In Whom God has spoken.
W. H. Westcott.
1 God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets,
2 Hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son, whom he hath appointed heir of all things, by whom also he made the worlds;
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;
4 Being made so much better than the angels, as he hath by inheritance obtained a more excellent name than they.
The Epistle to the Hebrews seems to have been written in view of the fall of Jerusalem, and the removal of the established form of religion initiated by Jehovah when the people of Israel were delivered from Egypt.
The holy places made with hands — the altar, the sacrifices, the priesthood, the very covenant to which these things were attached, and the law which foreshadowed good things to come — were all passing. In place of the whole system of material things, hallowed by the history of centuries, the Hebrews were called upon to realize the blessedness and glory of the Person who is the antitype of it all.
Instead of the State religion of the day, the temple (which, as a place of worship, was the envy of nations), the hierarchy of priests, the impressive ritual, the charm of instrumental and vocal melody, they were to find themselves outcast, ill-treated, defamed, poor, despised — with CHRIST. WERE THEY LOSERS?
The Epistle is the answer. They exchanged the transient thing for what is eternal. Attractions for sight and sense were displaced by the blessed realities of which faith alone can take account in this dispensation. The types were superseded by the antitype. The twilight of the old days gave way before the light of day. The partial communications from God through the prophets of earlier times were more than eclipsed by the full revelation of God's communication in the Son.
The object of much that is written in the Epistle is to set forth the greatness of the person of Christ. We have also therein the greatness of the presence of God as it is now opened up to believers, and the greatness of Christian privilege, whether inside the veil, or among Christians, or outside the camp. But let us consider the first as it is presented to us in the first four verses of the first chapter.
It is evident that the Holy Spirit intends to emphasize the fact that the Messiah of the Jew is divine, in contrast with prophets who were not so, though divinely inspired. This is necessary, for in whom could God (who is God) speak adequately to reveal Himself save in a divine Person? When the time came for Him to do away with partial revelations of Himself and to fully reveal all that He is, He spoke in the One who is Son. No other was competent; neither prophet among terrestrial beings, nor angel among celestial beings would have sufficed to bring to light all that is in the heart of God, nor to express all His character, nor to establish God's promises and purposes. The Son was the language in which God spoke. It is not that God spoke merely by the Son as He had spoken by the prophets; it is more justly rendered in (the) Son. He was the interpreter of God; and he who imagines that one of lesser glory than the Son could interpret God does not know God. Only one who is God could in any adequate sense be God's interpreter of Himself.
His Sevenfold Glory.
In the short compass of two or three verses the writer is empowered by the Holy Ghost to utter seven of His glories. They bring the majesty of the Godhead down into contact with the creature's littleness, the purity of the throne into contact with the creature's sin for its removal. They look out from the present world with all its problems to the righting of all things under Christ. They bring the reader, taught by the Spirit of God, into the holy light of all that God is, to have his whole being adjusted to God's will under the sway of that glorious Person who has revealed God to him. He is left here for a little while to tread the path of faith, with the knowledge of an Object for his love and adoration so glorious, so attractive, that no suffering can deter him, no material interests divert him, no allurements entice him away. He has seen a light past the brightness of the sun. He knows no object and no joy that he can compare with Christ and communion with Him. His soul humbly and reverently responds to God, thrills with happiness in His presence, loves to be near to Him, to study the language in which He has spoken; for He has spoken in the Son. The birth, life, ministry, works, sufferings, death, and resurrection of the Son of God are all language to him, for they interpret to his heart what God is.
Heir of All Things.
After the indication of His glory as Son, this is the first assurance given to our faith, viz. that God has appointed Him heir of all things. He became poor for our sakes, and instead of being accepted by Israel was cut off and had nothing. But His rejection but served for the accomplishment of God's will that He might atone for sin and make the love of God known. Now He has risen, and it is decreed that all things shall come into His hand. The heavens and the earth are all bequeathed to Christ, the Son. It will be the pleasure of God to see His Beloved in possession of all things. In the present confusion, and amid the blindness brought about by Satan's malignant power, men are toiling to take possession of the earth for themselves. Nation intrigues against nation for the widest possible power on land and sea; company vies with company for the possession of wealth and influence; individual competes with individual in the struggle for recognition and ease. All are being swept along in the pursuit of pleasure, fame, riches, honour power; but each for himself and none for God. The thought of interference from the Supreme Being is resented; man wants to evolve himself, to work out his own redemption. There is less and less time for thinking. A feverish haste to be rich, a lust for human learning and research, a mad race for sport and pleasure, control the masses today.
But we look ahead. And there across the future, writ plain and large is the hope of our hearts — Christ, HEIR OF ALL THINGS. Everything will revert to Christ. Power has been perverted to man's own ends, it will come into Christ's hands for the execution of God's will. Riches have been abused by man to the furtherance of unholy plans and carnal lusts; they come to Christ, for the service of God. All the millionaires' millions, all the wealth of mines, all the resources of the earth will come to Christ, to be administered by Him in accordance with God's will. Wisdom will be at His disposal. All the forces of education, though more and more perverted from their right use now, all true scientific knowledge all the studies of matter and force, all the knowledge that men hope to gain will suddenly come under Christ's control, and He will not fail to inherit it and to use it all for the glory of God. Strength — long used to crush the weak - will be His; honour — long given by man to his fellow — will be given by God to Christ; glory — only stained by corruption and lust in the fallen creature — will be rightly centred in the person of the Lamb once slain; blessing — only lost when entrusted to sinful Adam or any of his race — will be put into the hands of the Second Man, the last Adam, where it will never, never fail (Rev. 5:12).
The future is all filled up with Christ, nothing but Christ. He will supersede everybody, all will be subservient to Him.
Maker of the Worlds.
But if we look into the past eternity, even as we have looked forward, we see the Son's glory resplendent and eternal. The personalities in the Godhead were distinguishable in the ages previous to all time. "By whom [the Son] He [God] made the worlds." This teaches us clearly that in the Godhead glory before all time the Son was distinguishable as Son. This is enough, for if we have Son, we have Father, and if we have Father and Son, we have also Holy Ghost. These are not merely names connected with the revelation made in time, but are subsisting and related glories in the Godhead outside of all time. It served the divine purpose to withhold this as a revelation until Christ came, who fully revealed God; but when the Godhead was fully revealed, and we come to know God, we find Father Son, and Holy Ghost (Matt. 28:19). By the eternal Son then, before all ages, God was pleased to make the ages, or worlds. If geological and astronomical science require incalculable ages for the production of the present universe there is nothing necessarily in conflict with the glory of the Son; this only shifts the point farther back in the mysterious past at which we discover His glories as the Creator of all worlds for God. As to the history of responsible man on the face of the earth that is a later thing.
Of Christ it is said, "All things were made by Him, and without Him was not anything made that was made." Whatever there is of beauty or glory in things great or small, in all the wide universe of God, it has derived its shape, its beauty, its lustre, its functions, from Him, and He is greater, more glorious, more beautiful, than all that He has created. "Part of His name divinely stands on every work impressed." Behind all that can be called nature or creation, and earlier than the earliest forms of all matter, there is this glory; accounting for the "all things" that appeal to us now; the worlds piled upon worlds, the ages heaped upon ages. It is the glory of the eternal Son. It fills up the vision of our faith as we gaze backward into eternity.
Upholder of All Things.
Passing for a moment the two glories in between, we reach the middle of the third verse, and find Him to be the One who upholds all things by the word of His power. This spans the time which we call present, arching over from eternity past to eternity to come. It is the third phase of His glory in relation to the created scene through which we are passing. He created all things, made the worlds; He upholds all things now; He shall be heir of all things.
What a vast range of His creatorial power and wisdom does this open up to us. Supposing the law of gravitation to be true not only in the universe that we survey, but everywhere throughout the infinitude of space; granting that the moon revolves around the earth according to that law, the earth round the sun, the sun (possibly) around some "fixed" star in the Pleiades — what then? What holds up the Pleiades? If we go farther afield and in our imagination create some yet more distant or mighty centre around which ten thousand universes roll, it only makes more vast and stupendous the system which demands some fixed point capable of sustaining the whole. The mind of man reels, and is baffled. Faith, guided by inspiration, quietly points to Christ, the Son, and utters the only possible solution — "He upholds all things by the word of His power."
What is true in things infinitely great is true also in things small. The equipoise maintained between land and water, the exquisite composition of the air that envelops our earth, the rotation of the globe that produces alternating day and night, the orbit it pursues to give us the changing seasons of summer and winter, wet and dry; the evaporation from the water surface of the globe balanced so beautifully with the flow of rivers into the sea; the preservation of the forces in the earth's crust and atmosphere that are so accurately placed as to serve man's needs while leaving room for the play of man's ingenuity; all speak of supreme wisdom and power in the One who directs and upholds the whole fabric.
All things serve His might. Stormy wind fulfils His word. The lightnings obey Him, and say, "Here we are." It was the marvellous truth that Jehovah "upholds all things by the word of His power" (read Job 38-41), accompanied by the sense of His grace, that broke Job down. The Jehovah of the Old Testament is the Jesus (Jehovah-Saviour) of the New, as Isaiah 50 clearly shows. The very beating of our hearts, the expansion and contraction of our lungs are problems that can only be solved by the same wonderful fact, "He upholds all things by the word of His power."
The Brightness of God's Glory.
We come now to something different from simple creatorial majesty in Christ, different from the relations in which He stands with created things. For He is the shining forth of glory. All that can be called glory in God shines out in Him. Our Lord wears human form now, and His humanity has served to bring out in the most illuminating way, in the very midst, too, of human circumstances, all the attributes of God, which, when viewed together, compose glory. Light is the outshining of what is in the sun. But precious as the light is, and pleasant as it is to behold the sun, we might have great difficulty in describing light. So, what is glory? Above all, what are the elements in God's glory, its constituent parts, so to say? We take a prism, and we allow the light to fall upon it. Instantly that which is diffused so sweetly as light becomes broken up into its component parts, and we discover the beauty of the several rays which, when blended, form light. Even so, with reverent hearts may we study Christ in whom the varied rays of God's glory are severally discerned. His character and ways bring before us the exact delineation of God's holiness, righteousness, truth; they utter to us, in an intelligible way, His grace, goodness, longsuffering mercy; they set forth those divine perfections of obedience, dependence, humility, meekness, lowliness, which could be discerned only in circumstances of humiliation. Moreover, in the cross and death of Jesus, we find every ray converging; the Son of Man is glorified, and God is glorified in Him. Never was all that God is so seen as in that wonderful moment. All the outgoings of His holy nature against sin were present in infinite degree; and yet every consideration of pity and compassion for the sinner was combined with them. Nor is this all. Raised from the dead, triumphant over death and sin and Satan's power, Jesus has become in heaven the complete expression, the effulgence, of all that God is. What would be to us otherwise unknowable or inexplicable is resolved, and in the face of Jesus — unveiled and glorious — we behold the glory of God. That face speaks to us; it is language that our ransomed hearts can understand. It makes our own will appear loathsome, it makes the world appear a poor selfish system without God, it attracts our affections and expands our minds, and stirs our energies for God and souls and heaven, as nothing else could. It makes the presence of God our home, and the glory of God our goal in the hope of which we boast.
The Image of His Person.
More correctly, "the expression of His substance, or Being." Who are we, that we can sit down and ponder the Deity, the Supreme Being? What material have we on the basis of which we may draw conclusions as to the infinite and eternal God?
The mind of man craves for some representation of the being he worships. From the degraded savage who tries to represent the supernatural forces around him by amulets and charms, to the idolater who invests his carved or molten image with divine powers, or the devotee who vainly prostrates himself before crucifix or images of saints, all betray this instinct for a tangible representation of the object of worship. Christ is the Image of God. An image of Christ is therefore absurd, and a negation of all that He is; for if He be the Image of God, why require an image of Him? God as God is invisible. He fills heaven and earth, and no finite creature could take account of so glorious a Being whose time is eternity, whose dimension is space, whose being is Spirit. There was every necessity why He should be adequately represented to our ken. But who among created beings could be the embodiment of the Uncreate? Our marvel is that all that God is in His own being is adequately set forth in Christ. There was no deficiency in Him; He brought down here the entire fullness of the Godhead — setting it forth without flaw from the stable of Bethlehem, the waters of Jordan, and the synagogue of Nazareth, right on to the grave of Lazarus, the garden of Gethsemane, the cross of Golgotha, the emptied tomb, and the throne of glory. There is no one else capable of compassing in his own person all the majesty and the nature of God. Jesus is the Son; there is therefore, no disparity between Him and God, in Him was most perfectly expressed every element in the divine nature. Renewed by grace, we draw near to our Saviour with unshod feet and gaze into His face; and in Him is the absolute, complete, final revelation of God. Never, in any religion or philosophy before, has it been written "GOD IS LOVE." But the truth is out now — in Jesus. God's nature is disclosed, set before men and celestial beings, revealed in the Man who is also, and must be, eternal Son.
Now, think what it must be if such an One take up the sin question. I do not say for us, though of necessity we come into the matter by reason of our sins. But supposing such an One come down, unaided and unasked for reasons of His own, to apply all His infinite resources of wisdom and power and love to the sin question, what must be the result for Himself first, and then for those who believe upon Him? Being the adequate representation of God, the Son knew all God's unsullied holiness and inviolable purity, all the claims of His throne, all His wrath against and judgment upon sin. Being very God in His own essential nature and being, though become Man for the accomplishment of all God's will, He knew all that sin is in its varied forms, and in all its ramifications in the history of this world and in the nature of fallen man. He alone of all in the vast universe was capable of understanding all the activities and glories of the divine nature, and withal the gravity of sin. Moved by unutterable love, and jealous for the majesty of the supreme Being, the Son, in human form, sinless and pure, went and made purification of sins at Calvary, dying to remove them, dying to overthrow them, dying to vindicate God against them, dying to reveal God in His grandest glories at the moment of His putting them away. That I, believing in Jesus, benefit by it goes without saying. My sin has been unearthed, weighed in divine scales, repudiated, broken, judged, execrated, damned in His death, the wrath of God has found it out, fallen upon it, burnt it up, made an end of my sins (and me also, in a judicial sense) — but in the death of the One who died for me. But it was not only a question of me. He did this for Himself, from Himself, by Himself. He took it up as a matter in which His own glory was involved, and for His own sake made purification of sins. All the perfection of His person was thrown into the work He did; and the sins have been perfectly atoned for, purged, as only a Divine Person could have done it. I am benefited infinitely indeed, for I stand in the presence of a glory that has removed all my sins, and has declared itself infinitely, but in such a way as to be more than friendly to me. My God is the best Friend I have; and I know Him, for He is fully revealed in the One who has put my sins away.
The Sitter at God's Right Hand.
This is the seventh glory of this all-glorious Person. Would it not have been a grief to us had the Lord in some way been deprived of His right to sit there? Could His contact with our sin, His undergoing the judgment of God and death for us, have resulted in some loss of dignity, some diminution of glory, how our hearts (ever grateful to Him indeed) would have chided us for eternity, and have been filled with distress, to think of it. But this is not so. So completely has sin been judged, so entirely has God been glorified as to it, that the Son — now wearing man's form to be the Image of God for ever — has gone back to the height from whence He came, taking a place by so much better than the angels as He hath by inheritance a more excellent name than they. So absolutely has His divine right and glory remained through all the story of incarnation and sin-bearing that in this passage — when correctly rendered — His session at God's right hand is not represented as God raising Him but rather that in virtue of the unstained glory of His own Person He took the place that ever belonged to Him in all the ineffable glory of the Majesty on High. But He is now seated there as Man, ever the Son, but now Son in human form. There is a Man upon the throne of God; and that Man, the Son, who put my sins away.
May God fill our hearts with worship as we think of Him. May He also teach that even if for His sake and in His service we become poor, despised, isolated, outcast, stripped of all the accessories of consecrated temple, etc., we are — in having Christ — more than well off indeed.