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Bible Commentaries

James Nisbet's Church Pulpit Commentary
Hebrews 9



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Verse 4


‘Aaron’s rod that budded.’

Hebrews 9:4

We can be at no loss to learn the lesson which the budding of Aaron’s rod is intended to convey to us as Christians. It is that of the supernatural fruitfulness of all God’s ordinances and means of grace. Viewed in themselves they seem mere dead wood, like the rod of Aaron, which was just like those of the rest of the people—mere dead wood without life or sap.

I. The Priesthood of the Church.—Viewed in themselves, Christ’s priests are merely men, as Aaron was. But by God’s appointment they are channels of grace from Christ the Head, and through them He produces fruit for His people which must clearly come from Him, so quickly is it produced. Not even a living tree could have produced blossoms and fruit in a single night, as Aaron’s rod did.

II. The Ministrations of God’s priests.—Received in faith, as God’s ordinances, these ministrations bear fruit with a speed which is clearly God’s doing and not man’s; and the type of Aaron’s rod is fulfilled every day in the history of our churches and our parishes.

III. Our Sacraments.—Viewed in themselves, what is less than the sacramental elements of bread and wine?

(a) What is less than the water of baptism? Yet God has chosen them to be His instruments of grace. Even as He chose Aaron to be His priest, and the Passover to be the seal and sign of His salvation from the Destroying Angel in Egypt.

(b) It is curious to notice, too, horn in the case of the Holy Communion God chose again to carry out the same rule we have observed above, and to take care that the first time it was treated as common bread and common wine the same visible punishment should follow as when His apostles were treated as if they bore no spiritual character. In 1 Corinthians 11:29-30, when St. Paul has to rebuke the Corinthians for profaning the Sacrament, as if it were a mere human institution, he tells them that ‘for this cause many are weak and sickly among you and many sleep’—clearly pointing to some judgment by which God was punishing those who were guilty of this sin, that they might see His displeasure and amend their ways, and having once shown His displeasure, if after that men will not amend He leaves them to bear the consequences. He does not interfere again.

Verse 13-14


‘For if the blood of bulls and of goats, and the ashes of an heifer sprinkling the unclean, sanctifieth to the purifying of the flesh: how much more shall the blood of Christ, Who through the Eternal Spirit offered Himself without spot to God, purge your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?’

Hebrews 9:13-14

These verses bring before us, with singular comprehensiveness and vividness, the parallel which is presented by the sacred writer between the Jewish sacrifices and the sacrifice offered by our Lord, alike in their nature and in their effect.

I. The author accordingly is concerned to enforce in the deepest and most touching manner the profound and perfect character of the sacrifice offered by our Lord. For this purpose he depicts in few, but intensely affecting, words the supreme holiness and graciousness, the Divine perfection of our Saviour’s nature.

II. But pass from the value of that which was offered to the spirit and the manner in which the offering was made. Christ, ‘through the Eternal Spirit, offered Himself without spot to God.’ That is to say, it was by the deliberate action of His eternal spiritual nature, by His Divine, as well as human, will that He made Himself that offering.

III. If we would fully apply the argument to ourselves, we must endeavour to realise the fact that the whole Jewish Ritual we have presented to us, though arbitrary and positive in its particular prescriptions, did but serve to bring into prominence what is the central and most terrible reality of life. The rule that without shedding of blood is no remission is not merely a Jewish ceremonial prescription, but may be regarded as a statement of the chief condition of human progress and life. It is more than strange, it seems like child’s play, that men should sometimes, and too often, be found seriously arguing whether human sin demands an expiation and involves such penalties as the Scriptures speak of. The Scriptures only interpret the penalties; the infliction of them is a mere matter of fact, of constant experience.

IV. But let us, in conclusion, take to heart the application to our own life of the Apostle’s appeal.—‘How much more,’ he says, ‘shall the blood of Christ purge your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?’ In other words, he seems to say, could we but ‘remember the exceeding great love of our Master and only Saviour, Jesus Christ, thus dying for us,’ could we bear always in mind the precious blood He shed, the fact that His very life blood is eternally sprinkled, as it were, upon all things that are true, just, and pure, then, but not till then, should we possess an adequate motive and an adequate power for resisting those evil desires, those corrupt affections, that lack of patience and humility which are our weakness and our shame, and then would our conscience be purged and stimulated to good works.

Dean Wace.


‘According to the law, under which the Jews had lived, and which was to them the first principle of existence, they were dependent on the continual shedding of the blood of bulls and of goats to make atonement for their sins and to qualify them for the service of God. If they contracted any ceremonial defilement, especially by that contact with death which was unavoidable in the circumstances of daily life, they required to be sprinkled with water in which the ashes of a burnt heifer had been mixed before they could re-enter the congregation of God’s people. Artificial as, in some respects, these various ceremonial defilements seemed, they none the less corresponded with a deep natural sense of unworthiness in the presence of a God of perfect holiness; and they had succeeded in stamping upon the minds of the Jews, with extraordinary depth, the necessity for the most absolute and scrupulous purity and righteousness in approaching Him. It will be seen, in the light of these considerations, what an immense weight the sacred writer’s argument must needs attach to the sacrifice and bloodshedding of Christ.’



Such is the irrefragable conclusion of a sublime argument. Christ had come in the flesh and had offered Himself to God.

I. The sacrifice.—This is thus described—‘the blood of Christ.’ Blood is the life of man. This life man had forfeited by violating the Divine law. Christ offered His own life which had fulfilled and honoured the law in all its inexorable requirements. More than that: He possessed the Divine nature—He was personally and really God; and it is this great fact that gives to His death its immortal significance. No mere human blood could atone for human sin. His sacrifice was that of Incarnate God!

II. Its voluntary nature.—Christ offered Himself entirely through His own Divine personality, conjoined with His assumed humanity; and thus willingly submitted Himself to the full penalty of human sin in obedience to His Father’s will (Psalms 40:6-8; Philippians 2:6-11). His consent, therefore, as an eternal omniscient Being constituted His sacrifice a Divine oblation of ineffable worth.

III. Its all-powerful character.—It reconciles God to man and man to God (Ephesians 2:13-18; 2 Corinthians 5:18-19). But why is the conscience specially mentioned in this Scripture? Because it is the seat of guilt. How it condemns itself for ‘dead works’ when it is made conscious of them by the Divine Spirit! And how wonderfully it is relieved and cleansed by the blood of Christ! Nor this only: when the conscience is thus blessed the purified one readily engages in the service of his reconciled Father. He enters within the veil, and with the precious blood sprinkled on him approaches the Divine throne, and presents himself a ‘living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God.’


‘It is the privilege of Christians—a privilege to be exercised in fear and trembling, but not to be foregone—to sanctify every duty, however humble, to intensify every dictate of the conscience, however slight, to strengthen every spiritual aspiration and resolve, by viewing it as united with the Passion and the Death of Christ. The Apostle’s appeal thus imparts into our moral and spiritual life, into every act and every thought of that life, the most intense and vivid of all natural influences, immeasurably heightened by the Divine character and nature of the person by whom it is exercised. There are, indeed, innumerable influences ever around us, thank God, to recall us from evil and to inspire us to good works. Let us cherish them and be thankful for them all. But if we would realise our highest motives and our fullest powers let us never forget the appeal of the Apostle: “How much more shall the blood of Christ, Who through the Eternal Spirit offered Himself without spot to God, purge your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?”’

Verse 14


‘How much more shall the blood of Christ, Who through the Eternal Spirit offered Himself without spot to God, purge your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?’

Hebrews 9:14

Christ was not dragged to the altar. It was a voluntary sacrifice, it was a spontaneous sacrifice, it was a moral sacrifice, offered by that in Him which was highest through the Eternal Spirit; He ‘offered Himself without spot to God.’

Let me dwell on two results of our Lord’s death.

I. ‘Made sin for us’ (2 Corinthians 5:21).—What a mysterious expression that seems to be, and no doubt it is. But surely it becomes to a certain extent intelligible to us from one phase of human experience. Is there not such a thing as intense sympathy, intense solidarity of man with man? How could Christ take our infirmities? how could He bear our sicknesses? The incarnate love and glory of God, the sinless son of God, could not be sick; He took death, which summed up all in itself, but sick with particular sickness He could not be; how then did He take our sickness? It was by the depth of His sympathy that He took it.

II. Christ died that He might emancipate ‘them’—as many as—‘who through fear of death were subject to bondage.’ There are those who through fear of death are so subject through all their life; or rather, through all their living—through every function and part of life. Are there any amongst us who as our lives go on are haunted by that bondage to the fear of death? As one aspect of Christ’s death purges man from sin, so another delivers him from the bondage to the fear of death.

III. Now, think of the effect upon human character.—‘How much more shall the blood of Christ, Who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without spot to God, purge your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?’ Observe, the blood of Christ is said there to be the agent. The blood of Christ in the past has too often been looked at merely as a pathetic expression for the suffering and death of Christ. According to the whole symbolism of Scripture the blood is the life thereof. The blood of Christ speaks of His death, but does not rest there; it goes on to the life, the life that was riven from Him—yes, but the life given again; the life that was rendered, yes, but the life tendered to us.

—Archbishop Alexander.


‘Dr. Johnson had a perfect horror of death for many years in his life; it was taken away before his time came. No doubt some who are present will remember the sweet and solemn history of the death-bed of Sir Walter Scott, how he died with his windows open to the light, and the soft ripple of the Tweed, as it broke over the pebbles, coming to his ears, and in the chamber itself the voice he loved reading words deeper, truer, grander, fuller than any that had ever dropped even from that magic pen: “In my Father’s house are many mansions.”’

Verses 15-22


‘He is the Mediator of the New Testament … and without shedding of blood is no remission.’

Hebrews 9:15-22

God has entered into covenant relationship with men. That has been proved in chapter viii., but it is implied here.

I. The covenant.

(a) Its history.

(b) Its substance. An eternal inheritance is given in this covenant. What is this? Romans 8. tells of redemption, adoption, sanctification, perseverance, glorification. (See also Ephesians 1.)

(c) Its fact. A covenant helps confidence. A verbal promise is something; so, too, a written promise; but how much more rest we find in a sealed and delivered bond! That is what the Bible is—God’s covenant.

II. God could make no covenant with man without the shedding of blood—that is the point here; only ‘by means of death could they who are called receive the promised eternal inheritance.’ Now, how is that point established to the satisfaction of the Hebrew? By the analogy of the Jewish covenant.

(a) The Jewish covenant was based on sacrifice (Hebrews 9:18-20).

(b) The Jewish covenant was declared to be typical.

(c) The Jewish type was only the expression of a necessary truth. In the nature of things, there can be no union between God and man without atonement.

III. Atonement is only perfectly met in the death of Christ.—Hebrews 9:14-15 teach that the virtue of His sacrifice enables Him to be the Mediator of the new covenant.

(a) The old sacrifices were unable to expiate moral offences.—The Hebrew found a stumbling-block in the Cross; but the writer shows that so far from Christ’s death being a mystery, it was a necessity.

(b) This incompleteness is met in Christ. More than death is essential; it must be the death of one able to satisfy the law on man’s behalf. ‘In this cause’ (that is, because of the infinite value of His sacrifice) ‘He is the Mediator of the new covenant.’

Verse 26


‘Once in the end of the world hath He appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself.’

Hebrews 9:26

The greatest danger at the present day among Christians is their becoming so accustomed to the Gospel message that they cease to be keen or enthusiastic about it themselves, with the consequence that they totally fail to interest others in it. There was a good old phrase of another generation which exactly expresses their condition; they are Gospel-hardened.

I. The uniqueness of the Cross.—Notice the uniqueness of the lessons of the Cross, not merely the absolute uniqueness of the event, but its unique surprise. The glamour of the Cross—whether in our cathedrals or churches, or worn on our persons—makes us forget that it was a symbol of ignominy and shame. It was a unique surprise. People are apt to forget that, not merely the Jews practised sacrifice, but that no Roman general would think of going to battle without offering libations to the gods. A few years ago in Northumberland there was found a stone with an altar, an axe, a figure of an ox, and a bowl, and a date of some years before Christ. But within a hundred years Pliny complained to Trajan that no one bought anything for sacrifice. What was the reason? Calvary. The types of sacrifice had been put away by the offering of Christ once at the end of the old dispensation. That unique sacrifice once offered, never to be repeated, but still pleaded by the Church on earth, put an end to the looking forward to the future of which not only the Old Testament prophets but Plato had spoken—‘a good man sure to be killed’ were his words. And now we look backward to the Cross, the only looking forward being to the return of Him Who came to save. The Cross, too, was a unique opportunity for the salvation of the world. Our Lord came in the fulness of time when the world was prepared to receive Him, when the Greek language prepared the way for the missionary, and the Roman roads provided the means of transit. Is the Cross the most magnificent thing in the world to us, as it ought to be if we understand the right proportion of things? How does the death of Christ affect you? How does it touch your lives? Is it a reproach to you? It broke St. Paul’s heart. His self-sufficiency—shared, perhaps, by some in this congregation, who say that they are no worse than their neighbours, and that sin is only undeveloped good—gave way. ‘Thy rebuke hath broken my heart.’ Love is the only thing, not threats, which can secure obedience, as mothers know. Till we realise the meaning of the words, ‘He loved me and gave Himself for me,’ we have not learnt the lesson of the Cross. The easy-going optimism of to-day is refuted by the gaping wounds of the Cross.

II. The absolution of the Cross.—This has been the comfort of thousands in past generations. Lust, temper, and pride depart as on our knees we survey the Cross, but the absolution of the Cross must be preceded by confession, real and complete, before we can feel ourselves

Redeem’d, restored, forgiven,

Through Jesus’ precious blood.

III. The comfort of the Cross.—There are people in almost intolerable pain in sorrow-stricken cities who can only bear it in the power of the Cross. As God has waited and suffered, they feel that they can likewise. No rose-crowned Apollo can bring comfort to the sorrowing. That is only possible through the Cross.

—Bishop A. F. Winnington-Ingram.

Verse 27


‘It is appointed unto men once to die.’

Hebrews 9:27

There are no diversities of opinion among men concerning death, for nothing is more obvious and certain. And yet they think very little comparatively about it.

But what is death? It is the cessation of material being. First, there is coldness, then stillness, then decay.

I. The changes wrought by death.

(a) It closes the probation of man.

(b) It sunders the union of body and soul.

(c) It imposes a change of residence.

II. The appointment of death.

(a) It is Divine. God Himself determined it at the first; and it is according to His original threatening (Genesis 2:16-17). Man partook of the forbidden fruit, and instantly began to die, and now man,

The very moment of his breath,

Receives the lurking principle of death;

The young disease, that must subdue at length,

Grows with his growth, and strengthens with his strength.

But God, notwithstanding, carries out His own appointment. He gives life, and he takes it away (Job 1:21).

(b) It is punitive. If man had not broken the primal mandate, God would have continued his life in Eden, or ultimately raised him to a higher and still more blissful Paradise.


‘Whatever we can only do “once,” necessarily carries with it a greatness and an awe—if it be only for this, that if we do it badly, we can never do it again. This is one reason of the solemnity of death. If you fail in it, you will never have an opportunity of repeating it, that you may do it better. And we ought—if God permit us our senses—we ought to die well—peacefully, usefully—to the glory of God. “May I die the death of the righteous!” was a prayer true to every instinct of our minds.’


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Bibliography Information
Nisbet, James. "Commentary on Hebrews 9:4". Church Pulpit Commentary. 1876.

Lectionary Calendar
Wednesday, October 21st, 2020
the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29
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