Source: The Complete Sermons of Martin Luther 3.2 pp. 166-193
EPISTLE TEXT: HEBREWS 1:1-12. 1 God, having of old time spoken unto the fathers in the prophets by divers portions (at sundry times) and in divers manners, 2 hath at the end of these days spoken unto us in his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, through whom also he made the worlds; 3 who being the effulgence of his glory, and the very image of his substance, and upholding all things by the word of his power, when he had made purification of sins, sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high; 4 having become by so much better than the angels, as he hath inherited a more excellent name than they. 5 For unto which of the angels said he at any time, Thou art my Son, This day have I begotten thee? and again, I will be to him a Father, And he shall be to me a Son? 6 And when he again bringeth in the firstborn into the world he saith, And let all the angels of God worship him. 7 And of the angels he saith, Who maketh his angels winds, And his ministers a flame of fire 8 but of the Son he saith, Thy throne, O God, is for ever and ever; And the scepter of uprightness is the scepter of thy kingdom. 9 Thou hast loved righteousness, and hated iniquity, Therefore God, thy God, hath anointed thee With the oil of gladness above thy fellows. 10 And, Thou, Lord, in the beginning didst lay the foundation of the earth, And the heavens are the works of thy hands: 11 They shall perish; but thou continuest: And they all shall wax old as doth a garment; 12 And as a mantle shalt thou roll them up, As a garment, and they shall be changed: But thou art the same, And thy years shall not fail.
THE DIVINITY OF CHRIST.
1. This is a strong, forcible, noble epistle, preeminently and emphatically teaching the great article of faith concerning the Godhead, or the divinity of Christ. The presumption that it was not written by Paul is somewhat plausible, because the style is unusually ornamental for him. Some are of the opinion it was written by Luke; others by Apollos, whom Luke represents as “mighty in the Scriptures,” opposing the Jews. Acts 18:24 and 28. Certain it is, no epistle enforces the Scriptures with greater power than does this. Hence it is evident the author was an eminent apostolic individual, whoever he was. Now, the object of the epistle is to establish and promote faith in the divinity of Christ, and, as already stated, scarce any portion of the Bible more strongly enforces this article of our creed.
We must, therefore, confine ourselves to its words and treat it in regular order, item by item.
2. In the first place, it was the apostle’s design to bring the Jews to the Christian faith. As we shall learn, he presses them so closely they cannot deny that Christ is true God. Now, if he is God and the Son of God, and if he himself has spoken unto us and suffered for us, justice necessarily demands our faith. We have much more reason to believe in him than had the fathers who in time past believed when God spoke simply through the prophets.
3. Paul contrasts the ancient preachers and disciples with those of later times. The prophets and Christ are the preachers, the fathers and ourselves the disciples. The Son, the Lord himself, speaks unto us; his servants the prophets spoke unto the fathers. If the fathers believed the servants, how much more readily would they have believed the Lord himself! And if we believe not the Lord, how much more reluctant would we have been to believe the servants! Thus he makes one condition argue for the other: our unbelief contrasted with the faith of the Fathers is an awful disgrace; again, the faith of the fathers in contrast with our unbelief is deserving of very great honor.
Our disgrace is yet greater when we recall the fact that God spoke to the fathers, not only once, but at different times, and not only in one way, but in different ways; and yet they always believed; while we are not induced by their example to believe, even in one instance, the message of the Lord himself. Observe, Paul proceeds with a powerful discourse in the effort to convert the Jews, yet the attempt avails nothing. “By divers portions (at sundry times) and in divers manners,”
4. To me the particular and unlike meaning of these two phrases is this: “By divers portions” implies the succession of many prophets, and that all prophecies were not made through one man nor at one time; “in divers manners” signifies that through each individual prophet, to say nothing of the many, God spoke in different ways at different times. For instance, at times he expressed himself in plain, definite terms; and at other times figuratively or through visions. Ezekiel portrayed the four evangelists by the four beasts. Isaiah sometimes clearly states that Christ shall be a king; at other times he alludes to him as a rod and a branch from the stem of Jesse; again, as excellent fruit of the earth.
5. Thus the prophets speak of Christ in “divers manners.” This latter phrase, moreover, may also be understood as implying that God spoke in various ways when he gave the people of Israel temporal aid. His leading them out of Egypt by Moses was one way of speaking, and his bringing them through the Red Sea another. In his directions to David concerning warfare and other matters he spoke in a still different way. Not one declaration, but divers declarations, were made. The objects accomplished differed. But faith was always the same — at all times and with every method.
6. How beautifully and gently the apostle invites and persuades the Jews when he reminds them of the fathers and the prophets, and of God himself!
They had unbounded confidence in the record of these as they were in time past. But now they will not believe in God. They will not take to heart the fact of his speaking to the fathers, not once only, but often; not in one way, but in different ways. Yet they know well, and must confess that such was the case. They will not believe him now when he speaks at another time and in another way — a way he never before employed nor will again. The manner of speaking they ardently desire, will never be granted. God has never yet, not even in former time, spoken in a manner designated by them.
That would be but to obstruct faith and frustrate God’s design. We must leave to him the time, person and manner of speaking, and be concerned only about faith.
7. The phrase “at the end of these days” is significant. From now to the end no other manner of preaching is to be adopted. This is the last time he purposes to speak, and the last method he will employ. He has commanded — left on record — that this Word, and only this, is to be preached until the end. Paul says ( 1 Corinthians 11:26): “For as often as ye eat this bread, and drink the cup, ye proclaim the Lord’s death till he come.” He also arrests their expectation when he says “in these days;” they are not to look for other days to come. The clays when he speaks for the last time and in the last manner are already at hand. “In his Son.”
8. Here Paul begins to extol Christ, the last teacher, speaker and apostle: with forcible and well-grounded Scriptural evidence he shows Christ as the real Son of God and Lord over all. We must first learn to truly understand the character of Christ, that he exists in a twofold nature — divine and human. This is a point where many err. Sometimes it is to manufacture fables from his words. Men apply to the divine nature the sayings really uttered with reference to his humanity; thus are they deluded by certain passages of Scripture. It is of the utmost importance first to determine which of the statements concerning Christ pertain to his divine nature and which to his human side. This settled, all else will be easily plain.
9. But first we must answer the inquiry liable to be made, “If the voice of God today is the last message, why is it said that Elijah and Enoch shall come, opposing Antichrist?” I answer: Concerning the advent of Elijah, I hold that he will not come in a physical manner. [As to the coming of Elijah I am suspended between heaven and earth, but I am inclined to believe it will not take place bodily. However, I will not contend hard against the other view. Each may believe or not believe it, as he likes. Editions, A, C, D, E.] I well know St. Augustine has somewhere said, “The advent of Elijah and of Antichrist is firmly fixed in the belief of all Christians.” But I also know there is no statement of Scripture to substantiate his assertion.
Malachi’s prophecy concerning the coming of Elijah ( Malachi 4:5) the angel Gabriel makes refer to John the Baptist ( Luke 1:17), and Christ does the same even more explicitly where he says ( Mark 9:13): “But I say unto you, that Elijah is come, and they have also done unto him whatsoever they would, even as it is written of him.” Now, if John is the Elijah of the prophecy, as the Lord here says he was, the prediction of Malachi is already fulfilled. And there is nothing more prophesied concerning the coming of Elijah. The statement the Lord made just previously to the one quoted, “Elijah indeed cometh first, and restoreth all things,” may be fairly interpreted to mean that Christ, referring to the office of John, practically says: “Yes, I well know Elijah must first come and restore all things, but he has already come and accomplished it.”
10. This view is demanded by the fact that immediately after his reference to the coming and office of Elijah, Christ speaks of his own sufferings: “It is written of the Son of man, that he must suffer many things, and be set at naught.” If this prophecy concerning Christ was to be fulfilled after the coming of Elijah, then certainly Elijah must have already come. I know of nothing more to expect concerning the coming of Elijah unless it might be that his spirit will be manifest again in the power of the Word of God, as now seems probable. For I have no longer any doubt that the Pope, with the Turks, is Antichrist, whatever you may believe.
11. To return to Christ: We assert it is essential firmly to believe Christ true God and true man; and that the Scriptures — including Christ’s own words — sometimes have reference to the divine nature of Christ and at other times to his human nature. For instance, the declaration ( John 8:58), “Before Abraham was born, I am,” relates to his divinity; but the statement ( Matthew 20:23), “To sit on my right hand, and on my left hand, is not mine to give,” recognizes his humanity, which could not help itself even on the cross. Yet some expounders have desired here to show their great skill by abstruse interpretations made to oppose the here tics. It is his human nature that says: “The Father is greater than I.” John 14:28. Also: “How often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings.” Matthew 23:37. Again, the passage ( Mark 13:32) reading, “Of that day or that hour knoweth no one, not even the angels in heaven, neither the Son, but the Father,” has reference to the man Christ.
12. The explanation which some have made, “The Son knew not; that is, he did not choose to reveal,” is superfluous. What is the advantage of that addition? The humanity of Christ, like that of any other holy mortal man, did not, at every moment, consider and utter, did not desire and note, how some made him a man with almighty power; they improperly combine the two natures and their operation. As he did not always see, hear and feel all things, so likewise he did not at every moment contemplate in his heart every matter; he recognized things as God moved him to do, as he brought them before him. Being filled with grace and wisdom, he was able to judge and to teach as occasion demanded; the Godhead, who alone sees and knows all things, was personally present in him. Finally: All reference in the Scriptures to the humiliation and exaltation of Christ must be understood of the man; for the divine nature can neither be humiliated nor exalted. “Whom he appointed heir of all things.”
13. These words refer to Christ’s human nature. We must believe in his supremacy in that respect as well as in his divinity. All creatures are subservient to the man Christ. As God, he creates all As man, he creates nothing, yet all creation is subject to him. David says ( Psalm 8:6), “Thou hast put all things under his feet.”
14. Christ is our Lord and our God. As God, he creates us; as Lord, we serve him and he rules over us. The apostle refers to him in this epistle as true God, and also Lord over all. Though having two different natures, he is one person. What Christ does and suffers, essentially God does and suffers. In this case only one nature is involved.
To illustrate: I speak of a “wounded man” when but a single limb is injured. The soul is not wounded, nor is the body as a whole; only a part of the body. But I speak as! do because body and soul constitute one person.
Now, as I must recognize a difference between body and soul when! speak, so must I recognize the two natures of Christ. Again: It is not a misstatement if in the night I say I have no knowledge of the sun, when at the same time! have a thorough mental knowledge of it; for I have no physical vision. Similarly, Christ knows nothing concerning the last day, and at the same time has full knowledge of it. “Through whom also he made the worlds.”
15. Observe, by this same Son who in his human nature is “appointed heir of all things” — by him as God, the worlds were made. He is but one person, yet with two natures of unlike operation. There is one Christ, of two natures. The terms Paul here employs are in recognition of Christ’s highest nature.
Now, the apostle plainly speaks of the Son who is appointed heir when he says that by him the world is made. If everything is made by him, he could not himself have been created. Consequently, it is plain that he is true God.
For anything not created and yet existing must be God, Again, whatsoever is made must be a creature and cannot be God; for it does not exist of itself but derives its existence from its Creator. Now, all things are made by Christ, and he is not created. Hence he must have his existence from himself; not from any creature nor any creator.
16. Furthermore, if he is a Son he is not alone, his existence necessitates a Father. Through the Son God made the world, but God cannot himself be that Son. Consequently there must be two distinct persons, the Father and the Son, yet (because) the divine nature is only one; for there cannot be more than one God. Conclusively, then, Christ with the Father is true God.
In one divine substance with him, he is Creator and Maker of the world.
The only difference is, one is the Son and the other the Father. And Christ is not created by the Father, as the world was created; essentially he was begotten in eternity. Nor is he inferior to the Father. He is the same in every respect except that he is begotten of the Father, and the Father not begotten of him.
17. If these things are beyond the grasp of our reason, reason must surrender as a captive to these and like Scripture words, and believe. Could we comprehend this mystery by human reason, there would be no faith.
Clearly enough, the words, “Through whom also he made the worlds,” make mentions of two Beings. And it is not less clear that the uncreated one through whom all things were made, also must be God. Just how this can be, the Scriptures do not teach. It must be received by faith.
The Scriptures speak after this fashion: “The world is created through Christ, by the Father, in the Holy Spirit”; and though the meaning is not wholly clear, and easy of comprehension, there is good reason for the language. It is employed more by way of intimation than explanation — to imply that the Father derives not his substance from the Son, but the Son from the Father; and that the latter is the first original person in the Godhead. In the statement that the Father made the world through Christ, not Christ through the Father, the intent is to teach the Father’s title to the first person; he from whom, through Christ, all things have existence. John speaks in the same way ( John 1:3), “All things were made through him.” And Paul again ( Colossians 1:16), “All things have been created through him, and unto him;” and ( Romans 11:36), “For of him, and through him, and unto him, are all things.
18. Note the aptness of the language where Christ is termed an “heir,” in reference to his humanity. For who should be more entitled to inherit the estate of God than his Son? He with the Father created it — created all creatures. But Christ is man and Son, and because of his Sonship he inherits; in both natures is he Son. But as to the origin of the apostle’s particular language, we shall learn that in the Gospel. “Who being the effulgence [brightness] of his glory and the very image of his substance [person].”
19. Paul uses these figures to express with all possible clearness the fact that Christ is a person distinct from the Father, yet one, real, true God. But the German and Latin words are not just equivalent to the Greek terms employed by the apostle. The apostle speaks of Christ as the effulgence proceeding from the glory of the Father. Just as the illumination of the morning sun, the sun’s vital substance, is not a part of the effulgence, but the whole effulgence of the whole sun, proceeding from the sun and yet inherent in it. By the figure, “the effulgence of his glory,” is conveyed as in a word the birth of the Son, the unity of his nature and the Father’s, and the distinction of the persons. Christ, without limit of time, is eternally begotten of the Father, and ever proceeds, with that unweariedness represented by the sun in the morning rather than at midday or evening.
But Christ is not the person of the Father, as the effulgence is not the sun.
He is with and in the Father; not existing before nor after, but co-eternal with him and a part of him, as the effulgence is with and a part of the sun.
20. The apostle terms the Father’s effulgence “Doxa,” (glory) properly implying honor or glory. Therefore the divine nature is unqualified glory and honor, having all in itself and deriving nothing from another. It has the right to boast of and glory in itself. Now, Paul says Christ is complete light, the full effulgence of God’s honor. That is, he too has in himself the unlimited Godhead and has equal right with the Father to boast and glory.
The only exception is, he derives his authority from the Father and not the Father from him. He is the effulgence proceeding from the paternal honor, he is God begotten and not God begetting, yet God complete and perfect as the Father is.
21. The Scriptures, you will observe, do not so speak of the saints, though they are also an honor to God; that is, they were created for his honor. But Paul says Christ is the brightness of the paternal honor; the words force the conclusion that the brightness constitutes the Father’s honor, else it would not be the effulgence of his honor. But what shall I say by way of explanation? These words are more easily understood by the heart than explained by tongue or pen. They are in themselves clearer than any commentary renders them, and in proportion as they are explained are they obscured. The substance of the clause is this: the whole Godhead is in Christ, and to him as to God all honor is due; yet he does not derive his Godhood from himself, but from the Father. The apostle implies two persons but one God; for the Holy Spirit is not mentioned here. When we have advanced far enough to comprehend two persons existent in one God, we will readily believe in the third person.
22. In the other figure the apostle styles Christ an image or sign of the substance of God. Despite its clearness I still claim the privilege of speaking plainly and clearly. An image created after the likeness of a person is not an image of the substance or nature of that person. It is not a being; it is mere stone or wood. It is an image formed from stone or wood substance in the likeness of man. But if I could handle the substance of the person as the potter handles clay and make therewith an image of the individual which should also perfectly contain his substance or nature, that would, as you perceive, be an essential image, or a likeness of the human substance. But such would be a creature. An image necessarily is constructed from a different substance than the thing imaged, and differs in nature.
Here the Son is such an image of the Father substance, that the Father’s substance is the image itself. If we may so express it, the image is made from the Father’s substance. The image is not only like the Father resembling him, but fully contains his whole substance and nature; as it may be said of “the effulgence of his glory,” that the effulgence is constituted of the glory, and not only like it but embodying it perfectly, making the effulgence and the glory identical.
23. Now notice, as I say an image of man is formed of wood or stone, so I say Christ is a divine image: as truly as the former is but a material image, so truly is the latter God. Paul calls Christ the image of the living and invisible God.
In the wooden image, this perfection is lacking. Though a wooden image, it is not an image of the wood but of an individual; it does not represent the wood, but the individual. Though the individual be faithfully reproduced in the wood, yet he himself is not wood; his substance is something different from the substance imaging him. In all cases the image differs in substance from the person imaged. It is impossible to furnish an image actually the substance of the individual. But in this verse we have an image and one imaged who are identical in substance, except that the Father is not an image. The Father is not fashioned from nor like the Son; but the Son from the Father, and is like the Father, in one simple, truly divine substance with him.
24. Such perfection is also wanting in the sun and its effulgence. The sun has its own splendor, and the same is true of its effulgence, but the effulgence derives its splendor from the sun. But in the figure before us, effulgence is splendor; of the splendor, if we may so speak, the effulgence is constituted. The splendor is essentially and perfectly the effulgence itself, with this difference that the effulgence has not its origin in itself but in the paternal splendor.
25. You will notice the verse is even now clearer than the explanation. “The image of his substance,” “the effulgence of his glory” — these Paul’s sayings are clear enough. The tongue should be silent here to allow the heart to reflect. The Hebrew mode of speaking is thus: “Pauperes sanctorum, i. pauperes sancti; Virtus Dei, i. virtus Deus; Sic, character substantiae, 1 character substantia, subsistens et impsemet Deus; Sic, splendor gloriae, i. splendor gloria ipsa.” Latin scholars may easily comprehend this, but for the Germans and the common people it suffices to call the likeness made from gold an image of gold. Similarly, they are to call Christ an image of God the Father because he is wholly of God in character, and there is no God beside him, though at the same time his Godhead and image have origin from the Father as the first person; but the two are one God. This is not true of creatures. The golden image represents not a golden nature, but the wholly different nature of the individual Though it is a golden image, it does not image the nature of gold. Another image is necessary to represent the nature of gold; as, for instance, a golden color, or something else not truly gold.
But in our text the image is also the substance of the imaged, and no other image is requisite than its own substance. It is faith that is called for here and not keen speculation. The words are clear enough; they are positive and forcible. He who will not in them recognize the divinity of Christ, will not recognize it in any way. Christ is not here termed a common image in the ordinary sense of the word; the word used is “Character” — an image more characteristic than a portrait or any other likeness. Again, he is called “Apaugasma” — an actual brightness resembling nothing but the glory from which it proceeds. “And upholding all things by the word of his power.”
26. For a third time Christ is represented as God. First, it is stated that the worlds were made by him; second, he is called the brightness and the image of God; and here he upholds all things. If he upholds all, he is not himself upheld. He is supreme, hence he must be God. To uphold all things is to support and maintain them. Not only are all things made by him, as stated in the preceding verse, but they are perpetuated and preserved by him. As Paul says in Colossians 1:17: “In him all things consist.” The word “upholding” is well chosen. Christ neither coerces nor restrains nor disturbs the peace; he gently sustains, permitting all creatures to enjoy his tender goodness. As it is written in the Wisdom of Solomon, Song of Solomon 8:1: “Wisdom reacheth from one end to another mightily; and sweetly doth she order all things.”
27. I am not fully decided as to the intent of the phrase “by the word of his power.” Were these the words of uninspired man, I would think the writer in error; for Christ is himself the Word, as the Gospel teaches, and acts in obedience to no word. Did they refer to the person of the Father, it would be perfect harmony with the Scripture teaching; for the Father made all things through his Word and upholds them in that Word. As said in Psalm 33:6, “By the word of Jehovah were the heavens made.”
28. I withhold my view to give place to another and better one. I merely venture the opinion that the apostle’s purpose in this manner of speaking may be to emphasize the unity of the persons in one Godhead. Since they are one God, we may understand here reference to the Father; God’s action is the action of each of the three persons. God upholds all things by his Word; Christ, or the Word here mentioned, is really God.
29. There are other places in the Scriptures where we have a sudden change of person. For instance, Psalm 2:6-7: “Yet have I set my king upon my holy hill of Zion. I will tell of the decree: Jehovah said unto me, Thou art my Son.” There the first verse represents the Father speaking concerning the Son: and the second verse, the Son concerning the Father.
The reason for the sudden change of persons in this brief passage is, the two persons are one God. It may be that when our text declares that one is the image of God, the reference is to Christ; and that when it states one upholds all things by his word, reference is to the Father, no designation being made because the two are one God without distinction.
30. If this is not a satisfactory conclusion, we might regard the expression in this light: we might understand the term “word” as having somewhat the significance of an event or act. For instance, in the Gospel ( Luke 2:15) we read of the shepherds saying: “Let us now go even unto Bethlehem, and see this thing [word — event] that is come to pass” — let us see the event which has taken place there. So, in this phrase declaring Christ upholds all things by the word of his power, we might understand “by the act of his power.” By the operation of his power are all things preserved; and all existence and power are derived not from the things themselves but from the active power of God. Further, power and the Word are not to be divorced; they are identical. We may say of an efficient word that its nature and substance are the operating power. Now, each may adopt the view to him most plausible. “When he had by himself made purification of our sins.”
31. Here the apostle touches upon the Gospel proper. Whatever we may be taught concerning Christ is without significance to ourselves until we learn we are the beneficiaries of the doctrine. What would be the advantage to us of preaching were it designed alone for Christ’s benefit? The fact is, these words concern only us; they have to do with our salvation. Let us, then, joyfully listen. The language is incomparably beautiful, telling that the supreme Christ, the heir of all things, the effulgence of God’s glory and the image of his substance; who upholds all things, not by extraneous power, not with assistance, but by his own power, his own act; who, in short, is all in all — that he has come to serve us, has poured out his love for us and made purification for our sins.
32. The apostle says “our,” “our sins;” not his own sin, not the sins of unbelievers. Purification is not for, and cannot profit, him who does not believe. Nor did Christ effect the cleansing by our free-will, our reason or power, our works, our contrition or repentance, these all being worthless in the sight of God’, he effects it by himself. And how? By taking our sins upon himself on the holy cross, as Isaiah 53:6 tells us.
33. But even this answer does not sufficiently explain how he cleanses us “by himself.” To go further: When we accept him, when we believe he has purified us, he dwells within us because of, and by, our faith, daily continuing to cleanse us by his own operation; and nothing apart from Christ in any way contributes to the purification of our sins. Note, he does not dwell in us, nor work our cleansing through himself, by any other way than in and through our faith.
34. Hearken, then, ye deceivers of the world and blind leaders of the blind; ye Pope, ye bishops, priests, monks, learned and idle talkers; who teach the purification of sins by human achievements, and that satisfaction for sins may be made by men; who issue indulgences and vend devised purifications of sins. Listen to the teaching here: Purification of sins is not effected by human effort, but solely in Christ and through himself. Christ is communicated to us, not through any work of ours, but through faith alone, as Paul teaches in Ephesians 3:17 that “Christ dwells in your hearts through faith.” Plainly, then, the purification of sins is faith, and he who believes that Christ has purged his sins, unquestionably is cleansed through that faith and in no other way. Appropriate, then, is Peter’s expression in Acts 15:9, “cleasing their hearts by faith.”
35. Having once possessed faith, and purification being effected in us by Christ, we are then to perform good works, hating our sins and repenting of them. Under these conditions our works are really good. Before faith is present, they avail naught; rather they induce false confidence and trust. So heinous an evil are our sins, and so enormous is the cost of their purification, it was necessary that one exalted as we here read Christ was, must intervene to purge them by himself. What could the poor, vain attempts of us who are creatures, and besides sinful, feeble, corrupt creatures, accomplish where the demand was of such magnitude? One might as reasonably presume to burn heaven and earth with an extinguished brand. Our sins can be expiated only by a price commensurate with the God they offend. “Sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high; having become by so much better than the angels, as he hath inherited a more excellent name than they.”
36. This statement refers to the human nature of Christ wherein he effected the purification of our sins; at the same time it is true the cleansing was an achievement of the Son of God. We must not, in making distinction of natures, try to make a distinction of persons. Again, we may truly say the Son of God sits on the right hand of the Majesty, though the passage is to be accepted only in the human sense, for in his divine nature he is himself the only Majesty, in unity with the Father, upon whose right hand he sits.
But we will abandon these comments which but obscure, and keep to the clearer language of the text.
37. To “sit on the right hand of the Majesty” certainly implies a likeness to that Majesty. Wherever it is said that Christ sits at the right hand of God, there is fundamentally established his title to true God; for no one but God himself is like God. So, to say that the man Christ sits on the right hand of God is equivalent to saying he is true God. <19b001> Psalm 110:1 declares, “Jehovah saith unto my Lord, Sit thou at my right hand.” That is, Jehovah said to Christ the man: Be like me; in other words, Thou shalt be recognized not simply as man but as God. It is with this thought the apostle cites the psalmist.
Again, it is written ( Psalm 8:6), “Thou hast put all things under his feet.” That is, Thou hast made him equal with thyself. Not that Christ was not God until all things were put under his feet. But his humanity was not yet God and equal with God. For as soon as he began to be man, he began to be God. The Scriptures refer to Christ in terms more appropriately significant than we are accustomed to use. So far at times is the person lost sight of in the nature, or the natures so strongly distinguished, few rightly comprehend the words. I have myself frequently erred in passages of this character, attributing to the nature that which concerns the person, and vice versa. In Philippians 2:6-8 we read: “Who, existing in the form of God, counted not the being on an equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being made in the likeness of men; and being found in fashion as a man.” This passage, however, is obscure.
38. To return to our text: Note, the apostle now begins to cite the Old Testament for Scripture testimony that Christ is God. Up to this time he has given us his own views and used his own language, based on his interpretations of Scripture. He has told us Christ is far superior to the angels for he has become God and has by inheritance obtained a more excellent name than they. His whole design is to show the man Christ, becoming God, being recognized and glorified as God. “For unto which of the angels said he at any time, Thou art my Son, this day have I begotten thee?”
39. This quotation is from the Second Psalm ( Psalm 2). To make plainer the apostle’s allusion to Christ, we cite the entire Psalm, as follows: “Why do the nations rage, and the peoples meditate a vain thing? The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against Jehovah, and against his anointed, saying, Let us break their bonds asunder, and cast away their cords from us. He that sitteth in the heavens will laugh: the Lord will have them in derision. Then will he speak unto them in his wrath, and vex them in his sore displeasure: Yet I have set my king upon my holy hill of Zion. I will tell of the decree: Jehovah said unto me, Thou art my son; this day have I begotten thee. Ask of me, and I will give thee the nations for thine inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth for thy possession. Thou shalt break them with a rod of iron; thou shalt dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel. Now therefore be wise, O ye kings: be instructed, ye judges of the earth. Serve Jehovah with fear, and rejoice with trembling. Kiss the son, lest he be angry, and ye perish in the way, for his wrath will soon be kindled. Blessed are all they that take refuge in him.”
40. We see plainly, the reference here is to Christ, against whom raged the Jews, with Pilate, Herod and the chief priests. To Christ, God says, “Thou art my Son.”
41. The Jews endeavor to evade this passage of the apostle by introducing wild interpretations. Unable to deny that the Psalm refers to a coming king and anointed one — or Christ, as “anointed” implies — they assert the allusion is to David, who was also a Christ. For they term all kings “messiahs” or “christs” — anointed ones. But their position will not hold.
David never inherited the heathen, nor did his kingdom extend to the uttermost parts of the earth, as recorded of the king mentioned in the Psalm. Again, in no instance in the Scriptures is it said to any man, “Thou art my Son.”
42. Even when the Jews do admit the Psalm’s allusion to the Messiah they resort to two evasions. They maintain he is yet to come, that Jesus Christ is not the Messiah. Further, that despite being called the Son of God, he is not God. For, they say, it is written of the children of God in general ( Psalm 82:6): “I said, Ye are gods, and all of you sons of the Most High”; and many times in the Scriptures the saints are called the children of God ( Genesis 6:2; Psalm 89:27; Matthew 5:45; 1 John 3:2); Paul, too, in various places calls us children of God, and we in return call him Father, as in the Lord’s Prayer.
43. How shall we reply to them? Shall we leave the apostle unsustained, as if he had not given good, clear Scripture proof? To do so would be unjust.
In the first place, we have the testimony of experience that Jesus is he of whom the Psalm speaks; in Christ the prophecy is fulfilled and become history. He was persecuted by kings and rulers. They sought to destroy him and only brought derision upon themselves in the attempt. They were themselves destroyed, as the Psalm says. Throughout the world Christ is recognized Lord. No king, before nor since, has ruled or can rule in equal extent. Now, if in Christ the Psalm is fulfilled, it cannot be made to refer to any other.
44. Admitting the saints are called “gods” and “the children of God,” the apostle’s reasoning based on the fact that nowhere is it said to any angel, much less to any man, “Thou art my Son,” sufficiently proves that Christ is God. He must be peculiarly God’s Son, having a relation unshared by men and angels. The fact that God does not include him among other sons but especially distinguishes him, indicates his superiority. He cannot be superior to angels without being true God, for angels are the highest order of beings.
45. Further, God begets all other children through some agency. For instance, James 1:18: “Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth.” Angels are not begotten, but are created. The Son, however, God did not create; he begot him through himself. He says: “I, myself — by myself I have begotten thee this day.” Such language is not employed with reference to any other. This personal bringing forth of a single Being embraces a natural birth. True, God says of Solomon ( 1 Chronicles 22:10), “He shall be my son;” but he does not make to him the personal declaration, “Thou art my Son, this day have I begotten thee.” David begat Solomon, but the one referred to was begotten by God alone.
46. Again, God says “this day;” that is, in eternity. Natural birth cannot be effected in a day, as witness the human species as well as the animals. To specify concerning this particular birth, God adds “this day.” He begets his Son instantaneously — eternally; begetting and bringing forth are simultaneous. God does not say, “I begat thee a year ago;” it is now — “Thou art my Son, I have begotten thee.” Essentially, then, it is a transcendental birth, a birth of an exalted nature and incomprehensible to man.
47. According to Hosea 11:1, God says he called his son out of Egypt.
This verse, like the Psalm, implies the Son of God. The Jews assert the reference is to the people of Israel, but Matthew ( Matthew 2:15) applies it to Christ. But however this may be, nowhere in the Scriptures do we find it said to any man, not even to a renowned king, “Thou art my Son.” Much less do we find where God says to any man, “I myself have begotten thee — this day have I begotten.” Hence it is plainly evident from the Psalm that Jesus is the Christ and the true, natural Son of God.
48. Mark you, so much emphasis does the apostle lay upon Scriptural authority, we are under no obligation to accept anything the Bible does not assert. Were not this true, his argument, “Unto which of the angels said he at any time,” etc., would not be conclusive. The Jews might say, “Notwithstanding God did not in the Scriptures make such assertion to the angels, he may have otherwise asserted it; for the Scriptures do not record everything.” Now, if in the purpose of God we are under no obligation to accept anything not presented in the Scriptures, we are also to reject all doctrines not taught therein.
49. This conclusion operates against the presumption of the Pope and his followers, who shamelessly assert we must accept more than the Scriptures present. They claim it is not conclusive reasoning to say of a certain thing, “It is not in the Scriptures, therefore it is not authentic.” They oppose the apostle’s teaching even to greater extent than do the Jews, introducing their councils, teachers and high schools. Beware of their error. Be certain you have full Scripture authority for all you accept. Of whatever is not in the Scriptures, ask as does the apostle here, “When did God ever assert it?” “And again, I will be to him a Father, and he shall be to me a Son.”
50. The Papists also impair the force of this passage. Apparently the purpose of their teaching is but to weaken the point of the Scriptures. They assert the verse has two meanings: first, it refers to Solomon as a figure of Christ; second, to Christ directly. But to admit the Scriptures to be of uncertain meaning would be immediately to make them not conclusive. The Jews might maintain that reference is to Solomon primarily. Then the apostle apparently would be overthrown and would establish nothing. So we should firmly hold that Christ alone is here spoken of, even as the preceding verse presents a Son peculiar and above all other sons. If the word was not spoken to angels, much less was it to Solomon. The apostle says this Son has obtained a more excellent name than the angels; therefore, by no means can the reference be to Solomon.
51. We are not to be content merely to accept the apostle’s statement; we are under obligation to show how he clearly and conclusively establishes his position. Know, then, he cites 2 Samuel 7:14 and Psalm 89:26.
The books named are prophetic. In the passages adduced the reference is to Christ alone; not to Solomon. But in 1 Chronicles 22:10, a historical book, reference is had to Solomon alone: “He shall be my son, and I will be his father.” Even the Jews admit the true Christ is alluded to in Psalm 89:26-27: “He shall cry unto me, Thou art my Father, my God, and the rock of my salvation. I also will make him my first-born, the highest of the kings of the earth.” Likewise is the reference to Christ in verse 6: “Who among the sons of the mighty is like unto Jehovah [the Lord]?” The meaning is: Among the sons of God is one who is God, and no one is like unto the Lord.
52. Though the passages in 2 Samuel and 1 Chronicles are in harmony, yet such are the circumstances forming the setting in the first passage, the word cannot be understood to refer to Solomon. The two texts must be two different declarations to David, one concerning Christ and one concerning Solomon. In the first instance ( Psalm 7:12), God says to David: “When thy days are fulfilled, and thou shalt sleep with thy fathers, I will set up thy seed after thee, that shall proceed out of thy bowels.”
53. Now, Solomon was not set up king subsequent to David’s death, but while David yet lived. 1 Kings 1:30ff. David well knew the declaration was made concerning Christ. It is for that reason he expressed heartfelt praise to God, saying ( 2 Samuel 7:19): “O Lord Jehovah, thou hast spoken also of thy servant’s house for a great while to come.” While he himself lived, David ordained Solomon his successor. He says ( Chronicles 22:8-10): “The word of Jehovah came to me saying... A son shall be born to thee, who shall be a man of rest... He shall build a house for my name;” not thou who “hast shed blood abundantly.” In the passage from Samuel nothing is said about the shedding of blood. There God says he will build a house for David. Further argument for the idea advanced is found in the fact that in 2 Samuel 7:14-15 God freely unqualifiedly promises: “If he commit iniquity, I will chasten him with the rod of men, and with the stripes of the children of men; but my lovingkindness shall not depart from him.” He freely promises his grace for the things so bitterly bewailed in Psalm 89.
54. As <19d212> Psalm 132:12 shows, the promise made concerning Solomon is made only upon the condition, “If thy children will keep my covenant,” etc.
This David indicates in 1 Kings 2:4, and God makes it known to Solomon in the following chapter, verse 14. The passage from Samuel, then, should be understood particularly to refer to Christ, but not that from Chronicles. This is clearly and conclusively proven. “And when he again bringeth in the firstborn into the world he saith, And let all the angels of God worship him.”
55. Here we have cited a third passage from Psalm 97 ( Psalm 97:7), which clearly speaks of the kingdom of God, whereof Christ in the Gospel teaches. In this kingdom Christ reigns; he is Lord. It had its beginning after his ascension and is completed through the preaching of the Gospel; for it plainly alludes to preaching. It reads: “Jehovah reigneth; let the earth rejoice; let the multitude of isles be glad. Clouds and darkness are round about him [that is, he reigns in faith concealed]: righteousness and justice are the foundation of his throne. A fire goeth before him, and burneth up his adversaries round about. His lightnings lightened the world [these are his miracles]: the earth saw and trembled. The mountains [the great rulers, and the proud] melted like wax at the presence of Jehovah, at the presence of the Lord of the whole earth. The heavens [the apostles] declare his righteousness [faith], and all the peoples have seen his glory [for the Gospel is everywhere preached]. Let all them be put to shame that serve graven images, that boast themselves of idols: worship him, all ye gods. Zion heard and was glad and the daughters of Judah rejoiced, because of thy judgments,” etc. [Edition A gives the whole of Psalm 97 ].
56. Experience and its fulfillment explain this Psalm. It was completely fulfilled in Christ. He is preached in all the world and reigns in the kingdom of God, which is not true of any other king. The apostle prefaces his quotation with the words, “And again, when he bringeth in the first- begotten into the world,” meaning that in the Psalm the Spirit speaks of the second coming of Christ into the world through the Gospel. He came first in bodily form. Through the instrumentality of his crucifiers he was driven out in death. But afterward, in his resurrection and in the Word, he reentered the world and now reigns with authority. Nevermore will he die nor be driven out. It is of this second entrance the Psalm speaks.
57. The author of the epistle practically says. “I grant God has other sons, but it is the first-born son whom he brings into the world a king and whom the angels worship, which the angels would not do, nor would be commanded to do, were he not true God.”
58. True, we read of David and many others being worshiped, but not by angels. No angel ever yet adored any but God. This passage proves that he whom angels reverence must be God. For since even men worship on earth only what is superior to themselves, and with angels only God is superior, that king whom ministers herald in the world and angels worship must be God. That the apostle does not cite the whole Psalm literally is of no significance. The language of the Psalm is: “Worship him, all ye gods,” while the apostle says, “Let all the angels of God worship him.” The meaning, however, is the same. The thought is of future action — the angels shall worship him. If so, he must be God. The angels are his, though he is himself man. Note, however, in the Hebrew the passage reads: “Worship him, all ye ‘Elohim’; that is, all ye gods. The term is given to angels, and to saints in general, because they are the children of God. “And of the angels he saith, Who maketh his angels winds [spirits], and his ministers a flame of fire.”
59. The apostle’s intent here is to show that in the Scriptures the angels are not spoken of in terms that make possible a reference to them in the statements, “Thou art my Son,” “He shall be my Son,” “All the angels shall worship him.” They are simply appointed messengers sent forth of God into the world. Although to them he has committed much, he does not constitute any among them Lord; they are characterized as wind and a flame of fire. He terms them “spirits,” “winds” and “a flame of fire” because in such form do they execute his bidding, moving with the ease and swiftness of the wind, and having the brilliance of lightning or a flame of fire, as much Scriptural evidence testifies. Yet no one of them is withal Lord of the world and heralded everywhere in the manner the king here mentioned is proclaimed Lord over all things. Even the Jews must confess that. “But of the Son he saith, Thy throne, O God, is for ever and ever; and the scepter of uprightness is the scepter of thy kingdom. Thou hast loved righteousness, and hated iniquity; therefore God, thy God, hath anointed thee with the oil of gladness above thy fellows.”
60. This fourth quotation is from Psalm 45:6-7. To me it most clearly and forcibly proves Christ to be God. Even the Jews cannot oppose that interpretation. Let us consider: In the first place, it is universally acknowledged the Psalm refers to Christ, even were we to grant he is yet to come, as the Jews erroneously presume. In the second place, the first sentence, “Thy throne, O God, is for ever and ever,” necessarily relates to the true God to whom throne and government belong. Though saints are sometimes termed “gods,” as we learned from Psalm 82:1, yet government and throne are the prerogative of none but the one true and actual God. Is not this indisputably plain? So, then, this God upon the throne who reigns eternally is our true God.
61. Then the succeeding sentence is spoken of the same God: “Thou hast loved uprightness... therefore God, even thy God, hath anointed thee…above thy fellows.” What is implied? That the God upon the everlasting throne, who reigns eternally, is anointed by his God above all his fellows. He who here anoints must certainly be the true God; and also the anointed must be actual God because of his throne and eternal reign.
Now, God does not anoint himself; the anointed is subordinate to the one anointing. “To anoint” here implies, to infuse the Holy Spirit, with his graces; something to be exercised only upon a creature.
62. Note that indisputably the first part of the passage makes the king in question true God, and the latter part true man. In his humanity he has fellows, for he is the head of all believers, and they are partakers of the Spirit he possesses abundantly and above all others. But in his divinity he has no fellows; for there is only one God — one God but not one person.
The passage forces the conclusion that there are two persons, one who reigns and another who anoints and whose divinity will not admit of his being himself anointed. Hence we must conclude the King is the Son of God; his title is ascribed because he is God. His eternal throne is the kingdom introduced after Christ’s ascension. Yet he has fellows, is anointed, and deservedly anointed because he loves righteousness; things wholly characteristic of actual man.
63. The rod or scepter of the Son’s kingdom is the Gospel. It is a scepter of uprightness because aggressive for the right and taking a straight course.
This declaration stands opposed to human doctrines, which abound in intricacies and perplexities and yet contribute nothing to salvation. It is another reminder that we are to accept nothing in all Christendom but the scepter of Christ’s kingdom, He would have his kingdom ruled by no other scepter than that righteous one, the Gospel.
64. It is necessary to use the word “God” twice in the latter part of the verse — “God, thy God” — because our language has but one word for that meaning. The Hebrew tongue has many, employing here these two, “Elohim” and “E1ohe.”
65. In the Old Testament are many similar passages, mysteriously used but unquestionably conclusive upon this matter; for instance, Genesis 19:24: “Jehovah rained upon Sodom and upon Gomorrah brimstone and fire from Jehovah out of heaven,” What can it mean — “Jehovah…from Jehovah,” — but that two persons are indicated, the Father and the Son?
Again ( Zechariah 3:2), “Jehovah said unto Satan, Jehovah rebuke thee, O Satan.” Observe here, God himself speaks of another God. And again, in Psalm 68, where frequent mention is made of God, it is stated ( Psalm 68:18): “Thou hast ascended on high, thou hast led away captives.” With respect to ascension, however, reference is only to the man Christ. Again, in the same Psalm ( Psalm 68:28) we have, “Thy God hath commanded thy strength.” Further, it says God commands the power of God. And there are many similar passages. “And, Thou, Lord, in the beginning didst lay the foundation of the earth, and the heavens are the works of thy hands; they shall perish; but thou continuest: and they all shall wax old as doth a garment; and as a mantle shalt thou roll them up, and they shall be changed: but thou art the same, and thy years shall not fail.”
66. How this quotation testifies that Christ is God is riot at once apparent.
As written, it easily seems to refer to God as one person. But we must take into consideration the entire Psalm. The Psalm speaks of the future kingdom of God, direction of which the Scriptures assign to Christ. Among the various passages concerning Christ’s kingdom is a portion of this last- cited Psalm ( <19a212> Psalm 102:12-16): “But thou, O Jehovah, wilt abide for ever; and thy memorial name unto all generations. Thou wilt arise, and have mercy upon Zion; for it is time to have pity upon her, yea, the set time is come. For thy servants [the apostles] take pleasure in her stones, and have pity upon her dust. [That is, through the Gospel. Reference is to Christ, whose servants the apostles are, bringing the stones of Zion the elect — to grace, through their preaching. Such servants no earthly king ever had.] So the nations shall fear the name of Jehovah, and all the kings of the earth thy glory. For Jehovah hath built up Zion; he hath appeared in his glory.”
67. The Psalm concludes with, “And thou, Lord, in the beginning hast laid the foundation of the earth,” etc. The psalmist’s evident conclusion is: The King whose servants have favored the stones of Zion, who is proclaimed worldwide and commands the fear of the heathen and all the kings of the earth, is the God who created the earth and is in him. self unchangeable.
No earthly king has ever been proclaimed among all the heathen as Christ has been proclaimed. Christ, then, is true God and true man. What further comment the subject demands I leave for keener minds.
68. So we see this whole epistle lesson is simply armor to clearly maintain the article of faith that Christ is God, and Lord over all things even in his humanity. We note with amazement the perfect clearness of the Scripture teaching and that the defect is in ourselves, unperceived. Well does Luke speak ( Luke 24:32) of Christ’s opening the understanding of the disciples to comprehend the Scriptures. It was not the Scriptures he opened, but their understanding; the former is plain, but our eyes are not fully open.