The truth of Christ as high priest, most important for the Christian and especially for such as had been Hebrews, has thus far been richly unfolded accorded to the order of Melchizedek, but not without a glance at its exercise after the type of Aaron, yet even here immeasurably superior even to frequent contrast. This however demands further development, and first as connected with “a better covenant which was established upon better promises.” The contrast of the first or legal covenant with a second and new one, never to grow old or vanish away, occupies our present chapter for the most part. But it opens with a reproduction of what has been laid down already under a brief heading.
“Now, as a summary on what is being said, we have such a high priest who sat down on [the] right hand of the throne of the majesty in the heavens, minister of the holies and of the true tabernacle which the Lord pitched, not man” (verses 1, 2).
The glory of Christ’s person, Son of God and Son of man, is developed in Heb. 1 and 2 and in both with His work (not only for purging us, but) to vindicate God, annul the power of evil, reconcile all things, succour the tried, and bring many sons to glory. This is the admirable introduction, followed by His office of Apostle and High Priest for those who are pilgrims passing through the wilderness of the world to the rest of God, as we see in Heb. 3, 4; and it is precisely to such, no longer in Egypt but with Canaan in view, that the priesthood of Christ applies, as is shown in 4, 5, 6, along with the hindrances by the way, the awful peril of going back, and the grounds and motives for the full assurance of hope to the end. Heb. 7 is an elaborate proof from first to last of the Melchizedek priesthood, fulfilled not yet in its exercise but in its order in Christ, altogether and incontestably beyond that of Aaron.
If therefore a Hebrew Christian were in danger of pining after a Levitical high priest as drawing near to God for a moment on behalf of the ancient people of God, could he fail to see the infinite superiority of Christ in this very respect? It is not that Israel had one, and we Christians have not. Their own scriptures attest another and far higher coming, mysteriously bound up with the Messiah, to which their God was pledged by an oath, and this to abide for ever. There stands the promise in Psalm 110, and now it is beyond cavil accomplished in Jesus dead, risen, and glorified. It is inexcusable unbelief to evade this word of God. What a blessing to receive it as our assured portion in God’s grace! “We have such a high priest” to maintain us consistently with all that God is and loves as fully revealed, and with Christ’s work already wrought and perfect, to sustain us in our weakness, to sympathise with our every trial and pang. His position declares His unique and incomparable dignity, His intimate nearness to God in glory. His seat is “at the right hand of the throne of the majesty in the heavens,” a stronger statement even than what was given at the starting-point of the Epistle (Heb. 1:3). “Throne” is added now, and in the “heavens” take the place of “on high.” Could the most prejudiced Israelite fail to perceive the superior dignity and efficacy of such a high priest far above Aaron or the most favoured of his line? Nor could he deny the absolute authority of the scripture which reveals the divine intention now carried out in it. Is it for Jews to doubt the glory of the Messiah or the blessing achieved and secured to those that are His?
There has Christ taken His seat. It is calm and permanent intimacy where no believer can dispute the greatness, and the power, and the glory, any more than the love, and tender interest, and unfailing support. — He is “minister of the holies,” in no merely typical sense to bring truth down palpably to infantine minds. It is the house of heavenly worship and divine glory in its fullest reality and grandeur. Therein Christ ministers according to the nicest consideration of the living God, as the sole person suited to Him and to us equally and in perfection, true God and real man, who obeyed unto death (yea, of the cross), that God’s honour should be retrieved and His love meet with a love like His own who died for our sins when we were as powerless as ungodly, and thus again proved divine love to the uttermost no less than holiness and righteousness. Such is the minister of the holies, that God in the heavens and the saints on the earth should be adequately conciliated, even in the time of our present infirmity and exposure to temptation.
Thus the high priest we boast is exactly in keeping with “the tabernacle which the Lord pitched, not man.” For less and other than He would not suffice for the majesty of God, or for His grace. And as “the Father loveth the Son and hath given all things into his hand,” so does He delight in having Him ever nearest to Himself, that He may give us to enjoy His own ineffable satisfaction in Christ’s laying down His life that He might take it again (not merely laying it down for the sheep, John 10:15 compared with 17); so too in all the efficacy of His office maintaining us in harmony with Himself in heavenly glory, notwithstanding our pitiable weakness and the rude storms and hostility of the world we pass through.
We have noticed already that the ground of the Epistle is the wilderness, not the land; and so here is the “tabernacle,” rather than the temple which would suit the rest actually come, not the pilgrimage. This is full of instruction which Christendom has overlooked and abandoned. Great is the spiritual gain for such as seize the truth by divine teaching and are practically faithful. For nature chafes at the walk of faith and craves what is “settled” or “established” (2 Sam. 7), on the specious plea that the world is Jehovah’s and the fulness of it, for any present enjoyment as well as to adorn His sanctuary; as the royal and rich adorn for themselves a house of cedars. Whereas in truth since redemption to this day He had walked in a tent and in a tabernacle, nor had ever spoken a word to any, saying, Why build ye not Me a house of cedars? This is reserved for His Son, the Man of peace, when the sharp sword proceeding out of His mouth shall have smitten the nations in revolt, and the Man whose name is the Branch shall grow up out of His place and build the temple of Jehovah. Even He shall build the temple of Jehovah; and He shall bear the glory, and shall sit and rule upon His throne; and He shall be a priest upon His throne; and the counsel of peace shall be between them both (Zech. 6). It is still the tribulation and kingdom and patience in Jesus, not yet Himself come to reign in power and glory over the earth. We are nothing if not heavenly, as He is for us in the heavens, minister of the holies and of the true tabernacle which the Lord pitched, not man.
Even the tabernacle of old needed its gold and silver and precious things, as the Levitical high priest his varied jewels on his shoulders and breast. Ours is the true tabernacle on high where all is the glory of God and of His Son in the power of redemption. There created ornaments have no place. There Christ ministers, and thither we approach by faith, looking not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen: for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal. And no less than the Holy Spirit of God is given us as God’s children to make this access real and full of peace and joy. How sorrowful for any thus blessed to “turn again to the weak and beggarly elements” of earthly sights and shows and seasons like Israel, or to conceive that corruptible things as silver and gold can be acceptable in the hour now come, when God must be worshipped, if at all, in spirit and truth — worshipped also as the Father, Christ’s Father and our Father, His God and our God.
The immeasurable superiority of Christ as High-Priest will appear in Heb. 9, 10. with the fullest evidence. Here the Holy Ghost only lays down the principle in a few words that His is a real active function and not a mere title, His heavenly glory only giving additional force to His functions.
“For every high priest is constituted to offer both gifts and sacrifices: wherefore [it is] necessary that this one also have something to offer. If then29 he were upon earth, he would not even be a priest, since there are those30 that offer the gifts according to* law, such as serve a copy and shadow of the heavenly things, even as Moses is divinely warned when about to complete the tabernacle: for See, saith he, that thou make all things according to the pattern shown to thee in the mountain. But now hath he obtained a more excellent ministry, inasmuch as he is also mediator of a better covenant, such as [since it] is enacted upon better promises” (verses 3-6).
Thus the very aim of high-priesthood is presentation of what is acceptable to God and needed in the highest degree by man. Ministry of the word is essentially different, the communication to man of what God reveals. As the former characterised the Jewish system, so does the latter Christianity, and, it may be added, most distinctively the gospel of God’s grace proclaimed in the whole creation that is under heaven. Ministry of the church also could only be when the church was called into being Here it is not in question, any more than the “great mystery” of which it is part.
But there is another consideration, to which the type in the Book of Numbers gives marked and repeated expression (Num. 3:9; Num. 8:19; Num. 18:6, 7), which ought not to be overlooked. The Levites as a whole, whatever their distinctions of ministry, were given to Aaron and his sons; they were wholly, absolutely, given to serve Aaron on behalf of the children of Israel. Thus was the ministry of the tabernacle made essentially dependent on the Aaronic priesthood; and it had no place or propriety otherwise. The outward service entirely hung for its value and acceptance on the inner worship. The tribe of Levi was joined to Aaron and ministered to him, and had no other reason of existence. Undoubtedly the priesthood being now changed, of necessity a new change of law takes place. But the principle abides. After the likeness of Melchizedek there stands up a different priest, who has been made after the power of an indissoluble life, who sat down on the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens, minister of the holies and of the true tabernacle which the Lord pitched, not man. All real service, as it flows from the Lord, so depends on Him in the sanctuary and refers to Him there. Otherwise it becomes false, if the source be made human or the motives be of the world. The Lord can be no party to His own dishonour. How all-important for His servants to test themselves by what is not merely an O.T. type but the plainly revealed truth of the apostolic Epistles! The Holy Spirit is the power of all true ministry; but He works in us that we may serve the Lord Jesus, and there is the same Lord whatever may be the diversities of ministrations. On Him within the rent veil hangs all the worth and efficacy of what is ministered here below.
He who in personal dignity and official honour surpasses both Aaron and Melchizedek did not fall short in what He had to offer. He offered up what neither one nor other could on their part, what He only could — He offered up Himself (Heb. 7:27); and it was once for all, for therein alone was the perfection of gift and sacrifice, as God marked His acceptance of all by seating Him at His own right hand in the heavens. It is no question here of propitiation but of His service in the true tabernacle. Propitiation was exceptional, and in it the high priest represented the people as well as his own house. None but he could do it, as the type of Christ lifted up from the earth on the cross; yet it was not his regular priestly service as setting forth the Lord’s ministry now on high.
“If then he were on earth, he would not even be a priest, since there are those that offer the gifts according to law, such as serve a copy and shadow of the heavenly things,” etc. (verses 4, 5). Christ is characteristically to the Christian the heavenly Priest. On earth He could have no sacerdotal place: God had called Aaron and his sons in succession to minister and to serve therein; and, when the Epistle to the Hebrews was written, such there were still offering the gifts according to law. Christ’s priesthood was wholly different, of sovereign grace and exercised in glory, as was due to His person and His work, when the first man had fully displayed his failure, sin, and ruin, in the rejection of the promised Messiah, the Son of God, come in divine love to bless. But the chosen people, priests, and rulers would have none of Him; and in His death by lawless hands propitiation was wrought; and the risen Christ entered that sanctuary on high, where ever living He alone maintains His own in their weakness here below according to the efficacy of His sacrifice which has made purification of their sins. As yet the earthly Aaronic priesthood carried on their service, which was but a representation and shadow of the heavenly things, “according as Moses is oracularly told when about to make the tabernacle. For See, saith he, that thou make all things according to the pattern shown to thee in the mountain.”
In Christ all is real and enduring, as it is divinely and humanly perfect, the person, the work, and the priesthood, as indeed all else. No one beforehand could have conceived any one of them; yet when the facts came out, he who believes is thenceforth satisfied that not one of them could be otherwise, if God were to be glorified and man blessed now and evermore. A human priesthood on earth for Christian people is apostasy from the truth of the Son perfected for ever and ministering high according to power of indissoluble life; it is to rehabilitate the defunct Aaronic order, disannulled because of its weak and unprofitable nature; it is virtually to deny the very gospel of salvation which announces to all who believe that the blood of Jesus at once blots out their sins, and brings themselves nigh to God in a constant nearness, far beyond what the sons of Aaron and Aaron himself ever enjoyed (Heb. 10:19). And if when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, being reconciled, shall we be saved by His life. For He is able to save completely those that approach through Him unto God, always living as He is to make intercession for them.
We see the importance of Aaron’s intervention in the Pentateuch when the people and his own sons had sinned (Lev. 10; 16), to say nothing of the beautiful type of the budding priestly rod which grace conferred on him to bring through the desert those for whom Moses’ authoritative rod could only have assigned and executed death. “But now hath he (Christ) obtained a more excellent ministry, inasmuch as he is also mediator of a better covenant, the which (or, such as) is enacted upon better promises” (verse 6). Of this covenant we shall hear more and of its promises in the quotation from the O.T. which follows.
The object of the Holy Spirit is to prove the inferiority of the first covenant, to which Jewish unbelief was clinging, as pertinaciously as their fathers of old were prone to abandon it for any idol. Such alas! is the selfwill of man, from which no favours from God deliver, short of redemption and a new life in Christ. But as in Heb. 7 we had the Levitical priest set aside by One after the order of Melchizedek according to Psalm 110, so Heb. 8 with no less conclusiveness sets before us a new covenant promised in the unerring word.
“For, if that first had been faultless, then would no place have been sought for a second. For, finding fault, he saith to them, Behold, days come, saith Jehovah, and I will consummate a new covenant as regards the house of Israel, and as regards the house of Judah” (verses 7, 8).
It is in vain for men to reason in an abstract way against the word of God. It was He that inaugurated the covenant of Sinai which confronted the self-confidence of fallen man and, if it had been used aright, would have convicted him of his evil and compelled him to look to Christ, the end of the law for righteousness to everyone that believeth. But Israel, like other natural men, perverted the law to make out a spurious righteousness of their own, and to cloak their sins under the smoke of their sacrifices; the end of which things is death, as the Jews were soon to prove even outwardly.
God is free to set aside the old and bring in the new. This He never does arbitrarily, but in goodness, wisdom, and holiness worthy of Himself. But the idea of absolute law is a common delusion of Judaism which some even of their Rabbis repudiated and disproved from Scripture, though Christian theologians, even such a man as Hooker (Eccl. Pol. i. 2, Keble’s ed. i. 204), have not failed to defend and use it controversially. But it is false, the fruit of man’s pride and perversity. God is sovereign: the blessed resource of His nature, to vindicate His name when wronged and insulted, no less than to deliver guilty man from his own evil and Satan’s power. And never was absolute law more mischievously employed than now by sceptics who avail themselves of theological errors to promote their own darker and more deadly unbelief, while concealing the source from which they derived their poisoned shaft. For they reduce God to nature, and insist on absolute law to deny miracle, prophecy, and revelation generally in any true sense, whatever the fair words in which the milder men deceive themselves and the unwary. But the idea is really heathen (and so Hooker quotes Homer, Merc. Trismegistus, Plato, and the Stoics), however much it delighted Jews and Christians, to say nothing of free-thinkers. For God is light and love, not law, and whatever He may have imposed on the creature, He left Himself entire liberty to work in sovereign grace for good; as He could not but judge what was inconsistent with His nature and majesty, and what rebelled against Him. To send His only-begotten Son to die is not law, any more than through the faith of Him to save sinners that deserve condemnation. It is grace, but through righteousness not ours but His in Christ.
Hence God, as He saw fit to bring in the first covenant, which condemned the sins of the first man, or more definitely of guilty Israel, is no less free to promise a new covenant, bringing out “Jehovah’s righteousness” in the Messiah, the Second man, by whom He can afford to pardon and give the knowledge of Himself to His people, however undeserving. How sad that those who need to the uttermost such saving mercy, should turn a deaf ear and prefer their own foolish reasonings to His word who cannot lie, and who is a Saviour God no less than a judge!
But the Jew objects, so long alas! the leader of the world’s incredulity, that it is the gospel which so proclaims; and this they believe not. Nay, son of Abraham, hear Your own acknowledged and inspired prophet. It is Jeremiah that speaks, full of sorrow over Judah’s apostasy from Jehovah, on which he pronounced speedy and severe judgment. But he divinely comforts by the vision of the final and everlasting restoration in His grace, people and land blessed under the true Beloved their King. He who had unsparingly chastised them for their iniquities, He will rejoice to bless both Israel’s house and Judah’s house as never of old, and will assuredly plant them in the land then truly glorious with His whole heart and with His whole soul. “Behold, days come, saith the LORD, that I will perform that good thing which I have promised unto the house of Israel and to the house of Judah. In those days, and at that time, will I cause the Branch of righteousness to grow up unto David; and he shall execute judgment and righteousness in the land. In those days shall Judah be saved, and Jerusalem shall dwell safely; and this is the name wherewith she shall be called, The LORD our righteousness. For thus saith the LORD: David shall never want a man to sit upon the throne of the house of Israel; neither shall the priests the Levites want a man before me to offer burnt-offerings, and to kindle meal-offerings, and to do sacrifice continually. And the word of the LORD came unto Jeremiah, saying, Thus saith the LORD, If ye can break my covenant of the day, and my covenant of the night, and that there should not be day and night in their season, then may also my covenant be broken with David my servant, that he should not have a son to reign upon his throne: and with the Levites the priests, my ministers. As the host of heaven cannot be numbered, neither the sand of the sea measured: so will I multiply the seed of David my servant, and the Levites that minister unto me. Moreover the word of the LORD came to Jeremiah, saying, Considerest thou not what this people have spoken, saying, The two families which the LORD hath chosen, he hath even cast them off? Thus they have despised my people, that they should be no more a nation before them. Thus saith the LORD, If my covenant be not with day and night, and if I have not appointed the ordinances of heaven and earth, then will I cast away the seed of Jacob and David my servant, so that I will not take any of his seed to be rulers over the seed of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob: for I will cause their captivity to return, and have mercy on them” (Jer. 33:14-26).
From a previous chapter (Jer. 31) of this very portion our Epistle quotes. Its bearing on the future and still unaccomplished blessing of all Israel that shall be spared in the latter day is direct, unambiguous, tender, and beautiful.
“Behold, days are coming, saith the LORD, and (or, that) I will consummate a new covenant in respect of the house of Israel, and in respect of the house of Judah, not according to the covenant which I made with their fathers, in [a] day of my taking their hand to lead them forth out of the land of Egypt, for they continued not in my covenant, and I disregarded them, saith the LORD” (verses 8, 9).
Equally vain is the dream that the church, or the Christian, is here contemplated. On every sound principle of interpretation the same people, and in its divided houses, is reserved for future blessing, whose iniquities the prophet bewailed and denounced. The truth always suffers by tampering with its integrity or by ignorance. Israel only had the first covenant; Israel by grace will have the second. Israel lost their privileges and land under the old; Israel will be restored and blessed more than ever and for ever in their land under the new covenant.
Meanwhile we, once Gentiles, who had neither the adoption, nor the glory, nor the covenants, nor the law-giving, nor the promises — we are called by sovereign grace in the gospel to privileges higher far as God’s children, and members of Christ’s body wherein is neither Jew nor Gentile, blessed with every spiritual blessing in heavenly places in Christ, as Israel will be blessed in their land, when this age gives way to the new age of Christ displayed in power and glory.
But the death of Christ, which laid the basis for the gospel and also for the church united to Him glorified on high, is the ground of the new covenant also; as the Lord emphatically shows in the institution of His Supper (Matt. 26:28; Mark 14:24; Luke 22:20; 1 Cor. 11:25), and as the apostle characterises the ministry of the gospel in spirit, not in letter. Hence the application here and in Heb. 10 is as full of comfort to the believing Hebrew, as 1 Peter 2:10 in applying Hosea 2:23. The believer now anticipates all the blessing as far as the higher calling of Christianity admits of it. The earthly part awaits the earthly people; and the days are not yet come for the chosen nation as a whole to be blessed according to the strict and full terms of the prophecy in their own land. Heaven is to us what Palestine will be to Israel, and they will be seen there under Messiah.; as the Christian Jews are now to walk as pilgrims and strangers, waiting for an inheritance incorruptible and undefiled and unfading reserved in heaven for them. Israel, not we, are to be sown to Jehovah in the earth; and this not before the day when Jehovah answers the heavens, and the heavens answer the earth.
But it is instructive to consider the terms of the new covenant as here cited from the prophet, though from the Septuagint rather than the Hebrew, and not without change even from that.
“For this [is] the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days, saith the LORD, Giving my laws into their mind, I will also write them upon their hearts: and I will be to them for God, and they shall be to me for people. And they shall not teach each his [fellow-] citizen and each his brother, crying, Know the LORD, because all shall know me from little one unto great of them” (verses 10, 11).
The essence of the new covenant is that Jehovah undertakes its accomplishment. The first covenant could not but fail, because it depended, not on God but on the Israelite; and the Israelite was already a sinful man. This the law made evident. As long as men only hear, and speak, and judge others (perhaps satisfactorily to themselves), they may keep up a claim of their own righteousness. It is quite another thing when they strive seriously to obey. Then they find out that they are without strength, enemies of God, and ungodly. Christ comes from God to meet the need, giving them life on the faith of Himself, and dying for their sins that they may be remitted of God, never to be remembered more.
But while there was evident propriety, in writing to Hebrew confessors, to quote from the inspired words of Jeremiah, it is an error to assume that the gospel as preached now is the fulfilment of the prediction. It is perfectly legitimate to apply the words to privileges conferred by the gospel without denying that the prophet has in view the days when the house of Israel and the house of Judah shall alike be blessed under the reign of the Messiah; whereas during gospel times the Gentile is as open to the call of grace as the Jew, the cross having proved that all sinned and come short of the glory of God. There is now no difference any more in sinners than in indiscriminate grace. Salvation is preached to them both alike.
But in the days which strictly the prophecy contemplates, God will own His ancient people again, and never more shall the seed of Israel cease from being a nation before Jehovah for ever. In those days shall the city be built to Jehovah from the tower of Hananeel unto the gate of the corner. And the measuring line shall yet go forth over against it upon the hill Gareb, and shall compass about to Goah. And the whole valley of the dead bodies, and of the ashes, and all the fields unto the brook of Kidron, unto the corner of the horse-gate toward the east, shall be holy unto Jehovah; it shall not be plucked up, nor thrown down, any more for ever. It is the restoration of the people and the land and the city, when Messiah reigns on His own throne of which the reader can find more in Isa. 11, 12, 35, 65, 66; Jer. 3:16-18, Jer. 30, Jer. 32:37-44, Jer. 33; Ezek. 40-48; and in the minor prophets, especially Zech. 12 - 14. Allegory is vain as to all this.
Application of part to gospel times is not denied; for grace now reigns through righteousness by Jesus Christ our Lord, as then a King shall reign in righteousness. But judgment shall return to righteousness at that epoch, and the inhabitants of the world will learn righteousness so as they never do now. All the earth shall be filled with the glory of Jehovah in that day, which it never can be in this day. To the believer now the principle of the new covenant applies, as far as his soul is concerned. but Israel will enjoy its terms directly and unqualifiedly, when the Branch of righteousness, crown to David, shall execute judgment and righteousness in the land, and all nations are blessed in Him.
The first blessing here specified is that Jehovah not only gives His laws into the mind, but also writes them upon the heart. It is in pointed contrast with the first covenant written on stones. The law as a system was external, and was characterised by an elaborate ritualism, visible and palpable, when anointed priest, Levite, ruler, and ordinary Israelite had his defined place, with meats and drinks and divers washings and carnal ordinances, as well as specific gifts and sacrifices which could not make him that did the service perfect as pertaining to the conscience. The blood of bulls and goats, and the ashes of a heifer sprinkling the unclean, could not do more than sanctify to the purifying of the flesh. The laws were outside the Israelite; they were not written on his heart. Far different is the work of grace now. God gives them into the mind and writes them on the heart of every believer. There is for the Christian a renewing of the mind, and the love of God shed abroad in the heart ‘by the Holy Spirit given to him. The principle of the new covenant is not only verified but in a richer way spiritually than Israel can have by-and-by, whatever their wondrous privileges in the exclusion of Satan and the presence of the Christ, and the whole creation delivered from the bondage of corruption into the liberty of the glory of the children of God then reigning with Him.
Next, “I will be to them for God, and they shall be to me for people.” As this will be Israel’s portion in that day, so it is ours now. More yet is ours, because we can say by the Spirit “Abba, Father,” Christ’s Father and our Father, Christ’s God and our God. As before, it will be no longer an imposed ordinance or a possibly vain title of relationship. All now is by His grace made real, intrinsic, and abiding. All the blessing that is involved in what God is to His people is secured, as His people are secured in their due place toward Him. But we can add our Father, though this did not fall within the design of the Epistle to unfold as we find it elsewhere.
Further, “And they shall not teach each his [fellow-] citizen, and each his brother, saying, Know the LORD, because all shall know me from little one unto great of them.” This is another privilege in which we more than anticipate the blessings of Jehovah’s manifested kingdom. The Son of God is come and has given us an understanding that we may know Him that is true. And no wonder; for the Christian has eternal life in the Son, as he has also the Holy Spirit dwelling in him, both capacity and power that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God. So it will be when the new covenant is established with both the houses of Israel. “In that day shall the deaf hear the words of the book, and the eyes of the blind shall see out of obscurity and out of darkness. . . . They also that erred in spirit shall come to understanding, and they that murmured shall learn doctrine.” As it is elsewhere written, which also explains it, “All thy children shall be taught of Jehovah; and great shall be the peace of thy children.” Hence it will be no question of teaching, each his fellow-citizen, and each his brother. The salvation which Israel enjoys in that day so illustrates the scripture, that there will be no need of objective knowledge (
γνῶσις) for the ignorant, because all shall have intrinsically possessed conscious knowledge (
εἰδήσουσι) from little even to great of them. The universality of the result testifies that God it is who ensures it for under human teaching, however good, we see every degree of proficiency and at best knowledge far from perfect. Compare also Joel 2:28. The Holy Spirit gives understanding and power.
Here too in Christianity we may observe remarkable analogy. It is in addressing the babes (
παιδία) of God’s family that the apostle John declares “ye have an unction from the Holy One, and ye know all things. I have not written to you, because ye know not the truth, but because ye know it, and that no lie is of the truth.” This is of course true of the “fathers” and “young men” in Christ; but it is said expressly to those who most needed such encouragement, exposed as they were to seducers who boasted of their knowledge and undermined Christ “But the anointing which ye have received of him abideth in you, and ye need not that any man teach you; but as the same anointing teacheth you of all things, and is truth, and is no lie, and even as it hath taught you, ye shall abide in him” (1 John 2:20, 21, 27). Teachers there are, and those that rule or guide, while Christ is on the throne of God; but they should be the first and the most in earnest to maintain the privileges of the simplest believer.
But there is a further and most needed gift of mercy to which God stands pledged in the new covenant. This too the apostle does not fail to cite as now applied to the believer; though to the Israelite it is set in the last place, whereas the Christian enjoys it as a starting-point, as we may see throughout the Acts of the Apostles.
“Because I will be merciful to their unrighteousness, and their sins31 I will remember in no wise more” (verse 12). It will be noticed that the words “and their lawlessnesses” disappear. They are not in the Septuagint any more than the original Hebrew, which indeed has also the singular form, where the Greek gives the plural. It would seem that the words in question were inserted from Heb. 10:17, where beyond doubt they occur, but without “their unrighteousnesses.” In any case grace meets the once guilty but now renewed souls, and comforts those who feel and own their sinfulness with the assurance of divine forgiveness.
How different the terms of the first covenant, even when Moses went up on high the second time, and saw not Jehovah’s glory but His goodness pass before him, and heard Him proclaim Jehovah, Jehovah El, merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abundant in goodness and truth, keeping mercy unto thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but by no means clearing the guilty, visiting, etc.! Now it is precisely clearance of conscience, or guilt, that the awakened soul longs for and seeks from God; and what the law could not do, God does in the gospel by virtue of Christ made sin for us. So our Lord spoke and dealt with Zacchaeus, chief publican though he was, and so most offensive in Pharisaic eyes. But the rejected Messiah, the Son of man, came to seek and to save that which is lost. His coming and work of expiation deposit an infinite fund of mercy toward the guilty, which God in the gospel uses to clear and justify all who believe.
“Merciful” here is not mere pity but “propitious.” Undoubtedly unrighteousnesses are hateful in God’s sight and abhorrent to His nature; so too they become to a soul when born again. For as that which is born of the flesh is flesh, so that which is born of the Spirit is spirit, as our Lord ruled. The old nature does not become new but remains evil and never to be allowed. But a new one is given, which finds not relief only or even pardon but deliverance in the death and resurrection of the Saviour. Here we transcend the terms and ideas of the new covenant which go no farther than God’s mercy in remission and remembrance of sin no more at all. This the Christian has, but in a far surpassing mode and measure. For he is entitled, as we know from other scriptures, to know that he died with Christ to sin, as set forth even in his baptism; that he is risen with Christ, and seated in Him in heavenly places. But as this pre-eminently exalted aspect of the believer’s present blessing is not in the most distant way couched in the promises of the new covenant, so it nowhere appears in the Epistle to the Hebrews. And this rightly; for the Holy Spirit is therein drawing out the force of the O.T., and at most what was latent in it, rather than going on to the wholly unrevealed fulness alike of Christ as head, of the church as His body, and of our individual Christian standing too.
An important inference is now drawn from a word. “In saying ‘new,’ he hath antiquated the first [covenant]: now what is being antiquated and growing aged [is] near disappearing” (verse 13). It is in vain therefore for Jews or other men to reason abstractly for the perpetuity of God’s law: His word has already decided the question. The prophet Jeremiah declares in the Spirit that Jehovah will make a new covenant, and an everlasting one, with all Israel. This, as is here shown antiquates the first or legal covenant. The new one is evidently not of man’s will or weakness, but of God’s gracious power working in His people. And those who believe now, whether Jews or Gentiles, anticipate Israel for whom it was made, but to whom it is not yet extended. But it is sure to Israel in due time, for the mouth of Jehovah has said it.
Hence it is added that what is being antiquated (not “decayeth” as in the A.V.) and growing aged is near disappearing. The cross fulfilled and annulled the legal covenant. the destruction of Jerusalem and of its temple was its grave.
29 The Rec. Text has
γὰρ, but the critics
οὖν on ancient authority: so also
τῶν ἱερέων is rightly dropped, and the article before
31 A few of the most ancient MSS. and Vv. support this as the true text, many later copies adding “and their lawlessnesses” as in Text. Rec.