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III THE GLORY OF CHRIST'S OFFICE
"He hath by inheritance obtained a more excellent name." Hebrews i. 4.
APART from Scripture, we should have been disposed to infer the existence of other orders of intelligent and spiritual beings besides man. As the order of creation climbs up to man from the lowest living organism through many various stages of existence, so surely the series must be continued beyond man, through rank on rank of spiritual existence up to the very steps of the eternal throne. The divine mind must be as prolific in spiritual as it has been in natural forms of life.
But we are not left to conjecture. From every part of Scripture come testimonies to the existence of angels. They rejoiced when the world was made, and they are depicted as ushering in with songs that new creation for which we long. They stood sentries at the gate of a lost paradise; and at each of the twelve gates of the New Jerusalem an angel stands (Rev. xxi. 12). They trod the plains of Mamre, and sang over the fields of Bethlehem. One prepared the meal on the desert sands for Elijah; another led Peter out of gaol and a third flashed through the storm to stand by the hammock where the Apostle Paul was sleeping (Acts xxvii. 23,24).
But in the mind of the pious Hebrew the greatest work which the angels ever wrought was in connection with the giving of the law. The children of Israel received the law "as it was ordained by angels" (Acts vii. 53, R.v.). It was necessary, therefore, in showing the superiority of the Gospel to the Law, to begin by showing the superiority of him through whom the Gospel was given, over all orders of bright and blessed spirits, which, in their shining ranks and their twenty thousand chariots, went and came during the giving of the decalogue from the brow of Sinai (Psalm lxviii. 17).
It is not difficult to prove the Lord's superiority to angels. It is twofold: in Nature and in Office.
In Nature. "He hath by inheritance obtained a more excellent name than they" (ver. 4). In verse 7, quoted from Psalm civ. 4 (R.v. marg.), where they are distinctly spoken of as messengers and ministers, they are compared to winds and flames.-winds, for their swiftness and invisibility; flames, because of their ardent love. But how great the gulf between their nature, which may thus be compared to the elements of creation, and the nature of that glorious Being whom they are bidden to worship, and who is addressed in the sublime title of Son! (Heb.i.6; Psalm xcvii. 7.)
In Offce. In verse 14 they are spoken of as ministering spirits, "sent forth to do service for the sake of them that shall inherit salvation" (R.v.). This liturgy of service is a literal fact. When struggling against overwhelming difficulties; when walking the dark, wild mountain-pass alone; when in peril or urgent need-we are surrounded by invisible forms, like those which accompanied the path of Jesus, ministering to him in the desert, strengthening him in the garden, hovering around his cross, watching his grave and accompanying him to his home. They keep pace with the swiftest trains in which we travel. They come unsoiled through the murkiest air. They smooth away the heaviest difficulties. They garrison with light the darkest sepulchers. They bear us up in their hands, lest we should strike our foot against a stone. Many an escape from imminent peril; many an unexpected assistance; many a bright and holy thought whispered in the ear, we know not whence or how-is due to those bright and loving spirits. "The good Lord forgive me," says Bishop Hall, "for that, amongst my other offenses, I have suffered myself so much to forget the presence of his holy angels." But valuable as their office is, it is not to be mentioned in the same breath as Christ's, which is set down for us in this chapter.
He Is The Organ of Creation. "By whom also he made the worlds." To make that which is seen out of nothing, that is creation: it is a divine work; and creation is attributed to Christ. "By him were all things created that are in heaven and that are in earth." "All things were made by him; and without him was not anything made that was made" (Col. i. 16; John i. 3). But the word here and in xi. 3 translated worlds means ages. Not only was the material universe made by him, but each of the great ages of the world's story has been instituted by Jesus Christ.
When genius aspires to immortality, it leaves the artist's name inscribed on stone or canvas: and so Inspiration, "dipping her pen in indelible truth, inscribes the name of Jesus on all we see-on sun and stars, flower and tree, rock and mountain, the unstable waters and the firm land; and also on what we do not see, nor shall, until death has removed the veil-on angels and spirits, on the city and heavens of the eternal world."
This thought comes out clearly in the sublime quotation made in verse 10 from Psalm cii. That inspired poem is obviously inscribed to Jehovah: "Thou, Jehovah, in the beginning hast laid the foundation of the earth; and the heavens are the work of thy hands." But here, without the least apology, or hint of accommodating the words to an inferior use, it is applied directly to Christ. Mark the certainty of this inspired man that Jesus is Jehovah! How sure of the Deity of his Lord! And what a splendid tribute to his immutability!
Mark how the Epistle rings with the unchangeableness of Jesus, in his human love (xiii. 8), in his priesthood (vii. 24), and here in his divine nature (vv. 10-12). We live in a world of change. The earth is not the same today as it was ages ago, or as it will be ages on. The sun is radiating off its heat. The moon no longer as of yore burns and glows; she is but an immense opaque cinder, reflecting the sunlight from her disk. Stars have burnt out, and will. The universe is waxing old, as garments which from perpetual use become threadbare. But the wearing out of the garment is no proof of the waning strength or slackening energy of the wearer. Nay, when garments wear out quickest, it is generally the time of robustest youth or manhood. You wrap up and lay aside your clothes when they have served their purpose; but you are the same in the new suit as in the old. Creation is the vesture of Christ. He wraps himself about in its ample folds. Its decay affects him not. And, when he shall have laid it all aside, and replaced it by the new heavens and the new earth, he will be the same forevermore.
With what new interest may we not now turn to the archaic record, which tells how God created the heavens and the earth. Those sublime syllables, "Light, be!" were spoken by the voice that trembled in dying anguish on the cross. Rolling rivers, swelling seas, waving woods, bursting flowers, caroling birds, innumerable beasts, stars sparkling like diamonds on the pavilion of night-all newly made; all throbbing with God's own life; and all very good: but, mainly and gloriously, all the work of those hands which were nailed helplessly to the cross, which itself, as well as the iron that pierced him, was the result of his creative will.
He Is The God of Providence. "Upholding all things by the word of his power" (ver. 3). He is the prop which underpins creation. Christ, and not fate. Christ, and not nature. Christ, and not abstract impersonal law. Law is but the invariable method of his working. "In him all things live, and move, and have their being." "By him all things consist." He is ever at work repeating on the large scale of creation the deeds of his earthly life. And if he did not do them, they must be forever undone. At his word rainwater and dew become grape-juice; tiny handfuls of grain fill the autumn barns; storms die away into calm; fish are led through the paths of the sea; rills are sent among the mountains; and stars are maintained in their courses, so that "not one faileth."
All power is given unto him in heaven and on earth. Why, then, art thou so sad? Thy best Friend is the Lord of Providence. Thy Brother is Prime Minister of the universe, and holds the keys of the divine commissariat. Go to him with the empty sacks of thy need; he will not only fill them, but fill them freely, without money and without price; as Joseph did in the old story of the days of the Pharaohs.
He Is The Saviour of Sinners. "He purged our sins." We shall have many opportunities of dwelling on this glorious fact. Jesus is Saviour, Redeemer, and the High-Priest. This is his proudest title; in this work no angel or created spirit can bear him rivalry. In the work of salvation he is alone. No angel could atone for sin, or plead our cause, or emancipate us from the thrall of evil.
But notice the finality of this act. "He made purging of sins " (see Greek). It is finished; forever complete; done irrevocably and finally. If only we are one with him by a living faith, our sins, which were many, are washed out; as an inscription from a slate, as a stain from a robe, as a cloud from the azure of heaven. Gone-as a stone into the bottomless abyss! Gone-never to confront us here or hereafter! "Who is he that condemneth? It is Christ that died, yea, rather, that is risen again; who is even at the right hand of God; who also maketh intercession for us" (Rom. viii. 34).
He Is Also King. And on what does his kingdom rest? What is the basis of that Royalty of which we constantly sing, in the noble words of the primitive Church? "Thou art the King of Glory, Christ." It is a double basis.
He is King by right of his divine nature. "Thy throne, O God, is forever and ever." Well might Psalm xlv. be entitled the poem of the lilies, as if to denote its pure and choice and matchless beauties. It celebrated the marriage of Solomon: but, after the manner of those inspired singers, its authors soon passed from the earthly to the heavenly; from the transient type of the earthly realm to the eternal and imperishable realities of the divine royalty of Christ.
He is also King as the reward of his obedience unto death. "He became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross: wherefore, God also hath highly exalted him" (Phil. ii. 8,9). Satan offered him sovereignty in return for one act of homage, and Christ refused, and descended the mountain to poverty and shame and death; but through these things he has won for himself a Kingdom which is yet in its infancy, but is destined to stand when all the kingdoms of this world have crumbled to dust.
As Christ emerged from the cross and the grave, where he had purged our sins, it seemed as if words were addressed to him which David had caught ages before: "The LORD said unto my Lord, Sit on my right hand, until I make thine enemies thy footstool" (ver. 13; Psalm cx. I). This is the interpretation which the Apostle Peter, in the flush of Pentecostal inspiration, put upon these words (Acts ii. 34). And, accordingly, we are told, "He was received up into heaven, and sat on the right hand of God " (Mark xvi. 19). "He sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high" (ver. 3).
"He sat down." Love is regnant. The Lamb is in the midst of the Throne. Behold his majesty, and worship him with angels and archangels, and all the throng of the redeemed. Prostrate yourself at his feet, consecrating to him all you are and all you have. Comfort yourself also by remembering that he would not sit to rest from his labors in redemption, and in the purging away of sins, unless they were so completely finished that there was nothing more to do. It is all accomplished; and it is all very good. He has ceased from his works, because they are done; and therefore he is entered into his rest. And that word "until" is full of hope. God speaks it, and encourages us to expect the time when he shall have put down all rule and all authority and power; and when death itself, the last enemy, shall be destroyed (1 Cor. xv. 24-26).
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