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Every high priest chosen from among mortals is put in charge of things pertaining to God on their behalf, to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins. 2He is able to deal gently with the ignorant and wayward, since he himself is subject to weakness; 3and because of this he must offer sacrifice for his own sins as well as for those of the people. 4And one does not presume to take this honor, but takes it only when called by God, just as Aaron was.

5 So also Christ did not glorify himself in becoming a high priest, but was appointed by the one who said to him,

“You are my Son,

today I have begotten you”;

6 as he says also in another place,

“You are a priest forever,

according to the order of Melchizedek.”

7 In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to the one who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission. 8Although he was a Son, he learned obedience through what he suffered; 9and having been made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him, 10having been designated by God a high priest according to the order of Melchizedek.

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1. For every high priest, etc. He compares Christ with the Levitical priests, and he teaches us what is the likeness and the difference between them; and the object of the whole discourse is, to show what Christ’s office really is, and also to prove that whatever was ordained under the law was ordained on his account. Hence the Apostle passes on at last to show that the ancient priesthood was abolished.

He first says that the priests were taken from among men; secondly, that they did not act a private part but for the whole people; thirdly, that they were not to come empty to appease God, but furnished with sacrifices; fourthly, that they were not to be exempt from human infirmities, that they might more readily succor the distressed; and lastly, that they were not presumptuously to rush into this office, and that then only was the honor legitimate when they were chosen and approved by God. We shall consider briefly each of these points.

We must first, however, expose the ignorance of those who apply these things to our time, as though there was at this day the same need of priests to offer sacrifices; at the same time there is no necessity for a long refutation. For what can be more evident than that the reality found in Christ is compared with its types, which, being prior in time, have now ceased? But this will appear more fully from the context. How extremely ridiculous then are they who seek by this passage to establish and support the sacrifice of the mass! I now return to the words of the Apostle.

Taken from among men, etc. This he says of the priests. It hence follows that it was necessary for Christ to be a real man; for as we are very far from God, we stand in a manner before him in the person of our priest, which could not be, were he not one of us. Hence, that the Son of God has a nature in common with us, does not diminish his dignity, but commends it the more to us; for he is fitted to reconcile us to God, because he is man. Therefore Paul, in order to prove that he is a Mediator, expressly calls him man; for had he been taken from among angels or any other beings, we could not by him be united to God, as he could not react down to us.

For men, etc. This is the second clause; the priest was not privately a minister for himself, but was appointed for the common good of the people. But it is of great consequence to notice this, so that we may know that the salvation of us all is connected with and revolves on the priesthood of Christ. The benefit is expressed in these words, ordains those things which pertain to God. They may, indeed, be explained in two ways, as the verb καθίσταται has a passive as well as an active sense. They who take it passively give this version, “is ordained in those things,” etc.; and thus they would have the preposition in to be understood; I approve more of the other rendering, that the high priest takes care of or ordains the things pertaining to God; for the construction flows better, and the sense is fuller. 8484     The former view is what is commonly taken, “is appointed;” and it comports with the subject in hand — the appointment of the priest, as it appears evident from what follows in verses 5 and 6. — Ed. But still in either way, what the Apostle had in view is the same, namely, that we have no intercourse with God, except there be a priest; for, as we are unholy, what have we to do with holy things? We are in a word alienated from God and his service until a priest interposes and undertakes our cause.

That he may offer both gifts, etc. The third thing he mentions respecting a priest is the offering of gifts. There are however here two things, gifts and sacrifices; the first word includes, as I think, various kinds of sacrifices, and is therefore a general term; but the second denotes especially the sacrifices of expiation. Still the meaning is, that the priest without a sacrifice is no peacemaker between God and man, for without a sacrifice sins are not atoned for, nor is the wrath of God pacified. Hence, whenever reconciliation between God and man takes place, this pledge must ever necessarily precede. Thus we see that angels are by no means capable of obtaining for us God’s favor, because they have no sacrifice. The same must be thought of Prophets and Apostles. Christ alone then is he, who having taken away sins by his own sacrifice, can reconcile God to us.

2. Who can, etc. This fourth point has some affinity to the first, and yet it may be distinguished from it; for the Apostle before taught us that mankind are united to God in the person of one man, as all men partake of the same flesh and nature; but now he refers to another thing, and that is, that the priest ought to be kind and gentle to sinners, because he partakes of their infirmities. The word which the Apostle uses, μετριοπαθεῖν is differently explained both by Greek and Latin interpreters. 8585     “The classic or philosophic use of the word μετριοπαθεῖν, may be briefly explained. The Stoics maintained that a man should be ἀπαθὴς, i.e., not subject to passions, such as anger, fear, hope, joy, etc. The Platonists on the other hand averred that a wise man should μετριοπαθὴς, moderate in his affections, and not ἀπαθὴς. The leading sense, then, or the word μετριοπαθεῖν, is to be moderate in our feelings or passions.” — Stuart.
   But this is not exactly its meaning here. Schleusner, quoting the Greek Lexicographers, shows that it was used in the sense of being indulgent, or of acting kindly and forgivingly, or forebearingly; and this seems to be its meaning in this passage. The sentence is rendered by Macknight, “Being able to have a right measure of compassion on the ignorant and erring.” It may be rendered, “Being capable of duly feeling for the ignorant and the erring,” or the deceived, that is by sin. See as to the ignorant Leviticus 5:17-19; and as to the deceived by passions or interest, see Leviticus 6:1-7Ed.
I, however, think that it simply means one capable of sympathy. All the things which are here said of the Levitical priests do not indeed apply to Christ; for Christ we know was exempt from every contagion of sin; he therefore differed from others in this respect, that he had no necessity of offering a sacrifice for himself. But it is enough for us to know that he bare our infirmities, though free from sin and undefiled. Then, as to the ancient and Levitical priests, the Apostle says, that they were subject to human infirmity, and that they made atonement also for their own sins, that they might not only be kind to others when gone astray, but also condole or sympathize with them. This part ought to be so far applied to Christ as to include that exception which he mentioned before, that is, that he bare our infirmities, being yet without sin. At the same time, though ever free from sin, yet that experience of infirmities before described is alone abundantly sufficient to incline him to help us, to make him merciful and ready to pardon, to render him solicitous for us in our miseries. The sum of what is said is, that Christ is a brother to us, not only on account of unity as to flesh and nature, but also by becoming a partaker of our infirmities, so that he is led, and as it were formed, to show forbearance and kindness. The participle, δυνάμενος is more forcible than in our common tongue, qui possit, “who can,” for it expresses aptness or fitness. The ignorant and those out of the way, or erring, he has named instead of sinners, according to what is done in Hebrew; for שגגה, shegage, means every kind of error or offense, as I shall have presently an occasion to explain.

4. And no man, etc. There is to be noticed in this verse partly a likeness and partly a difference. What makes an office lawful is the call of God; so that no one can rightly and orderly perform it without being made fit for it by God. Christ and Aaron had this in common, that God called them both; but they differed in this, that Christ succeeded by a new and different way and was made a perpetual priest. It is hence evident that Aaron’s priesthood was temporary, for it was to cease. We see the object of the Apostle; it was to defend the right of Christ’s priesthood; and he did this by showing that God was its author. But this would not have been sufficient, unless it was made evident that an end was to be put to the old in order that a room might be obtained for this. And this point he proves by directing our attention to the terms on which Aaron was appointed, for we are not to extend them further than God’s decree; and he will presently make it evident how long God had designed this order to continue. Christ then is a lawful priest, for he was appointed by God’s authority. What is to be said of Aaron and his successors? That they had as much right as was granted them by the Lord, but not so much as men according to their own fancy concede to them.

But though this has been said with reference to what is here handled, yet we may hence draw a general truth, — that no government is to be set up in the Church by the will of men, but that we are to wait for the command of God, and also that we ought to follow a certain rule in electing ministers, so that no one may intrude according to his own humor. Both these things ought to be distinctly noticed for the Apostle here speaks not of persons only, but also of the office itself; nay, he denies that the office which men appoint without God’s command is lawful and divine. For as it appertains to God only to rule his Church, so he claims this right as his own, that is, to prescribe the way and manner of administration. I hence deem it as indisputable, that the Papal priesthood is spurious; for it has been framed in the workshop of men. God nowhere commands a sacrifice to be offered now to him for the expiation of sins; nowhere does he command priests to be appointed for such a purpose. While then the Pope ordains his priests for the purpose of sacrificing, the Apostle denies that they are to be counted lawful priests; they cannot therefore be such, except by some new privilege they exalt themselves above Christ, for he dared not of himself to take upon him this honor, but waited for the command of the Father.

This also ought to be held good as to persons, that no individual is of himself to seize on this honor without public authority. I speak now of offices divinely appointed. At the same time it may sometimes be, that one, not called by God, is yet to be tolerated, however little he may be approved, provided the office itself be divine and approved by God; for many often creep in through ambition or some bad motives, whose call has no evidence; and yet they are not to be immediately rejected, especially when this cannot be done by the public decision of the Church. For during two hundred years before the coming of Christ the foulest corruptions prevailed with respect to the priesthood, yet the right of honor, proceeding from the calling of God, still continued as to the office itself; and the men themselves were tolerated, because the freedom of the Church was subverted. It hence appears that the greatest defect is the character of the office itself, that is, when men of themselves invent what God has never commanded. The less endurable then are those Romish sacrificers, who prattle of nothing but their own titles, that they may be counted sacred, while yet they have chosen themselves without any authority from God.

5. Thou art my Son, etc. This passage may seem to be far­fetched; for though Christ was begotten of God the Father, he was not on this account made also a priest. But if we consider the end for which Christ was manifested to the world, it will plainly appear that this character necessarily belongs to him. We must however bear especially in mind what we said on the first chapter; that the begetting of Christ, of which the Psalmist speaks, was a testimony which the Father rendered to him before men. Therefore the mutual relation between the Father and the Son is not what is here intended; but regard is rather had to men to whom he was manifested. Now, what sort of Son did God manifest to us? One indued with no honor, with no power? Nay, one who was to be a Mediator between himself and man; his begetting then included his priesthood. 8686     This passage, “Thou art my Son,” etc., in this place, is only adduced to show that Christ was the Son of God: Christ did not honor or magnify or exalt himself, (for so δοξάζω means here,) but he who said to him, “Thou art my son,” etc., did honor or exalt him. This is the meaning of the sentence. The verse may thus be rendered, —
   5. So also Christ, himself he did not exalt to be a high priest, but he who had said to him, “My son art thou, I have this day begotten thee.”

   It is the same as though he had said, “Christ did not make himself a high priest but God.” And the reason why he speaks of God as having said “My Son,” etc., seems to be this, — to show that he who made him king (for the reference in Psalm 2 is to his appointment as a king) made him also a high priest. And this is confirmed by the next quotation from Psalm 110; for in the first verse he is spoken of as a king, and then in verse 4 his priesthood is mentioned. — Ed.

6 As he saith in another place, or, elsewhere, etc. Here is expressed more clearly what the Apostle intended. This is a remarkable passage, and indeed the whole Psalm from which it is taken; for there is scarcely anywhere a clearer prophecy respecting Christ’s eternal priesthood and his kingdom. And yet the Jews try all means to evade it, in order that they might obscure the glory of Christ; but they cannot succeed. They apply it to David, as though he was the person whom God bade to sit on his right hand; but this is an instance of extreme effrontery; for we know that it was not lawful for kings to exercise the priesthood. On this account, Uzziah, that is, for the sole crime of intermeddling with an office that did not belong to him, so provoked God that he was smitten with leprosy. (2 Chronicles 26:18.) It is therefore certain that neither David nor any one of the kings is intended here.

If they raise this objection and say, that princes are sometimes called כהניםcohenim, priests, I indeed allow it, but I deny that the word can be so understood here. For the comparison here made leaves nothing doubtful: Melchisedec was God’s priest; and the Psalmist testifies that that king whom God has set on his right hand would be a |kohen| according to the order of Melchisedec. Who does not see that this is to be understood of the priesthood? For as it was a rare and almost a singular thing for the same person to be a priest and a king, at least an unusual thing among God’s people, hence he sets forth Melchisedec as the type of the Messiah, as though he had said, “The royal dignity will not prevent him to exercise the priesthood also, for a type of such a thing has been already presented in Melchisedec.” And indeed all among the Jews, possessed of any modesty, have conceded that the Messiah is the person here spoken of, and that his priesthood is what is commended.

What is in Greek, κατὰ τάξιν according to the order, is in Hebrew, על-דברתי ol-deberti, and means the same, and may be rendered, “according to the way” or manner: and hereby is confirmed what I have already said, that as it was an unusual thing among the people of God for the same person to bear the office of a king and of a priest, an ancient example was brought forward, by which the Messiah was represented. The rest the Apostle himself will more minutely set forth in what follows.

7. Who in the days, etc. As the form and beauty of Christ is especially disfigured by the cross, while men do not consider the end for which he humbled himself, the Apostle again teaches us what he had before briefly referred to, that his wonderful goodness shines forth especially in this respect, that he for our good subjected himself to our infirmities. It hence appears that our faith is thus confirmed, and that his honor is not diminished for having borne our evils.

He points out two causes why it behooved Christ to suffer, the proximate and the ultimate. The proximate was, that he might learn obedience; and the ultimate, that he might be thus consecrated a priest for our salutation.

The days of his flesh no doubt mean his life in this world. It hence follows, that the word flesh does not signify what is material, but a condition, according to what is said in 1 Corinthians 15:50, “Flesh and blood shall not inherit the kingdom of God.” Rave then do those fanatical men who dream that Christ is now divested of his flesh, because it is here intimated that he has outlived the days of his flesh for it is one thing to be a real man, though endued with a blessed immortality; it is another thing to be liable to those human sorrows and infirmities, which Christ sustained as long as he was in this world, but has now laid aside, having been received into heaven.

Let us now look into the subject. Christ who was a Son, who sought relief from the Father and was heard, yet suffered death, that thus he might be taught to obey. There is in every word a singular importance. By days of the flesh he intimates that the time of our miseries is limited, which brings no small alleviation. And doubtless hard were our condition, and by no means tolerable, if no end of suffering were set before us. The three things which follow bring us also no small consolations; Christ was a Son, whom his own dignity exempted from the common lot of men, and yet he subjected himself to that lot for our sakes: who now of us mortals can dare refuse the same condition? Another argument may be added, — though we may be pressed down by adversity, yet we are not excluded from the number of God’s children, since we see him going before us who was by nature his only Son; for that we are counted his children is owing only to the gift of adoption by which he admits us into a union with him, who alone lays claim to this honor in his own right.

When he had offered up prayers, etc. The second thing he mentions respecting Christ is, that he, as it became him, sought a remedy that he might be delivered from evils; and he said this that no one might think that Christ had an iron heart which felt nothing; for we ought always to consider why a thing is said. Had Christ been touched by no sorrow, no consolation could arise to us from his sufferings; but when we hear that he also endured the bitterest agonies of mind, the likeness becomes then evident to us. Christ, he says, did not undergo death and other evils because he disregarded them or was pressed down by no feeling of distress, but he prayed with tears, by which he testified the extreme anguish of his soul. 8787     “Prayers and supplications” are nearly of the same meaning; the first word means a request, a petition, strictly a prayer; and the last an earnest or humble entreaty. The last word is found only here in the New Testament; once in the Septuagint, in Job 41:3; and once in the Apocrypha, 2 Macc. 9:18. Hesychius, as quoted by Schleusner, gives παράκλησις, request, entreaty, as its meaning: it comes from ἱκέτης, a suppliant. The word ἱκετηρία, which is here used means first an olive branch wrapped in wool, carried by suppliants as a symbol of entreaty and hence used often in the sense of entreaty and supplication. — Ed. Then by tears and strong crying the Apostle meant to express the intensity of his grief, for it is usual to show it by outward symptoms; nor do I doubt but that he refers to that prayer which the Evangelists mention, “Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me,” (Matthew 26:42; Luke 22:42;) and also to another, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46.) For in the second instance mention is made by the evangelists of strong crying; and in the first it is not possible to believe that his eyes were dry, since drops of blood, through excessive grief, flowed from his body. It is indeed certain that he was reduced to great straits; and being overwhelmed with real sorrows, he earnestly prayed his Father to bring him help. 8888     Stuart on this passage very justly observes, “If Jesus died as a common virtuous suffered, and merely as a martyr to the truth, without any vicarious suffering laid upon him, then is his death a most unaccountable event in respect to the manner of his behavior while suffering it; and it must be admitted that multitudes of humble, sinful, meek and very imperfect disciples of Christianity have surpassed their Master in the fortitude, and collected firmness and calm complacency which are requisite to triumph over the pangs of a dying hour. But who can well believe this? Or who can regard Jesus as a simple sufferer in the ordinary way upon the cross, and explain the mysteries of his dreadful horror before and during the hours of crucifixion?”
   What is referred to is certainly inexplicable, except we admit what is often and in various ways plainly taught us in God’s word, that Christ died for our sins. — Ed.

And what application is to be made of this? Even this, that whenever our evils press upon us and overwhelm us, we may call to mind the Son of God who labored under the same; and since he has gone before us there is no reason for us to faint. We are at the same time reminded that deliverance from evils can be found from no other but from God alone, and what better guidance can we have as to prayer than the example of Christ? He betook himself immediately to the Father. And thus the Apostle indicates what ought to be done by us when he says that he offered prayers to him who was able to deliver him from death; for by these words he intimates that he rightly prayed, because he fled to God the only Deliverer. His tears and crying recommend to us ardor and earnestness in prayer, for we ought not to pray to God formally, but with ardent desires.

And was heard, etc. Some render the following words, “on account of his reverence” or fears but I wholly differ from them. In the first place he puts the word alone ἐυλαθείας without the possessive “his”; and then there is the preposition ἀπὸ “from,” not ὑπὲρ “on account of,” or any other signifying a cause or a reason. As, then, εὐλάθεια means for the most part fear or anxiety, I doubt not but that the Apostle means that Christ was heard from that which he feared, so that he was not overwhelmed by his evils or swallowed up by death. For in this contest the Son of God had to engage, not because he was tried by unbelief, the source of all our fears, but because he sustained as a man in our flesh the judgment of God, the terror of which could not have been overcome without an arduous effort. Chrysostom interprets it of Christ’s dignity, which the Father in a manner reverenced; but this cannot be admitted. Others render it “piety.” But the explanation I have given is much more suitable, and requires no long arguments in its favor. 8989     The idea of the effect of hearing, that is deliverance, is no doubt included in εἰσακουσθεὶς, “having been heard,” as it is sometimes in the corresponding word in Hebrew; so that Stuart is justified in the rendering it delivered, — “and being delivered from that which he feared.” It is rendered the same by Macknight, “and being delivered from fear.” Both Beza and Grotius render the last word fear; and this is its meaning as used in the Septuagint. — Ed

Now he added this third particular, lest we should think that Christ’s prayers were rejected, because he was not immediately delivered from his evils; for at no time was God’s mercy and aid wanting to him. And hence we may conclude that God often hears our prayers, even when that is in no way made evident. For though it belongs not to us to prescribe to him as it were a fixed rule, nor does it become him to grant whatsoever requests we may conceive in our minds or express with our tongues, yet he shows that he grants our prayers in everything necessary for our salvation. So when we seem apparently to be repulsed, we obtain far more than if he fully granted our requests.

But how was Christ heard from what he feared, as he underwent the death which he dreaded? To this I reply, that we must consider what it was that he feared; why was it that he dreaded death except that he saw in it the curse of God, and that he had to wrestle with the guilt of all iniquities, and also with hell itself? Hence was his trepidation and anxiety; for extremely terrible is God’s judgment. He then obtained what he prayed for, when he came forth a conqueror from the pains of death, when he was sustained by the saving hand of the Father, when after a short conflict he gained a glorious victory over Satan, sin, and hell. Thus it often happens that we ask this or that, but not for a right end; yet God, not granting what we ask, at the same time finds out himself a way to succor us.

8. Yet learned he obedience, etc. The proximate end of Christ’s sufferings was thus to habituate himself to obedience; not that he was driven to this by force, or that he had need of being thus exercised, as the case is with oxen or horses when their ferocity is to be tamed, for he was abundantly willing to render to his Father the obedience which he owed. But this was done from a regard to our benefit, that he might exhibit to us an instance and an example of subjection even to death itself. It may at the same time be truly said that Christ by his death learned fully what it was to obey God, since he was then led in a special manner to deny himself; for renouncing his own will, he so far gave himself up to his Father that of his own accord and willingly he underwent that death which he greatly dreaded. The meaning then is that Christ was by his sufferings taught how far God ought to be submitted to and obeyed.

It is then but right that we also should by his example be taught and prepared by various sorrows, and at length by death itself, to render obedience to God; nay, much more necessary is this in our case, for we have a disposition contumacious and ungovernable until the Lord subdues us by such exercises to bear his yoke. This benefit, which arises from the cross, ought to allay its bitterness in our hearts; for what can be more desirable than to be made obedient to God? But this cannot be effected but by the cross, for in prosperity we exult as with loose reins; nay, in most cases, when the yoke is shaken off, the wantonness of the flesh breaks forth into excesses. But when restraint is put on our will, when we seek to please God, in this act only does our obedience show itself; nay, it is an illustrious proof of perfect obedience when we choose the death to which God may call us, though we dread it, rather than the life which we naturally desire.

9. And being made perfect, or sanctified, etc. Here is the ultimate or the remoter end, as they call it, why it was necessary for Christ to suffer: it was that he might thus become initiated into his priesthood, as though the Apostle had said that the enduring of the cross and death were to Christ a solemn kind of consecration, by which he intimates that all his sufferings had a regard to our salvation. It hence follows, that they are so far from being prejudicial to his dignity that they are on the contrary his glory; for if salvation be highly esteemed by us, how honorably ought we to think of its cause or author? For he speaks not here of Christ only as an example, but he ascends higher, even that he by his obedience has blotted out our transgressions. He became then the cause of salvation, because he obtained righteousness for us before God, having removed the disobedience of Adam by an act of an opposite kind, even obedience.

Sanctified suits the passage better than “made perfect.” The Greek word τελειωθεὶς means both; but as he speaks here of the priesthood, he fitly and suitably mentions sanctification. And so Christ himself speaks in another place, “For their sakes I sanctify myself.” (John 17:19.) It hence appears that this is to be properly applied to his human nature, in which he performed the office of a priest, and in which he also suffered. 9090     The word τελειωθεὶς, means here the same as in chapter 2:10. Stuart gives it the same meaning here as in the former passage, “Then when exalted to glory,” etc.; but this does not comport with what follows, for it was not his exaltation to glory that qualified him to be “the author (or the causer or effecter) of eternal salvation,” but his perfect or complete work in suffering, by his having completely and perfectly performed the work of atonement. And that his suffering in obedience to God’s will, even his vicarious suffering, is meant here, appears also from the following reference to his being a priest after the order of Melchisedec. The meaning then seems to be, that Christ having fully completed his work as a priest, and that by suffering, became thereby the author of eternal salvation. — Ed

To all them that obey him. If then we desire that Christ’s obedience should be profitable to us, we must imitate him; for the Apostle means that its benefit shall come to none but to those who obey. But by saying this he recommends faith to us; for he becomes not ours, nor his blessings, except as far as we receive them and him by faith. He seems at the same time to have adopted a universal term, all, for this end, that he might show that no one is precluded from salvation who is but teachable and becomes obedient to the Gospel of Christ.

10. Called of God, or named by God, etc. As it was necessary that he should pursue more at large the comparison between Christ and Melchisedec, on which he had briefly touched, and that the mind of the Jews should be stirred up to greater attention, he so passes to a digression that he still retails his argument.