Hebrews 4

The all-important point for a just interpretation is that God’s rest is here before us, His glory with Christ. It is not at all rest for the conscience or for the heart, which the believer has or Ends now in Christ. “The rest of God” is exclusively future.

The perfect word of God distinguishes even outwardly what may be and ought to be now enjoyed from what is only in hope, however sure. Our Lord in Matt. 11:, 28, 29, speaks of what His grace makes good while we are here; Heb. 3, 4, only of what the believers enter at His coming. Hence
ἀνάπαυσις is the word for rest in the Gospel,
κατάπαυσις in the Epistle. Jesus, rejected as Messiah, does not only fall back on the heavenly and universal glory He looks for as the Son of Man, but unveils Himself as the Son of the Father, and invites to Himself all that labour and are burdened. To those that come to Him the Son gives rest. It is free and sovereign grace, present and full relief from the toil of law and the burden of sin. This rest He gives to conscience, the starting-point by faith to all holiness. But He also adds, “Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me, for I am meek and lowly in heart; and ye shall find rest for your souls.” This is rest for the heart of the Christian day by day, and found only in obedience. It is not help, as men say, nor peace exactly, but rest of heart in the submissive acceptance of God’s will. So Christ Himself bowed and was blessed here below so all that follow Him. But He gives rest to the conscience (without here explaining how) before we find rest for our souls in judging self and doing God’s will.

Faith makes both our own now; but we are called also to exult in hope of the glory of God. This is His rest; and we are going on toward it, as Israel to Canaan. Such is the text here applied. It is God resting in what satisfies His love and holiness, when righteousness reigns and sorrow flees away,
κατάπαυσις being stronger than
ἀνάπαυσις. The former is applied in Gen. 2 (Lxx.) when sin and death had not yet entered the world. It is used here also for the scene and time of glory, when they will be manifestly vanquished.

“Let us fear therefore lest, a promise being left of entering into his rest, any one of you should seem to have come short. For indeed we have had good tidings borne to us, as they also [had]; but the word of the report did not profit them, not having been mixed with faith in those that heard” (verses 1-2).

It is impossible to understand the entire context, if we regard the rest here spoken of as any other than the future rest of God into which Christ will introduce us at His coming. Wrest it to the primary need of the soul as men are apt to do, and all is confusion. Would the Spirit say, “let us fear” if it were a question of believing in Christ to all joy and peace? The word of the Lord to the troubled soul is “Fear not”; “I will: be thou clean”; “Thy faith hath saved thee: go in peace;” “Daughter, be of good comfort,” and the like: never a syllable to induce a doubt of the Saviour’s grace, or of the believer’s salvation. For indeed He came to seek and save that which is lost. But here the warning is given to those that bear His name who, like Israel, were stopping short and weary of the pilgrimage through the wilderness. There is danger on all sides. It may be the desire to go back into Egypt, or despairing of Canaan — the pleasant land, and murmuring against Moses and Aaron meanwhile. In every case it is unbelief; and Israel paid the penalty. “Let us therefore fear lest, a promise having been left of entering into His rest any one of you should seem to have fallen short.”

Fallen unbelieving man is ever in quest of this or that. He is restless, and knows no happiness (or rather, pleasure) in this world but change, the pursuit of what he has not but wishes to have. Had he the gift of God’s love, the water that Christ gives would be in him a fountain of water springing up into everlasting life, of which he drinking shall never thirst again. Even so he needs to have always before his heart that heaven to which he now belongs, his new fatherland, where Christ is gone before. If Israel had a hope, we have assuredly no less, but in far richer measure and brighter light. The hope of the future according to God has a mighty effect in delivering from the power of present things opposed to Him. The renewed heart needs it and has it clearly set before us in Scripture as here. Let us fear therefore lest anyone of us should seem to come short in this respect. What is destructive where there is no faith is injurious, and may be so to the last degree, to the believer. Therefore do we hear of “seeming” to have come short. There is no rest of God now, nor for us is it here but in heaven. Let us fear even the appearance of settling down on earth; which indeed is not our rest or hope.

Hope was natural to a Jew’s feeling and expectation, especially if Messiah were come. But He is rejected, gone up, and is glorified on high. There with Him will be our rest, and what is far better, the rest of God. Let none of us (for surely it is no less true and weighty, for the Gentile believer) — let none of us seem to have come short of that rest. The Christian Jew was in nothing behind his fathers; if the elders had good tidings, those who cleave to Christ in heaven had yet more. But if the word be not mixed with faith, it can no more profit the hearer now than of old. Then the fathers saw wonders and heard the Voice more awful than thunder or earthquake; yet they fell through unbelief, and disobedience its effect. So now, when it is no question of sight or sound, the word mixed with faith for those that heard is indispensable: else the ruin is still more irretrievable than falling in the wilderness.

I am aware that the mass of ancient MSS. favours the strange reading adopted by the Revisers, as well as by most modern critics, “because they were not united by faith with them that heard.” So almost all the uncials and cursives and many ancient versions. Here I cannot but agree with Tischendorf that the Sinai MS. () is right, as are a few cursives, the Peschito Syriac, and some good copies of the Vulgate, etc. The externally best-supported reading seems hardly sense, if not wrong doctrine. And this is no solitary instance.

The rest then is God’s rest, made by Him, and suited to Him, which He will enjoy in perfected glory with those who believe in Christ, who alone by His work could fit sinful men to share it, perfected as they are through His one offering.

“For we that believed enter into the rest, even as he hath said, As I swore in my wrath, If they shall enter into my rest, although the works were done from [the] world’s foundation. For he hath said somewhere of the seventh day thus, And God rested on the seventh day from all his works, and in this again, If they shall enter into my rest” (verses 3-5).

The present tense of verse 3 is not historical but absolute, a usage most frequent in Scripture and in ordinary speech too, especially as to principles of truth. Believers are the enterers into the rest of glory: not all men, nor yet all Israel, but “we that believed”; for the past participle adds to the definiteness of the class accepted for the blessing, not simply those who believe as if they might later or when they pleased. There is no thought of an actual entrance now; for the whole argument shows the rest here is future, whatever rest may be for faith to apprehend before God shares His rest with all that are His own. This Epistle always regards the believer as on the way. The sabbatism here in view is not yet enjoyed by the saints, but “remaineth” (verse g). It is for those that believed, and none else. Of those that did not believe, how true it was, as God swore to give it all the greater solemnity and assurance, that they should not enter into His rest! Their unbelief of Christ made it conditional on themselves; and they were ungodly, as all such are and must be. For Christ only is the source of life as well as forgiveness, the one strengthener of the weak and guide of the erring, the sole Saviour either of sinners or of saints. For what could even saints be or do without Him? As unbelievers trust themselves or certainly do not trust Christ, they shall not enter into the rest of God. The “if” is their death-knell. If self is the sinner’s condition, it is all over with him; and as with Israel, it is no less sure in Christendom. “If they shall enter into my rest,” practically as in principle for those who know what unbelief is, means that they shall not.

Yet God had revealed His rest from the beginning. Only the Adamic world is spoken of, only those “works” of God which were effected on the six “days.” The vast operations of creation in geologic time are outside consideration and have nothing to do directly with His rest. But His works in view of man immediately conduct to it. Therefore it is said in Gen. 2, “And God rested on. the seventh day from all his works,” as He had in Psalm 95 thousands of years after, “If they shall enter into my rest.” The first scripture proves that He had a rest Himself the second, that even His people had not yet entered into it. Sin came in for Adam and his race at the beginning. God could not rest in sin, nor could sinners as such enter into God’s rest. God indeed did not then speak of any entering in. But He did, in thus speaking, imply that the unbelievers who provoked Him in the wilderness should not enter. Preferring self to Christ they, as all like them, must reap the ruinous consequence. And this He records in a psalm which not only recalls the ruin of the rebellious people in the desert, but looks on to the future day of glory when Israel are invited to come with songs of joy and thanksgiving before Jehovah, not only the Creator (as the gods were not, but mere demons and impostors) but their Maker and God. They having believed at length, after ages of judgment because of their unbelief, shall enter into His rest. How welcome and sweet for that people, His people, after such a history of sorrow, shame, and unrest, through sin and the unbelief that barred all escape or deliverance! For “today” will be then, not merely a persevering call of grace (as more pre-eminently in the gospel), but God’s power in salvation; “and so all Israel shall be saved” in that day.

“Since then it remaineth that some should enter into it, and that those that had first good tidings borne did not enter because of disobedience, again he defineth a certain day, saying, Today in David after so long a time, even as it hath been said before, Today if ye will hear his voice, harden not your hearts. For if Joshua made them rest, he would not have spoken after these things of another day. There remaineth therefore a sabbatism for the people of God. For he that entered into his rest, himself also rested from his works, as God from his own” (verses 6-10).

The inference is drawn that some would hear and believe, whilst the mass were unbelieving and perished; and both were verified in the type: Israel fell as a whole; Joshua and Caleb entered Canaan. It was a sad issue then with which grace would point the moral to the Jews that professed the name of the Lord, and indeed to any now in Christendom. God’s mercy would not be hindered by human opposition or indifference. If those first appealed to refused the glad tidings, He persists in calling He again fixes a day, and in David, long after Moses and Joshua, “Today” is the word (as it has been said) “Today, if ye will hear His voice, harden not your hearts.” He is coming, and Israel will not harden their hearts in that day, but will say, Blessed is He that cometh in the name of Jehovah. But the Christian and the church now say, Come, for they at least have proved His infinite grace. They dread not, but long for His presence. But withal the call goes on to the unbelieving while He tarries. For He is a Saviour as well as their Bridegroom (Rev. 22).

It is impossible to maintain that Israel’s entry into Canaan was God’s rest or man’s entrance into it. The failure is as evident in Canaan as in Eden. Neither was His rest. But in that reasoning His word is definitive. Long after Joshua made Israel rest in the land, God by David speaks of His rest not yet realised, as sure to be lost by unbelief as of old, as open to faith as ever — we may say now in the gospel more than ever; but this is scarcely the object in this part of the Epistle. It is a final call to the people, and a solemn warning against unbelief to such of them as called on the Lord Jesus. Whatever measure of rest Joshua then gave Israel, it was not the rest of God, for this in David is still held out prospectively. There remains therefore a sabbath-keeping for the people of God.

So in Rom. 8 we are said to be saved by hope, for the salvation spoken of goes beyond the soul, taking in the body (verses 11, 23) and creation generally (verses 19 et seqq.). But hope, says the apostle, that is seen is not hope; for who hopeth for that which he sees? But if we hope for that which we see not, we do with patience wait for it. It is thus with the rest God will have prepared for those that love Him, where even He can see no flaw, and which, when all work is done, He will give us to enjoy with Himself. Hence it is wholly future., it remains for His people, whether for those above or for those below. For Christ is the Heir of all things, and we are joint-heirs with Him. All things in heaven and all things on earth are to be under Him, not in title only by personal exaltation at God’s right hand, but by actual possession in indisputable and acknowledged power when He reigns on His own throne. Such is the rest of God, as His word presents it, but alas! many that bear Christ’s name feebly believe if at all. It is as sure as His death, which is the ground of hope as of so much else infinitely precious; and shown carefully in Heb. 2.

No present rest then is the rest of God — and the futurity of that rest is a grand safeguard against the snare for any Christian, most of all for a Jewish one, to seek it now here below. As God cannot rest in sin or misery, neither ought we to allow it even in our desires, still less make it our life. Now is the time for the labour of love if we know His love, now to seek true worshippers of the Father as He is seeking Himself: as the Son loved to do here below, so the Spirit does now sent down from heaven. Thus should we show that we have fellowship with the Father and the Son downward and all around in grace, as upward in praise and thanksgiving; while we wait for the rest of God to come, and this when it comes is everlasting.

Verse 10 is an added word very characteristic of the inspired writer. It asserts the general principle, by the case put, that we cannot be working and have rest in the same things and in the same sense. When one is entered into his rest, he also has rested from his works. It is not at all the common notion of resting from bad works when a man gets peace with God. However true this may be, it has nothing whatever to do with what is here written. And this is demonstrable, not only from the whole passage treating, not of the soul’s spiritual rest by faith of Jesus but of God’s future rest in glory, yet by the comparison that follows, as God from His own (works). Now assuredly His works were never bad, but always and perfectly good. Nevertheless He is to rest even from the activity of His love to enjoy the glorious results. Such is the case spoken of. He that is entered into his rest is no longer busied with his works. It is a necessary principle and a blessed application to the matter in hand, and in no way a moralising on a sinner ceasing from his evil works and finding rest in Christ. Now is the time for the saint not to cease from his good works. Soon he will enter the eternal rest of God. The prevalence of sin and misery calls for unremitting labour while it is day; in this too we have communion with the Father and the Son (John 5:17). When they rest, so shall we; and eternity, as the active Arnauld d’Andilly said to Nicole, will be long enough to rest in. The A.V. is very faulty in its mistaken emphasis, which helps on the popular misapprehension.

The eleventh verse concludes the caution against present rest for the Christian, followed by a statement of the means grace supplies to safeguard us through the wilderness.

“Let us therefore be diligent to enter into that rest,13 that no one fall into the same example of disobedience. For the word of God [is] living and active, and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing to dividing of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and a discerner of thoughts and intents of [the] heart. And there is not a creature unapparent before him; but all things [are] naked and laid open before the eyes of him with whom we have to do” (verses 11-13).

We are exhorted to earnest striving now; for there is much that invites us to ease and relaxation. The very mercy of God to our souls might so dispose us, especially if brought up in a previous school of legal thought. For deep and full is the peace with God into which faith in Christ introduces; and so much the more is it enjoyed, if we have been toiling to better our case by self-denying efforts and a round of religious observances. Immense is the deliverance from bondage and doubt and dimness by the simple yet profound gospel of God. Yet the danger of reaction is not small. We are saved that we may diligently serve Him. We are put into fellowship with God’s feelings as to all that surrounds us as well as what surrounds Him. This is not our rest, but our scene of labour where people and things are estranged from God. We shall rest when we enter what is perfectly according to His nature and purpose. Hence now and here below is the strongest call to diligence, not to rest. The rest for our conscience sets us the more free to labour in presence of sin, misery, and death. For we are now by faith in the secret of God, and our eyes are opened to discern the deceptions of the enemy. The world no longer appears a pleasant place, ‘but the great snare to hinder progress and to turn from the glory of God where Christ is. It is the scene of His rejection and sufferings; it had the guilt of crucifying Him. And from this guilt no one is purged, save by faith of His blood which brings us nigh to God, whose love too calls us to be witnesses of Christ to sinners and saints, as our Lord was when here.

Let us then be diligent to enter into that rest, refusing every other. Israel is the great example of falling through not hearkening to the Lord. This is the fatal disobedience here spoken of. They stumbled at the word, being disobedient. And such is the danger of all Christians now, as well as of those immediately addressed. We stop short, grow weary, make difficulties, get preoccupied, distracted from God’s objects, attracted by things that are seen and temporal. We are called now to the work of faith and labour of love, while we patiently wait for rest in glory at Christ’s coming.

Unbelief may work in us as in Israel as to both the way and the end. They were weary of the one, and they despised the other. Let us take heed that none of us fall into the same example of disobedience. Therefore had that generation, instead of going peacefully into the inheritance of Jehovah, to wander forty years in the wilderness that the unbelievers might fall, and a generation to come be led into the goodly land.

The word of God is the needed correction, as we see it here. Indeed it is the revelation of God to the soul. Hence it is spoken of in terms which so approach the person of Christ that many take the language here as pointing to Him. And beyond doubt there is the closest connection between the word written or spoken and the Word personal. Scripture habitually has Christ as its object direct or indirect, for it may be an analogy of contrast as well as of resemblance, as we see in Adam or Aaron, David or Solomon, or any other person or thing spoken of, as the Epistle largely exemplifies.

Now it is the flesh, self in one form or another, which, when unjudged, exposes to falling in the wilderness. If we walked in the Spirit as we live in it, we should be kept straight and go forward. For the Holy Spirit ever glorifies Christ, and acts by the word in us, as Christ when here lived by the word. It is the true path of dependence and obedience, which glorifies the God who gave it. So the Lord defeated the enemy and did the will of God. Nor was it so only in the activity of His blessed life; but not less, yea, much more, in that death which pre-eminently accomplished the will and word of God.

And we are now following His steps in the same world which hated and cast Him out. As here we are kept by the power of God through faith, so it is His word that acts on and in us by the Holy Spirit. For this alone applies to us the revelation of God’s nature as seen in Christ, which nourishes the life we have received in Christ, and detects the working in us of all that is outside the life which would dishonour God and would defile and endanger us. “For the word of God is living and active, and sharper than any two-edged sword.” There is no instrument so exquisitely keen and cutting to deal with what is opposed to the mind and grace and holy purpose of God about us.

Therefore do the true-hearted ‘believers welcome the application of its edge; for, if not pleasant to nature, it is profitable to us and due to God. As we are further told, it penetrates “even to dividing, of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and capable of judging heart’s thoughts and intents.” No word of man has any such effect. It may be instructive, or pathetic, or alarming to say nothing of its lighter qualities; but the word of God has the energy of its source and its own unmistakable character. It arrests the conscience, it sounds the heart, so that feelings and motives can no longer be hid. Christ, its great theme, shines as the True Light and makes everything manifest that is not like Himself. And how much there is in that horrid thing, self, which was never for an instant in Him!

Thus God’s word acts “to dividing of soul and spirit,” two things so closely allied and so resembling as to yield to no other discriminating means. “Of both joints and marrow” seems to be a figure of close physical conjunction, which are beyond the reach of human instrument, as “soul and spirit” still more impalpably. It is possible that both phrases go beyond severing one from the other, and mean that each is pierced by the word of God as nothing else could. For it is the life of the Spirit, and in no way an instrument of death, save to that which it expels as foreign and evil.

The word of God is also said to be able to discern “heart’s thoughts and intents.” Every working within the heart is thereby judged. There is no sparing of our own will. This the believer can hail, having a new nature which hates evil and feels according to Christ, the only One who, though man, never did His own will, and who is applied as a test and pattern. Thoughts before they are articulated in word, intents not yet reaching action, are sifted and vanish. Now where spiritual integrity exists, this is just what is wanted and desired; for we, from our new birth, are sanctified by the Spirit to the obedience of Christ; nor could it be otherwise, if Christ be our life. For life is prompt to act according to its nature, as we cannot fail to see, even in the bent of any animal according to its kind. Only in our case we have still the old Adam in us, which is never good and in the Christian to be always refused, now that we have a new and eternal life in Christ, which alone the Spirit exercises and directs, strengthens and cheers.

Even an O.T. saint ignorant of the superior power and privilege of the gospel could say, “Search me, O God, and know my heart; try me, and know my thoughts; and see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting” (Psalm 139:23, 24). How much more should we not welcome that word which makes it good in us! The germs of mischief are thus detected and destroyed; what can be more gracious, though the probe may be sharp? It is just because we are redeemed out of Egypt, but not yet in that rest where all will be according to the perfect love and glory of God. We are still in the view of this Epistle journeying through the desert, where God in His goodness is proving us to know and let us know what is in our heart. It may be humbling, but nothing can be more wholesome.

The final words are very impressive. “And there is not a creature unapparent before him; but all things [are] naked and laid open to the eyes of him with whom we have to do.” This is exactly what unbelief hates and shirks at all cost; anything but the presence of God, and the consciousness of all out undisguisedly and without reserve in His sight. How much there is that we fail to discern within us! Self-love, will, haste, zeal, constantly tend to blind us. He with whom we have to do acts in His absolute knowledge of all, and uses this or that to discover what is the moving spring or the hidden aim. Not only in vain is the snare set in the sight of any bird, but we have the comfortable certainty of God as it were speaking, to us, and this in the most safe and solemn manner; for He has magnified His word above all His name. Those who slight His word, treating it as dead and powerless, unless you have an erring, man to enforce it, forget that we have to do with a living God, who abounds toward us in suited helps and mercies even in this day of weakness, declension, and scattering. And if all other things and persons fail, He cannot, but watches over us in a holy love that acts for His own glory. His word puts us morally before Him when His eyes deal with our consciences. And as there is not a creature hidden from Him, all things are bare and laid open to His eyes with whom we have to do. It is verifying in us now what manifestation before Christ’s tribunal will do perfectly by-and-by; and the effect is to deliver from settling down into a present rest of our own, that we may pursue our pilgrim path and labour of love, intent on His rest in glory to come.

The word of God, above all price and powerful though it be, is not the only declared means for our safe conduct through the wilderness. No instrument is so effectual to sift and deal with not outward ways only but all that is of man. Yet we need and have far more: even the active grace of Christ’s priesthood, occupied with us in every sorrow and trial of our pilgrimage.

“Having then a great high priest passed as he is14 through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast the confession. For we have not a high priest unable to sympathise with our infirmities, but having been tempted in all things in like manner apart from sin. Let us then approach with boldness to the throne of grace that we may receive mercy and find grace for seasonable help” (verses 14-16).

It is not surprising that Tyndale made Hebrews 5 to begin with three verses which ordinarily conclude Hebrews 4. For such is their direct connection. Nevertheless, following up as they do the power of the word in detecting the flesh even in its subtlest forms, which is the death of the spirit practically, one can understand their more usual position.

Here the “great high priest” is presented in His normal position, not exceptionally as in Heb. 2:17. That extraordinary action, the effecting of propitiation, was the basis of all for God’s glory and man’s salvation; but here we have the only due place of His intercessional functions. We see Him gone on through the heavens, not simply “entered,” as in all the old English versions, save Wiclif who adhering to the Vulgate was here kept fairly right. Christ’s immense superiority to Aaron and his succession is thus set out for the Christian’s assurance. Hence is the great High Priest enabled most effectually to meet our every need, He being before God evermore on high, we encompassed with infirmity in the wilderness, and exposed to trial, danger, and sorrow. But it is the same “Jesus the Son of God,” who made purification of the sins He bore in His body on the tree, before He set Himself down on God’s right hand. The question of our slavery and guilt is therefore settled everlastingly for all that believe; as there was no claim of Egypt or its prince on Israel after passing through the Red Sea.

Yet the wilderness was full of snares and perils, as is our Christian path through the world. Only we, in a higher meaning and the fullest sense, are the redeemed of the Lord, needing no more for the soul’s redemption, and awaiting that of the body at His coming. Still we are here in this wilderness, with nothing but the dreary barren sand if we have not God with us. Therefore to sustain us and sympathise with us in our weakness He has given us a great High Priest, whose love to us we have already proved when there was nothing, to love in us, whose blood cleansed us from every sin, whose death and resurrection set us free, and raised an impassable barrier against our old enemies to be seen again no more for ever. We are not of the world, as Christ was not, slaves of Satan never more through His victory.

But we are not Yet as He is in the heavenly land. We are journeying through the dry and howling wilderness, and though we are not in the flesh (Rom. 8:9) but in the Spirit as the Spirit dwells in us, none the less the flesh is in us ever ready to listen to the tempter, if our eyes be not set on Christ so as to walk after the Spirit. Hence the all-importance of our blessed Saviour for us on high, to which the presence of the Holy Spirit in us answers here below. Without both we should fall in the wilderness, as in it all flesh is judged and perishes. Nor do we as saints want sympathy with the evil thing in us. We have learnt to discern it by the word of God, and to hate the mind of the flesh as enmity against God and death. We have learnt too, that self and will are always and only evil; and therefore by grace we sit in judgment on ourselves, as now able each to say, “I am crucified with Christ, and live no longer I, but Christ liveth in me: and that which I now live in flesh, I live by faith in [lit., of] the Son of God who loved me and gave himself up for me” (Gal. 2).

Here then we now need constant vigilance and prayer, as we submit to that word which divinely scrutinises us and calls us to cut off every snare. But we have His gracious oversight where it is of chiefest efficacy, who feels for and with us, the Sanctifier with the sanctified, in every difficulty, danger, and suffering, as at the commandment of God we halt or march. But the cloud of the divine direction, however precious, is not enough, nor the warning or winning and cheering voices of the silver trumpets. We need a living person, inflexible for God’s glory, unerring as to God’s will, unfailing in gracious power for us in our weakness and exposure; and all this we have, and incalculably more, in Jesus the Son of God passed through the heavens as a great High Priest. He is man as truly as you or any. He was not alone perfectly man but the perfect man. He knows therefore by experience what the world is, what Satan is; but that evil in the flesh, which He by His supernatural birth never had, He by dependence on God never let in for a moment. “The Holy Thing” born of Mary, He was and ever lived the Holy One of God.

Hence Him only could God make sin for us on the cross that we might become God’s righteousness in Him. Hence now as the ever-living, High Priest He is exactly and exclusively the One to intercede for us and to sympathise with us. Had there been (I say not the blasphemy of sin or failure on His part, but) ever so little of what Scripture calls the mind of flesh or indwelling sin in Him, it would have both tainted fatally the offering for sin and blunted that heart of holy love from its sympathies with us in our desires and opposition by, the Spirit against the flesh. But there was absolutely none. Taking part in blood and flesh as we had both, in Him was no sin as in us there is: not merely no acts, but no root, of evil. Satan found nothing in Him (John 14:30), nor God (Psalm 17:3). Therefore could He die effectually for our sins and for sin; therefore does He live to plead no less efficaciously for us and sympathise with our infirmities. Death, and His death alone, could avail against sin; and God has accepted it in the fullest way, setting Jesus (who glorified Him in all things and in this the deepest of all) at His own right hand, and sending down His Spirit that we might know His estimate of its effectual value for us now and henceforth and for ever.

But we want One who lives and every moment interests Himself in all our difficulties and weakness as now living to God in an evil world, and not yet divested of that evil principle, the mind of the flesh, which was never in Him but in us. This draws out for us His sympathies so much the more, because we have not only to resist Satan as He alone did perfectly, but an inward enemy, or traitor which He had not. And He is absolutely competent, being God and Man in one person, and this after Himself treading all the way through as completely as none else ever did or could in heaven or earth. For us then, passed as He is through the heavens, He pleads and feels with us perfectly. “Let us then hold fast the confession.” Such is the demand and the cry of the new man against the world, the flesh, and the devil.

Had the Son of God been simply above the heavens, there could have been no such motive to simply hold fast, no such comfort in our trials as Christians. But here He lived, suffered, and died, knowing each and all as no one else ever did or can but Jesus the Son of God. Hence He was fitted, being man, and of unrivalled experience. He is able as none else to sympathise, not with our sins which as saints we dare not seek but most heartily repudiate, but with our infirmities. Not even a Paul, who gloried in these (certainly not in sins!) could do without His sympathy. Nay, it was because he knew and appreciated His sympathy so much better than we, that he could exult when we are too often depressed. It is not however in flesh or on the earth that He exercises these functions for us, but as passed through the heavens where neither sin nor infirmity can ever come. Thus does He bear us up, and with tenderest feeling for us, for each as truly as if none other existed to share it, being God no less than man. To allow a priest on earth, yea, to conceive Him such, is to judaise. Save for the wholly different work of laying the foundation of all in atonement, His priestly work is exclusively on high, as we are partakers of a heavenly calling, and are called to hold fast that confession and none other.

But in order to such a priesthood Jesus had been tempted in all things in like manner, sin excepted. Here we need to be on our guard. For the foisting in of “yet” in the last clause is apt to convey a notion wholly contrary to the truth and most derogatory to Christ. Most readers would gather thence that, though Christ was in all points tempted like as we are, yet He never sinned. Now one may boldly affirm that this is altogether short of the true meaning, and indeed quite another thought, so as to miss the mind of God in the passage. It is not sins or failures excepted, but “apart from sin.” We have evil temptations from within, from fallen humanity; Christ had none. This was absolutely incompatible with His holy person. By a miracle He was even as to humanity exempt from taint of evil, as no one else was since the fall. And it is of these holy temptations that the Epistle to the Hebrews treats, not of our unholy ones. The Epistle of James distinguishes them very definitely in James 1. Compare verses 2, 12, on the one hand and verses 13-19 on the other. We know the latter too well, Jesus never. But He knew the former as no other before or since. He was in all things tempted according to likeness i.e. with us, with this infinite difference, “sin apart.” He knew no sin, He had no inward sinful temptation. He is therefore the more, not the less, able to sympathise with us. For sin within, even if not yielded to, blinds the eye and dulls the heart, and hinders from unreserved occupation with the trials of others.

Having then such tender and efficacious intervention in our ever-living Intercessor at God’s right hand, we are exhorted to draw near with boldness to the throne of grace. Carefully observe that it is not coming to Christ to plead for us, which supposes a soul not at ease before God and doubting the grace in which we who believe habitually stand through redemption. Christ did not go on high till all was cleared for us on earth, and ourselves, as we know from John 20, placed in the enjoyment of His own relationship with His Father and His God (His Deity of course always excepted), children and saints quickened together with Him, being forgiven all our trespasses (Col. 2:13). “Let us approach therefore with all boldness unto the throne of grace.” This is what we now need and have.

We are entitled thus to come with all boldness to God on His throne. To us, through the redemption of Christ, it is a throne of grace. Early in the Revelation we see a throne whence the expressions of judgment proceed. Toward the close it is a throne of glory, the throne of God and of the Lamb, whence issues a river of life clear as crystal; so will it be known after the marriage of the Lamb is come and His wife has prepared herself. Need we add the solemnity of the great white throne of everlasting judgment The throne of grace, though of the same God, has a totally different character toward the many sons that are being brought to glory.

To this then we are now told to approach with all boldness. Some prefer what they call “a humble hope.” But this is mere human sentiment or worse. In ourselves we have no ground even for the faintest hope; if we have Christ by faith, we wrong both His work and God’s grace, now righteously and perfectly vindicated, if we do not approach with all boldness to the throne of grace. Is this to exaggerate the word of God? or is not that unbelieving? Alas, the unbelief of believers!

Observe what the aim is when we thus approach: “that we may receive mercy and find grace for seasonable help.” Our weakness needs this mercy; and God’s pleasure is that we, engaged with the difficulties of the way, may find grace for seasonable help. He sits there and invites thus that we may depend on Him for help in good time. Having such a Priest let us approach the throne of grace boldly. God and His Son Are pledged to bless us, as also we can look to Him without doubt or fear. Such is His word, no less than His will.

13 I had overlooked the late Dean Alford’s adoption of objections to the evidently trite sense of verse 10, which led to the idea that it means Christ entering God’s rest. But it is an error that the aorist has really a perfect force in the former case, It is ethical and suitable as an aphorism.

14 I know not how better to represent two things apt to be overlooked; the absence of the article and the perfect tense of the participle. “Who,” or “That” hath passed implies the article and is designative “Passed” simply would answer to the aorist.