From the foregoing cluster of O.T. quotations this conclusion is drawn:-
“Therefore we ought to pay the more earnest heed to the things that were heard, lest haply [or, ever] we should slip away.3 For if the word spoken through angels proved stedfast, and every transgression and disobedience received a just retribution, how shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation? The which having begun to be spoken through the Lord was confirmed unto us by those that heard, God also bearing witness with [them] both with signs and wonders, and varied powers, and distributions of [the] Holy Spirit according to his own will” (verses 1-4).
The danger set before these Hebrews is of the gravest. They had known the Jews’ religion originally. They had now professed to believe the gospel. Woe to such, above all men, if they slipped away from Christ; for the truth of God and the blessing of man centre only in Him. Christianity and Judaism are as different as heaven from earth; but as the heavenly things are not yet displayed, all enjoyment of them must be by faith of God’s revelation, crowned by the standing facts that Christ is come, has accomplished redemption as far as remission of our sins is concerned, and so glorified God in it, that He has now glorified the Son of man in Himself, the Holy Spirit being already given the believer as unction, seal, and earnest. If the believer look away from Christ, he is like his forefathers in the desert without the living God and nothing but the barren sand. Now a Jew naturally expected a bright path of honour and prosperity on earth. The cross stumbled him when Messiah came. “We have heard out of the law that Christ abideth for ever; and how sayest thou, that the Son of man must be lifted up? Who is this, the Son of man?” (John 12:34) If they got occupied with trial and disappointment, not only did murmuring set in but faith was emperilled. And if self-judgment did not work restoration of communion, what could the end be but total drifting away? Where could this end? How could it be otherwise?
God had spoken fully and finally in a Son, the Heir as Creator too of the universe, to whom even the preparatory testimonies of His word bore witness as His Son, God, and Jehovah; whose position after He made purification of sins was unique in heavenly glory, the object of angelic homage according to God’s will and word. The greater His grace and glory, the more solemn the responsibility to heed the testimony. For this only it is as yet: the time is not yet arrived, nor can it be under the gospel, for His power to compel absolute submission, as it will do by-and-by (Phil. 2:10, 11). It is the day for obedience of faith. But the word was nigh them in their mouth and in their heart, the things read as well as heard. To grow light, cool, or listless exposed them to the danger of slipping away, not for the truth only but themselves also. God would not be mocked in His Son and in His grace. To have once owned His glory binds the soul ever to heed His word and person.
Here again angels are introduced as the occasion for a stronger call. “For if the word spoken by angels was made stedfast, and every transgression and disobedience received just retribution, how shall we escape if we neglected so great salvation?” (vers. 2, 3).
The Jews were not mistaken in boasting of the singular honour God had put on the law, introduced as it was by angelic ministration. The N.T. is as clear in this attestation as the O.T. Nor were they wrong in maintaining the inviolability of the law in itself. How could its authority waver, if it be as it is, God’s law? It is not only in great things, but in small as man would think and say, that we see God vindicating it. Every transgression and every refusal to hear received righteous requital. Other ways of God came in no doubt, whereby mercy could rejoice against judgment; but unsparing judgment of evil was the principle proclaimed and enforced throughout. It was a ministry of death and condemnation.
Incomparably more serious is it to despise grace brought in by the Head of all glory. No notion more contrary to truth than that grace makes light of evil — that the gospel is a sort of mitigated or attenuated law. It was when man, and man under law, was proved wholly bad and irreparably ruined, that God sent His Son and laid on Him the entire burden. Salvation is the fruit for him that believes. There is and can be for sinners no other way. It is entirely Christ’s work, exclusively His suffering. His blood cleanses from every sin — if not from all, from none. Such is the grace of God that has appeared in Christ, and especially in His death. But man is the enemy of God through listening to an older and mightier rebel than himself; and grace is far more alien and offensive to man than law. In the law his conscience can but bow to righteousness, even though thinking himself righteous; for he knows and approves what is right, while he follows what is wrong. Grace is beyond all his thoughts, all his feelings, all his hopes, because it is divine love in God rising above all His hatred of evil, which He lays on the only sacrifice capable of bearing it before Himself and taking it away righteously.
This the gospel proclaims, not promises only but preaches, because the Saviour has come and finished the work given Him to do on behalf of sinners to God’s glory. And hence the supreme danger of neglecting so great salvation. For its immensity is proportionate to His dignity who came to save sinners, and to the unparalleled work in suffering at God’s hand for all our sins what they deserved. His divine person gave Him competency to endure as well as infinite efficacy for His work. He became indeed man to suffer for man; but He never ceased to be God, even when for sin forsaken by God.
Such is the doctrine here and uniformly in scripture where it is treated. It is a salvation on which the Holy Spirit never wearies of expatiating. And how gracious of God toward those who have His word and yet are in danger of neglecting “so great salvation”! not only neglecting to receive it but negligent of it when professed. This snare of a religious people like Israel is just the danger of Christendom now yet more.
It will be observed that “we” is emphatic in the first part of verse 3, and that the writer includes himself too in its occurrence before the close. This is one of the stock arguments against Paul’s authorship of the Epistle. But it appears to be quite superficial from an oversight of its character. For, supposing Paul to be the writer, his merging himself with the Hebrews he was addressing outside his special apostolic province is precisely in keeping with the task in hand. To make this inconsistent with Gal. 1:12 seems petty indeed; for the latter is distinctively personal, and Heb. 2:3, 4 has evidently a studious generality. He is setting forth the claim of that word which began to be spoken by the Lord Himself in contrast with the law of old, august as its introduction may have been, which he would have been the last to deny. But the Lord was here in the midst of the Jews to bring us not the law that kills the guilty, but His own great salvation for the lost. The first person does not at all mean that he had heard it, but that when it thus began to be spoken it was confirmed “unto us” by those that heard. Indeed he distinguishes himself rather from those ear-witnesses, without at all branching off to his own peculiar and long subsequent privilege outside Damascus. But he does identify himself with those whom the Lord addressed at the beginning without in the least implying that he had himself heard Him. Was he not a Hebrew of the Hebrews? To cite Eph. 3:2, 3 is therefore wholly beside the mark. Both are true, and manifestly so.
The great aim of all indeed is to put forward the Lord as the Apostle no less than High Priest of the Christian profession, as He is styled in Heb. 3:1. This accordingly leaves out not only himself born out of due time but the twelve as apostles. In presence of Him they are only “those that heard.” The Lord began the word of this salvation; they heard and confirmed it to the people responsible to receive the
Christ of God; and God also bore witness with them in a way beyond all example. The object in view excluded all mention of the extraordinary Gentile apostleship, to say nothing of the grace in Paul that sought to meet the Jews as God did, that He might disarm them of their prejudices, and give all glory to the word from His Son.
Nor can any description be conceived more exact and guarded than the language here used, while at the same time intended to impress the believing Jews with the superiority of the gospel to the law. “The which [salvation] having begun to be spoken through the Lord was confirmed unto us by those that heard, God also bearing witness with [them], both by signs and wonders and varied powers and distributions of [the] Holy Spirit according to his own will” (verses 3, 4).
Salvation took only a beginning of publication in the days of His flesh. For the work of atonement was not yet touched, as it was and could only be accomplished by His death at the close. Yet salvation assuredly began to be spoken of, when the Lord entered on His public ministry. Of this Luke 4:16 et seqq. is the beautiful witness, founded on His reading Isa. 61:1, 2, on the sabbath in the synagogue of Nazareth, and stopping with the acceptable year of Jehovah. The day of vengeance, surely to come in its season, was not to be till He comes again. It is salvation now. “Today hath this scripture been fulfilled in your ears.” Earlier still Simeon saw in the Babe the salvation of God. Now a further step was taken: the Lord had begun to speak of it. For indeed the Spirit of Jehovah was upon Him, and He was anointed to preach good tidings to the poor. Jehovah had sent Him to proclaim release to the captives, and recovering sight to the blind, to set at liberty those that were bruised, in short to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord. And so to weary, heavy-laden souls He gave rest in His grace from first to last, as the cross itself testifies to the utmost.
Certainly when in due season Christ died for the ungodly, when He rose with “peace be unto you,” and again “Peace” in sending by them, that salvation was confirmed by those that heard. Nor did God fail to bear His joint testimony, if those sent out were weak indeed. The Spirit given was of power and of love and of a sound mind. And His operations were such as to arrest the most careless and even hardened, while they did not, as they could not, fail to awaken unbelievers however prejudiced. Such was the effect of the Pentecostal signs and wonders and manifold powers and distributions of the Holy Spirit according to His own will. The tongues of scattered man’s speech were spoken in a moment, as the Lord had promised (Mark 16), not only a “wonder” but a “sign” to Jews gathered to the feast from all nations, as the “varied powers” were displayed in healing the sick, casting out demons, and the like. “Distributions of the Holy Spirit” find their explanation in such a scripture as 1 Cor. 12. They all were forms of divine attestation that accompanied or rather followed the great salvation confirmed by those that preached it.
The glory of Christ has, however, another side. He is Son of God before the worlds, Son of God incarnate, Son of God risen from the dead. He is God; He is Jehovah. His position suits and attests His divine dignity. But He is Son of man also; and the moral glory of His humiliation is answered by His conferred glory, as the Epistle proceeds to develop, but with marked reference to the present exaltation of our Lord since the cross on high, and not to the millennial day, though this is assured for the earth by-and-by.
“For not to angels did he subject the habitable [earth] to come whereof we speak, but one somewhere testified, saying, What is man that thou rememberest him? Or son of man, that thou visitest him? Thou madest him a little lower than angels; with glory and honour thou crownedst him [and didst set him over the works of thy hands4]: thou didst put all things in subjection beneath his feet. For in that he subjected them all to him, he left nothing unsubjected to him. But now we see not yet them all in subjection to him. But we see him that hath been made a little lower than angels, Jesus, for the suffering of death, crowned with glory and honour, that by God’s grace he should taste of death for every thine,” (verses 5-9).
Here the angels are not only surpassed beyond comparison, but have no place whatever. It is a question of subjection and of rule; but this is not for angels. They serve; they never reign. Man is called to rule, to have dominion. God was looking on to His Son, the Son of man. For Him the habitable earth is destined. God has not made it in vain. He knew from the first that the first man would fail. His counsels ever centre in Christ. But He must reign alone, if this were all; for all sinned and do come short of the glory of God. Yet rest for man with God in glory was ever His design. This could only be by death, the death of the Lord Jesus. His death is therefore the sole possible meeting-point, the solution of all hardest enigmas, the conciliation of perfect love with inflexible righteousness, of grace to the sinner with the untarnished glory of God, of man’s weakness and of Satan’s power, of judgment borne and of peace made, of the Highest taking the lowest place in obedience that He might receive the highest on a ground on which He could have the vilest now sanctified with Him, the sharers of His joy through redemption. Such the counsels, such the ways, of God in Christ.
It will be observed that man, the Son of man, comes into the greatest and most fitting prominence. It was only the name of shame and sin, if He to whom it specially belongs were not Son of God as no one else is, as divine. But this held fast, what can be sweeter to man if he believes God? For its true force and ways we have His word, the only sure standard. Now it is never applied to Him vaguely. It is His title when He is the consciously, evidently, rejected Messiah.
In the N.T. it first occurs in Matt. 8:20. So He speaks of Himself to a scribe that proposed to follow Him “whithersoever thou goest.” This might be all well for a Jew subject to the Messiah, the King, the fountain of dignity and reward. But the Lord even then realises His position. “The foxes have holes, and the birds of the sky nests; but the Son of man hath not where to lay his head.” He had come to His own things, but His own people received Him not. This was about to be fully and awfully demonstrated; but He knew it then, and speaks as already outcast and having nothing. The death of the cross would be ere long the undeniable and absolute proof; but He realises it and expresses it, not only by the title but by what accompanies it, if any were ignorant of its import. Again, “the Son of man hath power on earth to forgive sins,” and proves it by enabling the paralytic at a word to arise, take up his bed, and walk (Matt. 9). He will have come before His envoys shall have gone through the cities of Israel (Matt. 10) — a mission to be resumed before that day. At the later stage of Matt. 11:19 the transition is plain; as in the solemn charge of Matt. 12:32, 40, preparatory to His bringing out the mysteries of the kingdom of the heavens, the earth and earthly people were morally judged and found good for nothing. It was now a question of “the Sower,” of a new system which He was to begin, though Satan again would ruin it as far as public result on earth appeared, yet would He secure the good and judge the evil.
Still more emphatic is the testimony of Matt. 16, where the utter unbelief of the Jews forms the background, in contrast with which shines the faith of the chief spokesman of the twelve, who receives a new name from the Lord, and learns that, on the rock of the Father’s revelation of the Son, the Son of the living God, Christ was to build His church. It was then He charged His disciples to tell no one that He was “the Christ,” not Jesus (which is absurd and not authentic, the addition of copyists ignorant of the truth). From that time forth He began to show them that He must suffer many things and be killed and raised again: His manifest chance to the full meaning of Son of man, as is pointed out expressly in Mark 8:29-31: Luke 9:20-22. The Gospel of John in his personal way sets out the same truth of transition for the Lord in John 12, where, after being presented as the Christ as is written in Zech. 9:9, in the face of the Pharisees more hostile when He raised Lazarus from the grave as the quickening Son of God, His word to Andrew and Philip speaking for the Greeks is, “The hour is come that the Son of man should be glorified. Verily, verily, I say to you, Except a corn of Wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone; but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit” (verses 23, 24). All judgment is committed to the Son of man, Who must be honoured thus by those who, not believing in Him as Son of God, despised Him as man: He will judge all such (John 5). So He appears to the Jew coming in the clouds of heaven (Matt. 24); so He deals with the Gentiles in that day (Matt. 25).
Nor is it otherwise in the O.T. It is the same Spirit, as the truth is one. For it will be observed that, as Psalm 2 is a weighty testimony to His Sonship as incarnate in Heb. 1, Psalm 8 is the no less appropriate citation here in Heb. 2. Nor is this casual, but the kernel that they respectively bear. The first Psalm speaks according to the Jewish covenant and contrasts the righteous with the ungodly, as the judgment will manifest. Psalm 2 introduces the Christ, Jehovah’s King on Zion. Such is the decree. For He is Son, begotten in time, as we are told here for His kingdom, before time and all things (being their Creator) as we are told elsewhere. When He asks, He will receive not Judea merely but the nations for His inheritance and the uttermost parts of the earth for His possession. But this is characterised by judgment executed publicly, in His breaking them with a rod of iron, and dashing them to pieces like a potter’s vessel. Clearly this is postponed by His rejection on the part of the unbelieving Jews and lawless Gentiles; and when it is fulfilled, the church will be with Him and share His rule in a glorified state, as is explicitly declared in Rev. 2; 26, 27. Now this further stage of His rejection and its blessed consequence in a higher elevation and larger sphere, not as the Messiah only but as the humbled and glorified Son of man, is precisely the truth taught in Psalm 8 as we are instructed in our Epistle.
Thus the prefatory Psalms 1 and 2 give us the righteous man and the Messiah according to Jehovah’s purpose, spite of opposing kings and peoples; the Psalms that follow, Ps. 3 - 7, point out how His Spirit works in the circumstances and sorrows of the righteous while He does not reign; and Psalm 8 closes this series by Christ as the humbled Son of man set over all things. Though the habitable earth be not yet subjected to Him, as our scripture tells us, yet when we look at Him crowned with glory and honour on high, we behold by faith even now the divine glory set in Him above the heavens, the pledge that His name will soon be acknowledged excellent in all the earth, as it really is. Without Christ man is indeed feeble and fallen. Angels excel in might; and we naturally look up to the heavens, the moon, and the stars, though but the work of Jehovah’s fingers and His ordinances. But look at man in Christ! His shame and suffering on the cross are the ground of the highest glory even God could confer on the Man that went down below all, now exalted above all far beyond the oath to David or the promise to Abram. It is the glorious dénouement of His abasement for the ‘ suffering of death, as it is here explained, and that God’s grace might have its fullest exercise. His present place is in heaven, in no way the subjection of the habitable earth which is “to come,” as the scripture itself says; still less is His seat on the Father’s throne the assumption of His own throne. It is God straightway glorifying in Himself the Son of man Who glorified Him as to sin in death. For the rest we await, as He does, the times and seasons the Father has set within His own authority. He is Himself, and as man, in the highest; and we seeing it by faith bear witness to Him, to His sufferings and the glories that should follow. His immeasurable superiority to angels as man is not to be doubted, though the time is not yet for seeing all things subjected to Him. From 1 Cor. 15 we learn that it awaits the resurrection at His coming. So absolute and universal is the supremacy over the universe He had created as God, that it seems good to the Holy Spirit in the Epistle to the Corinthians to except Him who subjected all to Christ; as here it is affirmed that He left nothing that is not put under Him.
How blessed and precise the appended words, “that He by God’s grace should taste death for every thing!” This last rather than “man” appears best to suit the bearing of the context. It is the sphere not merely as a universe but including “every thing” brought under the reconciling power of His death. The following verse brings in persons, and different language is used.
What gives peculiar force to “the habitable earth 5 to come” is the undeniable fact that the main object of the Epistle is to develop and maintain the present glory of Christ as He sits, on the accomplishment of redemption, at the right hand of God on High From first to last this is obvious and all-important. The Jewish Christian, disposed to abide in or glide away into earthly hopes with the Messiah or His throne for their centre, needed to be continually recalled to his actual relationship with Christ in heaven. At the same time there is no lack of testimony throughout, to the rest of God that remaineth for His people (Heb. 4), to the age to come, of which the powers vouchsafed in apostolic era were a sample and pledge (Heb. 6), to the new covenant to be made with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah (Heb. 8), of which we have now only the principle, not the letter but spiritually, in the blood shed which is its basis, to the appearing of Christ a second time (Heb. 9), to the day approaching (Heb. 10), to the blessing concerning the things to come when the promise shall be received in fact instead of in faith (Heb. 11), to the full and ordered scene of glory in heaven and earth (Heb. 12), when the Lord shakes not earth only but also heaven, and to the city actually come and continuing (Heb. 13).
Here we have the most distinct evidence that, whatever may be the displayed glory of the heavens in that day (and no one intelligent in Eph. 1, Col. 1, and other scriptures, would enfeeble but insist on it for Christ and the risen saints), yet it is an irreparable blank to leave out of that day’s blessedness “the habitable earth.” Abundant strains of the prophets anticipate it with assurance, joy, and praise, as the Law had of old, and the Psalms afterwards. Nor does the fullest light of the N.T. omit the earth in the proclamation of the coming kingdom, though the opening of heaven as the characteristic faith and hope made the higher naturally predominant. If the Lord taught His disciples to pray that the Father’s kingdom should come, He did not fail to add as the next petition, “Thy will he done, as in heaven, so on earth.” The revelation of new things does not blot out the old; as indeed Christ will be the centre and head of both in that day to the glory of God the Father. So is His outpouring in John 17. He asks what assuredly will be fully answered in connection with His giving to the saints the glory which the Father gave Him (not, of course, what was personally intrinsic and eternal), “that they may be one, even as we [are] one; I in them and Thou in Me, that they may be perfected into one; that the world may know that Thou didst send Me, and lovedst them even as Thou lovedst Me.” In the day of glory it will be a question of “knowing,” not as now an appeal to “faith” (cf. verses 20, 21). But there is undeniably “the world” to know when they see those truly divine counsels of grace fulfilled in the manifested glory of Christ and His own. There are earthly things no less than heavenly in the kingdom (John 3), which is as different from the present time of the gospel as from the still more remote eternity with its conditions of total and fixed change.
And how suitable is it that “the habitable earth” where the Lord was born, where He laboured, suffered, and died on the cross, should be subjected to His government, and behold His glory, and experience more blessedness under His sceptre than it groaned in misery and corruption under rebellious man misled by a mightier rebel than himself! It is His due, not only as Creator of it all but as Redeemer. There He was put to shame, there He will triumph. There man and Satan brought in death and the curse; there God and His Son will fill the earth with peace and glory. How sad the blank if this were not to be!
In vain do ancients and moderns err from the word and pervert this scripture to the state of the church under the gospel. On the face of it “to come” distinguishes the world into which God brought in the Firstborn (Heb. 1:6). Such is its state in the future; as no mystification or argument can make it legitimately mean a heavenly and spiritual system. Such as our condition of gospel and church privilege. Nor is there any difficulty in the clause that follows, “whereof we speak.” For the matter treated of is the future subjection of this habitable world to the Second man, and not to angels. Undoubtedly it is not the eternal state when He shall deliver up the kingdom to Him Who is God and Father. It is His reign till He has put all His enemies under His feet, death last of all. It is not the time when He ministers as the High Priest in heaven for those who on earth suffer and need His succour and sympathy. It is not the gospel state, but the millennial kingdom which intervenes between the gospel as now and the eternity which closes all. It is the world or habitable earth under the manifested power and kingdom of the Lord Jesus, the rejected Messiah but Son of man exalted to reign over all peoples, nations, and languages.
Certainly the death of Christ is not here associated with God’s law. What possible boon was law for the guilty? For such it can bring no blessing nor pardon, but a curse, and this righteously. Compare with Deut. 27; Rom. 4:15; 1 Cor. 15:56; Gal. 3:10; 1 Tim. 1:9. But here it is grace, God’s grace; and by it Christ tasted death for everyone, if it be not rather “everything.” Compare the verses before. What more, what so, expressive of outspreading mercy, with glorious consequences to the universe, from His personal glory who thus deigned to die by God’s grace! God could not but have worthy purposes of goodness to accomplish rising over sin and ruin by such a death. Where sin carried the first man and his race, the Second man went by God’s grace. By it He tasted death; but it was for everything.
“For it became Him for whom [are] all things, and by whom [are] all things, in bringing many sons unto glory, to make the leader of their salvation perfect through sufferings. For both the sanctifier and the sanctified [are] all of one; for which cause he is not ashamed to call them brethren, saying, I will declare thy name to my brethren — in [the] midst of [the] assembly will I sing thy praise. And again, I will put my trust in him. And again, Behold, I and the children which God gave me. Since then the children have a common share of blood and flesh,6 He also Himself in like manner took part in the same, that through death he might annul him that hath the power of death, that is, the devil; and might deliver all those that by fear of death were through the whole of their life subject to bondage” (verses 10-15).
The grand truth first before us, and justly, is that it became God — Him for whom and by whom is the universe — in bringing (not everybody but) “many sons” unto glory, to make the Leader of their salvation perfect through sufferings. Where sin is, in God’s righteous government there must follow suffering. Undoubtedly in Christ was no sin, not only no sin done but none in Himself. But He became the responsible Man to retrieve God’s honour, outraged everywhere by the creature above and below. Satan and his angels had left their first estate. Man was disobedient. All was ruin. The Son of man goes down in obedience and bears all the consequences, glorifying God infinitely even as to sin, and on the road endures sufferings in every shape and decree as none else could, according to His moral perfection and personal glory, till all was exhausted in the cross, so that it was for God’s righteousness to exalt Him as now in glory. Thus was His course finished, that He in glory might bring “many sons” to glory; but the path lay through sufferings. Thus was He perfected: not that He was not ever the perfect One, but that so only could it be if God were to be vindicated and Himself the Leader of salvation for the many sons to share that heavenly glory. The work is done which gives Him a title to “everything” by redemption, as He had also the rights of Creator. He died, having made peace by the blood of His cross to reconcile all things. whether the things on the earth or the things in the heavens. But He responded entirely to the gracious purpose of God which would also have “many sons” reconciled to share the glory with Him, and therefore He accepted all the sufferings which were the necessary condition. Judgment must have closed the door irrevocably on all men as on all angels that sinned. Where would grace then have been? The sufferings of Christ made it righteous to have many sons in the same glory as Himself, not derogating from God’s glory but enhancing it and giving it a new, larger, and higher form than ever. Where would judgment, have been otherwise? What did the “sons” deserve?
“For both he that sanctifieth and they that are sanctified are all of one.” No thought can be more opposed to the truth than confounding this blessed association of the saints and incarnation, so as to bring in all mankind. Beyond controversy without incarnation it could not be; but their association is founded on His death and displayed in His resurrection. Incarnation means not Christ’s union with all the race, nor yet the union of the saints with Him, but (what was essential to redemption as the basis for this union) Deity united with humanity in the Word become flesh. Sinful man could not be sanctified otherwise. Incarnation was now the state of His person: henceforth God and man indissolubly joined, in order to His suffering for sins once, as He did atoningly on the tree; but it is as risen and glorified that He is said to be “made perfect,” and to have become the author of everlasting salvation to all those that obey Him (Heb. 5:9).
Christ is thus effectually separating us to God. He is the Sanctifier; and both He and the sanctified are all of one. The Epistle does not rise to the unity of which we learn in Eph. and Col., or even in 1 Cor. He and they are not here said to be one, but “of one.” There is efficacious and blessed association, yet the unity of the body of Christ is not the truth which is here opened, but rather heavenly calling, as we read in Heb. 3:1. Nothing can be conceived more unwise, irreverent, and childish than therefore to slight its aim. No Epistle is more adapted than this to the Hebrews to exalt the Lord or to draw out the renewed affections of the saints. So far from being Jewish, it is the final word to deliver the too slow disciples from earthly thoughts and fleshly hopes and worldly religion to Christ in heaven.
But it is false that He and mankind are “all of one”; only He and the sanctified are.7 And sanctification is not union but separation to God. Therefore is it that in John 17 our Lord speaks of Himself, not as sanctifying others, but as sanctifying Himself. This He did not at all in the moral sense (for He was ever the Holy One of God, and even demons confessed Him so), but as setting Himself apart in heaven the model as the glorified Man to form and fashion us now by the Holy Ghost sent down from heaven; and this expressly in absolute separation from the world of which we are not, as He is not nor was. There was grace toward the race in all perfection. God was in Christ reconciling the world unto Himself. But the world proved itself irreconcilable, though there He was rising above human sin, selfishness, and misery, “not reckoning their trespasses to them.” But they despised the reconciliation and rejected Himself. In His rejection on the cross God made Him sin — laid on Him atoningly its awful consequences — that the believer might become God’s righteousness in Him. Thus both the Sanctifier and the sanctified are all of one. They are one set as set apart to God.
This truth, so often gainsaid by some and undermined by others, is set forth by apt quotations from the O.T. introduced by the words, “for which cause He is not ashamed to call them brethren.” As God was not ashamed to be called the God of the fathers, so Christ is not ashamed (I say not to be called Brother but) to call us, the children, brethren. It is His relationship which He nowhere extends to man as he is, nor even to His own disciples though born of God, till He rose from the dead. Before then the utmost He uttered was altogether vague: “Behold, my mother and my brethren. For whosoever shall do the will of my Father that is in heaven, the same is my brother and sister and mother.” As risen, He sends the new message, “But go unto my brethren, and say unto them, I ascend unto my Father and your Father, and my God and your God,” followed the same day at evening by His characteristic act of inbreathing and saying, Receive the Holy Spirit. Henceforth they had life in resurrection power, life abundantly as indeed He had promised.
But Psalm 22:22 intimates more. The time was not yet come for Messiah’s praise of God in “the great congregation” (verse 25) of Judah and Ephraim in their twelve-tribed fulness (Acts 26), when all the ends of the earth also shall remember and turn to Jehovah, and all the kindreds of the nations shall worship before Him. Verse 22 is pointedly different, and applied now by the Spirit that inspired the Epistle to the Hebrews. Indeed the truth of it was made good that evening when Jesus came (though the doors were shut for fear of the Jews), and stood in the midst of the assembled disciples, and said, “Peace be unto you,” showing them withal His hands and His side, the marks of that death in which He was made a sacrifice for sin. The Psalm impresses on the scene, not the mission of peace as in the gospel, but the united praise of the assembly which Jesus Himself leads as “in the midst.” And how deep and high and truly of divine savour is that praise which Jesus hymns! How unbelieving to doubt that, as He is in the midst where two or three are gathered to His name, we may count on His leadership of praise! May we be not faithless but believing!
Is this to lower the Lord? It ought to strengthen us in the grace that is in Him, drawing out the proof how truly the Sanctifier and the sanctified are all of one. Hear further, “And again, I will put my trust in Him; and again Behold, I and the children which God gave me.” The first of these truths occurs repeatedly in the O.T., but it would seem that it is cited with a suitable modification from the same prophecy which furnishes the second, Isa. 8:14, 18. The original passage is full of interest, and affords a strikingly pertinent application to the Christian Hebrews. For the Son of David had been just before predicted as to be born of the virgin, yet called Immanuel (Isa. 7), and owned (Isa. 8) as a child born to the Jews, yet Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace, unquestionably the Messiah. Before the day when He increases the nation and breaks the rod of the oppressor, He shall be for a sanctuary, but for a stone of stumbling and for a rock of offence to both the houses of Israel, for a gin and a snare to the inhabitants of Jerusalem. And many shall stumble thereon and fall and be broken and be snared and be taken. Still more remarkable language follows. “Bind up the testimony, seal the law among my disciples. And I will wait for Jehovah that hideth his face from the house of Jacob, and I will look for him. Behold, I and the children whom Jehovah hath given me are for signs and for wonders in Israel from Jehovah of hosts who dwelleth in Mount Zion.”
This has been accomplished to the letter. The day is at hand for the display of His power and glory in the deliverance of Israel. Meanwhile it is only a remnant of them that is in relationship with Him; and they are more than ever favoured spiritually. The testimony is bound up, the law or teaching sealed, among His disciples to whom He is a sanctuary, while His face is hid from the house of Jacob generally. So that He and the children given Him of Jehovah, the Sanctifier and the sanctified, are for signs and for wonders while He is a rock of offence to both houses of Israel. It is just the place of Him who became man to trust in Jehovah, and of those given Him by Jehovah from the Jews (as in principle true of all Christians) meanwhile. He was as truly man as Jehovah; and we who are given Him reap the blessing of both facts united in His person. The dependent man was the Lord God of Israel, the sanctuary of the remnant when the nation stumbled at the Stumbling-stone.
Here is the deduction. “Since then the children have a common share (
κεκοινώνηκεν) of blood and flesh, he also himself in like manner took part in the same, that through death he might annul him that hath the power of death, that is, the devil, and might deliver all those that by fear of death were through the whole of their life subject to bondage” (verses 14, 15). The Son of God became man, as the children were men, in order to meet Satan in his last stronghold of death, and thus by dying exhaust his power for those who being under law were harassed all their life long by fear in their conscience. It is plain that the enemy is here in view, as God was in verse 10, and as the sufferings of Christ vindicated God’s holy nature and character, leaving His love free to act in saving us and bringing us to glory, so did His death break Satan’s power to nought and deliver from fear the troubled saints, henceforth in peace, for He was raised for their justification. Satan is no longer to the believer the King of terrors. Christ has disarmed the enemy by submitting to death, and his power is gone for ever for His own. His resurrection proved the seal of death broken for us, as for us He died; and our resurrection will be the demonstration of its truth, not to us that believe who have in ourselves the witness of His grace and glory, but to all who disbelieve, rejecting Christ and the gospel.
“Since then the children have a common share of blood and flesh, he also himself in like manner took part in the same, that through death he might annul him that hath the power of death, that is, the devil; and might deliver those that by fear of death were through the whole of their life subject to bondage” (verses 14, 15).
Here we have indeed the Incarnation set out more definitely than anywhere else in this Epistle or perhaps in any other. Here then those who base their theology on that immense and to us most affecting truth, considering Who He was that was thus made flesh, should compare their deductions with the revealed mind of God. The Holy Spirit brings before us its true objects and design. Far be it from the heart to seek to limit its scope. Let other scriptures be taken into account, and no ray of heavenly light from any be shut out. Only let it be the divine truth, and not human speculation; for no one fully knows (
ἐπιγινώσκει) the Son but the Father. Be it ours therefore to hear, and to adore.
Clearly then “the children” are in immediate view, and not a vague and vain thought of all mankind. As they had blood and flesh as their common portion, He also in like manner took part in the same. Blessed a proof as it may be that God’s good pleasure is not in angels, however near Him and in themselves glorious, but in men, weak though they are, yea, worthless and wretched through sin, His eye is on them for good, His heart toward them in mercy, and so much the more because misled and oppressed by a powerful and relentless foe. But it is no ineffectual testimony that we hear. Jesus had come in grace, or, as we are told elsewhere, “anointed of God with the Holy Ghost and with power; who went about doing good, and healing all that were oppressed of the devil; for God was with him.” But man would none of Him, however welcome at first; least of all His own people. Jew and Gentile conspired to reject Him even to the death of the cross. In that death God broke the power of the devil, wrought deliverance for His own, and laid an atoning and eternal basis, not only to meet but through faith to save the foulest sinners on earth. Nothing but the death of Christ could bring to nought him that had the power of death; nothing else deliver all those who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage.
Incarnation is a blessed truth, but it is only the means to the end here specified — and where misused as it often is, it clouds and shuts out that death which defeats the enemy and delivers the captives, as being the true ground of God’s righteousness, because there only was sin judged definitely and in grace toward the guilty. Infidelity denies God and His Christ altogether: His deity and His incarnation are to it nothing, as God is in none of its thoughts. But with fallen Christendom the controversy habitually is, whether deliverance turns on a living Christ on earth? or on a dead and risen Christ exalted to heaven? Tradition and humanitarianism affirm the former. Scripture alone asserts the truth, because it alone, while declaring incarnation fully, leaves room for the vindication of God and the annulling of Satan, the judgment of sin and the deliverance of the believer, as well as the glorifying of Christ.
The same death of Christ lays doubtless a ground for all men, as we see in Rom. 3 and elsewhere. In virtue of the blood on the mercy-seat God’s righteousness is “unto all,” and “upon all that believe.” Here it is the last only. It is “the children” who are in question, whom Christ is not ashamed to call “brethren.” The world at large does not therefore come into this account. We must be subject to the word of God, and receive truth as God reveals it: else we fall into confusion.
Now we come to those in whom the Saviour is directly and blessedly interested. Here again is nothing vague, but all is made carefully precise.
“For doubtless not of angels doth he lay hold,8 but of Abraham’s seed he layeth hold. Whence it behoved him in all things. to be made like to his brethren, that he might be a merciful and faithful high-priest in things pertaining to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. For in that he himself hath suffered being tempted, he is able to help those that are tempted” (verses 16-18).
The rendering of verse 16 is faultily given in many versions, in none perhaps worse than our own A.V. The sense is totally changed, and a preterite form assigned to the verb, instead of the present tense, the natural consequence of such a change of sense. “He took not on Him the nature of angels, but He took,” etc. This, it is evident,
ἐπιλαμβάνεται cannot bear. It is expressly a present. Again the word means to lay hold of, especially when with a genitive as here in the middle voice. Such is its force, even when uncompounded; and the preposition defines or emphasises. Never does it mean to take a nature, though the A.V. seems to have been led into this, partly by Beza,9 chiefly by certain Greek commentators,10 for whose mistake no excuse can be made. They were occupied with controversies which misled them to catch at straws. The incarnation was the chief one in this case. But this had been fully treated and just closed. The Holy Spirit here goes on to Christ’s making a special object, not of angels but of Abraham’s seed, which of itself ought to have guarded reflecting minds from the error. Why Abraham rather than Adam? It is evidently owing to another truth, no longer the assumption of human nature, but their cause he undertakes. Incarnation was the necessary means, in order to accomplish this and other ends according to God. Here the seed of promise comes into view, a truth palatable to those who valued their descent from Abraham; but, as our Lord showed (John 8), they only are Abraham’s children who do the works of Abraham; and none do his works who share not his faith; which, as it did not go with mere fleshly descent, so it was open to those who had like precious faith. For they that be of faith are blessed with the faithful Abraham (Gal. 3:9).
The uncertainty that has prevailed is extraordinary as to almost every word. “For” is the only right sense, not “moreover” as Macknight says, nor “besides” with M. Stuart. The word
δήπου was quite mistaken by those that followed the laxity of the Vulgate. The Syriac Versions early and late pass it by altogether. It occurs nowhere else in the Greek Testament nor yet in the Septuagint, but its force is unequivocally in the ordinary usage of the language, as “doubtless,” “I presume,” “forsooth.” We have already seen that “to take up” or “undertake the cause” is the meaning of the verb so emphatically repeated, negatively and positively. Angels He has not as the object of His care, but Abraham’s seed He has. It may be applied to laying hold or arresting with hostile intent: where a gracious aim is plain as here, the sense is no less certain. Assuming a nature is without example and in no way involved in the word itself. Nor does it suit the verse either; because for our Lord to assume Abraham’s seed had no nature distinctively. Of blood and flesh it had been already declared He partook, but this is humanity; and the reason assigned is that, as the children, or Abraham’s seed, had a common share of the same, He is no doubt undertaking their cause, not that of angels. When it comes to the question of espousing a cause, not of incarnation, we hear not of human nature, but expressly of those separated on the ground of divine promise, the objects of grace.
Hence the moral necessity that He should be “in all things made like to his brethren.” Even though deigning to become man, He might have been in wholly different circumstances from most or all. Yet Adam never knew what it was to be a man, as the Lord of glory did from birth onward. From what trial or suffering was He exempted, sin only excepted? and this that He might in due time be of God made sin on the cross, bearing its bitterest consequences? And this we see as the end in view in 18, “That He might be a merciful and faithful high-priest in things pertaining to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people.”
The allusion is plain to the exceptional position of the high-priest on the day of atonement. He and he alone was the actor on that day, and this typically. Christ and Christ alone was the one sufferer also in the antitype. What was wrought on the cross goes far beyond the “shadow,” though the shadow was constructed to indicate a great deal. But Christ alone gives us the full truth of atonement or of anything else, because He is the truth. His person, unique and divine, made the superiority in every respect.
It was not at all the normal action of priesthood in the holy place. The high priesthood on that day was representative of the people before God in their sins. This was quite extraordinary. A far deeper need was in question than intercession that followed, or representing them within in their acceptance. If sin was to be adequately dealt with even in type, and only for the purifying of the flesh, and but for a year, no other way lay open. It is not application, but God met according to His nature: even the people’s lot was putting the confessed sins away out of His sight in the form. The momentous reality appears in all its moral glory and efficacy in that work of Christ’s death for sin and our sins, which has perfected and glorified God, and brought in eternal redemption.
The English versions are various, and none of them exact, yet there is no uncertainty as to the sense. Wiclif is the most paraphrastic — “that He schulde be made merciful and a feithful bischop to God, that He schulde be merciful to the trespassis of the puple.” Tyndale is closer, “that He myght be mercifull, and a faythfull hye preste in thynges concernynge God, for to pourge the peoples synnes.” And so Cranmer and the Geneva Bible. The Rhemish has the barbarous Latin servilely reproduced, “that He might repropitiate,” etc. The A.V. gives “to make reconciliation for the sinnes of the people”: an awkward misrendering. Reconciliation is of persons, as well as of creation; but for sins is not justifiable. Propitiation or atonement for them is correct.
Here too it will be noticed that the Spirit of God does not warrant that unlimited extension for which so many contend. And such is the frailty and caprice of man’s mind that those who without and contrary to the text would widen the sphere of “the people,” and “the children of Abraham,” and “His brethren” to all mankind are often the same who on shallow grounds would expunge the universality of the outlook of divine righteousness in Rom. 3:22, and chance the beautiful distinction of “unto all, and upon all those that believe,” into the indiscriminate and feeble generality of “unto all them that believe.”
The propitiation of Christ is the basis of His priestly action on high. Save the exceptional work of atonement, there was and could be nothing of the kind. For heaven alone is its regular sphere; and this runs through our Epistle from first to last. It was when made perfect (and this was clearly after His sufferings were complete), that He became the cause of everlasting salvation to all that obey Him, being addressed or saluted of God as High Priest after the order of Melchizedek (Heb. 5). But the basis of an all-sufficing, God-glorifying propitiation must first be laid and accepted; and then He takes His place in heaven to intercede for those whose sins He bore.
But there was another necessity fully met. He must know not sin but suffering. He must be tempted to the uttermost, sin excepted (Heb. 4), in order to succour the tempted. “For in that he hath suffered when tempted, he is able to help those that are tempted,” (verse 18).
Temptation means trial; never in Christ’s case, what is in fallen man’s inward solicitation to evil. This is what the Holy Spirit expressly denies of Him, and what no one who believed in His person ought to have allowed for a moment. Lustful experience or sin is incompatible with the Holy One of God; and, so far from being in a single instance predicated of Him, it is wholly excluded:
χωρὶς ἁμαρτίας could be said of neither Enoch nor Elijah, nor of John and Paul, but of Him only. The blessed endurance of temptation (James 1:2, 12) He knew beyond any; but what James describes in verses 13-15 of his first chapter was foreign to Him, and a blasphemous imputation, as it proves fundamental unbelief of Who and what He is. We are too familiar with the human and selfish argument that He could not sympathise with us adequately if exempt from those internal and evil workings, bemoaned in Rom. 7 and bitterly known by every soul born of God, at least in the early days of his awakening. But if we needed the Lord to be similarly harassed in order to feel fully with us, we should on that ground want Him to have yielded, as we alas! have often done, in order to sympathise with us in our sad failures. No! that ground is wretchedly and absolutely opposed to Christ; and what the word reveals as the remedy for evil within and without in every form and degree is not Christ’s sympathy, but His propitiatory suffering for us. He sympathises with us in our holy, not in our unholy, temptations. For our unholiness He died; the cross alone has met it fully in God’s sight. Had there been in fact the least inward taint of sin, His sensibility of evil had been impaired, His sufferings diminished, and His sympathy hindered, to say nothing of the deadly wound to His person, unfitted by such an evil nature to be a sacrifice for sin.
3 The real force of the verb is intransitive, not transitive as in the A.V. Prov. 3:21 (LXX.) means, “Do not slip away,” not “Let them not pass from thee.” Though the context modifies that rendering a little, the usage is uniform. Wiclif seems nearest (“fleten meie”), Tyndale and Cranmer “peryshe,” Geneva the worst of all. The margin is far from satisfactory.
4 B, etc., omit this clause, for which A D P. etc. vouch.
ἡ οἰκουμένη means “the habitable earth,” or the world, whether as it is or as it will be in the age to come, and neither heaven nor eternity, nor a gospel or church state, will be plain from an examination of its occurrences: Matt. 24:14; Luke 2:1, Luke 4:5, Luke 21:26; Acts 11:28, Acts 17:6, 31, Acts 19:27, Acts 24:5; Rom. 10:18; Heb. 1:6, Heb. 2:5; Rev. 3:10, Rev. 12:9, Rev. 16:14.
6 The great weight of the best MSS. supports the less usual order ( A B C D E M P, some cursives, and many ancient versions and fathers). The same order occurs in Eph. 6:12, and even in Polyaen. Strag. iii. 11.
7 It may be well to observe how that
οἱ ἁγιαζόμενοι here does not mean the process going on, although the phrase in itself is quite capable of such a force. The present in Greek, as in other tongues also, can express character apart from time, as every scholar knows and every person of intelligence must own on reflection. This is rendered certain of “the sanctified” here by comparing Heb. 10:10, 14, which could not be said at the same time if sanctification were here viewed as only in progress. In other words, if we were only being sanctified, we could not also be said, as we are, to have been now sanctified (
ἡγιασμένοι) as a distinct and enduring fact, and further that He has perfected without a break
(τετελείωκεν εἰς τὸ διηνεκὲς) τοὺς ἁγαζομὲνους. It is not true, as Dean Alford said, that the perfect expresses God’s purpose respecting these objects. It is on the contrary present standing, the actual result of a past action.
8 Wiclif, following the Latin, says simply “He took “; Tyndale, better still, “He taketh on Him,” though wrongly giving “in no place”: so Cranmer. The Geneva V. gave the past tense and “in no sort” wrongly. The A.V., though right as to “verily,” went farther astray by inserting “the nature of.”
9 The substance of his annotation I transcribe from the fifth and last edition of his N.T., dedicated to Queen Elizabeth, 1598. “Angels, that is, angelic nature. . . . He a little before said
κεκοινώνηκε instead of
κοινωνεῖ!, so now on the other hand he employs the present for the past!! which exchanges of tenses everywhere occur with Hebrews. Vulg. apprehendit not badly, but a word unusual in setting out the hypostatic union of the two natures. Abraham’s seed that is, the real nature of man, especially of Abraham’s family. . . . Wherefore the more to be execrated is the audacity of Castalio, who renders
ἐπιλαμβάνεται by opitulatur [helpeth], an interpretation not only false but irreverent, since
ἐπ. never expresses this among the Greeks,” etc., etc. Now it is true that Dean Alford, etc., who agree with C., go too far. With the dative the verb does mean to help. But the fact is that the French divine was blinded by theological prejudice, to say nothing of feeling against a rival translator, who here, if not quite accurate, was nearer the truth, would not swerve from grammatical requirement, and gave the sense substantially. There is on the one hand no enallage, as Beza says, but a clear and correct statement of a manifest and indisputable truth; on the other, it is untrue that Castalio invented a meaning new and unheard of, but pertinent to the unfolding argument of the chapter, whereas Beza offends against correct language, and destroys the truth here intended, confounding it with what was already laid down.
10 Take the best of them, J. Chrysostom, who comments as follows on the passage: “What is this he says? He took up an angel’s nature, not a man’s. But what is, He layeth hold? Not that nature of the angels, says he, did He seize, but ours. And wherefore did he not say, He took up, but employ this expression, He layeth hold? From the metaphor of those that pursue persons that turn away and do everything so as to catch them though they flee, and lay hold of them though bounding off. For He pursued closely and caught human nature in its flight from Him and flying far, for we were far off. He showed that this He has done by kindness to man alone, and love and guardian care” (In Epp. Paul. vii. 63, ed. Field, Oxen., 1862). Theodoret adds nothing of real value, as he repeats the same exegetical mistake. He notices the peculiarity of Abraham’s seed in such a connection, and tries to explain it as a reminder of the promise. Quite true; but incarnation and promise are wholly distinct, though this could not have been without that.