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3He is the reflection of God’s glory and the exact imprint of God’s very being, and he sustains all things by his powerful word. When he had made purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, 4having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs.

The Son Is Superior to Angels

5 For to which of the angels did God ever say,

“You are my Son;

today I have begotten you”?

Or again,

“I will be his Father,

and he will be my Son”?

6 And again, when he brings the firstborn into the world, he says,

“Let all God’s angels worship him.”

7 Of the angels he says,

“He makes his angels winds,

and his servants flames of fire.”

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3. Who being the brightness of his glory, etc. These things are said of Christ partly as to his divine essence, and partly as a partaker of our flesh. When he is called the brightness of his glory and the impress of his substance, his divinity is referred to; the other things appertain in a measure to his human nature. The whole, however, is stated in order to set forth the dignity of Christ.

But it is for the same reason that the Son is said to be “the brightness of his glory”, and “the impress of his substance:” they are words borrowed from nature. For nothing can be said of things so great and so profound, but by similitudes taken from created things. There is therefore no need refinedly to discuss the question how the Son, who has the same essence with the Father, is a brightness emanating from his light. We must allow that there is a degree of impropriety in the language when what is borrowed from created things is transferred to the hidden majesty of God. But still the things which are indent to our senses are fitly applied to God, and for this end, that we may know what is to be found in Christ, and what benefits he brings to us.

It ought also to be observed that frivolous speculations are not here taught, but an important doctrine of faith. We ought therefore to apply these high titles given to Christ for our own benefit, for they bear a relation to us. When, therefore, thou hear that the Son is the brightness of the Father’s glory, think thus with thyself, that the glory of the Father is invisible until it shines forth in Christ, and that he is called the impress of his substance, because the majesty of the Father is hidden until it shows itself impressed as it were on his image. They who overlook this connection and carry their philosophy higher, weary themselves to no purpose, for they do not understand the design of the Apostle; for it was not his object to show what likeness the Father bears to the Son; but, as I have said, his purpose was really to build up our faith, so that we may learn that God is made known to us in no other way than in Christ: 1111     The fathers and some modern divines have held that these words express the eternal relation between the Father and the Son. But Calvin, with others, such as Beza, Dr. Owen, Scott and Stuart, have regarded the words as referring to Christ as the Messiah, as the Son of God in human nature, or as Mediator, consistently with such passages as these, — “He that hath seen me hath seen the Father.” John 14:9; “He that hath seen me hath seen him that sent me.” (John 12:45). By this view we avoid altogether the difficulty that arises from the expressions, “the impress of his substance,” or essence, he being so, not as to his eternal divinity, but as a Mediator. — Ed. for as to the essence of God, so immense is the brightness that it dazzles our eyes, except it shines on us in Christ. It hence follows, that we are blind as to the light of God, until in Christ it beams on us. It is indeed a profitable philosophy to learn Christ by the real understanding of faith and experience. The same view, as I have said is to be taken of “the impress;” for as God is in himself to us incomprehensible, his form appears to us only in his Son. 1212     The remarkable wisdom of the preceding remarks must be approved by every enlightened Christian. There is an “Excursus” in Professor Stuart’s Commentary on this Epistle, on the same subject, which is very valuable, distinguished for caution, acuteness, and sound judgment. Well would it be were all divines to show the same humility on a subject so remote from human comprehension. The bold and unhallowed speculations of some of the fathers, and of the schoolmen, and divines after them, have produced infinite mischief, having occasioned hindrances to the reception of the truth respecting our Savior’s divinity, which would have otherwise never existed. — Ed.

The word ἀπαύγασμα means here nothing else but visible light or refulgence, such as our eyes can bear; and χαρακτὴρ is the vivid form of a hidden substance. By the first word we are reminded that without Christ there is no light, but only darkness; for as God is the only true light by which it behaves us all to be illuminated, this light sheds itself upon us, so to speak, only by irradiation. By the second word we are reminded that God is truly and really known in Christ; for he is not his obscure or shadowy image, but his impress which resembles him, as money the impress of the die with which it is stamped. But the Apostle indeed says what is more than this, even that the substance of the Father is in a manner engraven on the Son. 1313     See Appendix A.

The word ῦποστάσις which, by following others, I have rendered substance, denotes not, as I think, the being or essence of the Father, but his person; for it would be strange to say that the essence of God is impressed on Christ, as the essence of both is simply the same. But it may truly and fitly be said that whatever peculiarly belongs to the Father is exhibited in Christ, so that he who knows him knows what is in the Father. And in this sense do the orthodox fathers take this term, hypostasis, considering it to be threefold in God, while the essence (οὐσία) is simply one. Hilary everywhere takes the Latin word substance for person. But though it be not the Apostle’s object in this place to speak of what Christ is in himself, but of what he is really to us, yet he sufficiently confutes the Asians and Sabellians; for he claims for Christ what belongs to God alone, and also refers to two distinct persons, as to the Father and the Son. For we hence learn that the Son is one God with the Father, and that he is yet in a sense distinct from him, so that a subsistence or person belongs to both.

And upholding (or bearing) all things, etc. To uphold or to bear here means to preserve or to continue all that is created in its own state; for he intimates that all things would instantly come to nothing, were they not sustained by his power. Though the pronoun his may be referred to the Father as well as to the Son, as it may be rendered “his own,” yet as the other exposition is more commonly received, and well suits the context, I am disposed to embrace it. Literally it is, “by the word of his power;” but the genitive, after the Hebrew manner, is used instead of an adjective; for the perverted explanation of some, that Christ sustains all things by the word of the Father, that is, by himself who is the word, has nothing in its favor: besides, there is no need of such forced explanation; for Christ is not wont to be called ῥη̑μα, saying, but λόγος, word. 1414     Stuart following Chrysostom, renders the words φέραν, “controlling” or governing, and so does Schleusner; but the sense of “upholding” or sustaining, or supporting, is more suitable to the words which follow — “by the word of his power,” or by his powerful word. Had it been “by the word of his wisdom,” then controlling or governing would be compatible; but as it is “power”, doubtless sustension or preservation is the most congruous idea. Besides, this is the most obvious and common meaning of the word, and so rendered by most expositors; among others by Beza, Doddridge, Macknight and Bloomfield.
   Doddridge gives this paraphrase, — “Upholding the universe which he hath made by the efficacious word of his Father’s power, which is ever resident in him as his own, by virtue of that intimate but incomparable union which renders them one.” This view is consistent with the whole passage: “his substance” and “his power” corresponds; and it is said, “by whom he made the world,” so it is suitable to say that he sustains the world by the Father’s power. — Ed
Hence the “word” here means simply a nod; and the sense is, that Christ who preserves the whole world by a nod only, did not yet refuse the office of effecting our purgation.

Now this is the second part of the doctrine handled in this Epistle; for a statement of the whole question is to be found in these two chapters, and that is, that Christ, endued with supreme authority, ought to be head above all others, and that as he has reconciled us to his Father by his own death, he has put an end to the ancient sacrifices. And so the first point, though a general proposition, is yet a twofold clause.

When he further says, by himself, there is to be understood here a contrast, that he had not been aided in this by the shadows of the Mosaic Law. He shows besides a difference between him and the Levitical priests; for they also were said to expiate sins, but they derived this power from another. In short, he intended to exclude all other means or helps by stating that the price and the power of purgation were found only in Christ. 1515     The word here used means properly “purification,” but is used for expiation by the Sept.; see Exodus 30:10. The same truth is meant as when in chapter 10:12, that Christ, “after he had offered on sacrifice for sins, for ever sat down on the right hand of God.” The reference here cannot be to the actual purification of his people; for what was done by Christ when he died is what is spoken of, even when he “put away sin” as it is said in chapter 9:26, “by the sacrifice for himself.” The word then, may be forgiveness proceeds from the atonement: see 1 John 1:9.
   Dr. Owen gives three reasons for considering the word in the sense of expiation or atonement, — It is so rendered in some instances by the Septuagint; the act spoken is past, while cleansing or purification is what is effected now; and “himself” shows that it is not properly sanctification as that is effected by means of the word, (Ephesians 5:26,) and by the regenerating Spirit. (Titus 3:5)

   The version of Stuart is, “made expiation for our sins,” which is no doubt the meaning. — Ed.

Sat down on the right hand, etc.; as though he had said, that having in the world procured salvation for men, he was received into celestial glory, in order that he might govern all things. And he added this in order to show that it was not a temporary salvation he has obtained for us; for we should otherwise be too apt to measure his power by what now appears to us. He then reminds us that Christ is not to be less esteemed because he is not seen by our eyes; but, on the contrary, that this was the height of his glory, that he has been taken and conveyed to the highest seat of his empire. The right hand is by a similitude applied to God, though he is not confined to any place, and has not a right side nor left. The session then of Christ means nothing else but the kingdom given to him by the Father, and that authority which Paul mentions, when he says that in his name every knee should bow. (Philippians 2:10) Hence to sit at the right hand of the Father is no other thing than to govern in the place of the Father, as deputies of princes are wont to do to whom a full power over all things is granted. And the word majesty is added, and also on high, and for this purpose, to intimate that Christ is seated on the supreme throne whence the majesty of God shines forth. As, then, he ought to be loved on account of his redemption, so he ought to be adored on account of his royal magnificence. 1616     It has been observed by some that in these verses the three offices of Christ are to be found: the Father spoke by him as a prophet; he made expiation for our sins as a priest; and he sits at God’s right hand as a king. — Ed.

4. Being made so much better, etc. After having raised Christ above Moses and all others, he now amplifies His glory by a comparison with angels. It was a common notion among the Jews, that the Law was given by angels; they attentively considered the honorable things spoken of them everywhere in Scripture; and as the world is strangely inclined to superstition, they obscured the glory of God by extolling angels too much. It was therefore necessary to reduce them to their own rank, that they might not overshadow the brightness of Christ. And first he proves from his name, that Christ far excelled them, for he is called the Son of God; 1717     Some by “name” understand dignity, but not correctly, as it appears from what follows; for the name, by which he is proved here to be superior to angels, was that of a Son, as Calvin here states. — Ed. and that he was distinguished by this title he shows by two testimonies from Scripture, both of which must be examined by us; and then we shall sum up their full import.

5. Thou art my Son, etc. It cannot be denied but that this was spoken of David, that is, as he sustained the person of Christ. Then the things found in this Psalm must have been shadowed forth in David, but were fully accomplished in Christ. For that he by subduing many enemies around him, enlarged the borders of his kingdom, it was some foreshadowing of the promise, “I will give thee the heathen for thine inheritance.” But how little was this in comparison with the amplitude of Christ’s kingdom, which extends from the east to the west? For the same reason David was called the son of God, having been especially chosen to perform great things; but his glory was hardly a spark, even the smallest, to that glory which shone forth in Christ, on whom the Father has imprinted his own image. So the name of Son belongs by a peculiar privilege to Christ alone, and cannot in this sense be applied to any other without profanation, for him and no other has the Father sealed.

But still the argument of the Apostle seems not to be well-grounded; for how does he maintain that Christ is superior to angels except on this ground, that he has the name of a Son? As though indeed he had not this in common with princes and those high in power, of whom it is written, “Ye are gods and the sons of the most”, (Psalm 50:6;) and as though Jeremiah had not spoken as honorably of all Israel, when he called them the firstborn of God. (Jeremiah 31:9.) They are indeed everywhere called children or sons. Besides, David calls angels the sons of God;

“Who,” he says, “is like to Jehovah among the sons of God?” (Psalm 89:6.)

The answer to all this is in no way difficult. Princes are called by this name on account of a particular circumstance; as to Israel, the common grace of election is thus denoted; angels are called the sons of God as having a certain resemblance to him, because they are celestial spirits and possess some portion of divinity in their blessed immortality. But when David without any addition calls himself as the type of Christ the Son of God, he denotes something peculiar and more excellent than the honor given to angels or to princes, or even to all Israel. Otherwise it would have been an improper and absurd expression, if he was by way of excellence called the son of God, and yet had nothing more than others; for he is thus separated from all other beings. When it is said so exclusively of Christ, “Thou art my Son,” it follows that this honor does not belong to any of the angels. 1818     “If it be objected,” says Stuart, “that angels are also called sons, and men too, the answered is easy: No one individual, except Jesus, is ever called by way of eminence, the Son of God, i.e., the Messiah or the King of Israel,” John 1:49. By “The Son of God” is to be understood here His kingly office: He was a Son as one endowed with superior power and authority; and angels are not sons in this respect. — Ed.

If any one again objects and says, that David was thus raised above the angels; to this I answer, that it is nothing strange for him to be elevated above angels while bearing the image of Christ; for in like manner there was no wrong done to angels when the high­priest, who made an atonement for sins, was called a mediator. They did not indeed obtain that title as by right their own; but as they represented the kingdom of Christ, they derived also the name from him. Moreover, the sacraments, though in themselves lifeless, are yet honored with titles which angels cannot claim without being guilty of sacrilege. It is hence evident that the argument derived from the term Son, is well grounded. 1919     The foregoing is a sufficient answer to Doddridge, Stuart, and others, who hold that the texts quoted must refer exclusively to Christ, else the argument of the Apostle would be inconclusive. David is no doubt called a son in the 2nd Psalm, but as a king, and in that capacity as a type of Christ; and what is said of him as a king, and what is promised to him, partly refers to himself and to his successors, and partly to Christ whom he represented. How to distinguish these things is now easy, as the character of Christ is fully developed in the New Testament. We now see the reason why David was called a son, and why Solomon, as in the next quotation, was called a son; they as kings of Israel, that is, of God’s people, were representatives of him who is alone really or in a peculiar sense the Son of God, the true king of Israel, an honor never allotted to angels. (See Appendix B) — Ed.

As to his being begotten, we must briefly observe, that it is to be understood relatively here: for the subtle reasoning of Augustine is frivolous, when he imagines that today means perpetuity or eternity. Christ doubtless is the eternal Son of God, for he is wisdom, born before time; but this has no connection with this passage, in which respect is had to men, by whom Christ was acknowledged to be the Son of God after the Father had manifested him. Hence that declaration or manifestation which Paul mentions in Romans 1:4, was, so to speak, a sort of an external begetting; for the hidden and internal which had preceded, was unknown to men; nor could there have been any account taken of it, had not the Father given proof of it by a visible manifestation. 2020     Many have interpreted to-day as meaning eternity; but there is nothing to countenance such a view. As to the type, David, his “to-day” was his exaltation to the throne; the “to-day” of Christ, the antitype, is something of a corresponding character; it was his resurrection and exaltation to God’s right hand, where he sits, as it were, on the throne of David. See Acts 2:30; 5:30, 31; 13:33. — Ed.

I will be to him a Father, etc. As to this second testimony the former observation holds good. Solomon is here referred to, and though he was inferior to the angels, yet when God promised to be his Father, he was separated from the common rank of all others; for he was not to be to him a Father as to one of the princes, but as to one who was more eminent than all the rest. By the same privilege he was made a Son; all others were excluded from the like honor. But that this was not said of Solomon otherwise than as a type of Christ, is evident from the context; for the empire of the whole world is destined for the Son mentioned there, and perpetuity is also ascribed to his empire: on the other hand, it appears that the kingdom of Solomon has confined within narrow bounds, and was so far from being perpetual, that immediately after his death it was divided, and some time afterwards it fell altogether. Again, in that Psalm the sun and moon are summoned as witnesses, and the Lord swears that as long as they shall shine in the heavens, that kingdom shall remain safe: and on the other hand, the kingdom of David in a short time fell into decay, and at length utterly perished. And further, we may easily gather from many passages in the Prophets, that that promise was never understood otherwise than of Christ; so that no one can evade by saying that this is a new comment; for hence also has commonly prevailed among the Jews the practice of calling Christ the Son of David.

6. And again, when he bringeth or introduceth 2121     See Appendix C. , etc. He now proves by another argument that Christ is above the angels, and that is because the angels are bidden to worship him. (Psalm 97:7.) It hence follows that he is their head and Prince. But it may seem unreasonable to apply that to Christ which is spoken of God only. Were we to answer that Christ is the eternal God, and therefore what belongs to God may justly be applied to him, it would not perhaps be satisfactory to all; for it would avail but little in proving a doubtful point, to argue in this case from the common attributes of God.

The subject is Christ manifested in the flesh, and the Apostle expressly says, that the Spirit thus spoke when Christ was introduced into the world; but this would not have been said consistently with truth except the manifestation of Christ be really spoken of in the Psalm. And so the case indeed is; for the Psalm commences with an exhortation to rejoice; nor did David address the Jews, but the whole earth, including the islands, that is, countries beyond the sea. The reason for this joy is given, because the Lord would reign. Further, if you read the whole Psalm, you will find nothing else but the kingdom of Christ, which began when the Gospel was published; nor is the whole Psalm anything else but a solemn decree, as it were, by which Christ was sent to take possession of His kingdom. Besides, what joy could arise from His kingdom, except it brought salvation to the whole world, to the Gentiles as well as to the Jews? Aptly then does the Apostle say here, that he was introduced into the world, because in that Psalm what is described is his coming to men.

The Hebrew word, rendered angels, is Elohim — gods; but there is no doubt but that the Prophet speaks of angels; for the meaning is, that there is no power so high but must be in subjection to the authority of this king, whose advent was to cause joy to the whole world.

7. And to the angels, etc. To the angels means of the angels. But the passage quoted seems to have been turned to another meaning from what it appears to have; for as David is there describing the manner in which we see the world to be governed, nothing is more certain than the winds are mentioned, which he says are made messengers by the Lord, for he employs them as his runners; so also, when he purifies the air by lightnings, he shows what quick and swift ministers he has to obey his orders. But this has nothing to do with angels. Some have had recourse to an allegory, as though the Apostle explained the plain, and as they say, the literal sense allegorically of angels. But it seems preferable to me to consider this testimony is brought forward for this purpose, that it might by a similitude be applied to angels, and in this way David compares winds to angels, because they perform offices in this world similar to what the angels do in heaven; for the winds are, as it were, visible spirits. And, doubtless, as Moses, describing the creation of the world, mentioned only those things which are subject to our senses, and yet intended that higher things should be understood; so David in describing the world and nature, represented to us on a tablet what ought to be understood respecting the celestial orders. Hence I think that the argument is one of likeness or similarity, when the Apostle transfers to angels what properly applies to the winds. 2222     Many have been the explanations of this sentence; but this is the most suitable to the passage as it occurs in Psalm 104:4, and to the design of the Apostle; it is the one adopted by Doddridge, Stuart, and Bloomfield.
   The meaning would be thus more apparent, — “Who maketh like his angels the winds, and like his ministers the flaming fire,” that is, the winds are subject to him as the angels are, and also the flaming fire as his ministers or attendants. The particle ב is sometimes omitted in Hebrew. — Ed.