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Bible Commentaries

Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers
Hebrews 9



Other Authors
Verse 1


(1) The subject commenced in the last chapter (Hebrews 9:1-6) is continued here. The mention of the “more excellent ministry” led to the description of the new covenant with which it is united (Hebrews 9:6-13). This verse, then, attaches itself to the fifth and sixth verses of Hebrews 8 (Hebrews 8:5-6): “Even the first (covenant), then, had ordinances of divine service and its sanctuary, of this world.” The “service” is spoken of again in Hebrews 9:6; the “ordinances” in Hebrews 9:10, where they are called “carnal.” Very similar is the language here, for the words so emphatically standing at the close of the verse are probably descriptive not of the “sanctuary” only, but also of the “ordinances.” Both place and ministrations belonged to this world, and thus stand in contrast with “the heavenly things,” of which the Tabernacle was a token and shadow. (See Note on Hebrews 8:5.) The ordinary Greek text (here following the first printed Greek Testament) has “the first Tabernacle,” and this reading was followed by Tyndale and Coverdale. All ancient MSS. omit the word; and, as in a long succession of verses “covenant” has been the leading thought, the rendering of the Authorised version is certainly correct.

Verse 2

(2) Tabernacle.—It must be carefully observed that the Epistle throughout refers to the Tabernacle, and not once to the Temples which succeeded it. Though they were formed on the same general model, their very nature and design necessitated changes of plan and detail which unfitted them for the writer’s argument here. So far as the Temple was a copy of the Tabernacle, and so far only, was it made “after the pattern” that Moses had seen; and so far only was its symbolism of divine and not human origin.

The first, wherein was . . .—In Hebrews 9:6, when the writer passes from place to ministration, he uses the present tense, although it is of the Tabernacle that he is speaking. The explanation is that which has come before us again and again: the arrangements prescribed in Scripture are to him ever present, abiding from age to age in that unchanging word. Hence probably we should here read are instead of “were.” The golden candlestick, the table, and the showbread are in the Holy Place as it is described in the Law. With the symbolical meaning of the furniture of the Holy Place we are not here concerned. The writer contents himself with words which plainly imply that none of the parts and arrangements of the Tabernacle were without significance. On the golden candlestick (more strictly, lampstand) see Exodus 25:31-37, and on the ten candlesticks of the Temple of Solomon, 1 Kings 7:49; on the table and the showbread, Exodus 25:23-30; Leviticus 24:5-9 (1 Kings 7:48; 2 Chronicles 4:8). It is somewhat remarkable that the table should here be so distinctly mentioned, for usually (both in the Bible and in Jewish tradition) no special importance appears to be assigned to it apart from the offering which was placed thereon. (Comp., however, Leviticus 24:6; 2 Chronicles 13:11; Malachi 1:7; Malachi 1:12.) This offering is in Hebrew called “bread of the face”—i.e., bread of the (divine) Presence; in Matthew 12:4, Luke 6:4, “loaves of the setting forth;” here “the setting forth of the loaves.”

Sanctuary.—Or, holy place. The same word is applied to the Holy of Holies in Hebrews 8:2; Hebrews 9:8; Hebrews 12:24-25; Hebrews 10:19; and probably in Hebrews 13:11. This verse and the next give the proper names of the two parts of the Tabernacle, which must be used when the one is to be distinguished from the other. Where there is no risk of mistake the simpler designation is sufficient. (See Leviticus 16:2; Leviticus 16:17; Leviticus 16:20.) It will be observed that here and in Hebrews 9:3; Hebrews 9:6-7, these divisions are spoken of as if two distinct Tabernacles.

Verse 3

(3) The tabernacle.—Rather, a tabernacle which is called the Holy of Holies. This literal translation of a Hebrew expression for “most holy” does not occur in the Bible, but has become familiar through the Latin sanctum sanctorum. The inner chamber of the Tabernacle is in a few passages only mentioned separately in the Pentateuch as the “Most Holy Place”

(Exodus 26:33-34), or “the Holy Place” (Leviticus 16:2, et al.). In the description of the Temple a different word is employed, always rendered “oracle” (1 Kings 6:16, et al.). The veil separating the two divisions (described in Exodus 26:31; Exodus 36:35) is here called the second veil, by way of distinction from the “hanging for the door” of the Tabernacle (Exodus 26:36; Exodus 36:37).

Verse 4

Ark of the covenant (Numbers 10:33; Deuteronomy 31:26, et al.), often called “the ark of the testimony,” i.e., the ark containing the tables of the Ten Commandments, which were the symbol of the covenant of God with the people. (See Exodus 25:10-16.)

Wherein was . . .—Rather, wherein are (see Hebrews 9:2) a golden pot having the manna, &c. In Exodus 16:33-34, and Numbers 17:10-11, the pot containing “an omer of manna” and also Aaron’s rod are said to have been laid up “before the testimony.” This is often understood as meaning “before the ark of the testimony;” but it is as natural to suppose that these memorials were placed inside the ark, in front of the tables. 1 Kings 8:9 clearly suggests that the ark had at one time contained more than the tables of stone, and so it has been understood by Jewish commentators. There is no mention of a “golden” vessel in the Hebrew of Exodus 16:33; the word is added in the LXX. It will be observed that this epithet is mentioned three times in the verse: such splendour was natural in the sanctuary “of this world” (Hebrews 9:1).

Verse 5

(5) Cherubims of glory.—See Exodus 25:18-22; Exodus 29:43; Numbers 7:89; Ezekiel 10:19-20. As these passages will show, the reference is to the glory which appeared above the mercy seat. (See Note on Hebrews 1:3.) This is the only express mention of the cherubim in the New Testament; but see the Notes on Revelation 4:6, et seq.

The mercy seat (literally, the propitiatory) is the rendering adopted in the LXX. for the Hebrew Capporeth, signifying the golden covering of the ark (Exodus 25:17). Whether the Hebrew word properly denotes covering or bears the meaning which is expressed by the Greek translation, is a disputed question, into which we cannot here enter. The act of expiation with which the Greek name at all events stands connected is that of Leviticus 16:10-14. It is noteworthy that in 1 Chronicles 28:11 the Most Holy Place itself is called “the house of the mercy seat.” (See the Note on Romans 3:25.)

Of which—viz., all things that the Holy Place and the Holy of Holies contained.

Particularly—i.e., severally, one by one.

Verse 6

(6) Now when these thing were thus ordained . . .—Better, And when these things have been thus prepared, into the first tabernacle the priests enter continually, accomplishing the services. As has been already observed (Hebrews 9:2), the present tense is used throughout these verses (Hebrews 9:6-10), not because the writer refers to the services as still continuing, but because he is still tracing the ordinance of Scripture. It is of the Tabernacle alone that he speaks. The words of Hebrews 9:4 would have been entirely incorrect in regard to the temple of his day, in which the Most Holy Place was empty.

The service.—Comp. Exodus 30:7-8; Leviticus 24:1-8.

Verse 7

(7) Went . . . offered.—Rather, entereth . . . offereth.

Errors.—Literally, ignorances. (See Hebrews 5:2-3; Hebrews 7:27.) By “once in the year” we must of course understand on one day of the year, viz., the tenth day of Tisri. On that day, according to Leviticus 16, it was the duty of the high priest to enter the Holy of Holies twice: (1) with the incense and with the blood of the bullock, his own sin-offering (Leviticus 16:12-14); (2) with the blood of the same bullock and that of the goat, the sin-offering for the people (Hebrews 9:15-19). In the ritual described in the tract “Joma” of the Talmud, he is said to enter four times; the first ministration being separated into its two parts (offering incense, sprinkling the blood of the bullock), and a fourth entering (to bring out the censer) being added.

Verse 8

(8) That the way into the holiest of all was not yet made manifest.—Rather, that the way into the sanctuary has not yet been made manifest. By “sanctuary,” or “holy place,” is here meant the Holy of Holies; not, however, as existing upon earth, in type and figure, but in the sense of Hebrews 8:2; Hebrews 9:24. These external arrangements show that the way into the Holy Place (of the Tabernacle) is not open: by this the Holy Spirit, whose word we are reading whenever we trace the injunctions of the Law, teaches this lesson, that the way into God’s immediate presence is not yet manifest.

While as the first tabernacle was yet standing.—Rather, while the first tabernacle yet has place (or, standing), i.e., whilst there exists such a distinction as that between “the first Tabernacle” (Hebrews 9:6), and “the second.” It is impossible to understand “the first Tabernacle” in any other sense than that which it bears in the early part of the sentence—the Holy Place as distinguished from the Holiest of all. This outer Tabernacle, however, may be looked at from different points of view. On the one hand, it was the place from which (as well as from the inner sanctuary) the people generally were excluded; and on the other, it was the place beyond which the ministration of the priests in general might not extend. It is the latter that corresponds to the thought of this verse. The contrast between the body of priests and the people hardly meets us once in the whole Epistle, except in a very small number of general statements (Hebrews 7:14; Hebrews 8:4; Hebrews 9:6); the only contrast is between the one Priest or High Priest and all who approach unto God through Him. Not the Jewish economy, but that to which it pointed, is the subject of the writer’s thoughts: Christ’s people are now the priests, who offer through Him their constant sacrifice. (See Hebrews 12:28; Hebrews 13:10; Hebrews 13:13; Hebrews 13:15.) Those who ministered in “the first Tabernacle” (who are looked upon merely as substitutes for the people, performing the “services” in their place, and as their representatives) were excluded, not from entrance only, but even from sight of the place of God’s presence. What was thereby “signified” we have already seen.

Verse 9

(9) Which was a figure . . .—Rather, Which is a parable unto the time present, according to which (parable) are offered both gifts and sacrifices, which cannot perfect, as to the conscience, him that doeth the service. The general meaning may be given thus: this “first Tabernacle” (i.e., the existence of an outer as: distinguished from an inner sanctuary) is a parable for the period connected with it (literally, “for the season that stands near it,” the adjacent period, so to speak); and in full accordance with the parabolic character of the first Tabernacle (see Hebrews 9:8) is the presentation of offerings which have no power to accomplish the perfect end of worship in the case of any worshipper. The priests offered sacrifices to God, but were limited to the outer sanctuary, which was not the place of God’s manifested presence; a fit symbol this of offerings which cannot purify the conscience (see Hebrews 9:14; Hebrews 10:1). The above rendering follows the best reading of the Greek; in the ordinary text the relative “which,” in the second clause, refers to “the time,” not to “the first Tabernacle.”

Verse 10

(10) Which stood only in . . .—Better, only joined with meats and drinks and divers washings,—carnal ordinances, imposed until a time of reformation. Here again the best authorities correct the received Greek text, omitting “and” before the word “carnal,” and so altering the next word as to make it descriptive of the “gifts and sacrifices” mentioned in Hebrews 9:9. These sacrifices—looked at in themselves, as powerless to attain the end designed (Hebrews 10:1; Hebrews 10:4)—are mere appendages of such regulations as deal with meats and drinks and washings. The character of this latter class of ordinances no one could mistake; and what the writer here says is that these powerless sacrifices belong to the same line of things. On the, “washings” see Note on Hebrews 6:2. The preceding words would most naturally refer to meats, &c., of which men were required to partake (as Exodus 12; Leviticus 7:15, et al.); but no doubt include the various restrictions and distinctions of the ceremonial law (Leviticus 11; Numbers 6, et al.). All these are “ordinances of flesh,” ordinances which relate to the outward state of things only; closely connected with the maintenance of external privileges and relations, but (in themselves) nothing more. “Imposed,” comp. Acts 15:10 : “reformation,” Hebrews 8:7-12.

Verse 11-12

(11, 12) The changes of translation required in these verses are not considerable in themselves, but important for the sake of bringing out the unity of the sentence and the connection of its parts. But Christ having come a High Priest of the good things to come (or, the good things that are come, see below), through the greater and more perfect Tabernacle, not made with hands, that is to say, not of this creation, also not through blood of goats and calves, but through His own blood, entered once for all into the Holy Place, having won eternal redemption. With Hebrews 9:11 begins the contrast to the first verse. In that we read of the first covenant as possessing ordinances of service and its holy place—both, however, “of this world,” and the following verses describe the sanctuary itself (Hebrews 9:1-5) and the ordinances (Hebrews 9:6-10). Now, the Mediator of the New Covenant (Hebrews 8:6), “Christ,” whose name brings with it the thought of the satisfaction of all hope and fulfilment of all promises, has appeared as High Priest; and entering into the true Holy of Holies has accomplished once for all what the earlier ministrations typified. This is the main thought; but in few verses do the single words require more careful study. The various-reading mentioned above, “the good things that are come,” is very interesting. It is not supported by a large number of authorities, but amongst them are the Vatican MS. (whose guidance, it may be remarked, we shall soon lose, as the ancient text breaks off suddenly in the middle of a word in Hebrews 9:14), the Claromontane MS., and two Syriac versions. One strong argument in its favour presents itself on a comparison with Hebrews 10:1 (where there is no doubt about the reading), “the good things to come.” A scribe who had in mind those words, confirmed by the repeated occurrence of a similar thought in different parts of the Epistle (Hebrews 2:5; Hebrews 6:5), might easily substitute them for words expressing a less familiar thought. The two phrases differ more in form than in reality. In one we look at the new order of things, which is never to pass away, as already introduced by Christ (see Note on Hebrews 1:2); and in the other the same new order is thought of as future to those who waited through long ages for “the Christ,” and in its consummation still future to ourselves (Hebrews 6:5). The form of expression reminds us of Hebrews 3:1, where Jesus is called the High Priest of our confession (compare also Malachi 3:1, “the Messenger of the covenant”): He is associated with “the good things” as having brought them in, as Mediator of the covenant to which they belong.

Through (or, by means of) the more perfect Tabernacle, through (or, by means of) His own blood, Christ entered into the Holy Place. The two-fold reference to the type is very plain. It was by passing through “the first Tabernacle” that the high priest reached the Holiest Place; it was by means of the blood of the sin-offering that he was enabled to enter into that place of God’s presence (Hebrews 9:7). But what in the antitype answers to this Tabernacle? The expression of Hebrews 4:14, perhaps, first presents itself to the mind: if, however, we were right in understanding the words “that has passed through the heavens” as descriptive of our Lord’s ascension far above all heavens (Ephesians 4:10), it seems evident that this verse is no real parallel. In Hebrews 10:20 the thought is somewhat different, but yet sufficiently akin to be suggestive in regard to these words. There the veil is spoken of as symbolising “the flesh” of our Lord. Here we have in all probability an extension of the same thought, “the more perfect Tabernacle” being the human nature of our Lord. We think at once of a number of passages presenting the same idea: “The Word was made flesh and made His tabernacle among us” (John 1:14); “He spake of the temple of His body (John 2:19); “The Father that dwelleth in Me” (John 14:10); “In Him dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily” (Colossians 2:9). As in Him God gave to the world the first true revelation of Himself (Hebrews 1:2), God’s dwelling-place amongst His people was a type of the Incarnate Word. The symbolism of the present verse compels us to think of the first and second Tabernacles as separate. It was otherwise in Hebrews 8:2, a verse which can only receive its proper explanation when the words now before us are considered. There the reference is to the High Priest who has already entered the Holiest Place and has “sat down at the right hand” of God. The distinction of outer and inner sanctuary has disappeared; and, carrying out more fully the thought of the passages quoted above, we may say that, as “the sanctuary” of Hebrews 8:2 symbolises the place of God’s immediate presence, “the true Tabernacle” represents the place of His continued and unceasing revelation of Himself to man, “in Christ.” There is no difficulty now in explaining the epithets, “greater,” “more perfect,” “not of this creation.” By means of this assumption of human nature He received power to become High Priest, power also to become Himself the sin-offering. Once before only in the Epistle have we read of this two-fold relation of our Lord to the sacrificial act. There it is mentioned parenthetically (Hebrews 7:26) and by anticipation, here it is the leading thought (Hebrews 9:14; Hebrews 9:26; Hebrews 9:28; Hebrews 10:10, et al.). The efficacy of this offering is taken up again in Hebrews 9:13-14; the entering into the Holiest Place, in the latter part of the chapter. A new thought is introduced in the last words of this verse, “having won eternal redemption.” Through the sacrifice atonement has been made and sin expiated: the blessing won, which in Hebrews 5:9 is called eternal salvation (see Note on Hebrews 7:25), is here “eternal redemption.” The latter figure enlarges the former by the additional thought of the payment of a price. The deliverance of man from God’s wrath and the penalty of sin, which Jesus effected by means of the offering of Himself, is the “eternal redemption which He won” (see Hebrews 9:14, and Ephesians 1:7). The words, “for us,” are not in the text: they are too intimately present in the whole thought to need direct expression.

Verse 13

(13) For if the blood of bulls and of goats.—This verse connects itself with the last words of Hebrews 9:12, “having won eternal redemption,” showing why our hope may rise so high. The sacrifice is mentioned here in words slightly different from those of Hebrews 9:11; but in each case the writer’s thought is resting on the sin offering of the Day of Atonement, a bullock for the high priest himself, a goat for the people. (There is no distinct reference in this Epistle to the “scapegoat” sent into the wilderness.)

And the ashes of an heifer.—The nineteenth chapter of Numbers is wholly occupied with the remarkable institution here referred to. A red heifer without spot was slain and wholly burnt, “with cedar-wood and hyssop and scarlet,” and the ashes were laid up in a clean place without the camp. “And for the unclean they shall take of the ashes of the burning of the sin-offering, and running water shall be put thereto in a vessel: and a clean person shall take hyssop and dip it in the water and sprinkle . . . . upon the unclean” (Hebrews 9:17-19). The “unclean” are those that have been defiled by touching the dead body of a man, or by being in any way brought into connection with death. It is said that on the third and seventh days of the high priest’s week of preparation for the Day of Atonement (see Note on Hebrews 7:26), he was sprinkled with this water of purification, lest he should inadvertently have contracted such defilement.

Sanctifieth to the purifying of the flesh.—Better, sanctify unto the cleanness of the flesh. As we have seen already (Hebrews 9:10), the writer is looking at the intrinsic character of the sacrifices (Hebrews 10:4) and rites of purification, apart from their importance as marks of obedience or their value to those who were able to discern their spiritual lessons. They could not cleanse the conscience (Hebrews 9:9); but they could and did remove what the Law accounted “uncleanness,” and disabilities connected with the outward life and religious worship of the commonwealth.

Verse 13-14

The Cleansing of the Conscience

For if the blood of goats and bulls, and the ashes of a heifer sprinkling them that have been defiled, sanctify unto the cleanness of the flesh: how much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish unto God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?—Hebrews 9:13-14.

The whole power and meaning of these words depend on the contrast they express between the Jewish ceremony of purification and the purifying sacrifice of Christ. The Apostle implies that there is a resemblance between the two. The Hebrew worshipper needed cleansing before he could enter the sacred precincts of the Temple: the human soul needs cleansing before it can worship in the presence of the Holy God. The sacrifice of animals purified the Jew; the sacrifice of Christ purifies the Christian; and the one is the type of the other. But beneath that resemblance the author of the Epistle finds eternal difference. The one purifying cleansed the flesh—the outward man—and freed it from the penalties of unhallowed worship; the other cleanses the conscience—the inner man—and quickens it to serve the living God. And just on that difference he founds the triumphant question in which he asserts the power of the blood of Christ to cleanse the conscience of humanity.

1. The Apostle is alluding specially to the ceremonial by which the Jewish worshipper was cleansed from the defilement of contact with death. By the law of Moses, the touch of a human corpse, whether it lay sacredly guarded in the quiet death-chamber, or exposed on the field of battle; the touch of a human bone or the dust of a human grave were defiling, and on pain of being cut off from Israel no man dare enter the Temple until cleansed from such pollution. Through that exact and terrible demand for purity from the very associations of death, God trained the Jews for ages to feel the connexion between death and sin, and made them know that not one shadow of impurity must darken the man who ventured to approach the presence of Him whose name is Holy. Now all this could purify the flesh only: it could cleanse the outward man, and deliver the worshipper from the outward penalties of unhallowed service; but there was an inner man, defiled by death, which those sacrifices of purification had no power to make pure. Within the spirit’s temple there was a conscience, heavenly and sacred, which had been darkened by sin and which needed redemption before the worshipper could go in joy and freedom into the presence of the Most High. No blood of bulls or of goats, no sprinkling of ashes could touch it—they had only a fleshly ceremonial power; it needed a living, holy, spiritual sacrifice to purge it from its dark pollution. And herein lies the power of our author’s argument. If the outward ceremonial cleansed the outward man from the defilement of death, “how much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish unto God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?”

2. This, then, is what is meant in the text, when it contrasts the atoning power of the blood of Christ with that of the blood of bulls and goats. The blood of the sacrificed animal had a certain value, because it was so intimately connected with the life or sensitive soul of the animal; as the writer puts it, it did, and by Divine appointment, sanctify to the purifying of the flesh. By the “flesh” is here meant the natural, outward, and earthly life of man; especially all that bore in the way of outward conduct and condition upon his membership of the commonwealth of Israel. The sacrifices on the Day of Atonement, and especially the sprinkling of the blood of the red heifer towards the tabernacle, signified the substitution of life for life, and were at any rate accepted as establishing the outward religious position of those for whom they were offered. That they could do more was impossible; the nature of things was opposed to it: “it was not possible that the blood of bulls and goats should take away sins.” The blood of these animals could not operate in the proper sphere of spiritual natures. But then it foreshadowed nothing less than the blood of Christ. It was His blood, who through His Eternal Spiritual Being (it is not the Holy Ghost who is here meant, but the Divine Nature of the Incarnate Christ) offered Himself without spot to God. The eternal spiritual nature of Christ, vivifying the blood of Christ, is contrasted in the writer’s thought with the perishable life of the sacrificed animal resident in the blood of the animal; and so the value of the sacrifices, the power of the blood to cleanse or save, varies with the dignity of the life which it represents—in one case, that of the creature, not even endowed with reason or immortality; in the other, that of the Infinite and Eternal Being who for us men, and for our salvation, has come down from heaven. “How much more shall the blood of Christ!”

At length we see what it is that the sacred writer really means. He says in effect to his readers, “You have no doubt that, under the old Jewish dispensation, the sacrifices on the Day of Atonement, the blood of the slaughtered goat and red heifer, could restore the Israelite who had done wrong to his place and his privileges in the sacred nation. It sanctified to the purifying of the flesh. But here is the blood—not of a sacrificial animal, not of a mere man, not even of the best of men, but of One who was God ‘manifest in the flesh.’ Who shall calculate the effects of His self-sacrifice? Who shall limit the power of His voluntary death? Who shall say what His outpoured blood may or may not achieve on earth or elsewhere?” Plainly we are here in the presence of an agency which altogether distances and rebukes the speculations of reason; we can but listen for some voice that shall speak with authority, and from beyond the veil: we can but be sure of this, that the blood of the Eternal Christ must infinitely transcend in its efficacy that of the victims slain on the Temple altars; it must be much more than equal to redress the woes, to efface the transgressions, of a guilty world.


The Conscience and its Works

1. The Conscience.—It may seem a strange assertion that the conscience of man needs purifying from defilement, for, regard it in what light we may, it is the most sacred and Divine thing in humanity, and the source of all that is sacred and noble in man’s nature. On it are founded the sanctities of home, the fellowships of brotherhood, and the emotions of religion. We speak of it as an eye of the spirit, which looks upwards to a law which varies not with our falls and failures, but is the same yesterday, to-day, and for ever; as a voice that, in our moments of strong temptation, raises its cry amidst the storms of passion, and denounces the fascinating appearance of evil as a hollow lie; as a power that we feel we ought to obey even when we disobey it—a power which makes us feel that we are bound to do right even when peril and suffering and death are the inevitable results of right action. And can that sacred and holy thing, the warning light by which we see the defilement of the will, itself need cleansing? This seems stranger still when we regard the conscience as it is regarded in this chapter. For after speaking of its purification, the author says in the 23rd verse, that, while the patterns of things in the heavens, that is, the symbols in the Temple, needed the cleansing of the Jewish sacrifices, the heavenly things themselves were purified with better sacrifices than these; therefore the conscience is among the heavenly things which needed purifying by the sacrifice of Christ. Hence he means by it not only the sense of right and wrong, but the whole inner nature which connects man with the heavenly. The sense of the Infinite which awakens in him a feeling of awe and wonder before the grandeur of God in earth and sky; the emotions of reverence that pour themselves forth in Temple worship before the felt presence of the Father; the belief in the invisible world which makes us feel that there are regions near us whose beauty and glory “eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, nor heart conceived”: all in man from which his religion and worship rise are included in conscience, and implies that the spiritual, heavenly, aspiring nature needs purifying before we can serve the living God. It is very important that we should understand this necessity. We must realize the fact that the heavenly nature does need purifying; we must feel that our conscience, sacred though it be, does need cleansing, or we shall not feel the power and beauty of the doctrine that only the purified conscience can rise to spiritual worship of the Father.

(1) In that mysterious judgment chamber, where busy thoughts, like subtle and eager pleaders, accuse and excuse one another, a voice, whose authority we cannot dispute, declares us guilty, and the testimony of God, which is greater than our conscience, reveals to us more fully our sin and condemnation. But when we are convinced of our sin and helplessness, God is revealed as a just God, and the justifier of the guilty who believe in Jesus; the blood of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, reveals to us the holy and perfect way in which all iniquity is pardoned and all transgression removed. And as that blood avails in heaven, so it delivers the conscience from the burden of guilt, and from the burden of all our own miserable attempts at pleasing God and lulling our fears: dead works which like a dead weight only increase our wretchedness. Now we truly turn from sin unto God. In Jesus Christ, God and the sinner meet; both behold the blood of the Lord Jesus, and in the high sanctuary above and in the inmost sanctuary of the conscience there is peace.

(2) Yet the conscience thus purged is more sensitive. We know now more of our sinfulness: for we behold sin in the light of God’s love. What then? Of sin we have no conscience; but of our sinfulness and constant sinning we have. We confess our sins; we pray, “Forgive us our trespasses”: we mourn over our unfaithfulness; we behold and abhor our vileness; we have no confidence in the flesh. But we confess to the Father as children; we confess before the throne of grace, and in the hearing of the merciful and compassionate High Priest. We learn the deepest and most self-abasing lesson; to go with sin and unworthiness to infinite love, to boundless compassion, to never-failing mercy, to the Father who loves us, to the Lord who always intercedes for us. We have been washed once for all when we came to Jesus. We need now to have our feet washed. Peter either refused to have his feet washed by Jesus (false humility) or wished Jesus to wash not merely his feet, but also his hands and his head (unbelief and false humility again); but when afterwards he understood the ways of God, he strengthened his brethren. For in his Epistle he teaches that if we forget that we have been purged from our sins we become unfruitful and blind: the knowledge of our perfect and complete acceptance is the strength of obedience.

Complete redemption involves deliverance from the sense of guilt, from the power of moral evil, and from religious legalism. These combined cover at once all ethical and all religious interests, both “justification” and “sanctification” in the Pauline sense. All these benefits flow from Christ’s sacrifice, viewed in the light of the spirit through which it was offered.… Intelligent appreciation of the spirit by which Christ offered Himself inspires that full, joyful trust in God that gives peace to the guilty conscience. But its effect does not stop there. The same appreciation inevitably becomes a power of moral impulse. The mind of Christ flows into us through the various channels of admiration, sympathy, gratitude, and becomes our mind, the law of God written on the heart. And the law within emancipates from the law without, purges the conscience from the baleful influence of “dead works,” that we may serve the Father in heaven in the free yet devoted spirit of faith and love.1 [Note: A. B. Bruce, The Epistle to the Hebrews, 358.]

2. Dead Works.—We are separated from God the Holy One by sin, from God the living One by death. In order to bring us into communion with God, and to purge our consciences, we have to be delivered both from the guilt of sin and from the defilement and power of death. Now of the types which purified unto the (typical) service, the blood of Jesus is the antitype. By the blood of Christ we are brought into the presence of the holy and living God. This is our sanctification, in which we are separated and cleansed for the worship and service of God. We are separated from the world of sin and death, from dead works; by which we must understand everything that is not the manifestation of a divinely-given and divinely-wrought life; because nothing is fit to be brought before and unto the living God unless it be living, or spiritual, or unless it proceeds from communion with the living One.

“Dead works”: works that are not good, in that their motive is good, nor bad, in that their motive is bad, but dead in that they have no motive at all, in that they are merely outward and mechanical—affairs of propriety, routine, and form, to which the heart and spirit contribute nothing. “Dead works”: to how much of our lives, ay, of the better and religious side of our lives, may not this vivid and stern expression justly apply! How many acts in the day are gone through without intention, without deliberation, without effort, to consecrate them to God, without any reflex effect upon the faith and love of the doer? How many prayers, and words, and deeds are of this character? and if so, how are they wrapping our spirits round with bandages of insincere habit, on which already the avenging angels may have traced the motto, “Thou hast a name that thou livest, and art dead”!1 [Note: H. P. Liddon, Passiontide Sermons, 80.]

3. Living Service.—The effect of the ceremonial cleansing was to restore to the man his place in the congregation. So the effect of the cleansed conscience is to enable him to offer what St. Paul calls (Romans 12:1) “reasonable service.” Compare the Collect for the 21st Sunday after Trinity, “that we may be cleansed from all our sins and serve thee with a quiet mind.”

The phrase, “to serve the living God,” cuts in sunder a fallacy which has beguiled some and perplexed many. If our release comes to us, apart from works, by the efficacy of that sacrifice, long since completed, why should we work at all? Because it is the law of our new life; because we are alive and in the temple of a living God, whose temple-service attracts us; because we are cleansed for this very purpose from the coldness and apathy of the dead and brought to readiness and desire to serve. Ritual cleansing was “toward the purifying of the flesh”: this reaches “unto the temple-service of the living God.”

(1) The service is “living” in the reality of its spiritual emotions. The unpurged conscience is tempted to forget, to doubt, to deny God, or to regard Him simply as some awful and mysterious power. The purified spirit feels Him near and can bear the glance of the Eternal without shrinking; for the dead past has been cleansed away by the blood of the Saviour. Thus prayer becomes real; it is no longer a vain cry breathed into the air; for the Spirit through which He offered Himself abides in us, constraining our devotion.

(2) The service is “living,” for it pervades the whole life. The worship of fear is limited to time and place. But cleansed and inspired by Christ, we feel He is everywhere. In suffering we bear His will, and our sighs become prayers. In sorrow, when the heart is weary, we feel ourselves near to the Heavenly Friend who is leading us to find in Him rest for the restless and sad. In joys, He who hallowed social gladness by His first miracle—and amid the friendships of life, He who made friendship holy—is close to our hearts. In our falls and failures we hear His voice in the hope of rising out of the gloom to a higher and purer state beyond it. Thus not only in the service of the Temple, and in the presence of a worshipping multitude, but throughout life—in the silent hours of meditation, in the still sanctuary of prayer, in the dreary hours of toil, and drearier hours of doubt, amid the rush of temptation and the pressure of care, do we feel the presence of the Christ who, through the eternal Spirit, offered Himself to God.

Grievously do they mistake the design of the death of Christ who suppose that it was intended simply to deliver us from the penalty of sin and to leave us free to continue in transgression. The unclean were purified that they might enter the tabernacle and take part in its services; and the blood of Christ has been shed for us that we may have access to God. It does not render worship and obedience unnecessary; it is the means by which we are delivered from that which hindered both. Hence it is that whether we offer adoration and praise, or invoke the Divine blessing on ourselves or intercede for others, or venture to contemplate the Divine glory, and endeavour to enter into communion with the Divine blessedness, we do all in the name of the Lord Jesus. His sacrifice is the foundation on which our religious life is built; by His blood we are cleansed from impurity that we may serve the living God.1 [Note: R. W. Dale, The Jewish Temple and the Christian Church, 213.]

As to St. James’ assertion that “faith without works profiteth nothing,” which appears to contradict St. Paul’s, who says that “a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law,” suppose I say, “A tree cannot be struck without thunder,” that is true, for there is never destructive lightning without thunder. But, again, if I say, “The tree was struck by lightning without thunder,” that is true, too, if I mean that the lightning alone struck it, without the thunder striking it. Yet read the two assertions together, and they seem contradictory. So, in the same way, St. Paul says, “Faith justifies without works”—that is, faith only is that which justifies us, not works. But St. James says, “Not a faith which is without works.” There will be works with faith, as there is thunder with lightning; but just as it is not the thunder but the lightning, the lightning without the thunder, that strikes the tree, so it is not the works which justify. Put it in one sentence—Faith alone justifies; but not the faith which is alone. Lightning alone strikes, but not the lightning which is alone, without thunder; for that is only summer lightning, and harmless. You will see that there is an ambiguity in the words “without” and “alone,” and the two Apostles use them in different senses, just as I have used them in the above simile about the lightning.1 [Note: Life and Letters of the Rev. F. W. Robertson, 334.]


The Way of Cleansing

“How much more shall the blood of Christ.” Here we have not to do with animal sacrifices, the validity of which was that they were appointed by God, but we have to do with a Person. What Person? The Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, and Son of Man. Stop to think of this! Who is this Christ? He is the Person that most of all has educated our conscience. How He has broken in on my being, investing with new vividness and sublime sanction the natural moral convictions of my soul! What a light He has thrown on the being of God! What a view of the heinousness of sin! Christ is the only educator of the conscience. He has thrown around my being a light of spiritual and moral obligation which made me live as a moral being even before I came to Him for salvation. But He does not rest there. He does not say, like great teachers of the world, “I have come to teach you the right way.” Christ says, “I have come in another way: I have come to put myself in your place, come to answer to God for you; have offered myself to God in your stead.” Remember that we are in the region of personality here, the region of free-will, the region of character; and this great moral and spiritual Agent, who is so much more—the Son of God—comes forth and says, “I am coming to take your place, and answer for you before the Eternal God.” That means for me that I respond to this offer in the surrender of faith. We are now on a totally different level from the Old Testament offerer. Then an animal sacrifice was offered, the equivalent was paid for certain sins, a life for a life, and the offerer got freedom from ceremonial defilement, came again into covenant relations with God, and again essayed to obey. But here is a Person, willing to answer to God for me; and I come and give myself into the hands of this Person. For what? That He may see the whole thing through. Christ has taken the whole burden and responsibility, and I have given myself to Him. In this union of faith, Christ answers for me before God, and I receive in Him the whole fruit of His great sacrifice, and in Him am brought nigh to God. It is Christ’s work. I cannot go so far with Christ, and then proceed by myself. The whole conception of the atonement shuts me up to this—if I yield myself up to Christ, Christ must undertake all for me. He is to be the doer right through, and I am to receive from Him, in Him, and through Him.

Suppose that in the bright summer weather we were in Switzerland, and were planning to start on a mountain excursion. Going out early in the morning, we see the ostlers with lantern in hand moving about, harnessing the horses, bringing them out and yoking them, the lantern being held high so that the ostler can see how to strap them. This work goes on a little time, and presently, we enter the hotel and rouse our sleeping friends, that they may get breakfast and be ready for the journey. When we go out again, lo, there is a change! The sun has risen, and is pouring his radiance into this magnificent valley; and there is the lantern, so indispensable an hour ago, with its poor yellow guttering candle—which you instinctively blow out! Like this guttering candle is this conscience of man in his dead works. What can reduce that to utter insignificance in your soul and mine? The contemplation of the sun! “How much more shall the blood of Christ, who, through the Eternal Spirit, offered himself without spot unto God, purge your conscience from dead works!”1 [Note: J. Smith, in Keswick Week, 1900, p. 105.]

1. “The blood of Christ.”—That which must strike all careful readers of the Bible, in the passages which refer to the sufferings and death of Jesus Christ, is the stress which is laid upon His blood. A long course of violent treatment, ending in such a death as that of crucifixion, must involve, we know from the nature of the case, the shedding of the blood of the sufferer. But our modern feeling would probably have led us to treat this as an accidental or subordinate feature of His death.

(1) This modern feeling is far from being mere unhealthy sentimentalism; it arises from that honourable sympathy with and respect for human nature which draws a veil over its miseries or its wounds. But the New Testament, in its treatment of the Passion of Christ is, we cannot but observe, strangely and strongly in contrast with such a feeling. The four Evangelists, who differ so much in their accounts of our Lord’s birth and public ministry, seem to meet around the foot of the cross, and to agree, if not in relating the same incidents, yet certainly in the minuteness and detail of their narratives. In the shortest of the Gospels, when we reach the Passion, the occurrences of a day take up as much space as had previously been assigned to years. From the Last Supper to the burial in the grave of Joseph of Arimathea we have a very complete account of what took place; each incident that added to pain or shame, each bitter word, each insulting act, each outrage upon justice or mercy, of which the Divine Sufferer was a victim, is carefully recorded. But especially the agony and bloody sweat, the public scourging, the crowning with thorns, the nailing to the wood of the cross, the opening of the side with a spear, are described by the Evangelists—incidents, each one of them, be it observed, which must have involved the shedding of Christ’s blood. And in the writings of the Apostles to their first converts more is said of the blood of Christ than of anything else connected with His death—more even than of the cross. As we read them we might almost think that the shedding of His blood was not so much an accompaniment of His death as its main purpose. Thus St. Paul tells the Romans that Christ is set forth to be a “propitiation through faith in his blood”; that they are “justified” by Christ’s blood. He writes to the Ephesians that they have “redemption through Christ’s blood”; to the Colossians that our Lord has “made peace through the blood of his cross”; to the Corinthians that the Holy Sacrament is so solemn a rite because it is “the communion of the blood of Christ.” Thus St. Peter contrasts the slaves, whose freedom from captivity was purchased with corruptible things such as silver and gold, with the case of Christians redeemed by the “precious blood of Christ, as of a Lamb without blemish, and immaculate.” Thus St. John exclaims that “the blood of Jesus Christ the Son of God cleanseth us from all sin.” In the Epistle to the Hebrews this blood is referred to as the blood of the covenant wherewith Christians are sanctified, as “the blood of the everlasting covenant,” as “the blood of sprinkling” which pleads for mercy, and so is contrasted with the blood of Abel, which cries for vengeance. And in the last book of the New Testament the beloved disciple gives at the very outset thanks and praise to Him who has “washed us from our sins in his own blood”; and the blessed in heaven sing that He has “redeemed them to God by his blood”; and the saints “have washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb”; and they have overcome their foe, not in their own might, but by “the blood of the Lamb”; and He whose Name is called “the Word of God,” and who rides on a white horse, and on whose head are many crowns, is “clothed in a vesture dipped in blood.”

In all the languages of the world, blood is the proof and warrant of affection and of sacrifice. To shed blood voluntarily for another is to give the best that man can give; it is to give a sensible proof of, almost a bodily form to, love. This one human instinct is common to all ages, to all civilizations, to all religions. The blood of the soldier who dies for duty, the blood of the martyr who dies for truth, the blood of the man who dies that another may live—blood like this is the embodiment of the highest moral powers in human life, and those powers were all represented in the blood which flowed from the wounds of Christ on Calvary. And yet in saying this we have not altogether accounted for the Apostolic sayings about the blood of Christ. It involves something more than any of these moral triumphs; it is more than all of them taken together.1 [Note: H. P. Liddon.]

In those primal laws which were given to Noah after the Flood, man was authorized to eat the flesh, but not the blood of the animals around him. Why was this? Because the blood is the life or soul of the animal. “Flesh, with the blood thereof, which is the life thereof, shall ye not eat.” The Laws of Moses go further: the man, whether Israelite or stranger, who eats any manner of blood is to be destroyed; and the reason is repeated: “The soul of the flesh,” i.e. of the nature living in the flesh, “is in the blood.” This is why the blood of the sacrificial animals is shed by way of atonement for sin; the blood atones—this is the strict import of the original language—by means of the soul that is in it. Once more, in the Fifth Book of Moses, permission is given to the Israelites to kill and eat the sacrificial animals just as freely as the roebuck or the hart, which were not used for sacrifice. But, again, there follows the caution: “Only be sure that thou eat not the blood”; and the reason for the caution: “the blood is the soul: and thou mayest not eat the soul with the flesh. Thou shalt not eat of it; thou shalt pour it upon the earth like water.”1 [Note: H. P. Liddon.]

(2) Now as the blood of the slain animal means the life of the animal, so the blood of Christ crucified means the life of Christ—His life who is eternal truth and eternal charity. And thus, when a Christian man feels its redemptive touch within him, he has a motive—varying in strength, but always powerful—for being genuine. He means his deeds, his words, his prayers. He knows that life is a solemn thing, and has tremendous issues; he measures these issues by the value of the redeeming blood. If Christ has shed His blood, surely life is well worth living; it is worth saving. A new energy is thrown into everything; a new interest lights up all the surrounding circumstances; the incidents of life, its opportunities, its trials, its successes; the character and disposition of friends, the public occurrences of the time, and the details of the home—all are looked at with eyes which see nothing that is indifferent; and when all is meant for God’s glory, though there may and must be much weakness and inconsistency, the conscience is practically purged from dead works to serve the living God.

The blood of Christ. It was shed on Calvary eighteen hundred years ago: but it flows on throughout all time. It belongs now, not to the physical but to the spiritual world. It washes souls, not bodies; it is sprinkled not on altars but on consciences. But, although invisible, it is not for all that the less real and energetic; it is the secret power of all that purifies or that invigorates souls in Christendom. Do we believe in “one Baptism for the remission of sins”? It is because Christ’s blood tinges the waters of the font to the eyes of faith. Do we believe that God “hath given power and commandment to His ministers to declare and pronounce to His people, being penitent, the Absolution and Remission of their sins”? It is because the blood of Christ, applied to the conscience by the Holy Spirit, makes this declaration an effective reality. Do we find in the Bible more than an ancient literature—in Christian instruction more than a mental exercise—in the life of thought about the unseen and the future more than food for speculation? This is because we know that the deepest of all questions is that which touches our moral state before God; and that, as sinners, we are above all things interested in the “fountain opened for sin and for uncleanness” in the blood of Christ. Do we look to our successive Communions for the strengthening and refreshing of our souls? This is because the blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, which was shed for us of old, and is given us now, can “preserve our bodies and souls unto everlasting life.” Does even a single prayer, offered in entire sincerity of purpose, avail to save a despairing soul? It is because “we have boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus.”1 [Note: H. P. Liddon, Passiontide Sermons, 81.]

“Suppose that I, a sinner, be walking along yon golden street, passing by one angel after another. I can hear them say as I pass through their ranks, “A sinner! a crimson sinner!” Should my feet totter? Should my eye grow dim? No: I can say to them,” Yes, a sinner, a crimson sinner, but a sinner brought near by a forsaken Saviour, and now a sinner who has boldness to enter into the Holiest through the blood of Jesus.”2 [Note: Andrew A. Bonar, Heavenly Springs, 175.]

2. “Who offered himself without blemish unto God.”—This brings out more than His personal holiness, His perfect obedience. It was a whole sacrifice. He took this life and laid it on the altar of God. He said: “Lo, I come to do thy will”; and God laid His yoke upon Him. Day by day as in providence the yoke of Divine command came, He met the will of God with perfect submission. As the clouds began to gather, and the opposition of men grew fiercer, Christ rose to the level of perfect obedience and every moment did the will of God. He stands before the judgment-seats of Caiaphas, Pilate, and Herod, is at last brought out to “the green hill beyond the city wall,” and there He reaches the crown of His perfect obedience.

Obedience is not really separable from atonement. Obedience is atoning; and the atonement itself can be exhibited as one great consummation of obedience. Only in Christ’s death is the climax of obedience reached; while the life is a sacrifice from end to end. The life, as apart from the death, is characterized more immediately by the homage of perfect obedience than by the agony of extreme penitence. The death, viewed apart from the life, is characterized even more by the anguish which was requisite to perfect contrition than by the normal homage to the character of God which consists in being holy. Our thought is of the life of consummate obedience, as a perfect manifestation, and offering, of holiness: holiness in terms of human condition and character; yet a perfectly adequate holiness; a response worthy of the holiness of God. How, in this aspect, shall we chiefly characterize the picture of the life as a whole? The essential point of the truth, the truth which sums up all other and more partial truths, would seem to be this. It is a life of unreserved, unremitting, absolute, and clearly conscious, dependence. The centre of His life is never in Himself. He is always explicitly the manifestation, the reflection, the obedient Son and Servant, of another. There is no purpose of self; no element of self-will; no possibility, even for a moment, of the imagination of separateness; no such thing, we may even say, as a consciousness alone and apart. He is the representative agent of another, the Son of the Father, the Image of God.1 [Note: R. C. Moberly, Atonement and Personality, 99.]

3. “Through the eternal Spirit.”—The voluntary sacrifice of the Lord Jesus Christ was a Divine act. He assumed the nature of man, but even in His humiliation He was God still. When He laid aside His eternal glory, it was God who made Himself of no reputation and took upon Him the form of a servant, and assumed the likeness of men; and throughout the whole history of His sorrow and shame, although the majesty and splendour of His heavenly estate were obscured, it was still the everlasting Son of the Father—the Divine Word dwelling upon earth—that was the object of the malignity of Satan and the cruelty of man. The sufferings of the sacrifices of the ancient law were not to be ascribed to any voluntary submission on their part; but it was “through the eternal Spirit”—the Divine personality and will which constituted the very centre and root of the life of the Lord Jesus Christ—that He endured the cross, despising the shame. The mystery of the union between the Divinity and the humanity of our Lord cannot be penetrated; but the difficulties are metaphysical, not moral. They defy the power of the intellect, but do not trouble the conscience. On the other hand, if this union is forgotten, and if the sufferings of the Lord Jesus for human salvation are regarded as the sufferings of a third person intervening between God and man, to allay the wrath of the One and to secure the escape of the other, moral difficulties arise of the most portentous kind; and the conscience, instead of finding rest in the sacrifice, is tortured and discouraged. When God determined to have mercy upon man, He did not command or permit holy angels to endure the sufferings which men had deserved; nor did He command or permit an innocent man to sink under the awful burden of the iniquities of the race; but, since it belonged to Himself to maintain the eternal distinction between right and wrong, and He had resolved not to maintain it in this case by inflicting just penalties on those who had sinned, He came into the world Himself, in the person of the Son, assuming our nature that He might become capable of suffering, and the suffering of Christ was the act of the Eternal Spirit.

“Offered himself through the Spirit;” surely a strange mode of sacrifice. I would have expected it to have been said that Christ offered Himself through the pains of the flesh. Nay, but in God’s sight this was not His offering. The deepest part of His sacrifice was invisible; it was the surrender of His will. The gift which He presented to the Father was not His pain but Himself—His willingness to suffer. What the Father loved was rather the painlessness than the pain. He delighted not so much in His sacrifice as in the joy of His sacrifice. It was offered “through the Spirit.” It was not wrung out from a reluctant soul through obedience to an outward law; it came from the inner heart—from the impulse of undying love. It was a completed offering before Calvary began; it was seen by the Father before it was seen by the world. It was finished in the spirit ere it began in the flesh—finished in that hour in which the Son of man exclaimed, “Not as I will, but as thou wilt.” Man had to see the pain of His body; God was satisfied when “he poured out his soul.” Even so, my brother, is it with thee. There are times in which thou art impotent for all outward work, times in which thou canst offer no bodily sacrifice. Thine may be the path of obscurity; thine may be the season of penury; thine may be the road apart from the world’s highway. Thine may be the delicate frame that cannot run for God because it must rest for sustenance; there may be nothing for thee to do but to look on and wish that thou couldst serve. Yes, but canst thou do that? Is this wish indeed thine? Then thy Father sees thy sacrifice completed. It is not yet offered in the body, but it is offered “through the eternal Spirit.” Like the sacrifice of Abraham it is accepted in its inwardness. Thou hast brought up thy gift to Mount Moriah and hast laid it there before the Lord—laid it open in thy heart, uncovered on the front of thy bosom. Thy Father sees it there and holds it already given. He accepts the offering of thy will as an offering of thy gift. He asks not the blood of Isaac when He has seen the blood of Abraham. He counts thy faith unto thee for righteousness, thy devotion unto thee for deed, for He knows that the sacrifice which lags behind in the flesh has been offered already in the Eternal Spirit.1 [Note: G. Matheson, Voices of the Spirit, 215.]

The Cleansing of the Conscience


Body (G.), The Guided Life, 103.

Dale (R. W.), The Jewish Temple and the Christian Church, 211.

Hickey (F. P.), Short Sermons, ii. 78.

Holland (C.), Gleanings from a Ministry of Fifty Years, 173.

Hopkins (W. M.), The Tabernacle and its Teaching, 168.

Hull (E. L.), Sermons, i. 192.

Ingram (A. F. W.), The Love of the Trinity, 145.

Kuegele (F.), Country Sermons, New Ser., ii. 21.

Liddon (H. P.), Passiontide Sermons, 69.

Lilley (A. L.), Nature and the Supernatural, 93.

Mabie (H. C.), The Meaning and Message of the Cross, 122.

Manning (H. E.), Sermons, i. 241.

Matheson (G.), Voices of the Spirit, 215.

Meyer (F. B.), The Way into the Holiest, 136.

Mortimer (A. G.), Lenten Preaching, 49.

Saphir (A.), Expository Lectures on the Hebrews, ii. 123.

Sauter (B.), The Sunday Epistles, 204.

Selby (T. G.), The Holy Spirit and Christian Privilege, 25.

Spurgeon (C. H.), Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit, xxv. (1879), No. 1481; xxxi. (1885), No. 1846.

Temple (F.), Rugby Sermons, iii. 165.

Vaughan (C. J.), Epiphany, Lent and Easter, 195.

Williams (I.), Sermons on the Epistles and Gospels, iii. 136.

Cambridge Review, iv. Supplement No. 92 (A. Barry).

Christian World Pulpit, xlviii. 134 (W. Alexander); xlix. 185 (G. Body); lix. 192 (G. Body); lxvii. 225 (G. Body).

Church of England Pulpit, lxii. 292 (C. Wordsworth).

Churchman’s Pulpit: Fifth Sunday in Lent, vi. 196 (G. E. L. Cotton), 198 (C. J. Vaughan), 201 (J. T. F. Farquhar).

Contemporary Pulpit, 2nd Ser., ix. 201 (W. P. Roberts).

Guardian, lxvi. 126 (W. Lock).

Keswick Week, 1900, p. 103 (J. Smith).

National Preacher, v. 65 (J. B. Woodford).

Sermon Year Book, ii. 237 (C. Gore).

Verse 14

(14) Through the eternal Spirit.—Better, through an eternal Spirit; for in a passage of so much difficulty it is important to preserve the exact rendering of the Greek, and the arguments usually adduced seem insufficient to justify the ordinary translation. By most readers of the Authorised version, probably, these words are understood as referring to the Holy Spirit, whose influence continually rested on “the Anointed One of God” (Acts 10:38). For this opinion there seems to be no foundation in the usage of the New Testament, and it is not indicated by anything in the context. The explanation of the words must rather be sought in the nature of our Lord, or in some attribute of that nature. There are a few passages, mainly in the Epistles of St. Paul, in which language somewhat similar is employed in regard to the spirit (pneuma) of our Lord. The most remarkable of these are Romans 1:4, where “spirit of holiness” is placed in contrast with “flesh;” and 1 Timothy 3:16, “in spirit.” On the latter Bishop Ellicott writes: “in spirit, in the higher sphere of His divine life: the pneuma of Christ is not here the Holy Spirit, but the higher principle of spiritual life, which was not the Divinity (this would be an Apollinarian assertion), but especially and intimately united with it.” (Another passage of great interest is 1 Peter 3:18.) The attribute “eternal” is explained by Hebrews 7:18-19, “according to power of indissoluble life (He hath become priest), for of Him it is testified, Thou art a priest for ever.” Through this spirit, a spirit of holiness, a spirit of indissoluble life, He offered Himself to God. This made such a self-offering possible; this gave to the offering infinite worth. In the words which stand in contrast with these (Hebrews 9:13) we read of the death of animals which had no power over their own transient life: He who was typified in every high priest and in every victim, “through an eternal spirit,” of Himself laid down His life (John 10:18), offering Himself to God in the moment and article of death,—offered Himself in His constant presence in the Holiest Place (Hebrews 9:24).

Without spot.—The word here used is frequently applied in the LXX. to the victims “without blemish” that were offered in sacrifice. The sinlessness of Jesus is expressed under the same metaphor in 1 Peter 1:19.

Purge your conscience from dead works to serve the living God.—Better, cleanse our conscience from dead works to serve a Living God. The word “cleanse” is akin to “cleanness” in Hebrews 9:13. Authorities are divided between “our” and “your”; but the former is probably the better reading. Once before, in Hebrews 6:1, the writer has spoken of “dead works.” (See the Note.) It is here, however, that the significance most fully appears; for we cannot doubt that there exists a reference to the purification made necessary by all contact with death. (See Hebrews 9:13.) Since the works are dead because they had no share in true life, which is the life of God, the last words bring before us the thought of a Living God (Hebrews 3:12). This thought also stands connected with “eternal Spirit,” for those who are cleansed through the offering of Christ shall share His relation to the Living God. The contrast is in every respect complete. From the whole number of Jewish rites had been selected (Hebrews 9:13) the two which most fully represented the purification from sin and from pollution through death, in order that this completeness of antithesis might be attained. It is not necessary to trace the details of the contrast. In each and in all we read the “How much more!”

Verse 15

(15) And for this cause.—Or, And because of this. This verse looks back to the great truth of Hebrews 9:11-12, which the last two verses have served to confirm and place in bolder relief. “Christ through His own blood entered once for all into the Holy Place, having won eternal redemption; and by reason of this He is the Mediator of a covenant, a new covenant, in order that they who have been called may receive the promise of the eternal inheritance.” For “the new testament” we must certainly read a new covenant: whatever may be thought of the following group of verses, the rendering testament has no place here. The leading thought of Hebrews 8 is the establishment of a new covenant, and the former covenant has been referred to three times in this very chapter (Hebrews 9:1; Hebrews 9:4).

That by means of death.—Rather, that, death having taken place for redemption from the transgressions, &c. The first covenant had been broken by “transgressions:” unless there be redemption from these—that is, from the bondage of penalty which has resulted from these—there can be no promise and no new covenant. In respect of this bondage, this penalty, the death of Christ was a ransom—an offering to God looked at in the light of a payment in the place of debt, service, or penalty due. When debt and payment are changed into the corresponding ideas of sin and punishment, the ransom gives place to the sin-offering, of which the principle was the acknowledgment of death deserved, and the vicarious suffering of death. So far our thought has rested on the removal of the results of the past. The covenant and the promise relate to the establishment of the better future. Death was necessary alike for both. The offering of Christ’s life (Matthew 20:28) was a ransom or an offering for sin; it was also a sacrifice inaugurating a new covenant, which contained the promise of the eternal inheritance. See Hebrews 9:16-18; also Galatians 3:13-14, where the thought is very similar.

They which are called.—More clearly, they that have been called. (See Acts 2:39; Romans 1:6-7; 2 Thessalonians 2:13-14.) In Hebrews 3:1 we have a similar expression, “partakers of a heavenly calling:” there also the idea of sonship (Hebrews 2:10), with its right of “inheritance,” is certainly present.

Verse 16

Verse 18

(18) Whereupon.—Better, Wherefore not even has the first (covenant) been dedicated (or, inaugurated) without blood. (See Exodus 24:6-8.)

Verse 19

(19) Every precept.—Or, commandment. See Exodus 24:3; where we read that Moses “told the people all the words of the Lord, and all the judgments.” These he wrote in a book (Hebrews 9:4), and this “book of the covenant” (Hebrews 9:7) he “read in the audience of the people.” The contents would probably be the Ten Commandments, and the laws of Exodus 20:22 to Exodus 23:33.

Of calves and of goats.—In Exodus (Hebrews 9:5) we read of “burnt offerings” and of “peace offerings of oxen.” The “goats” may be included in the burnt offerings; for though Jewish tradition held that a goat was never sacrificed as a burnt offering, Leviticus 1:10 is clear on the other side. It is possible that “the calves and the goats” may be only a general expression for “the sacrificial victims.” (See Hebrews 9:12.)

With water, and scarlet wool, and hyssop.—In Exodus 24 there is no mention of these details, but similar notices are found in other parts of the Pentateuch, where the ceremony of sprinkling for purification is described (Exodus 12:22; Leviticus 14:4; Leviticus 14:6; and Numbers 19:6; Numbers 19:17-18). The water (itself an emblem and means of cleansing) was designed to prevent the coagulation of the blood, and to increase the quantity of the purifying fluid. The “scarlet wool” may have been used to bind the hyssop to the stick of cedar-wood, which was the instrument of sprinkling. The precise notices in the Law forbid us to doubt that each of these substances had a definite symbolical meaning, but to us the subject is involved in obscurity.

Both the book and all the people.—The Greek is more emphatic: both the book itself and all the people. The latter fact alone is mentioned in Exodus (Hebrews 9:8). The sprinkling of the book of the covenant may be regarded from two points of view. It may depend either on the same principle as the (later) sprinkling of the Tabernacle (Hebrews 9:22), and the “reconciling” of the Tabernacle and the Holy Place (Leviticus 16:20) on the Day of Atonement; or on the symbolism of the covenant as noticed above (Hebrews 9:15-17). In the latter case we must suppose that, as the blood was divided into two portions (Exodus 24:6) in token of the two parties to the covenant, and part “cast upon the altar,” the book of the covenant was associated with the altar as representing the presence of Jehovah.

Verse 20

(20) The testament which God hath enjoined unto you.—Better, the covenant which God commanded in regard to you. “Commanded,” see Hebrews 8:6 : in the LXX. the word is “covenanted.”

Verse 21

(21) He sprinkled with blood.—Rather, he sprinkled in like manner with the blood. It is singular that the word rendered “in like manner” (found in the Bishops’ Bible, “likewise,” and in other versions) should have been overlooked in the Authorised version. The incident here mentioned belongs, of course, to a later date. It is not expressly recorded in Scripture, but is related by Josephus (Ant. iii. 8, § 6); and, apart from internal probability, might almost be concluded from the narrative of the Pentateuch itself. In Exodus 40:9-15 we read of the divine injunction that Moses should put the anointing oil not only upon Aaron and his sons, their garments, and the altar, but also upon the Tabernacle and its vessels. In Leviticus 8:10-12 is recorded the fulfilment of this command; but in the later verses of the same chapter we read that the altar was sprinkled with the blood of the sin-offering (Hebrews 9:15), and that Moses sprinkled Aaron and his sons and their garments with “the anointing oil and the blood which was upon the altar.” Manifestly we may infer that the Tabernacle and its vessels were included in the latter ceremony. Whatever was connected with the covenant which God made with His people must be sprinkled with the blood, which at once typified purification (Hebrews 9:14; Hebrews 9:24), and ratified the covenant (Hebrews 9:15; Hebrews 9:17).

Verse 22

(22) And almost all things.—The meaning of the word “almost,” as it stands in the Greek, is rather, “One may almost lay down the rule,” “One may almost say.” What follows, in both parts of the verse, is a general saying, modified by these introductory words. And one may almost say—according to the Law, all things are cleansed in blood, and apart from the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness. To the first rule an exception is found in the various purifications by water or by fire (see Numbers 31:22-24); to the second in the remarkable law of Leviticus 5:11-13. The expression “in blood” is used because sprinkling with the blood of the slain victim was in figure a surrounding with, or inclusion within, the purifying element. On “cleansed” (Hebrews 1:3) the best comment is found in Leviticus 16:19; Leviticus 16:30; on “forgiveness,” in the words which in Leviticus 4 are repeatedly (Leviticus 4:20; Leviticus 4:26; Leviticus 4:31; Leviticus 4:35) used of the effect of the sin offering, “it shall be forgiven him.” The second clause of the verse is founded on Leviticus 17:11. By “shedding of blood” we must probably understand the slaying of the animal, rather than the pouring out of the blood by the altar (Leviticus 4:34, et al.) With these words compare Luke 22:20.

Verse 23

(23) The patterns of things in the heavens.—Rather, the tokens (Hebrews 8:5) of the things in the heavens. In the first part of the verse a conclusion is drawn from the sacred history, which related the accomplishment of the divine will, and showed therefore what was “necessary.” But the real stress lies on the second part. The whole may be paraphrased thus: “Whilst then it is necessary that what are but tokens of the things in the heavens should be cleansed with these things, it is necessary that the heavenly things themselves should be cleansed with better sacrifices than these.” The meaning of “these things” might perhaps be found in Hebrews 9:19 (the various instruments of purification), or in Hebrews 9:13 (the two sin offerings there spoken of); but, from the prominence given to repetition in the following verses, the plural seems rather to mean with these sacrifices repeated from time to time. The common thought in the two parts of the verse appears to be (as in Hebrews 9:21) that everything relating to the covenant of God with sinful man must be brought under the symbol of expiation, without which he can have no part in that covenant. The “heavenly things” are not defiled by sin; but the true heavenly sanctuary cannot be entered by man, the new fellowship between God and man “in heavenly places” cannot be inaugurated, till the heavenly things themselves have been brought into association with the One atoning sacrifice for man.

Better sacrifices.—Here again the use of the plural is remarkable. It seems to arise from the studious generality in the terms of this verse. To “these things” the natural antithesis is “better sacrifices.” That in the ministry of the true High Priest there was a presentation of but one sacrifice is not assumed here, because it is to be strongly brought out below (Hebrews 9:25-26).

Verse 24

(24) For Christ is not entered.—Better, For Christ did not enter into a holy place made with hands. of like pattern to the true (or, real) holy place. In the second part of Hebrews 9:23 the two thoughts were the “heavenly things themselves” and “better sacrifices.” Of these the first is taken up here; the second in Hebrews 9:25-26. That verse was general: this sets forth the actual fact. “For the sanctuary into which Christ entered is not a copy or a token of the things in the heavens, but heaven itself.” “Of like pattern,” see Hebrews 8:5; “the true,” Hebrews 8:2; “into heaven itself,” Hebrews 8:1.

Now to appear in the presence of God for US.—Better, now to be made manifest before the face of God for us. We cannot doubt that these words continue the contrast between the true High Priest and the high priest on earth. On the Day of Atonement the high priest came before what was but a symbol of the Divine Presence; he caused the Holiest Place to be filled with the smoke of the incense before he entered with the blood of the offering. He did not dare to delay his return, even by prolonging his prayer, lest he should “excite terror in Israel.” In the heavenly sanctuary the High Priest is made manifest before the face of God. (Comp. Exodus 33:20.) Three different words in these verses (Hebrews 9:24; Hebrews 9:26; Hebrews 9:28) are in the Authorised version rendered by the same word “appear”: “to make manifest,” “to manifest,” “to appear,” may serve as renderings which shall keep in mind the difference of the words. The form of the Greek verb might seem to imply a single appearance only; by the added word “now the writer corrects, or rather enlarges, the thought, and shows that the true meaning is a manifestation which is both one and unceasing. With emphasis he places at the close the words which indicate “the people” whose High Priest He has become. As in Hebrews 8:1 his language was “we have such a High Priest,” and in Hebrews 9:14, “shall purge our conscience;” so here, it is on our behalf that Christ is manifested unto God.

Verse 25

(25) Nor yet that he should—i.e., Nor yet (did He enter into heaven) that He may offer Himself often. The connection has been pointed out already in the last Note. The “offering “which is here in thought does not correspond to the actual sacrifice of the sin-offerings on the Day of Atonement, but to the presentation of the blood in the Holiest Place. In this really consisted the presentation of that sacrifice to God. That this is the meaning here is shown by the contrast in the latter part of the verse, where we read of the high priest’s entering the Holy Place (i.e., the Holy of Holies; see Note on Hebrews 9:2) “with blood not his own,” and by the argument of Hebrews 9:26.

Verse 26

(26) For then must he often have suffered.—The repeated presentation of Himself to God must imply, as a necessary condition, a repeated “suffering of death; as the high priest’s offering of the blood of expiation in the Holiest Place implied the previous sacrifice of the victim. The writer’s point of view is the time when “Christ entered into heaven itself.” In speaking of the repeated “suffering” (Luke 24:26; Luke 24:46, et al.), he marks the limits within which it must lie, reaching back to the “foundation of the world.” The expression in the second part of the verse is the converse of this: looking forward from the “foundation of the world,” through all the successive periods of human history until the Incarnation, he writes, “Now once at the end of the world”—“at the consummation of the ages”—hath Christ “been manifested.” The words “consummation of the age” occur five times in St. Matthew’s Gospel—Matthew 13:39-40; Matthew 13:49; Matthew 24:3; Matthew 28:20. (See the Notes.) The phrase here is more expressive still. The history of all preceding ages was a preparation for the manifestation of the Christ (“who verily was fore-ordained before the foundation of the world, but was manifest in these last times” (literally, at the end of the times), 1 Peter 1:20; all subsequent history develops the results of that manifestation. A similar thought is contained in St. Paul’s words “the fulness of the seasons” (Ephesians 1:10), “the fulness of the time” (Galatians 4:4). (See further the Note on Hebrews 1:2.)

To put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself.—Literally, for the annulling of sin through His sacrifice. The word which in Hebrews 7:18 was used for the abrogation of the command relating to the line of earthly priests, is here applied to the destruction of the power and abolition of the results of sin. As in the manifestation before the face of God we see the proof that the goal which the human high priest failed to reach had been attained, so these words proclaim full deliverance from guilt and penalty, and from the hold of sin itself—a deliverance which the sin-offering could but express in figure.

Verse 27

(27) And as it is appointed . . .—More literally, And as there is laid up for men once to die, and after this judgment. Man’s life and works on earth end with death: what remains is the result of this life and these works, as determined by God’s “judgment.” Man does not return to die a second time. That some few have twice passed through death does not affect the general law. The emphatic word “once” and the special design of the verse are explained by the words which follow.

Verse 28

(28) So Christ was once offered.—The ordinary translation, dividing the verse into two similar portions, fails to show where the emphasis really lies. The two members of the verse correspond to each other, point by point, with remarkable distinctness; but the first is clearly subordinated to the second. “So the Christ. also, having been once offered that He might bear the sins of many, shall appear a second time apart from sin to them that wait for Him unto salvation.” It is important to notice that, not only is there perfect. parallelism between the two members of this verse, but there is a similar relation between this verse as a whole and Hebrews 9:27. In that were presented two cardinal points of the history of sinful man; in this the main outlines of the Redeemer’s work. Each verse deals first with the present world, and secondly with “the last things.” The two verses, taken together, are connected with the preceding argument by the word “once.” Christ will not “suffer” often. He has been manifested once, to accomplish by one act the “annulling” of sin (Hebrews 9:26). And this is in harmony with the lot of man, who must die once, and but once (Hebrews 9:27-28). But what is the exact nature of this correspondence? Do the words simply mean that, as the Christ was man, so it was laid up for Him to die but once? Or may the connection of thought be expressed thus?—The work of redemption is so ordered as to correspond to the course of man’s history: as man must die once, and what remains is the judgment which he must abide, so the Christ has died once, and what remains is His return for judgment—a judgment which He Himself administers, giving salvation to His people. We will not venture to say that the former thought is absent from the words (which are sufficiently general to include both), but certainly the second is the more important. If now we return to Hebrews 9:28, it will be seen that the words “having been once offered” in the first member are answered by “shall appear” in the second; “to bear sins,” by “apart from sin . . . unto salvation;” and “of many,” by “to them that wait for Him.” In Hebrews 9:14; Hebrews 9:25, the writer spoke of Christ as offering Himself, here as “having been offered;” so in Ephesians 5:2 we read that He “delivered Himself up for us,” but in Romans 8:32 that God “delivered Him up for us all,” and in Romans 4:25, “who was delivered up for our offences.” The words which follow are taken (with a slight change) from Isaiah 53:12, “and He bare the sin of many.” These words clearly involve sacrificial imagery. What is signified is not directly the removal of sin (as in the different words of John 1:29); but, as on the animal to be slain the sins of the offerer were in figure laid, and the death which followed signified the death which the offerer had deserved, so, with an infinite extension of meaning, are the words here applied. It is certainly no mere accident that the writer, thus availing himself of the prophet’s words, speaks of the Christ. In contrast with the one Sufferer are the “many” whose sins are borne (comp. Hebrews 2:10; Matthew 26:28). When the Christ shall appear the second time, it shall be “apart from sin”—no longer bearing sin, but “separate from sinners” (Hebrews 7:26). Of the judgment which He shall pass upon “the adversaries” (Hebrews 10:27) this verse does not speak, but only of His appearing to His own people, who “wait for Him.” This expressive word, again and again used by St. Paul (see Note on Romans 8:19) to describe the attitude of Christ’s people upon earth towards their Lord (Philippians 3:20; 1 Corinthians 1:7) and His salvation (Romans 8:23; Romans 8:25), is here applied to all who love His appearing. By these “He shall be seen” as He is (1 John 3:2). The last words “unto salvation” declare the purpose of His appearing, in a form which at once recalls the teaching of earlier verses in the Epistle (Hebrews 5:9; Hebrews 7:26), and especially Hebrews 9:12 of this chapter, and which brings to mind the name of Him for whom we wait, the Saviour (Philippians 3:20).


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Bibliography Information
Ellicott, Charles John. "Commentary on Hebrews 9:4". "Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers". 1905.

Lectionary Calendar
Tuesday, October 20th, 2020
the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29
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