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Bible Commentaries

Joseph Benson's Commentary of the Old and New Testaments

Hebrews 4

 

 

Verse 1-2

Hebrews 4:1-2. In this chapter, which is of the same nature with the foregoing, the apostle proceeds with his exhortation to the Hebrews, and all professing Christians, to faith, obedience, and perseverance; and enforces it by a most apposite and striking instance in the punishment which befel the Israelites, those ancient professors of the true religion, who were guilty of sins contrary to those duties. And the example, as has been often observed, was peculiarly suitable, taken from their own ancestors, the evil being the same, namely, unbelief; the time in both cases being just after the establishment of a new constitution, and the consequence being the same, the exclusion from rest. The superior dignity of Christ above Moses, and the superior excellence of heaven above Canaan, greatly confirm the force of the apostle’s argument. Let us — Christian Hebrews; therefore fear, lest a promise being left — A conditional promise, to be fulfilled to all obedient, persevering believers; (the pronoun us is not in the original;) of entering into his rest — The rest of glory in heaven; and, preparatory thereto, the rest of grace on earth; the peace and joy, the solid and satisfying happiness consequent on pardon and holiness, on the justification of our persons, the renovation of our nature, and that lively, well-grounded hope of eternal life, which is as an anchor of the soul sure and steadfast, and entering in within the veil, chap. Hebrews 6:19; any of you should seem to come short of it — Should fail of it; as your forefathers failed of entering the rest of Canaan. The fear here inculcated is not a fear of diffidence or distrust, of doubting or uncertainty, as to the event of our faith and obedience. This is enjoined to none, but is evidently a fruit of unbelief, and therefore cannot be our duty. Neither can it be a timidity or dismayedness of mind upon a prospect of difficulties and dangers in the way, for this is the sluggard’s fear who cries, There is a lion in the way, I shall be slain. Nor is it that general fear of reverence with which we ought to be possessed in all our concerns with God; for that is not particularly influenced by threatenings, and the severity of God, seeing we are bound always in that sense to fear the Lord and his goodness. But it Isaiah , 1 st, A jealous fear of ourselves, lest, having run well for a time, we should be hindered; should grow lukewarm and indolent, formal and dead, and so should fall from that state of grace in which we had once stood. 2d, A suspicious fear of our spiritual enemies, inducing us to watch and stand on our guard against them. For unto us was the gospel preached — That is, good news of entering into his rest have been brought to us; as well as unto them — The Israelites in the wilderness. The Hebrews, to whom he wrote, might be ready to say, “What have we to do with the people in the wilderness, with the promise of entering into Canaan? or with what the psalmist from thence exhorted our fathers to?” Nay, these things, saith the apostle, belong to you in an especial manner. For in the example proposed, you may evidently see what you are to expect, if you fall into the same sins. For he declares, that in the example of God’s dealing with their progenitors, there was included a threatening of similar dealing with all others, who should fall into the same sin of unbelief; that none might flatter themselves with vain hopes of any exemption in this matter; which he further confirms in these two verses, though his present exhortation be an immediate inference from what went before. But the word preached — The promise declared unto them, did not profit them — So far from it, that it increased their condemnation; not being mixed with faith in them that heard it — So firmly believed as to become a principle of obedience in them. And it is then only, when these truths are thus mixed with faith, that they exert their saving power.


Verse 3

Hebrews 4:3. For we who have believed — Or, who believe, namely, in Christ, and the promises of rest made in the gospel, and are diligent in the use of the means appointed in order to the attainment of it; do enter into rest — Are at present made partakers of the rest promised by Jesus to the weary and heavy-laden that come to, and learn of him, Matthew 11:28-29 : the rest implied in peace with God, peace of conscience, tranquillity of mind, the love of God and of all mankind shed abroad in the heart, and lively hopes of future felicity. Or rather, as Macknight observes, the present tense is put for the future, to show the certainty of believers entering into the rest of God. For the discourse is not directly concerning any rest belonging to believers in the present life, but of a rest remaining to them after death, Hebrews 4:9. As he said — Clearly showing that there is a further rest than that which followed the finishing of the creation; As I have sworn, &c., if they shall enter — That is, they shall never enter; into my rest — Namely, by reason of their unbelief. The apostle’s argument is to this purpose: Seeing men are by the oath of God excluded from God’s rest on account of unbelief, this implies that all who believe shall enter into his rest. Although the works were finished before, even from the foundation of the world — So that God did not speak of resting from them. The proposition is, There remains a rest for the people of God. This is proved, (Hebrews 4:3-11,) thus: that psalm (the 95th) mentions a rest, yet it does not mean, 1st, God’s rest from creating, for this was long before the time of Moses, nor the rest of the seventh day, which was instituted from the beginning. Therefore God’s swearing that the rebellious Israelites in the wilderness should not enter into his rest, shows that there was then another rest to be entered into, of which they who then heard fell short. Nor is it, 2d, The rest which Israel obtained through Joshua, for the psalmist wrote after him. Therefore it Isaiah , 3 d, The eternal rest in heaven.


Verses 4-8

Hebrews 4:4-8. For he spake in a certain place — Namely, Genesis 2:2; Exodus 31:17; on this wise, God did rest, &c. — These words the apostle quotes, because they show that the seventh-day rest is fitly called God’s rest, and that the seventh-day rest was observed from the creation of the world. “God’s ceasing from his works of creation is called his resting from all his works, because, according to our way of conceiving things, he had exerted an infinite force in creating the mundane system.” — Macknight. And in this place again, If they shall enter — That is, they shall not enter; into my rest — Namely, the rest of Canaan, to be entered above three thousand years after the former. This is called God’s rest, 1st, Because, after the Israelites got possession of that country, God rested from his work of introducing them; 2d, Because they were there to observe God’s sabbaths, and to perform his worship free from the fear of their enemies, Luke 1:68; Luke 1:74. Seeing therefore it remaineth that some must enter therein — As if he had said, From what has been spoken, it is evident that, besides the rest of God from the foundation of the world, and a seventh-day sabbath as a pledge thereof, there was another rest, which some persons were to enter into, namely, the rest in the land of Canaan; and they to whom it was first preached — That is, published and offered by Moses in the wilderness; entered not in because of unbelief — As was said above. Again, &c. — And further, besides the two times of rest before mentioned, namely, those of the creation and of Canaan, he afterward, in this psalm, speaks of another; he limiteth a certain day — That is, the Holy Ghost specifies and appoints another determinate time or season of rest besides those before mentioned, whose season was now past; saying in David — In the psalm penned by him; after so long a time — After they had entered into the rest of Canaan, and had possessed it for about five hundred years, he yet again calls upon them to seek after another rest: therefore there is another besides that of Canaan. For if Jesus — That is, Joshua; had given them rest — If that rest which they obtained under the conduct of Joshua, who brought them into Canaan, had been all which was intended by God for them, this latter exhortation by David had been needless. Upon the whole, the apostle proves that after the original rest at the creation, there was a second promised and proposed to the people of God, namely, in Canaan; but yet neither was that the rest intended in the place of the psalm here so often referred to; but a third, which yet remained for them, and was now offered to them, and that under the same promises and threatenings with the former, namely, to be conferred on obedient believers, and withheld from the unbelieving and disobedient.


Verse 9

Hebrews 4:9. There remaineth therefore a rest, &c. — Since neither of the two former rests is intended by David, and there was no new rest for the people to enter into in the days of David, and the psalm wherein these words are recorded is acknowledged to be prophetical of the days of the Messiah, it unavoidably follows that there is such a rest remaining; and not only a spiritual rest, in the peace and love of God, and in the enjoyment of communion with him entered into by believing in Christ, (Matthew 11:28-29; Isaiah 32:17-18,) but an eternal rest in the heavenly world. “The apostle having established this conclusion by just reasoning on the sayings of the Holy Ghost, uttered by the mouth of David, they misrepresent the state of the Israelites under the Mosaic dispensation who affirm that they had no knowledge of the immortality of the soul, nor of future retributions. They had both discovered to them in the covenant with Abraham, as recorded by Moses, and explained by the prophets. The apostle here, in this conclusion, substitutes the word σαββατισμος, sabbatism, for the word καταπαυσις, rest, in his premises. But both are proper, especially the word sabbatism, in this place, because, by directing us to what is said Hebrews 4:4, it showeth the nature of that rest which remaineth to the people of God. It will resemble the rest of the sabbath, both in its employments and enjoyments. For therein the saints shall rest from their work of trial, and from all the evils they are subject to in the present life; and shall recollect the labours they have undergone, the dangers they have escaped, and the temptations they have overcome. And by reflecting on these things, and on the method of their salvation, they shall be unspeakably happy, Revelation 21:3. To this add, that being admitted into the immediate presence of God to worship, they shall, as Doddridge observes, pass a perpetual sabbath in those elevations of pure devotion, which the sublimest moments of our most sacred and happy days can teach us but imperfectly to conceive. Here it is to be remarked, that the Hebrews themselves considered the sabbath as an emblem of the heavenly rest: for St. Paul reckons sabbaths among those Jewish institutions which were shadows of good things to come, Colossians 2:17.” — Macknight.


Verse 10

Hebrews 4:10. For that rest of which we were speaking, may properly be called a sabbatical rest, or the celebration of a sabbath; for he that hath entered into this his final and complete rest, hath ceased from his own works — From all his labours and toils; as God did from his — In that first seventh- day, which, in commemoration of it, was appointed to be kept holy in all future ages. Probably God appointed men to rest on the seventh day, not only in commemoration of his having rested on that day, but to teach them that their happiness in a future state will consist in resting from their work of trial, and in reviewing it after it is finished, as God, when he rested from the work of creation, surveyed the whole, and pronounced it good. From this account of the rest which remaineth for the people of God, namely, that they do not enter into it till their works of trial and suffering are finished, it is evident that the rest which is here said to remain to them is the rest of heaven, of which the seventh-day rest is only an imperfect emblem.


Verse 11

Hebrews 4:11. Let us labour therefore, &c. — That is, since the Israelites were so severely punished for their unbelief, let us labour — Greek, σπουδασωμεν, let us be in earnest, use diligence, and make haste, (all which particulars are included in the word,) to enter into that rest — By sincerely believing and steadfastly obeying the gospel, aspiring after and striving to attain every branch of holiness, internal and external; lest any man fall — Into sin and eternal perdition; after the same example of unbelief — By reason of such unbelief as the Israelites gave an example of. The unbelief against which we are here cautioned, as being the cause of men’s falling under the wrath of God, is chiefly that kind of it which respects the immortality of the soul, the resurrection of the body, the reality and greatness of the joys of heaven, and the miseries of hell; the redemption of the world by our Lord Jesus Christ, men’s sinfulness and guilt, depravity and weakness, and their need of the salvation of the gospel in all its branches, the ability and willingness of Christ to save them from their sins here, and conduct them to the heavenly country hereafter, together with his authority to judge the world, and power to dispense rewards to the righteous, and inflict punishments on the wicked. The unbelief of these great truths, revealed to us in the gospel, being the source of that wickedness which prevails among those called Christians, as well as among Mohammedans and heathen, we ought carefully to cherish a firm and steady belief of these things, lest by the want of a lively sense of them, we be led to live after the manner of the ungodly, and God he provoked to destroy us by the severity of his judgments.


Verse 12

Hebrews 4:12. For the word of God — As if he had said, Take heed of unbelief, for the word of God will try and condemn you if you be guilty of it. It is greatly debated among commentators whether this is to be understood of Christ, the eternal Word, or of the gospel. “None of the properties,” says Calmet, “mentioned here can be denied to the Son of God, the eternal Word. He sees all things, knows all things, penetrates all things, and can do all things. He is the Ruler of the heart, and can turn it where he pleases. He enlightens the soul, and calls it gently and efficaciously, when and how he wills. Finally, he punishes in the most exemplary manner the insults offered to his Father and to himself by infidels, unbelievers, and the wicked in general. But it does not appear that the divine Logos is here intended: 1st, Because St. Paul does not use that term to express the Son of God. 2d, Because the conjunction, γαρ, for, shows that this verse is an inference drawn from the preceding, where the subject in question is concerning the eternal rest, and the means by which it is obtained. It is therefore more natural to explain the term of the word, order, and will of God; for the Hebrews represent the revelation of God as an active being, living, all- powerful, illumined, executing vengeance, discernibly and penetrating all things.” Of this he produces divers examples. Macknight considers the passage in the same light, observing, “The apostle having said, (Hebrews 4:2,) that λογος της ακοης, the word which they heard did not profit them; the word of God in this verse, I think, signifies the preached gospel; understanding thereby its doctrines, precepts, promises, and threatenings, together with those examples of the divine judgments which are recorded in the Scriptures; by all which the gospel operates powerfully on the minds of believers. In our common version of 1 Peter 1:23, the word of God is said to be living. So also Christ, John 6:63, The words that I speak to you they are spirit and they are life; and in the last clause of this verse, actions are ascribed to the word of God which imply life, namely, it is a discerner of the devices and purposes of the heart.” And as the word is here said to be, ενεργης, efficacious, “this efficacy is described by Paul, 2 Corinthians 10:4, The weapons of our warfare are powerful, for the overturning of strong holds, &c. Also 1 Thessalonians 2:13, the word of God is said to work effectually in them who believe: Ephesians 6:17, the sword of the Spirit denotes the doctrine of the gospel, called a sword, because it is of great use to repel the attacks of our spiritual enemies; and a sword of the Spirit, because it was dictated by the Spirit of God: Revelation 1:16, the word of God is represented as a sharp, two-edged sword, which went out of the mouth of Christ: Isaiah 11:4, it is said of Christ, He shall smite the earth with the rod, or (as the LXX. render it) τω λογω, the word of his mouth.” Bengelius and Wesley understand the passage in the same sense, the note of the latter being as follows: “The word of God preached, (Hebrews 4:2,) and armed with threatenings, (Hebrews 4:3,) is living and powerful, attended with the power of the living God, and conveying either life or death to the hearers; sharper than any two-edged sword, penetrating the heart more than this does the body; piercing quite through, and laying open the soul and spirit, joints and marrow, the inmost recesses of the mind, which the apostle beautifully and strongly expresses by this heap of figurative words: and is a discerner not only of the thoughts, but also of the intentions.”

In the clause, piercing to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, the writer proceeds on the supposition that man consists of three parts, a body, a sensitive soul, which he hath in common with the brutes, and a rational spirit, of which see the note on 1 Thessalonians 5:23. In representing the word, or gospel, as a person who shall judge the world at the last day the apostle hath imitated Christ, who said to the Jews, (John 12:48,) He that rejecteth me, and receiveth not my words, hath one that judgeth him: ο λογος, the word that I have spoken shall judge him in the last day. But to raise the figure, the apostle ascribes to the word life, strength, discernment, and action; qualities highly necessary in a judge.


Verse 13

Hebrews 4:13. Neither is there any creature — Especially no human creature; that is not manifest — αφανης, unapparent; in his sight — Namely, in the sight of God, whose word is thus powerful; for it is God in whose sight, or before whom, Greek ενωπιο, αυτου, every creature is manifest, and of this his word, working on the conscience, gives the fullest conviction; but all things are naked and opened — γυμνα και τετραχηλισμενα, expressions used with a plain allusion to the state in which the sacrifices called burnt-offerings were laid on the altar. They were stripped of their skins, their breasts were ripped open, their bowels were taken out, and their back-bone was cleft from the neck downward, as the latter word signifies. So that every thing, both within and without them, was exposed to open view, particularly to the eye of the priest, in order to a thorough examination, Leviticus 1:5-6. And being found without blemish, they were laid in their natural order on the altar, and burned, Hebrews 4:8. The apostle’s meaning is, that neither infidelity, nor hypocrisy, nor worldly- mindedness; neither covetousness, nor pride, nor ambition, nor any sinful disposition, however secretly it may lurk in the mind, can be concealed from our judge; with whom we have to do — προς ον ημιν ο λογος, to whom we must give an account. So the word λογος frequently signifies. See Matthew 12:36; Matthew 18:23; Luke 16:2; and particularly Romans 14:12, where the final judgment is spoken of. So every one of us, λογον δωσει, shall give an account of himself to God; and Hebrews 13:17, they watch for your souls, ως λογον αποδωσοντες, as those who must give account.


Verse 14

Hebrews 4:14. The writer of this epistle having spoken of the Author of the gospel, as the Creator of the world, as the Lawgiver in God’s church, as the Conductor of the spiritual seed of Abraham into the heavenly country, the rest of God, and as the Judge of the whole human race, now proceeds to speak of him as the High-Priest of our religion, and to show that, as such, he hath made atonement for our sins by the sacrifice of himself. This is the fourth fact whereby the authority of the gospel, as a revelation from God, is supported. See note on Hebrews 1:1. They who are acquainted with the history of mankind, know that from the earliest times propitiatory sacrifices were offered by almost all nations, in the belief that they were the only effectual means of procuring the pardon of sin and the favour of the Deity. In this persuasion the Jews more especially were confirmed by the law of Moses, in which a variety of sacrifices of that sort, as well as freewill-offerings, were appointed by God himself. And as the heathen offered these sacrifices with many pompous rites, and feasted on them in the temples of their gods, they became extremely attached to a form of worship which at once eased their consciences and pleased their senses. Wherefore, when it was observed that no propitiatory sacrifices were enjoined in the gospel, and that nothing of the kind was offered in the Christian places of worship, Jews and Gentiles equally were very difficultly persuaded to renounce their ancient worship for the gospel form, in which no atonements appeared; and which, employing rational motives alone for exciting their affections, was too naked to be, to such persons, in any degree interesting. Wherefore, to give both Jews and Gentiles just views of the gospel, the apostle, in this passage of his epistle, affirms, that although no sacrifices are offered in the Christian temples, we have a great High- Priest, even Jesus the Son of God, who, at his ascension, passed through the visible heavens into the true habitation of God, with the sacrifice of himself; and from these considerations he exhorts the believing Hebrews in particular to hold fast their profession. Then to show that Jesus is well qualified to be a High-Priest, he observes, that though he be the Son of God, he is likewise a man, and so cannot but be touched with a feeling of our infirmities. On which account we may come boldly to the throne of grace, well assured that through his intercession we shall obtain the pardon of our sins, and such supplies of grace as are needful for us. These being the doctrines which the apostle is to prove in the remaining part of this epistle, this paragraph may be considered as the proposition of the subjects he is going to handle in the following chapters. And as his reasonings on these, as well as on the subjects discussed in the foregoing part of the epistle, are all founded on the writings of Moses and the prophets, it is reasonable to suppose that his interpretations of the passages which he quotes from these writings, are no other than those which were given of them by the Jewish doctors and scribes, and which were received by the people at the time he wrote. See Macknight. Seeing then that we have — Greek, εχοντες ουν, having therefore. The apostle refers to what he had affirmed, (Hebrews 1:3,) that the Son of God had made purification of our sins by the sacrifice of himself, and to what he had advanced Hebrews 2:17, that he was made like his brethren in all things, that he might be a merciful and faithful High-Priest; and to his having called him the High-Priest of our profession, Hebrews 3:1. He had not, however, hitherto attempted to prove that Jesus really was a high-priest, or that he had offered any sacrifice to God for the sins of men. The proof of these things he deferred till he had discussed the other topics of which he proposed to treat. But having finished what he had to say concerning them, he now enters on the proof of Christ’s priesthood, and treats thereof, and of various other matters connected with it, at great length, to the end of chap. 10. Theodoret, who had divided this epistle into sections, begins his second section with this verse, because it introduces a new subject. Indeed, the 5th chapter, according to our division of the epistle, should have begun with this verse. A great High-Priest — Great indeed, being the eternal Son of God; that is passed into the heavens — Or, through the heavens, as the expression διεληλυθοτα τους ουρανους, literally signifies. The word heavens is taken in two senses: 1st, For the palace of the great King, where is his throne, and where thousands of the holy ones stand ministering before him. This heaven the Lord Jesus did not pass through but into, when he was taken up into glory, 1 Timothy 3:16. There he is at the right hand of the majesty on high; and these heavens have received him until the time of restitution of all things, 3:27. But by the heavens we are sometimes to understand, 2d, the air, as when mention is made of the fowls of heaven; and concerning them our apostle says, (chap. Hebrews 7:26,) that Jesus is made higher than the heavens; he passed through them, and ascended above them, into that which is called the third heaven, or the heaven of heavens. The allusion is evidently made to the Jewish high- priest, and to what he typically represented to the church of old. As he passed through the veil into the holy of holies, carrying with him the blood of the sacrifices on the yearly day of atonement; so our great High-Priest went, once for all, through the visible heavens with the virtue of his own blood, into the immediate presence of God. It is to be observed, the apostle calls Jesus, the Son of God, a great High-Priest, because in chap. 1. he had proved him to be greater than the angels; and in Hebrews 3:1-4, to be worthy of more honour than Moses. Let us hold fast our profession

Our professed subjection to him and his gospel, notwithstanding our past sins, the present defects of our obedience, and our manifold infirmities. The word ομολογια, however, may be properly rendered, and probably was chiefly intended to signify, confession; for it is required that we should make a solemn declaration of our subjection to the gospel, with prudence, humble confidence, and constancy; for with the mouth confession is made unto salvation, Romans 10:10. The open acknowledgment of the Lord Christ, of his word and ways under persecution, is the touch-stone of all profession. This is what we are to hold first, totis viribus, with our whole strength, as κρατωμεν signifies, or with resolution, zeal, and firmness. See Revelation 2:25; Revelation 3:12. This verse, therefore, contains the enjoinment of a duty, with a motive and encouragement to the due performance of it. We have a great High-Priest, therefore let us hold fast, &c.


Verse 15

Hebrews 4:15. For we have not a high-priest, &c. — As if he had said, Though he be so great, yet he is not without concern for us in our mean and low condition. Here the apostle lets the Hebrews know that in the gospel there is no loss of privilege in any thing. Had they a high-priest who, with his office, was the life and glory of their profession and worship? We also, says he, have a High-Priest, who is, in like manner, the life and glory of our profession and service; and not one who cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities — Or, who cannot, συμπαθησαι ταις ασθενειαις ημων, sympathize with our weaknesses, our temptations, trials, and troubles, of whatever kind they may be, ghostly or bodily. The Son of God, having been made flesh, experienced all the temptations and miseries incident to mankind, sin excepted; consequently he must always have a lively feeling of our infirmities; of our wants, weaknesses, miseries, dangers; but was in all points tempted — That is, tried; like as we are — καθομοιοτητα, according to a similitude of our trials, or with such as belong to human nature. What is here said of the similarity of our Lord’s trials to ours, does not imply an exact likeness; for he was free from that corruption of nature which, as the consequence of Adam’s sin, has infected all mankind; which is intimated likewise in the expression, (Romans 8:3,) sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh; yet without sin — For he never committed any; and is able to preserve us in all our temptations from the commission of it.


Verse 16

Hebrews 4:16. Let us therefore come boldly — Without any doubt or fear, trusting in his sacrifice and intercession for acceptance; unto the throne of grace — The throne of our reconciled Father, which grace erected, and where it reigns and dispenses all blessings in a way of unmerited favour; that we may obtain mercy — To pardon all our past sins, and compassionate our condition, amidst our various infirmities and sufferings; and find grace to help in time of need — Or, for a seasonable help; according to our respective necessities, as εις ευκαιρον βοηθειαν implies. The latter word properly signifies help obtained in consequence of crying aloud, or strong crying for it. Observe, reader, though every time may be properly termed a time of need, in which we want supplies of grace, yet some times are peculiarly such: as seasons of affliction, of persecution, and temptation; or times when God, to chastise us for our lukewarmness and sloth, our hypocrisy and formality, or pride, self-will, discontent, or impatience; our neglect of prayer and watchfulness, our levity and folly, or any other fault or failing, withdraws his presence from us: or when we are called to the performance of any great and signal duty, as it was with Abraham when he was called first to leave his country, and afterward to sacrifice his son: or to something that is new, and in which we are yet inexperienced; a duty against which there is great opposition, or for which we may seem to be very unfit, or in which the glory of God is in an especial manner concerned. And, above all, the time of death will be such a season. To part with all present things and present hopes, to give up one’s departing soul, entering the invisible world, an unchangeable eternity, into the hands of our sovereign Lord, are duties which require strength beyond our own, for their right and comfortable performance. And at such seasons, as we have peculiar need to make application to the throne of grace, here spoken of, for the purpose of obtaining seasonable help; so, if we apply in faith, and with sincere and earnest desire and persevering diligence, we shall not apply in vain.

 


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Bibliography Information
Benson, Joseph. "Commentary on Hebrews 4:4". Joseph Benson's Commentary. http://www.studylight.org/commentaries/rbc/hebrews-4.html. 1857.


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Friday, July 21st, 2017
the Week of Proper 10 / Ordinary 15
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