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15For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin.

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15. For we have not, etc. There is in the name which he mentions, the Son of God, such majesty as ought to constrain us to fear and obey him. But were we to contemplate nothing but this in Christ, our consciences would not be pacified; for who of us does not dread the sight of the Son of God, especially when we consider what our condition is, and when our sins come to mind? The Jews might have had also another hindrance, for they had been accustomed to the Levitical priesthood; they saw in that one mortal man, chosen from the rest, who entered into the sanctuary, that by his prayer he might reconcile his brethren to God. It is a great thing, when the Mediator, who can pacify God towards us, is one of ourselves. By this sort of allurement the Jews might have been ensnared, so as to become ever attached to the Levitical priesthood, had not the Apostle anticipated this, and showed that the Son of God not only excelled in glory, but that he was also endued with equal kindness and compassion towards us.

It is, then, on this subject that he speaks, when he says that he was tried by our infirmities, that he might condole with us. As to the word sympathy, (συμπαθεία,) I am not disposed to indulge in refinements; for frivolous, no less than curious, is this question, “Is Christ now subject to our sorrows?” It was not, indeed, the Apostle’s object to weary us with such subtleties and vain speculations, but only to teach us that we have not to go far to seek a Mediator, since Christ of his own accord extends his hand to us, that we have no reason to dread the majesty of Christ since he is our brother, and that there is no cause to fear, lest he, as one unacquainted with evils, should not be touched by any feelings of humanity, so as to bring us help, since he took upon him our infirmities, in order that he might be more inclined to succor us. 7878     Calvin has followed the Vulg. In rendering this clause, “who cannot sympathize (compati) with our infirmities.” Our version is that of Eramus and Beza. The meaning may thus be given, “Who cannot feel for us in our infirmities.” — Ed.

Then the whole discourse of the Apostle refers to what is apprehended by faith, for he does not speak of what Christ is in himself, but shows what he is to us. By the likeness, he understands that of nature, by which he intimates that Christ has put on our flesh, and also its feelings or affections, so that he not only paroled himself to be real man, but had also been taught by his own experience to help the miserable; not because the Son of God had need of such a training, but because we could not otherwise comprehend the care he feels for our salvation. Whenever, then, we labor under the infirmities of our flesh, let us remember that the Son of God experienced the same, in order that he might by his power raise us up, so that we may not be overwhelmed by them.

But it may be asked, What does he mean by infirmities? The word is indeed taken in various senses. Some understand by it cold and heat; hunger and other wants of the body; and also contempt, poverty, and other things of this mind, as in many places in the writings of Paul, especially in 2 Corinthians 12:10. But their opinion is more correct who include, together with external evils, the feelings of the souls such as fear, sorrow, the dread of death, and similar things. 7979     The word “infirmities” is often used metonymically for things which we are too weak to bear, even trials and temptations. Christ, our high priest, feels for us in all those straits and difficulties, whatever they be, which meet us in our course, and make us feel and know our weaknesses. — Ed.

And doubtless the restriction, without sin, would not have been added, except he had been speaking of the inward feelings, which in us are always sinful on account of the depravity of our nature; but in Christ, who possessed the highest rectitude and perfect purity, they were free from everything vicious. Poverty, indeed, and diseases, and those things which are without us, are not to be counted as sinful. Since, therefore, he speaks of infirmities akin to sin, there is no doubt but that he refers to the feelings or affections of the mind, to which our nature is liable, and that on account of its infirmity. For the condition of the angels is in this respect better than ours; for they sorrow not, nor fear, nor are they harassed by variety of cares, nor by the dread of death. These infirmities Christ of his own accord undertook, and he willingly contended with them, not only that he might attain a victory over them for us, but also that we may feel assured that he is present with us whenever we are tried by them.

Thus he not only really became a man, but he also assumed all the qualities of human nature. There is, however, a limitation added, without sin; for we must ever remember this difference between Christ’s feelings or affections and ours, that his feelings were always regulated according to the strict rule of justice, while ours flow from a turbid fountain, and always partake of the nature of their source, for they are turbulent and unbridled. 8080     The common idea of what is here said is, that Christ though tried and tempted, was not yet guilty of sin, or did not fall into sin. That he had no sin, that he was without sin, is what we plainly learn from 2 Corinthians 5:21; 1 John 3:5, etc.; but is this what is taught here? The clause, I conceive, may be thus rendered, —
   “But was in all things tried in like manner except sin;”

   that is, with the exception that he had no innate sin to contend with. The last words are literally, “in likeness with the exclusion of sin,” which seems to import that it was a likeness with the exclusion of sin. But if the words “except (or without) sin” do not qualify “likeness,” they must be connected with “tried” or tempted, and thus rendered, —

   “But was in like manner tried in all things without sin;”

   that is, without sinning, or falling into sin. The difference is, that in the one sense Christ had no inward sin to contend with, and that in the other he withstood temptation without falling into sin. Both senses are true, and either of them will suit this passage. — Ed.