Ellet J. Waggoner
The Present Truth : August 5, 1897
Let every one, before beginning this study, read again the first chapter of Hebrews, giving careful thought to each statement. Think of the infinite contrast between Christ and the angels, a contrast that is infinite, not because the angels are insignificant beings, but because, excellent in strength as they are, Christ is infinitely greater. Then with the last words of the chapter still in mind, namely, that all the angels are ministering spirits, sent forth to do service for the sake of them who shall be heirs of salvation, let us begin the second chapter, which stands as closely related to the first as any of the verses of the first do to each other.
“Therefore we ought to give the more earnest heed to the things which we have heard, lest at any time we should let them slip. For it the word spoken by angels was steadfast, and every transgression and disobedience received a just recompense of reward, how shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation which at the first began to be spoken by the Lord, and was confirmed unto us by them that heard Him; God also bearing them witness, both with signs, and wonders, and with various miracles, and gifts of the Holy Spirit, according to His own will? For unto the angels hath He not put in subject the world to come, whereof we speak.” Hebrews 2.1-5
“Therefore.”—Those who read the Bible simply chapter by chapter, always stopping in their reading by course at the end of a chapter, whether the subject ends or not, and who begin the next time with the next chapter, without thought of what has gone before, miss a great deal. Much that they read is to them utterly devoid of meaning. In this case the word “Therefore” is the connecting link between what follows and what precedes. Since the angels, although far inferior to Christ, are mighty in power, even as the winds and the flaming fire, and yet are but servants of God, waiting upon and ministering to men, we ought to give the more earnest heed to things which are spoken, not by angels, but by Christ.
“The Word Spoken by Angels.”—“The word spoken by angels was steadfast, and every transgression and disobedience received a just recompense of reward.” The expressions here used indicate that “the word spoken by angels” was in the nature of a command. Every transgression of it received its just recompense. In Acts 7.53 we have Stephen’s charge against his judges, that they had “received the law by the direction of angels,” and had not kept it. In Galatians 3.19, also, we read of the law that “it was appointed through angels by the hand of a Mediator,” or, as the Revision has it, “ordained through angels by the hand of a Mediator.” These texts show us that the angels had an important part to act in the giving of the law, but just what they did; we have no means of knowing. Since the Lord has not told us, it is not necessary, for us to know; and it is sinful for us to speculate. It is enough for us, so far at least as our present study is concerned, to know that the word spoken by angels, whatever it was and whenever it was spoken, was steadfast as God’s own word, so that every transgression of it was visited with sure punishment. “God confirms the word of His servant, and performs the counsel of His messengers.” Isaiah 44.26
Condemnation and Salvation. —“The word spoken by angels” condemned. If now such a word was fixed, and could not be altered, so that every transgression invariably received punishment, what hope can there be for those who neglect the word of salvation that began to be spoken by the Lord Himself? The word, which Christ speaks, is the word of salvation. His name is salvation, His life is salvation, and the word that He speaks is life (John 6.63), —His own life. Here is the situation: Men have transgressed the commandment, and have forfeited their lives. They are lost. But here comes the message of salvation—salvation not only from the consequences of the transgression, but from the transgression itself, so that there remains no sin to be punished. That is complete salvation. Now suppose some of these lost men refuse to hear this word of salvation, and reject all the offers of help, what hope of escape is there for them? —Manifestly none. They were lost before a sure promise of salvation is given them, but thy reject it; if they were lost before, then they must most surely be lost now.
Begun by the Lord.—This “great salvation” “at the first began to be spoken by the Lord.” Note the words, “began to be spoken.” Christ finished the work that was given Him to do, and the word that He spoke was perfect, but nevertheless He only began it, leaving it to those who heard it to carry it further. Inasmuch as the word only began to be spoken by the Lord, it is evident that the same word, with the same power, must be proclaimed by those to whom He committed it. This is evident from the text, even if we read it as in the Revised Version, “having at the first been spoken through the Lord, was confirmed unto us by them that heard.” The word spoken by them that heard is the selfsame word of salvation that Christ proclaimed.
Who Can Proclaim the Message? —The text simply tells the fact, that those who heard the word spoken by Christ, proclaimed it to others. But who have the right to proclaim the Gospel message? Nay, upon whom does the obligation rest to proclaim it? Here is the answer: “And the Spirit and the Bride say, “Come!” And let him who hears say, “Come!” Revelation 22.17. The word was confirmed to us by them that heard it, and as we hear it we are to confirm it to others. All have not the same talents, nor the same circle of influence; but all who hear are to say, “Come,” each in his place according to his ability. There is in the church of Christ no priestly class between God and the people; but “the Man Christ Jesus,” the High Priest, “the One Mediator between God and men” (1 Timothy 2.5), and every believer is a priest. The whole body of true believers forms a “royal priesthood” (1 Peter 2.9), with Christ as Chief. In the church of Christ there are no ranks and classes, —some who are higher in position than others, —none who are specially privileged to make known the Gospel of God’s grace, and to dispense to others its gifts. “To every one of us is given grace according to the measure of the gift of Christ.” Ephesians 4.7. “The manifestation of the Spirit is given to every man to profit withal.” 1 Corinthians 12.7. There are many diverse gifts, “but all these worketh that one and the selfsame Spirit, dividing to every man severally as He will.” Verse 11. “Let him that hears say, “Come!” The case is very simple: each one who knows the Lord is to tell what He has seen and heard with the Lord.
“Ambassadors for Christ.”—“If any man is in Christ, he is a new creature [or, there is a new creation]; the old things are passed away; behold, they are become new. But all things are of God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ, and gave unto us the ministry of reconciliation; to wit that God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto Himself, not reckoning unto them their trespasses, and having committed unto us the word of reconciliation. We are ambassadors therefore on behalf of Christ, as though God were entreating by us.” 2 Corinthians 5.17-19
Note the fact that the apostle is talking of any man who is in Christ, and not of a special class among Christians. God has reconciled us, that is, all believers in Christ, to Himself; and in all who are thus reconciled to God, has He placed the word of reconciliation, so that all true believers are “ambassadors on behalf of Christ,” through whom God entreats sinners just the same as He did through Christ When He was on earth. The same work that was committed to Christ is committed to Christ’s followers, and the same God that “was in Christ” to do the work, is in His followers. What a wonderful and solemn, and at the same time inspiring, thought that poor, feeble men are sent out to the world “in Christ’s stead.” Why do not Christians fill the place that God has assigned them? —Partly because they do not realize “the high calling of God in Christ Jesus,” and partly because they are unwilling that God should fill them even as He filled Christ.
“God Bearing Witness.”—Those who heard, said, “Come;” but it was God who testified. The common version has, “God bearing them witness, but the “them” is inserted, so that we have it in the Revision, “God bearing witness with them.” This is what God did with the holy prophets and apostles, as we read in Acts 1.16 of that which “the Holy Spirit by the mouth of David spoke before concerning Judas;” and in Acts 3.18 of the things which “God before had showed by the mouth of all His prophets.” God said to Ezekiel, “Get thee unto the house of Israel, and speak with My words unto them.” Ezekiel 3.4. So with those who proclaimed the message that they heard from the Lord; they spoke, but only the words of the Lord. God testified through their mouth. Even so must it be with all who hear, and who obey the injunction, “Let him that hears say, “Come!” It is the same message that the Spirit and the Bride utter. God says to His servants, “I have put My words in thy mouth.” Isaiah 51.16. “For He whom God has sent, speaks the words of God.” John 3.34. “If any man speak, let him speak as the oracles of God.” 1 Peter 4.11. If we have indeed heard, and if we are new creatures in Christ, and so ambassadors representing Christ, it is “as though God were entreating by us.” 2 Corinthians 5.20
Witnessing with Signs and Wonders. —Those who are in Christ, are sent in Christ’s stead. To us the same words are uttered as to the twelve; for Jesus Said not merely of the twelve, but of all who should believe on Him through their word, “As Thou hast sent Me into the world even so have I also sent them into the world.” John 17.18, 20. Now of Jesus it is said that He was “a man approved of God'” “by many miracles and wonders and signs, which God did by Him.” Act 2.22. Having been anointed by the Holy Spirit and with power, He “went about doing good, and healing all that were oppressed of the devil; for God was with Him.” Acts 10.38. When God dwells in His people, the same power must accompany them.
But let no one long for the power to work miracles, for he will long in vain He who has such desires thereby shows that he is desirous of vainglory. Selfishness and love of applause is at the bottom of his desire; and from the case of Simon the sorcerer (Acts 8.18-23) we learn that the gifts of the Holy Spirit are not bestowed on such. The power is of God, and He uses it only through such as in humility of heart realize that they are nothing. Besides, God has never promised that all His people should have the gift of working miracles. 1 Corinthians 12.8-11. Christ Himself bore witness that there had never risen greater prophet than John the Baptist (Matthew 11.11), yet “John did no miracle.” John 10.41. Of this thing, however, we may be assured, namely, that those in whom the word of God dwells will have the power of the word, or of the Spirit. When they speak as the oracles of God, even though they be laborers at their daily task, the word will have the same power as that by which miracles are performed. “Behold I and the children whom the Lord hath given Me, are for signs and for wonders in Israel from Lord of hosts, which dwells in Mount Zion.” Isaiah 8.18
“Gifts of the Holy Spirit.”—To all believers is the Holy Spirit given. Ephesians 1.13. But “there are diversities of operations” while “it is the same God which worketh all in all.” 1 Corinthians 12.6. God distributes the gifts of the Holy Spirit “according to His own will.” “But the manifestation of the Spirit is to every man to profit withal.” 1 Corinthians 12.7. To profit whom? Himself? —No, but to profit others; “for none of us lives to himself.” Romans 14.7. God blesses people, in order to make them a blessing. Genesis 12.3. Therefore, “as every man hath received the gift, even so minister the same one to another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God.” 1 Peter 4.10. Wonderful calling! To minister the Spirit of God to men. Yet this is what is promised, for Christ said, “He that believes on Me, as the Scripture hath said, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water. But this spoke He of the Spirit.” John 7.38, 39
Not the Work of Angels. —“For unto the angels hath He not put in subjection the world to come, whereof we speak.” What has this to do with the subject? Very much, as we shall see if we note the little word “for,” which shows that what follows depends on what goes before. To men has God committed the work of preaching the Gospel. God Himself bears witness and beseeches through them. The word of salvation, which began to be preached by the Lord, is continued by men, not by angels. And why not to angels? —Because “unto the angels hath He not put in subjection the world to come.” Thus we see that “the world to come” has a very close connection with the preaching of the Word, and this is what all naturally expect; but the noteworthy thing is that the preaching of the Gospel is committed to none but to those to whom the world to come has been placed in subjection, and angels are their attendants and ministers as they do their work. What the world to come is, to whom it is placed in subjection, and how and when, together with its connection with the preaching of the Gospel, must be left for later consideration.