The Spirit of God in this epistle distinguishes between the way in which God spoke, or dealt, in time past and now. So in Romans 3 the apostle speaks of Christ, “whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past.” There he applies the death of Christ to the sins committed before He came. The day of atonement in Israel was for the putting away of past sins. He had been bearing with them all the year, and then when the sacrifice came on, that day the sin was all put away and all bright in the presence of God. There is the day of atonement yet to come for Israel as a nation, when in their land. Then the other part was “to declare at this time his righteousness, that he might be just, and the justifier of him,” etc. This is for the present time. By ascending before God on high, He establishes a present righteousness—all sins forgiven and we made the righteousness of God in Christ. Romans 3:25, gives it historically, for the sins of all who were saved in the Old Testament times are put away by this sacrifice; but we may apply it immediately, and see that not only our past sins are put away, but we stand in righteousness for the present.
Ver. 1., “God who at sundry times,” etc. That was before the time came for the revelation of Himself. Messages were sent through others. They had communications from God, for He spake to them through the prophets: but now we have the manifestation of Himself. The Son of God has now come. “God hath in these last days spoken unto us by His Son.” Thus the word of God is so exalted. “Thou hast magnified thy word above all thy name.” His name up to that time was exalted—He had made Himself known to Abraham as the Lord Almighty, telling him to trust His power, when he had to walk up and down as a stranger, with none to take care of him. Then again He was made known to Nebuchadnezzar as the most High God, higher than any of the gods of the nations; and to Abraham too He was called thus, when he returned from the slaughter of the kings. He will take it again when the kingdom comes. Then, again, He was known by the name Jehovah—“I am,” the practical force of which is “the same yesterday, to-day, and for ever.” All these names were glorious; but the Word He has magnified above all. The Word is that which tells all that God is—holiness, love, wisdom, etc. His word expresses His thoughts and feelings; it is the revelation of Himself. God speaks by Christ. Everything that Christ did was the manifestation of God. Who could heal the leper but God? “I will, be thou clean,” are His words. Who could raise the dead but God? “Lazarus, come forth!” (John 17:8) “I have given unto them the words which thou gavest me.” He has committed His words to us, to be the vessels of His testimony according to our measure. “He that hath received His testimony hath set to his seal that God is true.”
We are not only brought to God now, but to God revealing Himself, God manifest in the flesh. Christ came declaring the Father. “Believe me that I am in the Father…or else believe me for the very works’ sake.” What a blessed place we have in Christ, having Him as the revelation of God to us! The mind of God is brought before us in Christ. “The word is nigh thee, even in thy mouth and in thy heart.” This is what makes Scripture so precious. It is indeed the written word, but the revelation of God. “No prophecy of Scripture is of private interpretation.” You have got the mind of God in writing, and there it is stable and imperishable—in contrast to traditions merely handed down from one to another. There cannot be the Church speaking, without Scripture. If the Church can say anything itself, then Christ’s words go for nothing. I have another master over me. I am speaking of authority now, not of gift, which of course there is in the Church for the bringing out of truth. But authority in the Church trenches on the lordship of Christ over His. house. It is a great thing to treasure in our souls that we have this revelation of God in Christ; and the beginning of the next chapter takes us up on the ground of possessing it. “Therefore we ought to give the more earnest heed to the things which we have heard, lest at any time we should let them slip.” These were Jews to whom the apostle was writing, and they had heard the Lord Himself speak, and afterwards His apostles; and that is the reason why Paul did not put his name to this as to other epistles, when inditing them. You Jews hear what God Himself had said to you. You have heard Him. Thus, the apostle only confirmed what He had said. It is blessed thus to see how Paul drops his own apostleship, (he was not, it is true, the apostle of the circumcision,) and only speaks of the twelve who confirmed Christ’s own words.
In this chapter we have first the glory of Christ shown in His being “heir of all things.” He was the Son of the Father, and the everlasting Father, by virtue of His own power; and He will take everything. He will inherit all things. If a Son, we may say, then an heir; and it is even said of us, “If children, then heirs.” All that is the Father’s is His. “He shall take of mine, and shall show it unto you.” Psalm 8 is alluded to in chap 2, when in the counsels of God it is appointed that as a man He should take all things; but in this chapter we have this same One as the Son of God and “heir of all things;” and for this glorious reason, He “made the worlds.” In Colossians we have it, they “were created by him and for him.” There it is His title over creation, but as “the image of the invisible God, the first-born,” etc. So here it is “heir of all things, by whom also he made the worlds.” He is distinguished from God the Father—the right hand of His power. By wisdom He planned and by power He wrought. Christ is that wisdom and that power.
Ver. 3 “The express image of his person.” Christ was the outshining of God’s glory. That is more than testimony made by the prophets in other ages. John 12:38-41, in connexion with Isaiah 6, shows the shining out of His glory very remarkably. See also Heb 12:27 in connexion with this word, “the express image of his person.”
“Upholding all things,” etc. Of course this is a divine act. Who could keep the universe going? How could it all go on without God, so that not a sparrow falls to the ground without Him? How could it be without Him who made it? Though He has established the order of all things, it is He who is keeping it all going. The one actually acting and possessing all is Christ. We see His glory in all this.
Another divine work there is spoken of in His having “purged our sins;” and it is just as much a divine act to purge our sins as to create a world, and in one sense far more difficult, because sin is so hateful to God. It would be easy enough for Him to create another world out of nothing. He could look at His creation and say it was all “very good;” but He is so holy, He cannot look upon sin. Therefore, there is something He must take away, and he does come to put sins away. We have sinned against God, and it is impossible for any to forgive the sin but the person sinned against. We have sinned against God, not man primarily, and man cannot forgive sins. This is another reason why God should be the only one who can forgive sins.
Mark another thing. He must purge before He can forgive. In passing through this world, man has to pass over a great deal, and get through as well as. he can; but God cannot do that. He “is of purer eyes than to behold iniquity.” Then if God is to have anything to do with us, He must purge it. There is this dreadful necessity, that God should be occupied with our sins; and He had love enough and power enough to do it. If He passed it over, He would have to give up His holiness. Therefore there was this moral necessity of His holiness, that if He is to have any such poor sinners in His presence, He must cleanse us. So there must also be the feet-washing, if we are to have part with Christ.
“When He had by Himself purged our sins”—it must be by Himself. No one could help Him in it; angels could have nothing to do in it, though they were sent to minister to Him when engaged in the work. Man could not, for man can do no more than his duty; if he did more, it would be wrong. It must be a divine work to purge away sin. There is a divine necessity upon God to do it—and that by Himself, because He could not allow sin. This is how I am purged. Because He could not bear sin, He must take it away Himself, and “the blood of Jesus Christ cleanseth from all sin.” It is a work that has been done: not anything that He will do, and may do—not something yet to be done. It is done, and He has sat down. We then no longer have a prophet coming to tell us He will do it, but there is the testimony of the Holy Ghost that it has been done.
“The brightness of God’s glory,” it is said, not the Father’s. Sin is connected with God as its judge, not with the Father. He “sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high.” The whole work is accomplished, and so perfectly done that He can take His own place again, and with the blessed difference, that He goes back as a man, which He never was before. Stephen saw Him as the “Son of man,” standing on the right hand of God. Here He is “sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high,” He has taken our sins, and yet is on the right hand of the throne of God. This shows that the righteousness wrought out was so perfect and divine, that though he has taken our sins, He could sit down on the throne of God, and not soil it. He had a right, of course, on the ground of His divine person; but there is more than that here. Divine righteousness is presented to God, as an accomplished thing, just as the Divine Son was manifested to man when He came down amongst us. It is all divine glory throughout.
Psalm 2, “Kiss the Son,” etc. Blessed is the man who trusteth in God; but cursed the man who trusteth in man. (Jer. 17) We find in the prophets certain traits in mystery, as it were, to display the divine person of the One who was coming in humiliation. See Isaiah 50:3-5. The same glorious person who said “I clothe the heavens with blackness,” etc, says, “The Lord God hath opened mine ear, and I was not rebellious,” etc. In Daniel 7 again, see ver. 13, “the Son of man,” brought before “the Ancient of days,” and in ver. 22, He is giving out Himself to be “the Ancient of days.” Heb. 1:7 “Who maketh His angels spirits,” etc, but He does not make when speaking of the Son. “Thy throne, O God, is for ever and ever.” (See Psalm 45:1—7; Heb.1:9) He whose throne is forever and ever has been put to the test; and He loved righteousness and hated iniquity while amongst us, and has brought us up as His fellows out of our iniquity. See the contrast in the connexion in which “fellows” is mentioned here, and in Zech. 13:7, where Jehovah speaks of the man, His fellow who has been “wounded in the house of His friends.”
Thus we see the glory of Christ shining through the Old Testament continually, but in this chapter it is fully brought out. He is owned as God, though a man, and glorified above all others.
Ver. 10, 11, etc. See Psalm 102 “Thy years are throughout,” etc, is in answer to ver. 23, and first clause of ver. 24. This is still more pointed and precise. Jesus, in His humiliation, breathes out His broken heart to Jehovah. The psalm anticipates the rebuilding of Zion. If so, where would this smitten Messiah be? If cut off in the midst of His day, how could He be there? God’s answer is, that He, the holy sufferer, is Jehovah, the creator and disposer of all things. What a testimony to His unchangeable deity!
This is the time of grace, when those who are to be His companions in the glory are being gathered out (His fellows, ver. 9). Ver. 13. Angels have a very blessed place and office, but it is never said to them, “Sit on my right hand,” etc., but Jehovah did say so to the man, Christ Jesus. He has His own place there.
What a blessed Saviour we have! The Lord Himself has come and taken up our cause. The One whom we look to, and lean upon as a Saviour, is the Lord Jehovah.
Then, besides the glory of His person, there is the other blessed truth, essential to our peace, to see what a wonderful salvation we have: our sins completely purged away! There is a wonderful and divine glory in this salvation, and divine and ineffable love—the love of One who is not like an angel, who could only do his work when told.
Our souls are thus called to worship Him who clothes the heavens with blackness, who indeed made all things: even Jesus, the Son of God.