Commentary on the Bible, by Adam Clarke, , at sacred-texts.com
The use we should make of the preceding doctrine, and the danger of neglecting this great salvation, Heb 2:1-4. The future world is not put in subjection to the angels, but all is under the authority of Christ, Heb 2:5-8. Jesus has tasted death for every man, Heb 2:9. Nor could he accomplish man's redemption without being incarnated and without dying; by which he destroys the devil, and delivers all that believe on him from the fear of death and spiritual bondage, Heb 2:10-15. Christ took not upon him the nature of angels, but the nature of Abraham, that he might die, and make reconciliation for the sins of the people, Heb 2:16-18.
Therefore - Because God has spoken to us by his Son; and because that Son is so great and glorious a personage; and because the subject which is addressed to us is of such infinite importance to our welfare.
We ought to give the more earnest heed - We should hear the doctrine of Christ with care, candour, and deep concern.
Lest at any time we should let them slip - Μη ποτε παραρῥυωμεν· "Lest at any time we should leak out." This is a metaphor taken from unstanch vessels; the staves not being close together, the fluid put into them leaks through the chinks and crevices. Superficial hearers lose the benefit of the word preached, as the unseasoned vessel does its fluid; nor can any one hear to the saving of his soul, unless he give most earnest heed, which he will not do unless he consider the dignity of the speaker, the importance of the subject, and the absolute necessity of the salvation of his soul. St. Chrysostom renders it μη ποτε απολωμεθα, εκπεσωμεν, lest we perish, lest we fall away.
If the word spoken by angels - The law, (according to some), which was delivered by the mediation of angels, God frequently employing these to communicate his will to men. See Act 7:53; and Gal 3:19. But the apostle probably means those particular messages which God sent by angels, as in the case of Lot, Genesis 19:, and such like.
Was steadfast - Was so confirmed by the Divine authority, and so strict, that it would not tolerate any offense, but inflicted punishment on every act of transgression, every case in which the bounds laid down by the law, were passed over; and every act of disobedience in respect to the duties enjoined.
Received a just recompense - That kind and degree of punishment which the law prescribed for those who broke it.
How shall we escape - If they who had fewer privileges than we have, to whom God spoke in divers manners by angels and prophets, fell under the displeasure of their Maker, and were often punished with a sore destruction; how shall we escape wrath to the uttermost if we neglect the salvation provided for us, and proclaimed to us by the Son of God? Their offense was high; ours, indescribably higher. The salvation mentioned here is the whole system of Christianity, with all the privileges it confers; properly called a salvation, because, by bringing such an abundance of heavenly light into the world, it saves or delivers men from the kingdom of darkness, ignorance, error, superstition, and idolatry; and provides all the requisite means to free them from the power, guilt, and contamination of sin. This salvation is great when compared with that granted to the Jews:
1. The Jewish dispensation was provided for the Jews alone; the Christian dispensation for all mankind.
2. The Jewish dispensation was full of significant types and ceremonies; the Christian dispensation is the substance of all those types.
3. The Jewish dispensation referred chiefly to the body and outward state of man - washings and external cleansings of the flesh; the Christian, to the inward state - purifying the heart and soul, and purging the conscience from dead works.
4. The Jewish dispensation promised temporal happiness; the Christian, spiritual.
5. The Jewish dispensation belonged chiefly to time; the Christian, to eternity.
6. The Jewish dispensation had its glory; but that was nothing when compared to the exceeding glory of the Gospel.
7. Moses administered the former; Jesus Christ, the Creator, Governor, and Savior of the world, the latter.
8. This is a great salvation, infinitely beyond the Jewish; but how great no tongue or pen can describe.
Those who neglect it, αμελησαντες, are not only they who oppose or persecute it, but they who pay no regard to it; who do not meddle with it, do not concern themselves about it, do not lay it to heart, and consequently do not get their hearts changed by it. Now these cannot escape the coming judgments of God; not merely because they oppose his will and commandment, but because they sin against the very cause and means of their deliverance. As there is but one remedy by which their diseased souls can be saved, so by refusing to apply that one remedy they must necessarily perish.
Which at the first began to be spoken - Though John the Baptist went before our Lord to prepare his way, yet he could not be properly said to preach the Gospel; and even Christ's preaching was only a beginning of the great proclamation: it was his own Spirit in the apostles and evangelists, the men who heard him preach, that opened the whole mystery of the kingdom of heaven. And all this testimony had been so confirmed in the land of Judea as to render it indubitable; and consequently there was no excuse for their unbelief, and no prospect of their escape if they should continue to neglect it.
God also bearing them witness - He did not leave the confirmation of these great truths to the testimony of men; he bore his own testimony to them by signs, wonders, various miracles, and distributions of the Holy Ghost, Πνευματος 'Αγιου μερισμοις. And all these were proved to come from himself; for no man could do those miracles at his own pleasure, but the power to work them was given according to God's own will; or rather, God himself wrought them, in order to accredit the ministry of his servants.
For the meaning of signs, wonders, etc., See the note on Deu 4:34.
The world to come - That עולם הבא olam habba, the world to come, meant the days of the Messiah among the Jews, is most evident, and has been often pointed out in the course of these notes; and that the administration of this kingdom has not been intrusted to angels, who were frequently employed under the law, is also evident, for the government is on the shoulder of Jesus Christ; he alone has the keys of death and hell; he alone shuts, and no man opens; opens, and no man shuts; he alone has the residue of the Spirit; he alone is the Governor of the universe, the Spirit, Soul, Heart, and Head of the Church: all is in his authority, and under subjection to him.
But some think that the world to come means future glory, and suppose the words are spoken in reference to the Angel of God's presence, Exo 23:20, who introduced the Israelites into the promised land, which land is here put in opposition to the heavenly inheritance. And it is certain that in this sense also we have an entrance into the holiest only by the blood of Jesus. Dr. Macknight contends for this latter meaning, but the former appears more consistent with the Jewish phraseology.
But one in a certain place - This one is David; and the certain place, Psa 8:4, Psa 8:5, Psa 8:6. But why does the apostle use this indeterminate mode of quotation? Because it was common thus to express the testimony of any of the inspired writers; אמר ההוא amar hahu kethab, thus saith a certain scripture. So Philo, De Plant. Noe: Ειπε γαρ που, he saith somewhere; ειπε γαρ τις, a certain person saith. Thus even the heathens were accustomed to quote high authorities; so Plato, Tim.: Ὡς εφη τις, as a certain person saith, meaning Heraclitus. See in Rosenmuller. It is such a mode of quotation as we sometimes use when we speak of a very eminent person who is well known; as that very eminent person, that great philosopher, that celebrated divine, that inspired teacher of the Gentiles, the royal psalmist, the evangelical prophet, hath said. The mode of quotation therefore implies, not ignorance, but reverence.
What is man - This quotation is verbatim from the Septuagint; and, as the Greek is not as emphatic as the Hebrew, I will quote the original: מה אנוש כי תזכרנו ובן אדם כי תפקדנו mah enosh ki thizkerennu, uben Adam ki thiphkedennu; What is miserable man, that thou rememberest him? and the son of Adam, that thou visitest him? The variation of the terms in the original is very emphatic. Adam, אדם, is the name given to man at his creation, and expresses his origin, and generic distinction from all other animals. Enosh, אנוש, which signifies sick, weak, wretched, was never given to him till after his fall. The son of Adam means here, any one or all of the fallen posterity of the first man. That God should remember in the way of mercy these wretched beings, is great condescension; that he should visit them, manifest himself to them, yea, even dwell among them, and at last assume their nature, and give up his life to ransom them from the bitter pains of eternal death, is mercy and love indescribable and eternal.
Thou madest him a little lower than the angels - We must again have recourse to the original from which this quotation is made: ותחסרהו מעט מאלהים vattechasserehu meat meelohim. If this be spoken of man as he came out of the hands of his Maker, it places him at the head of all God's works; for literally translated it is: Thou hast made him less than God. And this is proved by his being made in the image and likeness of God, which is spoken of no other creature either in heaven or earth; and it is very likely that in his original creation he stood at the head of all the works of God, and the next to his Maker. This sentiment is well expressed in the following lines, part of a paraphrase on this psalm, by the Rev. C. Wesley: -
"Him with glorious majesty
Thy grace vouchsafed to crown:
Transcript of the One in Three,
He in thine image shone.
Foremost of created things,
Head of all thy works he stood;
Nearest the great King of kings,
And little less than God."
If we take the words as referring to Jesus Christ, then they must be understood as pointing out the time of his humiliation, as in Heb 2:9; and the little lower, βραχυ τι, in both verses, must mean for a short time, or a little while, as is very properly inserted among our marginal readings. Adam was originally made higher than the angels, but by sin he is now brought low, and subjected to death; for the angelic nature is not mortal. Thus, taking the words in their common acceptation, man in his present state may be said to be lessened below the angels. Jesus Christ, as the eternal Logos, or God with God, could not die, therefore a body was prepared for him; and thus βραχυ τι, for a short while, he was made lower than the angels, that he might be capable of suffering death. And indeed the whole of the passage suits him better than it does any of the children of men, or than even Adam himself in a state of innocence; for it is only under the feet of Jesus that all things are put in subjection, and it was in consequence of his humiliation that he had a name above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth, Phi 2:9-11. Therefore he must be infinitely higher than the angels, for they, as well as all the things in heaven, bow in subjection to him.
Thou crownedst him with glory and honor - This was strictly true of Adam in his state of innocence, for he was set over all things in this lower world; all sheep and oxen, the beasts of the field, the fowl of the air, the fish of the sea, and whatsoever passeth over the paths of the seas, Psa 8:7, Psa 8:8. So far all this perfectly applies to Adam; but it is evident the apostle takes all in a much higher sense, that of universal dominion; and hence he says, he left nothing that is not put under him. These verses, collated with the above passage from the Epistle to the Philippians, mutually illustrate each other. And the crowning Christ with glory and honor must refer to his exaltation after his resurrection, in which, as the victorious Messiah, he had all power given to him in heaven and earth. And although we do not yet see all things put under him, for evil men, and evil spirits, are only under the subjection of control, yet we look forward to that time when the whole world shall be bowed to his sway, and when the stone cut out of the mountain without hands shall become great, and fill the whole earth. What was never true of the first Adam, even in his most exalted state, is true of the second Adam, the Lord Jesus Christ; and to him, and to him alone, it is most evident that the apostle applies these things; and thus he is higher than the angels, who never had nor can have such dominion and consequent glory.
Should taste death for every man - In consequence of the fall of Adam, the whole human race became sinful in their nature, and in their practice added transgression to sinfulness of disposition, and thus became exposed to endless perdition. To redeem them Jesus Christ took on him the nature of man, and suffered the penalty due to their sins.
It was a custom in ancient times to take off criminals by making them drink a cup of poison. Socrates was adjudged to drink a cup of the juice of hemlock, by order of the Athenian magistrates: Πινειν το φαρμακον, αναγκαζοντων των Αρχοντων. The sentence was one of the most unjust ever pronounced on man. Socrates was not only innocent of every crime laid to his charge, but was the greatest benefactor to his country. He was duly conscious of the iniquity of his sentence, yet cheerfully submitted to his appointed fate; for when the officer brought in the poison, though his friends endeavored to persuade him that he had yet a considerable time in which he might continue to live, yet, knowing that every purpose of life was now accomplished, he refused to avail himself of a few remaining moments, seized the cup, and drank off the poison with the utmost cheerfulness and alacrity; επισχομενος και μαλα ευχερως και ευκολως εξεπιε. Plato, Phaed. sub. fin. The reference in the text seems to point out the whole human race as being accused, tried, found guilty, and condemned, each having his own poisoned cup to drink; and Jesus, the wonderful Jesus, takes the cup out of the hand of each, and cheerfully and with alacrity drinks off the dregs! Thus having drunk every man's poisoned cup, he tasted that death which they must have endured, had not their cup been drunk by another. Is not this the cup to which he refers, Mat 26:39 : O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me? But without his drinking it, the salvation of the world would have been impossible; and therefore he cheerfully drank it in the place of every human soul, and thus made atonement for the sin of the whole world: and this he did, χαριτι Θεου, by the grace, mercy, or infinite goodness of God. Jesus Christ, incarnated, crucified, dying, rising, ascending to heaven, and becoming our Mediator at God's right hand, is the full proof of God's infinite love to the human race.
Instead of χαριτι Θεου, by the grace of God, some MSS. and the Syriac have χωρις Θεου, without God, or God excepted; i.e. the manhood died, not the Deity. This was probably a marginal gloss, which has crept into the text of many MSS., and is quoted by some of the chief of the Greek and Latin fathers. Several critics contend that the verse should be read thus: "But we see Jesus, who for a little while was made less than angels, that by the grace of God he might taste death for every man, for the suffering of death crowned with glory and honor." Howsoever it be taken, the sense is nearly the same:
1. Jesus Christ was incarnated.
2. He suffered death as an expiatory victim.
3. The persons in whose behalf he suffered were the whole human race; every man - all human creatures.
4. This Jesus is now in a state of the highest glory and honor.
For it became him - It was suitable to the Divine wisdom, the requisitions of justice, and the economy of grace, to offer Jesus as a sacrifice, in order to bring many sons and daughters to glory.
For whom - and by whom - God is the cause of all things, and he is the object or end of them.
Perfect through sufferings - Without suffering he could not have died, and without dying he could not have made an atonement for sin. The sacrifice must be consummated, in order that he might be qualified to be the Captain or Author of the salvation of men, and lead all those who become children of God, through faith in him, into eternal glory. I believe this to be the sense of the passage; and it appears to be an answer to the grand objection of the Jews: "The Messiah is never to be conquered, or die; but will be victorious, and endure for ever." Now the apostle shows that this is not the counsel of God; on the contrary, that it was entirely congruous to the will and nature of God, by whom, and for whom are all things, to bring men to eternal glory through the suffering and death of the Messiah. This is the decision of the Spirit of God against their prejudices; and on the Divine authority this must be our conclusion. Without the passion and death of Christ, the salvation of man would have been impossible.
As there are many different views of this and some of the following verses, I shall introduce a paraphrase of the whole from Dr. Dodd, who gives the substance of what Doddridge, Pearce, and Owen, have said on this subject.
Heb 2:10. For it became him, etc. - Such has been the conduct of God in the great affair of our redemption; and the beauty and harmony of it will be apparent in proportion to the degree in which it is examined; for, though the Jews dream of a temporal Messiah as a scheme conducive to the Divine glory, it well became him - it was expedient, that, in order to act worthy of himself, he should take this method; Him, for whom are all things, and by whom are all things - that glorious Being who is the first cause and last end of all, in pursuit of the great and important design he had formed, of conducting many, whom he is pleased to adopt as his sons, to the possession of that inheritance of glory intended for them, to make and constitute Jesus, his first-begotten and well beloved Son, the Leader and Prince of their salvation, and to make him perfect, or completely fit for the full execution of his office, by a long train of various and extreme sufferings, whereby he was, as it were, solemnly consecrated to it.
Heb 2:11. Now, in consequence of this appointment, Jesus, the great Sanctifier, who engages and consecrates men to the service of God, and they who are sanctified, (i.e. consecrated and introduced to God with such acceptance), are all of one family - all the descendants of Adam, and in a sense the seed of Abraham; for which cause he is not ashamed to call them, whom he thus redeems, and presents to the Divine favor, his brethren.
Heb 2:12. Saying, in the person of David, who represented the Messiah in his sufferings and exaltation, I will declare thy name to my brethren; in the midst of the Church will I praise thee.
Heb 2:13. And again, speaking as a mortal man, exposed to such exercises of faith in trials and difficulties as others were, he says, in a psalm which sets forth his triumph over his enemies: I will trust in him, as other good men have done in all ages; and again, elsewhere in the person of Isaiah: Behold I, and the children which my God hath given me, are for signs and for wonders.
Heb 2:14. Seeing then those whom he represents in one place and another, as the children of the same family with himself, were partakers of flesh and blood, he himself in like manner participated in them, that thereby becoming capable of those sufferings to which, without such a union with flesh, this Divine Sanctifier could not have been obnoxious, he might, by his own voluntary and meritorious death, abolish and depose him who, by Divine permission, had the empire of death, and led it in his train when he made the first invasion on mankind; that is, the devil, the great artificer of mischief and destruction; at the beginning the murderer of the human race; who still seems to triumph in the spread of mortality, which is his work, and who may often, by God's permission, be the executioner of it.
Heb 2:15. But Christ, the great Prince of mercy and life, graciously interposed, that he might deliver those miserable captives of Satan - mankind in general, and the dark and idolatrous Gentiles in particular, who, through fear of death, were, or justly might have been, all their lifetime, obnoxious to bondage; having nothing to expect in consequence of it, if they rightly understood their state, but future misery; whereas now, changing their lord, they have happily changed their condition, and are, as many as have believed in him, the heirs of eternal life."
For both he that sanctifieth - The word ὁ ἁγιαζων does not merely signify one who sanctifies or makes holy, hut one who makes atonement or reconciliation to God; and answers to the Hebrew כפר caphar, to expiate. See Exo 29:33-36. He that sanctifies is he that makes atonement; and they who are sanctified are they who receive that atonement, and, being reconciled unto God, become his children by adoption, through grace.
In this sense our Lord uses the word, Joh 17:19 : For their sakes I sanctify myself; ὑπερ αυτων εγω ἁγιαζω εμαυτον, on their account I consecrate myself to be a sacrifice. This is the sense in which this word is used generally through this epistle.
Are all of one - Εξ ἑνος παντες. What this one means has given rise to various conjectures; father, family, blood, seed, race, nature, have all been substituted; nature seems to be that intended, see Joh 17:14; and the conclusion of this verse confirms it. Both the Sanctifier and the sanctified - both Christ and his followers, are all of the same nature; for as the children were partakers of flesh and blood, i.e. of human nature, he partook of the same, and thus he was qualified to become a sacrifice for man.
He is not ashamed to call them brethren - Though, as to his Godhead, he is infinitely raised above men and angels; yet as he has become incarnate, notwithstanding his dignity, he blushes not to acknowledge all his true followers as his brethren.
I will declare thy name - See Psa 22:22. The apostle certainly quotes this psalm as referring to Jesus Christ, and these words as spoken by Christ unto the Father, in reference to his incarnation; as if he had said: "When I shall be incarnated, I will declare thy perfections to mankind; and among my disciples I will give glory to thee for thy mercy to the children of men." See the fulfillment of this, Joh 1:18 : No man hath seen God at any time; the Only-Begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, He Hath Declared Him. Nor were the perfections of God ever properly known or declared, till the manifestation of Christ. Hear another scripture, Luk 10:21, Luk 10:22 : In that hour Jesus rejoiced in spirit, and said, I thank thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them unto babes, etc. Thus he gave praise to God.
I will put my trust in him - It is not clear to what express place of Scripture the apostle refers: words to this effect frequently occur; but the place most probably is Psa 18:2, several parts of which psalm seem to belong to the Messiah.
Behold I and the children which God hath given me - This is taken from Isa 8:18. The apostle does not intend to say that the portions which he has quoted have any particular reference, taken by themselves, to the subject in question; they are only catch-words of whole paragraphs, which, taken together, are full to the point; because they are prophecies of the Messiah, and are fulfilled in him. This is evident from the last quotation: Behold I and the children whom the Lord hath given me are for signs and for wonders in Israel. Jesus and his disciples wrought a multitude of the most stupendous signs and wonders in Israel. The expression also may include all genuine Christians; they are for signs and wonders throughout the earth. And as to the 18th Psalm, the principal part of it seems to refer to Christ's sufferings; but the miracles which were wrought at his crucifixion, the destruction of the Jewish state and polity, the calling of the Gentiles, and the establishment of the Christian Church, appear also to be intended. See among others the following passages: Sufferings - The sorrows of death compassed me - in my distress I called upon the Lord. Miracles at the crucifixion - The earth shook and trembled - and darkness was under his feet. Destruction of the Jewish state - I have pursued mine enemies and overtaken them; they are fallen under my feet. Calling of the Gentiles - Thou hast made me head of the heathen; a people whom I have never known shall serve me; as soon as they hear of me - they shall obey me, etc., etc. A principal design of the apostle is to show that such scriptures are prophecies of the Messiah; that they plainly refer to his appearing in the flesh in Israel; and that they have all been fulfilled in Jesus Christ, and the calling of the Gentiles to the privileges of the Gospel. To establish these points was of great importance.
The children are partakers of flesh and blood - Since those children of God, who have fallen and are to be redeemed, are human beings; in order to be qualified to redeem them by suffering and dying in their stead, He himself likewise took part of the same - he became incarnate; and thus he who was God with God, became man with men. By the children here we are to understand, not only the disciples and all genuine Christians, as in Heb 2:13, but also the whole human race; all Jews and all Gentiles; so Joh 11:51, Joh 11:52 : He prophesied that Jesus should die for that nation; and not for that nation only, but also that he should gather together in one the Children of God that were scattered abroad; meaning, probably, all the Jews in every part of the earth. But collate this with Jo1 2:2, where: the evangelist explains the former words: He is the propitiation for our sins, (the Jews), and not for ours only, but for the sins of the Whole World. As the apostle was writing to the Hebrews only, he in general uses a Jewish phraseology, pointing out to them their own privileges; and rarely introduces the Gentiles, or what the Messiah has done for the other nations of the earth.
That through death - That by the merit of his own death, making atonement for sin, and procuring the almighty energy of the Holy Spirit, he might counterwork καταργηση, or render useless and ineffectual, all the operations of him who had the power, κρατος, or influence, to bring death into the world; so that death, which was intended by him who was a murderer from the beginning to be the final ruin of mankind, becomes the instrument of their exaltation and endless glory; and thus the death brought in by Satan is counterworked and rendered ineffectual by the death of Christ.
Him that had the power of death - This is spoken in conformity to an opinion prevalent among the Jews, that there was a certain fallen angel who was called מלאך המות malak hammaveth, the angel of death; i.e. one who had the power of separating the soul from the body, when God decreed that the person should die. There were two of these, according to some of the Jewish writers: one was the angel of death to the Gentiles; the other, to the Jews. Thus Tob haarets, fol. 31: "There are two angels which preside over death: one is over those who die out of the land of Israel, and his name is Sammael; the other is he who presides over those who die in the land of Israel, and this is Gabriel." Sammael is a common name for the devil among the Jews; and there is a tradition among them, delivered by the author of Pesikta rabbetha in Yalcut Simeoni, par. 2, f. 56, that the angel of death should be destroyed by the Messiah! "Satan said to the holy blessed God: Lord of the world, show me the Messiah. The Lord answered: Come and see him. And when he had seen him he was terrified, and his countenance fell, and he said: Most certainly this is the Messiah who shall cast me and all the nations into hell, as it is written Isa 25:8, The Lord shall swallow up death for ever." This is a very remarkable saying, and the apostle shows that it is true, for the Messiah came to destroy him who had the power of death. Dr. Owen has made some collections on this head from other Jewish writers which tend to illustrate this verse; they may he seen in his comment, vol. i., p. 456, 8vo. edition.
And deliver them who through fear of death - It is very likely that the apostle has the Gentiles here principally in view. As they had no revelation, and no certainty of immortality, they were continually in bondage to the fear of death. They preferred life in any state, with the most grievous evils, to death, because they had no hope beyond the grave. But it is also true that all men naturally fear death; even those that have the fullest persuasion and certainty of a future state dread it: genuine Christians, who know that, if the earthly house of their tabernacle were dissolved, they have a house not made with hands, a building framed of God, eternal in the heavens, only they fear it not. In the assurance they have of God's love, the fear of death is removed; and by the purification of their hearts through faith, the sting of death is extracted. The people who know not God are in continual torment through the fear of death, and they fear death because they fear something beyond death. They are conscious to themselves that they are wicked, and they are afraid of God, and terrified at the thought of eternity. By these fears thousands of sinful, miserable creatures are prevented from hurrying themselves into the unknown world. This is finely expressed by the poet: -
"To die, - to sleep, -
No more: - and, by a sleep, to say we end
The heartache, and the thousand natural shocks
That flesh is heir to, - 'tis a consummation
Devoutly to be wished. To die, - to sleep, -
To sleep! - perchance to dream; - ay, there's the rub;
For in that sleep of death what dreams may come,
When we have shuffled off this mortal coil,
Must give us pause: - There's the respect
That makes calamity of so long life:
For who could bear the whips and scorns of time,
The oppressor's wrong, the proud man's contumely,
The pangs of despised love, the law's delay,
The insolence of office, and the spurns
That patient merit of the unworthy takes,
When he himself might his quietus make
With a bare bodkin? Who would fardels bear
To grunt and sweat under a weary life;
But that the dread of something after death, -
The undiscovered country from whose bourn
No traveler returns, - puzzles the will;
And makes us rather bear those ills we have,
Than fly to others that we know not of?
Thus conscience does make cowards of us all;
And thus the native hue of resolution
Is sicklied o'er with the pale cast of thought;
And enterprises of great pith and moment,
With this regard, their currents turn awry
And lose the name of action."
I give this long quotation from a poet who was well acquainted with all the workings of the human heart; and one who could not have described scenes of distress and anguish of mind so well, had he not passed through them.
For verily he took not on him the nature of angels - Ου γαρ δηπου αγγελων επιλαμβανεται, αλλα σπερματος Αβρααμ επιλαμβανεται· Moreover, he doth not at all take hold of angels; but of the seed of Abraham he taketh hold. This is the marginal reading, and is greatly to be preferred to that in the text Jesus Christ, intending not to redeem angels, but to redeem man, did not assume the angelic nature, but was made man, coming directly by the seed or posterity of Abraham, with whom the original covenant was made, that in his seed all the nations of the earth should be blessed; and it is on this account that the apostle mentioned the seed of Abraham, and not the seed of Adam; and it is strange that to many commentators should have missed so obvious a sense. The word itself signifies not only to take hold of, but to help, succor, save from sinking, etc. The rebel angels, who sinned and fell from God, were permitted to fall down, alle downe, as one of our old writers expresses it, till they fell into perdition: man sinned and fell, and was falling downe, alle downe, but Jesus laid hold on him and prevented him from falling into endless perdition. Thus he seized on the falling human creature, and prevented him from falling into the bottomless pit; but he did not seize on the falling angels, and they fell down into outer darkness. By assuming the nature of man, he prevented this final and irrecoverable fall of man; and by making an atonement in human nature, he made a provision for its restoration to its forfeited blessedness. This is a fine thought of the apostle, and is beautifully expressed. Man was falling from heaven, and Jesus caught hold of the falling creature, and prevented its endless ruin. In this respect he prefers men to angels, and probably for this simple reason, that the human nature was more excellent than the angelic; and it is suitable to the wisdom of the Divine Being to regard all the works of his hands in proportion to the dignity or excellence with which he has endowed them.
Wherefore in all things - Because he thus laid hold on man in order to redeem him, it was necessary that he should in all things become like to man, that he might suffer in his stead, and make an atonement in his nature.
That he might be a merciful and faithful high priest - Ἱνα ελεημων γενηται· That he might be merciful - that he might be affected with a feeling of our infirmities, that, partaking of our nature with all its innocent infirmities and afflictions, he might know how to compassionate poor, afflicted, suffering man. And that he might be a faithful high priest in those things which relate to God, whose justice requires the punishment of the transgressors, or a suitable expiation to be made for the sins of the people. The proper meaning of ἱλασκεσθαι τας ἁμαρτιας is to make propitiation or atonement for sins by sacrifice. See the note on Luk 18:13, where it [this word] is particularly explained. Christ is the great High Priest of mankind;
1. He exercises himself in the things pertaining to God, taking heed that God's honor be properly secured, his worship properly regulated, his laws properly enforced, and both his justice and mercy magnified. Again,
2. He exercises himself in things pertaining to Men, that he may make an atonement for them, apply this atonement to them, and liberate them thereby from the curse of a broken law, from the guilt and power of sin, from its inbeing and nature, and from all the evils to which they were exposed through it, and lastly that he might open their way into the holiest by his own blood; and he has mercifully and faithfully accomplished all that he has undertaken.
For in that he himself hath suffered - The maxim on which this verse is founded is the following: A state of suffering disposes persons to be compassionate, and those who endure most afflictions are they who feel most for others. The apostle argues that, among other causes, it was necessary that Jesus Christ should partake of human nature, exposed to trials, persecutions, and various sufferings, that he might the better feel for and be led to succor those who are afflicted and sorely tried. This sentiment is well expressed by a Roman poet: -
Me quoque per multas similis fortuna labores
Jactatam hac demum voluit consistere terra:
Non ignara mali, miseris succurere disco.
Virg. Aen. i., v. 632.
"For I myself like you, have been distress'd,
Till heaven afforded me this place of rest;
Like you, an alien in a land unknown,
I learn to pity woes so like my own."
"There are three things," says Dr. Owen, "of which tempted believers do stand in need:
1. Strength to withstand their temptations;
2. Consolations to support their spirits under them;
3. Seasonable deliverance from them.
Unto these is the succor afforded by our High Priest suited; and it is variously administered to them:
1. By his word or promises;
2. By his Spirit; (and, that
1. By communicating to them supplies of grace or spiritual strength;
2. Strong consolation;
3. By rebuking their tempters and temptations); and
3. By his providence disposing of all things to their good and advantage in the issue." Those who are peculiarly tempted and severely tried, have an especial interest in, and claim upon Christ. They, particularly, may go with boldness to the throne of grace, where they shall assuredly obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need. Were the rest of the Scripture silent on this subject, this verse might be an ample support for every tempted soul.