of testimonies in proof of this point. The one which we have now read is taken from the 97th Psalm, and confessedly relates to Jesus [Note: It speaks of Christ’s kingdom, ver. 1; and the duty of angels, here called gods, to worship him, ver. 7.].

In discoursing upon it we are led to observe,

I. That Christ is a proper object of divine worship—

The command contained in the text is itself decisive upon the point—

[God is a jealous God, and claims divine worship as his unalienable prerogative [Note: Matthew 4:10.]; yet he at the same time requires it to be given to his Son. Would he do this, if his Son were not worthy of that high honour? Would he, contrary to his express declaration, give his glory to another [Note: Isaiah 42:8.]? We are assured he would not; and therefore his Son must be a proper object of our supreme regard.]

The practice of the Christian Church confirms it beyond a doubt—

[Stephen, when he was full of the Holy Ghost, and his face shone like that of an angel, at the very instant that he saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God, addressed himself, not to the Father, but to Jesus; and that too in terms precisely similar to those in which Jesus in his dying hour had addressed the Father [Note: Compare Acts 7:59-60. with Luke 23:34; Luke 23:46.]. Can we wish for any plainer example? The Apostle Paul, under the buffetings of Satan, applied to Jesus for relief, and was expressly answered, as he himself tells us, by Jesus; in consequence of which answer he from that time “gloried in his infirmities, that the power of Christ might rest upon him [Note: 2 Corinthians 12:8-9.].” The whole Church of God, not only at Corinth, but “in all other places,” are described and characterized by this very thing, the worshipping of Christ [Note: 1 Corinthians 1:2.]. But the Church triumphant no less than the Church militant are incessantly presenting before him their humble and grateful adorations [Note: Revelation 7:9-10.].

Surely if worship be not to be paid to Christ, the Scriptures are not calculated to instruct, but to deceive and ensnare us.]

Nor must it be forgotten, that to worship Christ is the highest act of obedience to the Father—

[It is the Father who enjoins it in the text; and that, not to men only, but to angels also: “He has committed all judgment to his Son for this very purpose, that all men may honour the Son even as they honour the Father [Note: John 5:22-23.];” he even swears that all, at the peril of their souls, shall bow to Jesus [Note: Romans 14:10-11.]; and, so far from thinking himself dishonoured by it, he expressly requires it, in order that he himself may be more abundantly glorified [Note: Philippians 2:10-11.].]

The text leads us further to observe respecting Christ,

II. That his incarnation affords a special call to all both in heaven and earth to worship him—

“The bringing in of the First-begotten into the world,” may comprehend the whole period of his reign under the Gospel dispensation; in which case the command to worship him is general: but if we confine the expression to the time of his incarnation, the command to worship him will be a special call, arising from the circumstance of his incarnation, and founded on it. To elucidate it in this latter view we may observe that,

1. It (his incarnation) affords the brightest discovery of the Divine perfections—

[The angels had doubtless seen much of the Divine glory before: they had seen God’s wisdom, power, and goodness in the creation and government of the world. But they never before had such a view of his condescension and grace as when they beheld him lying in the manger, a helpless babe. Now also the design of God to glorify all his perfections in the work of redemption was more clearly unfolded. Hence the whole multitude of the heavenly choir began to sing, “Glory to God in the highest.” And if their hosannas increased with their discoveries of the Divine glory, should not ours also? Have not we also abundant reason to magnify our incarnate God; and to exalt our thoughts of him in proportion as he has debased himself for our sakes?]

2. It opens a way for our reconciliation with God—

[Men were indeed accepted of God before Christ’s advent in the flesh; but it was through him who was to come, as we are accepted through him who has come. But when Christ was manifested in the flesh, his mediatorial work commenced; and that course of sufferings and obedience, which is the meritorious ground of our acceptance, was begun. It may be said, that, though we are bound on this account to adore him, the angels feel no interest in it. But can we suppose that those benevolent spirits, who minister to the heirs of salvation, and bear them on their wings to the realms of glory, feel no delight in our happiness? Doubtless they do; and are themselves made happier by their sympathy with us. If they rejoice over one sinner that repenteth, they also have reason to adore the Saviour for opening both to us and them such an inexhaustible fountain of blessedness and joy.]

3. It reunites men and angels under one Head—

[Christ was the Creator and sovereign Lord both of men and angels [Note: Colossians 1:16.]; but man, by casting off his allegiance to his Lord, lost also his connexion with angels. Jesus however, by becoming man, gathers together again [Note: ἀνα·κεφαλαιώσασθαι, Ephesians 1:10.] both men and angels under himself as their common head: yea, he comes, as it were, to the very gates of hell, that he may take from thence sinners of the human race to fill the thrones once vacated by the apostate angels. It is by no means improbable that the very same humiliation of Jesus that exalts men to glory, is the source of establishment to the angels that retained their innocence. At all events, the restoration of their Lord to the honour of which man by transgression had deprived him, and their communion with man in the benefits conferred upon him, cannot fail of exciting in their breasts the liveliest emotions of gratitude. Indeed, we see that this is no fanciful idea, since it is realized in heaven, where saints and angels join in one general chorus, ascribing “salvation to God and to the Lamb [Note: Revelation 5:9; Revelation 5:13.].”]

To enforce then the injunction we have been considering, we would say,

1. Welcome him—

[Let not his advent be regarded with indifference; but welcome him with acclamations and hosannas. The captious Pharisees may indeed condemn you; but if you neglect to honour him thus, the very stones will cry out against you [Note: Luke 19:38-40.].]

2. Submit to him—

[Jesus comes, not merely to save mankind, but to set up his kingdom in the world. Let your hearts then, yea, “the very thoughts of your hearts, be brought into a willing captivity to him.” “Kiss the Son, lest he be angry, and ye perish [Note: Psalms 2:12.]:” and present your offerings before him in token of your allegiance to him, and your unreserved subjection to his will [Note: Matthew 2:11.].]

3. Depend upon him—

[He is that nail in a sure place on which are to be hanged all the vessels of his Father’s house [Note: Isaiah 22:23-24.]. Trust then on him; and let his vicarious sufferings and obedience be the stay and support of your souls.]

4. Glory in him—

[Since he is the boast of all in heaven, let him be the boast of all on earth. Let the frame of your hearts be joyous, exulting, and triumphant [Note: See Isaiah 44:23.]. Thus from worshipping him here below, you shall be brought to worship him for evermore in heaven above.]


Verse 8

DISCOURSE: 2270

EXCELLENCY OF CHRIST’S PERSON AND GOVERNMENT

Hebrews 1:8. Unto the Son he saith, Thy throne, O God, is for ever and ever: a sceptre of righteousness is the sceptre of thy kingdom.

IN the Epistle to the Hebrews, the Apostle’s main object is to shew, that the Jewish ritual was completely fulfilled in Christ, and was therefore superseded by the Christian dispensation. But before he comes to the argumentative part, wherein this subject is regularly discussed, he shews how great and glorious a person Christ was: for, as the Jews had a high regard for Moses, and as they had received their law from God, it was necessary that they should be informed who Christ was; that he was greater than Moses, yea, than the very angels in heaven; and that therefore he had full authority to introduce the religion which was now established amongst his followers, and which the Jews were every where called upon to embrace. This, however, he takes care to ground upon their own Scriptures. He speaks of nothing as now, for the first time, revealed to himself; but appeals to the writings of their own prophets, in proof of every thing that he asserts.

The Psalm from whence the text is cited, relates chiefly to the Messiah. Whatever relation it may have to Solomon, it confessedly cannot be altogether applied to him. The ancient Jews understood it as speaking of the Messiah: and of the propriety of applying it to him, there can be no doubt. The words before us are addressed by the Father to the Messiah: and they lead us distinctly to notice two things; namely,

I. The dignity of his person—

Many there are, both Jews and Christians, who deny that the Divinity of Christ is here asserted—

[Jews have said, that the word Elohim is applied in Scripture to creatures, and therefore cannot be justly interpreted as importing the proper Deity of the person to whom it is addressed. But to this it may be observed, that though the word Elohim is applied to magistrates officially, as representatives of the Deity, it is no where applied to any individual but to Jehovah himself; and that to apply it to any individual besides Jehovah would be blasphemy.

But Christians also have attempted to invalidate the testimony of the Apostle, as the Jews have of the prophet; and for that purpose would translate the words thus; “God is thy throne for ever and ever.” But this is to force the words from their plain and obvious meaning: nor will it answer the end which they would endeavour to attain: for the very next quotation from the Psalms asserts the divinity of Christ, as clearly as the text itself does; speaking of him as the Creator of all things, and as continuing immutably “the same” for ever and ever [Note: ver. 10–12.]: and just before the text, another passage is cited from the Psalms to the same purpose, saying, “Let all the angels of God worship him [Note: ver. 6.].” We may safely therefore affirm, that the Messiah (who is here called “the Son,”) is addressed as truly and properly “God.”]

But the doctrine of his proper Deity, whilst it is asserted here, pervades also the whole Scriptures, both of the Old and New Testament—

[The very name Emmanuel was assigned him on this account, because he was “God with us.” Yes, verily, he is “Jehovah’s fellow [Note: Zechariah 13:7.]:” even “the mighty God [Note: Isaiah 9:6.];” “Jehovah our righteousness [Note: Jeremiah 23:6.].” Nor does the New Testament leave this in doubt: for it asserts him to be “God manifest in the flesh [Note: 1 Timothy 3:16.],” even “the great God and our Saviour [Note: Titus 2:14.],” “God over all, blessed for ever [Note: Romans 9:5.].”]

And this doctrine lies at the root of all our hopes—

[The whole scope of this epistle is to shew, that what the blood of bulls and goats could not do, the blood of Christ, as shed upon the cross, has effected; namely, that it has made a propitiation for the sins of the whole world. But is it the blood of a mere creature that could effect this? If Christ be a mere creature, what force is there in that argument of the Apostle, “If the blood of bulls, &c. sanctifieth to the purifying of the flesh, how much more shall the blood of Christ, &c. purge our conscience from dead works to serve the living God [Note: Hebrews 9:13-14.]?” What sense would there be in this, “If the blood of one creature could effect the smallest thing, how much more shall the blood of another creature effect the greatest?” But if Christ be God as well as man, then is the argument clear, and worthy of an inspired Apostle. In a word, Christ be not God, he cannot be the Saviour revealed in the Old Testament: for of him it is expressly said, “Look unto me, and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth: for I am God, and there is none else. There is no God else beside me; a just God and a Saviour: there is none beside me [Note: Isaiah 45:21-22.].”]

But it is not so much of the essential, as of the mediatorial, dignity of Christ that the text speaks: for it immediately proceeds to mark,

II. The excellency of his kingdom—

Earthly kingdoms are but of a limited duration: and, from the imperfection of all human institutions, there must of necessity be something in them of partiality and of comparative oppression. But Christ’s kingdom is perfect in every respect: it is,

1. In its duration perpetual—

[The four great monarchies all found a termination of their power [Note: Daniel 2:37-41.]: but the kingdom which Christ has established, shall endure for ever [Note: Daniel 2:44; Daniel 7:13-14.]. True it is, that the present mode of administering it will cease, when there are no more subjects to be governed, or enemies to be subdued. When the final judgment is passed, the enemies of the Messiah’s kingdom will all be shut up in the prison prepared for their reception; and his subjects be exalted to those regions, where their every want will be supplied. “Then the Son will deliver up the kingdom to God, even the Father, that God may be all in all [Note: 1 Corinthians 15:24; 1 Corinthians 15:28.].” Still, however, the kingdom itself will remain: and Christ, as its glorious Head, be acknowledged by all his subjects, as the one source of their happiness, the one author of their salvation [Note: Revelation 5:9-10.].]

2. In its administration just—

[“His sceptre is a sceptre of righteousness.” Every law that proceeds from him is “holy, and just, and good.” Nothing of imperfection is found in any one of them: they are alike incapable of diminution or addition. If any one law appears too strict, it is only through our own ignorance and love of sin. To the renewed soul, not one of his commandments is grievous: the only thing that is grievous to it is, that it is not able to obey them all more perfectly. The very tendency of every law is to make those happy who obey it: and were any man to obey the laws of Christ as perfectly as they do in heaven, he would already in his own soul possess a heaven upon earth. Let any one who is disposed to complain of the strictness of the Gospel, examine its laws with candour, and see which of them he can reduce: Would he love God with less than all his heart; or his neighbour less than himself? Were he to reduce any one law below its present standard, he would so far give a licence for rebellion throughout all the kingdoms of the earth, and reason for murmuring throughout all the regions of hell, since a lower standard was appointed for others than was ever allowed to them.

But this righteousness is no less visible in the administration of the King, than in the laws by which he governs: for in no one instance is his favour or his frown accorded to any one, but in a strict consistency with equity. On whom did the King ever frown but on account of his transgressions, or more than in proportion to their enormity? or on whom did he ever deign to smile, but on those who humbled themselves before him as guilty, and pleaded his perfect righteousness as the ground of all their hopes? Nay, where did he ever pardon one rebel, till that rebel had cast himself entirely on the merit of his sacrifice, whereby Divine justice had been satisfied, and the law of God magnified? In earth, in hell, in heaven, the righteousness of his sceptre is alike displayed, and to all eternity shall it be acknowledged throughout the whole extent of his dominions.]

Keeping in view the general scope of the passage, as well as our own individual benefit, we would observe by way of improvement,

1. How clearly are the great truths of the Gospel founded on the Old Testament!

[We find nothing in the New Testament which was not predicted in the Old. Hence our blessed Lord and his Apostles continually refer to the Jewish Scriptures in confirmation of their own word. And it is worthy of particular remark, that we never so much as once hear of their enemies controverting or objecting to the construction which they put upon the Scriptures. The true import of the prophecies was, in many respects, better understood then than now; because the Jews, in order to justify their rejection of Jesus as their Messiah, have laboured to find out other interpretations of the Scriptures, different from those which their own forefathers acknowledged and approved. And I cannot but regard the very circumstance of the Apostles citing the different prophecies in the way they did, as a strong presumption, that the Scriptures were understood at that time in the very sense in which they cited them: for, had they not been so understood by the Jews of that day, the citation of them would have been nugatory: yea, worse than nugatory; it would have been absurd in the highest degree; and would have produced the directly opposite effect to that which it was intended to produce. Let any one, with this impression upon his mind, read the chapter from whence our text is taken, and he cannot for one moment doubt the divinity of Christ, or the truth of his Messiahship.]

2. How safely may we commit ourselves into the Saviour’s hands!

[Were our King a man only, what confidence could we have in his protection? He could not be every where: he could not hear and aid all persons at the same moment: consequently we might be overwhelmed before he could come to our aid. But our King is “the Mighty God,” who has all things in heaven, and earth, and hell under his controul; and who has engaged that all his enemies, and ours, shall be put under his feet. Let none then be discouraged because of the number, power, or inveteracy of their enemies: for, if he be for us, none can succesfully be against us. Let the consideration therefore which quieted David’s mind in all his troubles, compose and quiet our minds also under every trial that can befall us: “the floods have lifted, O Lord, the floods have lifted up their voice: the floods lift up their waves. The Lord on high is mightier than the noise of many waters, yea, than the mighty waves of the sea [Note: Psalms 93:3-4.]:” “The Lord is in his holy temple; the Lord’s throne is in heaven [Note: Psalms 11:3-4.].”]

3. How obedient should we be to his holy will!

[Were it only that we are the work of his hands, we ought to be altogether obedient to his will: but how much more, when, in addition to being our Creator, he has become our Redeemer; and has assumed our nature, in order that we, through his vicarious sufferings, may be made partakers of his kingdom and glory! We must not forget that the throne on which he sits is a mediatorial throne; and the kingdom which he governs is a mediatorial kingdom: and that he exercises his dominion not merely over us, but for us. How happy would the fallen angels be, if they could have one more offer of being received into his kingdom! But this privilege belongs to us only; and to us no longer than during the present short period of our existence upon earth. If we cast not down the weapons of our rebellion now, the day of grace will be past, and we shall hear him say, “Bring hither those that were mine enemies, who would not that I should reign over them, and slay them before me.” But methinks we should be constrained by love, rather than by fear. Think, my brethren, what it has cost him to establish his kingdom: what conflicts he has endured for us, that we might be made partakers of his triumphs! It was “through his own death that he triumphed over him that had the power of death, and delivered us from his cruel bondage.” Give ye then up yourselves to him: and though death should await you for your fidelity to him, fear it not, but rejoice that ye are counted worthy to suffer it for his sake. And know assuredly, that, “if ye suffer with him, ye shall reign with him,” and to all eternity “be glorified together” with him.]


Verses 10-12

DISCOURSE: 2271

CHRIST’S SUPERIORITY TO ANGELS

Hebrews 1:10-12. Thou, Lord, in the beginning hast laid the foundation of the earth; and the heavens are the works of thine hands: they shall perish; but thou remainest; and they all shall wax old as doth a garment; and as a vesture shalt thou fold them up, and they shall be changed: but thou art the same, and thy years shall not fail.

THE Old Testament speaks much of Christ: the Psalms, in particular, abound with expressions relating to him: and, previous to his coming, the learned Jews, who looked forward to the advent of their Messiah, and longed for his appearance, interpreted them in their true and proper sense. This is clear; because we never find, in any one instance, that the construction put upon these passages by the Apostles of our Lord was controverted, or the application of them to him doubted. The Jews of later ages, in order to weaken the force of these passages as proving the Messiahship of the Lord Jesus, have invented other explanations of them; determining to put any sense whatever upon their own Scriptures, rather than admit the validity of his claims. But it is not to be conceived that the Apostle Paul, at the very time that he withheld the signature of his name from this epistle, (lest, by the mention of it, he should excite the prejudices of his countrymen to whom he wrote,) should, in the very outset of his epistle, cite passages in a sense which none of his opponents were ready to admit; and that he should go on to build the whole weight of his arguments on passages so adduced, and so interpreted. Yet we find, that he has applied to Jesus many expressions, which, if his construction of them be true, prove, beyond a doubt, not only the Messiahship of Jesus, but the infinite superiority of his dispensation to that which had been established among the Jews. The Jews gloried in the Mosaic dispensation, as having been given to them, not only by the hands of Moses, but through the instrumentality of angels [Note: Hebrews 2:3. Acts 7:53. Galatians 3:19.]. St. Paul shews them, in the beginning of this epistle, that, however much they might glory in this honour, the Christian had far higher reason to glory; because his religion was revealed by Christ himself, who, both in his nature as God, and in his office as the appointed Mediator between God and man, was infinitely above the angels.

In confirmation of the Apostle’s statement, I shall set before you,

I. The majesty of Him by whom the Gospel was revealed—

Great and glorious things are spoken of him in the preceding context. But we shall wave all mention of those things, and confine our attention to the passage before us; and notice,

1. The passage cited by the Apostle—

[The words in my text will be found towards the close of the 102d Psalm. In that psalm, the writer, personating the Church, speaks of the afflictions under which he groaned [Note: Psalms 102:1-11.], and of the consolations which he derived from contemplating the future glories of the Messiah’s kingdom, which should extend over the whole world, and endure for evermore [Note: Psalms 102:12-28. He speaks of “the heathen fearing the name of the Lord, and all the kings of the earth beholding his glory: and of a people who should be created to praise the Lord.” ver. 15, 18, 22.]. The person of whom he speaks, he calls “his God:” “I said, O my God, take me not away in the midst of my years:” and then he immediately adds, “Of old hast thou laid the foundations of the earth,” and so on. Now, no one ever doubted but the Person whom the Psalmist there addresses, was the God of heaven and earth: and the Jews themselves were wont to interpret the psalm as referring to the Messiah. St. Paul confirms that interpretation, by expressly applying the text to the Lord Jesus Christ. As for saying that he applied the passage to Christ in a subordinate sense, there is no intimation given of any such thing: nor would the passage have been at all to his purpose, if it were not understood in its full sense: for the Apostle’s object was, to establish the superiority of Christ above all the angels of heaven: and to have asserted that the Father was superior to them, would have been of no use. It is clear, then, that the Lord Jesus Christ is the true God, even “God over all, blessed for ever.”]

2. The sublime truths contained in it—

[The Person here addressed has two attributes ascribed to him; namely, omnipotence, as the Creator of the universe; and immutability, as being ever the same: and both of these belong to the Lord Jesus Christ; for it was He who created all things, both in heaven and earth. If an idea be suggested, that he might have merely been an agent deputed to this work, as any angel might have been; and that the execution of it is not sufficient to prove his Godhead; I answer, that though I will not undertake to say what works God might devolve on a creature, there can be no doubt but that he was God who made the worlds: for it is said, “In the beginning was the Word; and the Word was with God; and the Word was God: the same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made [Note: John 1:1-3.].” And this was no other than the Lord Jesus Christ: for the same Apostle adds, “The Word was made flesh, and dwelt amongst us [Note: John 1:14.].”

To the same Person, also, is immutability ascribed: as it is said, “They (the works of creation) shall perish, but thou remainest: and they all shall wax old, as doth a garment; and as a vesture shalt thou fold them up, and they shall be changed: but thou art the same, and thy years shall not fail. Now this, also, is an incommunicable attribute of the Deity! “I, the Lord, change not.” To no creature whatever can this perfection be assigned: the highest archangel, if left to himself, would fail, even as myriads of once-holy angels did in heaven; from whence they were expelled for their transgression, and were doomed to an eternity of misery in hell. But to Jesus it essentially belongs; because, though a man, as to his human nature, he is “Jehovah’s Fellow,” “God manifest in the flesh,” “Emmanuel, God with us.”]

The whole scope of the Apostle’s argument leads me, from speaking of the Majesty of Christ, to shew, in the next place,

II. The excellency of the Gospel as revealed by him—

Why, when the Law was committed to us by the ministry of angels, should the Gospel be spoken to us by God himself? Is there any thing in the Gospel that calls for such a distinction? I answer, There is an immense disparity between the two, even such as may well account for the high honour conferred upon the Gospel. Consider what the Gospel is: consider,

1. The depth of its mysteries—

[The law was not without its mysteries: but they were all veiled from human sight; in token of which, Moses put a veil upon his face. But “in and through the Lord Jesus Christ, that veil is taken away,” and we behold his glory with unveiled face [Note: 2 Corinthians 3:14; 2 Corinthians 3:18.]. We are led even to the council-chamber of the Most High, where the Father and the Son concerted together for the recovery of mankind, even millions of years before they fell. We hear the Son undertaking to become a man, in order that he might suffer in the stead of his offending creatures, and expiate their guilt by his own obedience unto death. We see this very Saviour become incarnate: we behold him sojourning on earth, as the accredited Ambassador of heaven. We hear his voice; we trace his footsteps; we witness all his sufferings unto death. We see him yet again, raised from the dead, and ascending up to heaven; and sending down the Holy Ghost, to testify of him, and to establish his kingdom upon earth. We behold his kingdom actually established, and maintaining its pre-eminence on earth, in despite of all possible opposition from men and devils. And, finally, we behold in this stupendous mystery every perfection of the Deity, shining in harmonious and united splendour.

Here then was a mystery, which deserved to be marked with all the honour conferred upon it. True, “this treasure” might well, at a subsequent period, be put “into earthen vessels:” but at its first exhibition it was well that it should be displayed by our incarnate God, and that the word which unfolded it should “at first begin to be spoken by the Lord himself [Note: Hebrews 2:3.].”]

2. The richness of its provisions—

[In this is contained all that man can need, and all that God himself can bestow. We were fallen, even our whole race, like the apostate angels themselves: and being partakers with them in transgression, we were doomed to partake with them also in their punishment. We were sunk even to the very precincts of hell: yet, behold, from thence are we taken, to be restored to the favour of our God, and to inherit a throne of glory. Could we conceive of the fallen angels, as taken from their sad abodes of misery, and restored to the felicity from which they fell, we might have some idea of the blessings imparted to us by the Gospel of Christ. But who can declare all that is comprehended in pardon, and peace, and holiness, and glory? Eternity itself will not be sufficient to compute and estimate the mighty sum.]

3. The duration of its benefits—

[Eternity! Amazing thought! eternity! Yes, eternity shall be the duration of blessedness to every believing soul. The benefits of the Mosaic dispensation soon passed away: but not so those which we inherit by the Gospel. As long as the believing soul shall retain its capacity for enjoyment, and the Saviour himself exist upon his throne, so long shall He who bought us with his blood, dispense to us all the blessings that he has purchased for us: and the inheritance that shall be accorded to us, shall be “incorruptible, and undefiled, and one that fadeth not away.”]

Observe, then, from this subject,

1. How worthy of acceptation is the Gospel of Christ!

[When we consider who it is that has proclaimed the Gospel to us, even “the true and faithful Witness,” the Lord Jesus Christ, we cannot entertain a doubt either of its truth or excellency. Take all the promises and invitations; take them in all their freeness, and in all their fulness; which of them is not worthy to be embraced with our whole hearts, and to be relied upon with our whole souls? Well did St. Paul say of the Gospel, “It is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation.” O that we could receive it as we ought! O that we felt our need of it, and that we were duly mindful of the authority and veracity of Him who has revealed it to us! We should not then dare to slight it; nor should we hesitate to rest in it with most implicit confidence.]

2. How worthless are all things, in comparison of it!

[Let crowns and kingdoms be put into the balance against it, and they will all be found lighter than vanity itself. What is become of all that the greatest monarchs ever enjoyed? It is vanished away as a dream. And what will soon become of the whole world? It will all pass away, as a morning cloud; and be as though it had never been. Of this we are all sensible; but yet we find it difficult to realize our own principles. In opposition to our better judgment, we are carried away after some worthless objects, which often elude our grasp; or, if enjoyed, are no sooner possessed than they perish. But if we seek for Jesus and his kingdom, all will be secured to us. No one ever sought eternal things in earnest, and was disappointed of his hope: no one ever suffered loss for them, but he found it to be gain in the end. To all then, I say, “Labour not for the meat that perisheth, but for that meat which endureth unto everlasting life, which the Son of Man shall give unto you; for him hath God the Father sealed.”]


Verse 14

DISCOURSE: 2272

THE MINISTRY OF ANGELS

Hebrews 1:14. Are they not all ministering spirits, sent forth to minister for them who shall be heirs of salvation?

THE superiority of Christ to angels occupies the mind of the Apostle throughout this chapter. He has illustrated it already in a very convincing way. He has adduced many passages of Holy Writ which confessedly belong to the Messiah; and has shewn, that they never have been, nor can be, applied to them, because the things predicated in them, exclusively belong to him. The representations given of the angels necessarily imply a great inferiority to him: for they are commanded to worship him [Note: ver. 6.], as their Creator [Note: ver. 10–12.], and their God [Note: ver. 8.]. Nor is it him only whom they serve: they are the servants of his people also, appointed by him to that very office, and executing it for his honour and glory. This the Apostle mentions as an indisputable fact; and appeals to the Hebrews themselves respecting it: “Are they not all ministering spirits, sent forth to minister for them who shall be heirs of salvation?”

The ministry of angels is not only a curious subject as it relates to them, but a very interesting subject as it relates to us; since we, if we be heirs of salvation, are the very persons for whom they minister. We propose therefore to consider the ministry of angels,

I. As evinced in their services for God’s people of old—

They are called by the Apostle “ministering spirits,” which designates at once both their nature and office. In their nature they are not corporeal, but spiritual beings: and they possess both wisdom and strength far beyond any of the sons of men [Note: 2 Samuel 14:20. 2 Peter 2:11.]. Their number was once far greater than it at present is; for vast multitudes of them “kept not their first estate, but left their first habitation, and are reserved in chains of darkness to the judgment of the great day [Note: Jude, ver. 6.].” Those who have held fast their integrity are called “the elect angels;” and of them there are myriads, yea millions without number [Note: Psalms 68:17. Revelation 5:11. Hebrews 12:22.]. Amongst them are different ranks and orders, (as there are also amongst the fallen angels,) under Michael their head, who is therefore called “the archangel,” whilst they are called “his angels [Note: Jude, ver. 9. Revelation 12:7.].”

On God they wait, as his servants, with the utmost alacrity and zeal [Note: Psalms 103:20-21.]: and by him they are employed in executing his holy will.

They were employed by him at the promulgation of his law [Note: Acts 7:53. Deuteronomy 33:2.]: and they have been rendered useful also in the diffusion of his Gospel [Note: Revelation 14:6.].

By him they have been sent forth both as executioners of his vengeance and as dispensers of his mercies. By an angel, he slew in one hour the whole Egyptian first-born both of men and beasts [Note: Exodus 12:23.]. By the agency of one of those powerful spirits was the pestilence produced, to which, for the punishment of David’s sin, seventy thousand Israelites fell victims [Note: 2 Samuel 24:16-17.]. It was by a sword wielded by a similar messenger from God, that one hundred and eighty-five thousand of the Assyrian host also were slain in one night [Note: Isaiah 37:36.]. Nor is it in such extensive ravages only that they have been employed: a single individual, whom God has ordained to punish for his iniquity, has been the object of a similar commission, and been made to feel the weight of an angel’s avenging arm: an angel smote Herod for his pride, and he was eaten up of worms [Note: Acts 12:23.]. In like manner they have been frequently made God’s ministers for good. In the instances already mentioned they proved signal benefactors, no less than avengers: for, if they smote the enemies of God, they effected thereby a great deliverance for Israel: and if they corrected his people, it was with a view to humble them, and to bring them to repentance. But they have been no less willing to minister to individuals than to a whole nation: nor have they accounted any office beneath their attention. Was Abraham’s steward sent to seek a wife for Isaac? an angel went before him to prepare his way [Note: Genesis 24:7.]. Did Hagar flee from the face of her mistress? an angel advised her to return [Note: Genesis 16:7-9.]. And when she was put away by Abraham, and her child was perishing with thirst, an angel directed her to a well, where she might find an immediate supply [Note: Genesis 21:17.]. Were Lot and his family in danger of perishing in Sodom? with what affectionate solicitude did angels go to bring them forth from that devoted place [Note: Genesis 19:1; Genesis 19:11; Genesis 19:15-17.]! Does Balaam hasten to curse Israel? an angel obstructs his way, and does not suffer him to proceed, till he engages to utter nothing but what the Lord shall put into his mouth [Note: Numbers 22:22-35.]. Does the highly-favoured Daniel pour out his soul before God in prayer? an angel flies from the highest heavens to give him assured intelligence of the acceptance of his prayers [Note: Daniel 9:21-23.].

Under the New Testament dispensation also, we find them alike attentive to the welfare of God’s people. Is the child Jesus in danger of being involved in the common ruin of the infants whom Harried slew? an angel appears to Joseph, and directs him to flee to Egypt with his wife and child [Note: Matthew 2:13.]. Is Peter kept in prison to be brought forth the very next day for execution? an angel opens for him the prison doors, and liberates him from his confinement [Note: Acts 12:7.]. Is Paul ready to be overwhelmed in the waves of the tempestuous ocean? an angel comes to assure him, that both he, and for his sake all the ship’s company also, shall be saved [Note: Acts 27:23.].

We might adduce a great many other instances of their friendly interposition for the people of God: but sufficient has been spoken to shew, that the office of ministering to the saints has not been assigned to them on one or two occasions only of extraordinary magnitude, but that it has been in every successive age their uniform and willing employment.

By the view we have taken of their ministry in former times, we shall be prepared to contemplate it,

II. As still exercised towards the heirs of salvation—

The vision of Jacob’s ladder, with the angels ascending and descending upon it, is still realized throughout the world, even as our blessed Lord has taught us to expect it should be [Note: Genesis 28:12. John 1:51.]. As soon as we embrace the Gospel, we are brought into actual communion with them, even with that “innumerable company of them” that are before the throne of God [Note: Hebrews 12:22.]. But, as ubiquity is the prerogative of God only, there are some who have a special charge of particular saints, and whose office it is to watch over them in a more especial manner [Note: Matthew 18:10 and Acts 12:15.].

They have still, as formerly, a great concern for the Gospel, desiring to get a deeper insight into it themselves [Note: 1 Peter 1:12.], and longing for a diffusion of it throughout the world. As the first promulgation of it was to them an occasion of joy and triumph, insomuch that they left their bright abodes in heaven, and came down, a whole multitude of them, to earth on purpose to proclaim it [Note: Luke 2:13-14.]; so the acceptance of it by any single individual is to them a source of unutterable joy: not even the glory of the Divine presence so attracts their notice, but they can with pleasure turn away their eyes to behold a mourning penitent; nor is their felicity in God himself so perfect, but it receives an addition from this blissful sight [Note: Luke 15:10.]. From the moment that any one receives the Gospel aright, they become his servants, and wait upon him with unwearied assiduity. “They encamp around him” when he is stationary [Note: Psalms 34:7.], and go out with him wheresoever he goes, in order to “hold him up in their hands, lest he dash his foot against a stone [Note: Psalms 91:11-12.].” Nor is it about his corporeal welfare only that they are concerned: they are attentive also to the concerns of his soul, and oftentimes succour him in his conflicts, even as they did his Lord and Master, who, we are expressly told, had “an angel sent from heaven to strengthen him” when agonizing in the garden [Note: Luke 22:43.]. What was then accomplished in the Head, is doubtless yet daily wrought in the members also: for as “He was tempted in all things like as we are,” so shall we be succoured in all things like as he was [Note: John 6:57.]. In a dying hour, more especially, they redouble their attentions; and wait with tender solicitude the departure of the spirit, that they may bear it on their wings to heaven into the very presence of their God. Nor do they render this service only to men of higher rank and quality: they minister with equal pleasure to the least and meanest of mankind: if there be a Lazarus so poor as to subsist only on the crumbs that fall from a rich man’s table, and so destitute of friends that the very dogs surround him to lick his sores [Note: Luke 16:21-22.], they will perform the same office for him as freely as for the greatest monarch upon earth.

Beyond this life too will they afford us their kind services: for, when our bodies, after having mouldered into dust, shall again be raised in the last day, these benevolent agents will employ themselves in gathering together the dispersed saints from every quarter of the globe, and in bearing them into the presence of their Lord and Saviour [Note: Matthew 24:30-31.]. The separation of the tares from the wheat will be effected by them: and, whilst the tares are bound up by them in bundles, and cast into the fire that never shall be quenched, the wheat shall be gathered by them, and carried into the granary of heaven [Note: Matthew 13:30.]. O fearful thought to the ungodly, to find those benevolent spirits the instruments of their destruction, when they might, but for their own fault, have secured them as agents for their welfare! But to the saints how joyful the contemplation, that those elder brethren who never fell, will so exult in, and contribute to, the recovery of our apostate race!

Their services will now be ended, because we shall then no longer have any occasion for their aid. But the expressions of their love will never end: for, having seen with joy our fruition of redeeming love, they will unite with us in songs of praise to our redeeming God for ever and ever [Note: Revelation 5:9-13.].

Improvement—

1. How desirable is it to be found amongst “the heirs of salvation!”

[To be heirs of great estates we all account desirable; but to be “heirs of salvation,” how few of us regard as an object worthy of any serious attention! The very character of an heir of salvation, so far from being estimable in the eyes of the generality, is despised; and the names by which such a person is designated in Scripture, are made terms of reproach. “The elect,” “the saints,” “the godly,” are names in the estimation of the world equivalent to hypocrites and fanatics. Such, however, is not the opinion of the holy angels. When once we are brought into that family of which Christ is the head, they love us, they honour us, they serve us; yea, they account it their highest honour to minister unto us. Let me then exhort all of you, my brethren, to defer to the judgment of those, who must confessedly be so much better judges than yourselves: for it is not the angels only who thus express their sentiments, but God also, who assigns to them this very office, and sends them forth for the execution of it. And, if men treat us with contempt because we prefer an invisible and eternal inheritance before one that is visible and temporal, “let us not be ashamed, but let us glorify God on this behalf [Note: 1 Peter 4:16.].”

Does any one ask, How shall I become an heir of salvation? I answer, “Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ,” and “cleave unto him with full purpose of heart;” for then shall ye be children of the living God [Note: John 1:12. Galatians 4:26; Galatians 4:29.]: and, “if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ [Note: Romans 8:17.];” who, if he is “the Saviour of all men, is especially the Saviour of them that believe [Note: 1 Timothy 4:10.].”]

2. How awful will it be to be found amongst the opposers of God’s people!

[Little did the persecuting Saul think whom he opposed, when he laboured to destroy the followers of Christ. He imagined that his efforts were directed only against a number of wild enthusiasts: but, when he heard the Lord Jesus Christ himself expostulating with him, “Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me?” he saw his error, and learned, that “whoso toucheth God’s people, toucheth the apple of his eye [Note: Zechariah 2:8.].” Nor are the angels indifferent about the treatment which is shewn to the objects of their care. Of this we are assured expressly by our Lord himself: and we desire your particular attention to this point.

Our Lord, in order to inculcate the great doctrine of humility, exhorted his Disciples to imitate a little child, which, for the more effectually impressing of the lesson upon their minds, he had set in the midst of them. He then declared, that whoso should offend one of the little ones who believed in him, it would be better for him that a mill-stone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea. And the reason which he assigns is very remarkable: “Take heed that ye despise not one of these little ones: for I say unto you, that in heaven their angels do always behold the face of my father which is in heaven [Note: Matthew 18:6; Matthew 18:10.].” What is the meaning of this? and what is the force of this menace? The foregoing subject will explain it. The meaning is this. The least and meanest of God’s people have one or more angels peculiarly interested about them in heaven: and, when they see the injuries done to the objects of their care, they cry to God in their behalf for vengeance; “How long, O Lord, holy and true, dost thou not judge and avenge their cause [Note: Revelation 6:10.]?” And then, as “they do continually his commandments, hearkening unto the voice of his word,” they wait for the first intimation of the Divine will, and are ready to execute without delay the judgment which God assigns: and, if there were an hundred and eighty-five thousand of those enemies, they should all be “eaten up with worms,” as Herod was, or be cut off, like the Assyrian host, in one single night. And let us mark particularly the extent of this admonition. It is not said, Take heed that ye do not destroy my people; but, that ye do not “despise” them; that ye despise not “one” of them; not one of “these little ones,” however mean and despicable he may appear; for he has an avenger in heaven: and the vengeance he will inflict is far more terrible than being drowned in the depths of the sea; for into the depths of hell shall he cast your soul, the very instant he has inflicted the fatal stroke upon your body. Ah! brethren, will ye not tremble at this menace? Will ye still account it a light matter either outwardly to deride, or inwardly to despise, a child of God? Beware, I pray you, of your impending danger: and, if ye will not seek to become heirs of salvation yourselves, at your peril lift not up your finger against one that is. If this be man’s threatening, disregard it; but, if it be God’s, know that ye cannot hope for success in fighting against God.]

3. How excellent a work is that of ministering to the saints!

[It has been shewn that this is an office which even the angels themselves affect. And that they do perform it, is not merely asserted in our text, but assumed as a fact that is undoubted and unquestionable: “Are they not ministering spirits? are they not all sent forth to minister for them that shall be heirs of salvation?” Is there so much as one amongst them all that accounts himself too high to wait upon the least and lowest of the human race? If then such be their employment, see what an honourable office those amongst ourselves sustain who are labouring in any way for the good of souls! They are fellow-workers with angels, yea, and fellow-workers with God also. Engage then in this good work, all of you, according to your ability; knowing that, “if ye are to do good unto all men, ye are especially to do it unto them that are of the household of faith [Note: Galatians 6:10.].” Do it then in every possible way [Note: Here recommend the Bible Society, or Mission Societies, or Jews’ Society, or Charity Schools, or Visiting Societies, or Charities of any kind, as occasion may require.] — — — And the more ye resemble the angels here, the more richly shall ye participate their felicity in a better world.]

 


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Bibliography Information
Simeon, Charles. "Commentary on Hebrews 1:4". Charles Simeon's Horae Homileticae. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/shh/hebrews-1.html. 1832.

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