The first title of our Lord in this chapter is connected with the first part of the epistle; the second, viz., the priesthood, refers to what follows afterwards. In chapter 1 also we have His qualification for being the Apostle; in chapter 2, His qualification for the priesthood. He was the Divine Messenger for the testimony He was to bring to earth; and He is gone up on high to exercise His priesthood on behalf of a needy people down here where He has been. “God manifest in flesh, justified in the Spirit…received up in glory,” referring to His having come down and become man. He must be in the holy place in order to carry on His work as Priest; but He must be a man. Therefore what He was on earth fitted Him, as it were, for this work. There is a third character connected with Christ brought out in this third chapter; Christ set “over His own House.” In this epistle we do not get the unity of the body at all; we get a Mediator speaking to God for us, and speaking from God to us: “Let us hold fast the profession,” etc. If He spoke of the unity of the body, that is inseparable; there is one Holy Ghost uniting the members to the Head,—“ye in me, and I in you.” It is not so here. Therefore, profession is spoken of, and the possibility of that being not true profession; yet assuming it might be sincere, “we are persuaded better things of you,” etc. (Chap. 6) There might be all these privileges and no fruit, but falling away. These Hebrews had made a public profession of having embraced Christ, and received a heavenly calling. In speaking of the body of Christ, we know it is perfect—no possibility of a false member getting in; but in a living congregation, I may address them as hoping they are all saints, but the end proves. No man can tell the end, whether they will all persevere; but if there is life we know they will.
“Apostle of our profession,”—it could not be said Apostle of life. We never can understand this epistle properly, unless we get hold of this truth. In Ephesians, where the body is more the subject, I do not get such an expression as this, “that he might sanctify the people with his own blood.”
The character of this epistle not being understood is the reason many souls are tried and exercised by passages they find in it. They are addressed with the possibility of their not having life, and so not continuing to the end. The Church supposes a body in heaven. “Heavenly calling” does not necessarily imply that, because they are called to heaven, they are part of the body of Christ. The kingdom and the body are different. “Head over all things to the Church” is wider, too, than the kingdom. Kingdom implies a king; a body implies a head. The Church is precious to God. Everything that Christ has, I have; the same life, the same righteousness, the same glory. If my hand is hurt, I say it is I who am hurt. Paul was converted by this truth, “Why persecutest thou me?” It shows what grace has done for us—taken us out of ourselves. The body of Christ shows out the fulness of redemption, and the purpose of God respecting it. But another aspect of the people of God is down here in infirmity, but having this heavenly calling. In this condition I need One in heaven; and there is not an infirmity, a need, a sorrow, an ache, an anxiety, but it draws out sympathy and help from Christ. This draws out my affections to Him. But before the priesthood is taken up, Moses is spoken of as a type:—“Christ Jesus, faithful to him that appointed him, as also Moses was faithful in all his house.” The house is the place where God dwells: and there is another thing here—the Head of the house administering in it.
God has met His people according to the need in which they were. In Egypt they need redemption, and He comes to redeem. In the wilderness they were dwelling in tents, and He would have a tent too. In getting into the land they wanted One to bring them in, and there is the captain of the Lord’s host. Then, when they are in the land, He builds His palace, His temple. There is rest. We are not come to the temple yet—we have not rest: we get the tabernacle now, and “there remaineth a rest.” There was a temple existing when these Hebrews were addressed, but that was not for us.
The temple is a dwelling for God. There never was a dwelling-place for God until redemption came in. Scripture never speaks of man getting back to innocency, or the image of God. God did not dwell with Adam; though in the cool of the day He came to talk with him. Neither did He dwell with Abraham. “The earth hath he given to the children of men”—“the heaven’s are the Lord’s.” But when redemption comes in, God is forming something for Himself. Thus, in Exodus 15:13, “habitation” refers to what they had in the wilderness; verse 17 to the rest at the end. (Ex. 29).
There were visits to Abraham (Abraham will dwell in heaven), but God could not have a habitation among men until He had made known redemption to them. The nature and character of God require it. Love is God’s character: to enjoy God I must be with Him. Holiness is His nature. We are made sons of God (“the servant abideth not in the house for ever,” etc.) In the divine nature communicated to us, we are capable of being at home in that house of God, and redemption gives the title.
The individual Christian is a temple now; but the temporary provisional thing is God dwelling with us. The full blessed thing is our dwelling with God. (John 14) I go not away to be alone there, but to have you there. “I go to prepare a place for you.” In verse 23 the Father and the Son make their abode with us till we are taken to abide with them. God’s having a house, as a general thought, is the consequence of redemption. Here in Hebrews it is rather alluded to as to administration than dwelling. “Habitation of God,” is the present thing; “temple,” is future in Eph. 2 It is spoken of in a larger and more vague way in Hebrews, because here it takes in profession. He that built all things is God. In one sense creation is His house; in another, Christ has passed through the heavens, as High Priest, into the heaven of heavens, (through the two vails, as is represented in the type), into the holiest. In a third sense the body professing Christianity is His house, “whose house are we,” etc.—the saints. There may be hypocrites amongst them; but they “are builded together for an habitation of God,” etc. Christ administers in it, as Son over His own house. Moses was but servant in the building. There is immense comfort for us in this; first, because it is perfectly governed; second, when we look at the house, we may see all sorts of failures coming in; but though all may be failure, the One who administers in the house cannot fail. Therefore, though all seek their own, not the things which are Jesus Christ’s, Paul could say, “Rejoice in the Lord alway,” etc. There is One whom nothing escapes. Anyone who has a real care for the Church of God, need never distrust. Paul, in looking at the Galatians, sees so much wrong that he does not know what to think of them: he changes his voice towards them. Ye that are under the law, hear the law. But in the next chapter he says, “I have confidence in you through the Lord.” Christ is over His own house. Two things follow then. He will turn everything to blessing—Paul in prison, etc.; and there is present good too. When all the joints and bands do not play as they ought, the immediate ministry of Christ is more experienced. Christ connects everything with His glory; and faith connects the glory of the Lord with the people of the Lord. Moses did so. Faith does not only say, the Lord is glorious, and He will provide the means for His own glory; but it sees the means for it. Moses said, “Spare the people,” when with God; and when he came down amongst them, he “cut off the people,” because he was alive to God’s glory (in the matter of the calf in the camp).
We have to count upon Christ for the Church, not upon itself. Thus Paul, when tried by Nero, passes sentence as it were upon himself; (Phil. 1:23-25;) he settles it that he shall be acquitted. Why? Because he sees it is more needful for them—one single Church. It was divine teaching and faith in exercise which made him to judge thus.
There is failure on the part of the Church down here as to responsibility, but Christ has perfect authority in His Church, and He has interest in it. We have not to make rules for the Church; it is the Master must govern the house, not the servants. There is one Master, and that is Christ. He is over the Church, and not the Church over Him. “Whose house are we, if we hold fast the confidence,” etc. Ah! people say, don’t you be too confident, because there is an “if” But, I ask, what have you got? What he presses is, that you should not let it go. Is that to be used to hinder my having the confidence? What did they believe? That Christ was come—a heavenly Saviour to them, and this far better than an earthly one. Do not give up that. There is a fear of their giving up that confidence, not of their being too confident. What am I to distrust? Myself? Oh! I cannot distrust myself too much. But is it Christ you distrust? Will His eye ever grow dim, or His heart grow cold? Will He leave off interceding? A proof that I am a real stone in the house is that I hold fast the confidence, etc. Those high priests under the old dispensation were continually standing; but He has sat down, because the work is all done. They needed for every sin a new sacrifice: sin was never put away. They needed a fresh absolution from the priest every time sin came up. Now, He says, “their sins and their iniquities will I remember no more.” If you are under law, it is another thing; you have not got the confidence. If you talk of distrust, what do you distrust? If you trust in man at all, it is a proof you do not see that you are lost. If you give up confidence in yourself, and say, I am lost already, it is another thing. No one that has really come to redemption, has in the substance of his soul confidence in himself; and no Christian will say, you ought to distrust Christ. Our privilege is to have confidence in Christ as a rock under our feet, and to rejoice in hope of the glory of God. His righteousness has brought Christ into the glory as a man, and the same righteousness will bring me in.
Does another person say, I do not know whether I have a portion in it? You are under the law: God may be ploughing up your soul—exercising it for good; but you have not been brought to accept the righteousness of God. The soul in this state has not accepted the righteousness of God for it, instead of ours for Him. You are still depending on your own heart for comfort and assurance. It is a very serious thing to get the soul so empty of everything that it has only to accept what God can give. It is an awful thing to find oneself in God’s presence, with nothing to say or to present. You never get love to Christ until you are saved; and it is the work of God’s Spirit. The prodigal found what he was by what his father was. Did the prodigal doubt his interest when the father was on his neck?
The remainder of this chapter takes up the people of Israel—the professing people in the wilderness. They did not get into the land, but their carcases fell in the wilderness. It is speaking of them on the road. The “to-day” quoted from Psalm 95 never closes for Israel, till God has taken up the remnant at the end of His dealings with them, after the Church is gone up to heaven.
Ver. 14 “Partakers” is the same word as that translated “fellows” in chap. 1 You are fellows of Christ if you are of this company. This place with the fellows is yours if you go on to the end. This kind of statement does not touch the question of the security of the saints. Both Calvinists and Arminians might say, He will reach heaven, if he holds fast to the end. The certainty of salvation is the certainty of faith, and not that which excludes dependence upon God for every moment. I have no doubt that God will keep every one of His saints to the end; but we have to run the race to obtain eternal glory. Holding fast the faithfulness of God, it is important, along with this, to keep up the plain sense of passages such as the present, which act on the conscience as warning by the way. There is no uncertainty, but there is the working out our own salvation with fear and trembling. In 1 Cor. 9:27, personal Christianity is distinguished from preaching to others. It is not a question of the work, but of the person being ἀδόκμος, and this means disapproved or reprobate, i.e., not a Christian. (Comp. 2 Cor. 13) In Rom. 2 eternal life is spoken of as the result of a course which pleases God. No doubt, His grace gives the power; but it is the result of a fruit-bearing course. In a word, it is equally true that I have eternal life, and that I am going on to eternal life. God sees it as one existence, but we have to separate it in time. Walk that road, and you will have what is at the end of it. This does not interfere with the other truth, that God will keep His own, and that none shall pluck them out of His hand. Our Father says, as it were, That is my child, and I watch him all the way, and take care to keep him in it.