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Christ Superior to Aaron.
(Hebrews 5:1-58.5.4 ).
We are now to enter upon the longest section of our Epistle (Hebrews 5:1-58.5.10 ,39), and a section which is, from the doctrinal and practical viewpoints, perhaps the most important of all. In it the Holy Spirit treats of our Savior’s priesthood. Concerning this most blessed and vital subject the utmost confusion prevails in Christendom today. Yet this is scarcely to be wondered at. For not only has the time now arrived when the majority of those who profess the name of Christ "will not endure sound doctrine," who after their own fleshly and worldly lusts have heaped to themselves teachers that tickle their itching ears with God-dishonoring novelties, but they have turned away their ears from the truth, and are "turned unto fables" (2 Timothy 4:3 , 2 Timothy 4:4 ). Never was there a time when true God-fearing Christians more needed to heed that Divine admonition, "Prove all things, hold fast that which is good" (1 Thessalonians 5:21 ). Our only safeguard is to emulate the Bereans and search the Scriptures daily to ascertain whether or not the things we hear and read from men be their reputation for scholarship, piety, and orthodoxy never so great are according to the unerring Word of God.
Romanists, and with them an increasing number of Anglicans (Episcopalians), virtually set aside the solitary grandeur of the Priesthood of Christ and the sufficiency of His Atonement, by bringing in human priests to act as mediators between God and sinful men. Arminians are in fundamental error by representing the priestly office and ministry of Christ as having a relation to and a bearing upon the whole human race. Most of the leaders among the Plymouth Brethren have wrested the Scriptures by denying the priestly character of Christ’s death by insisting that He only entered upon His priestly office after His ascension, and by affirming that it bears no direct relation to sin or sins, but is only a ministry of sympathy and succor for weakness and infirmities. But as it will serve no profitable purpose to deal with the errors of others, let us turn to the positive side of our subject.
Three references to the High Priesthood of Christ have already been before us in the preceding chapters of our Epistle. First, in Hebrews 2:17 we read, "Wherefore, in all things it behooved Him to be made like unto His brethren, that He might be a merciful and faithful High Priest in things pertaining to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people." This, of itself, is quite sufficient to expose the sophistries of those who teach that the priestly work of Christ has nothing to do with "sins." Second, in Hebrews 3:1 we have been exhorted to, "consider the Apostle and High Priest of our profession, Christ Jesus." Third, in Hebrews 4:14 we are told, "We have a great High Priest, that is passed into the heavens, Jesus the Son of God." Here again is a single statement which is alone sufficient to prove that our Savior entered upon His priestly office before His ascension, for it was as the "great High Priest" He "passed into the heavens."
Supplementing our previous comments on Hebrews 4:14 and introducing what is to be before us, let us note that the Lord Jesus is designed a "great High Priest." This word at once emphasizes His excellency and pre-eminency. Never was there, never can there be another, possessed of such dignity and glory. The "greatness" of our High Priest arises, First, from the dignity of His person: He is not only Son of man, but Son of God (Hebrews 4:14 ). Second, from the purity of His nature: He is "without sin" (Hebrews 4:15 ), "holy," (Hebrews 7:26 ). Third, from the eminency of His order: that of Melchizedek (Hebrews 5:6 ). Fourth, from the solemnity of his ordination: "with an oath" (Hebrews 7:20 , Hebrews 7:21 ) none other was. Fifth, from the excellency of His sacrifice: "Himself, without spot" (Hebrews 9:14 ). Sixth, from the perfection of His administration (Hebrews 7:11 , Hebrews 7:25 ) He has satisfied divine justice, procured Divine favor, given access to the Throne of Grace, secured eternal redemption. Seventh, from the perpetuity of His office: it is untransferable and eternal (Hebrews 7:24 ). From these we may the better perceive the blasphemous arrogancy of the Italian pope, who styles himself "pontifex maximus" the greatest high priest.
"No part of the Mosaic economy had taken a stronger hold of the imaginations and affections of the Jews than the Aaronical High-priesthood, and that system of ritual worship over which its occupants presided. The gorgeous apparel, the solemn investure, the mysterious sacredness of the high priest, the grandeur of the temple in which he ministered, and the imposing splendor of the religious rites which he performed, all these operated like a charm in riveting the attachment of the Jews to the now overdated economy, and in exciting powerful prejudices against that simple, spiritual, unostentatious system by which it had been superceded. In opposition to those prejudices, the apostle shows that the Christian economy is deficient in nothing excellent to be found in the Mosaic; on the contrary, that it has a more dignified High Priest, a more magnificent temple, a more sacred altar, a more efficacious sacrifice; and that, to the spiritually enlightened mind, all the temporary splendors of the Mosaic typical ceremonial, wax dim and disappear amid the overwhelming glories of the permanent realities of the Christian institution" (Dr. John Brown).
But once more we could fain pause and admire the consummate wisdom of the Spirit of God as exhibited in the method pursued in presenting the truth in this Epistle. Had it opened with the declaration of Christ’s superiority over Moses and Aaron, the prejudices of the Jews had been at once aroused. Instead, the personal dignity of the mediatorial Redeemer has been shown (from their own Scriptures) to be so great, that the glory of the angels was so far below His, it follows as a necessary consequence that, the honor attaching to the illustrious of earth’s mortals must be so too. Moreover, at the close of chapter 4, the High Priesthood of Christ is presented in such a way that every renewed heart must be won by and to it. There the apostle had announced not only that our High Priest is Divine (verse 14), holy, (verse 15), and had passed into the heavens, but also that He is One filled with tender sympathy toward our infirmities, having Himself been tempted in all points like as we are (sin excepted); and, moreover, that through Him we have obtained free access to God’s throne of grace, so that there we may obtain mercy (the remitting of what is due us) and find grace (the receiving that to which we are not entitled) to help in time of need. How we should welcome such a Priest! How thankful we should be for Him!
Having thus comforted the hearts of God’s children by assuring them of the tender compassion of Christ as the pledge of His effectual intercession for them on high, the apostle now proceeds to set forth more precisely the nature and glory of the priesthood of the Incarnate Son. He pursues the same method as was followed in the previous sections. As in Hebrews chapters 1 and 2, He has been compared and contrasted with angels, and in Hebrews chapters 3 and 4, with Moses and Joshua, so now in the present and succeeding chapters the order and functions of the Aaronic priesthood are examined, that the way may be paved for a setting forth of the more excellent order to which our High Priest belongs. "In the course of the section he makes it evident that whatever was essential to the office of a high priest was to be found in Christ Jesus, that whatever imperfections belonged to the Aaronical high priesthood were not to be found in Him, and that a variety of excellencies were to be found in Him of which none of the Aaronical priests were possessed," (Dr. J. Brown).
"For every high priest taken from among men is ordained for men in things pertaining to God, that he may offer both gifts and sacrifices for sins: Who can have compassion on the ignorant, and on them that are out of the way, for that he himself also is compassed with infirmity. And by reason hereof he ought, as for the people, so also for himself, to offer for sins. And no man taketh this honor unto himself, but he that is called of God, as was Aaron" (verses 1-4). Here we have defined the intrinsic nature of the priestly office.
The verses just quoted above contain a general description of the Levitical high priests. Five things are here said concerning them. First, he must be "taken from among men," that is, he must partake of the nature of those on whose behalf he acts. Second, he acted not as a private individual, but as a public official: "is ordained for men." Third, he came not empty-handed before God, but furnished with "gifts and sacrifices for sins." Fourth, for he himself was not exempt from infirmity, so that he might the more readily succor the distressed (verses 2, 3). Fifth, he did not presumptuously rush into his office of himself, but was chosen and approved of God (verse 4). Let us look at each of these more closely.
"For every high priest taken from among men." First, then, his humanity is insisted upon. An angel would be no fitting priest to act on behalf of men, for he possesses not their nature, is not subject to their temptations, and has no experimental acquaintance with their sufferings; therefore is he unsuited to act on their behalf: therefore is he incapable of having "compassion" upon them, for the motive-spring of all real intercession is heart-felt sympathy. Thus, the primary qualification of a priest is that he must be personally related to, possess the same nature as, those for whose welfare he interposes.
"For every high priest taken from among men." Bearing in mind to whom this Epistle was first addressed, it is not difficult for us to discern why our present section opens in this somewhat abrupt manner. As was pointed out so frequently in our articles upon Hebrews 2:0 , that which so sorely perplexed the Jews was, that the One who had appeared and tabernacled in their minds in human form should have claimed for Himself divine honors (John 5:23 , etc.). But if the Son of God had never become man, He could never have officiated as priest, He could never have offered that sacrifice for the sins of His people which Divine justice required. The Divine Incarnation was an imperative necessity if salvation was to be secured for God’s elect. "It was necessary for Christ to become a real man, for as we are very far from God, we stand in a manner before Him in the person of our Priest, which could not be were He not one of us. Hence, that the Son of God has a nature in common with us does not diminish His dignity, but commends it the more to us; for He is fitted to reconcile us to God, because He is man" (John Calvin).
"Is ordained for men." This tells us the reason why and the purpose for which the high priest was taken "from among men:" it was that he might transact on behalf of others, or more accurately, in the stead of others. To this position and work he was "ordained" or appointed by God. Thereby, under the Mosaic economy, the Hebrews were taught that men could not directly and personally approach unto God. They were sinful, He was holy; therefore was there a breadth between, which they were unable to bridge. It is both solemn and striking to observe how at the very beginning, when sin first entered the world, God impressed this awful truth upon our fallen parents. The "tree of life," whose property was to bestow immortality (Genesis 3:22 ), was the then emblem and symbol of God Himself. Therefore when Adam transgressed, we are told, "So He drove out the man; and He placed at the east of the garden of Eden cherubim, and a flaming sword which turned every way, to keep the way of the tree of life" (Genesis 3:24 ). Thereby man was taught the awful fact that he is "alienated from the life of God." (Ephesians 4:18 ).
The same terrible truth was pressed unto the Israelites. When Jehovah Himself came down upon Sinai, the people were fenced off from Him: "And thou shalt set bounds upon the people round about, saying, Take heed to yourselves, that ye go not up into the mount, or touch the border of it: whosoever toucheth the mount shall be surely put to death" (Exodus 19:12 ). There was the Lord upon the summit, there were the people at the base: separated the One from the other. So too when the Tabernacle was set up. Beyond the outward court they were not suffered to go; into the holy place, the priests alone were permitted to enter. And into the holy of holies, where God dwelt between the cherubim, none but the high priest, and he only on the day of atonement, penetrated. Thus were the Hebrews, from the beginning, shown the awful truth of Isaiah 59:2 "Your iniquities have separated between you and your God."
But in the person of their high priest, through his representing of them before God, Israel might approach within the sacred enclosure. Beautifully is that brought out in the 28th chapter of Exodus, that book whose theme is redemption. There we read, "And thou shalt take two onyx stones, and grave on them the names of the children of Israel . . . and thou shalt put the two stones upon the shoulders of the ephod for stones of memorial unto the children of Israel: and Aaron shall bear their names before the Lord . . . And thou shalt make the breastplate of judgment and thou shalt set in it setting of stones . . . and the stones shall be with the names of the children of Israel . . . And Aaron shall bear the names of the children of Israel in the breast-plate of judgment upon his heart when he goeth in unto the holy, for a memorial before the Lord continually" (verses 9, 12, 15, 17, 21, 29). Concerning the high priest being "ordained for men" we are told, "Aaron shall lay both his hands upon the head of the live goat, and confess over him all the iniquities of the children of Israel, and all their transgressions in all their sins, putting them upon the head of the goat, and shall send him away by the hand of a fit man into the wilderness" (Leviticus 16:21 ).
"Is ordained for men." The application of these words to the person and work of Christ is patent. He not only became Man, but had received appointment from God to act on behalf of, in the stead of, men: "Lo I come, to do Thy will, O God" (Hebrews 10:9 ), announce both the commission He had received from God and His own readiness to discharge it. What that commission was we learn in the next verse: "By the which will we are sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all." He came to do what men could not do satisfy the claims of Divine justice, procure the Divine favor. Note, in passing "ordained for men," not mankind in general, but that people which God had given Him just as Aaron, the typical high priest, confessed not the sins of the Canaanites or Amalekites over the head of the goat, but those of Israel only.
"In things pertaining to God," that is, in meeting the requirements of His holiness. The activities of the priests have God for their object: it is His character, His claims, His glory which are in view. In their application to Christ these words, "in things pertaining to God" distinguishes our Lord’s priesthood from His other offices. As a prophet, He reveals to us the mind and will of God. As the King, He subdues us to Himself, rules over and defends us. But the object of His priesthood is not us, but God.
"That He may offer both gifts and sacrifices for sins." To "offer" is the chief function of the high priest. He offers to God for men. He offers both gifts and sacrifices; that is, eucharistic or thanksgiving offerings, and sacrificial or propitiatory sacrifices. "The first word includes, as I think, various kinds of sacrifices, and is therefore a general term; but the second denotes especially the sacrifices of expiation. Still the meaning is, that the priest without a sacrifice is no peace-maker between God and man, for without a sacrifice sins are not atoned for, nor is the wrath of God pacified. Hence, whenever reconciliation between God and man takes place this pledge must ever necessarily precede. Thus we see that angels are by no means capable of obtaining for us God’s favor, because they have no sacrifice" (John Calvin).
"That He may offer both gifts and sacrifice for sins." The application of these words to the Lord Jesus, our great High Priest, calls attention to a prominent and vital aspect of His death which is largely lost sight of today. The sacrificial death of Christ was a priestly act. On the Cross Christ not only suffered at the hands of men, and endured the punitive wrath of God, but He actually "accomplished" (Luke 9:31 ) something: He offered Himself as a sacrifice to God. At Calvary the Lord Jesus was not only the Lamb of God bearing judgment, but He was also His Priest officiating at the altar. "For every high priest is ordained to offer gifts and sacrifices: wherefore it is of necessity that this Man have somewhat also to offer" (Hebrews 8:3 ). As Hebrews 9:14 also tells us, He "offered himself without spot to God."
Christ on the Cross was far more than a willing victim passively enduring the stroke of Divine judgment. He was there performing a work, nor did He cease until He cried in triumph, "It is finished." He "loved the Church and gave Himself for it" (Ephesians 5:25 ). He "laid down His life" for the sheep (John 10:11 , John 10:18 ) which is the predicate of an active agent. He "poured out His soul unto death" (Isaiah 53:12 ). He "dismissed His spirit" (John 19:30 ). "Hell’s utmost force and fury gathered against Him: heaven’s sword devouring Him, and heaven’s God forsaking Him: earth, and hell, and heaven, thus in conspiring action against Him, unto the uttermost of heaven’s extremest justice, and earth’s and hews extremest injustice: what is the glory of the Cross if it be not this: that with such action conspiring to subdue His action, His action outlasted and outlived them all, and He did not die subdued and overborne in the dying, He did not die till He gave Himself in death" (H. Martin on "The Atonement").
"Who can have compassion on the ignorant, and on them that are out of the way; for that he himself is compassed with infirmity" (verse 2). Passing now from the design of the Levitical priesthood, we have a word upon their qualifications, the first of which is compassion unto those for whom he is to act. "The word here translated ‘have compassion’ is rendered in the margin ‘reasonably bear with.’ A person could not be expected to do the duties of a high priest aright if he could not enter into the feelings of those whom he represented. If their faults excited no sentiments in his mind but disapprobation if they moved him to no feeling but anger, he would not be fit to interpose in their behalf with God he would not be inclined to do for them what was necessary for the expiation of their sins, and the accomplishment of their services. But the Jewish high priest was one who was capable of pitying and bearing with the ignorant and erring; for ‘he himself also was compassed with infirmity.’ ‘Infirmity,’ here, plainly is significant of sinful weakness, and probably also of the disagreeable effects resulting from it. The Jewish high priest was himself a sinner. He had personal experience of temptation, and the tendency of man to yield to it of sin, and of the consequences of sin; so that he had the natural capacity, and ought to have had the moral capacity, of pitying his fellow-sinners" (Dr. J. Brown).
And what, we may enquire, was the Spirit’s design in here making mention of this personal qualification in the Levitical high priest? We believe His purpose was at least fourfold. First, implicitly, to call attention to the failure of Israel’s high priests. It is very solemn to mark how that the last of them failed, most signally, at this very point. When poor Hannah was "in bitterness of soul," and while she was in prayer, weeping before the Lord, Eli, because her lips moved not thought that she was drunken, and spoke roughly to her (1 Samuel 1:9-9.1.14 ). Thus, instead of sympathizing with her sorrows, instead of making intercession for her, he cruelly misjudged her. True, it is "human to err;" equally evident is it that the ideal priest would never be found among the sons of men. Second, was not the Spirit of God here paving the way for a contrast of the superiority of our great High Priest over the Aaronical? Third, does not this statement of verse 2 show, once more, that the value and efficacy of his work was inseparably connected with the personal qualifications of the priest himself, namely, his moral perfections, his human sympathy? Fourth, thus there was emphasized again the necessity for the Son of God becoming man, only thus could He acquire the requisite human compassion.
"This compassionate, loving, gentle, all-considerate and tender regard for the sinner can exist in perfection only in a sinless one. This appears at first sight paradoxical; for we expect the perfect man to be the severest judge. And with regard to sin, this is doubtless true. God charges even His angels with folly. He beholds sin where we do not discover it. And Jesus, the Holy One of Israel, like the Father, has eyes like a flame of fire, and discerns everything that is contrary to God’s mind and will. But with regard to the sinner, Jesus, by virtue of His perfect holiness, is the most merciful, compassionate, and considerate Judge. For we, not taking a deep and keen view of sin, that central essential evil which exists in all men, and manifests itself in various ways and degrees, are not able to form a just estimate of men’s comparative guilt and blameworthiness. Nay, our very sins make us more impatient and severe with regard to the sins of others. Our vanity finds the vanity of others intolerable, our pride finds the pride of others excessive. Blind to the guilt of our own peculiar sins, we are shocked with another’s sins, different indeed from ours, but not less offensive to God, or pernicious in its tendencies. Again, the greater the knowledge of Divine love and pardon, the stronger faith in the Divine mercy and renewing grace, the more hopeful and the more lenient will be our view of sinners. And finally the more we possess of the spirit and heart of the Shepherd, the Physician, the Father, the deeper will be our compassion on the ignorant and wayward.
"The Lord Jesus was therefore most compassionate, considerate, lenient, hopeful in His feelings toward sinners, and in His dealings with them. He was infinitely holy and perfectly clear in His hatred and judgment of sin; but He was tender and gracious to the sinner. Beholding the sinful heart in all, esteeming sin according to the Divine standard, according to its real inward character, and not the human, conventional, and outward measure; Jesus, infinitely holy and sensitive as He was, saw often less to shock and pain Him in the drunkard and profligate than in the respectable, selfish, and ungodly religionists. He looked upon sin as the greatest and most fearful evil, but on the sinner as poor, lost, and helpless. Thus, while Jesus, in perfect holiness, judges most truly, lovingly, and tenderly of us, He knows by experience the weakness of the flesh, and the difficulty and soreness of the struggle. What a marvelous fulfillment of the Priest’s requisite, that he should be taken from men! one to whom we can look with full and calm trust, our Representative, the Man Christ Jesus, possessed of perfect, Divine love and compassion" (Abbreviated from Adolph Saphir).
Those for whom the high priest was deputed to act are here described as "the ignorant and them that are out of the way." These are not two different classes of people, instead, those words give a twofold description of sinners. It has been rightly said that "in the Bible all sin is represented as the result of ignorance, but of blameable ignorance." "The way of the wicked is as darkness: they know not at what they stumble" (Proverbs 4:19 ). "There is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God" (Romans 3:11 ). Every sinner is a fool. "Out of the way" means that men have turned aside from the path which the Word of God has marked out for them to walk in: "All we like sheep have gone astray, we have turned every one to his own way" (Isaiah 53:6 ). "And by reason hereof he ought, as for the people, so also for himself, to offer for sins" (verse 3). "There was none who could offer sacrifice for the sins of the high priest; therefore, he must do it for himself. He was to offer for himself in the same way and for the reasons as he offered for the people, and this was necessary, for he was encompassed with the same infirmities and was obnoxious as to sin, and so stood in no less need of expiation or atonement than did the people" (Dr. John Owen). For scriptures where the high priest was bidden to present an offering for his own sin, let the reader consult Leviticus 4:3 , Leviticus 4:9 :7, Leviticus 4:16 :6, Leviticus 4:24 .
"And by reason hereof he ought, as for the people, so also for himself, to offer for sins" (verse 3). Here again we may observe the Spirit of God calling attention to the imperfections of the Levitical priests that the way may be prepared for presenting the infinitely superior perfections of Christ. But that is not all we have in this verse. It is the personal qualifications of the one who exercises his office which is now before us. Before Aaron could present an offering on behalf of Israel, he must first bring a sacrifice for his own sins, that he might be purified and stand accepted before Jehovah. In other words, the one who was to come between a holy God and a sinful people must himself have no guilt resting upon him, and must be an object of Divine favor. Thus, personal fitness was an essential qualification of the priest: in the case of the Levitical, a ceremonial fitness; with Christ, a personal and inherent.
"And no man taketh this honor unto himself, but he that is called of God, as was Aaron" (verse 4). "The foregoing verses declare the personal functions of a high priest, but these alone are not sufficient to invest any one with that office; for it is required that he be lawfully called thereunto. Aaron was called of God immediately, and in an extraordinary way. He was called by the command of God given to Moses, and entrusted to him for execution; he was actually separated and consecrated unto the office of high priest, and this was accomplished by special sacrifices made by another for him; and all these things were necessary unto Aaron, because God, in his person, erected a new order of priesthood" (Dr. John Owen).
"And no man taketh this honor to himself." The expression "this honor" refers to the high priestly office, for one to approach unto the Most High, to have personal dealings with Him, to transact on behalf of others before Him, obtaining His favor toward them, is a signal privilege and great favor indeed. To mark this distinguishing honor, Aaron was clothed in the most gorgeous and imposing vestments (Exodus 28:0 ). Looking beyond the type to the Antitype, we may discern how that the Spirit is, once more, bringing before the Hebrews that which was designed to remove the offense of the Cross. To carnal reason the death of Christ was a humiliating spectacle; but the spiritually enlightened see at Calvary One performing the functions of an office with high "honor" attached to it.
"But he that is called of God, as was Aaron." This was the ultimate and most important qualification: no man could legitimately act as high priest unless he was Divinely called to that office. "The principle on which the necessity of a Divine calling to the legitimate exercise of the priesthood rests is an obvious one. It depends entirely on the will of God whether He will accept the services and pardon the sins of men; and suppose again that it is His will to do so, it belongs to Him to appoint everything in reference to the manner in which this is to be accomplished. God is under no obligation to accept of every one, or of any one who, of his own accord, or by the choice of his fellow-men, takes it upon him to offer sacrifices or gifts for himself or for others; and no man in these circumstances can have reason to expect that God will accept of his offerings, unless He has given him a commission to offer them, and a promise He will be appeased by them. This, then, from the very nature of the case, was necessary to the legitimate discharge of the functions of a high priest" (Dr. J. Brown). What the apostle is here leading up to was the proof that God was the Author of Christ’s Priesthood. As that will come before us in the verses which follow, we pass it by now.
"But he that is called of God, as was Aaron." That which makes an office lawful is the personal call of God. A most important principle is this to recognize, but one which, in these days of abounding lawlessness, is now flagrantly ignored. The will of man is to be entirely subordinated to the will of God. Everything connected with His work is to be regulated by the Divine appointments. Expediency, convenience, popular customs, are ruled out of court. Nor is any one justified in rushing into a holy office uncalled of God. To elect myself, or to have no higher authority than the election of fellow-sinners, is to usurp the authority of God.
All ministry is in the hand of Christ (Revelation 2:1 ). He appointed the twelve apostles, and later the seventy disciples, to go forth. He bids us "Pray ye therefore the Lord of the harvest, that He send forth laborers into His harvest" (Matthew 9:38 ). When He ascended on high He "gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers" (Ephesians 4:11 ). In the days of Paul it was said, "How shall they preach, except they be sent?" (Romans 10:15 ). But in these days, how many there are who run without being "sent!" Men have taken it upon themselves to be evangelists, pastors, teachers, who have received no call from God to such a work. The absence of His call, is evidenced by the absence of the qualifying gift. When God calls, He always equips.
Returning to the call of Aaron, we may observe that a time came when his official authority was challenged (Numbers 16:2 ). The manner in which God vindicated His servant is worthy of our most thoughtful attention. The record of it is found in Numbers 17:0 : Aaron’s rod budded and brought forth almonds. Supernatural fruit was the sign and pledge that he had been called of God. Let this be laid well to heart. Judged by this standard, how many today stand accredited as God’s sent-servants? When God calls a man, He does not send him forth on any fruitless errand.
It is a solemn thing for one to obtrude himself into a sacred office. The tragic case of Uzzah (2 Chronicles 26:16-14.26.21 ) is a lasting warning. Alas, how rarely is it heeded; and how grievously is God dishonored! There are those who decry a "one-man ministry," and cut themselves off from many an edifying message from God’s true servants; but after twenty years’ experience on three continents, the writer much prefers that which some so unchristianly condemn, to the lawlessness and fleshly exhibitions of an "every-man ministry" which is their alternative. Again: how many are urged to become Sunday School teachers and open-air speakers who have received neither call nor qualification from God to such work! Again: how many go forth as missionaries, only a few years later, at most, to abandon the work: what a proof that they were not "sent" or "called by God!" Let every reader weigh well Hebrews 5:4 . Unless God has called you, enter not into any work for Him. Let restless souls seek grace to heed that Divine command, "Be swift to hear, slow to speak" (James 1:19 ).
Christ Superior to Aaron.
(Hebrews 5:5-58.5.7 )
The central design of the Holy Spirit in this Epistle needs to be kept steadily before the mind of the reader: that design was to prove the superiority of Christianity over Judaism. The center and glory of Judaism was the divinely appointed priesthood: what, then, had Christianity to offer at this point? "The unbelieving Jews would be apt to say to their Christian brethren, ‘your new religion is deficient in the very first requisite of a religion you have no high priest. How are your sins to be pardoned, when you have none to offer expiatory oblations for you? How are your wants to be supplied, when you have none to make intercession for you to God?’ The answer to this cavil is to be found in the apostle’s word ‘We have a High Priest’ Hebrews 4:14 ," (Dr. J. Brown).
That God has provided His people with a High Priest is the fulfillment of His own promise. On the demonstrated failure of the Aaronical priesthood in the days of Eli and his sons (1 Samuel 1:14 , 1 Samuel 1:2 ; 12-17, 1 Samuel 12:22 ), the Lord declared, "And I will raise Me up a faithful Priest, that shall do according to that which is in Mine heart and in My mind: and I will build Him a sure house" (1 Samuel 2:35 ). The fulfillment of this is found in the person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ. But in taking up the study of the priesthood of Christ it is of the greatest possible importance to perceive that both the typical persons of Aaron and Melchizedek were required to prefigure the varied actions, and excellencies of the great High Priest who is the center and heart of Christianity. It was failure to recognize this which has resulted in so many inadequate and faulty treaties on the subject.
Both Aaron and Melchizedek were needed to set forth the various phases of Christ’s priestly ministry. But before the apostle could take up the latter, he had first to show that Christ fulfilled all which was adumbrated by the former: before he could dwell upon the points in which Christ’s excelled the Levitical priesthood, he must first establish its parallels and similarities. This the apostle does in Hebrews 5:0 . In its first four verses we have a description of the Levitical high priest: first with respect to his nature (verse 1), second his employment (verse 1), third his qualification (verse 2), fourth his duty (verse 3), fifth his call (verse 4). In the verses which immediately follow, an application of this is made, more directly, to Christ. In so doing the Holy Spirit had before Him a double design:
He first shows the fulfillment of the type. God’s purpose in appointing Israel’s high priests was to foreshadow the person and work of the Lord Jesus. Thus, there must be some resemblance between the one and the other. Second, that the Hebrews might know that the ministry and service of the Levitical order had terminated. Their purpose having been served, they were no longer needed; now that the Substance had come, the shadows were superfluous. Nay, more, their very retention would repudiate the design of their institution: they were prefigurative, therefore to perpetuate them would deny that the Reality had come. For the Levitical priesthood to go on functioning would argue that it had a value and a use apart from Christ. Hence the necessity of showing the relation of Aaron’s priesthood to Christ’s, that it might the more plainly appear that a continuance of the former was not only useless but pernicious.
That there was a close connection between the priesthood of Aaron and that of Christ is evident from the opening verse of our present passage. Having stated, "No man taketh this honor unto himself, but he that is called of God, as Aaron," the apostle now adds, "So also Christ" (verse 5), or, "In like manner Christ." Thus, unmistakably, a parallel is here drawn. As it was with the Levitical high priests in all things necessary to that office, so, in like manner, was it with the Christ. In verses 5-10 the same five things (personal sin excepted) predicated of Aaron and his successors were found in our great High Priest. That there were, also, dissimilarities was inevitable from the personal imperfections that appertained to Aaron and his descendants: had there been anything in Christ which corresponded to their blemishes and failures, He had been disqualified.
"So also Christ glorified not Himself to be made an high priest" (verse 5). In 2:17, 3:1, 4:14 it had been affirmed that Christ is High Priest. A difficulty is now anticipated and met. Considering the strictness of God’s law, and the specified requirements for one entering the priestly office, and more especially seeing that Jesus did not belong to the tribe of Levi, how could He be said to be "Priest?" In meeting this difficulty, the apostle emphasizes the fact that the chief requirement and qualification was a Divine call: "No man taketh this honor unto himself, but he that is called of God" (verse 4): applying that rule the apostle now shows, from Scripture itself, our Lord’s right and title to this office. Ere weighing the proof for this, let us note that He is here designated "the Christ": the apostle’s design was to demonstrate that the promised Messiah, the Hope of the fathers, was to be High Priest forever over the house of God. The "Anointed One" signified His unction unto this office.
"So also Christ glorified not Himself to be made an high priest." He did not take this dignity unto Himself; He did not obtrude Himself into office. As He declared, "If I honor Myself, My honor is nothing: it is My Father that honoureth Me." (John 8:54 ). No, He had made Himself of no reputation; He had taken upon Him the form of a servant (Philippians 2:7 ), and He ever acted in perfect subjection to the Father. Nor was there any need for Him to exalt Himself: He had entered into a covenant or compact with the Father, and He might be safely trusted to fulfill His part of the agreement. "He that shall humble Himself shall be exalted" (Matthew 23:12 ) was no less true of the Head than of His members.
"So also Christ glorified not Himself to be made an high priest." He to whom the authority belonged, invested Christ with the honors of priesthood, as He had Aaron. An ellipsis needs supplying to complete the implied antithesis: "But He glorified Him," or He (God) made Him to be High Priest." That Christ was glorified by being invested with the high priesthood is here plainly inferred. It was a high honor bestowed upon His mediatorial person, that is, upon His humanity (united unto His deity). Scripture plainly teaches that His mediatorial person was capable of being glorified, with degrees of glory, by augmentation of glory: see John 17:1 ; 1 Peter 1:21 . This honor appears more plainly when we come to consider the nature of the work assigned Him as Priest: this was no less than healing the breach which sin had made between God and men, and this by "magnifying the law and making it honorable." It appears too when we contemplate the effects of His work: these were the vindicating and glorifying of the thrice holy God, the bringing of many sons unto glory, and the being Himself crowned with glory and honor. By that priestly work Christ has won for Himself the love, gratitude, and worship of a people who shall yet be perfectly conformed to His image, and shall praise Him world without end.
How wonderful and blessed it is to know that the honor of Christ and the procuring of our salvation are so intimately connected that it was His glory to be made our Mediator! There are three chief offices which Christ holds as Mediator: He is prophet, priest and potentate. But there is an importance, a dignity and a blessedness (little as carnal reason may be able to perceive it) attaching to His priestly office which does not belong to the other two. Scripture furnishes three proofs of this. First, we never read of "our great prophet," or "our great King," but we do of "our great High Priest" (Hebrews 4:14 )! Second, the Holy Spirit nowhere affirms that Christ’s appointment to either His prophetic or His kingly office "glorified" Him; but this is insisted upon in connection with His call to the sacerdotal office (Hebrews 5:5 )! Third, we read not of the dread solemnity of any divine "oath" in connection with His inauguration to the prophetic or the kingly office, but we do His priestly "The Lord hath sworn, and will not repent, thou art a priest forever." (Psalms 110:4 )! Thus the priesthood of Christ is invested with supreme importance.
"So also Christ glorified not Himself to be made an high priest; but he that said unto Him, Thou art My Son, today have I begotten Thee." (verse 5). The apostle here cites the testimony of the 2nd Psalm: but how does this quotation confirm the priesthood of Christ or prove His "call" to that office? That the quotation here is adduced as proof-text is clear from the next verse "As He saith also in another Psalm," which is given as further confirmation of His call. In weighing carefully the purpose for which Psalms 2:7 is here quoted, observe, First, it is not the priesthood but His call thereunto which the apostle has before him. Second, his object was simply to show that it was from God Christ had all His mediatorial authority. Third, in Psalms 2:7 , God declares the incarnate Christ to be His Son. The proclamation. "Thou art My Son," testified to the Father’s acceptance of Him in the discharge of all the work which had been committed to Him. This solemn approbation by the Father intimated that our Redeemer undertook nothing but what God had appointed. The Father’s owning of Christ in human nature as "My Son," acclaimed Him Mediator Priest for His people. In other words, Christ’s "call" by God consisted of the formal and public owning of Him as the incarnate Son. Psalms 2:7 describes the "call."
It is to be observed that Psalms 2:7 opens with the words, "I will declare the decree," which signifies a public announcement of what had been eternally predestinated and appointed in the everlasting covenant. It was God making known that the Mediator had received a Divine commission, and therefore was possessed of all requisite authority for His office. The deeper meaning, in this connection, of the proclamation, "Thou art My Son," tells us that Christ’s sufficiency as Priest lies in His Divine nature. It was the dignity of His person which gave value to what He did. Because He was the Son, God appointed Him High Priest: He would not give this glory to another. Just as, because He is the Son, He has made Him "Heir of all things." (Hebrews 1:2 .)
"Thou art My Son." The application of these words to the call which Christ received to His priestly office, refers, historically, we doubt not to what is recorded in Matthew 3:16 , Matthew 3:17 . There we behold a shadowing forth on the lower and visible plane of that which was to take place, a little later, in the higher and invisible sphere. There we find the antitype of what occurred on the occasion of Aaron’s induction to the priestly office. In Leviticus 8:0 we find three things recorded of the type: First, his call (verses 1, 2). Second, his anointing (verse 12). Third, his consecration, (verse 22) These same three things, only in inverse order again (for in all things He has the pre-eminence) are found on the occasion of our Savior’s baptism, which was one of the great crises of His earthly career. For thirty years He had lived in retirement at Nazareth. Now the time had arrived for His public ministry. Accordingly, He consecrates, dedicates Himself to God presenting Himself for baptism at the hands of God’s servant. Second, it was at the Jordan He was anointed for His work: "God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit" (Acts 10:38 ). Third, it was there and then He was owned of God. "This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased." That was the Father’s attestation to His acceptance of Christ for His priestly office and work.
Above, we have pointed out the first historical fulfillment of the prophetic word recorded in Psalms 2:7 . As all prophecy has at least a double accomplishment, we find, accordingly, this same word of the Father’s approbation of the Son recorded a second time in the Gospel narratives. In Matthew 17:5 we again hear the Father saying, "Thou art my Son," or "This is My Beloved Son." Here it was upon the mount, when Christ stood glorified before His disciples. It was then that God provided a miniature tableau of Christ’s glorious kingdom. As Peter says, "We are eye-witnesses of His majesty" (2 Peter 1:16 ). And no doubt this is the profounder reference in Hebrews 5:5 , for the 2nd Psalm, there quoted, foretells the setting up of Christ as "King." Yet, let it not be forgotten that the priesthood of Christ is the basis of His kingship: "He shall be a priest upon His throne." (Zechariah 6:13 ). It is as the "Lamb" He holds His title to the throne (Revelation 22:1 ) cf. the "wherefore" of Philippians 2:9 . He is a Priest with royal authority, a King with Priestly tenderness.
"As He saith also in another, Thou art a priest forever after the order of Melchizedek" (verse 6). A further proof of God’s call of Christ to the priestly office is now given, the quotation being from the 110th Psalm, which was owned by the Jews as a Messianic one. There the Father had by the Spirit of prophecy, said these words to His incarnate Son. Thus a double testimony was here adduced. The subject was of such importance that God deigned to give unto these Hebrews confirmation added to confirmation. How graciously He bears with our dullness: compare the "twice" of Psalms 62:11 , the "again" of the Lord Jesus in John 8:12 ,John 8:21 etc., the "many" proofs of Acts 1:3 . "As He saith" is another evidence that God was the Author of the Old Testament. Here, the Father is heard speaking through David; in Psalms 22:1 , the Son; in Hebrews 3:7 , the Spirit. "As He saith," namely unto the Son. The Father’s here speaking to Him was His "call," just as in Hebrews 7:21 , it is His "oath." "Thou art a priest" was declarative of His eternal decree, of the everlasting covenant between the Father and the Son, wherein He was designated unto this office. Thus was Christ "called of God as was Aaron."
"Who in the days of His flesh, when He had offered up prayers and supplications with strong crying and tears unto Him that was able to save Him from death, and was heard in that He feared" (verse 7). In seeking to expound this verse three things require attention. To ascertain its scope, or theme, to discover its relation to the context and its own contribution unto the apostle’s argument, and to define its solemn terms. Its theme is the priestly ministry of Christ: this is evident from the expression "offered up." "As the theme of verses 4-6 is, ‘Jesus Christ has been divinely appointed to the priestly office, so the theme of verses 7-9 is Jesus Christ has successfully executed the priestly office.’" (Dr. J. Brown). Its relation to the context is that the apostle was here showing the "compassed with infirmity" (verse 2) is found in the Antitype: the "strong crying and tears" being the proof. Its terms will be weighed in what follows. Ere submitting our own interpretations, we first subjoin the helpful analysis of Dr. Brown.
"The body of the sentence (verses 7-10) divides itself into two parts: 1. ‘He’ Christ in the character of a Priest ‘learned obedience by the things which He suffered.’ 2. ‘He’, in the same character, ‘has become the Author of eternal salvation to all that obey Him.’ The clauses, ‘In the days of his flesh,’ and ‘though He were a Son,’ qualify the general declaration, ‘He learned obedience by the things which He suffered,’ and the clauses, ‘when He had offered up,’ ‘prayers and supplications with strong crying and tears, unto Him that was able to save Him from death,’ and ‘when He had heard’ or having been heard ‘in that He feared,’ contain in them illustrations both of the nature and extent of those sufferings by which Christ learned obedience; whilst the clause, ‘being made perfect,’ qualifies the second part of the sentence, connecting it with the first, and showing how His ‘learning obedience by the things which He suffered,’ led to His being ‘the Author of eternal salvation to all who obey Him.’"
In this 7th verse two other of the qualifications of Israel’s high priest are accommodated to Christ. First, his being "compassed with infirmity" (verse 2) so as to fit him for having compassion on those for whom he transacted. In like manner was the Son, when He entered upon the discharge of His office, compassed with sinless infirmity. This is here exemplified in a threefold way. First, the time when He fulfilled the Aaronic type, namely, "in the days of His flesh," which was before He was "crowned with glory and honor." Second, from His condition, "in the days of His flesh," which signifies a state of weakness and humiliation. Third, from the manner of His deportment: "with strong crying and tears," for these proceed from the "infirmity" of our nature angels do not weep. Second, Israel’s high priest was appointed to "offer." (verses 1, 2). This is what Christ is here seen doing: offering up to God "to Him that was able to save Him." This was a sacerdotal act, as is clear from the fact that the declaration of verse 7 is immediately preceded (verse 6), and succeeded (verse 10) by a reference to His priesthood. Let us now examine our verse clause by clause.
"Who in the days of His flesh." "Flesh as applied to Christ, signifies human nature not yet glorified, with all its infirmities, wherein He was exposed unto hunger, thirst, weariness, labor, sorrow, grief, fear, pain, death itself. Hereby doth the apostle express what he had before laid down in the person of the high priest according to the law he was ‘compassed’ with infirmity." (Dr. John Owen.) The word "flesh" is often used in Scripture of man as a poor, frail, mortal creature: Psalms 78:39 , Psalms 65:2 . The "days of His flesh" is antithetical to "made perfect." They cover the entire period of our Lord’s humiliation, from the manger to the grave cf. 2 Corinthians 5:16 . During that time Christ was "a man of sorrows," filled with them, never free from them; "and acquainted with grief," as a companion that never departed from Him. No doubt there is special reference to the close of those days when His sorrows and trials came to a head.
"The ‘days of His flesh’ mean the whole time of His humiliation that period when He came among men as one of them, but still the Son of God, whose majesty was hid. As applied to Christ ‘flesh’ intimates that He put on a true humanity, but a humanity under the weight of imputed guilt, with the curse that followed in its train a sinless, yet a sin-bearing humanity. The Lord felt the weakness of the flesh in His whole vicarious work, and though personally spotless, was in virtue of taking our place, subjected to all that we were heir to. We do not, indeed, find in Him the personal consequences of sin, such as sickness and disease, but the consequences which could competently fall to the sinless substitute; for He never was in Adam’s covenant, but was Himself the last Adam. As He took flesh for an official purpose, He submitted to the consequences following in the train of sin-bearing hunger and thirst, toil and fatigue in the sweat of His brow, persecution and injustice, arrest and sufferings, wounds and death." (Professor Smeaton on the Atonement.)
"When He had offered up prayers and supplications." The Greek word for "offer up" signifies "to bear toward." It occurs in this Epistle sixteen times, and always as a priestly act. See Hebrews 8:3 , Hebrews 8:9 :7, 14, Hebrews 8:10 :11, 14, 18, etc. Prayers and supplications are expressive of the frailty of human nature, for we never read of angels praying. "Prayers" are of two kinds: petitions for that which is good, requests for deliverance from that which is evil: both are included here. The Greek word for "supplications" occurs nowhere else in the New Testament; in its classical usage it denotes an olive bough, lifted up by those who were supplicating others for peace. What is here in view is Christ "offering" Himself unto God (Hebrews 9:14 ), His offering being accompanied with priestly prayers and supplications. These are mentioned to exemplify His "infirmity," and to impress upon us how great a work it was to make expiation for sin. These prayers and supplications are not to be restricted to the agony of Gethsemane, or the hours of torture on the Cross; they must be regarded as being offered by Him through the entire period of His humiliation. "The pressure of human guilt habitually weighed down His mind and He was by way of eminence a Man of prayer, as well as a Man of sorrows." (Dr. Brown.)
"With strong crying and tears." These words not only intimate the intensity of the sufferings endured by our Priest, but also the extent to which He felt them. The God-man was no stoic, unmoved by the fearful experiences through which He passed. No, He suffered acutely, not only in body, but in His soul too. The curse of the law, under which He had spontaneously placed Himself, smote His soul as well as His body, for we had sinned in both, and He redeemed both. These crying and tears were evoked not by what He received at the hands of man, but what imputed guilt had brought down upon Him from the hand of God. He was overwhelmed by the pressure of horror and anguish, caused by the Divine anger against sin.
"With strong crying and tears." These were, in part, the fulfillment of that prophecy in Psalms 22:1 : "the words of My roaring." A part of those "strong cryings" are recorded in the Gospels. To His disciples He said, "My soul is exceeding sorrowful, even unto death" (Matthew 26:38 ). To the Father He prayed, "If Thou be willing, remove this cup from Me" (Luke 22:42 ). There we read of Him "being in an agony," that "He prayed more earnestly," that "His sweat was as it were great drops of blood falling down to the ground." Such was the "travail of His soul" that He cried for deliverance. He voluntarily entered the place into which sin had brought us: one of misery and wretchedness. No heart can conceive the terribleness of that conflict through which our Blessed Substitute passed. "Jesus cried with a loud voice, My God, My God, Why hast Thou forsaken Me?" (Matthew 27:46 ): here again we witness the "strong crying" accompanying His sacrifice. And what is the application of this to us? If His sacrifice was offered to God with "strong crying and tears" let none of us imagine we are savingly interested therein if our hearts are unmoved by the awfulness of sin, and are in the coldness of impenitence and the sloth of unbelief. Let him who would approach unto Christ ponder well how He approached unto God on behalf of sinners.
"Unto Him that was able to save Him from death." The particular character in which our suffering Surety here viewed God, calls for close attention. These words reveal to us how Christ contemplated Deity at that time: "unto Him that is able." Ability or power is either natural or moral. Natural power is strength and active efficacy; in God, omnipotence. Moral power is right and authority; in God, absolute sovereignty. Christ looked toward both. In view of God’s omnipotence He sought deliverance; in view of His sovereignty, He meekly submitted. The former was the object of His faith; the latter, of His fear. These two attributes of God should ever be before us when we approach unto His footstool. A sight of His omnipotence will encourage our hearts and strengthen our faith: a realization of His high sovereignty will humble us before Him and check our presumption.
"Unto Him that was able to save Him from death." This also makes known the cause of His "strong crying and tears:" it was His sight of death. What "death?" Not merely the separation of the soul from the body, but the "wages of sin," that curse of the law which God, as a just judge, inflicts on the guilty. As the Surety of the covenant, as the One who had voluntarily taken upon Himself the debts of all His people, the wrath of a holy God must be visited upon Him. To this Christ referred when He said, "I am afflicted and ready to die from youth up; I suffer Thy terrors, I am distracted" (Psalms 88:15 ). Fiercer grew the conflict as the end was neared, and stronger were His cries for deliverance: "The sorrows of death compassed Me, and the pains of hell gat hold upon Me: I found trouble and sorrow. Then called I upon the name of the Lord; O Lord, I beseech Thee, deliver My soul" (Ps. 116:34).
But what was the "deliverance" which He sought? Exemption from suffering this death? No, for He had received commandment to endure it (John 10:18 , Philippians 2:8 ). What then? Note carefully that Christ prayed not to be delivered from dying, but from "death." We believe the answer is twofold. First, He sought to be sustained under it. When death as the penal visitation of God’s anger upon Him for our sins was presented to His view, He had deep and dreadful apprehension of the utter inability of frail human nature bearing up under it, and prevailing against it. He was conscious of His need of Divine succor and support, to enable Him to endure the incalculable load which was upon Him. Therefore it was His duty, as perfect yet dependent Man, to pray that He might not be overwhelmed and overborne. His confidence was in "Him that is able." He declared, "For the Lord God will help Me, therefore shall I not be confounded" (Isa. 50:17).
"And was heard in that He feared." The best commentators differ in their understanding of these words. Two interpretations have been given, which, we believe, need to be combined to bring out the full meaning of this clause. Calvin gave as its meaning that the object of Christ’s "fear" was the awful judgment of God upon our sins, the smiting of Him with the sword of justice, His desertion by God Himself. Arguing against the "fear" here having reference to Christ’s own piety, because of which God answered Him, this profound exegete points out the absence of the possessive "His fear;" that the Greek preposition "apo" (rather than "huper") signifies "from," not "on account of;" and that the word "fear" means, for the most part, anxiety "consternation" is its force as used in the Sept. His words are, "I doubt not that Christ was ‘heard’ from that which He feared, so that He was not overwhelmed by His evils or swallowed up by death. For in this contest the Son of God had to engage, not because He was tried by unbelief (the source of all our fears), but because He sustained as a man in the flesh the judgment of God, the terror of which could not have been overcome without an arduous effort" and, we may add, without a Divine strengthening.
The sufferings of Christ wrung His soul, producing sorrow, perplexity, horror, dread. This is shown by His exercises and agony in Gethsemane. While He suffered God’s "terrors," He was "distracted" (Psalms 88:15 ). "I am poured out like water," He exclaimed, "and all My bones are out of joint: My heart is like wax, it is melted in the midst of My bowels. My strength is dried up like a potsherd; and My tongue cleaveth to My jaws" (Psalms 22:14 , Psalms 22:15 ). And again, He cried, "Save Me, O God; for the waters are come in unto My soul. I sink in deep mire, where there is no standing . . . Let not the water-flood overflow Me, neither let the deep swallow Me up" (Psalms 69:1 , Psalms 69:2 , Psalms 69:15 ). Fear, pain, torture of body and soul, were now His portion. He was then enduring that which shall yet cause the damned to weep and wail and gnash their teeth. He was deserted by God. The comforting influences of His relation to God were withdrawn. His relation to God as His God and Father were the fount of all His comfort and joy. The sense of this was now suspended. Therefore was He filled with heaviness and sorrow inexpressible, and, "and with strong crying and tears" He prayed for deliverance.
"And was heard." This means, first of all, God’s approval or acceptance of the petitioner himself. Christ’s prayer here was answered in the same way as was Paul’s request for the removal of the thorn in his flesh not by exemption, but by Divine succor which gave enablement to bear the trial. In Gethsemane "There appeared an angel unto Him from heaven, strengthening Him" (Luke 22:43 ). So too on the Cross. "His mind and heart were fortified and sustained against the dread and terror which His humanity felt, so as to come to a perfect composure in the will of God. He was heard insofar as He desired to be heard; for although He could not but desire deliverance from the whole, as He was man, yet He desired it not absolutely as the God-man, as He was wholly subject to the will of the Father" (Dr. John Owen).
"And was heard in that He feared." Other commentators have rightly pointed out that the Greek word for "fear" here signifies godly reverence or piety: cf. Hebrews 12:28 , where it is found in its noun form. Having from godly fear offered up prayers and supplications, He was heard. His personal perfections made His petition acceptable. This was His own assurance, at the triumphant completion of His sufferings: "Thou hast heard Me from the horns of the unicorns" (Psalms 22:21 ). This brings us to the second and ultimate meaning of the Savior’s petition to be delivered "from death," and the corresponding second response of the Father. "To ‘save from death’ means, to deliver from death after having died. God manifested Himself as ‘Him who was able to save Him from death,’ when, as ‘The God of peace’ the pacified Divinity ‘He brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus that great Shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the everlasting covenant’. Hebrews 13:20 " (Dr. J. Brown).
Thus, to summarize the contents of this most solemn and wonderful verse, we here learn: First, that our blessed Substitute, in the discharge of His priestly work, encountered that awful wrath of God which is the wages of sin "death." Second, that He encountered it in the frailty of human nature, compassed with infirmity "in the days of His flesh." Third, that He felt, to an extent we are incapable of realizing, the visitation of God’s judgment upon sin evidenced by His "strong crying and tears." Fourth, that He cried for deliverance: for strength to endure and for an exodus from the grave. Fifth, that God answered by bestowing the needed succor and by raising Him from the dead.
Many are the lessons which might be drawn from all that has been before us. Into what infinite depths of humiliation did the Son of God descend! How unspeakably dreadful was His anguish! What a hideous thing sin must be if such a sacrifice was required for its atonement! How real and terrible a thing is the wrath of God! What love moved Him to suffer so on our behalf! What must be the portion of those who despise and reject such a Savior! What an example has He left us of turning to God in the hour of need! What fervor is called for if our prayers are to be answered! Above all, what gratitude, love, devotion and praise are due Him from those for whom the Son of God died!
Christ Superior to Aaron.
(Hebrews 5:8-58.5.10 ).
The first ten verses of Hebrews 5:0 present to us a subject of such vast and vital importance that we dare not hurry over our exposition of them. They bring to’ our view the person of the Lord Jesus and His official work as the great High Priest of God’s people. They set forth His intrinsic sufficiency for the discharge of the honorous but arduous functions of that office. They show us His right and title for the executing thereof. They reveal His full qualifications thereunto. They make known the nature and costliness of His sacrificial work. They declare the triumphant issue thereof. Yet plain as is their testimony, the subject of which they treat is so dimly apprehended by most Christians today, that we deem it necessary to devote a lengthy introduction to the setting forth of the principal features belonging to the Priesthood of Christ.
Let us begin by asking the question, Why did God ordain the office of priesthood? Wherein lay the necessity for it? The first and most obvious answer is, Because of sin. Sin created a breech between a holy God and His sinful creatures. Were God to advance toward them in His essential character it could only be in judgment, involving their sure destruction; for He "will by no means clear the guilty" (Exodus 34:7 ). Nor was the sinner capable of making the slightest advance toward God, for he was "alienated from the life of God" (Ephesians 4:18 ), and thus, "dead in trespasses and sins" (Ephesians 2:1 ); and as such, not only powerless to perform a spiritual act, but completely devoid of all spiritual aspirations. Looked at in himself, the case of fallen man was utterly hopeless.
But God has designs of grace unto men, not unto all men, but unto a remnant of them chosen out of a fallen race. Had God shown grace to all of Adam’s descendants, the glory of His grace had been clouded, for it would have looked as though the provisions of grace were something which were due men from God, because of His having failed to preserve them from falling into sin. But grace is unmerited favor, something to which no creature is entitled, something which he cannot in any wise claim from God. Therefore it must be exercised in a sovereign manner by the Author of it (Exodus 33:19 ), that grace may appear to be grace (Romans 11:6 ).
But in determining to show grace unto that people whom He had chosen in Christ before the foundation of the world (Ephesians 1:4 , 2 Timothy 1:9 ), God must act in harmony with His own perfections. The sin of His people could not be ignored. Justice clamored for its punishment. If they were to be delivered from its penal consequences, it could only be by an adequate satisfaction being made for them. Without blood shedding there is no remission of sins. An atonement was a fundamental necessity. Grace could not be shown at the expense of justice; no, grace must "reign through righteousness" (Romans 5:21 ). Grace could only be exercised on the ground of accomplished redemption (Romans 3:24 ).
And who was capable of rendering a perfect satisfaction unto the law of God? Who was qualified to meet all the demands of Divine holiness, if a sinful people were to be redeemed consistently with its claims? Who was competent both to assume the responsibilities of that people, and discharge them to the full satisfaction of the Most High? Who was able both to honor the rights of the Almighty, and yet enter sympathetically into the weakness and needs of those who were to be saved? Clearly, the only solution to this problem and the only answer to these questions lay in a Mediator, one who had both ability and title to act on God’s behalf and on theirs. For this reason was the Son of God appointed to be made in the likeness of sin’s flesh, that as the God-man He might be a "merciful and faithful High Priest" (Hebrews 2:17 ); for mediatorship is the chief thing in priesthood.
Now this is what is brought before us in the opening verse of Hebrews 5:0 . There we are shown three parties: on the one side God, on the other side men, and the high priest as the connecting link between: "For every high priest taken from among men is ordained for men in things pertaining to God, that he may offer both gifts and sacrifices for sins" (verse 1). No correct conception of priesthood can exist where this double relation and this double service are not perceived. In Christ alone is this perfectly made good. He is the one connecting link between Heaven and earth, the only Mediator between God and "men" (1 Timothy 2:5 ). From Deity above, He is the Mediator downward to men beneath; and from men below, He is the Head upward to God. Priesthood is the alone channel of living relationship with a holy God. Solemn and awful proof of this is found in the fact that Satan, and then Adam, fell because there was no Mediator who stood between them and God, to maintain them in their standing before Him.
Above we have said, that Christ is the one connecting link between Heaven and earth, that He alone bridges the chasm between God and His people, considered as fallen and mined sinners. Our last sentence really sums up the whole of Hebrews chapters 1 and 2. There we have a lengthy argument setting forth the relation between the two natures in Christ, the Divine and the human, and the needs-be of both to fit Him for the priestly office. He must be the Son of God in human nature. He must "in all things be made like unto His brethren" in order that He might be "a merciful and faithful High Priest;" in order that He might "make propitiation for the sins of the people;" and in order that He might be "able to succor them that are tempted." Hebrews 2:17 , Hebrews 2:18 brings us to the climax of the apostle’s argument in those two chapters.
The priestly work of Christ was to "make propitiation for the sins of the people." It was to render a complete satisfaction to God on behalf of all their liabilities. It was to "magnify the law and make it honorable." (Isaiah 42:21 ). In order to do this it was necessary for the law to be kept, to be perfectly obeyed in thought, word and deed. Accordingly, the Son of God was "made under the law" (Galatians 4:4 ), and "fulfilled" its requirements (Matthew 5:17 ). And this perfect obedience of Christ, performed substitutionally and officially, is now imputed to His people: as it is written, "By the obedience of One shall many be (legally) made righteous" (Romans 5:19 ). But "magnifying the law" also involved His enduring its penalty on the behalf of His peoples’ violation of its precepts, and this He suffered, and so "redeemed us from the curse of the law" by "being made a curse for us" (Galatians 3:13 ).
To sum up now the ground we have covered. 1 . The occasion of Christ’s priesthood was sin: it was this which alienated the creature from the Creator. 2 . The source of Christ’s priesthood was grace: rebels were not entitled to it; such a wondrous provision proceeded solely from the Divine favor. 3 . The Junction of Christ’s priesthood is mediation, to come between, to officiate for men God-wards. 4 . The qualification for perfect priesthood is a God-man: none but God could meet the requirements of God; none but Man could meet the needs of men. 5 . The work of priesthood is to make propitiation for sin. To these we may add: 6 . The design of priesthood is that the claims of God may be honored, the person of Christ glorified, and His people redeemed. 7 . The outcome of His priesthood is the maintaining of His people in the favor of God. Other subsidiary points will come before us, D.V., in the later chapters.
Verses 8, 9 of Hebrews 5:0 complete the passage which was before us in the preceding article. That we may the better perceive their scope and meaning, let us recapitulate the teaching of the earlier verses. In this first division of Hebrews 5:0 the apostle’s design was to show how that Christ fulfilled the Aaronic type. First, He had been Divinely called or appointed to the priestly office (verses 4-6). Second, to fit Him for compassion on behalf of those for whom He officiated, He was "compassed with (sinless) infirmity" (verses 3, 7). Third, He had "offered" to God, as Priest, "as for the people so also for himself" (verse 3), "strong crying and tears" (verse 7). That which is now to be before us, brings out still other perfections of Christ which qualified Him to fill the sacerdotal office, and also makes known the happy issues therefrom.
"Though He were a Son, yet learned He obedience by the things which He suffered" (verse 8). In view of His unspeakable humiliation, portrayed in the previous verse, the Divine dignity of our High Priest is here mentioned both to guard and enhance His glory. "The things discoursed in the foregoing verse seem to have an inconsistency with the account given us concerning the person of Jesus Christ at the entrance of this Epistle. For He is therein declared to be the Son of God, and that in such a glorious manner as to be deservedly exalted above all the angels in heaven. Here He is represented as in a low, distressed condition, humbly, as it were, begging for His life, and pleading with ‘strong crying and tears’ before Him who was able to deliver Him. These things might seem unto the Hebrews to have some kind of repugnancy unto one another. And, indeed, they are a ‘stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense,’ unto many at this day; they are not able to reconcile them in their carnal minds and reasonings . . .
"The aim of the apostle in this place is, not to repel the objections of unbelievers, but to instruct the faith of those who do believe in the truth of these things. For He doth not only manifest that they were all possible, upon the account of His participation of flesh and blood, who was in Himself the eternal Son of God; but also that the whole of the humiliation and distress therein ascribed unto Him was necessary, with respect unto the office which He had undertaken to discharge, and the work which was committed unto Him. And this he doth in the next ensuing and following verses" (Dr. John Owen).
"Though He were a Son, yet learned He obedience by the things which He suffered" (verse 8). First, what relation does this statement bear to the passage of which it is a part? Second, what is the particular "obedience" here referred to? Third, in what sense did the Son "learn obedience"? Fourth, how did the things "which He suffered" teach Him obedience? Fifth, what are the practical lessons here pointed for us? These are some of the questions raised by our verse which call for answer.
"Though He were a Son" looks back more immediately to verse 5, where a part of Psalms 2:7 is quoted. "That quotation has also reminded us of the Divine dignity and excellence of Christ as the ground of His everlasting priesthood. Jesus had a Divine commission; He was appointed by the Father because He was the Son; and thus He was possessed of all requisite qualifications for His office. Nevertheless the Son had to ‘learn obedience.’ He must not only possess authority and dignity, but be able to sympathize with the condition of sinners. By entering the circle of human experience He was made a merciful and faithful High Priest, and through suffering fitted for compassionately guiding our highest interests, as well as conducting our cause. The bond of brotherhood, the identity of suffering and sorrow, fitted Him to be touched with the feeling of our infirmities. He was made like unto His brethren (Hebrews 2:17 ); He suffered, that He might be in a position to succor them that are tempted (Hebrews 2:18 ); He was made in all respects like us, with the single exception of personal sinfulness (Hebrews 4:15 ); and He learned obedience by what He suffered. The design of all this was, that He might be a compassionate and sympathizing High Priest" (Professor Smeaton).
Here then is the answer to our first question. In the 8th verse the Holy Spirit is still showing how that which was found in the type (verse 3), is also to be seen in the Antitype. What could more emphatically exemplify the fact that our High Priest was "compassed with infirmity" than to inform us that He not only felt acutely the experiences through which He passed, but also that He "learned obedience" by those very experiences? Nor need we hesitate to go as far as the Spirit of truth has gone; rather must we seek grace to believe all that He has said. None were more jealous of the Son’s glory than He, and none knew so well how His glory had been displayed by His voluntary descent into such unfathomable depths of shame. While holding firmly to Christ’s absolute deity, we must not (through a false conception of His dignity) shrink from following Him in thought and affection into that abyss of humiliation unto which, for our sakes, He came. When Scripture says, "He learned obedience" we must not whittle down these words to mean anything less than they affirm.
"Yet learned He obedience" brings out, very forcibly, the reality of the humanity which the Son assumed. He became true Man. If we bow to the inspired statement that "Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man" (Luke 2:52 ), why balk as many have at He "learned obedience?" True, blessedly true, these words do not signify that there was in Him a will which resisted the law of God, and which needed severe discipline to bring it into subjection. As Calvin well says, "Not that He was driven to this by force, or that He had need of being thus exercised, as the case is with oxen or horses when their ferocity is to be tamed; for He was abundantly willing to render to His Father the obedience which He owed." No, He declared, "I delight to do Thy will, O God" (Psalms 40:8 ). And again, "My meat is to do the will of Him that sent Me" (John 4:34 ).
But what is "obedience?" It is subjection to the will of another: it is an owning of the authority of another; it is performing the pleasure of another. This was an entirely new experience for the Son. Before His incarnation, He had Himself occupied the place of authority, of supreme authority. His seat had been the throne of the universe. From it He had issued commands and had enforced obedience. But now He had taken the place of a servant. He had assumed a creature nature. He had become man. And in this new place and role He conducted Himself with befitting submission to Another. He had been "made under the law," and its precepts must be honored by Him. But more: the place He had taken was an official one. He had come here as the Surety of His people. He had come to discharge their liabilities. He had come to work out a perfect righteousness for them; and therefore, as their Representative, He must obey God’s law. As the One who was here to maintain the claims of God, He must "magnify the law and make it honorable," by yielding to it a voluntary, perfect, joyous compliance.
Again; the "obedience" of Christ formed an essential part of His priestly oblation. This was typified of old though very few have perceived it in the animals prescribed for sacrifice: they were to be "without spot, without blemish." That denoted their excellency; only the "choice of the flock" (Ezekiel 24:5 ) were presented to God. The antitype of this pointed to far more than the sinlessness of Christ that were merely negative. It had in view His positive perfections, His active obedience, His personal excellency. When Christ "offered Himself without spot to God" (Hebrews 9:14 ), He presented a Sacrifice which had already fulfilled every preceptive requirement of the law. And it was as Priest that He thus offered Himself to God, thereby fulfilling the Aaronic type. But in all things He has the pre-eminence, for at the cross He was both Offerer and Offering. Thus there is the most intimate connection between the contents of verse 8 and its context, especially with verse 7.
"Yet learned He obedience." The incarnate Son actually entered into the experience of what it was to obey. He denied Himself, He renounced His own will, He "pleased not Himself" (Romans 15:3 ). There was no insubordination in Him, nothing disinclined to God’s law; instead, His obedience was voluntary and hearty. But by being "made under the law" as Man, He "learned" what Divine righteousness required of Him; by receiving commandment to lay down His life (John 10:18 ), He "learned" the extent of that obedience which holiness demanded. Again; as the God-man, Christ "learned" obedience experimentally. As we learn the sweetness or bitterness of food by actually tasting it, so He learned what submission is by yielding to the Father’s will. "But, moreover, there was still somewhat peculiar in that obedience which the Son of God is said to learn from His own sufferings, namely, what it is for a sinless person to suffer for sinners, ‘the Just for the unjust.’ The obedience herein was peculiar unto Him, nor do we know, nor can we have an experience of the ways and paths of it" (Dr. John Owen).
"By the things which He suffered" announces the means by which He learned obedience. Everything that Christ suffered, from first to last, during the days of His flesh, is here included. His entire course was one of suffering, and He had the experience of obedience in it all. Every scene through which He passed provided occasion for the exercise of those graces wherein obedience consists. Meekness and lowliness (Matthew 11:29 ), self-denial (Romans 15:3 ), patience (Revelation 1:9 ), faith (Hebrews 2:13 ), were habitually resident in His holy nature, but they were only capable of exercise by reason of His suffering. As His suffering increased, so His obedience grew in extent and intensity, by the very pressure brought to bear upon it; the hotter the conflict grew, the more His inward submission was manifested outwardly (compare Isaiah 50:6 , Isaiah 50:7 ). There was not only sufferings passively endured, but obedience in suffering, and that the most amazing and unparalleled.
To sum up now the important teachings of this wonderful verse: He who personally was high above all obedience, stooped so low as to enter the place of obedience. In that place He learned, by His sufferings, the actual experience of obedience He obeyed. Hereby we learn what was required to the right discharge of Surety-ship: there must needs be both an active and a passive obedience vicariously rendered. The opening word "though" intimates that the high dignity of His person did not exempt Him from the humiliation which our salvation involved. The word "yet" is a note of exclamation, to deepen our sense of wonderment at His infinite condescension on our behalf, for in His place of servitude He never ceased to be the Lord of glory. "He was no less God when He died, than when He was ‘declared to be the Son of God with power, by the resurrection from the dead,’ Romans 1:4 ’ (Dr. John Owen).
And what are the practical lessons here pointed for us? First, our Redeemer has left us an example that we should follow His steps. He has shown us how to wear our creature nature: complete and unquestioning subjection to God is that which is required of us. Second, Christ has hereby taught us the extent to which God ought to be submitted unto: He was "obedient unto death." Third, obedience to God cost something: "Yea, and all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution" (2 Timothy 3:12 ). Fourth, sufferings undergone according to the will of God are highly instructive. Christ Himself learned by the things which He suffered; much more may we do so, who have so much more to learn (Hebrews 12:10 , Hebrews 12:11 ). Fifth, God’s love for us does not exempt from suffering. Though the Son of His love, Christ was not spared great sorrows and trials: sufficient for the disciple to be as his Master.
"And being made perfect, He became the Author of eternal salvation unto all them that obey Him" (verse 9). "The apostle having declared the sufferings of Christ as our High Priest, in His offering of Himself, with the necessity thereof, proceeds now to declare both what was effected thereby, and what was the especial design of God therein. And this in general was that, the Lord Christ, considering our lost condition, might be every way fitted to be a ‘perfect cause of eternal salvation unto all that obey Him,’ There are, therefore, two things in the words, both which God aimed at and accomplished in the sufferings of Christ. 1. On His own part, that He might be ‘made perfect;’ not absolutely, but with respect unto the administration of His office in the behalf of sinners. 2. With respect unto believers, that He might be unto them the ‘Author of eternal salvation’" (Dr. John Owen). This is a good epitome of the teaching of the 9th verse, but a number of things in it call for fuller elucidation.
"And being made perfect." The word, "perfect" is one which is found frequently in this Epistle. It signifies "to consummate" or "complete." It also means "to dedicate" or "fully consecrate." Our present passage contains its second occurrence, the first being in Hebrews 2:10 , to which we must refer the reader. There the verb is used actively with respect to the Father: it became Him to "make perfect" the Captain of our salvation. Here it is used passively, telling of the effect of that act of God on the person of Christ; by His suffering He was "perfected." It has reference to the setting apart of Christ as Priest. "The legal high priests were consecrated by the sufferings and deaths of the beasts which were offered in sacrifice at their consecration (Exodus 29:0 ). But it belonged unto the perfection of the priesthood of Christ to be consecrated in and by His own sufferings" (Dr. John Owen). It is most important to note that the reference here is to what took place in "the days of His flesh," not at His resurrection or ascension verses 7-9 form one complete statement. The Greek is even more emphatic than the A.V.: "And having been perfected became to those that obey Him all, the Author of salvation eternal." It was not in heaven that He was "perfected," but before He "became the Author of salvation" cf. Hebrews 10:14 , which affirms our oneness with Him in His approved obedience and accomplished sacrifice.
"And being made perfect" does not contemplate any change wrought in His person, but speaks of His being fully qualified to officiate as Priest, to present Himself to God as a perfect sacrifice for the sins of His people. His official "perfecting" was accomplished in and by means of His sufferings. By His offering up of Himself He was consecrated to the priestly office, and by the active presentation of His sacrifice to God He discharged the essential function thereof. Thus, the inspired declaration we are now considering furnishes another flat contradiction (cf. Hebrews 2:17 ) of those who affirm that Christ was not constituted and consecrated High Priest till His resurrection. True, there were other acts and duties pertaining to His sacerdotal office yet to be performed, but these depend for their efficacy on His previous sufferings; those He was now made meet for. The "being made perfect" or "consecrated" to the priestly office at the Cross, finds a parallel in our Lord’s own words, "For their sakes I sanctify (dedicate) Myself" (John 17:19 ). "Here is the ultimate end why it was necessary for Christ to suffer: that He might thus become initiated into His priesthood" (John Calvin).
"He became the Author of eternal salvation." "Having thus been made perfect through such intense, obediental, pious suffering having thus obtained all the merit, all the power and authority, all the sympathy, which are necessary to the discharge of the high priestly functions of Savior, ‘He is become the Author of eternal salvation.’ This is the second statement which the apostle makes in illustration of the principle, that our Lord has proved Himself qualified for the office to which He has been divinely appointed by a successful discharge of its functions, the subsidiary clause, ‘being made perfect,’ connects this second statement with the first; showing how our Lord’s ‘learning obedience by the things which He suffered in the days of His flesh’ His humbled state led to His being now, in His exalted state, ‘the Author of salvation to all who obey Him’.... ‘Being made perfect’ is just equivalent to ‘having thus obtained’ every necessary qualification for actually saving them" (Dr. J. Brown).
The "Author of salvation" conveys a slightly different thought than the "Captain of salvation" in Hebrews 2:10 . There it is Christ actually conducting many sons, by the powerful administration of His Word and Spirit, unto glory. Here it is the work of Christ as the meritorious and efficient Cause of their salvation. It was the perfect satisfaction which He rendered to God, the propitiatory sacrifice of Himself, which has secured the eternal deliverance of His people from the penal consequences of their sins. By His expiation He became the purchaser and procurer of our redemption. His intercession and His gift of the Spirit are the effects and fruits of His perfect oblation. "He has done everything that is necessary to make the salvation of His people consistent with, and illustrative of, the perfections of the Divine character and the principles of the Divine government; and He actually does save His people from guilt, depravity and misery He actually makes them really holy and happy hereafter" (Dr. J. Brown).
The salvation which Christ has procured and now secures unto all His people, is here said to be an "eternal" one. First of all, none other was suited unto us. By virtue of the nature which we have received from God, we are made for eternal duration. But by sin we made ourselves obnoxious to eternal damnation, being by nature "the children of wrath, even as others" (Ephesians 2:3 ). Therefore an eternal salvation was our deep and dire need. Second, the merits of our Savior being infinite, required from the hand of Justice a corresponding salvation, one infinite in value and in duration: cf. Hebrews 9:12 . Third, the salvation procured by our great High Priest is here contrasted with that obtained by the Levitical high priest: the atonement which Aaron made, held good for one year only (Leviticus 16:0 ); but that which Christ has accomplished, is of eternal validity.
"To all them that obey Him" describes those who are the beneficiaries of our High Priest’s atonement. "The expression is emphatical. To all and every one of them that obey Him; not any one of them shall be exempted from a share and interest in this salvation; nor shall any one of any other sort be admitted thereunto" (Dr. John Owen). It is not all men universally, but those only who bow to His scepter. The recipients of His great salvation are here spoken of according to the terms of human accountability. All who hear the Gospel are commanded to believe (1 John 3:23 ); such is their responsibility. The "obedience" of this verse is an evangelical, not a legal one: it is the "obedience of faith" (Romans 16:26 ). So also in Acts 5:32 we read of the Holy Spirit "whom God hath given to them that obey Him." But this "obedience" is not to be restricted to the initial act, but takes in the whole life of faith. A Christian, in contradistinction from a non-Christian, is one who obeys Christ (John 14:23 ). The "all them that obey Him" of Hebrews 5:9 is in opposition to "yet learned He obedience" in the previous verse: it identifies the members with their Head!
Before taking up the next verse, let us seek to point out how that the passage which has been before us, not only shows Christ provided the substance of what was foreshadowed by the Levitical priests, but also how that He excelled them at every point, thus demonstrating the immeasurable superiority of Christ over Aaron. First, Aaron was but a man (verse 1); Christ, the "Son." Second, Aaron offered "sacrifices" (verse 1); Christ offered one perfect sacrifice, once for all. Third, Aaron was "compassed with infirmity" (verse 2); Christ was the "mighty" One (Psalms 89:19 ). Fourth, Aaron needed to offer for his own sins (verse 3); Christ was sinless. Fifth, Aaron offered a sacrifice external to himself; Christ offered Himself. Sixth, Aaron effected only a temporary salvation. Christ secured an eternal one. Seventh, Aaron’s atonement was for Israel only; Christ’s for "all them that obey Him."
"Called of God an high priest after the order of Melchizedek" (verse 10). This verse forms the transition between the first division of Hebrews 5:0 , and its second which extends to the end of chapter 7 the second being interrupted by a lengthy parenthesis. In the first section treating of our Lord’s priesthood, the apostle has amplified his statement in Hebrews 2:17 , Hebrews 2:18 , and has furnished proof that Christ fulfilled the Aaronic type. In the second section wherein he treats of our Lord’s sacerdotal office, he amplifies his declaration in Hebrews 4:15 , and shows that in Christ we have not only an High Priest, but "a great High Priest." The different aspects of his theme treated of in these two divisions of Hebrews 5:0 is intimated by the variation to be noted in verses 6,10. In the former he says, "Thou art a priest forever after the order of Melchizedek," but in verse 10 he adds, "Called of God an High Priest after the order of Melchizedek."
The Greek word for "called" in verse 10 is entirely different from the one used in verse 4, "called of God." The former signifies to ordain or appoint; the latter to salute or greet. To the right understanding of the purport of verse 10, it is essential to observe carefully the exact point at which this statement is introduced: it is not till after the declarations that Christ had "offered up" (verse 7), had "learned obedience" (verse 7), had been "made perfect," and had become "the Author of salvation" (verse 9), we are told that God saluted Christ as "High Priest after the order of Melchizedek." What is found in verse 6 does not in any wise weaken the force of this, still less does it clash with it. In verses 5, 6 the Spirit is not treating of the order of Christ’s priesthood, but is furnishing proof that He had been called to that office by God Himself.
We do not propose to offer an exposition of the contents of this 10th verse on the present occasion, but content ourselves with directing attention to the important fact that it was consequent upon His being officially "made perfect" and becoming "the Author of eternal salvation," that Christ was saluted by God as "High Priest after the order of Melchizedek." This act of God’s followed the Savior’s death and resurrection. It was God’s greeting of the glorious Conqueror of sin and death. Hence the propriety of His new title. If the reader refers to Genesis 14:0 he will find that the historical Melchizedek first comes on the scene to greet Abraham after his notable conquest of Chedorlaomer and his allies. It was upon his "return from the slaughter" of the kings, that Melchizedek appeared and blessed him. Thus he owned Abraham’s triumph. In like manner, God has greeted the mighty Victor. May the Spirit of God fit our hearts and minds for a profounder insight of His living oracles.
Christ Superior to Aaron.
(Hebrews 5:11-58.5.14 )
At the close of our last article we pointed out that the 10th verse of Hebrews 5:0 forms the juncture of the two divisions of that chapter. In the first section, verses 1-9, the apostle has shown how Christ fulfilled that which was typified of Him by the Levitical high priests, and also how that He excels Aaron in His person, His office, and His work. The second section, which begins at verse 10 and extends, really, to the end of chapter 10, continues to display the superiority of Christ over Aaron, principally by showing that the Lord Jesus exercises a priesthood pertaining to a more excellent order than his. In substantiation of this the apostle, in verse 10, makes reference to Psalms 110:4 . His purpose in so doing was twofold: first, to allow that Christ was not a high priest according to the constitution, law, and order of the Aaronic priesthood; second, to remind the Hebrews there was a priesthood antecedent unto and diverse from that of Aaron; which had also been appointed of God, and that for the very purpose of prefiguring the person of our great High Priest.
But at this point a difficulty has been presented to many students. We might state it thus: Seeing that this Epistle expressly declares, again and again, that Christ is priest "after the order of Melchizedek," how can it be true that Aaron, who belonged to a totally different order, could pre-figure His priestly office and work? This difficulty has largely resulted from failure to observe that the Holy Spirit has not said Christ is "an high priest of the order of Melchizedek," but, "alter the order of," etc. The difference between the two expressions is real and radical. The word "of" would have necessarily limited His priesthood to a certain order. For when we say, as we must, that Phineas and Eli were "high priests of the order of Aaron," we mean that they had the very same priesthood that Aaron had. But it is not so with Christ. His priesthood is not restricted to any human order, for no mere man could possibly sustain or perform the work which pertains to Christ’s priesthood.
As we have pointed out on previous occasions, it is of the very greatest importance, in order to a clear understanding of the priesthood of God’s Son, to perceive that both Aaron and Melchizedek were needed to foreshadow His sacerdotal office. The reason for this was, that the priestly work of Christ would be performed in two distinct stages: one in the days of His humiliation, the other during the time of His exaltation. Aaron prefigured the former, Melchizedek the latter. In perfect keeping with this fact Christ is not said to be a high priest "after the order of Melchizedek" in Hebrews 2:17 ; Hebrews 3:1 , or 4:15. It was not until after the apostle has shown in Hebrews 5:5-58.5.9 that Christ fulfilled that which Aaron typified (Hebrews 5:1-58.5.4 ), that He is "saluted of God" as an high priest after the order of Melchizedek. And, we would here point out again that, this was wondrously and blessedly adumbrated in Genesis 14:0 , where Melchizedek is seen coming to meet and greet the victorious Abraham.
There were various things, peculiar to the person of Melchizedek, above and beyond what appertained to Aaron, which rendered him an illustrious type of our great High Priest; and when Christ is designated Priest "after the order of Melchizedek," the meaning of that expression is, according to the things revealed in Scripture concerning that Old Testament character. "Because of the especial resemblance there was between what Melchizedek was and what Christ was to be, God called His priesthood Melchizedekecian" (Dr. Owen). "After the order of Melchizedek" does not mean a limitation of His priesthood to that order else it had said "of the order of Melchizedek" but points to the particulars in which his priesthood also prefigured that of Christ’s. The various details of which that resemblance consisted are developed in Hebrews 7:0 ; all that we would now call attention to is, that nowhere in Scripture is Melchizedek ever seen offering a sacrifice, instead, we read, he "brought forth bread and wine" (Genesis 14:18 ) typically, the memorials of the great Sacrifice already offered, once for all.
It was in death that Christ fulfilled the Aaronic type, making a full and perfect atonement for the sins of His people. It is in resurrection that He assumed the character in which Melchizedek foreshadowed Him a royal Priest. It was after He had been officially "perfected" and had become "the Author of eternal salvation unto all them that obey Him" that the Lord Jesus announced, "All power is given unto Me in heaven and in earth" (Matthew 28:18 ). There was first the Cross and then the Crown: first He "offered up Himself" (Hebrews 7:27 ), then He entered "into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us" (Hebrews 9:24 ); and there He is seated "a Priest upon His throne" (Zechariah 6:13 ).
"Called of God an high priest after the order of Melchizedek" (verse 10). A most important point had now been reached in the apostle’s argument, the central design of which was to exhibit the immeasurable superiority of Christianity over Judaism. The very center of the Jewish economy was its temple and priesthood; so too, the outstanding glory of Christianity, is its Priest who ministers in the heavenly sanctuary, officiating there in fulfillment of the Melchizedek type. But though the apostle had now arrived at the most important point in this treatise, it was also one which required the most delicate handling, due to the fleshly prejudices of his readers. To declare that, following His exodus from the grave, God Himself had greeted Christ as priest "after the order of Melchizedek," was tantamount to saying that the Aaronic order was thus Divinely set aside, and with it, all the ordinances and ceremonies of the Mosaic law. This was the hardest thing of all for a Hebrew, even a converted one, to bow to; for it meant repudiating everything that was seen, and cleaving to that which was altogether invisible. It meant forsaking that which their fathers had honored for fifteen hundred years, and following that which the great majority of their brethren according to the flesh denounced as Satanic. In view of the difficulty created by this prejudice, the apostle interrupts the flow of his argument, and pauses to make a lengthy parenthesis.
"The apostle has scarcely entered on the central and most important part of his epistle, when he feels painfully the difficulty of explaining the doctrine of the heavenly and eternal priesthood of the Son, and this not merely on account of the grandeur and depth of the subject, but on account of the spiritual condition of the Hebrews, whom he is addressing. He had presented to their view the Lord Jesus, who after His sufferings was made perfect in His exaltation to be the High Priest in heaven. When he quotes again the 110th Psalm, ‘Thou art a priest, forever after the order of Melchizedek,’ the solemn and comprehensive words which are addressed by the Father to the Son, he has such a vivid and profound sense of the exceeding riches of this heavenly knowledge, of the treasures of wisdom and consolation which are hidden in the heavenly Priesthood of our ascended Lord, that he longs to unfold to the Hebrews his knowledge of the glorious mystery; especially as this was the truth which they most urgently needed. Here and here alone could they see their true position as worshippers in the true tabernacle, the heavenly sanctuary. Here and here alone was consolation for them in the trial which they felt on account of their excision from the temple and the earthly service in Jerusalem; while from the knowledge of Christ’s heavenly priesthood they would also derive light to avoid the insidious errors, and strength to overcome the difficulties which were besetting their path" (Adolph Saphir).
In the course of his parenthesis which we are now about to begin, the apostle strikes two distinct notes: first he sounds a solemn warning, and then he gives forth a gracious encouragement. The warning is found in Hebrews 5:11-58.6.8 , the encouragement is contained in 6:9-20. Just so long as Christians have the flesh in them and are subject to the assaults of the Devil, do they need constant warning; and just so long as they are harassed by indwelling sin and are left in an hostile world, do they stand in need of heavenly encouragement. All effective ministry to the saints proceeds along these two lines, alternating from the one to the other. Preachers will do well to make a careful note of this fact, fully exemplified in all the Epistles of the apostles; and every Christian reader will do well to take to heart the solemn and searching passage we are now to take up.
"Of whom we have many things to say" (verse 11). "Of whom:" concerning Christ as the fulfiller of the Melchizedek type, the apostle had much in mind, much that he desired to bring before his brethren. There were many things pertaining to this order of priesthood which were of deep importance, of great value, and most necessary to know; things which concerned the glory of Christ, things which concerned the joy and consolation of His people. But these things were "hard to be uttered," or as the Revised Version has, "hard of interpretation.’ This does not mean that the apostle himself found it difficult to grasp them; nor does it mean they were of such a nature that he labored to find language for expressing himself clearly. No, it was because the things themselves were unpalatable to the Hebrews, that the spirit of the apostle was straitened. This is seen from the next clause.
"And hard to be uttered, seeing ye are dull of hearing" (verse 11). "To be ‘dull of hearing’ is descriptive of that state of mind in which statements may be made without producing any corresponding impression, without being attended to, without being understood, without being felt. In a word, it is descriptive of mental listlessness. To a person in this state, it is very difficult to explain anything; for, nothing, however simple in itself, can be understood if it be not attended to" (Dr. J. Brown). The Revised Version is again preferable here; "ye are become dull of hearing." They were not always so. Time was when these Hebrews had listened to the Word with eagerness, and had made diligent application thereof. "When the Gospel was first preached to them, it aroused their attention, it exercised their thoughts; but now with many of them it had become a common thing. They flattered themselves that they knew all about it. It had become to them like a sound to which the ear had been long accustomed the person is not conscious of it, pays no attention to it" (Dr. J. Brown).
The Greek word for "dull" is translated "slothful" in Hebrews 6:12 . It signifies a state of heaviness or inertia. These Hebrews had become mentally and spiritually what loafers are in the natural world too indolent to bestir themselves, too lazy to make any effort at improvement. They were spiritual sluggards; slothful. Let the reader turn to Proverbs 12:27 , Proverbs 19:24 , Proverbs 21:25 , Proverbs 24:30-20.24.34 , Proverbs 26:13-20.26.16 , and remember these passages all have a spiritual application. To become, "dull of hearing" or "slothful," is the reverse of "giving diligence" in 2 Peter 1:5 , 2 Peter 1:10 . In such a condition of soul, the apostle found it difficult to lead the Hebrews on to the apprehension of higher truth. He had many things to say unto them, but their coldness, lethargy, prejudice, restrained him. And this is recorded for our learning; it has a voice for us; may the Spirit grant us a hearing ear.
"Ye are become dull of hearing." Of how many Christians is this true today! "Ye did run well; who did hinder you?" (Galatians 5:7 ). This is a cause of mourning unto all the true servants of God. Because iniquity abounds, the love of many waxes cold. Affections are set upon things below, rather than upon things above. Many who are deluded into thinking their eternal salvation is secure, evidence no concern over their present relationship to God. And Christians who mingle with these lifeless professors are injuriously affected, for "evil communications corrupt good manners" (1 Corinthians 15:33 ). There is little "reaching forth unto those things which are before" (Philippians 3:13 ) and, consequently, little growth in grace and in the knowledge of the Lord. By the very law of our constitution, if we do not move forward, we slip backward.
There are few who seem to realize that truth has to be "bought" (Proverbs 23:23 ), purchased at the cost of subordinating temporal interests to spiritual ones. If the Christian is to "increase in the knowledge of God" (Colossians 1:10 ), he has to give himself whole-heartedly to the things of God. It is impossible to serve God and mammon. If the heart of the professing Christian be set, as the heart of the nominal professor is, upon earthly comforts, worldly prosperity, temporal riches, then the "true riches" will be missed sold for "a mess of pottage" (Hebrews 12:16 ). But if, by Divine grace, through the possession of a new nature, there is a longing and a hungering for spiritual things, that longing can only be attained and that hunger satisfied by giving ourselves entirely to their ceaseless quest. "The loins of our minds" (1 Peter 1:13 ) have to be girded, the Word has to be "studied" (2 Timothy 2:15 ), the means of grace have to be used with "all diligence" (2 Peter 1:5 ). It is the diligent soul which "shall be made fat" (Proverbs 13:4 ).
How many who sit under the ministry of a true servant of God are "dull of hearing!" There is little waiting upon God, little real exercise of heart, before the service, to prepare them for receiving His message. Instead, the average hearer comes up to the house of God with a mind full of worldly concerns. We have to "lay aside all filthiness and superfluity of naughtiness" if we are to "receive with meekness the engrafted Word" (James 1:21 ). We have to listen unto God’s Word with a right motive; not out of idle curiosity, not merely to fulfill a duty, still less for the purpose of criticizing; but that we "may grow thereby" (1 Peter 2:2 ) grow in practical godliness. And, if what we have heard is not to be forgotten, if it is really to profit the soul, it must be meditated upon (Psalms 1:2 ), and accompanied with earnest prayer for grace to enable us to "heed" what has been heard.
"For when for the time ye ought to be teachers, ye have need that one teach you again which be the first principles of the oracles of God; and are become such as have need of milk, and not of strong meat" (verse 12). The opening "for" intimates that the apostle is here substantiating the charge which he had preferred against the believing Hebrews at the close of the preceding verse. His reproof was with the object of emphasizing the sad state into which their inertia had brought them. Their condition was to be deplored from three considerations. First, they had been converted long enough to be of help to others. Second, instead of being useful, they were useless, needing to be grounded afresh in the ABC’s of the Truth of God. Third, so far from having the capacity to masticate strong food, their condition called for that which was suited only to a stunted babyhood.
"For when for the time ye ought to be teachers." This, it seems to us, is only another way of saying, Consider how long you have been Christians, how long you have known the Truth, and what improvement of it ought to have been made! It was a rebuke for their having failed to "redeem the time" (Ephesians 5:16 ). Most probably among these Hebrews were some who had been called during the days of Christ’s public ministry, others no doubt were among the three thousand saved on the day of Pentecost, since which, about thirty years had passed. During that time they had the Old Testament Scriptures which clearly testified to all they had been taught concerning Christ. The Gospel had been preached and "confirmed" unto them (Hebrews 2:1-58.2.3 ). Moreover, as the book of Acts shows, the apostles had labored hard and long among them, and much of the New Testament was now in their hands. Hence, in Hebrews 6:7 they are likened to the earth which drinketh in the rain that "cometh oft upon it." Thus, every privilege and opportunity had been theirs.
"Ye ought to be teachers." This tells us the improvement which should have been made of, and the use to which they ought to have put, the teaching they had received. The Gospel is given by God to the Christian, not only for his own individual edification and joy, but as a "pound" to be traded with for Christ’s glory (Luke 19:13 ), as a "light" for the illumination of others (Matthew 5:15 , Matthew 5:16 ). "You ought to be teachers" shows that this was a duty required of them. How little is this perceived by Christians today! How few listen to the ministry of the Scriptures with an ear not only for their own soul’s profit, but also with the object of being equipped to help others. Instead, how many attend the preaching of the Word simply as a matter of custom, or to satisfy their conscience. Two aims should be prayerfully sought by every Christian auditor: his own edification, his usefulness to others.
"Ye ought to be teachers." Let not the searching point of this be blunted by saying, God does not want all His people to be public preachers. The New Testament does not limit "teaching" to the pulpit. One of the most important spheres is the home, and that should be a Christian seminary. Under the law God commanded the Israelite to give His words to the members of his household: "And Thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up" (Deuteronomy 6:7 ). Does God require less from us now, in this dispensation of full light? No, indeed. Note, again, how in Titus 2:3-56.2.5 , the older sisters are bidden to "teach the young women:" never was there a greater need for this than now. So in 2 Timothy 2:2 , the brethren are to "teach others also." Yes, every Christian "ought to be" a teacher.
"Ye have need that one teach you again." The apostle continues his reproof of the listless Hebrews, and presses upon them the inevitable consequence of becoming "dull of hearing." Spiritual sloth not only prevents practical progress in the Christian’s life, but it produces retrogression. It was not that they had lost, absolutely, their knowledge of Divine truth, but they had failed to lay it to heart, and live in the power of it. In 2 Peter 1:0 , Christians are called on to add to their faith "virtue, and to virtue, knowledge; and to knowledge, temperance; and to temperance, patience; and to patience, godliness; and to godliness, brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness, love;" and then the apostle adds, "For if these things be in you, and abound, they make you that ye shall neither be barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ." On the other hand, we are solemnly warned, "But he that lacketh these things is blind, and cannot see afar off, and hath forgotten that he was purged from his old sins." This was the condition of the Hebrews.
"Which be the first principles of the oracles of God." Because of their unresponsiveness of heart, they had gone back so far that they were only fit to be placed in the lowest form of learners; they needed to be re-taught their ABC’s. Clear proof was this of their dullness and lack of proficiency. The "first principles of the oracles of God" signify the rudiments of our faith, the first lessons presented to our learning, the elementary truths of Scripture. Until these are grasped by faith, and the heart and life are influenced by them, the disciple is not ready for further instructions in the things of God. In the case of the Hebrews, those "first principles" or elementary doctrines were, that the Old Testament economy was strictly a typical one, that its ordinances and ceremonies foreshadowed the person and work of God’s Son, who was to come here and make an atonement for the sins of His people. He had thus come: the types had given place to the great Antitype, and therefore the shadows were replaced by the Substance itself. True, he had left this scene, gone into heaven, itself, there to appear in the presence of God for His people. Thither their faith and affections should have followed Him. But instead, they wanted to go back again to the temple-services in Jerusalem. They were setting their hearts upon the now effete types and figures, which the apostle hesitated not to call "the weak and beggarly elements" (Galatians 4:9 ).
Instead of walking by faith, the Hebrews were influenced by the things of sight. Instead of looking forward to an ascended and glorified Savior, they were occupied with a system which had foreshadowed His work in the days of His humiliation. Thus they needed to be taught afresh the "first principles of the oracles of God." They needed to be reminded that that which is perfect had come, and therefore that which was in part had been done away. And what is the present-day application of this expression to Christians? This: the elementals of our faith are, that Christ Jesus came into this world to save sinners; that His salvation is perfect and complete, leaving nothing for us to add to it; that the only fitness He requires from sinners is the Spirit’s discovery to them of their need of Him. The greater the sinner I know myself to be, the greater my need of Christ, and the more I am suited to Him, for He died for "the ungodly" (Romans 5:6 ). It was the realization of my ruin and wretchedness which first drew me to Him. If I cast myself, in all my want and poverty, upon Him, then He has received me, for His declaration is, "him that cometh to Me, I will in no wise cast out." Believing this, I go on my way rejoicing, thanking Him, praising Him, living on Him and for Him.
But instead of living in the joyous assurance of their acceptance in the Beloved, many give way to doubting. They question their "interest in Christ;" they wonder, "Am I His, or am I not?" They are continually occupied with self, either their good self or their bad self. And thus their peace is at an end. Instead of affections set upon Christ, their attention is turned within, occupied with their faith or their lack of it. Instead of walking in the glorious sunshine of the conscious favor of God, they dwell in "Doubting Castle," or flounder in the "Slough of Despond." Thus, instead of themselves being teachers of others, they have need that one teach them again "which be the first principles of the oracles of God." They are fit only for the kindergarten. They require to be told once more that faith looks away from self, and is occupied entirely with Another. They need to be told that Christ, not faith, is the sinner’s Savior; that faith is simply the empty hand extended to receive from Him.
This clause is susceptible of various legitimate applications. Let us consider its bearing upon another class of Christians, among which may be numbers of our readers. Time was when, in the "far country," you sought to be filled with the husks which the swine fed on (Luke 15:0 ). But you found your quest was in vain. To change the figure, you sampled one after another of the world’s cisterns, only to find that "whosoever drinketh of this water shall thirst again" (John 4:13 ). You discovered that the things of the world could not meet your deep need. Then, weary and heavy-laden, you were brought to Christ, and found in Him that "altogether lovely" One. O the joy that was now yours! "Thou O Christ art all I want," was your confession. But is this the language of your heart today? Alas, "thou hast left thy first love" (Revelation 2:4 ), and with it, peace and contentment are also largely a thing of the past. Like a sow that returns to her wallowing in the mire, many go back to the world for recreation, then for satisfaction. Ah, have not you, my reader, need to be taught again "which be the first principles of the oracles of God?" Do you not need reminding that nothing in this scene can minister to the new nature, a nature which has been created for heaven? Do you not need to relearn that Christ alone can satisfy your heart?
The "oracles of God" is one of many names given to the Holy Scriptures. Stephen called them the "living oracles" (Acts 7:38 ). "They are so in respect of their Author, they are the oracles of ‘the living God;’ whereas the oracles with which Satan infatuated the world were most of them at the shrines and graves of dead men. They are so in respect of their use and efficacy: they are ‘living’ because life-giving oracles unto them that obey them (Deuteronomy 32:47 ). Because they are ‘the oracles of God,’ they have supreme authority over the souls and consciences of us all. Therefore are they also infallible truth" (Dr. John Owen).
"And are become such as have need of milk, and not of strong meat." Here the apostle continues to rebuke the Hebrews for their laxity, and sets before them their deteriorated condition under a figure designed to humble them: he likens them to infants. The same similitude is used in 1 Corinthians 3:1 ,1 Corinthians 3:2 . "Milk" here signifies the same thing as the "first principles of the oracles of God." The "strong meat" had reference to the offices of Christ, especially His priesthood, as suited to our needs and affections. "Milk" is appropriate for babes, but Christians ought to grow and become strong in the Lord. They are exhorted to "be not children in understanding" (1 Corinthians 14:20 ). They are bidden to "quit ye like men" (1 Corinthians 15:13 ).
"For every one that useth milk is unskillful in the word of righteousness: for he is a babe" (verse 13). "Useth milk" means, lives on nothing else. By the "word of righteousness" is meant the Gospel of God’s grace. In 1 Corinthians 1:18 it is termed "the Word of the Cross," because that is its principal subject. In Romans 10:8 it is designated "the Word of Faith," because that is its chief requirement from all who hear it. Here, the Word of Righteousness, because of its nature, use and end. In the Gospel is "the righteousness of God revealed" (Romans 1:16 , Romans 1:17 ), for Christ is "the end of the law for righteousness unto every one that believeth" (Romans 10:4 ). Now the Hebrews are not here said to be ignorant of or utterly without the Word of Righteousness, but "unskillful" or "inexperienced" in the use of it. They had failed to improve it to its proper end. Did they clearly apprehend the Gospel, they had perceived the needlessness for the perpetuation of the Levitical priesthood with its sacrifices.
The one unskilled in the Word of Righteousness is a "babe." This term is here used by way of reproach. A "babe" is weak, ignorant. A spiritual "babe" is one who has an inadequate knowledge of Christ, i.e. an experimental knowledge and heart-acquaintance with Him. Let the reader note that a state of infancy was what characterized God’s people of old under Judaism (Galatians 4:1-48.4.6 ). They were looking forward to the Christ that was to come, and whose person and work was represented to their eyes by typical pictures and persons. Such was the ground to which these Hebrews had well-nigh slipped back. Earthly things were engrossing their attention. So it is still. A person may have been a Christian twenty or thirty years, but if he is not forgetting the things which are behind, and constantly pressing to the things before, he is, in actual experience and spiritual stature, but "a babe."
"But strong meat belongeth to them that are of full age, those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil" (verse 14). Here the apostle completes the antithesis begun in the preceding verse, and describes the character of those to whom strong meat is suited. By necessary implication his statement explains to us why the Hebrews had become "dull of hearing." There is much here of deep practical importance. "Strong meat" is contrasted from "milk" or the "first principles" of God’s Word, which we have defined above. This "strong meat" is the appropriate portion of those who have left infancy behind, who have so assimilated the "milk" of babyhood they have "grown thereby," grown in faith and love. This growth is produced and promoted by using our spiritual "senses" or faculties. Infants have "senses," but they know not how to exercise them to advantage. The proper use of our spiritual faculties enables us to distinguish between "good and evil". It was here the Hebrews had failed so lamentably.
"A child is easily imposed upon as to its food. Its nurse may easily induce it to swallow even palatable poison. But a man, ‘by reason of use,’ has learned so to employ his senses as to distinguish between what is deleterious and what is nourishing" (Dr. J. Brown). The same holds good in the spiritual realm. There is in the new man that which corresponds to our "five senses" naturally, namely, understanding, conscience, affections. But these have to be trained and developed. It is only by the constant and assiduous exercise of minds upon spiritual things, by the diligent study of the Word, by daily meditation thereon, by the exercise of faith therein, by earnestly supplicating the Spirit for light, that we acquire the all-important discernment to distinguish between good and evil, Truth and error. "Senses exercised" means ability or fitness acquired, as a disciplined soldier is equipped for his duty, or a trained athlete is for his work. Such capacity is only attained by the Christian through a constant and sedulous application of himself to the things of God. "By reason of use" refers not to spasmodic effort, but to a regular practice, a confirmed habit. The outcome is a spiritual ability to judge rightly of all that is presented to his notice.
It was here the Hebrews had failed, as, alas, so many Christians do now. "Their senses had not been exercised; that is, they had not walked closely with God, they had not followed the Master, listening earnestly to His voice, and proving what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect will of God. They had not conscientiously applied the knowledge which they had, but allowed it to remain dead and unused. If they had really and truly partaken of the milk, they would not have remained babes" (Adolph Saphir). Because of their slothfulness, they were unable to distinguish between "good and evil," i.e., between Truth and error, the promptings of the Spirit and the solicitations of Satan, the desires of the new nature and the lustings of the old. They were like babes are in the natural world, unable to discriminate between what is wholesome and what is hurtful; therefore were they unable to see the difference between what was right under the Judaic economy, and what was now suited to Christianity.
"Senses trained to discern both good and evil" has reference to what is set before a believer as food for his soul. The "good" is that which is nutritious and suited to his nourishment, "evil" is that which tends not to his edification, but to his destruction. Scripture itself is "evil" when wrongly divided and misapplied. This is seen in Satan’s misuse of Scripture with Christ (Matthew 4:6 ). Truth becomes "evil" when it is not presented in its due and Divine proportions. The enemies of the Hebrews were appealing to the Old Testament Scriptures, as Romanists now do to favor their elaborate form of worship and priesthood. In many other ways is Satan active today in setting before God’s people both "good and evil," and unless their spiritual faculties have been diligently trained, through much waiting upon God, they fall easy victims to his half-lies.
"If people really loved and cherished what they so fondly called ‘the simple gospel,’ their knowledge and Christian character would deepen, and all the truths which are centered in Christ crucified would become the object of their investigation and delight, and enrich and elevate their experience There are no doctrines more profound than those which are proclaimed when Christ’s salvation is declared. All our progress consists in learning more fully the doctrine which at first is preached unto us" (Adolph Saphir). It is using the light we already have, putting into practice the truth already received, which fits us for more. Unless this is done, we retrograde, and the light which is in us becomes darkness. Manna not used breeds worms (Exodus 16:20 )! Milk undigested not taken up into our system ferments. A backslidden state deprives us of a sound judgment. The secret of "senses trained to discern good and evil" is revealed in Hosea 6:3 , "Then shall we know, if we follow on to know the Lord." May His grace stir us up so to do.
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Pink, A.W. "Commentary on Hebrews 5". "Pink's Commentary on John and Hebrews". https://www.studylight.org/
the First Week of Advent