ver. 2.0.14.12.20
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Albert Barnes' Notes on the Whole Bible

Hebrews 12

 

 

Introduction

Analysis Of The Chapter

The apostle having illustrated the nature and power of faith in the previous chapter Hebrews 11:1.

II. He appeals to the example of the Saviour; Hebrews 12:2-4. This was a more illustrious instance than any of those which had been adverted to, and is not referred to with theirs, but is adduced as deserving a separate and a special specification. The circumstances in his case which are an encouragement to perseverance in the Christian conflict, are these.

(1)he endured the cross, and is now exalted to the right hand of God.

(2)he bore the contradiction of sinners against himself, as those were called to do to whom Paul wrote.

(3)he went beyond them in his trials and temptations - beyond anything which they could have reason to apprehend - for he had “resisted unto blood, striving against sin.”

III. He encourages them by showing that their trials would result in their own good, and particularly that the hand of a Father was in them; Hebrews 12:5-13. Particularly he urges:

(1)that God addressed those who suffered as his sons, and called on them not to receive with improper feeling the chastening of the Lord, Hebrews 12:5;

(2)that it was a general principle that the Lord chastened those whom he loved, and the fact that we received chastening was to be regarded as evidence that we are under his paternal care, and that he has not forsaken us, Hebrews 12:6-8;

(3)that they had been subject to the correction of earthly fathers and had learned to be submissive, and that there was much higher reason for submitting to God, Hebrews 12:9-10;

(4)and that however painful chastisement might be at present, yet it would ultimately produce important benefits; Hebrews 12:11. By these considerations he encourages them to bear their trials with patience, and to assume new courage in their efforts to live a Christian life; Hebrews 12:12-13.

IV. He exhorts them to perseverance and fidelity by the fact that if they should become remiss, and renounce their confidence in God, it would be impossible to retrieve what was lost; Hebrews 12:14-17. In illustrating this, he appeals to the case of Esau. For a trifling consideration, when in distress, he parted with an invaluable blessing. When it was gone, it was impossible to recover it. No consideration could induce a change, though he sought it earnestly with tears. So it would be with Christians, if, under the power of temptation, they should renounce their religion, and go back to their former state.

V. He urges them to perseverance by the nature of the dispensation under which they were, as compared with the one under which they had formerly been - the Jewish; Hebrews 12:18-29. Under the former, everything was suited to alarm and terrify the soul; Hebrews 12:18-21. The new dispensation was of a different character. It was adapted to encourage and to win the heart. The real Mount Zion - the city of the living God - the New Jerusalem - the company of the angels - the church of the first-born - the Judge of all - the great Mediator - to which they had come under the new dispensation, all these were suited to encourage the fainting heart, and to win the affections of the soul; Hebrews 12:22-24. Yet, in proportion to the sacredness and tenderness of these considerations, and to the light and privileges which they now enjoyed, would be their guilt if they should renounce their religion - for under this dispensation, as under the old, God was a consuming fire; Hebrews 12:25-29.

Verse 1

Wherefore - In view of what has been said in the previous chapter.

Seeing we also are encompassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses - The apostle represents those to whom he had referred in the previous chapter, as looking on to witness the efforts which Christians make, and the manner in which they live. There is allusion here, doubtless, to the ancient games. A great multitude of spectators usually occupied the circular seats in the amphitheater, from which they could easily behold the combatants; see the notes on 1 Corinthians 9:24-27. In like manner, the apostle represents Christians as encompassed with the multitude of worthies to whom he had referred in the previous chapter. It cannot be fairly inferred from this that he means to say that all those ancient worthies were actually looking at the conduct of Christians, and saw their conflicts. It is a figurative representation, such as is common, and means that we ought to act as if they were in sight, and cheered us on. How far the spirits of the just who are departed from this world are permitted to behold what is done on earth - if at all - is not revealed in the Scriptures. The phrase, “a cloud of witnesses,” means many witnesses, or a number so great that they seem to be a cloud. The comparison of a multitude of persons to a cloud is common in the classic writers; see Homer II. 4:274,23:133; Statius 1:340, and other instances adduced in Wetstein, in loc.; compare notes on 1 Thessalonians 4:17.

Let us lay aside every weight - The word rendered “weight” - ὄγκον ogkon- means what is crooked or hooked, and thence any thing that is attached or suspended by a hook that is, by its whole weight, and hence means weight; see “Passow.” It does not occur elsewhere in the New Testament. The word is often used in the classic writers in the sense of swelling, tumour, pride. Its usual meaning is that of weight or burden, and there is allusion here, doubtless, to the runners in the games who were careful not to encumber themselves with anything that was heavy. Hence, their clothes were so made as not to impede their running, and hence, they were careful in their training not to overburden themselves with food, and in every way to remove what would be an impediment or hindrance. As applied to the racers it does not mean that they began to run with anything like a burden, and then threw it away - as persons sometimes aid their jumping by taking a stone in their hands to acquire increased momentum - but that they were careful not to allow anything that would be a weight or an encumbrance.

As applied to Christians it means that they should remove all which would obstruct their progress in the Christian course. Thus, it is fair to apply it to whatever would be an impediment in our efforts to win the crown of life. It is not the same thing in all persons. In one it may be pride; in another vanity; in another worldliness; in another a violent and almost ungovernable temper; in another a corrupt imagination; in another a heavy, leaden, insensible heart; in another some improper and unholy attachment. Whatever it may be, we are exhorted to lay it aside, and this general direction may be applied to anything which prevents our making the highest possible attainment in the divine life. Some persons would make much more progress if they would throw away many of their personal ornaments; some, if they would disencumber themselves of the heavy weight of gold which they are endeavoring to carry with them. So some very light objects, in themselves considered, become material encumbrances. Even a feather or a ring - such may be the fondness for these toys - may become such a weight that they will never make much progress toward the prize.

And the sin which doth so easily beset us - The word which is here rendered “easily beset” - εὐπερίστατον euperistaton- “euperistaton” - does not occur elsewhere in the New Testament. It properly means, “standing well around;” and hence, denotes what is near, or at hand, or readily occurring. So Chrysostom explains it. Passow defines it as meaning “easy to encircle.” Tyndale renders it “the sin that hangeth on us.” Theodoret and others explain the word as if derived from περίστασις peristasis- a word which sometimes means affliction, peril - and hence, regard it as denoting what is full of peril, or the sin which so easily subjects one to calamity. Bloomfield supposes, in accordance with the opinion of Grotius, Crellius, Kype, Kuinoel, and others, that it means “the sin which especially winds around us, and hinders our course,” with allusion to the long Oriental garments. According to this, the meaning would be, that as a runner would be careful not to encumber himself with a garment which would be apt to wind around his legs in running, and hinder him, so it should be with the Christian, who especially ought to lay aside everything which resembles this; that is, all sin, which must impede his course. The former of these interpretations, however, is most commonly adopted, and best agrees with the established sense of the word. It will then mean that we are to lay aside every encumbrance, particularly or especially - for so the word καὶ kai“and,” should be rendered here “the sins to which we are most exposed.” Such sins are appropriately called “easily besetting sins.” They are those to which we are particularly liable. They are such sins as the following:

(1) Those to which we are particularly exposed by our natural temperament, or disposition. In some this is pride, in others indolence, or gaiety, or levity, or avarice, or ambition, or sensuality.

(2) those in which we freely indulged before we became Christians. They will be likely to return with power, and we are far more likely from the laws of association, to fall into them than into any other. Thus, a man who has been intemperate is in special danger from that quarter; a man who has been an infidel, is in special danger of scepticism: one who has been avaricious, proud, frivolous, or ambitious, is in special danger, even after conversion, of again committing these sins.

(3) sins to which we are exposed by our profession, by our relations to others, or by our situation in life. They whose condition will entitle them to associate with what are regarded as the more elevated classes of society, are in special danger of indulging in the methods of living, and of amusement that are common among them; they who are prospered in the world are in danger of losing the simplicity and spirituality of their religion; they who hold a civil office are in danger of becoming mere politicians, and of losing the very form and substance of piety.

(4) sins to which we are exposed from some special weakness in our character. On some points we may be in no danger. We may be constitutionally so firm as not to be especially liable to certain forms of sin. But every man has one or more weak points in his character; and it is there that he is particularly exposed. A bow may be in the main very strong. All along its length there may be no danger of its giving way - save at one place where it has been made too thin, or where the material was defective - and if it ever breaks, it will of course be at that point. That is the point, therefore, which needs to be guarded and strengthened. So in reference to character. There is always some weak point which needs specially to be guarded, and our principal danger is there. Self-knowledge, so necessary in leading a holy life, consists much in searching out those weak points of character where we are most exposed; and our progress in the Christian course will be determined much by the fidelity with which we guard and strengthen them.

And let us run with patience the race that is set before us. - The word rendered “patience” rather means in this place, perseverance. We are to run the race without allowing ourselves to be hindered by any obstructions, and without giving out or fainting in the way. Encouraged by the example of the multitudes who have run the same race before us, and who are now looking out upon us from heaven, where they dwell, we are to persevere as they did to the end.

Verse 2

Looking unto Jesus - As a further inducement to do this, the apostle exhorts us to look to the Saviour. We are to look to his holy life; to his patience and perseverance in trials; to what he endured in order to obtain the crown, and to his final success and triumph.

The author and finisher of our faith - The word “our” is not in the original here, and obscures the sense. The meaning is, he is the first and the last as an example of faith or of confidence in God - occupying in this, as in all other things, the pre-eminence, and being the most complete model that can be placed before us. The apostle had not enumerated him among those who had been distinguished for their faith, but he now refers to him as above them all; as a case that deserved to stand by itself. It is probable that there is a continuance here of the allusion to the Grecian games which the apostle had commenced in the previous verse. The word “author” - ἀρχηγὸν archēgon- (marg. beginner) - means properly the source, or cause of anything; or one who makes a beginning. It is rendered in Acts 3:15; Acts 5:31, “Prince”; in Hebrews 2:10, “Captain”; and in the place before us, “Author.”

It does not occur elsewhere in the New Testament. The phrase “the beginner of faith,” or the leader on of faith, would express the idea. He is at the head of all those who have furnished an example of confidence in God, for he was himself the most illustrious instance of it. The expression, then, does not mean properly that he produces faith in us, or that we believe because he causes us to believe - whatever may be the truth about that - but that he stands at the head as the most eminent example that can be referred to on the subject of faith. We are exhorted to look to him, as if at the Grecian games there was one who stood before the racer who had previously carried away every palm of victory; who had always been triumphant, and with whom there was no one who could be compared. The word “finisher” - τελειωτὴν teleiōtēn- corresponds in meaning with the word “author.” It means that he is the completer as well as the beginner; the last as well as the first.

As there has been no one hitherto who could be compared with him, so there will be no one hereafter; compare Revelation 1:8, Revelation 1:11. “I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the ending, the first and the last.” The word does not mean that he was the “finisher” of faith in the sense that he makes our faith complete or perfects it - whatever may be true about that - but that he occupies this elevated position of being beyond comparison above all others. Alike in the commencement and the close, in the beginning of faith, and in its ending, he stands pre-eminent. To this illustrious model we should look - as a racer would on one who had been always so successful that he surpassed all competitors and rivals. If this be the meaning, then it is not properly explained, as it is commonly (see Bloomfield and Stuart in loc.), by saying that the word here is synonymous with “rewarder,” and refers to the βραβευτὴς brabeutēs- or the distributor of the prize; compare notes on Colossians 3:15, There is no instance where the word is used in this sense in the New Testament (compare Passow), nor would such an interpretation present so beautiful and appropriate a thought as the one suggested above.

Who for the joy that was set before him - That is, who in view of all the honor which he would have at the right hand of God, and the happiness which he would experience from the consciousness that he had redeemed a world, was willing to bear the sorrows connected with the atonement.

Endured the cross - Endured patiently the ignominy and pain connected with the suffering of death on the cross.

Despising the shame - Disregarding the ignominy of such a mode of death. It is difficult for us now to realize the force of the expression, “enduring the shame of the cross,” as it was understood in the time of the Saviour and the apostles. The views of the world have changed, and it is now difficult to divest the “cross” of the associations of honor and glory which the word suggests, so as to appreciate the ideas which encompassed it then. There is a degree of dishonor which we attach to the guillotine, but the ignominy of a death on the cross was greater than that; there is disgrace attached to the block, but the ignominy of the cross was greater than that; there is a much deeper infamy attached to the gallows, but the ignominy of the cross was greater than that. And that word - the cross - which when now proclaimed in the ears of the refined, the intelligent, and even the frivolous, excites an idea of honor, in the ears of the people of Athens, of Corinth, and of Rome, excited deeper disgust than the word “gallows” does with us - for it was regarded as the appropriate punishment of the most infamous of mankind.

We can now scarcely appreciate these feelings, and of course the declaration that Jesus “endured the cross, despising the shame,” does not make the impression on our minds in regard to the nature of his sufferings, and the value of his example, which it should do. When we now think of the “cross,” it is not of the multitude of slaves, and robbers, and thieves, and rebels, who have died on it, but of the one great Victim, whose death has ennobled even this instrument of torture, and encircled it with a halo of glory. We have been accustomed to read of it as an imperial standard in war in the days of Constantine, and as the banner under which armies have marched to conquest; it is intermingled with the sweetest poetry; it is a sacred thing in the most magnificent cathedrals; it adorns the altar, and is even an object of adoration; it is in the most elegant engravings; it is worn by beauty and piety as an ornament near the heart; it is associated with all that is pure in love, great in self-sacrifice, and holy in religion. To see the true force of the expression here, therefore, it is necessary to divest ourselves of these ideas of glory which encircle the “cross,” and to place ourselves in the times and lands in which, when the most infamous of mankind were stretched upon it, it was regarded for such people as an appropriate mode of punishment. That infamy Jesus was willing to bear, and the strength of his confidence in God, his love for man, and the depth of his humiliation, was shown in the readiness and firmness with which he went forward to such a death.

And is set down at the right hand of the throne of God - Exalted to the highest place of dignity and honor in the universe; Mark 16:19 note; Ephesians 1:20-22 notes. The sentiment here is, “Imitate the example of the great Author of our religion. He, in view of the honor and joy before him, endured the most severe sufferings to which the human frame can be subjected, and the form of death which is regarded as the most shameful. So amidst all the severe trials to which you are exposed on account of religion, patiently endure all - for the glorious rewards, the happiness and the triumph of heaven, are before you.”

Verse 3

For consider him - Attentively reflect on his example that you may be able to bear your trials in a proper manner.

That endured such contradiction of sinners - Such opposition. The reference is to the Jews of the time of the Saviour, who opposed his plans, perverted his sayings, and ridiculed his claims. Yet, regardless of their opposition, he persevered in the course which he had marked out, and went patiently forward in the execution of his plans. The idea is, that we are to pursue the path of duty and follow the dictates of conscience, let the world say what they will about it. In doing this we cannot find a better example than the Saviour. No opposition of sinners ever turned him from the way which he regarded as right; no ridicule ever caused him to abandon any of his plans; no argument, or expression of scorn, ever caused him for a moment to deviate from his course.

Lest ye be wearied and faint in your minds - The meaning is, that there is great danger of being disheartened and wearied out by the opposition which you meet with. But with the bright example of one who was never disheartened, and who never became weary in doing the will of God, you may persevere. The best means of leading a faithful Christian life amidst the opposition which we may encounter, is to keep the eye steadily fixed on the Saviour.

Verse 4

Ye have not yet resisted unto blood, striving against sin - The general sense of this passage is, “you have not yet been called in your Christian struggles to the highest kind of sufferings and sacrifices. Great as your trials may seem to have been, yet your faith has not yet been put to the severest test. And since this is so, you ought not to yield in the conflict with evil, but manfully resist it.” In the language used here there is undoubtedly a continuance of the allusion to the agonistic games - the strugglings and wrestlings for mastery there. In those games, the boxers were accustomed to arm themselves for the fight with the caestus. This at first consisted of strong leathern thongs wound around the hands, and extending only to the wrist, to give greater solidity to the fist. Afterward these were made to extend to the elbow, and then to the shoulder, and finally, they sewed pieces of lead or iron in them that they might strike a heavier and more destructive blow. The consequence was, that those who were engaged in the fight were often covered with blood, and that resistance “unto blood” showed a determined courage, and a purpose not to yield. But though the language here may be taken from this custom, the fact to which the apostle alludes, it seems to me, is the struggling of the Saviour in the garden of Gethsemane, when his conflict was so severe that, great drops of blood fell down to the ground see the notes on Matthew 26:36-44. It is, indeed, commonly understood to mean that they had not yet been called to shed their blood as martyrs in the cause of religion; see Stuart Bloomfield, Doddridge, Clarke, Whitby, Kuinoel, etc. Indeed, I find in none of the commentators what seems to me to be the true sense of this passage, and what gives an exquisite beauty to it, the allusion to the sufferings of the Saviour in the garden. The reasons which lead me to believe that there is such an allusion, are briefly these:

(1) The connection. The apostle is appealing to the example of the Saviour, and urging Christians to persevere amidst their trials by looking to him. Nothing would be more natural in this connection, than to refer to that dark night, when in the severest conflict with temptation which he ever encountered. he so signally showed his own firmness of purpose, and the effects of resistance on his own bleeding body, and his signal victory - in the garden of Gethsemane.

(2) the expression “striving against sin” seems to demand the same interpretation. On the common interpretation, the allusion would be merely to their resisting persecution; but here the allusion is to some struggle in their minds against “committing sin.” The apostle exhorts them to strive manfully and perseveringly against; sin in every form, and especially against the sin of apostasy. To encourage them he refers them to the highest instance on record where there was a “striving against sin” - the struggle of the Redeemer in the garden with the great enemy who there made his most violent assault, and where the resistance of the Redeemer was so great as to force the blood through his pores. What was the exact form of the temptation there, we are not informed. It may have been to induce him to abandon his work even then and to yield, in view of the severe sufferings of his approaching death on the cross.

If there ever was a point where temptation would be powerful, it would be there. When a man is about to be put to death, how strong is the inducement to abandon his purpose, his plans, or his principles, if he may save his life! How many, of feeble virtue, have yielded just there! If to this consideration we add the thought that the Redeemer was engaged in a work never before undertaken; that he designed to make an atonement never before made; that he was about to endure sorrows never before endured; and that on the decision of that moment depended the ascendency of sin or holiness on the earth, the triumph or the fall of Satan‘s kingdom, the success or the defeat of all the plans of the great adversary of God and man, and that, on such an occasion as this, the tempter would use all his power to crush the lonely and unprotected man of sorrows in the garden of Gethsemane, it is easy to imagine what may have been the terror of that fearful conflict, and what virtue it would require in him to resist the concentrated energy of Satan‘s might to induce him even then to abandon his work. The apostle says of those to whom he wrote, that they had not yet reached that point; compare notes on Hebrews 5:7.

(3) this view furnishes a proper climax to the argument of the apostle for perseverance. It presents the Redeemer before the mind as the great example; directs the mind to him in various scenes of his life - as looking to the joy before him - disregarding the ignominy of his sufferings - enduring the opposition of sinners - and then in the garden as engaged in a conflict with his great foe, and so resisting sin that rather than yield he endured that fearful mental struggle which was attended with such remarkable consequences. This is the highest consideration which could be presented to the mind of a believer to keep him from yielding in the conflict with evil; and if we could keep him in the eye resisting even unto blood rather than yield in the least degree, it would do more than all other things to restrain us from sin. How different his case from ours! How readily we yield to sin! We offer a faint and feeble resistance, and then surrender. We think it will be unknown: or that others do it; or that we may repent of it; or that we have no power to resist it; or that it is of little consequence, and our resolution gives way. Not so the Redeemer, Rather than yield in any form to sin, he measured strength with the great adversary when alone with him in the darkness of the night, and gloriously triumphed! And so would we always triumph if we had the same settled purpose to resist sin in every form even unto blood.

Verse 5

And ye have forgotten the exhortation - This exhortation is found in Proverbs 3:11-12. The object of the apostle in introducing it here is, to show that afflictions were designed on the part of God to produce some happy effects in the lives of his people, and that they ought, therefore, to bear them patiently. In the previous verses, he directs them to the example of the Saviour. In this verse and the following, for the same object he directs their attention to the design of trials, showing that they are necessary to our welfare, and that they are in fact proof of the paternal care of God. This verse might be rendered as a question. “And have ye forgotten?” etc. This mode of rendering it will agree somewhat better with the design of the apostle.

Which speaketh, unto you - Which may be regarded as addressed to you; or which involves a principle as applicable to you as to others. He does not mean that when Solomon used the words, he had reference to them particularly, but that he used them with reference to the children of God, and they might therefore be applied to them. in this way we may regard the language of the Scriptures as addressed to us.

As unto children - As if he were addressing children. The language is such as a father uses.

My son - It is possible that in these words Solomon may have intended to address a son literally, giving him paternal counsel; or he may have spoken as the Head of the Jewish people, designing to address all the pious, to whom he sustained, as it were, the relation of a father. Or, it is possible also, that it may be regarded as the language of God himself addressing his children. Whichever supposition is adopted, the sense is substantially the same.

Despise not thou the chastening of the Lord - Literally, “Do not regard it as a small matter, or as a trivial thing - ὀλιγώρει oligōreiThe Greek word used here does not occur elsewhere in the New Testament. The word rendered here “chastening” - παιδεία paideia- and also in Hebrews 12:6-8, and in Hebrews 12:9, “corrected” - παιδευτὰς paideutas- does not refer to affliction in general, but that kind of affliction which is designed to correct us for our faults, or which is of the nature of discipline. The verb properly relates to the training up of a child - including instruction, counsel, discipline, and correction (see this use of the verb in Acts 7:22; 2 Timothy 2:25; Titus 2:12), and then especially discipline or correction for faults - to “correct, chastise, chasten;” 1 Corinthians 11:32; 2 Corinthians 6:9; Revelation 3:19. This is the meaning here; and the idea is, not that God will afflict his people in general, but that if they wander away he will correct them for their faults. He will bring calamity upon them as a punishment for their offences, and in order to bring them back to himself. He will not suffer them to wander away unrebuked and unchecked, but will mercifully reclaim them though by great sufferings. Afflictions have many objects, or produce many happy effects. That referred to here is, that they are means of reclaiming the wandering and erring children of God, and are proofs of his paternal care and love; compare 2 Samuel 7:14; 2 Samuel 12:13-14; Psalm 89:31-34; Proverbs 3:11-12. Afflictions, which are always sent by God, should not be regarded as small matters, for these reasons:

(1)The fact that they are sent by God. Whatever he does is of importance, and is worthy of the profound attention of people.

(2)they are sent for some important purpose, and they should be regarded, therefore, with attentive concern.

Men “despise” them when:

(1)they treat them with affected or real unconcern;

(2)when they fail to receive them as divine admonitions, and regard them as without any intelligent design; and,

(3)when they receive them with “expressions” of contempt, and speak of them and of the government of God with scorn.

It should be a matter of deep concern when we are afflicted in any manner, not to treat the matter lightly, but to derive from our trials all the lessons which they are adapted to produce on the mind.

Nor faint … - Bear up patiently under them. This is the second duty. We are first to study their character and design; and secondly, to bear up under them, however severe they may be, and however long they may be continued. “Avoid the extremes of proud insensibility and entire dejection” - Doddridge.

Verse 6

For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth - This is also a quotation from Proverbs 3. It means that it is a universal rule that God sends trials on those whom he truly loves. It does not, of course, mean that he sends chastisement which is not deserved; or that he sends it “for the mere purpose” of inflicting pain. That cannot be. But it means that by his chastisements he shows that he has a paternal care for us. He does not treat us with neglect and unconcern, as a father often does his illegitimate child. The very fact that he corrects us shows that he has toward us a father‘s feelings, and exercises toward us a paternal care. If he did not, he would let us go on without any attention, and leave us to pursue a course of sin that would involve us in ruin. To restrain and govern a child; to correct him when he errs, shows that there is a parental solicitude for him, and that he is not an outcast. And as there is in the life of every child of God something that deserves correction, it happens that it is universally true that “whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth.”

And scourgeth every son whom he receiveth - Whom he receives or acknowledges as his child. This is not quoted literally from the Hebrew, but from the Septuagint. The Hebrew is, “even as a father the son in whom he delighteth.” The general sense of the passage is retained, as is often the case in the quotations from the Old Testament. The meaning is the same as in the former part of the verse, that every one who becomes a child of God is treated by him with that watchful care which shows that he sustains toward him the paternal relation.

Verse 7

If ye endure chastening - That is, if you undergo, or are called to experience correction. It does not mean here, “if you endure it patiently; or if you bear up under it;” but “if you are chastised or corrected by God.” The affirmation does not relate to the manner of bearing it, but to the fact that we are disciplined.

God dealeth with you as with sons - He does not cast you off and regard you as if you were in no way related to him.

For what son is he whom the father chasteneth not - That is, he evinces toward his son the care which shows that he sustains the relation of a father. If he deserves correction, he corrects him; and he aims by all proper means to exhibit the appropriate care and character of a father. And as we receive such attention from an earthly parent, we ought to expect to receive similar notice from our Father in heaven.

Verse 8

But if ye be without chastisement - If you never meet with anything that is adapted to correct your faults; to subdue your temper; to chide your wanderings, it would prove that you were in the condition of illegitimate children - cast off and disregarded by their father.

Whereof all are partakers - All who are the true children of God.

Then are ye bastards, and not sons - The reference here is to the neglect with which such children are treated, and to the general want of care and discipline over them:

“Lost in the world‘s wide range; enjoin‘d no aim,

Prescrib‘d no duty, and assign‘d no name.”

Savage.

In the English law, a bastard is termed “nullius filius.” Illegitimate children are usually abandoned by their father. The care of them is left to the mother, and the father endeavors to avoid all responsibility, and usually to be concealed and unknown. His own child he does not wish to recognize; he neither provides for him; nor instructs him; nor governs him; nor disciplines him. A father, who is worthy of the name, will do all these things. So Paul says it is with Christians. God has not cast them off. In every way he evinces toward them the character of a father. And if it should be that they passed along through life without any occurrence that would indicate the paternal care and attention designed to correct their faults, it would show that they never had been his children, but - were cast off and wholly disregarded. This is a beautiful argument; and we should receive every affliction as full proof that we are not forgotten by the High and Holy One who condescends to sustain to us the character, and to evince toward us, in our wanderings, the watchful care of a Father.

Verse 9

Furthermore - As an additional consideration to induce us to receive chastisement with submission. The argument in this verse is derived from the difference in the spirit and design with which we are corrected by God and by an earthly parent. In God everything is without any intermingling of passion or any improper feeling. In an earthly parent there is often much that is the result of hasty emotion, of an irascible temper, perhaps of the mere love of power. There is much that is inflicted without due reflection, and that produces only pain in the bosom of the parent himself in the recollection. Yet with all this imperfection of parental government, we were patient and unmurmuring. How much more should we submit to one whose paternal discipline is caused by no excited feeling; by no love of power; by no want of reflection, and which never furnishes occasion for regret!

Fathers of our flesh - Earthly fathers; those from whom we have derived our being here. They are contrasted here with God, who is called “the Father of spirits,” not because the father does not sustain the paternal relation to the soul as well as the body, but to designate the nature of the dominion over us. The dominion of God is what pertains to a spiritual kingdom, having more direct reference to the discipline of the soul, and being designed to prepare us for the spiritual world; that of the earthly father pertains primarily to our condition here, and the discipline is designed to subdue our unruly passions, to teach us to restrain our appetites, to inculcate maxims of health and prosperity, and to prevent those things which would impede our happiness in the present world. See, however, many curious instances of the manner in which these phrases were used by the Jewish writers, collected by Wetstein.

We gave them reverence - We submitted to them; honored them; loved them. Painful at the time as correction may have been, yet when we have fully understood the design of it, we have loved them the more. The effect of such discipline, properly administered, is to produce real veneration for a parent - for he who in a timely and appropriate manner restrains his child is the only one who will secure ultimate reverence and respect.

Shall we not much rather be in subjection - Since God‘s government is so much more perfect; since he has so much better right to control us; and since his administration is free from all the defects which attend parental discipline on earth, there is a much higher reason for bowing with submission and reverence to him.

The Father of spirits - Thus, in Numbers 16:22, God is called “the God of the spirits of all flesh;” so also Numbers 27:16; compare Job 33:4. The idea seems to be that, as the soul is the most important part of man, this name is given to God by way of eminence, or he is eminently and supremely our Father. It was his to create the immortal part, and to that spirit which is never to die he sustains the relation of Father. The earthly father is parent to the man as mortal; God is the Father of man as immortal. God is himself a spirit. Angels and human souls, therefore, may be represented as especially his offspring. It is the highest designation which could be given to God to say that he is at the head of the universe of mind; not implying that he is not also at the head of the material universe, but designing to bring into view this high characteristic of the Almighty, that all created minds throughout the universe sustain to him the relation of children. To this Great Being we should, therefore, more cheerfully subject ourselves than to an earthly parent.

And live - Meaning that his fatherly chastisements are adapted to secure our spiritual life. He corrects us that he may promote our final happiness, and his inflictions are the means of saving us from eternal death.

Verse 10

For they verily for a few days - That is, with reference to a few days ( πρὸς prosor it was a chastisement that had reference mainly to this short life. The apostle seems to bring in this circumstance to contrast the dealings of earthly parents with those of God. One of the circumstances is, that the corrections of earthly parents had a much less important object than those of God. They related to this life - a life so brief that it may be said to continue but a “few days.” Yet, in order to secure the benefit to be derived for so short a period from fatherly correction, we submitted without complaining. Much more cheerfully ought we to submit to that discipline from the hand of our heavenly Father which is designed to extend its benefits through eternity. This seems to me to afford a better sense than that adopted by Prof. Stuart and others, that it means “during our childhood or minority;” or than that proposed by Doddridge, that it refers both to our earthly parents and to our heavenly Father.

After their own pleasure - Margin, “as seemed good, or meet to them.” Meaning that it was sometimes done arbitrarily, or from caprice, or under the influence of passion. This is an additional reason why we should submit to God. We submitted to our earthly parents, though their correction was sometimes passionate, and was designed to gratify their own pleasure rather than to promote our good. There is much of this kind of punishment in families; but there is none of it under the administration of God.

But he for our profit - Never from passion, from caprice, from the love of power or superiority, but always for our good. The exact benefit which he designs to produce we may not be able always to understand, but we may be assured that no other cause influences him than a desire to promote our real welfare, and as he can never be mistaken in regard to the proper means to secure that, we may be assured that our trials are always adapted to that end.

That we might be partakers of his holiness - Become so holy that it may be said that we are partakers of the very holiness of God; compare 2 Peter 1:4. This is the elevated object at which God aims by our trials. It is not that he delights to produce pain; not that he envies us and would rob us of our little comforts; not that he needs what we prize to increase his own enjoyment, and therefore rudely takes it away; and not that he acts from caprice - now conferring a blessing and then withdrawing it without any reason: it is, that he may make us more pure and holy, and thus promote our own best interest. To be holy as God is holy; to be so holy that it may be said that we “are partakers of his holiness,” is a richer blessing than health, and property, and friends, without it; and when by the exchange of the one we acquire the other, we have secured infinitely more than we have lost. To obtain the greater good we should be willing to part with the less; to secure the everlasting friendship and favour of God we should be willing, if necessary, to surrender the last farthing of our property; the last friend that is left us; the last feeble and fluttering pulsation of life in our veins.

Verse 11

Now no chastening for the present seemeth to be joyous, but grievous - It does not impart pleasure, nor is this its design. All chastisement is intended to produce pain, and the Christian is as sensitive to pain as others. His religion does not blunt his sensibilities and make him a stoic, but it rather increases his susceptibility to suffering. The Lord Jesus, probably, felt pain, reproach, and contempt more keenly than any other human being ever did; and the Christian feels the loss of a child, or physical suffering, as keenly as anyone. But while religion does not render him insensible to suffering, it does two things:

(1)it enables him to bear the pain without complaining; and,

(2)it turns the affliction into a blessing on his soul. “Nevertheless afterward.” In future life. The effect is seen in a pure life, and in a more entire devotedness to God. We are not to look for the proper fruits of affliction while we are suffering, but “afterward.”

It yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness - It is a tree that bears good fruit, and we do not expect the fruit to form and ripen at once. It may be long maturing, but it will be rich and mellow when it is ripe. It frequently requires a long time before all the results of affliction appear - as it requires months to form and ripen fruit. Like fruit it may appear at first sour, crabbed, and unpalatable; but it will be at last like the ruddy peach or the golden orange. When those fruits are ripened, they are:

(1)fruits of “righteousness.” They make us more holy, more dead to sin and the world, and more alive to God. And they are

(2)“peaceable.” They produce peace, calmness, submission in the soul. They make the heart more tranquil in its confidence in God, and more disposed to promote the religion of peace.

The apostle speaks of this as if it were a universal truth in regard to Christians who are afflicted. And it is so. There is no Christian who is not ultimately benefited by trials, and who is not able at some period subsequently to say, “It was good for me that I was afflicted. Before I was afflicted I went astray; but now have I kept thy word.” When a Christian comes to die, he does not feel that he has had one trial too many, or one which he did not deserve. He can then look back and see the effect of some early trial so severe that he once thought he could hardly endure it, spreading a hallowed influence over his future years, and scattering its golden fruit all along the pathway of life. I have never known a Christian who was not benefited by afflictions; I have seen none who was not able to say that his trials produced some happy effect on his religious character, and on his real happiness in life. If this be so, then no matter how severe our trials, we should submit to them without a complaint. The more severe they are, the more we shall yet be blessed - on earth or in heaven.

Verse 12

Wherefore - In view of the facts which have been now stated - that afflictions are sent from God, and are evidences of his paternal watchfulness.

Lift up the hands which hang down - As if from weariness and exhaustion. Renew your courage; make a new effort to bear them. The hands fall by the side when we are exhausted with toil, or worn down by disease; see the notes on Isaiah 35:3, from which place this exhortation is taken.

And the feeble knees - The knees also become enfeebled by long effort, and tremble as if their strength were gone. Courage and resolution may do much, however, to make them firm, and it is to this that the apostle exhorts those to whom he wrote. They were to make every effort to bear up under their trials. The hope of victory will do much to strengthen one almost exhausted in battle; the desire to reach home invigorates the frame of the weary traveler. So it is with the Christian. In persecution, and sickness, and bereavement, he may be ready to sink under his burdens. The hands fall, and the knees tremble, and the heart sinks within us. But confidence in God, and the hope of heaven, and the assurance that all this is for our good, will reinvigorate the enfeebled frame, and enable us to bear what we once supposed would crush us to the dust. A courageous mind braces a feeble body, and hope makes it fresh for new conflicts.

Verse 13

And make straight paths for your feet - Margin, “even.” The word used here means properly straight, in the sense of upright, erect; Acts 14:10; but it is used here in the sense of straight horizontally, that is, level, plain, smooth. The meaning is, that they were to remove all obstacles out of the way, so that they need not stumble and fail. There is probably an allusion here to Proverbs 4:25-27. “Let thine eyes look right on, and let thine eyelids look straight before thee. Ponder the path of thy feet, and let all thy ways be established. Turn not to the right hand nor to the left; remove thy foot from evil.” The idea is, that by every proper means they were to make the way to heaven as plain and easy as possible. They were to allow no obstructions in the path over which the lame and feeble might fall.

Lest that which is lame be turned out of the way - A lame man needs a smooth path to walk in. The idea is here, that everything which would prevent those in the church who were in any danger of falling - the feeble, the unestablished, the weak - from walking in the path to heaven, or which might be an occasion to them of falling, should be removed. Or it may mean, that in a road that was not level, those who were lame would be in danger of spraining, distorting, or wrenching a lame limb; and the counsel is, that whatever would have a tendency to this should be removed. Divested of the figure, the passage means, that everything should be removed which would hinder anyone from walking in the path to life.

But let it rather be healed - As in the case of lameness, pains should be taken to heal it rather than to suffer it to be increased by careless exposure to a new sprain or fracture, so it should be in our religious and moral character. Whatever is defective we should endeavor to restore to soundness, rather than to suffer the defect to be increased. Whatever is feeble in our faith or hope; whatever evil tendency there is in our hearts, we should endeavor to strengthen and amend, lest it should become worse, and we should entirely fall.

Verse 14

Follow peace with all men - Do not give indulgence to those passions which lead to litigations, strifes, wars; see the notes on Romans 14:19. The connection here requires us to understand this mainly of persecutors. The apostle is referring to the trials which those whom he addressed were experiencing. Those trials seem to have arisen mainly from persecution, and he exhorts them to manifest a spirit of kindness toward all - even though they were engaged in persecuting them. This is the temper of the gospel. We are to make war with sin, but not with people; with bad passions and corrupt desires, but not with our fellow-worms.

And holiness - Instead of yielding to contending passions and to a spirit of war; instead of seeking revenge on your persecutors and foes, make it rather your aim to be holy. Let that be the object of your pursuit; the great purpose of your life. Men might in such cases counsel them to seek revenge; the spirit of religion would counsel them to strive to be holy. In such times they were in great danger of giving indulgence to evil passions, and hence, the special propriety of the exhortation to endeavor to be holy.

Without which no man shall see the Lord - That is, shall see him in peace; or shall so see him as to dwell with him. All will see him in the day of judgment, but to “see” one is often used in the sense of being with one; dwelling with one; enjoying one; see the notes on Matthew 5:8. The principle here stated is one which is never departed from; Revelation 21:27; Isaiah 35:8; Isaiah 52:1; Isaiah 60:21; Joel 3:17; Matthew 13:41; 1 Corinthians 6:9-10. No one has ever been admitted to heaven in his sins; nor is it desirable that anyone ever should be. Desirable as it is that lost people should be happy, yet it is benevolence which excludes the profane, the impious, and the unbelieving from heaven - just as it is benevolence to a family to exclude profligates and seducers, and as it is benevolence to a community to confine thieves and robbers in prison. This great principle in the divine administration will always be adhered to; and hence, they who are expecting to be saved without holiness or religion, are destined to certain disappointment.

Heaven and earth will pass away, but God will not admit one unrepenting and unpardoned sinner to heaven. It was the importance and the certainty of this principle which made the apostle insist on it here with so much earnestness. Amidst all their trials; when exposed to persecution; and when everything might tempt them to the indulgence of feelings which were the opposite of holiness, they were to make it their great object to be like God. For this they were to seek, to strive. to labor, to pray. This with us in all our trials should also be the great aim of life. How deeply affecting then is the inquiry whether we have that holiness which is indispensable to salvation! Let us not deceive ourselves. We may have many things else - many things which are in themselves desirable, but without this one thing we shall never see the Lord in peace. We may have wealth, genius, learning, beauty, accomplishments, houses, lands, books, friends - but without religion they will be all in vain. Never can we see God in peace without a holy heart; never can we be admitted into heaven without that religion which will identify us with the angels around the throne!

Verse 15

Looking diligently - This phrase implies close attention. It is implied that there are reasons why we should take special care. Those reasons are found in the propensities of our hearts to evil; in the temptations of the world; in the allurements to apostasy presented by the great adversary of our souls.

Lest any man fail - As every man is in danger, it is his personal duty to see to it that his salvation be secure.

Fail of the grace of God - Margin, “fail from.” The Greek is, “lest any one be wanting or lacking” - ὑστερῶν husterōnThere is no intimation in the words used here that they already had grace and might fall away - whatever might he true about that - but that there was danger that they might be found at last to be deficient in that religion which was necessary to save them. Whether this was to be by losing the religion which they now had, or by the fact that they never had any however near they may have come to it - the apostle does not here intimate, and this passage should not be used in the discussion of the question about failing from grace. It is a proper exhortation to be addressed to any man in the church or out of it, to inquire diligently whether there is not reason to apprehend that when he comes to appear before God he will be found to be wholly destitute of religion.

Lest any root of bitterness springing up - Any bitter root. There is doubtless an allusion here to Deuteronomy 29:18. “Lest there should be among you man, or woman, or family, or tribe, whose heart turneth away this day from the Lord our God, to go and serve the gods of these nations; lest there should be among you a root that beareth gall and wormwood.” The allusion there is to those who were idolaters, and who instead of bearing the fruits of righteousness, and promoting the piety and happiness of the nation, would bear the fruits of idolatry, and spread abroad irreligion and sin. The allusion, in both cases, is to a bitter plant springing up among those that were cultivated for ornament or use, or to a tree bearing bitter and poisonous fruit, among those that produced good fruit. The reference of the apostle is to some person who should produce a similar effect in the church - to one who should inculcate false doctrines; or who should apostatize; or who should lead an unholy life, and thus be the means of corrupting and destroying others. They were to be at especial pains that no such person should start up from among themselves, or be tolerated by them.

Trouble you - By his doctrines and example.

And thereby many be defiled - Led away from the faith and corrupted. One wicked man, and especially one hypocrite in the church, may be the means of destroying many others.

Verse 16

Lest there be any fornicator - The sin here referred to is one of those which would spread corruption in the church, and against which they ought to be especially on their guard. Allusion is made to Esau as an example, who, himself a corrupt and profane man, for a trifle threw away the highest honor which as a son he could have. Many have regarded the word used here as referring to idolatry, or defection from the true religion to a false one - as the word is often used in the Old Testament - but it is more natural to understand it literally. The crime here mentioned was one which abounded everywhere in ancient times, as it does now, and it was important to guard the church against it; see the Acts 15:20 note; 1 Corinthians 6:18 note.

Or profane person - The word “profane” here refers to one who by word or conduct treats religion with contempt, or has no reverence for what is sacred. This may be shown by words; by the manner; by a sneer; by neglect of religion; or by openly renouncing the privileges which might be connected with our salvation. The allusion here is to one who should openly cast off all the hopes of religion for indulgence in temporary pleasure, as Esau gave up his birthright for a trifling gratification. In a similar manner, the young, for temporary gratification, neglect or despise all the privileges and hopes resulting from their being born in the bosom of the church; from being baptized and consecrated to God; and from being trained up in the lap of piety.

As Esau - It is clearly implied here that Esau sustained the character of a fornicator and a profane person. The former appellation is probably given to him to denote his licentiousness shown by his marrying many wives, and particularly foreigners, or the daughters of Canaan: see Genesis 36:2; compare Genesis 26:34-35. The Jewish writers abundantly declare that that was his character; see Wetstein, in loc. In proof that the latter appellation - that of a profane person - belonged to him, see Genesis 25:29-34. It is true that it is rather by inference, than by direct assertion, that it is known that he sustained this character. The birth-right, in his circumstances, was a high honor. The promise respecting the inheritance of the land of Canaan, the coming of the Messiah, and the preservation of the true religion, had been given to Abraham and Isaac, and was to be transmitted by them. As the oldest son, all the honor connected with this, and which is now associated with the name Jacob, would have properly appertained to Esau. But he undervalued it. He lived a licentious life. He followed his corrupt propensities, and gave the reins to indulgence. In a time of temporary distress, also, he showed how little he really valued all this, by bartering it away for a single meal of victuals. Rather than bear the evils of hunger for a short period, and evidently in a manner implying a great undervaluing of the honor which he held as the first-born son in a pious line, he agreed to surrender all the privileges connected with his birth. It was this which made the appellation appropriate to him; and this will make the appellation appropriate in any similar instance.

Who for one morsel of meat - The word “meat” here is used, as it is commonly in the Scriptures, in its primitive sense in English, to denote food: Genesis 25:34. The phrase here, “morsel of meat,” would be better rendered by “a single meal.”

Sold his birthright - The birth-right seems to have implied the first place or rank in the family; the privilege of offering sacrifice and conducting worship in the absence or death of the father; a double share of the inheritance, and in this instance the honor of being in the line of the patriarchs, and transmitting the promises made to Abraham and Isaac. What Esau parted with, we can easily understand by reflecting on the honors which have clustered around the name of Jacob.

Verse 17

For ye know how that afterward … - When he came to his father, and earnestly besought him to reverse the sentence which he had pronounced; see Genesis 27:34-40. The “blessing” here referred to was not that of the birth-right, which he knew he could not regain, but that pronounced by the father Isaac on him whom he regarded as his first-born son. This Jacob obtained by fraud, when Isaac really “meant” to bestow it on Esau. Isaac appears to have been ignorant wholly of the bargain which Jacob and Esau had made in regard to the birth-right, and Jacob and his mother contrived in this way to have that confirmed which Jacob had obtained of Esau by contract. The sanction of the father, it seems, was necessary, before it could be made sure, and Rebecca and Jacob understood that the dying blessing of the aged patriarch would establish it all. It was obtained by dishonesty on the part of Jacob; but so far as Esau was concerned, it was an act of righteous retribution for the little regard he had shown for the honor of his birth.

For he found no place of repentance - Margin, “Way to change his mind,” That is, no place for repentance “in the mind of isaac,” or no way to change his mind. It does not mean that Esau earnestly sought to repent and could not, but that when once the blessing had passed the lips of his father, he found it impossible to change it. Isaac firmly declared that he had “pronounced” the blessing, and though it had been obtained by fraud, yet as it was of the nature of a divine prediction, it could not now be changed. He had not indeed intended that it should be thus. He had pronounced a blessing on another which had been designed for him. But still the benediction had been given. The prophetic words had been pronounced. By divine direction the truth had been spoken, and how could it be changed? It was impossible now to reverse the divine purposes in the case, and hence, the “blessing” must stand as it had been spoken. Isaac did, however, all that could be done. He gave a benediction to his son Esau, though of far inferior value to what he had pronounced on the fraudulent Jacob; Genesis 27:39-40.

Though he sought it carefully with tears - Genesis 27:34. He sought to change the purpose of his father, but could not do it. The meaning and bearing of this passage, as used by the apostle, may be easily understood:

(1) The decision of God on the human character and destiny will soon be pronounced. That decision will be according to truth, and cannot be changed.

(2) if we should despise our privileges as Esau did his birth-right, and renounce our religion, it would be impossible to recover what we had lost. There would be no possibility of changing the divine decision in the case, for it would be determined forever. This passage, therefore, should not be alleged to show that a sinner. “cannot repent,” or that he cannot find “place for repentance,” or assistance to enable him to repent, or that tears and sorrow for sin would be of no avail, for it teaches none of these things; but it should be used to keep us from disregarding our privileges, from turning away from the true religion, from slighting the favors of the gospel, and from neglecting religion until death comes; because when God has once pronounced a sentence excluding us from his favor, no tears, or pleading, or effort of our own can change him. The sentence which he pronounces on the scoffer, the impenitent, the hypocrite, and the apostate, is one that will abide forever without change. This passage, therefore, is in accordance with the doctrine more than once stated before in this Epistle, that if a Christian should really apostatize it would be impossible that he should be saved; see the notes on Hebrews 6:1-6.

Verse 18

For ye are not come - To enforce the considerations already urged, the apostle introduces this sublime comparison between the old and new dispensations; Hebrews 12:18-24. The object, in accordance with the principal scope of the Epistle, is, to guard them against apostasy. To do this, he shows that under the new dispensation there was much more to hind them to fidelity, and to make apostasy dangerous, than there was under the old. The main point of the comparison is, that under the Jewish dispensation, everything was adapted to awe the mind, and to restrain by the exhibition of grandeur and of power; but that under the Christian dispensation, while there was as much that was sublime, there was much more that was adapted to win and hold the affections. There were revelations of higher truths. There were more affecting motives to lead to obedience. There was that of which the former was but the type and emblem. There was the clear revelation of the glories of heaven, and of the blessed society there, all adapted to prompt to the earnest desire that they might be our own. The considerations presented in this passage constitute the climax of the argument so beautifully pursued through this Epistle, showing that the Christian system was far superior in every respect to the Jewish. In presenting this closing argument, the apostle first refers to some of the circumstances attending the former dispensation which were designed to keep the people of God from apostasy, and then the considerations of superior weight existing under the Christian economy.

The mount that might be touched - Mount Sinai. The meaning here is, that “that mountain was palpable, material, touchable” - in contradistinction from the Mount Zion to which the church had now come, which is above the reach of the external senses; Hebrews 12:22. The apostle does not mean that it was permitted to the Israelites to touch Mount Sinai - for this was strictly forbidden, Exodus 19:12; but he evidently alludes to that prohibition, and means to say that a command forbidding them to “touch” the mountain, implied that it was a material or palpable object. The sense of the passage is, that every circumstance that occurred there was suited to fill the soul with terror. Everything accompanying the giving of the Law, the setting of bounds around the mountain which they might not pass, and the darkness and tempest on the mountain itself, was adopted to overawe the soul. The phrase “the touchable mountain” - if such a phrase is proper - would express the meaning of the apostle here. The “Mount Zion” to which the church now has come, is of a different character. It is not thus visible and palpable. It is not enveloped in smoke and flame, and the thunders of the Almighty do not roll and re-echo among its lofty peaks as at Horeb; yet it presents “stronger” motives to perseverance in the service of God.

And that burned with fire - Exodus 19:18; compare Deuteronomy 4:11; Deuteronomy 33:2.

Nor unto blackness, and darkness, and tempest - see Exodus 19:16.

Verse 19

And the voice of a trumpet - Exodus 19:19. The sound of the trumpet amidst the tempest was suited to increase the terror of the scene.

And the voice of words - Spoken by God; Exodus 19:19. It is easy to conceive what must have been the awe produced by a voice uttered from the midst of the tempest so distinct as to be heard by the hundreds of thousands of Israel, when the speaker was invisible.

Which voice they that heard … - Exodus 20:18-19. It was so fearful and overpowering that the people earnestly prayed that if they must be addressed, it might he by the familiar voice of Moses and not by the awful voice of the Deity.

Verse 20

For they could not endure that which was commanded - They could not sustain the awe produced by the fact that God uttered his commands himself. The meaning is not that the commands themselves were intolerable, but that the manner in which they were communicated inspired a terror which they could not bear. They feared that they should die; Exodus 20:19.

And if so much as a beast touch the mountain, it shall be stoned - Exodus 19:13. The prohibition was, that neither beast nor man should touch it on pain of death. The punishment was to be either by stoning, or being “shot through.”

Or thrust through with a dart - Exodus 19:13. “Or shot through.” This phrase, however, though it is found in the common editions of the New Testament, is wanting in all the more valuable manuscripts; in all the ancient versions; and it occurs in none of the Greek ecclesiastical writers, with one exception. It is omitted now by almost all editors of the New Testament. It is beyond all doubt an addition of later times, taken from the Septuagint of Exodus 19:13. Its omission does not injure the sense.

Verse 21

And so terrible was the sight, that Moses said … - This is not recorded in the account of the giving of the Law in Exodus, and it has been made a question on what authority the apostle made this declaration respecting Moses. In Deuteronomy 9:19, Moses indeed says, of himself, after he had come down from the mountain, and had broken the two tables of stone that were in his hand, that he was greatly afraid of the anger of the Lord on account of the sin of the people. “I was afraid of the anger and hot displeasure wherewith the Lord was wroth against you to destroy you;” and it has been supposed by many that this is the passage to which the apostle here alludes. But it is very evident that was spoken on a different occasion from the one which is referred to in the passage before us. That was after the Law was promulgated, and Moses had descended from the mount; and it was not said in view of the terrors of the scene when the Law was given, but of the apprehension of the wrath of God against the people for their sin in making the golden calf.

I know not how to explain this, except by the supposition that the apostle here refers to some tradition that the scene produced this effect on his mind. In itself it is not improbable that Moses thus trembled with alarm (compare Exodus 19:16), nor that the remembrance of it should have been handed down among the numerous traditions which the Jews transmitted from age to age. There must have been many things that occurred in their journey through the wilderness which are not recorded in the Books of Moses. Many of them would be preserved naturally in the memory of the people, and transmitted to their posterity; and though those truths might become intermingled with much that was fabulous, yet it is not irrational to suppose that an inspired writer may have adduced pertinent and true examples from these traditions of what actually occurred. It was one method of preserving “the truth,” thus to select such instances of what actually took place from the mass of traditions which were destined to perish, at would be useful in future times. The circumstance here mentioned was greatly suited to increase the impression of the sublimity and fearfulness of the scene. Moses was accustomed to commune with God. He had met him at the “bush,” and had been addressed by him face to face, and yet so awful were the scenes at Horeb that even he could not bear it with composure. What may we then suppose to have been the alarm of the body of the people, when the mind of the great leader himself was thus overpowered!

Verse 22

But ye are come unto Mount Sion - You who are Christians; all who are under the new dispensation. The design is to “contrast” the Christian dispensation with the Jewish. and to show that its excellencies and advantages were far superior to the religion of their fathers. It had more to win the affections; more to elevate the soul; more to inspire with hope. It had less that was terrific and alarming; it appealed less to the fears and more to the tropes of mankind; but still apostasy from this religion could not be less terrible in its consequences than apostasy from the religion of Moses. In the passage before us, the apostle evidently contrasts Sinai with Mount Zion, and means to say that there was more about the latter that was adapted to win the heart and to preserve allegiance than there was about the former. Mount Zion literally denoted the Southern hill in Jerusalem, on which a part of the city was built.

That part of the city was made by David and his successors the residence of the court, and soon the name Zion, was given familiarly to the whole city. Jerusalem was the center of religion in the land; the place where the temple stood, and where the worship of God was celebrated, and where God dwelt by a visible symbol, and it became the type and emblem of the holy abode where He dwells in heaven. It cannot be literally meant here that they had come to the Mount Zion in Jerusalem, for that was as true of the whole Jewish people as of those whom the apostle addressed, but it must mean that they had come to the Mount Zion of which the holy city was an emblem; to the glorious mount which is revealed as the dwelling-place of God, of angels, of saints. That is, they had “come” to this by the revelations and hopes of the gospel. They were not indeed literally in heaven, nor was that glorious city literally on earth, but the dispensation to which they had been brought was what conducted them directly up to the city of the living God, and to the holy mount where he dwelt above. The view was not confined to an earthly mountain enveloped in smoke and flame, but opened at once on the holy place where God abides. By the phrase, “ye are come,” the apostle means that this was the characteristic of the new dispensation that it conducted them there, and that they were already in fact inhabitants of that glorious city. They were citizens of the heavenly Jerusalem (compare note, Philemon 3:20), and were entitled to its privileges.

And unto the city of the living God - The city where the living God dwells - the heavenly Jerusalem; compare notes on Hebrews 11:10. God dwelt by a visible symbol in the temple at Jerusalem - and to that his people came under the old dispensation. In a more literal and glorious sense his abode is in heaven, and to that his people have now come.

The heavenly Jerusalem - Heaven is not unfrequently represented as a magnificent city where God and angels dwelt; and the Christian revelation discloses this to Christians as certainly their final home. They should regard themselves already as dwellers in that city, and live and act as if they saw its splendor and partook of its joy. In regard to this representation of heaven as a city where God dwells, the following places may be consulted: Hebrews 11:10, Hebrews 11:14-16; Hebrews 12:28; Hebrews 13:14; Galatians 4:26; Revelation 3:12; Revelation 21:2,10-27. It is true that Christians have not yet seen that city by the physical eye, but they look to it with the eye of faith. It is revealed to them; they are permitted by anticipation to contemplate its glories, and to feel that it is to be their eternal home. They are permitted to live and act as if they saw the glorious God whose dwelling is there, and were already surrounded by the angels and the redeemed. The apostle does not represent them as if they were expecting that it would be visibly set up on the earth, but as being now actually dwellers in that city, and bound to live and act as if they were amidst its splendors.

And to an innumerable company of angels - The Greek here is, “to myriads (or ten thousands) of angels in an assembly or joyful convocation.” The phrase “tens of thousands” is often used to denote a great and indefinite number. The word rendered “general assembly,” Hebrews 12:22 - πανήγυρις panēguris- refers properly to an “assembly, or convocation of the whole people in order to celebrate any public festival or solemnity, as the public games or sacrifices; Robinson‘s Lexicon. It occurs nowhere else in the New Testament, and refers here to the angels viewed as assembled around the throne of God and celebrating his praises. It should be regarded as connected with the word “angels,” referring to “their” convocation in heaven, and not to the church of the first-born. This construction is demanded by the Greek. Our common translation renders it as if it were to be united with the church - “to the general assembly and church of the first-born;” but the Greek will not admit of this construction.

The interpretation which unites it with the angels is adopted now by almost all critics, and in almost all the editions of the New Testament. On the convocation of angels, see the notes on Job 1:6. The writer intends, doubtless, to contrast that joyful assemblage of the angels in heaven with those who appeared in the giving of the Law on Mount Sinai. God is always represented as surrounded by hosts of angels in heaven; see Deuteronomy 33:2; 1 Kings 22:19; Daniel 7:10; Psalm 68:17; compare notes, Hebrews 12:1; see also Revelation 5:11; Matthew 26:53; Luke 2:13. The meaning is, that under the Christian dispensation Christians in their feelings and worship become united to this vast host of holy angelic beings. it is, of course, not meant that they are “visible,” but they are seen by the eye of faith. The “argument” here is, that as, in virtue of the Christian revelation, we become associated with those pure and happy spirits, we should not apostatize from such a religion, for we should regard it as honorable and glorious to be identified with them.

Verse 23

To the general assembly - see the notes on Hebrews 12:22.

And church of the first-born - That is, you are united with the church of the first-born. They who were first-born among the Hebrews enjoyed special privileges, and especially pre-eminence of rank; see the notes on Colossians 1:15. The reference here is, evidently, to those saints who had been distinguished for their piety, and who may be supposed to be exalted to special honors in heaven - such as the patriarchs, prophets, martyrs. The meaning is, that by becoming Christians, we have become in fact identified with that happy and honored church, and that this is a powerful motive to induce us to persevere. It is a consideration which should make us adhere to our religion amidst all temptations and persecutions, that we are identified with the most eminently holy men who have lived, and that we are to share their honors and their joys. The Christian is united in feeling, in honor, and in destiny, with the excellent of all the earth, and of all times. He should feel it, therefore, an honor to be a Christian; he should yield to no temptation which would induce him to part from so goodly a fellowship.

Which are written in heaven - Margin, enrolled. The word here was employed by the Greeks to denote that one was enrolled as a citizen, or entitled to the privileges of citizenship. Here it means that the names of the persons referred to were registered or enrolled among the inhabitants of the heavenly world; see the notes, Luke 10:20.

And to God the Judge of all - God, who will pronounce the final sentence on all mankind. The object of the reference here to God as judge does not appear to be to contrast the condition of Christians with that of the Jews, as is the case in some of the circumstances alluded to, but to bring impressively before their minds the fact that they sustained a especially near relation to him from whom all were to receive their final allotment. As the destiny of all depended on him, they should be careful not to provoke his wrath. The design of the apostle seems to be to give a rapid glance of what there was in heaven, as disclosed by the eye of faith to the Christian, which should operate as a motive to induce him to persevere in his Christian course. The thought that seems to have struck his mind in regard to God was, that he would do right to all. They had, therefore, everything to fear if they revolted from him; they had everything to hope if they bore their trials with patience, and persevered to the end.

And to the spirits of just men made perfect - Not only to the more eminent saints - the “church of the firstborn” - but to “all” who were made perfect in heaven. They were not only united with the imperfect Christians on earth, but with those who have become completely delivered from sin, and admitted to the world of glory. This is a consideration which ought to influence the minds of all believers. They are even now united with “all” the redeemed in heaven. They should so live as not to be separated from them in the final day. Most Christians have among the redeemed already not a few of their most tenderly beloved friends. A father may be there; a mother, a sister, a smiling babe. It should be a powerful motive with us so to live as to be prepared to be reunited with them in heaven.

Verse 24

And to Jesus the Mediator of the new covenant - This was the crowning excellence of the new dispensation in contradistinction from the old. They had been made acquainted with the true Messiah; they were united to him by faith; they had been sprinkled with his blood; see the notes on Hebrews 7:22, and Hebrews 8:6. The highest consideration which can be urged to induce anyone to persevere in a life of piety is the fact that the Son of God has come into the world and died to save sinners; compare notes on Hebrews 12:2-4 of this chapter.

And to the blood of sprinkling - The blood which Jesus shed, and which is sprinkled upon us to ratify the covenant; see notes on Hebrews 9:18-23.

That speaketh better things than that of Abel - Greek “Than Abel;” the words “that of” being supplied by the translators. In the original there is no reference to the blood of Abel shed by Cain, as our translators seem to have supposed, but the allusion is to the faith of Abel, or to the testimony which he bore to a great and vital truth of religion. The meaning here is, that the blood of Jesus speaks better things than Abel did; that is, that the blood of Jesus is the “reality” of which the offering of Abel was a “type.” Abel proclaimed by the sacrifice which he made the great truth that salvation could be only by a bloody offering - but he did this only in a typical and obscure manner; Jesus proclaimed it in a more distinct and better manner by the reality. The object here is to compare the Redeemer with Abel, not in the sense that the blood shed in either case calls for vengeance, but that salvation by blood is more clearly revealed in the Christian plan than in the ancient history; and hence illustrating, in accordance with the design of this Epistle, the superior excellency of the Christian scheme over all which had preceded it.

There were other points of resemblance between Abel and the Redeemer, but on them the apostle does not insist. Abel was a martyr, and so was Christ; Abel was cruelly murdered, and so was Christ; there was aggravated guilt in the murder of Abel by his brother, and so there was in that of Jesus by his brethren - his own countrymen; the blood of Abel called for vengeance, and was followed by a fearful penalty on Cain, and so was the death of the Redeemer on his murderers - for they said, “his blood be on us and on our children,” and are yet suffering under the fearful malediction then invoked; but the point of contrast here is, that the blood of Jesus makes a more full, distinct, and clear proclamation of the truth that salvation is by blood than the offering made by Abel did. The apostle alludes here to what he had said in Hebrews 11:4; see the notes on that verse. Such is the contrast between the former and the latter dispensations; and such the motives to perseverance presented by both.

In the former, the Jewish, all was imperfect, terrible, and alarming. In the latter, everything was comparatively mild, winning, alluring, animating. Terror was not the principal element, but heaven was opened to the eye of faith, and the Christian was permitted to survey the Mount Zion; the New Jerusalem; the angels; the redeemed; the blessed God; the glorious Mediator, and to feel that that blessed abode was to be his home. To that happy world he was tending; and with all these pure and glorious beings he was identified. Having stated and urged this argument, the apostle in the remainder of the chapter warns those whom he addressed in a most solemn manner against a renunciation of their Christian faith.

Verse 25

See that ye refuse not - That you do not reject or disregard.

Him that speaketh - That is, in the gospel. Do not turn away from him who has addressed you in the new dispensation, and called you to obey and serve him. The meaning is, that God had addressed “them” in the gospel as really as he had done the Hebrews on Mount Sinai, and that there was as much to be dreaded in disregarding his voice now as there was then. He does not speak, indeed, amidst lightnings, and thunders, and clouds, but he speaks by every message of mercy; by every invitation; by every tender appeal. He spake by his Son Hebrews 1:1; he speaks by the Holy Spirit, and by all his calls and warnings in the gospel.

For if they escaped not - If they who heard God under the old dispensation, who refused to obey him, were cut off; notes, Hebrews 10:28.

Who refused him that spake on earth - That is, Moses. The contrast here is between Moses and the Son of God - the head of the Jewish and the head of the Christian dispensation. Moses was a mere man, and spake as such, though in the name of God. The Son of God was from above, and spake as an inhabitant of heaven. “Much more,” etc.; see the notes on Hebrews 2:2-3; Hebrews 10:29.

Verse 26

Whose voice then shook the earth - When he spake at Mount Sinai. The meaning is, that the mountain and the region around quaked; Exodus 19:18. The “voice” here referred to is that of God speaking from the holy mount.

But now hath he promised, saying - The words here quoted are taken from Haggai 2:6, where they refer to the changes which would take place under the Messiah. The meaning is, that there would be great revolutions in his coming, “as if” the universe were shaken to its center. The apostle evidently applies this passage as it is done in Haggai, to the first advent of the Redeemer.

I shake not the earth only - This is not quoted literally from the Hebrew, but the sense is retained. In Haggai it is, “Yet once it is a little while, and I wilt shake the heavens and the earth, and the sea, and the dry land; and I will shake all nations, and the desire of all nations shall come.” The apostle lays emphasis on the fact that not only the earth was to be shaken but also heaven. The shaking of the earth here evidently refers to the commotions among the nations that would prepare the way for the coming of the Messiah.

But also heaven - This may refer either:

(1)to the extraordinary phenomena in the heavens at the birth, the death, and the ascension of Christ; or.

(2)to the revolutions in morals and religion which would be caused by the introduction of the gospel, as if everything were to be changed - expressed by “a shaking of the heavens and the earth;” or.

(3)it may be more literally taken as denoting that there was a remarkable agitation in the heavens - in the bosoms of its inhabitants - arising from a fact so wonderful as that the Son of God should descend to earth, suffer, and die.

I see no reason to doubt that the latter idea may have been included here; and the meaning of the whole then is, that while the giving of the Law at Mount Sinai, fearful and solemn as it was, was an event that merely shook the earth in the vicinity of the holy Mount, the introduction of the gospel agitated the universe. Great changes upon the earth were to precede it; one revolution was to succeed another preparatory to it, and the whole universe would be moved at an event so extraordinary. The meaning is, that the introduction of the gospel was a much more solemn and momentous thing than the giving of the Law - and that, therefore, it was much more fearful and dangerous to apostatize from it.

Verse 27

And this word, Yet once more - That is, this reference to a great agitation or commotion in some future time. This is designed as an explanation of the prophecy in Haggai, and the idea is, that there would be such agitations that everything which was not fixed on a permanent and immovable basis would be thrown down as in an earthquake. Everything which was temporary in human institutions; everything which was wrong in customs and morals; and everything in the ancient system of religion, which was merely of a preparatory and typical character, would be removed. What was of permanent value would be retained, and a kingdom would be established which nothing could move. The effect of the gospel would be to overturn everything which was of a temporary character in the previous system, and everything in morals which was not founded on a solid basis, and to set up in the place of it principles which no revolution and no time could change. The coming of the Saviour, and the influence of his religion on mankind, had this effect in such respects as the following:

(1) All that was of a sound and permanent nature in the Jewish economy was retained; all that was typical and temporary was removed. The whole mass of sacrifices and ceremonies that were designed to prefigure the Messiah of course then ceased; all that was of permanent value in the Law of God, and in the principles of religion, was incorporated in the new system, and perpetuated.

(2) the same is true in regard to morals. There was much truth on the earth before the time of the Saviour; but it was intermingled with much that was false. The effect of his coming has been to distinguish what is true and what is false; to give permanency to the one, and to cause the other to vanish.

(3) the same is true of religion, There are some views of religion which men have by nature which are correct; there are many which are false. The Christian religion gives permanence and stability to the one and causes the other to disappear. And in general, it may be remarked, that the effect of Christianity is to give stability to all that is founded on truth, and to drive error from the world. Christ came that he might destroy all the systems of error - that is, all that could he shaken on earth, and to confirm all that is true. The result of all will be that he will preside over a permanent kingdom, and that his people will inherit “a kingdom which cannot be moved;” Hebrews 12:28.

The removing of those things that are shaken - Margin, more correctly “may be.” The meaning is, that those principles of religion and morals which were not founded on truth would be removed by his coming.

As of things that are made - Much perplexity has been felt by expositors in regard to this phrase, but the meaning seems to be plain. The apostle is contrasting the things which are fixed and stable with those which are temporary in their nature, or which are settled on no firm foundation. The former he speaks of as if they were uncreated and eternal principles of truth and righteousness. The latter he speaks of as if they were created, and therefore liable, like all things which are “made,” to decay, to change, to dissolution.

That those things which cannot be shaken may remain - The eternal principles of truth, and law, and righteousness. These would enter into the new kingdom which was to be set up, and of course that kingdom would be permanent. These are not changed or modified by time, circumstances, human opinions, or laws. They remain the same from age to age, in every land, and in all worlds, They have been permanent in all the fluctuations of opinion; in all the varied forms of government on earth; in all the revolutions of states and empires. To bring out these is the result of the events of divine Providence, and the object of the coming of the Redeemer; and on these principles that great kingdom is to be reared which is to endure forever and ever.

Verse 28

Wherefore we receiving a kingdom which cannot be moved - We who are Christians. We pertain to a kingdom that is permanent and unchanging. The meaning is, that the kingdom of the Redeemer is never to pass away. It is not like the Jewish dispensation, to give place to another, nor is there any power that can destroy it; see the notes on Matthew 16:18. It has now endured for eighteen hundred years, amidst all the revolutions on earth, and in spite of all the attempts which have been made to destroy it; and it is now as vigorous and stable as it ever was. The past has shown that there is no power of earth or hell that can destroy it, and that in the midst of all revolutions this kingdom still survives. Its great principles and laws will endure on earth to the end of time, and will be made permanent in heaven. This is the only kingdom in which we can be certain that there will be no revolution; the only empire which is destined never to fall.

Let us have grace, whereby we may serve God - Margin, “let us hold fast.” The Greek is, literally, let us have grace; the meaning is, “let us hold fast the grace or favor which we have received in being admitted to the privileges of that kingdom.” The object of the apostle is, to keep them in the reverent fear and service of God. The “argument” which he presents is, that this kingdom is permanent. There is no danger of its being overthrown. It is to continue on earth to the end of time; it is to be established in heaven forever. If it were temporary, changeable, liable to be overthrown at any moment, there would be much less encouragement to perseverance. But in a kingdom like this there is every encouragement, for there is the assurance:

(1)that all our interests there are safe;

(2)that all our exertions will be crowned with ultimate success,

(3)that the efforts which we make to do good will have a permanent influence on mankind, and will bless future ages; and

(4)that the reward is certain.

A man subject to a government about whose continuance there would be the utmost uncertainty, would have little encouragement to labor with a view to any permanent interest. In a government where nothing is settled; where all policy is changing, and where there are constantly vacillating plans, there is no inducement to enter on any enterprise demanding time and risk. But where the policy is settled; where the principles and the laws are firm; where there is evidence of permanency, there is the highest encouragement. The highest possible encouragement of this kind is in the permanent and established kingdom of God. All other governments may be revolutionized; this never will be - all others may have a changeful policy; this has none - all others will be overthrown; this never will.

With reverence and godly fear - With true veneration for God, and with pious devotedness.

Verse 29

For our God is a consuming fire - This is a further reason why we should serve God with profound reverence and unwavering fidelity. The quotation is made from Deuteronomy 4:24. “For the Lord thy God is a consuming fire, even a jealous God.” The object of the apostle here seems to be, to show that there was the same reason for fearing the displeasure of God under the new dispensation which there was under the old. It was the same God who was served. There had been no change in his attributes, or in the principles of his government. He was no more the friend of sin now than he was then; and the same perfections of his nature which would then lead him to punish transgression would also lead him to do it now. His anger was really as terrible, and as much to be dreaded as it was at Mount Sinai; and the destruction which he would inflict on his foes would be as terrible now as it was then.

The fearfulness with which he would come forth to destroy the wicked might be compared to a “fire” that consumed all before it; see the notes, Mark 9:44-46. The image here is a most fearful one, and is in accordance with all the representations of God in the Bible and with all that we see in the divine dealings with wicked people, that punishment; as inflicted by him is awful and overwhelming. So it was on the old world; on the cities of the plain; on the hosts of Sennacherib; and on Jerusalem - and so it has been in the calamities of pestilence, war, flood, and famine with which God has visited guilty people. By all these tender and solemn considerations, therefore, the apostle urges the friends of God to perseverance and fidelity in his service. His goodness and mercy; the gift of a Saviour to redeem us; the revelation of a glorious world; the assurance that all may soon be united in fellowship with the angels and the redeemed; the certainty that the kingdom of the Saviour is established on a permanent basis, and the apprehension of the dreadful wrath of God against the guilty, all should lead us to persevere in the duties of our Christian calling, and to avoid those things which would jeopard the eternal interests of our souls.

 


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Bibliography Information
Barnes, Albert. "Commentary on Hebrews 12:1". "Barnes' Notes on the New Testament". "http://www.studylight.org/commentaries/bnb/view.cgi?book=heb&chapter=12. 1870.

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