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Jesus the Great High Priest
14 Since, then, we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast to our confession. 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. 16Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.
14. Seeing then that we have, or, Having then, etc. He has been hitherto speaking of Christ’s apostleship, But he how passes on to his second office. For we have said that the Son of God sustained a twofold character when he was sent to us, even that of a teacher and of a priest. The Apostle, therefore, after having exhorted the Jews obediently to embrace the doctrine of Christ, now shows what benefit his priesthood has brought to us; and this is the second of the two points which he handles. And fitly does he connect the priesthood with the apostleship, since he reminds us that the design of both is to enable us to come to God. He employs an inference, then; for he had before referred to this great truth, that Christ is our high priest; 7676 That is, in the latter part of chapter 2. In the beginning of chapter 3 he exhorted us to “consider” the apostle and high priest of our profession, and then proceeded to speak of him as an apostle. He now returns to the high priesthood, and says that as we have a great high priest, we ought to hold fast our profession. Such, according to Calvin, is the connection, and is adopted by Stuart and Bloomfield. — Ed. but as the character of the priesthood cannot be known except through teaching, it was necessary to prepare the way, so as to render men willing to hear Christ. It now remains, that they who acknowledge Christ as their teacher, should become teachable disciples, and also learn from his mouth, and in his school, what is the benefit of his priesthood, and what is its use and end.
In the first place he says, Having a great high priest, 7777 In the Apostle’s time there were many called high priests, such as the heads of the Levitical courses; but “the great high priest” meant him who alone had the privilege of entering into the holy of holies, that is, the high priest, as distinguished from all the rest. — Ed. Jesus Christ, let us hold fast our profession, or confession. Confession is here, as before, to be taken as a metonymy for faith; and as the priesthood serves to confirm the doctrine, the Apostle hence concludes that there is no reason to doubt or to waver respecting the faith of the Gospel, because the Son of God has approved and sanctioned it; for whosoever regards the doctrine as not confirmed, dishonors the Son of God, and deprives him of his honor as a priest; nay, such and so great a pledge ought to render us confident, so as to rely unhesitantly on the Gospel.
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.
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.
16. Let us therefore come boldly, or, with confidence, etc. He draws this conclusion, — that an access to God is open to all who come to him relying on Christ the Mediator; nay, he exhorts the faithful to venture without any hesitation to present themselves before God. And the chief benefit of divine teaching is a sure confidence in calling on God, as, on the other hand, the whole of religion falls to the ground, and is lost when this certainty is taken away from consciences.
It is hence obvious to conclude, that under the Papacy the light of the Gospel is extinct, for miserable men are bidden to doubt whether God is propitious to them or is angry with them. They indeed say that God is to be sought; but the way by which it is possible to come to him is not pointed out, and the gate is barred by which alone men can enter. They confess in words that Christ is a Mediator, but in reality they make the power of his priesthood of none effect, and deprive him of his honor.
For we must hold this principle, — that Christ is not really known as a Mediator except all doubt as to our access to God is removed; otherwise the conclusion here drawn would not stand, “We have a high priest Who is willing to help us; therefore we may come bold and without any hesitation to the throne of grace.” And were we indeed fully persuaded that Christ is of his own accord stretching forth his hand to us, who of us would not come in perfect confidence? 8181 “Confidence,” that is, of being heard. — Ed. It is then true what I said, that its power is taken away from Christ’s priesthood whenever men have doubts, and are anxiously seeking for mediators, as though that one were not sufficient, in whose patronage all they who really trust, as the Apostle here directs them, have the assurance that their prayers are heard.
The ground of this assurance is, that the throne of God is not arrayed in naked majesty to confound us, but is adorned with a new name, even that of grace, which ought ever to be remembered whenever we shun the presence of God. For the glory of God, when we contemplate it alone, can produce no other effect than to fill us with despair; so awful is his throne. The Apostle, then, that he might remedy our diffidence, and free our minds from all fear and trembling, adorns it with “grace,” and gives it a name which can allure us by its sweetness, as though he had said, “Since God has affirmed to his throne as it were the banner of ‘grace’ and of his paternal love towards us, there are no reasons why his majesty should drive us away.” 8282 The “throne of grace” is evidently in opposition to the throne of judgment, which especially belongs to a king. Some of the Greek fathers regarded this as the throne of Christ; but most commentators consider it to be God’s throne, as Christ is here represented as a priest and as access to God is ever described as being through Christ. See Ephesians 2:18. — Ed.
The import of the whole is, that we are to call upon God without fear, since we know that he is propitious to us, and that this may be done is owing to the benefit conferred on us by Christ, as we find from Ephesians 3:12; for when Christ receives us under his protection and patronage, he covers with his goodness the majesty of God, which would otherwise be terrible to us, so that nothing appears there but grace and paternal favor.
That we may obtain mercy, etc. This is not added without great reason; it is for the purpose of encouraging as it were by name those who feel the need of mercy, lest any one should be cast down by the sense of his misery, and close up his way by his own diffidence. This expression, “that we may obtain mercy”, contains especially this most delightful truth, that all who, relying on the advocacy of Christ, pray to God, are certain to obtain mercy; yet on the other hand the Apostle indirectly, or by implication, holds out a threatening to all who take not this way, and intimates that God will be inexorable to them, because they disregard the only true way of being reconciled to him.
He adds, To help in time of need, or, for a seasonable help; that is, if we desire to obtain all things necessary for our salvation.
Calvin’s version is, “and find grace for a seasonable help;” which according to his explanation, means a help during the season or period of “today.” Doddridge has, “for our seasonable assistance,” — Macknight, “for the purpose of seasonable help,” — and Stuart, “and find favor so as to be assisted in time of need.” Our version seems the best, “and find grace to help in the time of need.” The address is to those exposed to trials
and persecutions; and the seasonable or opportune help was such as their peculiar circumstances and wants required. The word εὔκαιρον, is in the Sept. put for “due season,” or in its time, in Psalm 104:27. The idea of Calvin is that some of the fathers, but is not suitable to this passage.
“Mercy” is compassion, and “grace” is favor or benefit received; it means sometimes favor entertained, but here the effect of favor — a benefit, and this benefit was to be a help in time of need. — Ed. Now, this seasonableness refers to the time of calling, according to those words of Isaiah, which Paul accommodates to the preaching of the Gospel, “Behold, now is the accepted time,” etc., (Isaiah 49:8; 2 Corinthians 6:2;) for the Apostle refers to that “today,” during which God speaks to us. If we defer hearing until tomorrow, when God is speaking to us today, the unseasonable night will come, when what now may be done can no longer be done; and we shall in vain knock when the door is closed.