The latter part of the ninth chapter was an expansion of Hebrews 10:11-12. In particular, Hebrews 10:23-28 have been occupied with the theme, “Christ entered once for all into the Holy Place, having won eternal redemption.” The repeated offerings presented by the high priests have been contrasted with the sacrifice which He has offered. To this thought the opening verses of this chapter attach themselves, explaining more fully the inefficacy of the one, the power and virtue of the other. Gradually the main thoughts of the preceding chapters are gathered up, and the last and chief division of the argument of the Epistle is brought to a close in Hebrews 10:18.
(1) A Shadow of good things to come.—These words have already come before us; the “shadow” in Hebrews 8:5, and “the good things to come” in the ordinary reading of Hebrews 9:11.
Not the very image.—The antithesis is hardly what we should have expected. The word “image” is indeed consistent with the very closest and most perfect likeness; but why is the contrast to “shadow” expressed by a word which cannot denote more than likeness, and not by a reference to the things themselves? The answer would seem to be that, from the very nature of the “good things to come,” the law could not be conceived of as having the things themselves; but had it possessed “the very image” of them, a representation so perfect might have been found to bring with it equal efficacy.
Can never with those sacrifices.—It is difficult to ascertain the exact Greek text in the latter half of this verse. With the ordinary reading the general construction of the sentence is that which the Authorised version represents, “For the law . . . can never . . . make perfect.” The better MSS., however, read “they can,” a change which introduces some irregularity of construction: the pronoun “they” must probably in this case be understood of the priests. The order of the Greek is also very peculiar. Two translations of the verse (with the changed reading) may be given: (1) “They can never with the same sacrifices year by year which they offer continually make them that draw nigh perfect.” (2) “They can never year by year, by the same sacrifices which they offer continually, make them that draw nigh perfect.” The difference between the two renderings will be easily seen. The former makes the whole sentence to relate to the annual sacrifice on the Day of Atonement, and gives to “continually” almost the same meaning as “year by year.” The meaning of the latter is that by the annual sacrifices, which are the same as those which the priests are offering for the people day by day (for the sacrifice of the Day of Atonement did not in itself differ from the ordinary sin offering), they cannot make the worshippers perfect. The latter translation agrees best with the original, and conveys a very striking thought. It is open, however, to a very serious objection—that it separates the verse into two incongruous parts. That annual sacrifices not different in kind from the sin offerings which were presented day by day (and which the very institution of the Day of Atonement declared to be imperfect) could not bring to the worshippers what they needed, is an important argument; but it has no connection with the first words of the verse. Hence, though the Greek does not very readily yield the former translation, it is probably to be preferred. With the expression “them that draw nigh” or “approach” (to God) comp. Hebrews 7:26, where the same word is used. On “make perfect” see Hebrews 7:11; Hebrews 9:9.
(2) For then.—Better, otherwise. The very repetition of the annual ceremonial was a testimony to its imperfection. The idea of repetition has been very strikingly brought out in Hebrews 10:1.
Once purged.—Better, because the worshippers, having been once cleansed, would have no more consciousness of sins. “Worshippers,” not the same word as in Hebrews 10:1, but similarly used in Hebrews 9:9; Hebrews 9:14; Hebrews 12:28 (Philippians 3:3, et al.): in Hebrews 8:5; Hebrews 13:10, it is applied to priestly service.
(3) There is a remembrance.—Better, a remembrance of sins is made year by year. In each of the three prayers of the high priest (see Hebrews 5:3) for himself and his house, for the priesthood, for the people, he made special acknowledgment of sin. “I have sinned, I and my house and the sons of Aaron: Thy people have done perversely.”
(4) This verse explains those which precede. No inconsistency really belonged to these sacrifices and this ceremonial, though so often repeated; for it was impossible that any such sacrifice should really remove sin. The offering was necessary, and it answered its purpose; but it could not remove the necessity for another and a better offering.
(5) Wherefore.—That is, on account of this powerlessness of the sacrifices of the law.
He saith.—Christ, in the prophetic word of Scripture. Though not directly mentioned here, He has been the subject of the whole context (Hebrews 9:25-28). The words which follow are a quotation from Psalms 40:6-8, and agree substantially with the LXX., except that in Hebrews 10:7 a word of some importance is omitted (see the Note there). The LXX., again, is on the whole a faithful representation of the Hebrew text: one clause only (the last in this verse) presents difficulty. Particular expressions will be noticed as they occur: the general meaning and application of the psalm must first receive attention. Like Ps. 1. and 51 (with some verses of Psalms 69), Psalms 40 is remarkable for its anticipation of the teaching of the prophets (Isaiah 1:11-17; Jeremiah 7:21; Hosea 6:6; Micah 6:6-8; et al.) on one point, the inferior worth of ceremonial observances when contrasted with moral duties. It seems probable that the psalm is David’s, as the inscription relates, and that its key-note is to be found in the words of Samuel to Saul (1 Samuel 15:22): “Hath the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying (literally, hearkening to) the voice of the Lord? Behold, to obey (literally, to hear) is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams.” The first part of the psalm is an expression of thanksgiving to God for deliverance from peril. David has learned the true mode of displaying gratitude, not by offerings of slain animals, but by the sacrifice of the will. So far does the latter excel the former, so truly is the sacrifice of will in accordance with the will of God, that the value of the legal offerings is in comparison as nothing. There is in all this no real slighting of the sacrificial ritual (see Jeremiah 7:21-28), but there is a profound appreciation of the superiority of spiritual service to mere ritual observance. It can hardly be said that this quotation rests on the same principle as those of the first chapter. The psalm is certainly not Messianic, in the sense of being wholly predictive like Psalms 110, or directly typical like Psalms 2. In some respects, indeed, it resembles 2 Samuel 7 (See the Note on Hebrews 1:5.) As there, after words which are quoted in this Epistle in reference to Christ, we read of David’s son as committing iniquity and receiving punishment; so in this psalm we read, “Mine iniquities are more than the hairs of mine head.” David comes with a new perception of the true will of God, to offer Him the service in which He takes pleasure. And yet not so—for such service as he can offer is itself defective; his sins surround him yet in their results and penalties. Hence, in his understanding and his offering of himself he is a type, whilst his sinfulness and weakness render him but an imperfect type, of Him that was to come. Such passages as these constitute a distinct and very interesting division of Messianic prophecy. We may then thus trace the principle on which the psalm is here applied. Jesus came to His Father with that perfect offering of will and self which was foreshadowed in the best impulses of the best of the men of God, whose inspired utterances the Scriptures record. The words of David, but partially true of himself, are fulfilled in the Son of David. Since, then, these words describe the purpose of the Saviour’s life, we can have no difficulty in understanding the introductory words, “when He cometh into the world, He saith;” or the seventh verse, where we read, “Lo, I am come to do Thy will.” When David saw the true meaning of the law, he thus came before God; the purpose of Jesus, when He received the body which was the necessary instrument for human obedience, finds its full expression in these words.
Sacrifice and offering.—The corresponding Hebrew words denote the two divisions of offerings, as made with or without the shedding of blood.
But a body hast thou prepared me.—Rather, but a body didst Thou prepare for me. Few discrepancies between the LXX. and the Hebrew have attracted more notice than that which these words present. The words of the Psalmist are, “In sacrifice and offering Thou hast not delighted: ears hast Thou digged for me.” As in Samuel’s words, already referred to as containing the germ of the psalm, sacrifice is contrasted with hearing and with hearkening to the voice of the Lord, the meaning evidently is, Thou hast given me the power of hearing so as to obey. A channel of communication has been opened, through which the knowledge of God’s true will can reach the heart, and excite the desire to obey. All ancient Greek versions except the LXX. more or less clearly express the literal meaning. It has been supposed that the translators of the LXX. had before them a different reading of the Hebrew text, preferable to that which is found in our present copies. This is very unlikely. Considering the general principles of their translation, we may with greater probability suppose that they designed merely to express the general meaning, avoiding a literal rendering of a Hebrew metaphor which seemed harsh and abrupt. They seem to have understood the Psalmist as acknowledging that God had given him that which would produce obedience; and to this (they thought) would correspond the preparation of a body which might be the instrument of rendering willing service. If the present context be carefully examined, we shall see that, though the writer does afterwards make reference (Hebrews 10:10) to the new words here introduced, they are in no way necessary to his argument, nor does he lay on them any stress.
(6) Burnt offerings.—Better, whole burnt offerings. These (which were the symbol of complete consecration) are not mentioned in this Epistle, except in this verse and Hebrews 10:8.
Thou hast had no pleasure.—Better (for conformity with the preceding clauses), Thou hadst no pleasure.
(7) Lo, I come.—Rather, Lo, I am come—I am here. The original meaning of the following words is not quite certain. The Hebrew admits of two renderings. (1) Then I said, Lo, I am come! in the roll of the Book it is prescribed unto me; (2) Then I said, Lo, I am come with the roll of the Book that is written concerning me. The “roll of the Book” is the roll containing the Divine Law. The next clause is quite distinct in construction: “I delight to do Thy will, O God; yea, Thy law is within my heart.” The omission of the words “I delight,” alters the connection of the words; but it will be seen that, though the Hebrew verses are condensed, their meaning is exactly preserved.
(8) Above when he said.—Better, Whereas he saith above; or, as we might express it, “Saying at the outset,” “Setting out with saying.” In the following words the best MSS. have the plural, “Sacrifices and offerings and whole burnt offerings and (sacrifices) for sin.” The change from singular to plural is in harmony with the thought of Hebrews 10:1-4, the repetition of sacrifices.
Which are offered by the law.—Rather, such as are offered according to law. The change from “the law” to “law” seems intentional, as if the writer had in thought the contrast between any external law of ritual and a principle of inward obedience.
(9) Then said he, Lo, I come.—Rather, then hath he said, Lo, I am come to do Thy will. The words “O God” are not in the true text, but have been accidentally repeated from Hebrews 10:7.
He taketh away the first, that he may establish the second.—It is important to inquire how this is done, first in the case of the writer of the psalm, then as the words are used of Jesus. David, perceiving that that which God seeks is the subjection of man’s will, refuses to rest in the sacrifices of the law. No one will think that burnt offering or gift or sacrifice for sin was henceforth at an end for him: the confession of his iniquities (Hebrews 10:12) implied a recourse to the appointed means of approach to God: even the sacrifices themselves were taken up into the service of obedience. But to the symbols shall be added the consecration and the sacrifice of praise (Psalms 50:23) which they typified. The application to the Saviour must be interpreted by this context. In making these words His own, He declares the sacrifices of the law to be in themselves without virtue; Jehovah seeks them not from Him, but, having prepared a human body for Him, seeks only the fulfilment of His will. But included in that will of God was Christ’s offering of Himself for the world; and, on the other hand, it was His perfect surrender of Himself that gave completeness to that offering. His death was at once the antitype of the sacrifice for sin and the consummation of the words, “I am come to do Thy will, O God.” Hence, in saying, “Lo, I am come to do Thy will” (that which God has really willed), He taketh away the sacrifices of slain animals that He may establish the doing of God’s will. That such sacrifices as were formerly offered are no longer according to God’s pleasure follows as an inference from this.
(10) By the which will we are sanctified.—Better, In which will we have been sanctified. In the last verse we read of that which Jesus established—the doing of the will of God. He did that will when He offered the sacrifice of His perfect obedience—“obedience as far as death” (Philippians 2:8). In this will of God which He accomplished lies our sanctification, effected “through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.” In Hebrews 9:14 the efficacy of the blood of Christ to cleanse the conscience is contrasted with the power of the offerings of the law to “sanctify in regard to cleanness of the flesh:” here the real sanctification is joined with “the offering of the body of Jesus Christ.” In the word “body” lies a reference to Hebrews 10:8, where the body is looked on as the instrument of obedient service (comp. Romans 12:1); but the word “offering” still preserves its sacrificial character, and contains an allusion to the presentation of the body of the slain victim. (Comp. Hebrews 13:11). As this offering has been presented “once for all” (Hebrews 7:27; Hebrews 9:12), so “once for all” has the work of sanctification been achieved.
(11) The last was a verse of transition. Naturally following from and completing the previous argument, it leads in the words “once for all” to a new thought, or rather prepares the way for the resumption of a subject to which in an earlier chapter marked prominence was given. If the sanctifying work of the true High Priest has been accomplished “once for all,” such ministry remains for Him no longer (Hebrews 10:12-14). Here, then, the writer brings us back to Hebrews 8:1-2—to that which he there declared to be the crowning point of all his words.
And every priest.—Some ancient MSS. and versions read “high priest,” but the ordinary text is in all probability correct. (With the other reading the work of the priests in their daily ministrations is ascribed to the high priest, whose representatives they were.) Hitherto the thought has rested almost entirely on the ceremonial of the Day of Atonement; there is therefore new significance in the contrast between Jesus and “every priest” in all His ministrations. On “standeth” see the Note on Hebrews 8:1. The accumulation of words which point to the ceaseless repetition of the offerings of the law (Hebrews 10:1) is very noteworthy. The last words point to Hebrews 10:4.
(12) But this man.—Rather, but He. In the main this verse is a combination of Hebrews 7:27 (Hebrews 9:26) and Hebrews 8:1. One addition is made, in the words, “for ever.” These words (which occur in three other places, Hebrews 7:3; Hebrews 10:1; Hebrews 10:14) are by many joined with what precedes, by others with the latter part of the sentence, “it down on the right hand of God.” The different editions of our Bible and Prayer Book (Epistle for Good Friday) are divided, some (including the earliest) having a comma at the word “ever,” others at “sins.” In most of our earlier English versions the construction adopted was shown by the arrangement of the words. Thus Tyndale has, “sat him down for ever;” and the Bishops’ Bible, “is set down for ever.” Coverdale (following Luther) is very clear on the other side: “when He had offered for sins one sacrifice which is of value for ever.” Most modern commentators seem to adopt the latter view (“for ever sat down”), but hardly, perhaps, with sufficient reason. The analogy of Hebrews 10:14 is distinctly on the other side; and the Greek phrase rendered “for ever” is more suitably applied to the offering of a sacrifice than to the thought of the following words. The contrast to Hebrews 10:11 is strongly marked. The sacrificial work has been performed, and the High Priest no longer “standeth ministering.” The words “sat down” (Psalms 110:1) add to the priestly imagery that of kingly state.
(13) Expecting.—This word belongs to the contrast just mentioned. He does not minister and offer His sacrifice again, but waits for the promised subjection of His foes. Once before in this context (Hebrews 9:28) our thought has been thus directed to the future consummation. There it consists in the second coming of Christ for the salvation of “them that wait for Him;” here it is He Himself who is “waiting,” and the end is the attainment of supreme dominion. (See Hebrews 1:3; Hebrews 1:13.)
(14) No repetition of His offering is needed, for by one offering He hath brought all unto “perfection,” and that “for ever.” In Hebrews 7:11 we have read that “perfection” did not come through the Levitical priesthood or through the law (Hebrews 10:19); the object of man’s hopes and of all priestly service has at last been attained, since through the “great High Priest” “we draw nigh to God” (Hebrews 7:19). In this is involved salvation to the uttermost (Hebrews 7:25). The last word of this verse has occurred before, in Hebrews 2:11. As was there explained, it literally means those who are being sanctified, all those who, from age to age, through faith (Hebrews 10:22) receive as their own that which has been procured for all men.
(15) Whereof.—Better, And the Holy Ghost also beareth witness unto us. The Holy Ghost, speaking in Scripture (Hebrews 3:7; Hebrews 9:8)—the Scripture quoted in Hebrews 8:8-12—beareth witness.
After that he had said before.—Rather, after He hath said. The word “before” is not in the best MSS.
(16) I will put my laws.—Rather, putting my laws upon their heart, upon their mind also will I write them. The first part of the quotation (Hebrews 8:8-10 in part) is omitted, and also some later lines (the last words of Hebrews 10:10 and the whole of Hebrews 10:11 in Hebrews 8). In the remainder we notice some variations, which prove that the writer is not aiming at verbal agreement with the original passage, but is quoting the substance only. (See the Note on Hebrews 8:10.)
(18) Now where.—Bather, But where remission (or forgiveness, see Hebrews 9:22) of these is, there is no longer offering for sin. Here the argument reaches its triumphant close.
At this point we enter on the last great division of the Epistle (Hebrews 10:19 to Hebrews 13:25), which is occupied with earnest exhortation, encouragement to perseverance alternating with solemn warning against apostasy. The first section of this main division extends to the end of this chapter.
(19) The exhortation which here begins is very similar to that of Hebrews 4:14-16. Its greater fulness and expressiveness are in accordance with the development in the thought.
Therefore.—The chief thoughts taken up are those expressed in Hebrews 9:11-12. The word “boldness” has occurred in Hebrews 3:6; Hebrews 4:16. (See the Notes.)
By the blood of Jesus.—Better, in the blood of Jesus; for the meaning probably is, “Having’ therefore boldness in the blood of Jesus for entering into the Holy (i.e., the Holiest) Place.” It is not that we enter “with the blood,” as the high priest entered the Holy of Holies (Hebrews 9:25): no comparison is made between Christ’s people and the Jewish high priest. But as when he entered within the veil the whole people symbolically entered in with him, so do we enter with our High Priest, who “by means of His own blood” entered for us (and as our “Forerunner,” Hebrews 6:20) into the immediate presence of God. In that through which He entered we have our “boldness to enter.”
The Way of Access
Having therefore, brethren, boldness to enter into the holy place by the blood of Jesus, by the way which he dedicated for us, a new and living way, through the veil, that is to say, his flesh; and having a great priest over the house of God; let us draw near with a true heart in fulness of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience, and our body washed with pure water.—Hebrews 10:19-22.
Christianity is the religion of unrestricted fellowship with God. Such is the leading idea of the doctrinal part of this Epistle. In this connexion the exhortation contained in the text claims special attention. It rests on and is expressed in terms of the central truth, “Christ has made it possible to have perfect fellowship with God; that is the objective significance of the Christian era. Therefore draw near, realize your privilege subjectively.” Draw near! that is the appropriate application of the whole foregoing argument, the goal to which the long train of thought has been leading up. Readers who have felt the force of the theoretical statement can do nothing else than come into the presence of God with filial trust and holy joy. They do not merely hope for free access as a future good. They consciously enjoy it now as a present possession. For that is implied in the exhortation, “Let us draw near.” The thing is to be done now, the privilege can be enjoyed at once; if it be not, it is our own fault. There is thus a noteworthy advance at this point on the teaching in the 6th chapter of the same Epistle, where the summum bonum, nearness to God, appears as a boon in store for us in the future—Christ has gone within the veil as our Forerunner, and we shall follow Him by and by; but meantime we only cast into that sacred region the anchor of our hope. Now, not hope, but full assurance of faith, making the future present, is the watchword. The increased boldness of tone befits the close of the argument intended to show that Christianity is the perfect religion.
If we would measure the height of our privileges in comparison with those of the Jews, we may do so by simply asking the question, What would a pious and devout Jew have thought, to say nothing of a congregation of pious and devout Jews, if one from among them, standing before the veil, had presumed to address them in the language of the text, saying: “Brethren, let us boldly enter into the holiest through the veil”? That which would have been in their ears the direst blasphemy, to be immediately punished by death, is to us but an exhortation to exercise the gospel privilege bestowed upon every Christian child. Without the ceremonies, without the outward washings, without the endless preparations which characterized the annual entrance within the veil of the high priest alone, we now exhort one another, with boldness to enter within the veil, and draw near to God in full assurance of faith.1 [Note: W. Pulsford, Trinity Church Sermons, 75.]
1. Prior to the time of our Lord’s earthly manifestation man had attempted in vain to approach to God. Altars, sacrifices, cleansings, gifts, were in themselves all unavailing, for man could not merit God’s favour or enter by his own efforts into fellowship with the Most High. The futility and hopelessness of all mere human attempts to come back to God were proved again and again in history, among both Jews and Gentiles, and man’s return to his Father in heaven was made possible only when “God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son.” The Lord Jesus Christ, God’s Son and our Saviour, became the Way, the Truth, and the Life; and now because of what happened on that first Good Friday, a new and living way has been consecrated for us by the blood of Jesus. Now there is unhindered approach to God, the way is made clear, all obstacles are removed, and the soul is free to traverse that way until it reaches the very heart of God.
The high priest, whoever he might be, must always have dreaded that solemn day of atonement, when he had to pass into the silent and secluded place. There is a tradition among the Jews, that a rope was fastened to the high priest’s foot that they might draw out his corpse in case he died before the Lord. It may be that Jewish superstition devised such a thing, for it is an awful position for a man to enter into the secret dwelling of Jehovah. But we cannot die in the holy place now, since Jesus has died for us. The death of Jesus is the guarantee of the eternal life of all for whom He died. We have boldness to enter, for we shall not perish. A burglar may enter a house, but he does not enter with boldness; he is always afraid lest he should be surprised. We might enter a stranger’s house without an invitation, but we should feel no boldness there. We do not enter the holiest as housebreakers or as strangers; we come in obedience to a call, to fulfil our office. When once we accept the sacrifice of Christ, we are at home with God. Where should a child be bold but in his father’s house?1 [Note: C. H. Spurgeon.]
2. Before Christ, access to the mercy-seat was restricted to one nation—to one tribe of that nation—to one family of that tribe—to one man of that family, and to him, once in the year; but every believer now is his own high priest, and may enter the holiest as often as his desires lead him to the throne of grace. The nearest access to the Divine presence is permitted to every true worshipper. All prohibitions have been withdrawn, all obstacles removed, and the least in the Kingdom of Heaven may enter the audience-chamber of the King of kings. Here, in the secret of His tabernacle, He waits to be gracious. His ear is open to the prayer of His people, and should not reserve be thrown off in the presence of One who so understands our case, who enters into it with such perfect sympathy, and who is so able to do for us exceeding abundantly above all that we can ask or think? Here let penitence kneel; for there is mercy with Him that He may be feared. Here let sorrow bow; for He is the God of all comfort. Here let weakness prostrate itself; for He giveth power to the faint. Here light is poured into the darkened mind; riches are lavished on the poor in spirit. The wounded conscience is healed, the troubled heart is soothed, the hungry soul is filled with goodness.
In the tabernacle were three different degrees of access to God: the outer court (the access of the people); the holy place (the access of the priest); and the holiest of all (the access of the high priest)—the nearest approach of any. A writer on this Epistle has illustrated these three different degrees of nearness to God, as existing in the “worldly sanctuary,” by the three distinct relationships to the master of a house, of a servant, a friend, and a son. At table, the servant stands and waits his master’s commands; the guest, who has a nearer approach, sits and holds converse as a friend. Suddenly the child of the family opens the door, rushes in, finds his way to the father’s knee and puts his arms around his father’s neck. This is the nearest approach of all.1 [Note: J. W. Bardsley.]
A New and Living Way
1. How boldly the writer of the Epistle puts in the forefront just those features of the Christian religion which a timid prudence would take care to conceal! To the conservative mind of Hebrew readers, enamoured of the ancient Levitical system, the novelty of the way might seem the reverse of a recommendation. Nevertheless, the teacher hesitates not to proclaim with emphasis the fact that the way is new. And his boldness was never more completely justified. For in this case the contrast is not between a new, unfrequented path and an old one, familiar and well-trodden; but rather between a new way and no way at all. While the veil existed, dividing the tabernacle into a Holy Place and an inaccessible Most Holy Place, the way into God’s presence was not opened up. Men were kept at a distance in fear, not daring to go beyond the door of the tent, or at farthest, in the case of ordinary priests, the screen which separated the outer from the inner compartment. To call the way new was simply to pronounce on Leviticalism a verdict of incompetence.
The way is called a “new way”; it might also be translated an accessible way; but as almost all the ancient translations have taken the other signification of the word, it seems far more advisable to rest contented with it. And this is called a new way, no doubt with reference to the way which was made old—to the abrogation of the former way. For when Christ was come, a High Priest of better things, then that which was old vanished away. It is “a new way”—the way of Jehovah’s devising, the way which Jehovah, who creates new things and supernatural things, has provided, and as being a way that ever remains.2 [Note: John Duncan, The Pulpit and Communion Table, 385.]
(1) This way of access is not the original way of man’s primitive nature, but a way newly opened up in view of the necessities of the state and circumstances into which man’s sin and sinfulness had brought him, a way for sinners into the Holy of Holies, the presence of God. Without irreverence, we may say that it is a way that was new for God as well as for man; for only by the solution of the problem, how God could become a “guest with sinners,” is the question answered, how sinners may find access to God. But as God has found His way to man in his sinfulness, we may hope that there is a way for sinners to God in His holiness. The way of His descent to us may become the way of our ascent to Him.
(2) A “new” way also means a way which is always fresh. The original Greek suggests the idea of “newly slain.” Jesus died long ago, but His death is the same now as at the moment of its occurrence. We come to God by a way which is always effectual with God. It never loses one whit of its power and freshness.
Dear dying Lamb, Thy precious blood
Shall never lose its power.
The way is not worn away by long traffic: it is always new. If Jesus Christ had died yesterday, should we not feel that we could plead His merit to-day? But we can plead that merit after these nineteen centuries with as much confidence as at the first hour. The way to God is always newly laid. The cross is as glorious as though He were still upon it. So far as the freshness, vigour, and force of the atoning death are concerned, we come by a new way. Let it be always new to our hearts.
Much may remain dark to us; but the purposes of life receive a clear and powerful direction the moment we believe that the one supreme Way of life is Jesus Christ, God’s Son, our Lord. No other single way, capable of uniting the whole nature and life of man, has yet been discovered or devised which does not tend to draw us down rather than lift us up. But if in Him is shown at once the Way of God, so far as it can be intelligible to man, and the Way of man according to God’s purpose, then many a plausible and applauded way stands condemned at once as of necessity leading nowhither; and many a way which promises little except to conscience is glorified with Him, and has the assurance of His victory. Yet, when the primary choice has once been made, the labour is not ended. The Way is no uniform external rule. It traverses the changes of all things that God has made and is ever making, that we may help to subdue all to His use; and so it has to be sought out again and again with growing fitnesses of wisdom and devotion. Thus the outward form of our own ways is in great part determined for us from without, while their inward coherence is committed to our own keeping; and the infinite life of the Son of man can transmute them all into ways of God.1 [Note: F. J. A. Hort, The Way, the Truth, the Life, 38.]
2. It is called a living way not because it leads to life, nor because it gives life, nor because it vitally renews itself, nor because its use is restricted to the living—though in all these senses there is much truth—but because it is a way set up in Him who is the Life. Christ is the way to Christ, as the light is the way to the sun, and the seed-life of the flower the way to the flower. He is the life-fountain, and also the stream which conducts to it. And because it is a way set up in Him, it is a “living way,” and fills with animation those who walk in it. Every other way wearies the traveller, but in this way the farther and longer he journeys, the more he is refreshed, energized and inspirited, so that he who at first has need to be carried receives strength to walk, and he who walks learns to run, and the runner to fly, hastening with ever-increasing swiftness of flight to challenge his destiny as one called in Christ to seek in the heights, “glory, honour, and eternal life.”
A “living way,” “living stones”: such expressions of New Testament writers bear witness to the inadequacy of ordinary language to convey the truth concerning the good that came to the world by Jesus Christ. Bible writers laboured in expression, throwing out words and phrases with a certain sublime helplessness at an object passing human comprehension. And yet the meaning here is plain enough. The epithet “living” implies that God’s presence is not now, as of old, restricted to any particular place. To be near Him we do not need to pass locally from one point in space to another. We draw nigh to God by right thoughts of His character, and by loving, trustful affections. When we think of Him as revealed to us in Christ, when we trust Him implicitly, as one who for Christ’s sake forgiveth our sin, we are in His very presence. The way is living because it is spiritual, a way which we tread, not by the feet, but by the mind and the heart, as is hinted in Hebrews 10:22, where it is said, “Let us draw near with true heart and with full assurance of faith.” The way is Christ Himself, the Revealer and the Reconciler, and we come to God through Him when we trust Him in both capacities.1 [Note: A. B. Bruce, The Epistle to the Hebrews, 395.]
The Veil of His Flesh
1. This new and living way has been consecrated for us by Jesus through the veil by being first trodden by Him. Under the Levitical system there was a veil which barred the way, so that beyond it no man but the high priest might go. Under the new economy there is no bar—the way lies right through the veil to the very presence of God. There is no veil for us, but there was a veil for our great High Priest. He opened up the way for us through the veil, pushing it aside, never again to be drawn across the entrance. What this means is explained in the words, “that is to say, his flesh.” The thought of the writer seems to be that the veil through which Jesus had to pass, by the pushing aside of which He opened up an entrance into the Divine presence, was His mortal flesh. That is to say, in unfigurative terms, the truth taught is, that we owe our liberty Godwards to the fact that Christ took a body and passed with it into glory through a course of humiliation and suffering. There was a veil for Him, inasmuch as it beloved Him to suffer in the flesh, and so pass into glory; there is no veil for us because the Just One suffered for the unjust, that He might bring them nigh to God.
By the expression, “the veil of his flesh,” the writer gathers up in unity of significance the whole incarnate relations of the Son of Man, in His representative character on our behalf, and represents them as a veil of separation between Him and the house of His glory which He had with the Father before the world was, and says, “Only through that can there be a way for man to God.” And this was true for Christ Himself as well as for us. Only by the rending of the veil of His flesh could He who “came out from God” return to Him. Standing in our nature, and as our Forerunner, He must needs die to enter into life. By dying, the veil of His flesh was rent, and a way opened up through death to eternal life.
This conception of Christ’s flesh as a veil is beautiful as a passing, poetic thought, but care must be taken not to press it too far. It cannot, of course, be made part of a consistent and complete typology. It is not meant for this. But as the veil stood locally before the holiest in the Mosaic tabernacle, the way into which lay through it, so Christ’s life in the flesh stood between Him and His entrance before God, and His flesh had to be rent ere He could enter. The truth to be laid to heart is, that our liberty of access cost Christ much. The making of the new way was no light matter for Him.1 [Note: A. B. Bruce, The Epistle to the Hebrews, 397.]
2. When, by the sacrifice of Himself, the Son of God came down from heaven, and took upon Him, not the nature of angels, but our nature, that flesh became a revealer of God; in Him human nature, which He shares with us—and which we must therefore regard as our human nature—we can see God. Veiled in flesh we can the Godhead see. For nearly forty years He lived our life, and made it a way to God, as He grew in wisdom and in stature under all the limitations of the human being from infancy to manhood. Human nature—our flesh—His flesh is the way to the very presence of God. In that human nature, Jesus Christ entered into the holiest by virtue of the subjection of His own will to the will of the Father. He who came down from heaven went back thither clothed in our nature, having therein been ascending ever upwards in the spiritual plane as He learned obedience and was perfected by the things that He suffered; and He points out the way to us, how we may likewise ascend to God in and by that human nature which He consecrated for us.
How do scientific investigators of natural phenomena obtain their knowledge of the sun with regard to one of its manifestations? The reply is, “Through the veil.” It is only when veiled that accurate measurements of the corona of the sun can be taken. We read of expeditions of scientific men bent on studying and measuring the corona of the sun—now to Russia, now to the West Indies; they are fulfilling the prophecy inscribed on the portal of science, “Seek and ye shall find.” But why do they proceed to these distant spots? Because it has become known to astronomers that there would be visible at these spots, at a definite time, a total eclipse; and whilst the glory and dazzling effulgence of the sun are veiled, they are enabled to make their observations, to determine doubtful points, to measure the flame of the corona, to become generally acquainted with the character of the luminary, “through the veil, that is to say, his eclipse.” It would be hardly unscientific to say, “No man hath seen the corona of the sun at any time, but the eclipse—that doth reveal it.” “The Lord our God is a sun.” And the adorable mystery of the Incarnation, the Cross and Passion, the precious death and burial are, as it were, an eclipse of His glory, and so a most revealing experience.1 [Note: Basil Wilberforce.]
A Privilege and Its Conditions
A way into the holiest of all has thus been consecrated for us through the veil, that is to say, the flesh, the broken and bruised humanity of Christ. Through His atoning sacrifice we have an unchallengeable right of entrance into the holiest of all, and within that holiest of all have a high priest over the house of God. Now what is the corresponding duty? To believe, is it, that we have right of access, and there let the matter rest? that we have a high priest over the house of God, and there let the matter rest? Undoubtedly not. If the boldness, the free, unchallengeable right to enter in be our privilege, then to enter in is our duty:—“Having boldness … let us draw near.” The term “draw near” in English reads as a mere general term; but as addressed to the Hebrews it had peculiar significance. It is the term which is applied to the approach of a priest drawing near to offer sacrifice. It is called drawing near because God was to be approached by sacrifice. The nature of the service in the Temple was approach to God, and therefore, when we are called to draw near, we are reminded of the duty of worshippers—ever drawing near. The privilege is right of access unto God, the duty is that of approach unto God; and no man values the right of access who does not desire to approach.
Drawing near to God is one of the characteristic marks of Christianity. In the old days men stood afar off from Him, the way into His presence not being manifest. Sin kept man at a distance, and there was a slavish fear and dread of God that nothing could really overcome. Now, however, all this is changed, and because of what the Lord Jesus Christ has done for us on the cross we can, “we may, we must draw near.”
So near, so very near to God,
Nearer I cannot be,
For in the Person of His Son
I am as near as He.
We are to draw near with a true heart, that is, in genuine sincerity, because our hearts have been “sprinkled from an evil conscience.” The fear and dread are gone, and now the soul draws near with deepest reverence and yet with genuine gratitude. We are to draw near confidently, “in full assurance of faith.” There is nothing now to block the way, and no reason why we should linger outside the presence of God. Our Heavenly Father has done everything possible to make it simple and easy for us to come back to Him, and in drawing near with full confidence we shall find a welcome and fulness of blessing. The original language implies that we should draw near constantly as well as confidently. The Greek may be rendered, “Let us keep drawing near.” This is the secret of the Christian life—a continual approach to our God and Father.1 [Note: W. H. Griffith Thomas.]
1. We are to approach “with a true heart.” Literally translated, the words mean: “With a heart answering to the ideal”; that is to say, in the excellent words of Bishop Westcott, “a heart which fulfils the ideal office of the heart, the seat of the individual character, towards God.” The question thus comes to be, What sort of heart is that which realizes the ideal of worship, offering eloquent worship, blessing God with all that is within? An undivided, sincere heart, doubtless, but always something more. Besides sincerity there must be gladness, the gladness that is possible when men worship a God whom they can utterly trust and love. Along with this gladness begotten of faith go enthusiasm, generous self-abandonment, spontaneous service, rendered not slavishly, in mechanical compliance with rigid rules, but in the free spirit of sonship, the heart obeying no law but its own devoted impulses.
The pure in heart shall see the truth, means that—given equal data, and the same intellectual advantage—the morally better man will strike the truth more nearly, will be more happy in his guesses and ventures, since he is more in harmony with reality, more subtly responsive to its hints. Not only the mind but the whole soul is the organ of truth. He who, in his inward and outward life, puts Christ before all, even before his own life and the objects of his deepest affection, thereby admits His Godhead with a conviction more vital than any of which the bare intellect is capable. It is from the whole soul, and not from the surface of the mind alone, that we must answer the question, “What think ye of Christ? Whose son is He?”1 [Note: George Tyrrell, Oil and Wine.]
2. Further, we are to draw near “in fulness (or, as the A.V. has it, “in full assurance”) of faith,” that is, being fully assured that the way of “access to God” for sinful men has been opened up; that God has solved His own problem; and that in Christ, His representative and ours, the Son of God and Son of man, it stands a completed work, with its gate on this side the veil, for us as for Him—the cross; and, through the veil, its goal—the cross crowned in glory. Assured of this, let us draw near, none daring to make us afraid; for should any arrest our course, and demand our right to enter within “the holiest,” we can point them to the way, and to our hearts, sprinkled with the blood of Him who in our nature and in our name is set over the house of God. “For both he that sanctifieth and they that are sanctified are all of one: for which cause he is not ashamed to call them brethren.” Without, on this side the veil, we carry the same right of entrance as that by which He reigns within.
By the words “full assurance of faith” we are not to understand a full assurance of our possessing faith, an assurance of our being already in a gracious state—although that is attainable just in this way of approach, and maintainable in the due, humble believing use of the means which God hath appointed for the attaining and maintaining of it—but the full assurance or the plenitude of faith that we have a right of access. If we would wish the full assurance that we have faith I know no better way, I know no other way, of obtaining it than by the full assurance that lies in direct believing what God testifies—direct believing, accepting, and resting on what God gives and lays before us as a ground of sure hope. Let us beware of all suspicions, evil surmisings, and doubtings. Not but that there are saints coming in with many such incongruities; but let believers know that whilst they complain of it as their calamity—and no doubt it is, and we ought to sympathize with them—yet it is their sin. God has a right to a full, an undoubting, unhesitating faith.1 [Note: John Duncan, The Pulpit and Communion Table, 401.]
3. Then we are to come with “our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience,” which is synonymous with the conscience purged from dead works (Hebrews 9:14). The state described is that of a heart or a conscience which has experienced the full effect of Christ’s sacrifice, taken in all the latitude assigned to it in a previous chapter, as embracing the pardon of sin, moral renewal, and deliverance from the dominion of a legal spirit. It is not so easy to decide what precisely is signified by the body “washed with pure water.” The meaning is plain in reference to the Levitical type, but what is the corresponding fact in the spiritual sphere? The common reply to the question is, Christian baptism. The suggestion is tempting, and even not altogether destitute of probability; and yet one cannot help feeling that, if baptism had been in the writer’s mind, it would have been easy and natural for him to have indicated his thought by the addition of a word. It is doubtful if this final specification serves any purpose beyond expressing the thoroughness of the cleansing process undergone by a Christian man who surrenders himself completely to the redeeming influence of Christ. The whole man, body, soul, and spirit, becomes purified, consecrated, transfigured, a veritable king and priest of God.
In the outer court of the Temple there stood a large bath, or brazen sea, in which the high priest was required to wash before he entered the most holy place. This washing was repeated in the course of the day, at a more advanced stage in the services; and the intention of the ceremonial, no doubt, was to impress him, and through him the people, with the need of personal purity as a condition of acceptable communion with God.2 [Note: W. Ramage, Sermons, 360.]
Readers of such a book as the late James Adam’s Religious Teachers of Greece know what a splendid succession there was of men who thought deeply about God, and taught lessons that were permanent additions to the spiritual wealth of mankind. I am tempted to add a reference to a less familiar source for the study of Greek religion, which is very instructive. A black marble column of the age of Hadrian, found near Lindus, in Rhodes, gives the conditions on which men may enter the temple before which it stood. “First and foremost, being pure and healthy in hands and mind, and with no consciousness of wrong-doing.” How much the first combination resembles Hebrews 10:22! Cleanliness was even in Christian worship a worthy emblem of godliness—what else did baptism originally mean?1 [Note: J. H. Moulton, Religions and Religion, 62.]
The sacred writer regards sin as a pollution of the conscience, which keeps a man away from the presence and the worship of God. The object of sacrifice is to remove this pollution of the conscience. The power which can alone cleanse the conscience is the forgiving love and acceptance of God Himself brought home to the heart. The one necessity for man, and the highest privilege to which he can aspire, is to be peace and in communion with God. When this communion is broken, as it is broken, by sin, which in its essence is departure from God, the man is unclean, and, so far as his conscience is alive and awake, he is conscious of defilement. Sin, or departure from God, is in the nature of things, a pollution; and it is impossible for a sinner to think of the true God at all, and to have the faintest desire of being at peace with Him, without the sense of sin, which is the sense of not being pure enough for the presence of God, being stirred within him. Thus the sacred writer holds: Man’s true evil is sin, or departure from the living God; because his true glory is fellowship with the living God. The sinner desirous of returning to God becomes conscious of defilement; the great work of Christ’s sacrifice is to remove the defilement, and to lead back the sorrowing but trusting sinner into peace with the Father. The sacrifice of Christ does this because He is the Son whom the Father sent to redeem the world; because when He came into the world He bore and He still bears our sins; because sharing in the flesh and blood of sinful humanity, and having learnt sympathy and become perfect through temptation, He has been received as the Son of man into the holiest, which is the Father’s love and confidence, and sits down for ever pleading our cause at the Father’s right hand.2 [Note: J. Ll. Davies, The Work of Christ, 67.]
4. Such, then, is the ideal state and standing of the Christian worshipper, the manner of approach to God possible and real for one who understands and appreciates his position as living in the era of the better hope through which we draw nigh to God. He can and does come into the Divine presence with gladness and sincerity, with heart and with the whole heart, having no doubt at all of his welcome, and untroubled by the thought of his sin, being assured of forgiveness and conscious of Christ’s renovating power; he comes in the evangelic, filial spirit of thankfulness, not in the legal spirit of a slave; asking not, How may I satisfy the exacting demands of an austere Deity? but, “What shall I render unto the Lord for all his benefits?” This is the type of Christian piety which prevails at all times when the intuition of God’s grace in Christ is restored. It was pre-eminently the prevailing type in the apostolic age among all who understood the epoch-making significance of Christ’s work, and the extent to which He made all things new.
The confidence of Fox in the real presence of God was the root of his power in the ministry. He had other gifts, such as a firm grip on the essentials of his own position, and “an extraordinary gift in opening the Scriptures.” But this conviction of being guided of God was fundamental. Penn tells us that the abruptness and brokenness of his sentences, the uncouthness of some of his expressions, which were “unfashionable to nice ears,” showed beyond all contradiction that God sent him. But the truest mark of his nearness to God, Penn rightly discerned in the character of his prayers. “Above all,” he says (Journal, ), “he excelled in prayer. The inwardness and weight of his spirit, the reverence and solemnity of his address and behaviour, and the fewness and fulness of his words, have often struck even strangers with admiration, as they used to reach others with consolation. The most awful, living, reverent frame I felt or beheld, I must say, was his in prayer. And truly it was a testimony, he knew and lived nearer to the Lord than other men; for they that know Him most will see most reason to approach Him with reverence and fear.”1 [Note: H. G. Wood, George Fox, 102.]
The bird let loose in Eastern skies
When hastening fondly home,
Ne’er stoops to earth her wing, nor flies
Where idle warblers roam.
But high she shoots, through air and light,
Above all low delay,
Where nothing earthly bounds her flight
Nor shadow dims her way.
So grant me, God, from every care
And stain of passion free,
Aloft, through Virtue’s purer air,
To hold my course to Thee!
No sin to cloud, no lure to stay
My soul, as home she springs,
Thy sunshine on her joyful way,
Thy freedom in her wings!1 [Note: Thomas Moore.]
The Way of Acces
Bardsley (J. W.), Illustrated Texts, 83.
Bruce (A. B.), The Epistle to the Hebrews, 393.
Davies (J. Ll.), The Work of Christ, 53.
Duncan (J.), The Pulpit and Communion Table, 377, 394.
Faithfull (R. C.), My Place in the World, 10.
Goudge (H. L.), The Holy Eucharist, 45.
Hoare (E.), Great Principles of Divine Truth, 173.
Pulsford (W.), Trinity Church Sermons, 68.
Ramage (W.), Sermons, 346.
Robertson (P. W.), The Sacrament Sabbath, 47.
Spurgeon (C. H.), Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit, xxxiv. (1888), No. 2015.
Thomas (W. H. G.), in Sermons for the People, New Ser., iii. 241.
Walker (A. H.), Thinking About It, 158.
Wordsworth (E.), Onward Steps, 199.
Christian World Pulpit, xi. 266 (H. W. Beecher); xlix. 148 (B. Wilberforce); liv. 337 (J. G. Greenhough).
Clergyman’s Magazine, New Ser., vii. 224 (H. C. G. Moule).
(21) An high priest.—The Greek words properly signify a great priest (comp. Hebrews 4:14), which is one of the names by which the high priest is frequently designated, both in the Hebrew (Leviticus 21, et al.), and in the LXX. It may seem strange that the writer should here make use of a new word in the place of that which has occurred so frequently. But there is strong reason for believing that the language of one of the prophecies of Zechariah (Zechariah 6:11-13) is here before his mind. In the preceding verses (Zechariah 6:12-14) he has used words which united sacerdotal and kingly imagery; and it would be remarkable if this did not lead his thought to that prophecy. On the head of Joshua, “the great priest” (Zechariah 6:11), are placed crowns of silver and gold in token of royal dignity: then follows the prediction of Him of whom Joshua was the type. “He shall build the house of the Lord: and He shall bear the glory, and shall sit and rule upon His throne; and He shall be a priest upon His throne.” In the verse before us are combined several of the characteristic thoughts of that passage—the great priest, the priestly ruler, the house of God. The last-mentioned words are repeatedly used throughout the Old Testament, both in the Pentateuch and in later books, for the Tabernacle or Temple of God. In Hebrews 3:6 (to which there is a manifest allusion here) the meaning is enlarged, but only so that under “the house” is also comprised the household of God. Here the two thoughts are combined. Into the house of God we may enter; over it Jesus rules as “the great Priest.” The family of God subject to His rule includes the whole community of “the people of God” in heaven and upon earth.
(22) Let us draw near.—See Hebrews 10:1; also Hebrews 4:16; Hebrews 7:25; Hebrews 11:6.
With a true heart.—“True,” the word used in Hebrews 8:2; Hebrews 9:24, a real—i.e., a sincere heart. As in Hebrews 6 we read of “full assurance,” or rather, “fulness of hope,” so here of fulness of faith. “Without this there could be for us no “living way” (Hebrews 10:20) for entering into the holiest place. The thought of the whole verse connects itself with the priestly character of those who are the people of God (Exodus 19:6; Revelation 1:5-6). It is as priests that they enter the house of God, sprinkled with the blood of atonement (Hebrews 12:24; Hebrews 9:14; Leviticus 8:30; 1 Peter 1:2), and with all defilement washed away (Leviticus 8:6). “Sprinkled from an evil conscience:” that is, freed by means of the “sprinkling” from a conscience defiled by guilt. In the last words there is a clear allusion to baptism, as the symbol of the new life of purity (Ephesians 5:26; Titus 3:5; 1 Peter 3:21).
(23) In this verse again we have the characteristic words of earlier exhortations: “hold fast” (Hebrews 3:6; Hebrews 3:14); “profession,” or, rather, confession (Hebrews 3:1; Hebrews 4:14).
Of our faith.—This rendering, apparently found in no earlier English version, is supposed to be due to oversight on the part of our translators. The true reading is “of the hope” (Hebrews 6:11; Hebrews 6:18-19). The two following words must be joined with “confession,” “let us hold fast the confession of the (Christian) hope so that it waver not.” This hope “maketh not ashamed” (Romans 5:5), for the promise is sure.
(24) Gradually the writer passes from that which belongs to the individual (Hebrews 10:19-20) to the mutual duties of members of a community. Possibly he knew that amongst those whom he addresses there had existed “provocations” that did not tend towards brotherly love. The strict meaning may simply be—let us take note of one another, to stimulate one another to good works; but in the result, if not in the expression, is included the converse thought, “that we may ourselves be thus provoked.”
(25) As the manner of some is.—Some members of this community, it would seem, had persuaded themselves that the relation of Judaism to Christianity, of the “synagogue” (the Greek word here used seems to allude to this technical name, and yet intentionally to avoid it) and the Church, was such as to permit them to avoid close intercourse with Christians and direct association with Christian assemblies. This neglect was the first step towards apostasy.
Exhorting.—Better, encouraging. (Comp. Hebrews 12:12.)
The day.—See 1 Corinthians 3:13—“the day shall declare” every man’s work. Elsewhere we read of “the day of the Lord” (1 Thessalonians 5:2); “the day of Christ” (Philippians 1:10). The words of Jesus to His disciples (Matthew 24; Luke 17) had enabled all who were willing to hear to understand “the signs of the times.” As the writer gave these warnings, the day when the Son of Man should come in His kingdom, bringing judgment upon Jerusalem (Matthew 16:28), was close at hand—that day which is distinctly presented to us in the New Testament as the type of His final coming.
(26) For.—The connecting links are the thought of the consequences to which such sinful neglect (Hebrews 10:25) may lead, and the awful revelation of judgment which the final day will bring. Even more clearly than in Hebrews 6:4-6 the state described is one of wilful and continued sin, which is the result and the expression of apostasy from Christ. It is not, “If we fall under temptation and commit sin;” but, “If we are sinning wilfully.” The descriptive words are few as compared with those of the former passage, but they teach the same lesson. Not merely the “knowledge” but the “full knowledge” (Romans 1:28) of the truth has been received by those to whom the writer here makes reference; they have been “sanctified in the blood of the covenant” (Hebrews 10:29). For such “there remaineth no longer a sacrifice for sins:” that offering of Jesus which they deliberately reject has abolished all the earlier sacrifices. The observances and ceremonies of Judaism, which had been full of meaning whilst they pointed to Him that was to come, have lost all their virtue through His coming. Nay more: for such sin as this, the sin of knowing and wilful rejection of the only Sin offering, God has provided no other sacrifice. In its general significance this passage does not differ from Hebrews 6:4-6. (See the Notes.)
(27) But a certain fearful looking for.—Better, But a fearful awaiting of judgment, and a jealousy of fire that shall devour the adversaries. For Christ’s “waiting” servants the thought of “judgment” is lost in that of “salvation” (Hebrews 9:27-28); to these sinners nothing is left but the awaiting of judgment. The next words are a partial quotation, or an adaptation, of Isaiah 26:11 : “Let them see (and be ashamed) the zeal for the people; yea, fire shall devour Thine adversaries.” (The Greek translation gives the second clause correctly, but not the former part of the sentence.) In the prophetic imagery of the Old Testament the destruction of the enemies of Jehovah is but the other aspect of His zeal or jealousy for His people. This imagery was familiar to every Hebrew; and no words could show more powerfully than these that to forsake Christ for Judaism was (not to join, but) to abandon “the people of God.” For such apostates there remaineth the zeal, the jealous wrath, of a devouring fire. (Comp. Hebrews 12:29; Malachi 4)
(28) He that despised Moses’ law.—Rather, A man that hath set at nought a law of Moses dieth without pity before two or three witnesses. The reference is to Deuteronomy 17:2-7, the last words being a direct quotation from Hebrews 10:6 in that section. There the subject is apostasy from Jehovah to the worship of idols. That sin which, by the acknowledgment of all, had in ancient time robbed Israel of the name of God’s people is tacitly placed by the side of the sin of those who for sake Christ. It will be seen how impressively the thought of the last verse is maintained in this.
(29) Shall he be thought worthy.—Better, shall he be accounted (or, judged) worthy, by God the Judge of all, when “the Day” shall come. In the act of apostasy the sinner trampled under foot the Son of God, treated with contempt and scorn Him to whom belongs this highest Name (Hebrews 1:1-4); and the principle of this act becomes the principle of the whole succeeding life. That “blood” by which the new covenant was established (Hebrews 9:15-17)—the blood in which he himself had received the sanctification which the law could not give—he has esteemed an unholy thing. There is no medium between highest reverence and utter contumely in such a case: to those who did not receive Jesus as Lord He was a deceiver (Matthew 27:63), and one who deserved to die.
Hath done despite.—Hath treated with outrage and insult the Spirit of whose gifts he had been partaker (Hebrews 6:4), for “grace” returning arrogant scorn.
(30) Vengeance belongeth unto me, I will recompense.—This quotation from Deuteronomy 32:35 completely preserves the sense of the original words, “To me belongeth vengeance, and recompence,” whilst departing from their form. The LXX. shows still wider divergence, neglecting entirely the emphasis which rests on the words “to Me” It is therefore very remarkable that this quotation is given, in exactly the same form, in Romans 12:19. As, however, the words “I will recompense” are found in the most ancient of the Targums (that of Onkelos) it is very possible that St. Paul may have there adopted a form already current amongst the Jews. (See Note on Romans 12:19.) If so, there is no difficulty in accounting for the coincidence in this place. But, even if this supposition is. without foundation, and the saying in this form was first used in Romans 12:19, is there any real cause for wonder if a disciple of St. Paul in a single instance reproduces the Apostle’s words? It should be observed that the words “saith the Lord” must be omitted from the text, according to the best authorities.
The Lord shall judge his people.—This, again, is a quotation, and from the same chapter (Deuteronomy 32:36). If the context of the original passage be examined, there will be no doubt as to the meaning of the words. As in Psalms 43:1; Psalms 135:14, “to judge,” as here used, signifies to maintain the right of one who is exposed to wrong. “The Lord shall judge His people” (see Hebrews 10:27) when He shall appear to establish their cause by taking vengeance on His enemies and theirs. With what impressive force would the quotations in this section (Hebrews 10:27-28; Hebrews 10:30)—differing widely in form, but presenting a very striking agreement in their meaning—fall on the ears of readers familiar from childhood with the ideas and language of the Old Testament Scriptures!
(31) The living God.—As in Hebrews 3:12; Hebrews 9:14 the exact meaning of the writer’s words is “a Living God;” and a reference to the first of these passages (and to Hebrews 4:12) will show clearly what is their force in this place. There can be little doubt that Deuteronomy 32, from which he has been quoting, is still in his thought. See Deuteronomy 32:40—“I lift up my hand to heaven, and say, I live for ever.”
(32) In the last six verses the writer has enforced his exhortation by an appeal to the danger of falling away and the fearful consequences of unfaithfulness. From warning he now turns to encouragement, as in Hebrews 6; and here, as there, he thankfully recalls the earlier proofs which his readers had given of their Christian constancy and love. Let them call to mind and ever keep in remembrance what the grace of God had already enabled them to endure. (Comp. 2 John 1:8). As Theophylact has said, he bids them imitate, not others, but themselves.
Illuminated.—Better, enlightened. It is important to keep the word used in the parallel verse, Hebrews 6:4 (see Note).
Fight of afflictions.—Rather, conflict of sufferings; for the last word has in this Epistle (Hebrews 2:9-10) associations too sacred to be lost. The former word (akin to that used by St. Paul in 2 Timothy 2:5 of the contests in the public games) recalls the intense struggles of the contending athletes; it occurs nowhere else in the New Testament. Comp. Philippians 1:27; Philippians 4:3; (Philippians 1:30; Colossians 1:29; Colossians 2:1; 1 Timothy 6:12; Hebrews 12:1.) This struggle they had manfully endured.
(33) Whilst ye were made a gazingstock.—Literally, being exposed in the theatre (see the Notes on Acts 19:29; 1 Corinthians 4:9; 1 Corinthians 15:32). Here also it is probable that the word has only a figurative sense.
Whilst ye became companions.—Better, having become sharers with them that thus lived—that lived amidst “reproaches and afflictions.” Not “companions” only had they been, but sharers of the lot of their persecuted brethren, both by sympathy and by voluntary association with their sufferings.
(34) For ye had compassion of me in my bonds.—Rather (according to the true reading of the Greek), for ye had sympathy with them that were in bonds (comp. Hebrews 13:3, “Remember them that are in bonds as bound with them”). The change of reading is very important in connection] with the question of authorship. (See the Introduction.)
And took joyfully.—Better, and accepted with joy the spoiling of your possessions. In the spirit of Matthew 5:12 (Acts 5:41; 2 Corinthians 12:10), they accepted persecution not with “patience and long suffering” only, but “with joy” (Colossians 1:11). The rendering “possessions” is necessary because a similar word (“substance” in the Authorised version) will immediately occur. In the last clause two remarkable changes in the Greek text are made necessary by the testimony of our best authorities. The words “in heaven” must certainly be removed; they are omitted in the oldest MSS., and are evidently an explanatory comment which has found its way into the text. For the reading, “in yourselves,” there is hardly any evidence whatever. The MSS. are divided between two readings, “yourselves” and “for yourselves;” the former having also the support of the Latin and Coptic versions. There is little doubt that we must read “yourselves;” and the most probable translation will now be, perceiving that ye have your own selves for a better possession and one that abideth. They had been taught the meaning of the words spoken by Jesus of the man who gains the world and loses himself (Luke 9:25), and of those who win their souls by their endurance (Luke 21:19); so in Hebrews 10:39 the writer speaks of “the gaining of the soul.” Thus trained, they could accept with joy the loss of possessions for the sake of Christ, perceiving that in Him they had received themselves as a possession, a better and a lasting possession. (It would be possible to render the clause, “knowing that ye yourselves have a better possession,” &c.; but the parallelism of Hebrews 10:39 renders it almost certain that the former view of the words is correct.)
(35) Cast not away therefore your confidence.—Rather, Cast not away therefore your boldness, seeing it hath a great recompence. To “cast away boldness” is the opposite of “holding fast the boldness of the hope” (Hebrews 3:6); the one belongs to the endurance of the faithful servant (Hebrews 10:32; Hebrews 10:36), the other to the cowardice of the man who draws back (Hebrews 10:38). This verse and the next are closely connected: Hold fast your boldness, seeing that to it belongs great reward; hold it fast, for “he that endureth to the end shall be saved.” On the last word, “recompence,” see Hebrews 2:2.
(36) Patience—i.e., brave, patient endurance (see the Note on Hebrews 6:12). The general strain of the exhortation in that chapter (Hebrews 10:9-20) closely resembles these verses.
That, after ye have done . . . ye might.—Better, that, having done the will of God, ye may receive the promise. To do the will of God (Hebrews 13:21) is the necessary condition for receiving the promised blessing and reward (see Hebrews 11:39); for both “endurance” is necessary. In these words we have an echo of Matthew 7:21, where our Lord sums up His requirements from those who call themselves His in words which express the purpose of His own life (Hebrews 10:7; Hebrews 10:9; John 4:34).
(37) The connection is this: “Ye have need of endurance” for “the end is not yet” (Matthew 24:6); ye shall “receive the promise,” for the Lord shall surely come, and that soon.
A little while.—Rather, a very little while. The expression is remarkable and unusual; it is evidently taken from Isaiah 26:20—“Come my people . . . hide thyself for a little moment until the indignation be overpast.” The subject of this passage, from which the one expressive phrase is taken, is the coming of Jehovah “to punish the inhabitants of the earth for their iniquity;” in “a little moment” shall the indignation consume His foes, then will He give deliverance to His people. Even this passing reference would serve to call up before the mind of the Hebrew readers the solemn associations of the prophecy—the promised salvation, the awful judgment.
And he that shall come will come.—Rather, He that cometh will come and will not tarry. In this and the next verse the writer of the Epistle takes up a passage, Habakkuk 2:3-4, which occupies a very important place in the writings of St. Paul (Romans 1:17; Galatians 3:11), and, as we have already seen (Note on Hebrews 6:1), in the later Jewish teaching. St. Paul’s citations are limited to a few words of Hebrews 10:4, “But the just shall live by faith;” here are quoted the whole of the fourth verse and part of the third. Perhaps it is too much to say that they are quoted, they are rather applied, for, as will be seen, the order of the clauses (see next verse) is changed, and some alterations are made in the language. It is important in this Epistle to discriminate between the instances of direct quotation from the Scripture, where the word of God is appealed to as furnishing proof, and those in which passages of the Old Testament are explained and applied (see the Note on Hebrews 10:5). The words before us nearly agree with the LXX., “If he delay, wait for him, because coming he will come, and will not tarry.” The subject of the sentence there is not clear; probably the translator believed that the Lord spoke thus of His own coming, or the coming of the future Deliverer. In the Hebrew all relates to the vision, “it will surely come, it will not tarry.” The only difference between the LXX. and the words as they stand here consists in the substitution of “He that cometh” for “coming.” Now the reference to the Deliverer and Judge is made plain. No designation of the Messiah, perhaps, was more familiar than “He that cometh” (Matthew 11:3, et al.); but in is here employed with a new reference—to the second advent in place of the first. The departure from the sense of the Hebrew is not as great as may at first appear. When the prophet says “The vision . . . shall surely come,” it is of that which the vision revealed that he speaks, i.e., of the fall of the Chaldeans; but the salvation of Israel from present danger is throughout the prophets the symbol of the great deliverance (comp. Hebrews 12:26 and Haggai 2:6). With this verse comp. Hebrews 10:25; also Philippians 4:5; James 5:8; 1 Peter 4:7; Revelation 1:3; Revelation 22:20, et al.; and, in regard to the application of the prophecy, Hebrews 10:27-28; Hebrews 10:30.
(38) Now the just shall live by faith.—The Greek text of this clause is not perfectly certain, but it is probable that the word “my” should be added, so that the translation of the verse will be as follows, But my righteous one shall live by faith. In the Hebrew the first part of the verse is altogether different: “Behold his soul is lifted up, it is not upright in him; but the righteous shall live in (or, by) his faithfulness (or, faith).”The first words seem to refer to the haughty Chaldean invader; the rendering of the last words is considered below. The Greek translation varies a little in different MSS.: “If one draw back, my soul hath no pleasure in him; but the righteous one shall live by my faithfulness” (or possibly—not probably—“by faith in me”). In the Alexandrian MSS, the last words run thus: “But my righteous one shall live by faith” (or faithfulness). It is clear, then, that in the passage before us the writer has taken the words as they stood in his text of the LXX., only changing the order of the clauses. Though the Hebrew word usually rendered faith in this passage occurs more than forty times in the Old Testament, in no other case has it this meaning, but almost always signifies faithfulness or truth. Here also the first meaning seems to be “by his faithfulness”; but the thought of faithful constancy to God is inseparably connected with trustful clinging to Him. Hence the accepted Jewish exposition of the passage seems to have taken the word in the sense of “faith.” “My righteous one” will naturally mean “my righteous servant”—the man who will not be seduced into wickedness; he shall live by his faithful trust, for salvation and life shall be given him by God Himself. In this context the word righteous recalls-verse 36, “having done the will of God.”
The transposition of the two clauses makes it almost certain that the “righteous one” is the subject of both: not if any man, but, if he (the righteous one) shrink back. The Genevan and the Authorised stand alone amongst English versions in the former rendering.
(39) Of them who draw back.—Literally, But we are not of drawing (or shrinking) back unto perdition, but of faith unto the gaining of the soul. On the last words (which are nearly identical with those of Luke 17:33, though deeper in meaning) see the Note on Hebrews 10:34. The exhortation thus closes with words of encouragement and hope.
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Ellicott, Charles John. "Commentary on Hebrews 10". "Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers". https://www.studylight.org/
the Third Week after Epiphany