Hebrews 1 - 6
The epistle to the Hebrews differs in some important respects from all those which have been before us; so much so that many have questioned whether it be the writing of the apostle Paul, of Apollos, of Barnabas, etc. Of this my mind has no doubt. I believe that Paul, and no other, was the author, and that it bears the strongest intrinsic traits of his doctrine. The style is different, and so is the manner of handling the truth; but the line of truth, though it be affected by the object that he had in view, is that which savours of Paul beyond all: not of Peter, or John, or James, or Jude, but of Paul alone.
One good and plain reason which has graven a difference of character on the epistle is the fact, that it goes outside his allotted province. Paul was the apostle of the uncircumcision. If writing for the instruction of Jews, as here he clearly was, to believers or Christians that had once been of that nation, he was evidently outside the ordinary function of his apostolic work.
There is another reason also why the epistle to the Hebrews diverges very sensibly and materially from the rest of the writings of St. Paul, that it is not, strictly speaking, an exercise of apostleship at all, but of the writer (apostle though he were) as a teacher, and here a teacher clearly not of Gentiles, as he says elsewhere, but of Jews. Now it is plain, if he that was an apostle and preacher and teacher of the Gentiles in faith and truth was led by the Holy Spirit to address the saints that were of the old Jewish fold, there must have been a marked departure from his usual methods in the manner of using and presenting the truth of God to these. But we have this blessed result of his acting outside his own ordinary sphere, that it is the finest and indeed the only specimen of teaching properly so called in the New Testament. It is not a revelation given by prophetic or apostolic authority; and for this reason, I presume, he does not introduce himself at all. It is always a failure when the teacher as such is prominent. The point for such an one is, that the reaching (not himself) should arrest and instruct. But in revealing truth the person whom God employs in that work is naturally brought before those addressed; and hence the apostle took particular care, even if he did not write an epistle, to put his name to it, introducing himself at the beginning through the amanuensis that he employed, and with scrupulous care adding his own name at the end of each epistle.
In writing to the Hebrew believers it is not so. Here the apostle is what indeed he was. Besides being apostle of the uncircumcision, he was a teacher; and God took care that, although expressly said to be a teacher of Gentiles, his should be the word to teach the Christian Jews too; and, in fact, we may be assured that he taught them as they never were taught before. He opened the scriptures as none but Paul could, according to the gospel of the glory of Christ. He taught them the value of the living oracles that God had given them; for this is the beautiful characteristic here. Indeed the epistle to the Hebrews stands unique. By it the believing Jew was led into a divine application of that which was in the Old Testament — that which they had habitually read in the law, Psalms, and prophets, from their cradle we may say, but which they had never seen in such a light before. That mighty, logical, penetrating, richly-stored mind! that heart with such affections large and deep, as scarce ever were concentred in another bosom! that soul of experience wonderfully varied and profound! — he was the one whom God was now leading in a somewhat unwonted path, no doubt, but in a path which, when once taken, at once approves itself by divine wisdom to every heart purified by faith.
For if Peter, as is known, were the apostle of the circumcision pre-eminently, it was through him that God first of all opened the door of the kingdom of heaven to the Gentiles; and if the apostle Paul, with the concurrence of the heads of the work among the circumcision, had gone to the Gentiles, none the less did the Spirit of God (it may be without asking those who seemed to be somewhat at Jerusalem) employ Paul to write to the believers of the circumcision the most consummate treatise on the bearing of Christ and Christianity upon the law and the prophets, and as practically dealing with their wants, dangers, and blessing. Thus did God most carefully guard in every form from the technical drawing of lines of rigid demarcation to which even Christians are so prone, the love of settling things in precise routine, the desire that each should have his own place, not only as the proper sphere of his work, but to the exclusion of every other. With admirable wisdom indeed the Lord directs the work and the workmen, but never exclusively; and the apostle Paul is here, as just shown, the proof of it on one side as Peter is on the other.
What is the consequence under the blessed guidance of the Spirit? As the great teacher of the believers from among the Jews, we have, after all, not Paul, but through him God Himself left to address His own, in the words, facts, ceremonies, offices, persons so long familiar to the chosen people. Paul does not appear. This could hardly have been by any other arrangement, at any rate not so naturally. “God,” says he, “having in many measures and in many manners spoken in time past to the fathers in the prophets, at the last of these days spoke to us in his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, by whom also he made the worlds.” Paul, would show them thus the infinite dignity of the Messiah whom they had received. Never would Paul weaken the personal rights or the official place of the Anointed of Jehovah. Contrariwise, he would lead them on to find what they had never yet seen in their Messiah, and, wonderful to say, he founds his proofs, not on new revelations, but on those very words of God which they had read so superficially, the depths of which they had never approached, nor had they so much as suspected. The facts of Christianity they knew; the linking of all scripture with Christ’s person, and work, and glory they had yet to discover.
But mark the manner of the writer. He is careful to establish the thread of connection with God’s word and ways of old; and yet there is not a single epistle which more elaborately throughout its entire course sets the believer in present relationship to Christ in heaven; I think one might be bold to say, none so much. From the very starting-point we see Christ, not merely dead and risen, but glorified in heaven. There is no doubt that the writer meant his readers to hold fast, that He who suffered all things on earth is the same Jesus who is now at the right hand of God; but the first place in which we hear of Him is as Son of God on high according to Hebrews 1, and there it is we see Him as Son of man according to Hebrews 2. It was there, in fact, that Paul had himself first seen the Lord. Who then was so suitable to introduce Jesus, the rejected Messiah, at the right hand of God, as Saul of Tarsus? On the way to Damascus that staunchest of Jews had his eyes first opened — blinded naturally, but enabled by grace so much the more to see by the power of the Holy Spirit the glorified Christ,
It is to Christ in heaven, then, that Paul, writing to the Christian Jews, first directs their attention. But he does it in a manner which shows the singularly delicate tact given him. True affection is prudent for its object when peril is nigh, and delights to help effectively, instead of being indifferent whether the way of it wounds those whose good is sought. In no way are the former messages of God forgotten in the days of their fathers. Nor would one gather from this epistle that its writer laboured among the Gentiles, nor even that there was a calling of Gentile believers in the Lord Jesus. The epistle to the Hebrews never speaks of either. We can understand, therefore, how active-minded men, who occupied themselves with the surface — the method, the style, the unusual absence of the writer’s name, and other peculiarities in the phenomena of this epistle, too readily hesitated to attribute it to Paul. They might not attach much moment to the general tradition which ascribed it to him. But they ought to have looked more steadily into its depths, and the motives for obvious points of difference, even were it written by Paul.
Granted that there is a striking absence of allusion to the one body here. But there was one nearer and dearer to Paul than even the church. There was one truth that Paul laboured yet more to hold up than that one body, wherein is neither Jew nor Greek — the glory of Him who is the head of it. Christ Himself was what made the assembly of God precious to him. Christ Himself was infinitely more precious than even the church which He had loved so well, and for which He gave Himself. Of Christ, then, he would deliver his last message to his brethren after the flesh as well as Spirit; and as he began preaching in the synagogues that He is the Son of God, (Acts 9) so here he begins his epistle to the Hebrews. He would lead them on, and this with gentle but firm and witting hand. He would deepen their knowledge lovingly and wisely. He would not share their unbelief, their love of ease, their value for outward show, their dread of suffering; but he would reserve each folly for the most fitting moment. He would lay a vigorous hand on that which threatened their departure from the faith, but he would smooth lightly lesser difficulties out of their way. But when he gained their ear, and they were enabled to see the bright lights and perfections of the great High Priest, there is no warning more energetic than this epistle affords against the imminent and remediless danger of those who abandon Christ, whether for religious form, or to indulge in sin. All is carried on in the full power of the Spirit of God, but with the nicest consideration of Jewish prejudices, and the most scrupulous care to bring every warrant for his doctrine from their own ancient yet little understood testimonies.
It is evident, however, even from the opening of the epistle, that though he does not slight but uphold the Old Testament scriptures, yet he will not let the Jews pervert them to dishonour the Lord Jesus. How had God spoken to the fathers? In many measures and in many manners. So had He spoken in the prophets. It was fragmentary and various, not a full and final manifestation of Himself. Mark the skill! He thereby cuts off, by the unquestionable facts of the Old Testament, that overweening self-complacency of the Jew, which would set Moses and Elias against hearing the Son of God. Had God spoken to the fathers, in the prophets? Unquestionably. Paul, who loved Israel and estimated their privileges more highly than themselves, (Rom. 9) was the last man to deny or enfeeble it. But how had God spoken then? Had He formerly brought out the fulness of His mind? Not so. The early communications were but refracted rays, not the light unbroken and complete. Who could deny that such was the character of all the Old Testament? Yet so cautiously does he insinuate the obviously and necessarily practical character of that which was revealed of old, that at a first reading, nay, however often read perfunctorily, they might have no more perceived it than, I suppose, most of us must confess as to ourselves. But there it is; and when we begin to prove the divine certainty of every word, we weigh and weigh again its value.
As then it is pointed out that there were formerly many portions, so also were there many modes in the prophetic communications of God. This was, beyond doubt, the way in which His revelations had been gradually vouchsafed to His people. But for this very reason, it was not complete. God was giving piecemeal His various words, “here a little, and there a little.” Such was the character of His ways with Israel. They could not — man could not — hear more till redemption was accomplished, after the Son of God Himself was come, and His glory fully revealed. Now when promises were given to the fathers, they did not go beyond the earthly glory of Christ; but known to Him were all things from the beginning, yet He did not outrun the course of His dealings with His people. But as they manifested themselves in relation to Himself, and alas! their own weakness and ruin, higher glories began to dawn, and were needful as a support to the people. Hence, invariably, you will find these two things correlative. Reduce the glory of Christ, and you equally lower your judgment of the state of man. See the total absolute ruin of the creature; and none but the Son in all His glory is felt to be a sufficient Saviour for such.
The apostle was now being led by the Holy Ghost to wean these believers from their poor, meagre, earthly thoughts of Christ — from that so common tendency to take the least portion of the blessing, contenting ourselves with that which we think we need, and which we feel to be desirable for us, and there sitting down. God, on the contrary, while He does adapt Himself to the earliest wants of souls, and the feeblest answer to Christ by the Spirit of God working within us, nevertheless has in His heart for us what suits His own glory, and this He will accomplish; for faithful is He who hath promised, and He will do it. He means to have all that love the Saviour like Him; and all that He purposes to do for the Saviour’s honour, He has perfectly unfolded to us. No doubt, this supposes the resurrection state, and it never can be till then; but He graciously works now, that we may learn by degrees that only such a Saviour and Lord — the effulgence of His glory, and full expression of His substance, the Son of God Himself — could suit either God or us.
Accordingly, while he intimates thus that all was but partial, being piecemeal and multiform, in the revelations from God to the fathers, he lets them know, in the next verse, that the same God had, in the last of these days, “spoken unto us in his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, by whom also he made the worlds.” If such and so great were His glory, what must not be the word of such a Son? What the fulness of the truth that God was now making known to His people by Him? Was this to slight the glory of the Messiah? Let them rather take heed that there be no oversight of Him on their part; none could justly put it to the account of God. For who was He, this Messiah, that they would fain occupy themselves with as a king, and would have confirmed, had it ‘been possible, to aggrandize themselves — the ancient people of God? The brightness of God’s glory, the express image of His substance; the upholder, not of Israel or their land only, but of all things “by the word of his power.” But hearken — “when he had by himself purged our sins,” was not the whole Jewish system blotted out by such a truth? — “when he had by himself purged our sins.” It is to the exclusion of every other instrument. Help there was not; means there could not be. He Himself undertook and achieved the task alone; and, when He had thus done it, “sat down on the right hand of the majesty on high; being made so much better than the angels, as he hath by inheritance obtained a more excellent name than they.”
This furnishes the first part of the doctrine on which the apostle insists. If any beings had special account or stood highly exalted in a Jew’s eye, the holy angels were they; and no wonder. It was in this form that Jehovah ordinarily appeared, whenever He visited the fathers or the sons of Israel. There were exceptions; but, as a rule, He who made known the will and manifested the power of Jehovah in these early days to the fathers is spoken of habitually as the angel of Jehovah. It is thus He was represented. He had not yet taken manhood, or made it part of His person. I do not deny that there was sometimes the appearance of man. An angel might appear in whatever guise it pleased God; but, appear as He might, He was the representative of Jehovah. Accordingly, the Jews always associated angels with the highest idea of beings, next to Jehovah Himself, the chosen messengers of the divine will for any passing vision among men. But now appeared One who completely surpassed the angels. Who was He? The Son of God. It ought to have filled them with joy.
We may easily understand that every soul truly born of God would and must break forth into thanksgiving to hear of a deeper glory than he had first perceived in Christ, We must not look on the Lord according to our experience, if there has been simplicity in the way God has brought us to the perception of His glory; we must endeavour to put ourselves back, and consider the prejudices and difficulties of the Jew. They had their own peculiar hindrances; and one of their greatest was the idea of a divine person becoming a man; for a man, to a Jew, was far below an angel. Are there not many now, even professing Christians (to their shame be it spoken) who think somewhat similarly? Not every Christian knows that a mere angel, as such, is but a servant; not every Christian understands that man was made to rule. No doubt he is a servant, but not merely one so accomplishing orders, but having a given sphere, in which he was to rule as the image and glory of God: a thing never true of an angel — never was, and never can be. The Jews had not entered into this; no man ever did receive such a thought. The great mass of Christians now are totally ignorant of it. The time, the manner, and the only way in which such a truth could be known, was in the person of Christ; for He became not an angel but a man.
But the very thing that to us is so simple, when we have laid hold of the astonishing place of man in the person of Christ — this was to them the difficulty. His being a man, they imagined, must lower Him necessarily below an angel. The apostle, therefore, has to prove that which to us is an evident matter of truth — of revelation from God — without argument at all. And this he proves from their own scriptures. “For unto which of the angels said he at any time, Thou art my Son, this day have I begotten thee?” Now it is true that angels are sometimes called “sons of God,” but God never singles out one and says, “Thou art my Son.” In a vague general way, He speaks of all men as being His sons. He speaks of the angels in a similar way, as being His sons. Adam was a son of God — apart, I mean, from the grace of God — as a mere creature of God into whose nostrils He breathed the breath of life. Adam was a son of God, angels were sons of God; but to which of the angels did God ever speak in such language as this? No, it was to a man; for He was thus speaking of the Lord as Messiah here below; and this is what gives the emphasis of the passage. It is not predicated of the Son as eternally such; there would be no wonder in this. None could be surprised, assuredly, that the Son of God, viewed in His own eternal being, should be greater than an angel. But that He, an infant on earth, looked at as the son of the Virgin, that He should be above all the angels in heaven — this was a wonder to the Jewish mind; and yet what had in their scriptures a plainer proof? It was not to an angel in heaven, but to the Babe at Bethlehem, that God had said, “Thou art my Son; this day have I begotten thee;” and, again, “I will be to him a Father, and he shall be to me a Son” — words said historically of David’s son; but, as usual, looking onward to a greater than David, or his wise son, who immediately succeeded him. Christ is the true and continual object of the inspiring Spirit.
But next follows a still more powerful proof of His glory: “And again, when he bringeth in the first-begotten into the world, he saith, And let all the angels of God worship him.” So far from any angel approaching the glory of the Lord Jesus, it is God Himself who commands that all the angels shall worship Him. “And of the angels he saith, Who maketh his angels spirits, and his ministers a flame of fire.” They are but servants, whatever their might, function, or sphere. They may have a singular place as servants, and a spiritual nature accomplishing the pleasure of the Lord; but they are only servants. They never rule. “But unto the Son he saith, Thy throne, O God, is for ever and ever: a sceptre of righteousness is the sceptre of thy kingdom. Thou hast loved righteousness, and hated iniquity; therefore God, even thy God, hath anointed thee with the oil of gladness above thy fellows.” Not a word is said about His fellows until God Himself addresses Him as God. The angels worshipped Him: God now salutes Him as God; for such He was, counting it no robbery to be on equality with God, one with the Father.
But this is far from all. The chain of scriptural testimony is carried out and confirmed with another and even more wondrous citation. “God” may be used in a subordinate sense. Elohim has His representatives, who are, therefore, called gods. Magistrates and kings are so named in scripture. So are they styled, as the Lord told the Jews. The word of God came and commissioned them to govern in earthly things; for it might be no more than in judicial matters. Still, there they were, in their own sphere, representing God’s authority, and are called gods, though clearly with a very subordinate force. But there is another name which never is employed in any sense save that which is supreme. The dread and incommunicable name is “Jehovah.” Is, then, the Messiah ever called Jehovah? Certainly He is. And under what circumstances? In His deepest shame. I do not speak now of God’s forsaking Christ as the point of view in which He is looked at, though at the same general time.
We that believe can all understand that solemn judgment of our sins on the part of God, when Jesus was accomplishing atonement on the cross. But there was more in the cross than this, which is not the subject of Psalm 102, but rather the Messiah utterly put to shame by man and the people; nevertheless taking it all — for this was His perfection in it — from the hand of Jehovah. It is under such circumstances He pours out His plaint. Jehovah raised Him up, and Jehovah cast Him down. Had atonement, as such, been in view here as in Psalm 22, would it not be put as casting Him down, and then raising Him up? This is the way in which we Christians naturally think of Christ in that which is nearest to the sinner’s need and God’s answer of grace. But here Jehovah raised Him up, and Jehovah cast Him down, which evidently refers to His Messianic place, not to His position as the suffering and afterwards glorified Christ, the Head of the church. He was raised up as the true Messiah by Jehovah on earth, and He was cast down by Jehovah on earth. No doubt man was the instrument of it. The world which He had made did not know Him; His own people received Him not, neither would have Him. Jewish unbelief hated Him: the more they knew Him, the less could they endure Him. The goodness, the love, the glory of His person only drew out the deadly enmity of man, and specially of Israel; for they were worse than the Romans: and all this He, in the perfectness of His dependence, takes from Jehovah. For Himself, He came to suffer and die by wicked hands, but it was in the accomplishment of the will and purpose of God His Father. He knew full well that all the power of man or Satan would not have availed one instant before Jehovah permitted it. Hence all is taken meekly, but with none the less agony, from Jehovah’s hand; and less or other than this had not been perfection. In the midst of Messiah’s profound sense and expression of His humiliation to the lowest point thus accepted from Jehovah, He contrasts His own estate, wasted, prostrate, and coining to nothing. He contrasts it with two things. First, the certainty of every promise being accomplished for Israel and Zion He unhesitatingly anticipates; whilst He, the Messiah, submits to be given up to every possible abasement. He then contrasts Himself with the great commanding truth of Jehovah’s own permanence. And what is the answer from on high to the holy sufferer? Jehovah from above answers Jehovah below; He owns that the smitten Messiah is Jehovah — of stability and unchangeableness equal with His own.
What need of further proof after this? Nothing could be asked or conceived more conclusive, as far as concerned His divine glory. And all that the apostle thinks it necessary to cite after this is the connecting link of His present place on the throne of Jehovah in heaven with all these ascending evidences of His divine glory, beginning with His being Son as begotten in time and in the world; then His emphatic relationship to God as of the lineage of David — not Solomon, save typically, but the Christ really and ultimately; then worshipped by the angels of God; next, owned by God as God, and, finally, as Jehovah by Jehovah. All is closed by the citation of Psalm 110:1, which declares that God bids Him sit as man at His right hand on high till the hour of judgment on His foes. It is one of the most interesting psalms in the whole collection, and of the deepest possible moment as preparatory both to what is now brought in for the Christian (which, however, is hidden here) and to what it declares shall be by-and-by for Israel. Thus it is a sort of bridge between old and new, as it is more frequently quoted in the New Testament than any other Old Testament scripture. “Therefore” (as should be the conclusion, though commencing the next chapter) “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 if the word spoken by angels” — clearly he is still summing up the matter — “was stedfast, and every transgression and disobedience received a just recompence 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?” It is striking to see how the apostle takes the place of such as simply had the message, like other Jews, from those who personally heard Him: so completely was he writing, not as the apostle of the Gentiles magnifying his office, but as one of Israel, who were addressed by those who companied with Messiah on earth. It was confirmed “unto us,” says he, putting himself along with his nation, instead of conveying his heavenly revelations as one taken out from the people, and the Gentiles, to which last he was sent. He looks at what was their proper testimony, not at that to which he had been separated extraordinarily. He is dealing with them as much as possible on their own ground, though, of course, without compromise of his own. He does not overlook the testimony to the Jews as such: “God also bearing them witness, both with signs and wonders, and with divers miracles, and distributions of the Holy Ghost, according to his own will.”
Now he enters on another and very distinct portion of the glory of Christ. He is not only the Son of God, but Son of man; and they are both, I will not say equally necessary, but, without doubt, both absolutely necessary, whether for God’s glory or for His salvation to whomsoever it may be applied. Touch Christ on either side, and all is gone. Touch Him on the human side, it is hardly less fatal than on the divine. I admit that His divine glory has a place which humanity could not possess; but His human perfection is no less necessary to found the blessing for us on redemption, glorifying God in His righteousness and. love. This accordingly the apostle now traces. Jesus was God as truly as man, and in both above the angels. His superiority as Son of God had been proved in the most masterly manner from their own scriptures in the first chapter. He had drawn his conclusions, urging the all-importance of giving heed, and the danger of letting slip such a testimony. The law, as he had said elsewhere, was ordained by angels in the hand of a mediator. He had just said, if it was firm, and every transgression and disobedience received just recompence of reward; how shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation? Outward infraction and inner rebellion met their retribution. The sanction of the gospel would be commensurate with its grace, and God would avenge the slightings of a testimony begun by the Lord, farther carried on and confirmed by the Holy Spirit with signs, wonders, powers, and distributions according to His will.
Now he takes the other side, saying, “Unto the angels hath he not put in subjection the world to come.” Whatever may have been God’s employment of angels about the law, the world to come was never destined to be subjected to them. It is the good pleasure of God to use an angel where it is a question of providence, or law, or. power; but where it comes to be the manifestation of His glory in Christ, He must have other instruments more suitable for His nature, and according to His affections. “For one has somewhere testified, saying, What is man, that thou art mindful of him? or the son of man, that thou visitest him? Thou madest him a little lower than the angels; thou crownedst him with glory and honour, and didst set him over the works of thy hands.” Thus we see the first question raised is one as to the littleness of man in comparison with that which God has made; but the question is no sooner raised than answered, and this by one who looks at the Second Man and not at the first. Behold then man in Christ, and then talk, if you can, about His littleness. Behold man in Christ, and then be amazed at the wonders of the heavens. Let creation be as great as it may be, He that made all things is above them. The Son of man has a glory that completely eclipses the brightness of the highest objects. But also He shows that the humiliation of the Saviour, in which He was made a little lower than the angels, was for an end that led up to this heavenly glory. Grant that He was made a little lower, than the angels, what was it for? “We see not yet all things put under him. But we behold Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels for the suffering of death, crowned with glory and honour; so that by the grace of God he should taste death for everything.” Nor was this the only object; He was “crowned with glory and honour” as fruit of His sufferings unto death; but it had a gracious object as well as a glorious end; “so that by the grace of God he should taste death for everything;” for thus was the only door of deliverance for what was ruined by the fall, and this because it was the only means of morally vindicating God, who yearned in love over every work of His hands. There can be otherwise no efficacious because no righteous deliverance. It may be infinitely more, but righteous footing it must have; and this the death of Christ has given. Flowing from God’s grace, Christ’s death is the ground of reconciliation for the universe. It has also made it a part of His righteousness to bring man thus out of that ruin, misery, and subjection to death in which he lay. It has put into the hands of God that infinite fund of blessing in which He now loves to admit us reconciled to Himself.
The apostle does not yet draw all the consequences; but he lays down in these two chapters the twofold glory of Christ — Son of God, Son of man; and following up the latter, he approaches that which fitted Him, on the score of sympathy, for the priesthood. I do not mean that Jesus could have been High Priest according to God because He was man. Not His manhood but His Godhead is the ground of His glory; nevertheless, if He had not been man as well as Son of God, He could not have been priest. As for atonement so for priesthood, that ground was essential. But it was for man, and therefore He too must be man. So it is here shown that it “became him, for whom are all things, and by whom are all things, in bringing many sons unto glory, to make the captain of their salvation perfect through sufferings. For both he that sanctifieth and they who are sanctified are all of one.” Remark, it is not “all one.” We never reach that height in the epistle to the Hebrews; never have we the body here, any more than unity. For the body we must search into some other epistles of Paul, though unity we may see in another shape in John. But the epistle to the Hebrews never goes so far as either. It does what was even more important for those whom it concerned, and, I add, what is of the deepest possible moment for us. For those who think that they can live according to God on the truth of either Ephesians or of the epistles of St. John, without the doctrine of the epistle to the Hebrews, have made a miserable mistake.
Say what men will, we have our wants, as traversing this wilderness; and although we might like to soar, it cannot long, if at all, prosper. We have, therefore, the adaptation of Christ as priest to the infirmities that we feel, and so much the more because of an exercised conscience towards God, and a realizing of the desert sin has made — this defiled scene of our actual pilgrimage.
Accordingly, in the latter part of the chapter, the apostle begins to introduce the great truths which form so large a part of the epistle to the Hebrews. He speaks of Christ, the Sanctifier: “He that sanctifieth and they who are sanctified are all of one.” He means one and the same condition, without entering into particulars. “For which cause he is not ashamed to call them brethren.” There is a common relationship which the Sanctifier and the sanctified possess. It might be supposed, because He is the Sanctifier and they are the sanctified, that there could be no such communion. But there is: “for which cause he is not ashamed to call them brethren.” He never called them so, till He became a man; nor did He so fully then, till He was man risen from the dead. The apostle here most fittingly introduces Psalm 22, etc.: “Saying, I will declare thy name unto my brethren: in the midst of the church will I sing praise unto thee. And again, I will put my trust in him.” He is proving the reality of this common relationship of the Sanctifier and the sanctified. He, like themselves, can say, and He alone could say as they never did, “I will put my trust in him.” Indeed Psalm 16 was the expression of all His course as man — trust in life, trust in death, trust in resurrection. As in everything else, so in this, He has the pre-eminence; but it is a pre-eminence founded on a common ground. It could not have been true of Him, had He not been a man; had He been simply God, to talk of trusting in God would have been altogether unnatural impossible. As for Him then, though the Sanctifier, He and they were all of one. And so further: “Behold! and the children which God hath given me.” Here is again a different but equally good proof of mutual relationship.
“Forasmuch then as the children are partakers of flesh and blood, he also himself likewise took part of the same; that through death he might destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the devil; and deliver them who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage. For verily he took not on him the nature of angels.” This last should be, that He does not take up angels; He does not help them. They are not the objects of His concern in the work here described; “but he takes up the seed of Abraham. Wherefore in all things it behoved him to be made like unto his brethren, that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest” — here you have the object of all the proof of His being man — “in things pertaining to God, to make atonement for the sins of the people.” I use the word “atonement, or expiation, as being decidedly preferable to reconciliation.” You cannot talk of reconciling sins. It is not a question of making sins right. They are atoned for; people are reconciled. Those who have been sinners are reconciled to God; but as to sins they do not admit of being reconciled at all (which is a mistake). There is need of a propitiation, or expiation, for the sins of His people. “For in that he himself hath suffered being tempted, he is able to succour them that are tempted.” Temptation to Him was nothing but suffering: He suffered, being tempted, because there was that intrinsic holiness which repelled, but, at the same time, most acutely felt the temptation.
Thus the apostle enters on the vast field that will come before us a little while longer tonight. He has laid the basis for the high-priesthood of Christ. He could not have been such a High Priest, had He not been both divine and human; and he has proved both, in the fullest manner, from their own scriptures.
But before he enters upon the unfolding of His high-priesthood, there is a digression (the two chapters that follow, I apprehend, linking themselves with the two we have considered). Thus, “Christ as Son over his own house” answers pretty much to the first chapter, as the rest of God by-and-by answers to the second chapter; for I hope to prove it is to be in the scene of future glory. In writings so profound as the apostle’s, one generally hails the least help towards appreciating the structure of an epistle: let the reader consider it.
Hebrews 3. We need not dwell long on these intervening chapters. It is evident that he opens with our Lord as “apostle and high-priest of our confession,” in contrast with the apostle and high priest of the Jews. Moses was the revealer of the mind of God of old, as Aaron had the title and privilege of access then into the sanctuary of God for the people. Jesus unites both in His own person. He came from God, and went to God. The holy brethren, then, partakers of a heavenly calling (not earthly like Israel’s), are told to consider the Apostle and High Priest of our confession, even Jesus, who is faithful to Him that appointed Him, as also Moses in all his house. Moses, “as a servant,” he takes care particularly to say, in everything shows the superiority of the Messiah. “For he was counted worthy of greater glory than Moses, by how much he that built it hath more honour than the house.” He becomes bold now. He can venture, after having brought out such glory to Christ, to use plainness of speech; and they could hear it, if they believed their own scriptures. If they honoured the man who was God’s servant in founding and directing the tabernacle (or house of God in its rudimentary state), how much more did the ancient oracles call attention to a greater than Moses — to Jehovah — Messiah, even Jesus. How plainly this chapter pre-supposes the proofs of the divine glory of Christ! We shall see also His Sonship presently. “And Moses was faithful in all his house, as a servant, for a testimony of the things to be spoken after; but Christ, as Son over his house, whose house are we.” Christ, being divine, built the house; Christ built all things. Moses ministered as servant, and was faithful in God’s house; Christ as Son is over the house; “whose house are we, if we hold fast the confidence and the rejoicing of the hope firm unto the end.”
There were great difficulties, circumstances calculated especially to affect the Jew, who, after receiving the truth with joy, might be exposed to great trial, and so in danger of giving up his hope. It was, besides, particularly hard for a Jew at first to put these two facts together: a Messiah come, and entered into glory; and the people who belonged to the Messiah left in sorrow, and shame, and suffering here below. In fact, no person from the Old Testament could, at first sight at least, have combined these two elements. We can understand it now in Christianity. It is partly, indeed, to the shame of Gentiles, that they do not even see the difficulty for a Jew. It shows how naturally, so to speak, they have forgotten the Jew as having a special place in the word and purposes of God. They consequently cannot enter into the feelings of the Jew; and by such the authority and use of this epistle was grievously slighted. It is the self-conceit of the Gentile, (Rom. 11) not their faith, that makes the Jewish difficulty to be so little felt. Faith enables us to look at all difficulties, on the one hand measuring them, on the other raising us above them. This is not at all the case with ordinary Gentile thought. Unbelief, indifferent and unfeeling, does not even see, still less appreciate, the trials of the weak.
The apostle here enters into everything of value for the way. Although it is perfectly true that the Son is in this place of universal glory, and in relation to us, Son over His house (God’s house having an all-comprehending sense and a narrower one), he explains how it is that His people are in actual weakness, trial, exposure, danger and sorrow here below. The people are still travelling through the wilderness, not yet in the land. He immediately appeals to the voice of the Spirit in the Psalms: “Wherefore — (as the Holy Ghost saith, Today if ye will hear his voice, harden not your hearts, as in the provocation, in the day of temptation in the wilderness: when your fathers tempted me, proved me, and saw my works forty years. Wherefore I was grieved with that generation, and said, They do alway err in heart; and they have not known my ways. So I swear in my wrath, They shall not enter into my rest.) — take heed, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief, in departing from the living God. But exhort one another daily, while it is called Today; lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin. For we are made partakers of Christ, if we hold the beginning of our confidence stedfast unto the end; while it is said, Today if ye will hear his voice, harden not your hearts, as in the provocation. For some, when they had heard, did provoke: howbeit not all that came out of Egypt by Moses.”
What is pressed here is this: that the people of God are still in the path of faith, just like their fathers of old before they crossed the Jordan; that now there is that which puts our patience to the proof; that the grand thing for such is to hold fast the beginning of the assurance firm unto the end. They were tempted to stumble at the truth of Christ, because of the bitter experiences of the way through which they were going onward. To turn back is but the evil heart of unbelief; to abandon Jesus is to turn away from the living God. To be fellows or companions of the Messiah (Psalm 45) depends on holding fast the beginning of the assurance to the end; for, remember, we are in the wilderness. Following Christ, as of old Moses, we are not arrived at the rest of God. “But with whom was he grieved forty years? was it not with them that had sinned, whose carcases fell in the wilderness? And to whom sware he that they should not enter into his rest, but to them that believed not? So we see that they could not enter in because of unbelief.”
This leads us to the very important, but often misunderstood, Hebrews 4. What is the meaning of the “rest of God”? Not rest of soul, nor rest of conscience, any more than of heart. It is none of these things, but simply what the apostle says, God’s rest. His rest is not merely your rest. It is not our faith seizing the rest that Christ gives to him that trusts Himself, as when He says, “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” He did not say, “I will give you God’s rest.” It was not the time, nor is it of that nature. God’s rest is the rest of His own satisfaction. His rest is a change of all, the present scene of trial and toil, the consequences of sin. Of course the people of God must be formed for the scene, as well as it for them. They are incomparably more to God than that which they are going to fill. But the scene has its importance too. It would not suit God, if it would suit us, to be ever so blessed in such a world as this. He means to have a rest as worthy of Himself as the righteousness we are made in Christ is worthy of Himself now. As it is His righteousness, so will it be His rest. Therefore it is not merely, as Gentiles are apt to suppose, the bringing of comfort into the heart, and the spirit filled with the consciousness of blessings from God and of His grace to us. The Jew, too, had, in another direction, a miserably inadequate conception of it; for it was earthly, if not sensual. Still, what a Jewish believer often staggered at, what he felt to be a serious riddle for his mind, was the contrast between the circumstances through which he was passing, and the Christ of which the prophets had spoken to him. Now the apostle does not in any way make light of the grief by the way, nor forget that the pilgrimage in the desert is the type of our earthly circumstances. He takes the scriptures that speak of Israel journeying toward, but not yet in, the pleasant land, applying them to the present facts, and at the same time he sets before them in hope the rest of God.
Hebrews 4. “Let us therefore fear, lest, a promise being left us of entering into his rest, any of you should seem to come short of it. For unto us were glad tidings preached, as well as unto them: but the word preached did not profit them, not being mixed with faith in them that heard it. For we who have believed do enter into rest.” That is, we are on the road. He does not say that we have entered, nor does he mean anything of the sort, which is clean contrary to the argument and aim. It is altogether a mistake, therefore, so to interpret the passage. The very reverse is meant, namely, that we have not entered into the rest, but, as the hymn says, we are on our way, I will not say to God, but assuredly to His rest. We are entering into the rest, having got it before us, and on to that rest we move; but we are not yet there. “We which have believed do enter into rest, as he said, As I have sworn in my wrath, if they shall enter into my rest.” It is quite true that it is the Holy Ghost’s object to bring the rest close to us, so as to make us always conscious of the little interval that separates us from the rest of God; but still, let the interval be ever so short, we are not there yet, we are only going towards it. For the present, our place, beyond controversy, is viewed as in fact in the wilderness. According to the doctrine of this epistle (as of the Romans, the Corinthians, and the Philippians) to present us as in heavenly places would be altogether out of place and season. To the Ephesians he does develop our blessing as in and with Christ in the heavenlies. There it was exactly consonant to the character of the truth; for it is truth, and of the highest order. But as far as the Epistle to the Hebrews goes, we should never have learnt this side of the truth of God, or its appropriation to us; for we are only regarded in our actual place, that is, marching through the desert.
Here objections, which might be founded on the scriptures of the Old Testament, are met. There were two, and only two, occasions of old whence it might be argued that there had been an entrance into God’s rest.
The first was when God made the creation; but was there any entering of man into that rest? God, doubtless, rested from His works; but even God is never said then to have rested in His works. Was there anything that satisfied God or blessed man permanently? All was good, yea, very good; but could God rest in His love? Surely not, till all could be founded on the basis of redemption. Before all worlds God meant to have this. Nothing but redemption could bring into His own rest. Consequently, a rest capable of being spoilt, and all requiring to be begun over again in a new and more blessed way, never could meet the heart or mind of God. This, accordingly, is not His rest; it served as a sign and witness of it, but nothing more.
Then we come down lower to the second instance of deep and special interest to Israel. When Joshua brought the people triumphantly into the possession of Canaan, was this the rest of God? Not so. How is it disproved? By the self-same Psalm — “If they shall enter into my rest,” written afterwards. So wrote David, “Today, after so long a time.” Not only after the creation, but after Joshua had planted the people in the land, a certain day is determined in the future. For if Jesus [i.e., Joshua] had brought them into rest, he would not have spoken afterwards about another day. They had not entered into it yet.
The “rest” was still beyond. Is it not future still? What has there been to bring people into the rest of God since then? What is there to be compared with creation, or with His people settled in Canaan by the destruction of their foes? That which Gentile theology has brought into the matter, namely, the work of the Lord on the cross, or the application of it to meet the needs of the soul — precious as it was to the apostle, as it must be to faith — has no place whatever in the apostle’s argument. If so, where does he bring it into the context? The idea that this is the point debated is so perfectly foreign and futile, that to my mind it demonstrates exceeding prepossession, if not looseness, of mind, as well as a lack of subjection to scripture, in those who allow their theories to override the plain word of God, which is here conspicuous for the absence of that infinite truth.
The apostle, therefore, at once draws the conclusion, that neither at creation, nor in Canaan, was the rest of God really come. The latter part of the Old Testament shows us how Israel got unsettled, and finally driven from their land; though it also predicts their future ingathering. The New Testament shows us the rejection of the Messiah, the ruin of Israel, the salvation of believers, the church formed of such in one body, (whether Jews or Gentiles,) but in the stronger contrast with the rest of God. Consequently, the rest is but coming, not come; it is future. This is the application: “There remaineth therefore a rest” (or sabbatism) “to the people of God. For he that hath entered into his rest, he also hath ceased from his works, as God did from his own.” I must ask you thus to alter the passage, the authorised version giving it wrongly. The emphasis is taken out of one place, and put into another, without the slightest reason.
What he deduces is, “Let us use diligence therefore to enter into that rest.” The meaning is, you cannot be labouring and resting in the same sense and time, All must confess that when you rest, you cease from labour. His statement is that now is the time not for rest, but for diligence; and the moral reason why we labour is, that love — whether looked at in God Himself, in His Son, or in His children — love never can rest, where there is either sin or wretchedness. In the world there is both. No doubt for the believer, his sins are blotted out and forgiven, and hope anticipates with joy the final deliverance of the Lord. But as to the course of this age and all things here below, it is impossible to think or speak of rest as these are, not even for our bodies, as part of the fallen creation. There ought not to be rest, therefore, beyond what we have by faith in our souls. It would be mere sentimentalising; it is not the truth of God. I ought to feel the misery and the estrangement of the earth from God; I ought to go — however joyful in the Lord — with a heart sad, and knowing how to weep, in a world where there is so much sin, and suffering, and sorrow. But the time is coming when God will wipe away tears from all eyes, yea, every tear; and this will be the rest of God. To this rest we are journeying, but we are only journeying. At the same time we should labour: love cannot but toil in such a world as this. If there be the spirit that feels the pressure of sin, there is the love that rises up in the power of God’s grace, bringing in that which lifts out of sin. and delivers from it. So he says, “Let us be diligent therefore to enter into that rest.”
Allow me to say a word to any person here who may be a little confused by old thoughts on this subject. Look again a little more exactly into the two chief calls of the chapter (verses 1 and 11), and let me ask you if it be safe and sound to apply them to rest for the conscience now? Are souls who have never yet tasted that the Lord is gracious to be summoned to fear? And how does the call to labour or diligence square with the apostle’s word in Romans 4:4, 5, where justification by faith, apart from works, is beyond cavil the point of teaching? What can be the effect of such prejudices of interpretation (no matter who may have endorsed them) but to muddle the gospel of God’s grace? Thus it seems to me clearly and certainly such a notion is proved to be false. The test of a wrong notion is that it always dislocates the truth of God; often, indeed, like this, running counter to the plainest and most elementary forms of the gospel itself. Thus, take the text already referred to — “To him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly” — the popular misinterpretation sets people working to enter into rest for their conscience. But the doctrine is as false as the written word is true; and the meaning of that which is before us is, not rest now for the soul by faith, but the rest of God, when He has made a scene in the day of glory as worthy of Himself as it will be suited for those whom He loves.
Accordingly, we are next shown the provision of grace, not for the rest of glory, but for those who are only journeying on towards it here below. And what is that provision? The word of God, which comes and searches, tries and deals with us, judging the thoughts and intents of the heart; and the priesthood of Christ, which converts and strengthens, and applies all that is needed here — the grace and mercy of our God. “Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need.”
And now (Heb. 5) we enter upon the priesthood; for it is a priest that we want who stand already accepted by sacrifice. Not a priest, but a sacrifice, is the foundation of all relationship with God; but we need ,along the way a living person, who can deal both with God for us and for God with us. Such a great High Priest who passed through the heavens, yet able to sympathize with our infirmities, we have in Jesus the Son of God. How little these Jews, even when saints, knew the treasure of grace that God had given in Him whom the nation abhorred! As previously, the apostle takes the proofs from their own oracles. It is not a question of revealing, but of rightly applying, by the Holy Ghost, the word they had in their hand.
“For every high priest taken from among men is established for men in things pertaining to God, that he may offer both gifts and sacrifices for sins.” It might seem scarcely credible that these words could be applied to Christ But there is nothing too bad for the heart of man; and these are mistakes of the heart. They do not arise from intellectual feebleness. It would be folly so to judge of Grotius, for instance. They spring from unbelief. Call it ignorance of Christ and of the scriptures, if you will, but it is not found only with the ignorant, as men would speak. I am sure we ought to have great compassion for the honest ignorance of simple-minded men. But, as in other sad cases, the error is often combined with ample learning of the schools, though with lamentable lack of divine teaching even in foundation truth. I do not deny that God may deign to use anything in His service; but these men confide in their learning and their powers generally, instead of becoming fools that they may become wise, which is the truest learning according to God, if one may speak of “learning” in respect of that wisdom which comes down from the Father of lights.
Thus men, confident in their own resources, have dared to apply this description of priesthood to Christ. They have failed to see that it is a distinct contrast with Christ, and not at all a picture of His priesthood. It is evidently general, and sets before us a human priest, not Jesus — God’s High Priest. If there be analogy, there is certainly the strongest contrast here. An ordinary priest is able to exercise forbearance toward the ignorant and erring, since he himself also is compassed with infirmity. “And by reason hereof he ought, as for the people, so also for himself, to offer for sins.” Did Christ need to offer for Himself, yea, for sins? This blasphemy would follow, if the foregoing words applied to Christ. “And no one taketh this honour unto himself, but he that is called of God, even as Aaron. So also Christ glorified not himself to be made an high priest.” Now he teaches a point of contact, as the other was of contrast. All you can procure from among men is one that can feel, as being a man, for men after a human sort. Such is not the priest that God has given us, but one who, though man, feels for us after a divine sort. And so, we are told, that Christ, while He was and is this glorious person in His nature and right, nevertheless as man did not glorify Himself to be made an high priest; “but he that said unto him, Thou art my Son, today have I begotten thee; as he saith also in another place, Thou art a priest for ever after the order of Melchisedec.”
The same God who owned Him as His Son, born of the Virgin, owned Him also as Priest for ever after the order of Melchisedec. And in this order too: first, Son (on earth);1 next, the true Melchisedec (in heaven, as we shall find). Albeit true God and Son of God, in everything He displays perfect lowliness among men, and absolute dependence on God: such also was His moral fitness for each office and function which God gave Him to discharge. Mark, again, the skill with which all is gradually approached — how the inspired writer saps and mines their exorbitant (yet after all only earthly) pretensions, founded on the Aaronic priesthood. Such was the great boast of the Jews. And here we learn out of their own scriptures another order of priesthood reserved for the Messiah, which he knew right well could not but put the Aaronic priesthood completely in the shade. “Thou art a priest for ever after the order of Melchisedec.”
At the same time, it is plain that there is no forgetfulness of the suffering obedience of Christ’s place here below; but He is presented in this glory before we are given to hear of the path of shame which ushered it in. “Who in the days of his flesh, when he had offered up prayers and supplications with strong crying and tears unto him that was able to save him from death, and was heard in that he feared; though he were a Son, yet learned he obedience by the things which he suffered; and being made perfect, he became the author of eternal salvation unto all them that obey him, called of God an high priest after the order of Melchisedec The apostle had much to say, but hard to be interpreted, because they were become dull of hearing. It is not that the word of God in itself is obscure, but that men bring in their difficulties. Nor does His word., as is often thought, want light to be thrown on it; rather is it light itself. By the Spirit’s power it dispels the darkness of nature. Many obstacles there are to the entrance of light through the word, but there is none more decided than the force of religious prejudice; and this would naturally operate most among the Hebrew saints. They clung too much to old things; they could not take in the new. We may see a similar hindrance every day. What Paul had to say of the Melchisedec priesthood was hard to explain to them, not because the things were in themselves unintelligible, but they were dull in hearing. “For when for the time ye ought to be teachers, ye again have need that one teach you the elements of the beginning of the oracles of God.”
There is nothing, I repeat, which tends to make dulness in spiritual things so much as religious tradition. The next to it in dead weight, and in other respects more daringly dangerous, will be found to be philosophy. At any rate, it is remarkable that these are the two occasions of this reproach from the apostle. So he wrote to the Corinthians, who generally admired rhetoric, and had no small confidence, like other Greeks, in their own wisdom. They did not consider Paul, either in style or topics, at all up to the requirements of the age — at least in their midst. How cutting to hear themselves counted babes, and incapable of meat for grown men, so that, being carnal, they must have milk administered to them! The apostle had to put them down, and tell them, with all their high-flown wisdom, they were such that he could not discourse to them about the deep things of God. This, no doubt, was a painful surprise for them. So here the same apostle writing to the Hebrew believers treats them as babes, though from a different source. Thus we see two errors totally opposed in appearance, but leading to the same conclusion. Both unfit the soul for going on with God; and the reason why they so hinder is because they are precisely the things in which man lives. Whether it be the mind of man or his natural religiousness, either idolizes its own object; and consequently blindness ensues to the glory of Christ.
Hence the apostle could not but feel himself arrested by their state. He shows also that this very state was not merely one of weakness, but exposed them to the greatest danger; and this is pursued not on the philosophical side so much as on that of religions forms. We have already seen both at work in Colosse, as I have just pointed out the snare that the wisdom of the world was to the Corinthians. But on the Hebrews he presses their excessive danger of abandoning Christ for religious traditions. First of all these hinder progress; finally they draw the soul aside from grace and truth; and if the mighty power of God does not interfere, they ruin. This had been the course of some: they had better be watchful that it be not their own case. He begins gently with their state of infantine feebleness; and then in the beginning of the following chapter he sets before them the awful picture of apostasy. “For every one that useth milk is unskilful in the word of righteousness: for he is a babe. But strong meat belongeth to them that are of full age, even those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil.”
“Therefore,” (adds he, in Hebrews 6) “leaving the word of the beginning of Christ, let us go on to perfection.” He proves that we cannot safely linger among the Jewish elements when we have heard and received Christian truth; that not merely blessing, not simply power and enjoyment, but the only place even of safety is in going on to this full growth. To stop short for them was to go back. Let those that had heard of Christ return to the forms of Judaism, and what would become of them?
Then he speaks of the various constituents that make up the word of the beginning of Christ (i.e., Christ known short of death, resurrection, and ascension). He would have them advance, “not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and faith in God, of a teaching of washings and imposition of hands, and of resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment.” Not that these were not true and important in their place: no one disputed them; but they were in no way the power, nor even characteristic, of Christianity. They go in pairs; and a mere Jew would hardly object; but what is all this for the Christian? Why live on such points? “And this” (i.e. going on to full growth) “will we do if God permit. For it is impossible [as to] those once enlightened, and that tasted the heavenly gift, and were made partakers of the Holy Spirit, and that tasted the good word of God, and the powers of the age to come, and fell away, to renew [them] again to repentance, seeing they crucify for themselves and expose the Son of God.”
It is a question of persons drawn into apostasy after having enjoyed every privilege and power of the gospel, short of a new nature and that indwelling of the Spirit which seals renewed souls till the day of redemption. For them rejecting the Messiah on earth under Judaism God gave repentance and remission of sins; but if they gave up the risen and glorified Christ, there was no provision of grace, no third estate of Christ to meet the case. It is not the case of a person surprised into sin; nay, not even the very awful case of one who may go on in sin, sorrowful to think that it may be so with one of whom we had hoped better things. But here there is another evil altogether. They were those who might be ever so correct, moral, religious, but who, having confessed Jesus as the Christ after the outpouring of the Spirit, had lapsed back into Jewish elements, counting it perhaps a wise and wholesome cheek on a too rapid advance, instead of seeing that in principle it was an abandonment of Christ altogether. The full case here supposed is a thorough renunciation of Christian truth.
The apostle describes a confessor with all the crowning evidences of the gospel, but not a converted man, Not a word implies this either here or in 2 Peter. Short of this he uses uncommonly strong expressions, and purposely so: he sets forth the possession of the highest possible external privileges, and this in that abundant form and measure which God gave on the ascension of the Lord. He says it all, no doubt, about the baptized; but there is nothing about baptism as the ancients would have it, any more than, with some moderns, the progressive steps of the spiritual life. There is knowledge, joy, privilege, and power, but no spiritual life. Enlightenment is in no sense the new birth, nor does baptism in scripture ever mean illumination. It is the effect of the gospel on the dark soul — the shining on the mind of Him who is the only true light. But light is not life; and life is not predicated here.
Further, they had “tasted of the heavenly gift.” It is not the Messiah as He was preached when the disciples went about here below, but Christ after He went on high; not Christ after the flesh, but Christ risen and glorified above.
But, again, they were “made partakers of the Holy Ghost.” Of Him every one became a partaker, who confessed the Lord and entered into the house of God. There the Holy Ghost dwelt; and all who were there became partakers after an outward sort (not
μέτοχοι) of Him who constituted the assembly of God’s habitation and temple. He pervaded, as it were, the whole atmosphere of the house of God. It is not in the least a question of a person individually born of God, and so sealed by the Holy Spirit. There is not an allusion to either in this case, but to their taking a share in this immense privilege, the word not being that which speaks of a joint known portion, but only of getting a share.
Moreover, they “tasted the good word of God.” Even an unconverted man might feel strong emotions, and enjoy to a certain extent, more particularly those that had lain in Judaism, that dreary valley of dry bones. What fare was the gospel of grace! Certainly nothing could be more miserable than the scraps which the scribes and Pharisees put before the sheep of the house of Israel. There is nothing to forbid the natural mind from being attracted by the delightful sweetness of the glad-tidings which Christianity proclaims.
Lastly, we hear of “the powers of the age to come.” This seems more than a general share in the presence of the Holy Ghost, who inhabited the house of God. They were positively endued with miraculous energies — samples of that which will characterize the reign of the Messiah. Thus we may fairly give the fullest force to every one of these expressions. Yet write them out ever so largely, they fall short both of the new birth and of sealing with the Holy Ghost. There is everything one may say, save inward spiritual life in Christ, or the indwelling seal of it. That is to say, one may have the very highest endowments and privileges, in the way both of meeting the mind, and also of exterior power; and yet all may be given up, and the man become so much the keener enemy of Christ. Indeed such is the natural result. It had been the mournful fact as to some. They had fallen away. Hence renewal to repentance is an impossibility, seeing they crucify for themselves the Son of God, and put Him to open shame.
Why impossible? The case supposed is of persons, after the richest proof and privilege, turning aside apostates from Christ, in order to take up Judaism once more. As long as that course is pursued, repentance there cannot be. Supposing a man had been the adversary of Messiah here below, there was still the opening for him of grace from on high. It was possible that the very man that had slighted Christ here below might have his eyes opened to see and receive Christ above; but, this abandoned, there is no fresh condition in which He can be presented to men. Those who rejected Christ in all the fulness of His grace, and in the height of glory in which God had set Him as man before them, — those that rejected Him not merely on earth, but in heaven, what was there to fall back on? what possible means to bring them to a repentance after that? There is none. What is there but Christ coming in judgment? Now apostasy, sooner or later, must fall under that judgment. Such is the force of the comparison. “For land which hath drunk in the rain that cometh oft upon it, and bringeth forth herbs meet for them by whom it is dressed, receiveth blessing from God: but that which beareth thorns and briers is rejected, and is nigh unto cursing; whose end is for burning.”
“But we are persuaded better things of you, beloved.” There might seem too much ground for fear, but of the two ends he was persuaded respecting them the better things, and akin to salvation, if even he thus spoke; for God was not unrighteous, and the apostle too remembered traits of love and devotedness which gave him this confidence about them. But, says he, “We earnestly desire that each of you show the same diligence to the full assurance of hope unto the end that ye be not slothful, but followers of those who through faith and long-suffering inherit the promises.” Here is given a remarkable instance of the true character of the epistle; namely, the combination of two features peculiar to the Hebrews. On the one hand are the promises, the oath of God, taking up His ways with Abraham; and, on the other hand, the hope set before us, that enters into what is within the veil. We may account for the former, because the writer was not confining himself to that which fell within the proper sphere of his apostleship. But, again, had he been writing according to his ordinary place, nothing was more strictly his line of testimony than to have dwelt on our hope that enters within the veil. The peculiarity of the epistle to the Hebrews lies in combining the promises with Christ’s heavenly glory. None but Paul, I believe, would have been suited to bring in the heavenly portion. At the same time, only in writing to the Hebrews could Paul have brought in the Old Testament hopes as he has done.
Another point of interest which may be remarked here is the intimation at the end compared with the beginning of the chapter. We have seen the highest external privileges — not only the mind of man, as far as it could, enjoying the truth, but the power of the Holy Ghost making the man, at any rate, an instrument of power, even though it be to his own shame and deeper condemnation afterwards. In short, man may have the utmost conceivable advantage, and the greatest external power even of the Spirit of God Himself; and yet all comes to nothing. But the very same chapter, which affirms and warns of the possible failure of every advantage, shows us the weakest faith that the whole New Testament describes coming into the secure possession of the best blessings of grace. Who but God could have dictated that this same chapter (Heb. 6) should depict the weakest faith that the New Testament ever acknowledges? What can look feebler, what more desperately pressed, than a man fleeing for refuge? It is not a soul as coming to Jesus; it is not as one whom the Lord meets and blesses on the spot; but here is a man hard pushed, fleeing for very life (evidently a figure drawn from the blood-stained fleeing from the avenger of blood), yet eternally saved and blessed according to the acceptance of Christ on high.
There was no reality found to be in those so highly favoured of the early verses; and therefore it was (as there was no conscience before God, no sense of sin, no cleaving to Christ) that everything came to nought; but here, there is the fruit of faith, feeble indeed and sorely tried, but in the light that appreciates the judgment of God against sin. Hence, although it be only fleeing in an agony of soul to refuge, what is it that God gives to one in such a state? Strong consolation, and that which enters within the veil. Impossible that the Son should be shaken from His place on the throne of God: so is it that the least believer should come to any hurt whatever. The weakest of saints more than conqueror is; and therefore the apostle, having brought us to this glorious point of conclusion, as well as shown us the awful danger of men giving up such a Christ as that which we have presented to us in this epistle, now finds himself free to unfold the character of His priesthood, as well as the resulting position of the Christian. But on these I hope to enter, if the Lord will, on another occasion.
Hebrews 7 - 13.
The apostle now resumes his great theme, Christ called a Priest of God for ever after the order of Melchisedec. He alludes, in the beginning of our chapter, to the historical facts of Genesis. We must bear in mind that Melchisedec was a man like any other. There, is no ground, in my judgment, for the thought of anything mysterious in the facts as to his person. The manner in which scripture introduces him is such as to furnish a very striking type of Christ. There is no necessity for considering anything else, but that the Spirit of God, forecasting the future, was pleased to conceal the line of Melchisedec’s parentage, or descendants if any, of their birth or death. He is suddenly ushered upon the scene. He has not been of by the reader before; he is never heard of again in history. Thus the only time when he comes into notice he is acting in the double capacity here spoken of: King of righteousness as to his name, King of Salem as to his place, blessing Abraham on his return from the victory over the kings of the Gentiles in the name of the Most High God, and blessing the Most High God the possessor of heaven earth in the name of Abraham.
The apostle does not dwell on the detailed application of His Melchisedec priesthood, as to the object and character of its exercise. He does not draw attention here to the account, that there was only blessing from man to God, and from God to man. He does not reason from the singular circumstance that there was no incense, any more than sacrifice. He alludes to several facts, but leaves them. The point to which he directs the reader is the evident and surpassing dignity of the case — the unity too of the Priest and the priesthood; and this for an obvious reason.
The time for the proper exercise of the Melchisedec priesthood of Christ is not yet arrived. The millennial day will see this. The battle which Abraham fought, the first recorded one in scripture, is the type of the last battle of this age. It is the conflict which introduces the reign of peace founded on righteousness, when God will manifest Himself as the Most High God, possessor of heaven and earth. This is, as is well known, the special characteristic of the millennium. Heaven and earth have not been united, nor have they been in fact possessed for the blessing of man by the power of God, since sin severed between the earth and that which is above it, and the prince of the power of the air perverted all, so that what should have been, according to God’s nature and counsels, the source of every blessing, became rather the point from which the guilty conscience of man cannot but look for judgment. Heaven, therefore, by man’s own conviction, must be arrayed in justice against earth because of sin, But the day is coming when Israel shall be no more rebellious, and the nations shall be no longer deceived, and Satan shall be dethroned from his bad eminence, and all idols shall flee apace, and God shall be left the undisputed and evidently Most High, the possessor of heaven and earth. In that day it will be the joy of Him who is the true Melchisedec, to bring out not the mere signs, but the reality of all that can be the stay and comfort of man, and all that sustains and cheers, the patent proof of the beneficent might of God, when “no good thing will he withhold from them that walk uprightly.”
But meanwhile, confessedly, the Spirit of God directs attention, not to the exercise, but to the order of the Melchisedec Priest. If we have to wait for the exercise at a future day, the order is as true and plain now as it ever can be. Indeed, at no time will its order be more apparent than at present; for I think there can be little doubt to any unbiassed Christian who enters with intelligence into the Old Testament prophecies, that there is yet to be an earthly sanctuary, and, consequently, earthly priests and sacrifices for Israel in their own land; that the sons of Zadok, as Ezekiel lets us know, will perpetuate the line at the time when the Lord shall be owned to be there, in the person of the true David their King, blessing His people long distressed but now joyful on earth. But this time is not yet come. There is nothing to divert the heart from Christ, the great High Priest in the heavens. No doubt all will be good and right in its due season then. Meanwhile Christianity gives the utmost force to every type and truth of God. The undivided place of Christ is more fully witnessed now, when there are no others to occupy the thought or to distract the heart from Him as seen by faith in glory on high.
Hence the apostle applies the type distinctly now, as far as the “order” of the priesthood goes. We hear first of Melchisedec (King of righteousness), next of Salem or peace; without father, without mother, without genealogy. Unlike others in Genesis, neither parents are recorded, nor is there any hint of descent from him. In short, there is. no mention of family or ancestors, “having neither beginning of days, nor end of life” — neither is recorded in scripture; — “but made like unto the Son of God, abideth a priest continually.”
The next point proved is the indisputable superiority of the Melchisedec priesthood to that of Aaron, of which the Jews naturally boasted. After all, the telling fact was before them that, whoever wrote the epistle to the Hebrews, it was not a Christian who wrote the book of Genesis, but Moses; and Moses bears witness to the homage which Abram rendered to Melchisedec by the payment of tithes. On the other hand, the priests, Aaron’s family, among the sons of Levi, “have a commandment to take tithes of the people according to the law, that is of their brethren, though they come out of the loins of Abraham.” Thus Melchisedec, “whose descent is not of Aaron nor of Levi,” like Jesus, “received tithes of Abraham, and blessed him that had the promises!” “And without all contradiction the less is blessed of the better.” No argument could be more distinct or conclusive. The other descendants of Abraham honoured the house of Aaron as Levitical priests; but Abraham himself, and so Levi himself, and of course Aaron, in his loins honoured Melchisedec. Thus another and a higher priesthood was incontestably acknowledged by the father of the faithful. “And, as I may so say, Levi also, who receiveth tithes, paid tithes in Abraham. For he was yet in the loins of his father, when Melchisedec met him.”
This leads to another point; for the change of the priesthood imports a change of the law. “If therefore perfection were by the Levitical priesthood, (for under it the people received the law,) what further need was there that another priest should rise after the order of Melchisedec, and not be called after the order of Aaron?” This change was clearly taught in the book of Psalms. It was not only that there had been at the beginning such a priest, but that fact became the form of a glorious anticipation which the Holy Ghost holds out for the latter day. Psalm 110, which, as all the Jews owned, spoke., throughout its greater part at least, of the Messiah and His times, shows us Jehovah Himself — by an oath, which is afterwards reasoned on — signifying that another priest should arise after a different order from that of Aaron. “The priesthood being changed, there is made of necessity a change also of the law. For he of whom these things are spoken pertaineth to another tribe, of which no man gave attendance at the altar. For it is evident that our Lord sprang out of Juda; of which tribe Moses spake nothing concerning priesthood. And it is yet far more evident: for that after the similitude of Melchisedec there ariseth another priest.” Thus the Pentateuch and the Psalms bore their double testimony to a Priest superior to the Aaronic.
Further, that this Priest was to be a living one, in some most singular manner to be an undying Priest, was made evident beyond question, because in that Psalm it is said, “He testifieth, Thou art a priest for ever after the order of Melchisedec.” This was also a grand point of distinction. Where could they find such a Priest? where one competent to take up that word “for ever”? Such was the Priest of whom God spoke. “For,” says he, “there is verily a disannulling of the commandment going before for the weakness and unprofitableness thereof (for the law made nothing perfect).” He uses in the most skilful manner the change of the priest, in order to bring along with it a change of the law, the whole Levitical system passing away — “but [there is] the bringing in of a better hope.” Such is the true sense of the passage. “For the law made nothing perfect” is a parenthesis. By that hope, then, “we draw nigh unto God.”
But again the solemn notice of Jehovah’s oath is enlarged on. “Inasmuch as not without an oath he was made priest: (for those priests were made without an oath” — no oath ushers in the sons of Aaron — “but he with an oath by him that said as to him, The Lord sware and will — not repent, Thou art a priest for ever after the order of Melchisedec:) by so much was Jesus made a surety of a better covenant.”
And, finally, he sums up the superiority of Christ in this, that “they truly were many priests, because they were not suffered to continue by reason of death: but he, because of his continuing for ever, hath the priesthood intransmissible.” There was but one such Priest.
In every point of view, therefore, the superiority of the Melchisedec priest was demonstrated over the line of Aaron. The fulfilment of the Melchisedec Order is found in Christ, and in Him alone. The Jews themselves acknowledge that Psalm 110 must be fulfilled in Christ, in His quality of Messiah. Nothing but stupid, obstinate, unbelieving prejudice, after the appearance of the Lord Jesus, could have suggested any other application of the Psalm. Before Jesus came, there was no question of it among the Jews. So little was it a question, that our Lord could appeal to its acknowledged meaning, and press the difficulty His person created for unbelief. By their own confession the application of that Psalm was to the Messiah, and the very point that Jesus urged upon the Jews of His day was this — how, if He were David’s Son, as they agreed, could He be his Lord, as the Psalmist David confesses? This shows that, beyond question, among the Jews of that day, Psalm 110 was understood to refer to the Christ alone. But if so, He was the Priest after the order of Melchisedec, as well as seated at Jehovah’s right hand — a cardinal truth of Christianity, the import of which the Jews did not receive in their conception of the Messiah. Hence throughout this epistle the utmost stress is laid on His being exalted in heaven — Yet there was no excuse for a difficulty on this score. Their own Psalm, in its grand prophetic sweep, and looking back on the law, pointed to the place in which Christ is now seated above; and where it is of necessity He should be, in order to give Christianity its heavenly character.
The doctrine follows: “Wherefore he is able also to save them to the uttermost.” He does not mean by this the worst of sinners, but saving believers to the uttermost, bringing through every difficulty those “that come unto God by him.” A priest is always in connection with the people of God, never as such with those that are outside, but a positive known relation with God — “seeing he ever liveth to make intercession for them. For such an high priest became us, who is holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners, and made higher than the heavens.” This statement is so much the more remarkable, because in the beginning of this epistle he had pointed out what became God. It ‘became Him that Christ should suffer. It became us to have a Priest, “holy, harmless, undefiled, made higher than the heavens.”
What infinite thoughts are those that God’s word gives; as glorifying for Himself as elevating for our souls! Yet who beforehand would have anticipated either? It became God that Christ should go down to the uttermost; it became us that He should be exalted to the highest. And why? Because Christians are a heavenly people, and none but a heavenly Priest would suit them. It became God to give Him to die; for such was our estate by sin that nothing short of His atoning death could deliver us; but, having delivered us, God would make us to be heavenly. None but a heavenly Priest would suffice for the counsels He has in hand. “Who needeth not daily,” therefore says He, “as those high priests, to offer up sacrifice, first for his own sins, and then for the people’s.” He always keeps up the evidence of the utter inferiority of the Jewish priest, as well as of the accompanying state of things, to that of Christianity. “For this he did once, when he offered up himself. For the law maketh men priests which have infirmity; but the word of the oath which was since the law, a Son perfected (or consecrated) for ever.” This was the very difficulty that the Jew pleaded; but now, in point of fact, it was only what the Psalm of Messiah insisted on, the law itself bearing witness of a priest superior to any under the law. Holy Scripture then demanded that a man should sit down at the right hand of God. It was accomplished in Christ, exalted as the great Melchisedec in heaven. If they were Abraham’s children, and not his seed only, surely they would honour Him.
Hence, in Hebrews 8, the apostle draws his conclusion. “Now of the things that are being spoken of this is a summary: We have such an high priest, who is set down on [the] right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens; a minister of the holies, and of the true tabernacle, which the Lord pitched, and not man.” In Hebrews 1 it is written, that “having by himself made purification of our sins, he sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high.” The point there is personal glory. No other seat was suitable to such a One. He sat down there as of His own right and title, but nevertheless making a part of His divine glory to be witnessed in, as indeed His person was necessary to make His blood efficacious to the purging of our sins. But in chapter 8. He sits there not merely as the proof of the perfectness with which He has purged our sins by Himself alone, but as the Priest; and accordingly it is not merely said “on high,” but “in the heavens.” Such is the emphasis. Accordingly observe the change of expression. He has been proved to be a divine person, and the true royal priest of whom not Aaron only but Melchisedec was the type. Hence the right hand of the throne is introduced, but, besides, “of the Majesty in the heavens.” So that, let the Jews say what they might, there was only found what answered to their own scriptures, and what proved the incontestable superiority of the great Priest whom Melchisedec shadowed out, and of whom it was now for the Christian justly to boast. He is “minister of the holies and of the true tabernacle, which the Lord pitched, and not of man.” Now the tone becomes bolder with them, and shows clearly that the Jew had but an empty form, a foreshadow of value once, but now superseded by the true antitype in the heavens.
Here, too, he begins to introduce what a. priest does, that is, the exercise of his functions. “For every high priest is constituted to offer gifts and sacrifices: wherefore it is of necessity that this man have somewhat also to offer. For if he were on earth, he should not even be a priest, seeing that there are priests that offer gifts according to the law: who serve the representation and shadow of heavenly things, as Moses was oracularly told when about to make the tabernacle: for, See, saith he, that thou make all things according to the pattern that was shown to thee in the mountain. But now hath he obtained a more excellent ministry, by how much also he is the mediator of a better covenant.” Thus, before he enters on the subject of the sacrifices at length, he takes notice of the covenants, and thence he draws a conclusion from the well-known prophecy in Jeremiah, where God declares that the days were coming when He would make a new covenant. What is the inference from that? He presses the fact of a new principle, as well as an institution established on better promises, upon the Jews. For why should there be a new covenant, unless because the first was faulty or ineffectual! What was the necessity for a new covenant if the old one would do as well? According, to the Jews it was quite impossible, if God had once established a covenant, He could ever change; but the apostle replies that their own prophet is against their theory. Jeremiah positively declares that God will make a new covenant. He argues that the word “new” puts the other out of date, and this to make room for a better. A new covenant shows that the other must have thereby become old, and therefore is decaying and ready to vanish away.
All this is a gradual undermining the wall until the whole structure is overthrown. He is labouring for this, and with divine skill accomplishes it, by the testimonies of their own law and prophets. He does not require to add more to the person and facts of Christ than the Old Testament furnishes, to prove the certainty of Christianity and all its characteristic truths with which he occupies himself in this epistle. I say not absolutely all its great truths. Were it a question of the mystery of Christ the Head, and of the church His body, this would not be proved from the Old Testament, which does not reveal it at all. It was hid in God from ages and generations. There are types that suit the mystery when it is revealed, but of themselves they never could make it known, though illustrating particular parts when it is. But whether we look at the heavenly supremacy of Christ over the universe, which is the highest part of the mystery, or at the church associated with Him as His body, composed of both Jew and Gentile, where all distinction is gone, no wit of man ever did or could possibly draw this beforehand from the Old Testament. Indeed, not being revealed of old, according to the apostle, it is altogether a mistake to go to the Old Testament for that truth.
Hence in Hebrews we never find the body of Christ as such referred to. We have the church, but even when the expression “church” occurs, it is the church altogether vaguely, as in Hebrews 2:12, or viewed in the units that compose it — not at all in its unity. It is the assembly composed of certain individuals that make it up, regarded either as brethren, as in the second chapter (“In the midst of the church will I sing praise unto thee”), or as the church of the first-born ones, as in Hebrews 12, persons who drew their title from Christ the first-born Heir. There we have those that compose the church, in allusion to Christ, contrasted with the position of Israel as a nation, because of the nearness which they possess by the grace of Christ known on high.
It may be observed, too, that the Holy Ghost appears but little in this epistle. Not of course that one denies that He has His own proper place, for all is perfect as to each person of the Trinity and all else, but never to this end. For a similar reason we never find life treated in the epistle, nor righteousness. It is not a question of justification here. We hear of sanctification often, but even what is thus spoken of throughout is rather in connection with separation to God and the work of Christ, than the continuous energy of the Holy Ghost, except, as far as I remember, in one practical passage — “Follow peace with all men, and holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord.” In other cases the epistle to the Hebrews speaks of sanctification by God’s call, and Christ’s blood. I refer to the fact just to exemplify on the one hand the true bearing of the epistle, and what I believe will be discovered in it, and on the other hand to guard against the mistake of importing into it, or trying to extract from it, what is not there.
Hebrews 9 brings us into the types of the Levitical ritual, priesthood and sacrifice. Before developing these, the apostle refers to the tabernacle itself in which these sacrifices were offered. “There was a tabernacle made; the first, wherein was the candlestick, and the table, and the showbread; which is called holy. And after the second veil, the tabernacle which is called holy of holies; which had the golden censer, and the ark of the covenant overlaid round about with gold.” Carefully observe that it is the tabernacle, never the temple. The latter is not referred to, because it represents the millennial glory; the former is, because it finds its proper fulfilment in that which is made good in the Christian scheme now. This supposes the people of God not actually settled in the land, but still pilgrims and strangers on the earth; and the epistle to the Hebrews, we have already seen, looks emphatically and exclusively at the people of God as not yet passed out of the wilderness; never as brought into the land, though it might be on the verge; just entering, but not actually entered. There remains, therefore, a sabbath-keeping for the people of God. Thither they are to be brought, and there are means for the road to keep us moving onward. But meanwhile we have not yet entered on the rest of God. It remains. Such is a main point, not of Hebrews 4 only, but of the epistle. It was the more urgent to insist on it, because the Jews, like others, would like to have been settled in rest here and now. This is natural and pleasant to the flesh, no doubt; but it is precisely what opposes the whole object of God in Christianity, since Christ went on high till He come again, and therefore the path of faith to which the children of God are called.
Accordingly, then, as suiting this pilgrim-path of the Christian, the tabernacle is referred to, and not the temple. And this is the more remarkable, because his language is essentially of the actual state of what was going on in the temple; but he always calls it the tabernacle. In truth, the substratum was the same, and therefore it was not only quite lawful so to call it, but if he had not, the design would have been marred. But this shows the main object of the Spirit of God in directing us for the type that applies to the believer now to an unsettled pilgrim-condition, not to Israel established in the land of promise.
To what, then, is the allusion to the sanctuary applied? To mark that as yet the veil was unrent. “Into the second [goes] the high priest alone once every year, not without blood, which he offered for himself, and for the errors of the people: the Holy Ghost this signifying, that the way of the holies was not yet made manifest, while as yet the first tabernacle was standing: which is a figure for the present time according to which are offered both gifts and sacrifices that could not, as pertaining to the conscience, make him that did the religious service perfect; which stood only in meats and drinks, and divers washings, and carnal ordinances, imposed on them until the time of reformation.” With all this Christianity is contrasted. “But Christ being come a high priest of good things to come, by the better and more perfect tabernacle, not made with hands, that is, not of this creation, nor by blood of goats and calves, but by his own blood entered in once into the holies, having obtained eternal redemption.” Here the words “for us” had better be left out. They really mar the sense, because they draw attention not to the truth in itself so much as its application to us, which is not the point in Hebrews 9, but rather of Hebrews 10. Here it is the grand truth itself in its own character. What is the value, the import., of the sacrifice of Christ viewed according to God, and as bearing on His ways? This is the fact. Christ has gone into the presence of God,” having obtained eternal redemption.” For whom it may be is another thing, of which he will speak by-and-by. Meanwhile we are told that He has obtained (not a temporary, but) “eternal redemption.” It is that which infinitely exceeds the deliverance out of Egypt, or any ceremonial atonement ever wrought by a high priest for Israel. Christ has obtained redemption, and this is witnessed by the token of the veil rent from top to bottom. The unrent veil bore evidence on its front that man could not yet draw near into the holiest — that he had no access into the presence of God. This is of the deepest importance. It did not matter whether it was a priest or an Israelite. A priest, as such, could no more draw near into the presence of God in the holiest than any of the common people. Christianity is stamped by this, that, in virtue of the blood of Christ, once for all for every believer the way is made manifest into the holiest of all. The veil is rent: the believer can draw near, as is shown in the next chapter; but meanwhile it is merely pointed out that there is no veil now, eternal redemption being obtained.
Thus does the apostle reason on it: “For if the blood of bulls and goats, and the ashes of an heifer sprinkling the unclean, sanctifieth to the purifying of the flesh” (which the Jew would not contest): “how much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without spot to God, purge your conscience from dead works to do religious service to the living God? And for this cause he is mediator of the new covenant, that by means of death, for redemption of the transgressions under the first covenant, the called might receive the promise of the eternal inheritance.” Thus the power of what Christ had wrought was now brought in for future ends; it was not merely retrospective, but above all in present efficacy while the Jews refuse Christ.
The allusion in the last clause to the eternal inheritance (for everything is eternal in the Hebrews, standing in decided contrast with Jewish things which were but for a season) leads the Holy Spirit to take up the other meaning of the same word, which was and is rightly enough translated covenant. At first sight every one may have been surprised, especially those that read the New Testament in the language in which God wrote it, at the double meaning of the word which is here translated “covenant.” It (
διαθήκη) means “testament” as well as “covenant.” In point of fact the English translators did not know what to make of the matter; for they give sometimes one, sometimes the other, without any apparent reason for it, except to vary the phrase. In my judgment it is correct to translate it both ways, never arbitrarily, but according to context. There is nothing capricious about the usage. There are certain surroundings which indicate to the competent eye when the word “covenant” is right and when the word “testament” is better.
It may then be stated summarily, in few words, unless I am greatly mistaken, that the word should always be translated “covenant” in every part of the New Testament, except in these two verses; namely, Hebrews 9:16, 17. If, therefore, when you find the word “testament” anywhere else in the authorized version, you turn it into “covenant” in my opinion you will not do amiss. If in these two verses we bear in mind that it really means “testament,” growing out of the previous mention of the “inheritance,” I am persuaded that you will have better understanding of the argument. In short, the word in itself may mean either; but this is no proof that it may indifferently or without adequate reason be translated both ways. The fact is, that love of uniformity may mislead some, as love of variety misled our English translators too often. It is hard to keep clear of both. Every one can understand, when once we find that the word means almost always covenant,” how great the temptation is to translate it so in but two other occurrences, especially as before and after it means “covenant” in the same passage. But why should it be “testament” in these two verses alone, and “covenant” in all other places? The answer is, that the language is peculiar and precise in these same two verses, requiring not a covenant but a testament, and therefore the sense of testament here is the preferable one, and not covenant. The reasons will be given in a moment.
First of all, as has been hinted, that which suggests “testament” is the end of verse 15 — “They which are called might receive the promise of eternal inheritance.” How is it that anybody ordinarily gets an inheritance? By a testament, to be sure, as every one knows. Such has been the usual form in all countries not savage, and in all ages. No figure therefore would be more natural than that, if God intended certain persons called to have an inheritance, there should be a testament about the matter. Accordingly advantage is taken of an unquestionable meaning of the word for this added illustration, which is based on the death of Christ, “Where a testament is, there must also of necessity be the death of the testator.” That the word (
διαθέμενος) in this connection means “testator” appears to me beyond just question. I am not aware that it is, nor do I believe that it could be, ever used in such a sense as “covenanting victim,” for which some contend. It often means one who arranged or disposed of property, or anything else, such as a treaty or covenant.
Let us next apply the word “covenant” here, and you will soon see the insuperable difficulties into which you are plunged. If you say,” For where a covenant is, there must also of necessity be the death of the covenanter” — the person. Now is it an axiom, that a covenant-maker must die to give it force? It is quite evident, on the contrary, that this is not only not the truth which all recognize when stated, but altogether inconsistent with the Bible, with all books, and with all experience. In all the covenants of scripture the man that makes it has never to die for any such end. Indeed both should die; for it usually consists of two parties who are thus bound, and therefore, were the maxim true, both ought to die, which is an evident absurdity.
The consequence is, that many have tried (and I remember making efforts of that kind myself, until convinced that it could not succeed) to give
ὁ διαθέμονος, in the English Bible rightly rendered “the testator,” the force of the covenanting victim. But the answer to this is, that there is not a single writer in the language, not sacred only but profane, who employs it in such a sense. Those therefore that so translate our two verses have invented a meaning for the phrase, instead of accepting its legitimate sense as attested by all the monuments of the Greek tongue; whereas the moment that we give it the meaning assigned here rightly by the better translators, that is, the sense of “testator” and “testament,” all runs with perfect smoothness, and with striking aptitude.
He is showing us the efficacy of Christ’s death. He demonstrates its vicarious nature and value from the sacrifices so familiar to all then, and to the Jew particularly, in connection with the covenant that required them Now his rapid mind seizes, under the Spirit’s guidance, the other well-known sense of the word, namely, as a testamentary disposition, and shows the necessity of Christ’s death to bring it into force. It is true that victims were sometimes slain in ratifying a covenant, and thus were the seal of that covenant; but, first, they were not essential; and, secondly and chiefly,
ὁ διαθέμενος, the covenanter or contracting party had in no case to die in order to make the contract valid. On the other hand it is notoriously true, that in no case can a testament come into execution without the testator’s death — a figure that every man at once discerns. There must be the death of him who so disposes of his property in order that the heir should take it under his testament. Which of these two most commends itself as the unforced meaning of the passage it is for the reader to judge. And observe that it is assumed to be so common and obvious a maxim that it could not be questioned. “For where a testament is, there must also of necessity be the death of the testator.” The addition of this last clause as a necessary condition confirms the sense assigned. Had he merely referred to the covenant (i.e. the sense of the word which had been used before), what would be the aim of the “also?” It is just what he had been speaking of throughout, if covenant were still meant. Apply it to Christ’s death as the testator, and nothing can be plainer or more forcible. The death of Christ, both in the sense of a victim sacrificed, and of a testator, though a double figure, is evident to all, and tends to the self-same point. “For a testament is of force after men are dead (or, in case of dead men,
ἐπὶ νεκροῖς): since it is never of force when the testator liveth.”
But now, returning from this striking instance of Paul’s habit of going off at a word (
διαθήκη), let us resume the regular course of the apostle’s argument. “Whereupon neither the first [covenant] was dedicated without blood. For when Moses had spoken every precept to all the people according to the law, he took the blood of calves and goats, with water, and scarlet wool, and hyssop, and sprinkled both the book itself, and all the people, saying, “This [is] the blood of the covenant which God hath enjoined unto you. And he sprinkled likewise with blood both the tabernacle, and all the vessels of the ministry. And almost all things are according to the law purged with blood; and without shedding, of blood is no remission. It was therefore necessary that the representations of things in the heavens should be purified with these; but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these. For Christ is not entered into holies made with hands, figures of the true; but into heaven itself, now to appear before the face of God for us.”
Thus distinctly have we set before us the general doctrine of the chapter, — that Christ has suffered but once, and has been offered but once; that the offering cannot be severed from the suffering. If He is to be often offered, He must also often suffer. The truth on the contrary is, that there was but one offering and but one suffering of Christ, once for all; in witness of the perfection of which He is gone into the presence of God, there to appear for us. Thus it will be observed, at the end of all the moral and experimental dealings with the first man (manifested in Israel), we come to a deeply momentous point, as in God’s ways, so in the apostle’s reasoning. Up to this time man was the object of those ways; it was simply, and rightly of course, a probation. Man was tried by all sorts of tests from time to time God knew perfectly well, and even declared here and there, the end from the beginning; but He would make it manifest to every conscience, that all He got from man in these His varied dealings was sin. Then comes a total change: God takes up the matter Himself, acting in view of man’s sin; but in Jesus, in the very Messiah for whom the Jews were waiting, he has put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself, and has accomplished this mighty work, as admirably befitting the goodness of God, as it alone descends low enough to reach the vilest man, and yet deliver him with a salvation which only the more humbles man and glorifies God. For now God came out, so to speak, in His own power and grace, and, in the person of Christ on the cross, put away sin — abolished it from before His face, and set the believer absolutely free from it as regards judgment.
“But now once in the consummation of the ages,” — this is the meaning of “the end of the world;” it is the consummation of those dispensations for bringing out what man was. Man’s worst sin culminated in the death of Christ who knew no sin; but in that very death He put away sin. Christ, therefore, goes into heaven, and will come again apart from sin. He has nothing more to do with sin; He will judge man who rejects Himself and slights sin. as He will appear to the salvation of His own people. “And as it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment: so Christ was once offered to bear the sins of many; and unto them that look for him shall he appear the second time without sin unto salvation.”
It is perfectly true that, if we think of Christ, He was here below absolutely without sin; but He who was without sin in His person, and all His life, had everything to do with sin on the cross, when God made Him to be sin for us. The atonement was at least as real as our sin; and God Himself dealt with Christ as laying sin upon Him, and treating Him, the Great Substitute, as sin before Himself, that at one blow it might be all put away from before His face. This He has done, and done with. Now accordingly, by virtue of His death which rent the veil, God and man stand face to face. What, then, is man’s actual estate? “As it is appointed unto men once to die,” — wages of sin, though not all, — “but after this the judgment,” or the full wages of sin, — “so Christ was once offered to bear the sins of many;” — this He has finished; — “and unto them that look for Him shall He appear the second time without sin unto salvation.” He will have nothing more to do with sin. He has so absolutely swept it away for those who believe on Him, that when He comes again, them will be no question of judgment, as far as they are concerned, but only of salvation, in the sense of their being cleared from the last relic or result of sin, even for the body. Indeed it is only the body that is here spoken of. As far as the soul is concerned, Christ would not go up to heaven until sin was abrogated before God. Christ is doing nothing there to take away sin; nor when He comes again will He touch the question of sin, because it is a finished work. Christ Himself could not add to the perfectness of that sacrifice by which He has put away sin. Consequently, when He comes again to them that look for Him, it is simply to bring them into all the eternal results of that great salvation.
In Hebrews 10 he applies the matter to the present state of the believer. He had shown the work of Christ and His coming again in glory. What comes in between the two? Christianity. And here we learn the direct application. The Christian stands between the cross and the glory of the Lord Jesus. He rests confidingly on the cross, that only valid moral basis before God; at the same time he is waiting for the glory that is to be revealed. “For the law having a shadow of good things to come, and not the very image of the things, can never with those sacrifices which they offered year by year continually make the comers thereunto perfect. For then would they not have ceased to be offered? because that the worshippers once purged should have had no more conscience of sins.” No Jew could or ought to pretend to such purgation as its result.
I should like to ask whether (or how far) all the believers here assembled can take this as their place with simplicity. You, as a Christian, ought to have the calm settled consciousness that God, looking on you, discerns not one spot or stain, but only the blood of Jesus Christ His Son that cleanses from all sin. You ought to have the consciousness that there is no judgment for you with God by-and-by, however truly He, as a Father, judges you now on earth. How can such a consciousness as this be the portion of the Christian? Because the Holy Ghost bears this witness, and nothing less, to the perfectness of the work of Christ. If God’s word be true, and to this the Spirit adheres, the blood of Christ has thus perfectly washed away the sins of the believer. I mean his sins now; not sin as a principle, but in fact, though it be only for faith. “The worshippers once purged should have had no more conscience of sins.” It is not implied that they may not sin, or that they have no consciousness of their failure, either past or present. “Conscience of sins” means a dread of God’s judging one because of his sins. For this, knowing His grace in the work of Christ for them, they do not look; on the contrary, they rest in the assurance of the perfection with which their sins are effaced by the precious blood of Christ.
This epistle insists on the blood of Christ, making all to turn on that efficacious work for us. It was not so of old, when the Israelite brought his goat or calf. “In those sacrifices,” referring to the law to which some Hebrew Christians were in danger of going back, “there is a remembrance made again of sins every year. For it is not possible that the blood of bulls and of goats should take away sins.” Therefore all such recurring sacrifices only call sins to remembrance; but what the blood of Christ has done is so completely to blot them out, that God Himself says, “I will remember them no more.
Accordingly he now turns to set forth the contrast between the weakness and the unavailingness of the Jewish sacrifices, which, in point of fact, only and always brought up sins again, instead of putting them away as does the sacrifice of Christ. In the most admirable manner he proves that this was what God was all along waiting for. First of all, “Sacrifice and offering thou wouldest not, but a body hast thou prepared me: in burnt offerings and sacrifices for sin thou hast had no pleasure. Then said I, Lo, I come (in the volume of the book it is written of me) to do thy will, O God.” There we find these two facts. First, in God’s counsels it was always before Him to have One more than man though a man to deal with this greatest of all transactions. There was but One that could do God’s will in that which concerned man’s deepest wants. Who was this One? Jesus alone. As for the first Adam and all his race, their portion was only death and judgment, because he was a sinner. But here is One who proffers Himself to come, and does come. “In the volume of the book it is written of me” — a book which none ever saw but God and His Son. There it was written, “Lo, I come to do thy will, O God.” Redemption was the first thought of God — a counsel of His previous to the dealings with man which made the necessity of redemption felt. God meant to have His will done, and thereby a people for Himself capable of enjoying His presence and His nature, where no question of sin or fall could ever enter.
First, He makes a scene where sin enters at once. Because His people had no heart for His promises, He imposed a system of law and ordinances that was unjudged in them, which provoked the sin. and made it still more manifest and heinous. Then comes forth the wondrous counsel that was settled before either the sin of man, or the promises to the fathers, or the law which subsequently put man to the test. And this blessed person, single-handed but according to the will of God, accomplishes that will in offering Himself on the cross.
So it is said here, “Lo, I come to do thy will, O God. He taketh away the first” (that is, the law), “that he may establish the second” (that is, God’s will, often unintelligently confounded by men with the law, which is here set in the most manifest contradistinction). Next the apostle, with increasing boldness, comes to the proof from the Old Testament that the legal institution as a whole was to be set aside. “He taketh away the first.” Was this Paul’s doctrine? There it was in the Psalms. They could not deny it to be written in the fortieth psalm. “Sacrifice and offering thou wouldest not, but a body hast thou prepared me: in burnt offerings and sacrifices for sin thou hast had no pleasure. Then said I, Lo, I come (in the volume of the book it is written of me) to do, thy will, O God.” All he does is to interpret that will, and to apply it to what was wrought on the cross. “By the which will” (not man’s, which is sin, but God’s) “we are sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.”
This leads to a further contrast with the action of the Aaronic priest. “Every priest standeth daily ministering and offering oftentimes the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins: but this man, after he had offered one sacrifice for sins, for ever sat down on the right hand of God.” Jesus sits down in perpetuity. This is the meaning of the phrase, not that He will sit there throughout all eternity.
Εἰς τὸ διηνεκές does not express eternity (which would be
εἰς τὸν αἰῶνα, or some such form of words) but “for continuance.” He sits there continually, in contrast with the Jewish priest, who was always rising up in order to do fresh work, because there was fresh sin; for their sacrifices never could absolutely put away sin. The fact was plain that the priest was always doing and doing, his work being never done; whereas now there is manifested, in the glorious facts of Christianity, a Priest sat down at God’s right hand, a Priest that has taken His place there expressly because our sins are blotted out by His sacrifice If there was any place for the priest, one might have supposed, to be active in his functions, it would be in the presence of God, unless the sins were completely gone. But they are completely gone; and therefore at God’s right-hand sits down He who is its witness.
How could this be disputed by one who simply believed Psalm 110? For there is seen not only the proof that the Messiah is the One whom God pronounced by an oath “a priest for ever after the order of Melchisedec,” but the glorious seat He has taken at the right-hand of God is now worked into this magnificent pleading. Christianity turns everything to account. The Jew never understood his law until the light of Christ on the cross and in glory shone upon it. So here the Psalms acquire a meaning self-evidently true, the moment Christ is brought in, who is the truth, and nothing less. Accordingly we have the third use of the seat Christ has taken. In the first chapter we saw the seat of personal glory connected with atonement; in the eighth chapter it is the witness of His priesthood, and where it is. Here it is the proof of the perpetual efficacy of the sacrifice of Christ. We shall find another use before we have done, which I hope to notice in its place.
But the Holy Ghost’s testimony is not forgotten. As it was God’s will and the work of Christ, so the Holy Ghost is He who witnesses to the perfectness of it. It is also founded on one of their own prophets. “This is the covenant,” says he, “that I will make with them after those days, saith the Lord, I will put my laws into their hearts, and in their minds will I write them; and their sins and iniquities will I remember no more. Now where remission of these is, there is no more offering for sin.”
Then we hear of the practical use of all. “Having therefore, brethren, boldness to enter into the holies by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way, which he hath consecrated for us through the veil, that is to say, his flesh; and having an high priest over the house of God; let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience, and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the profession of our hope [for so it should be] without wavering (for he is faithful that promised); and let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works: not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching.” But the higher the privilege, the greater the danger of either despising or perverting it.
In Hebrews 6, we saw that the Spirit of God brings in a most solemn warning for those who turn their back on the power and presence of the Holy Ghost, as bearing witness of Christianity. Here the apostle warns those that turn their back on Christ’s one sacrifice. It is evident that in these we have the two main parts of Christianity. The foundation is sacrifice; the Power is of the Holy Ghost. The truth is, that the Holy Ghost is come down for the purpose of bearing His witness; and he that deserts this for Judaism, or anything else, is an apostate and lost man. And is he better or safer that slights the sacrifice of the Son of God, and goes back either to earthly sacrifices or to lusts of flesh, giving a loose rein to sin, which is expressly what the Son of God shed His blood to put away? He who, having professed to value the blessing of God abandons it, and rushes here below into the sins of the flesh knowingly and deliberately, is evidently no Christian at all. Accordingly it is shown that such an one becomes an adversary of the Lord, and God will deal with him as such. As in chapter 6 he declares that he is persuaded better things of them, than that they would abandon the Holy Ghost; so here he expected better things than that they would thus dishonour the sacrifice of Christ In that case, he says, God was not unrighteous to forget their work and labour of love; in this case, he lets them know that he had not forgotten the way in which they had suffered for Christ. There it was more particularly the activity of faith; here it is the suffering of faith.
This leads into the life of faith, which was a great stumbling-block to some of these Christian Jews. They could not understand how it was they should come into greater trouble than before. They had never known so great and frequent and constant trial. It seemed as if everything went against them. They had looked for advance and triumph and peace and prosperity everywhere; on the contrary, they had come into reproach and shame, partly in their own persons, partly as becoming the companions of others who so suffered. But the apostle takes all this difficulty by the horns, as good as telling them, that their having suffered all this was simply because it is the right road. These two things, the cross on earth and glory on high, are correlative. As they are companions, so do they test a walk with God; one is faith, the other is suffering. This, he maintains, has always been so; it is no novelty he is preaching. Accordingly the epistle to the Hebrews, while it does put the believer in association with Christ, does not, for all this, dissociate him from whatever is good in the saints of God in every age. Hence the apostle takes care to keep up the real link with the past witnesses for God in faith and suffering, not in ordinances.
In the beginning of Hebrews 11 we are told what faith is. It is “the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” It is no definition of what it is to believe, but a description of the qualities of faith. “For by it the elders obtained a good report.” How could any believers put a slight upon it? “Through faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God;” — a simple but a most sublime truth, and one that man never really found out — that we are entirely dependent on faith for after all. The wise men of the present day are fast giving up the truth of creation. They do not believe that God called all things into being. The greater number of them may use the word “creation,” but it must never be assumed that they mean what they say. It is wise and necessary to examine closely what they mean. Never was there a time when men used terms with a more equivocal design than at the present moment. Hence they apply some terms to the work of God in nature similar to what they apply to His work in grace. The favourite thought is “development;” and so they hold a development or genesis of matter, not a creation: matter continually progressing, in various forms, until at last it has progressed into these wise men of our day. This is precisely what modern research amounts to. It is the setting aside of God, and the setting up of man; it is the precursor of the apostasy that is coming, which again will issue in man taking the place of God, and becoming the object of worship, instead of the true Creator. Nor is it that redemption only is denied, but creation also; so that there is very great importance in maintaining the rights and the truth of God in creation.
Therefore it is well to stand clear of all men’s schemes and thoughts, ever rising up more and more presumptuously, because they mainly consist of some slight in one way or another on the word of God. A simple word of scripture settles a thousand questions. What the wise men of antiquity, the Platos and Aristotles, never knew — what the modern sages blunder about, without the slightest reason, after all — the word of God has made the possession of every child of His. “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.”
There is no indulgence of human curiosity. We do not know the steps of His work, until we come to the preparation of an abode for man. Nothing can be more admirable than this reserve of God. We are not told the details of what preceded the great week when God made the man and the woman. I am not going to enter into any statement of facts as to this now, but there is no truth in its own place more important than that with which the apostle commences in this chapter, namely, that “through faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God.” It is not only that we believe it, but we understand it thereby. There is nothing more simple; at the same time it is just one of those questions that God has answered, and this so as to settle the mind perfectly, and fill the heart with praise. Man never did nor could settle it without the word of God. There is nothing here below so difficult for the natural mind; and for the simple reason that man can never rise above that which is caused. The reason is obvious — because he is caused himself. Therefore is it that men so naturally slip into, or rest on, second causes. He is only one of a series of existing objects, and consequently never can rise above that in his own nature. He may infer that there must be; but he never can say that there is. Reason is ever drawing conclusions; God is, and reveals what is. I may, of course, see what is before my eyes, and. may so far have sensible evidence of what exists now; but it is only God who can tell me that He in the beginning caused to be that which now is. God alone who spake it into being can pronounce upon it. This is just what the believer receives, feeds on, and lives accordingly.
Through faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God.” It is possible that the word “worlds,” which is a Hebraistic word, belonging to the Alexandrian Jews particularly, may embrace dispensations; but undoubtedly the material world is included in it. It may mean the worlds governed by dispensations; but still that the idea of the whole universe is in it cannot be fairly contested by competent minds. “The worlds were framed by the word of God, so that things which are seen” — which would not be the case if it was only a dispensation — “were not made of things which do appear.”
Having laid this as the first application of faith, the next question is — when man fell, how was he to approach God? The answer is, by sacrifice. This then is brought before us. “By faith Abel offered a more excellent sacrifice than Cain.”
The third point is how to walk with God, and this again is by faith. Thus in every case it is faith. It owns the creation; it recognizes sacrifice as the only righteous means of being accepted with God — the only means of approaching Him worthily. Faith, again, is the only principle of walk with God; as it is, again, the only means of realizing the judgment of God coming on all around us.
Here, it is plain, we have the chief lineaments of revealed truth. That is to say, God is owned in His glory, as Creator of all by His word. Then, consequent on the fall, comes the ground of the believer’s acceptance; then his walk with God, and deliverance from His judgment of the whole scene, in the midst of which we actually are. Faith brings God into everything. (Verses 1-7.)
But then comes far more definite instruction, and, beginning with Abraham, the details of faith. The father of the faithful was the one first called out by promise. At first it was (ver. 8) but the promise of a land; but when in the land he received the promise of a better country, that is, a heavenly, which raised his eyes to the city on high, in express contrast with the earthly land. When he dwelt in Mesopotamia, he had a promise to bring him into Canaan; and when he got there, he had a promise of what was higher to lead his heart above. At the end of his course there was a still heavier tax on him. Would he give up the one that was the type of the true Seed, the progenitor, and the channel of the promised blessing, yea, of the Blesser? He knew that in Isaac his seed was to be called. Would he give up Isaac? A most searching and practical question, the very unseen hinge in God Himself on which not Christianity only, but all blessing, turns for heaven and earth, at least as far as the fallen creation is concerned. For what did the Jews wait in hope? For Christ, on whom the promises depend. And of what did Christianity speak? Of Christ who was given up to death, who is risen and gone above, in whom we find all the blessing promised, and after a better sort. Thus it is evident that the introduction of the last trial of Abraham was of all possible moment to every one that stood in the place of a son of Abraham. The severest and final trial of Abraham’s faith was giving up the son, in whom all the promises were infolded, to receive him back on a resurrection ground in figure. It was, parabolically, like that of Christ himself. The Jews would not have Him living. The Christians gained Him in a far more excellent way after the pattern of resurrection, as Abraham at the close received Isaac as it were from the dead.
Then we have the other patriarchs introduced, yet chiefly as regards earthly hopes, but not apart from resurrection, and its connection with the people of God here below. On these things I need not now dwell farther than to characterize all, from Abraham inclusively, as the patience of faith. (Verses 8-22.)
Then, having finished this part of the subject, the apostle turns to another characteristic in believers — the mighty power of faith which knows how to draw on God, and breaks through all difficulties. It is not merely that which goes on quietly waiting for the accomplishment of the counsels of God. This it was of all consequence to have stated first. And for this simple reason: no place is given herein to man’s importance. Had the energetic activity of faith been first noticed, it would have made more of man; but when the heart had been disciplined in quiet endurance, and lowly expectancy from God, then he could be clothed with the energy of the Spirit. Both are true; and Moses is the type of the latter, as Abraham of the former. Accordingly we find everything about Moses. as well as done by him, extraordinary. His deliverance was strange; still more his decision and its results. He goes out, deliberately and knowingly, just at the time of life when a man is most sensitive to the value of a grand sphere of influence, as well as exercise of his powers, wherein, too, he could have ordinarily exerted all in favour of his people. Not so Moses. He acted in faith, not policy. He made nothing of himself, because he knew they were God’s people. Accordingly he became just the more the vessel of divine power to the glory of God. He chose “rather to suffer affliction with the people of God than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season; esteeming the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures of Egypt: for he had respect unto the recompence of the reward.” And what then? “By faith he forsook Egypt, not fearing the wrath of the king.” This was in the ways of God the necessary moral consequence of his self-abnegation.
“Through faith he instituted the passover, and the sprinkling of blood, lest he that destroyed the firstborn should touch them. By faith they passed through the Red sea as by dry land: which the Egyptians assaying to do were drowned.” These two last verses bear witness to the grace of God in redemption. In the blood of the Lamb, sprinkled on the door-posts of Israel, we see the type of God’s judgment of their sins; next, in the passage of the Red sea, the exhibition of His power, which, in the most conspicuous way, saved them, and destroyed for ever their enemies. But whether the one or the other, all was by faith.
But mark another striking and instructive feature of this chapter. No attention is paid here to the march through the wilderness, any more than to the establishment in the land, still less to the kingdom. We have just the fact of their passing through the Red sea, and no more; as we have the fall of Jericho, and no more. The intention here was not to dwell either on the scene in which their waiting was put to the test, the wilderness, or on anything that could insinuate the settled position of Israel in the land. As to the pathway through the wilderness, it had been disposed of in Hebrews 4. The grounds why Canaan could not consistently be made prominent in this epistle as a present thing, but only as a hope, we have already seen.
This deeply interesting chapter closes with the reason why those who had thus not only lived but died in faith did not get the promise: “God having provided some better thing for us, that they without us should not be made perfect.” What was this “better thing”? Can there be a doubt that Christianity is meant? that good portion which shall not be taken away from those who cleave to the Crucified, who is now exalted in heaven? One can well understand that the apostle would leave his readers to gather thus generally what it must have been. God then has provided some better thing for us. He has brought in redemption in present accomplishment, and at the same time He has given scope for a brighter hope, founded on His mighty work on the cross, measured by Christ’s glory as its present answer at the right hand of God. Hence He crowns the noble army of witnesses with Christ Himself. “Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, laying aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, let us run with patience the race that is set before us, looking off unto Jesus the captain and completer of faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God.”
This is a different way of looking at His session there. In all the other passages of the epistle the meaning of the word is, that He took His seat, or simply sat down there. It is the fact that there He sat down; but in this place it will be observed that His taking His seat there is the reward of the life of faith. As the result of enduring the cross, having despised the shame, the word for sitting down here has a remarkably beautiful shade of meaning different from what is given in all the other occurrences. Its force implies that it is not merely what He did once, but what He is also doing still. Attention is drawn to the permanence of His position at the right hand of God. Of course it is true that Jesus took His seat there, but more is conveyed in the true form of the text
This, however, only by the way. Beyond question the Lord is regarded as the completer of the whole walk of faith in its deepest and, morally, most glorious form. Instead of having one person illustrating one thing, another person another, the Lord Jesus sums up the perfection of all trial in His own pathway, not as Saviour only, but in the point of view of bearing witness in His ways for God here below. Who ever walked in faith as He? For indeed He was a man as really as any other, though infinitely above man.
From this practical lessons of great value are drawn. For consider him that endured such contradiction of sinners against himself, lest ye be wearied and faint in your minds. Ye have not yet resisted unto blood, striving against sin. And ye have forgotten the exhortation which speaketh unto you as unto children.” Thus the first part of the chapter shows us simply what God holds out to the new man; but the epistle to the Hebrews never looks at the Christian simply in the new man, but rather as a concrete person. From the beginning to the end of it the Christian in Hebrews is not thus dealt with apart from the old nature, as we may see him regarded in the ordinary epistles of Paul, where the old and the new man are most carefully separated. It is not the case in the epistles of James and Peter, with which so far the epistle to the Hebrews agrees. The reason I take to be, that the apostle meets the Jewish believer where he is, as much as possible giving credit for what was really true in the Old Testament saints, and so in the Jewish mind. Now it is evident that in the Old Testament the distinction was not made between flesh and spirit in the way in which we have it brought out in the general doctrine of Christianity.
The apostle is dealing with the saints as to their walk; and as he had shown how Christ alone had purged the sins of the believer, and how He is on high, as the Priest in the presence of God, to intercede for them in their weakness and dangers; so now, when he is come to the question of the walk of faith, Christ is the leader of that, walk. Accordingly, this is an appeal to the hearts. which cleave to Christ the rejected King, and Holy Sufferer, who is now in glory above. He necessarily completes all as the pattern for the Christian. But then there are impediments as well as sin, by which the enemy would keep us from the race set before us; whilst God carries on His discipline in our favour. And the apostle shows that we need not only a perfect pattern in the walk of faith, but chastenings by the way. This, he says, must be from a father who loves his true and faulty children: others enjoy no such care. First of all, it is love that calls us to the path that Christ trod; next, it is love that chastens us. Christ never needed this, but we do. He reasons that, while our parents only chastise us the best way they can (for after all their judgment might not be perfect), the Father of spirits never fails. He has but one settled purpose of goodness about us; He watches and judges for our good, and nothing but our good. He has set His mind upon making us, patterns of His holiness. It is what He carries on now. Fully does He allow, as connected with this, that the chastening seems not joyous but grievous. We begin with His love, and shall end in it without end. He only removes obstructions, and maintains our communion with Himself; surely this ought to settle every question for the believer. If we know His perfect love and the wisdom of it, we have the best answer to silence every murmuring thought or wish of the heart.
There is nothing more serious than to set grace against holiness. Nowhere does the apostle give the smallest occasion for such a thought. So here he tells them to “follow peace with all men, and holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord: looking diligently lest any man lack the grace of God.” It is not a question of the law, which a Jew might naturally conceive to be the standard of the will of God now as of old for Israel. How easily we even forget that we are not Jews but Christians! Reason can appreciate not grace but law; and so people are apt, when things go wrong, to bring in the law. It is quite legitimate to employ it in an à fortiori way, as the apostle does in Ephesians 6. For assuredly if Jewish children honoured their father and mother on legal grounds, much more ought Christian children on grounds of grace.
Another great call was, to beware “lest any root of bitterness springing up trouble you, and thereby many be defiled; lest there be any fornicator, or profane person, as Esau, who for one morsel of meat sold his birthright.” Thus you see, either corrupt passion on the one hand or profanity on the other, are unsparingly condemned by the grace of God. If the law could show little mercy in such a case, the grace of God views all sin as intolerable.
This leads him, from speaking of Esau’s case, to add as a known fact, that afterward, when he desired to have inherited the blessing he was rejected (for he found no place of repentance), though he sought it carefully with tears. That is, he sought carefully with tears the blessing given to Jacob; but there was no room left for repentance, simply in the sense of change of mind; for, I suppose, the word here has that sense, which sometimes, no doubt, it has. In its ordinary usage, it has a much deeper force. Every change of mind is far from being repentance, which doctrinally means that special and profound revolution in the soul when we take God’s part against ourselves, judging our past ways, yea, what we are in His sight. This Esau never sought; and there never was one who did seek and failed to find it. Esau would have liked well to have got or regained the blessing; but this was given of God otherwise, and he had forfeited it himself. Arranged all beforehand, neither Isaac’s partiality nor Jacob’s deceit was able to divert the channel. His purpose utterly failed to secure the blessing for his profane but favourite son. He saw his error at last, and put his seal on God’s original appointment of the matter.
And here we are favoured with a magnificent picture of Christianity in contrast with Judaism. We are not come to Sinai, the mountain that burned with fire, nor unto blackness, and darkness, and tempest, and a voice more terrible than that of the elements. To what then are we come? To mount Zion. And what is its distinctive character as here introduced? If we examine the historical facts as found in the Old Testament story, what is it rises up before all eyes as to Zion? When does it first appear? After the people had been tried and found wanting; after the priests had wrought, if possible, greater corruption; after the king of Israel’s choice had reduced them to the lowest degradation. ‘It was therefore a crisis after the most painful accumulation of evils that weighed on the heart of Israel. But if people and priest and king were proved thus vain, God was there, and His grace could not fail. Their abject ruin placed them just in the circumstances that suited the God of all grace. At that very moment therefore the tide begins to turn. God brings forward His choice, David, when the miserable end of Saul and Jonathan saw the Philistines triumphant, and Israel disheartened as they had scarce been beyond that moment. The hill of Zion up to this time had been the constant menace of the enemy against the people of the Lord; but in due time, when David reigned, it was wrested out of the hands of the Jebusites, and became the stronghold of Jerusalem, the city of the king. Thenceforward how it figures in the Psalms and prophets! This then is the monument for such as we are. Let blinded Jews turn their sightless eyeballs to the mountain of Sinai. Let men who can see only look there, and what will be found? Condemnation, darkness, death. But what at Zion? The mighty intervention of God in grace — yea, more than that, forgiveness, deliverance, victory, glory, for the people of God.
For not merely did David receive from Jehovah that throne, but never were the people of God lifted out of such a state of distress and desolation, and placed on such a height of firm and stable triumph as under that one man’s reign. He had beyond all mere men known sorrow and rejection in Israel; yet he himself not only mounted the throne of Jehovah, but raised up His people to. such power and prosperity as, was never reached again. For although outwardly, no doubt, the prosperity lasted in the time of Solomon, it was mainly the fruit of David’s suffering, and power, and glory. God honoured the son for the father’s sake. It remained for a brief season; but even then it soon began to show rents down. to the foundations, which became apparent too, too quickly in Solomon’s son. With Zion then the apostle justly begins. Where is the mountain that could stand out so well against Sinai? What mountain in the Old Testament so much speaks of grace, of God’s merciful interference for His people when all was lost?
Rightly then we begin with Zion, and thence may we trace the path of glory up to God Himself, and down to the kingdom here below. Impossible to rise higher than the Highest, whence therefore the apostle descends, to consequences. Indeed we may say that the whole epistle to the Hebrews is just this: we start from the foundation of grace up to God Himself in the heavens; and thence springs the certainty that the stream of grace is not exhausted, and that undoubtedly it will issue in unceasing blessing by-and-by for the earth, and for the people of Israel above all, in the day of Jehovah.
Accordingly we have a remarkable line of blessing pursued for our instruction here. “Ye are come unto mount Zion,” which was the highest Old Testament point of grace on earth. Others doubtless could speak of their Ararat, their Olympus, their Etna; but which boasted of the true God that loved His people in the way that Zion could? But would a Jew infer hence that it was only the city of David he was speaking of? Let him learn his error. “And unto the city of the living God, (not of dying David,) the heavenly Jerusalem” (not the earthly capital of Palestine). This I take to be a general description of the scene of glory for which Abraham looked. He could know nothing of the mystery of the church, Christ’s body, nor of her bridal hopes; but he did look for what is called here the “heavenly Jerusalem,” that city “whose maker and builder is God.” In this phrase there is no allusion whatever to the church; nor indeed anywhere in the Hebrews is there any reference to its distinctive portion in union with its Head. When it says that Abraham looked for the city, it means a blessed and ordered scene of glory on high, which eclipsed the Holy Land before his eyes. This, however, does not mean the church, but rather the future seat of general heavenly bliss for the glorified saints.
Then he adds: “And to myriads of angels, the general assembly” — for such is the true way to divide the verse — “and to the church of the firstborn,” etc. This proves that the city of the heavenly Jerusalem does not mean the church, because here they are certainly distinguished from each other, which therefore completely settles all the argument that is often founded on Abraham’s looking for a heavenly city. It was not the church, I repeat, but what God prepares above for those who love Him. True, the apostle John uses this very city as the figure of the bride. But this essential difference separates between the city for which Abraham looked and the bride so symbolised in the Apocalypse. When the apostle Paul, speaks of “the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem,” he means the scene of future heavenly blessedness; whereas when John speaks of the new Jerusalem descending out of heaven from God, he means, not where but what we are to be. The difference is very great. The epistle sets before us the seat of glory prepared on high; the Revelation speaks of the bride represented as a glorious golden city with figures beyond nature. The one is what may be called the objective glory; the other is the subjective condition of those that compose the bride, the Lamb’s wife.
Having brought its to see the “church of the firstborn which are written in heaven,” the apostle next can only speak of “God the Judge of all.” He describes Him thus in His judicial character. The reason appears to be, because he is going to tell us of the Old Testament saints. They had known God in His providence and dealings on the earth, though looking for a Messiah and His day. Hence, therefore, he now introduces us “to the spirits of just men made perfect.” These evidently are the elders of olden times. None but the Old Testament saints, as a class, can all be in the separate state: not the church, or New Testament saints, for we shall not all sleep; nor the millennial saints, for none of them will die. The reference is therefore plain and sure.
Then we hear of “Jesus, the mediator of the new covenant” — the pledge of Israel’s full and changeless blessing. Lastly, he points “to the blood of sprinkling, that speaketh better than Abel:” the assurance that the earth shall be delivered from its long sorrow and slavery.
Thus the chain of blessedness is complete. He has shown its the symbolic mount Of grace in Zion, contrasted with Sinai the mountain of law. If the one figured the imposed measure of man’s responsibility, which can only but most justly condemn him, in the other we behold the mountain of God’s grace after all was lost. Then follows the heavenly glory, to which grace naturally leads; then the natural inhabitants of the heavenly land, namely, the angels — “and to myriads of angels, the general assembly.” Then he shows us others higher than these, by a divine call — “and to the church of the firstborn, which are written in heaven.” They do not belong to heaven like the angels; but God had an eternal purpose, which brought them by an extraordinary favour there. And then, in the centre of all, we have God Himself. But having looked up to Him who is above all, he speaks of the highest group next to God in His judicial character, namely, the Old Testament saints. Then he descends to a new or fresh covenant (not
καινῆς, as elsewhere, but
νέας), the recently inaugurated covenant for the two houses of the ancient people. Although the blood on which that covenant was founded may be now long shed, when the covenant comes into force for them will it not be as fresh as the day the precious Victim died and shed His blood? The reference here I cannot but regard as exclusively to the two houses of Israel. And as thus were shown the people immutably blessed (for salt shall not be wanting to that covenant) in the scene that will soon come, we finally hear of the earth itself joyful in the curse removed for ever. It is “the blood that speaketh better than Abel.” For the martyred saint’s blood the earth cried to God for vengeance; but Christ’s blood proclaims mercy from God, and the millennial day will be the glorious witness of its depth, and extent, and stability, before the universe.
The rest of the chapter brings in, accordingly, the closing scene, when the Lord comes to shake everything, and establish that blessed day. But although it will be the shaking of all things, not of earth only but also heaven, yet, marvellous to say, such confidence of heart does grace give, that this, which may be regarded as the most awful threat, turns into a blessed promise. Think of the shaking of heaven and earth being a promise! Nothing but absolute establishment of heart in God’s grace could have gazed on a destroyed universe, and yet call it a “promise.” But it is the language for us to learn and speak, as we are called to rest on God and not on the creature.
The last chapter (Heb. 13) follows this up with some practical exhortations as to brotherly love continuing; then as to kindness to strangers, or hospitality; finally, as to pity for those in bonds. “Be mindful of those in bonds, as bound with them; and of those which suffer adversity.” Again he insists upon the honour and purity of the marriage tie, and the abhorrence that God has for those that despise and corrupt it, and the sure judgment which will come upon them. He presses a conversation without covetousness, and a spirit of content, founded on our confidence in the Lord’s care.
At the same time he exhorts the believers as to their chiefs, that is, those who guided them spiritually. It is I likely that the Hebrew believers were somewhat unruly. And their relation to their leaders he puts forward in various forms. First, they were to remember those that once ruled them. Those were now gone from the scene of their trials and labours, of “whom, considering the issue of their conversation, imitate the faith.”
This naturally leads the apostle to bring before them One that never ends — “Jesus Christ [is] the same yesterday, and today, and for ever.” Why should His saints be carried away with questions about meats and drinks? He is the same unchangingly and evermore, as He has ever been. “Be not carried about with divers and strange doctrines. For it is a good thing that the heart be established in grace.” See how this word, this thought, always predominates in the epistle. Why turn back to “meats, which have not profited them that have been occupied therein?”
Had they been taunted with having no altar, possessing nothing so holy and so glorious in its associations? It was only owing to the blindness of Israel. For, says he, “we have an altar,” yea, more than that, an altar, “whereof they have no right to eat which serve the tabernacle.” You that go after the tabernacle (as he persists in calling it, even though now the temple) have no title to our altar, with its exhaustless supplies. To us Christ is all.
But this becomes the occasion of a remarkable allusion, on which I must for a moment dwell. He draws attention to the well-known rites of the atonement day; at any rate, if not of that day exclusively, wherever there was a beast the body of which was burnt without the camp, and the blood carried within the veil. Do you not discern in this striking combination the distinctive features of Christianity? Alas! it is not the dulness of Jewish prejudice only, but exactly what is denied by every system of which men boast in Christendom. For these very features did Judaism despise the gospel. But let not the Gentile boast, no less unbelieving no less arrogant, against true Christianity. Christendom precisely takes the middle ground of Judaism between these two extremes. The mean looks and sounds well, but is utterly false for the Christian. The two extremes, offensive to every lover of the viâ media of religious rationalism, must be combined in Christianity and the Christian man, if he is to maintain it unimpaired and pure. The first is, that in spirit the Christian is now brought by redemption, without spot or guilt, into the presence of God. If you believe in Christ at all, such is your portion — nothing less. If I know what Christ’s redemption has accomplished for all who believe, I must know that God has given me this. He honours the work of Christ, according to His estimate of its efficacy, as it is only according to His counsels about us for Christ’s glory. Of this we saw somewhat in Hebrews 10. And what is the effect of it? As a Christian I am now free, by God’s will, to go in peace and assurance of His love into the holiest of all — yes, now. I speak, of course, of our entrance there only in spirit.
As to the outer man also, we must learn to what we are called now. The apostle argues that, just as the blood of the beast was brought into the holiest of all, while the body of the same animal was taken outside the camp and burnt, so this too must be made good in our portion. If I have an indisputable present title of access into the holiest of all, I must not shrink from the place of ashes outside the camp. He that possesses the one must not eschew the other. In these consists our double present association by faith, while on the earth. The apostle earnestly insists on them both. We belong to the holiest of all, and we act upon it, if we iet rightly, when we worship God; nay, when we draw near to God in prayer at all times. Brought nigh to God by the blood of Jesus, we have perfect access, so that there is nothing between God and us; for Christ suffered once to bring us to God, as He intercedes that we may have communion. with Him in this place of nearness. Our being brought to God supposes, and is founded on the fact, that our sins are gone perfectly by His one offering; otherwise no madness is greater than indulging such a thought. If it be not the truth, it would be the height of presumption indeed. But far from this, it is the simple fact Of the gospel. “He suffered once for sins, the just for the unjust,” says another apostle, “that he might bring us” — not to pardon, nor to peace, nor to heaven, but — “to God.” Compare also Eph. 2. We are brought, then, washed from our sins, to God, and, according to this epistle, into the holiest of all, where He displays Himself. The real presumption, therefore, is to pretend to be a Christian, and yet to doubt the primary fundamental truth of Christianity as to this.
But the bodies of those beasts were burnt without the camp: my place, so far as I in the body am concerned, is one of shame and suffering in this world.
Are those two things true of you? If you have and prize one alone, you have only got the half of Christianity — yea, of its foundations. Are they both true of you? Then you may bless God that He has so blessed you, and given you to know as true of yourself that which, if not so known, effectually prevents one from having the full joy and bearing the due witness as an unworldly and simple-hearted servant of Christ here below. It is true, He does not always call at once into the place of reproach and suffering. He first brings us into the joy and nearness of His presence. He satisfies us with the perfectness with which Christ has washed us from our sins in His blood, and has made us kings and priests to His God and Father. But having done this, He points us to the place of Christ without the camp. “Let us go forth therefore unto him without the. camp, bearing his reproach.” This was the very thing that these Jewish Christians were shrinking, from, if not rebelling against. They had not made up their minds to suffer: to be despised was odious in their eyes. Nor is it pleasant to nature. But the apostle lets them know that if they understood their true blessing, this was the very part of it that was inseparably bound up with their present nearness to God, as set forth typically by the central and most important rite of the Jewish system. This is the meaning of the blood carried within, and of the body burnt without.
Let us then seek to combine these two things perfect nearness to God, and the place of utter scorn in the presence of man. Christendom prefers the middle course; it will have neither the conscious nearness, to God, nor the place of Christ’s reproach among men. All the effort of Christendom is first to deny the one, and then to escape from the other. I ask my brethren here if they are looking to God strenuously, earnestly, for themselves and for their children, not to allow but to oppose as their adversary every thing that tends to weaken either of these truths, which are our highest privilege and our truest glory as Christians here below. What a surprise to the Hebrew believers to find such truths as these so strikingly shown out in type even in the Jewish system!
But the apostle goes farther, as indeed was due to truth. These characteristics he proves to be really found in Christ Himself. He is evidently gone into the holiest of all in His own person. But how? What had immediately preceded this, The cross. Thus the cross and heavenly glory must go together. The gracious Lord gives and designs that we should take His own place both in heaven and here. “Let us go forth therefore unto him without the camp.” This is just the closing practical word of the epistle to the Hebrews. God was going openly to set aside the Jewish system, as it had already been judged morally in the cross of Christ. When the Messiah was crucified, Judaism was in principle a dead thing: if it was in any sense kept up, it was no more than a decent time before its burial. But now God sends His final summons, founded on their own ritual, to His people who were hankering after the dead, instead of seeing the Living One on He as it were repeats, “Let the dead bury the dead.” The Romans will do the last sad offices. But as for you who believe in Jesus, wait not for the Romans; let Judaism be nothing but a corpse, which does not concern you. “Let us go forth therefore unto him without the camp, bearing his reproach.”
This was a final call; and how gracious! If God had reserved the epistle to the Hebrews until after He sent forth His armies and burned up their city, destroying their polity root and branch, it might have been retorted that the Christians valued the Jewish ritual as loner as it was available, and only gave it up when earthly temple and sacrifice and priest were gone. But God took care to summon His children outside — to abandon the whole system before it was destroyed. They were to leave the dead to bury their dead; and they did so. But Christendom has wholly failed to profit by the call, and is doomed to perish by a judgment yet more solemn and wide-spread than that which swept away the ancient temple.
Another point follows, connected with what we have had before us, and demanding our attention. Instead of pining after that which is about to be destroyed, or repining at the call to go out to the place of Christ’s shame on earth, Christianity, which replaces Judaism now, may well cause us to offer “the sacrifice of praise to God continually.” There are two kinds of sacrifice to which we are now called. “By him therefore let us offer the sacrifice of praise to God continually, that is, the fruit of our lips, confessing his name. But to do good and to communicate forget not: for with such sacrifices God is well pleased.” That may have a higher character, these a lower; but even the highest is never to supersede or make us forgetful of the lowest.
Then comes a second exhortation as to their guides, or leading men among the brethren. (Compare Acts 15:22.) Obey your leaders, and submit yourselves; for they watch for your souls, as those that shall give account.” There is no sanction here, of course, of the vulgar and outrageous error that pastors give an account of the souls of their flock. It is an idea that superstition hatched, for the purpose of spuriously exalting a clerical order. The meaning is, that spiritual guides shall give an account of their own behaviour in watching over other souls; for it is a work that calls for much jealousy over self, patience with others, painstaking labour, lowliness of mind, and that hearty love which can bear all, endure all, believe all. There is then the solemn admonition of the account they are to render by-and-by. They watch as those that shall give an account. Now is the time for self-denying labour, and endurance in grace; by-and-by the account must be given to the Lord that appointed them. And the apostle would that their work of watching might be done with joy, and not groaning for this would be unprofitable for the saints.
But even the apostle felt his own need of the prayers of the faithful, not because he had gone wrong, but because he was conscious of no hindrance to his work from a had conscience. “Pray for us: for we trust we have a good conscience; in all things willing to live honestly. But I beseech you the rather to do this, that I may be restored to you the sooner.”
Then he commends the saints to God. “Now the God of peace, that brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great Shepherd of the sheep, in virtue of the blood of the everlasting covenant, perfect you in every good work to do his will, working in you that which is well-pleasing in his sight “through Jesus Christ; to whom be glory for the ages of the ages.”
Finally, he beseeches his brethren to hear the word of exhortation. Such is pre-eminently the bearing of this epistle to those who had no such frequent opportunities of profiting by his teaching as the Gentile churches. We can understand, therefore, both the delicacy that thus entreated them, and the meaning of the added words, “for also in few words I have written to you.” Nor does it seem so natural for any as the great apostle to inform them of his child and fellow-labourer: “Know that the brother Timothy is set at liberty; with whom, if he come pretty soon, I will see you. Salute all your leaders, and all the saints. They from Italy salute you. Grace be with you all. Amen.”
Thus the apostle closes this most striking and precious epistle, brimful to overflowing with that which had an especial and very touching interest to a Jew, but nevertheless needed as certainly by us, and as rich in instruction for us in this day as for those at any time that has passed away. For let me say this as a parting word, and I say it advisedly, because of circumstances that might well be before our hearts, — no deliverance, however enjoyed, no place of death to law, world, or sin, no privilege of union with Christ, will enable a soul to dispense with the truths contained in this epistle to the Hebrews. We are still walking here below; we are in the place therefore where infirmity is felt, where Satan tempts, where we may fail through unwatchfulness. The greater part of the affections of the Christian are drawn out toward our Saviour by all this scene of sin and sorrow through which we are passing on to heaven. If we formed our Christian character practically on such epistles as those to the Ephesians and Colossians alone, depend on it there may not be the hard lines of the law, but there will be very far from the fervent affections which become him who feels the grace of Christ. Be assured it is of the deepest possible moment to cherish the activity of Christ’s present love and care for us, the activity of that priesthood which is the subject of this epistle. Holding fast the permanence of the blotting out of our guilt, may we nevertheless and besides own the need of such an One as Christ to intercede for us, and deal in grace with all our feebleness or faults. The Lord forbid that anything should enfeeble our sense of the value and necessity of such daily grace, There may be that which calls for confusion of face in us, but there is unceasing ground also for thanksgiving and praise, however much we have to humble ourselves in the sight of God.
London: W. H. Broom, Paternoster Row.
1 I see no ground whatever for applying the citation from Psalm 2 to the resurrection of Christ. Acts 13, which is usually quoted to prove it, really distinguishes the raising up of Jesus as Messiah, the Son of God here below, from His resurrection which is made to rest on Isaiah 55 and Psalm 16. Neither does Psalm 2 set forth His eternal Sonship, all-important a truth as it is, and clearly taught by John above all.