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Bible Commentaries

Expositor's Dictionary of Texts

Hebrews 4

Verses 1-16

A Bible Reading

Hebrews 4:0 etc.

I want to conduct, so to say, a Bible reading, and to fix upon one or two special and pregnant words which invite us to the larger light, to the fuller opportunity, to the diviner joy. The writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews is an eloquent man; I do not know his name, I do not care to inquire into it, but he is a man of marked power of expression: he uses words uniquely, and with a personal accent, and he surrounds us with a radiant, most exhilarating atmosphere. His favourite word in this chapter, and in one or two other places that I shall quote presently, is 'Let us'. Here is something for ourselves to do; let us pull ourselves together, and do it; now is your opportunity, seize it. These imperatives are not stern as all imperatives would appear of necessity to be; they are persuasive, gentle, full of hope; they give the very courage which they invite. How much depends upon how a thing is said! I have often taken occasion to say that the word 'woe' as pronounced by Jesus Christ might have a tear in it. We always associate the word 'woe' with some snowstorm, some bolt of fire, some cloudy look that has anger in it. But that might not be so necessarily; Jesus might be simply revealing the results of certain sowings and preparations, and He might say in a gentle whisper, 'Woe is in that act; I warn you of it, do not do it, refrain from repeating it; even you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, actors, may be warned in time; this woe is so pronounced as to invite you to escape it'. I always try to read the New Testament with tears; it is a book whose music only yields itself to gentle entreaty. When Jesus seems the most severe He may be most gentle: take that as a hint, and write it upon your New Testaments, and in your studies, and in the market place and on the highway; read the New Testament in the light of that suggestion.

'Now let us therefore fear,' because some people did not enter into rest and they might have done so (Hebrews 4:1 ). He was grieved forty years with them; their carcases whitened the wilderness. They could not enter in because of unbelief; let us therefore fear, let us learn something from history. All these carcases rotting in the wilderness are appeals; on each of them is written the word Beware, take care, do not let history pour its waters upon barren rocks or barren sands. Let us fear lest a promise being left us we should permit it to escape our attention. You see the very ground written all over with promises; they hang upon the fruit trees in the orchard, they drop from the little breasts of the birds as they sing their morning psalms. Let us look out for promises; they are filling the air. Promises are where we least expect them; turn over that leaf that seems to be hiding nothing, but simply seems to be lying on the ground, and under it you may find a blossom of a promise. Blessed are they who expect God; blessed are they who have appointments with Christ; O! thrice blessed and heavenly their estate who can find Him even at the grave. Why, methinks He is more at the grave than He is at the feast. One of His great forerunners said: 'The house of mourning is better than the house of feasting'. I wonder what he meant; he was not delivering an opinion, he was laying down and inculcating by example and experience a profound philosophy. You are better after you have cried than after you have laughed. The fool will tell you differently, the fool will tell you that your tears are vain, it is no use grieving needlessly, you cannot do anything, the event is past and gone, and therefore be up and doing and follow the band. O thou swollen fool! 'Let us therefore fear,' lest a promise should escape us; take care, those bushes in the heavenly gardens are full of birds, little birds, that one day will be great birds; let us go a-birding, and see what we can catch in the hedges of the promises. Do you keep your Bible close to your heart? do you keep your memory in your heart rather than in your intellect? is yours a memory that clings to promises, prophecies, poetries? is yours a spiritual power that can raise up out of the stones children unto Abraham? is yours an anthem-music that can make the stone walls dance as if in merriment?

I. 'Let us fear therefore.' Fear is wonder, expectation. Let us be covetous, economical see, there is a crumb, gather it, put it into the great basket. Our hunger will need it some day. There is not a promise in all the Bible that we do not at some time or another want. We need all the promises of God, and they are described as exceeding great and precious. Have you ever written upon a long card all the promises? Why, there is a promise for every mental mood, there is a promise that exactly fits the ever-changing experience of the day. God's jewellery fits every finger, and looks well, for it is the jewellery of love.

II. Now, thus saith the Apostle, 'Let us labour therefore' (Hebrews 4:11 ). He is as fond of the word 'therefore' as he is fond of the word 'let us'. In the first verse, 'Let us therefore,' in the eleventh verse, 'Let us labour therefore'. What would he have us labour for? Why, he says in a very remarkable form of expression, 'Let us labour therefore to enter into that rest'. Rest can only be entered into by labour. No man enjoys himself who does not labour. Any man who resigns all labour gives himself up into the hands of the devil. Why, it is your work that keeps you alive. Work is wine, medicine, food, stimulus, joy. 'Well, but,' say you, 'I could do with a little less work.' That is perfectly possible; some people are overworked, some hearts are overborne. When we speak thus we speak a human language and with human limitations. Even here is a great promise. Now the Apostle says, 'Fall not and be not too much discouraged and overborne, for there hath no temptation or trial happened unto you but God will make a way of escape.' He will enable you to bear your burden; then it will not be too much; it the burden cannot be lessened, the grace can be increased, and the increase of grace is a lightening of the load.

III. Let us hear how this wonderful logician goes on. 'Let us hold fast our profession.' 'Seeing then that we have a great high priest, that is passed into the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our profession' let us get hold of Him with both arms, both hands, all fingers, and hang on to Him if we can do nothing better. The writer said in the first verse, 'Let us therefore fear'; in the sixteenth verse he says, 'Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace'. 'Let us therefore fear,' 'Let us therefore labour,' 'Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace'. Christianity is logic, Christianity is not sentiment; Christianity has a great chain of reasoning, persuasion, conviction behind it and along with it. The Apostle Paul was fond of the word 'Therefore'. He could not have written any of these Epistles if he had not employed that logical term, and Apollos, if Apollos wrote the Epistle to the Hebrews, has the same formula; he was credited with being an eloquent man, but he was a logician as well. Some people cannot imagine that any man can be more than one thing. You never can get into their heads ideas in couples, they are stupid themselves, and therefore they think everybody else must be stupid: all lunatics think all men mad; it is a sign of insanity. The Apostle who wrote this Epistle is described as an eloquent man and mighty in the Scriptures. He mightily persuaded men that he had got hold of the living Christ. So I will ask you to go through this fourth chapter of the Epistle to the Hebrews, and say whether you are not in the hands of a man who uses the word 'Therefore,' for this reason, on this account, obey. He is a soldier and a general who gives the reasons for his orders.

IV. And then in the twenty-eighth verse of the twelfth chapter the Apostle says, 'Let us have grace, whereby we may serve God acceptably with reverence and Godly fear'. 'Let us' always 'let us'; because the Apostle says in effect, 'This is possible, you can do it, but you can only do it by doing it'. Ah, it is hard to teach that lesson! You can only swim by swimming; you will never learn to swim standing shivering on the river-brink, you must fling yourself into a river or sea as into a mother's arms, and the sea is a great nurse, and a most gentle monster. 'Let us have grace, whereby we may serve God acceptably with reverence and Godly fear' in a better way with more refinement, with more meaning, with more reality. O let us, brethren, let us let us enter into this covenant, let us say, This year shall be the very best year in our lives, God helping us. But then we shall have to pay (ch. 13:13). This is the final stroke. 'Let us go forth therefore.' I thought he was an eloquent man, but he is a logician, he has got me in his grip, he is a master; I thought we should have tropes and flowers and music and pictures and dancing sunshine making pictures for us on the wall or on the meadow, and with this man it is always, 'Therefore, therefore, therefore; because you did this thing, therefore do that'. I went to him because they told me he was an eloquent man, and a mighty orator, and with a great gift of musical expression. I find that he is a disciplinarian, a logician, a reasoner. I like my preacher to be rich in anecdotes that never happened. I like illustrations that I can throw off. Why does the preacher not give us such illustrations? This Apollos, if he were Apollos, is eternally saying, 'Therefore, therefore, therefore'; I cannot get rid of these 'therefores'. One of two things must be done; I must get rid of this man, or I must wisely accept logic set to music, music strengthening into logic.

Christianity is a great argument Do not make any mistake about this matter. It means all you can give it; it will never rest until it has taken from you all your strength and all your devotion, and having given God all, then, says this same man, do not give up your confidence, which hath great recompense of reward: for God is not unfaithful to forget your work and labour of love; He knows every strain you have made, every effort, and He says to you in the time of your apparent exhaustion and sinking depletion, 'Gather up the fragments'. What fragments? These. Why, I never saw them until now. Gather them up against the next day of hunger, and you will find that you have more at the end than you had at the beginning. A paradox, but a most glorious fact!

Joseph Parker.

References. IV. 1, 2. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xx. No. 1177. IV. 2. Ibid. vol. xxxv. No. 2089. IV. 3. T. Arnold, Christian Life: Its Hopes, p. 223. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xv. No. 866, and vol. xxxv. No. 2090. A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture Hebrews, p. 303. IV. 3, 7. Expositor (5th 8eries), vol. v. p. 386. IV. 3-9. G. Body, Christian World Pulpit, vol. liv. p. 87. IV. 7. John Watson, Christian World Pulpit, vol. li. p. 241. C. Perren, Revival Sermons in Outline, p. 280. C. G. Finney, Penny Pulpit, No. 1636, p. 133.

Hebrews 4:9

Notwithstanding fair prospects and outward distinction, he clung more and more passionately to his quiet country home; the 'far off look,' the longing for rest and reality, and for the unfolding of the mystery of life, grew stronger upon him, and, though always bright and cheerful with his children, he said more frequently to his wife, 'How blessed it will be when it is all over, to lie down in that dear churchyard together!'

Charles Kingsley's Life (ch. XVIII.).

References. IV. 9. R. C. Trench, Sermons New and Old, p. 279. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. iii. No. 133. Hugh Price Hughes, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lvii. p. 184. A. Coote, Twelve Sermons, p. 116. T. Arnold, Sermons, vol. i. p. 112. Expositor (4th Series), vol. iii. p. 134; ibid. (5th Series), vol. vi. pp. 229, 325. IV. 9, 10. A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture Hebrews, p. 312.

The Sabbath of the Son

Hebrews 4:10

There are three great Sabbaths. There is the Sabbath of the Father, when His work of creation is completed, and He rests on the seventh day from all His works. There is the Sabbath of the Son, when His state of humiliation is ended, when His work of travail and redemption is complete, when He dieth no more, when He also hath ceased from His own works, as God did from His. There is, lastly, the Sabbath of the Holy Ghost, when the Son has delivered up the kingdom to God, even the Father, when He has put down all rule and all authority and power, when death is destroyed, when the Son Himself is made subject unto Him that did subject all things unto Him, that in the unity of the Eternal and Adorable Trinity God may be all in all. Our subject is the Sabbath of the Son.

I. Through these chapters in Hebrews we hear continually the sweet chimes of rest. Those to whom the words were spoken lived, as we are living in the twentieth century, in an age of care and change. It was a time of upheaval, a time of distress, a time when men's hearts failed them for fear of what was coming. So the inspired writer speaks continually of rest, rest passing from one stillness to another yet more calm, of a peace becoming steadily more golden and more glowing till the last rest is reached. The First Rest is the rest that comes to those who hear Christ saying, 'Hither to Me,' who in faith obey Him as He calls them. 'Come unto Me all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.' This is the rest of faith. In this Rest are received, no matter how broken it may be, the remission of sins and the gift of eternal life.

II. There is the Rest of those who hear Him out to the end of His promise, and obey Him when He says, 'Take My yoke upon you and learn of Me, for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.' These are they who enter into the Second Rest, the rest after rest, 'the rest of the man who is already at rest, the repose of a man who has received a given rest, and now discovers the found rest'. Spurgeon says: 'The Lord Jesus gives to His people a priceless casket called the gift of rest; it is set with brilliants and inlaid with gems, and the substance thereof is of wrought gold; whosoever possesses it feels and knows that his warfare is accomplished, and his sin is pardoned. After a while the happy owner begins to examine his treasure. It is all his own, but he has not yet seen it all, for one day he detects a secret drawer, he touches a hidden spring, and, lo! before him lies a priceless Kohinoor, surpassing all the rest. It had been given him, it is certain, but he had not seen it at first, and therefore he finds it. Jesus Christ gives us in the gift of Himself all the rest we can ever enjoy, even heaven's rest lies in Him. But after we have received Him we have to learn His value, and to find out by the teaching of the Spirit the fulness of the rest which He bestows.' The Second Rest is a rest in service. It is the rest of those who take Christ's yoke and burden upon them.

III. But beyond that rest is the rest, or rather the Sabbath Rest of the Son. I have taken the text, with Alford and Maclaren, as referring to Him. In a sense His redeeming work is over. Never again can men smite Him. Never again can death touch Him. He has entered into His rest, into His Sabbath, and has ceased from His own works, as God did from His. But of Christ it is true that He is united to His people, and that they share His destinies. Professor Bruce has remarked that the keyword of this Epistle to the Hebrews is 'forerunner'. He shares in our experiences, and He draws us on by His grace to share in His. As He has entered His Sabbath, so perhaps even on earth may we.

If we have borne the cross in patience, may there not come to us one day a new lightsomeness, when we are aware of no yoke and of no burden? May we not awake in that day and think out the hours before us in a quite different fashion? May we not long to penetrate farther into the mystery of the Divine revelation, to go to our books with eagerness and with rapture, counting all other interests secondary or dead? May we not be so full of the Spirit of God and so conscious of His power that we shall long to go to those people who have tried us and to bring them the sympathy, the patience, the warning, the encouragements that they need? May not our hearts come to be so wrapped up in the progress of the kingdom that we shall hear eagerly of its news, hardly thinking about the way in which it is communicated? May we not come to be above law, above plans, and above rulers, and bring forth fruit naturally and unconsciously and in due season? In other words, may we not cease from our own works, as God did from His, and as Christ did from His when He fell asleep on the cross?

I think that there is much in the recorded experience of believers which encourages this hope. Was it not true of John Wesley that for many years he abode in this Sabbath of the Son? As I read his Journals, and especially the later volumes, I seem to 8ee that he was not any longer a worker, but simply a fruit-bearer. From all his many journeys he carried and wore the white rose of rest. Nothing irked him, nothing disturbed him. He was at peace. Even here he had entered the Sabbath Rest that remaineth for the people of God. And I may venture to say that Dr. Andrew Bonar, both in his life and in his printed words, left on my mind the same impression. He was dead to the solicitations and even to the weariness of the flesh. He had ceased from his own works, and men gazed on him and marvelled at the fruit-bearing Tree of God.

I am encouraged still further to believe in it by the remainder of this chapter, for the note is taken up unmistakably in its closing verses. 'He is a priest forever.' How precious is that 'for ever!' 'He that is entered into His rest, He also hath ceased from His own works, as God did from His.... Seeing, then, that we have a great high priest, that is passed into the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our profession. For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore come boldly unto the Throne of Grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need.' Let us come boldly unto the Throne of Grace, for He hath ceased from His own works. He has, as it were, nothing else to do but to hear us and to bless us. In the clay of His flesh, when He was in the fiercest trial of His own works, there was one who sought Him while He might be found, and called upon Him while He was near. This was the thief on the cross, and the thief, coming boldly unto the Throne of Grace, was heard. But now how much more may we come boldly, for though the cross was His Throne, He hangs on the cross no longer. He is on the Throne. He Who knows our infirmities, Who was in all points tempted like as we are, to Whose eyes all things are naked and open, is calling to us. He is on the Throne, unwearied, unwounded, all-knowing, all-pitying that He may give us rest.

IV. There is next the Rest of Heaven. However few and feeble and short our steps have been in the Kingdom of Grace, we pass from it to the Kingdom of Glory. By faith and by death we attain the perfect rest. We become very full of rest. We are at rest in the Lord. We are among the people who have clean passed over Jordan, and our enemies have no more that they can do, and Satan is bruised under our feet. Of that rest we can only speak as the Scripture teaches us, but we know that it is not a rest of inactivity.

V. Then there is the Sabbath of the Holy Ghost beyond the Sabbath of the Son, when the number of the elect is accomplished, when the kingdom is fully come, when the deep and wide Sabbath of eternity breaks, never to change or end.

Let us labour therefore to enter into that rest. The desire for the final rest of God is no ignoble craving for immunity and repose. It is a search after God's deepest bosom.

And I would be where no storms come,

Where the green swell is in the havens dumb,

And out of the swing of the sea.

W. Robertson Nicoll, Sunday Evening, p 1.

References. IV. 11. J. Bannerman, Sermons, p. 343. A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture Hebrews, p. 323.

The Duty of Studying the Bible

Hebrews 4:12

Believe me, nothing can be a substitute for the study of the Bible. Our own meditation will show us something of Divine truth, the written and spoken words of others will show us more, but the immediate revelation of the Divine character and methods and purposes is given us in the Bible alone. I believe we do not realise sufficiently that we must always be very patient, and at times simply passive, in our devotional use of the Bible. Take the short sayings of Christ, such as that you have heard interpreted this term, 'Where the body is thither shall the eagles be gathered together'; or the mysterious vision of the prophet, such as that of Ezekiel in the valley of dry bones; or the historical narrative, such as the perplexing story of the old prophet who misled his brother prophet whatever it may be, take it and saturate your mind with it, leaving aside all commentaries and human explanations, and then wait till the light comes to you, and the message which God means to send you through His teachers or through His Son. Patience is the first requisite, and humility is the second. You must be content to learn, and in learning to forget yourself. The Bible has so much that is strange at first sight and unlike our own circumstances, that we are tempted to turn from it and choose what specially suits ourselves, or that in which our own preconceived ideas seem to be reflected and corroborated. Rather beware of your favourite books, and passages, and texts in the Bible; the others which you do not care for have probably a more vital and a more humbling message for your soul, just because it is distasteful to you. Therefore regularity is a third requisite, lest you should leave out any part that does not specially appeal to you, and so keep back some of the counsel of God to your own soul. And above all, read with prayer: prayer before for the guidance of the Holy Spirit of truth, prayer after for strength to do what God has shown us by His Word. There is nothing that so helps to fix and impress a truth upon the mind as the resolute translation of it into practice; and every period of such devotional study as I have tried to describe should, if it is to leave a permanent mark behind it, end with prayer that you may carry out the sacred teaching in your daily life. Patience, humility, regularity, prayer: thus aided and prepared you will, though it may at first seem dark and hard, come to feel all that the saints, all that the Psalmists found in God's Word. It will be to you 'a lantern unto your feet, and a light unto your eyes': it will show you your 'secret faults': by the love of it you will be led into 'great peace'.

A. T. Lyttelton, College and University Sermons, p. 290.

The Rule of Our Thoughts

Hebrews 4:12

If you desire to be kept from yielding to temptation, you must be very careful of your thoughts.

I. Keep thy heart clean. You keep your wealth, you keep your home, you keep your health, you keep your character, but above all these things keep your heart. Why? Because out of it are the issues of life. When Bunyan depicted the character of Ignorance, he made him say: 'I think my heart is as good as anybody's heart, and as for my thoughts, I take no notice of them'. He shows at once that he does not know himself, and that he is exposed to every temptation that crosses his path. 'As a man thinketh in his heart, so is he' (Proverbs 23:7 ). The thoughts lay down the tram-lines upon which presently the tram-car makes its way. Just as the tram-car will pass up and down the rails in a great city, so does the act follow along the track of the thought. Butler in his Analogy says there are three steps in the formation of character act, habit, character. Thackeray amplified this saying thus: 'Sow a thought, reap an act; sow an act, reap a habit; sow a habit, reap character; sow character, reap destiny'.

II. In dealing with our thoughts, two things are necessary: (1) We need to be able to sift out bad thoughts from good thoughts; to know the traitor, however well he is dressed, and keep him out. We need discernment. Why? Because 'the god of this world hath blinded the minds,' that is, the thoughts, 'of them that believe not,' that is, the unregenerate (2 Corinthians 4:4 ). Man is blind. Next, we find the understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God through ignorance (Ephesians 4:18 ). 'He that is spiritual judgeth all things, yet he himself is judged of no man,' or, as the Revised Version has it, 'he who is spiritual discerneth all things' (1 Corinthians 2:15 ). (2) We need keeping power. Just as Jesus commended His spirit to His Father, so do you, when you leave your room in the morning, commit the keeping of the gateway of your soul to Him.

F. B. Meyer, The Soul's Ascent, p. 139.

Hebrews 4:12

How 'quick and piercing' is the word in itself! Yet many times it never enters, being managed by a feeble arm. What weight and worth is there in every passage of the blessed Gospel! Enough, we would think, to enter and force the dullest soul, and wholly possess its thoughts and affections; and yet how often does it fall as water upon a stone! The things of God which we handle are Divine; but our manner of handling is human. There is little we touch, but we leave the print of our fingers behind.

Baxter, The Saints' Everlasting Rest (ch. III).

References. IV. 12. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxxiv. No. 2010. J. Stalker, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xliv. p. 203. E. M. Geldart, Echoes of Truth, p. 79. IV. 12, 13. G. A. Bennetts, Preacher's Magazine, vol. xviii. p. 263. J. B. Lightfoot, Cambridge Sermons, p. 150. Expositor (4th Series), vol. vi. p. 68.

Him with Whom We Have to Do

Hebrews 4:13

I. We have to do with God in the operations of nature. It is true, indeed, that the advance of science has revealed order, regularity, and law in the physical universe; but that is only what we might have anticipated, if, as the Bible declares and we believe, the world was called into being at the first, and is still sustained by the power and wisdom of the Most High, for God is not the author of confusion. We are not surprised, therefore, to find that He proceeds upon fixed principles; but we must beware of allowing that which we call a law to hide from us the ever active agency of Him whose orderly method of operation that law is.

II. We have to do with God in the overtures of the Gospel. If we want to avail ourselves of the force which God has put into and maintains in electricity, we must comply with the conditions on which it is generated and becomes operative. The man of science investigates by patient research the methods of its operation, and then sets himself in conformity with these to avail himself of its help. Now, in the same way, if the Gospel is God's power for a certain purpose, and we wish to take advantage of it for that purpose, we must comply with its conditions and laws. These are faith in Jesus Christ, as the only Mediator, Redeemer, Sacrifice, and Lord, and repentance unto life. If you have to do with God in the overtures of the Gospel, then the bearing of its proclamations assumes a very serious character indeed. For in such a case you have to answer not the herald, but God.

III. We have to do with God in the dispensations of Providence. By Providence I understand God's overruling care over all events in nature and all the actions and circumstances of men. Now if we assent to the doctrine that God's Providence is in and over all events, it will give a new importance in our view to every occurrence. Ah! if we only had more faith in the truth that it is with God we have to do in the losses and crosses of our lives, there would be less of worry and despondency in our hearts.

IV. We have to do with God in the duties of daily life. Our responsibilities in society and business are not to each other merely, or to the laws of the State alone, but to God. We are under obligation to our fellows, indeed; but we are so because God has laid these obligations on us.

V. We shall have to do with God in the awards of final judgment. The judgment is absolutely certain; for 'it is appointed unto men once to die, and after death the judgment'. It is to be universal; for before the judge shall be 'gathered all nations'. The judge is to be the Omniscient One who is acquainted with the secret things of each man's heart and life, and the righteous one who shall render to every man according to his works. And His awards are to be eternal; for the wicked 'shall go away into everlasting punishment, but the righteous into life everlasting'.

Hebrews 4:13

'Lastly,' says Butler in his sermon before the House of Lords, 'the consideration that we are the servants of God reminds us, that we are accountable to Him for our behaviour in those respects in which it is out of the reach of all human authority; and is the strongest enforcement of sincerity, as all things are naked and opened unto the eyes of Him with whom we have to do. Artificial behaviour might perhaps avail much towards quieting our consciences, and making our part good in the short competitions of this world; but what will it avail us considered as under the government of God?'

References. IV. 13. J. M. Whiton, Summer Sermons, p. 143. R. W. Church, Village Sermons, p. 242. G. Bellett, Parochial Sermons, p. 297. Expositor (6th Series), vol. viii. p. 437.

Hebrews 4:14

At first, one's conceptions of Him are abstract to a large extent; they ought to become more and more concrete. To find ourselves any nearer the belief that we have an High Priest, once a man, now passed into the heavens, and whom the heavens will contain till the restitution of all things, ought to be a glad thought. We feel His workings, His efficacies.

James Smetham, Letters (pp. 85, 86).

Hebrews 4:14

The word ἀρχιερες , 'high priest,' to which the Epistle to the Hebrews gave currency as a worshipful term applied to Christ, shows how a cult-word that was certainly developed within Primitive Christianity from Jewish premises entered spontaneously into the usual parallelism as soon as it found itself in the world. It was by this word, as numerous inscriptions have shown, that the title pontifex maximus , borne by the emperors, was translated in the East.

Adolf Deissmann, Light from the Ancient East, pp. 369, 370.

Reference. IV. 14. J. Bunting, Sermons, vol. i. p. 187.

Ascension Day

Hebrews 4:14-16

In His Ascension our Lord entered heaven, not only as a King of Glory, but He entered the highest heaven on our behalf as our great High Priest. Almost the whole of the book of the Epistle to the Hebrews deals with this matter the entrance of our Blessed Saviour into the highest heaven. And writing to the Hebrew people, as we should expect, the Apostle goes on to show in a good deal of detail how all the old sacrifices found their fulfilment in and their perfection in His Sacrifice upon the cross. And in the Epistle you will note that we find there a sketch of the perfect priest, and how our Lord represents to us the Perfect Priest. The priesthood of our Lord Jesus Christ began with the beginning of His earthly life. The Holy Child in the manger at Bethlehem was our great High Priest, and the manger of Bethlehem was like the altar of His sacrifice, and all the way through His life there went up on our behalf the priestly offering of a perfect sacrifice. The sacrifice appears in its greatest and highest and most perfect form upon the cross, where once for all He gave His life and shed His precious Blood for us, and as at this time He entered heaven to present on our behalf that great sacrifice of His life, and of His death upon the cross. Again and again, in the Epistle to the Hebrews and in the Epistle to the Romans, we read of the priestly work of intercession. The word 'intercession' means to go between; our Lord's intercession is a going between man and God, between man who has sinned and God against Whom man has sinned. And He stands there between the living and the dead, between God and His sinful creatures, that He may bring us back to God, and may obtain from the Father our pardon and our healing.

I. So at this time we think of our Lord entering into heaven to continue for ever a work on our behalf, His work of endless intercession. That intercession is of two kinds: There is the intercession of His simple presence, the fact that in heaven He bears our own nature, the nature of those who have sinned against the Eternal Father, that in His own hands, and feet, and side He bears the mark of that which He has endured for our salvation. The simple presence of His wounded human nature is a perpetual intercession on our behalf. Beyond that there is the actual pleading for us. He speaks for you and for me, One Who knows what we need, Who knows our own helplessness, and has made Himself our champion. That help is going on ceaselessly.

II. What are the fruits of His priesthood? What does He obtain for us? Well, first of all, He obtains on our behalf mercy for our sins. It is an endless intercession, claiming on our behalf the Divine mercy of our Father, and His forgiveness. So in the hymn we plead:

Look, Father, look on His anointed face,

And only look on us as found in Him.

Then His intercession takes up into itself the imperfection of our own prayers and of our own works. The best that we can do is poor and worthless; but, caught up into the intercession of our great High Priest, the feeblest prayers have their value, and they prevail with our Father. The best that we can do in the way of life and good works, how poor a thing it is, how imperfect! And yet, caught into the stream of His intercession, it gains worth, and merit from His merit, and becomes acceptable to our Father.

Yet again, His intercession upon the Throne of heaven pleads endlessly for us just the graces that we need for our daily life grace which will help us to outgrow our weakness and our faults, and grow in likeness to the perfect life of Jesus. Then there descends upon that intercession the rain of His grace, which shall help us to escape above ourselves, and to come nearer Jesus.

III. What is the consequence and fruit of all this? We have in the text, 'Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace'. If the intercession of our Lord is to avail for us, if its fruit is to abound in us, then we must come to Him. There it all is the immeasurable good of what Jesus has done and is doing on our behalf; but it awaits our claiming. 'Come,' the Apostle says, 'and claim your share in the intercession of Jesus, in the merit of His life and His death. Come boldly to the throne of grace.' Do not let your past failures discourage you from coming near. It may have seemed that heaven has been deaf to your prayers that you have sent up. Do not think this, but come without discouragement, boldly, to the throne of grace. 'For,' he says, 'we have not an High Priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities.' You come to an Infinite Compassion, to One Who knows, and Himself has felt, and is therefore able to deal with you. Come with boldness, cast yourself simply on His mercy and place yourself in His keeping, and that which you need shall be done.

The Great High Priest

Hebrews 4:14-16

There is no portion of Holy Scripture which deals so especially with the consequences of the Ascension of our Lord Jesus Christ as does this Epistle to the Hebrews. I want you, therefore, to notice the three practical exhortations which the Apostle founds upon this Ascension of our Lord Jesus Christ.

I. In the eleventh verse he says: 'Let us labour therefore to enter into that rest'. Our Lord Jesus Christ is likened to Joshua. He has conquered our foes, He has overcome death, He hath opened the kingdom of heaven to all believers, and now He has sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high. But these victories are not for Himself alone. Let us therefore labour to enter into that rest. It is sometimes a charge brought against the simple gospel of Jesus Christ, that it produces carelessness and indolence; that the victory of our Lord and the introduction of our surety into the heavenly home is only an invitation to us to sit still upon our knees. My brethren, the argument is all the other way. Without a Saviour who hath overcome death, and opened for us the gates of heaven, we might well sit down in despair.

II. The second practical exhortation he gives is in the fourteenth verse: 'Let us hold fast our profession'. He is speaking here to the Christian, he feels that sometimes the Christian may be inclined to give up his profession, but he urges him to hold on fast, to cling to it, to let nothing whatever check his hold upon that profession of his faith.

III. And then the third practical exhortation is this: 'Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need.' Here he is thinking not so much about the glory of the High Priest, as about the sympathy of the High Priest. Remember it is a throne; therefore come with reverence and with Godly fear, for you are a sinner, a man of unclean lips. But it is a throne of grace; so that, though your prayers may be unworthy, the faults in your prayers will be overlooked; though you yourself may be unworthy, your unworthiness will not stop His ear.

E. A. Stuart, The Great High Priest and other Sermons, vol. XII. p. 33.

Reference. IV. 14-16. C. M. Betts, Eight Sermons, p. 75.

Hebrews 4:15

'Every believer,' says James Smetham, 'realises by experience that Christ is the only perfect sympathiser. "I'm not perfectly understood," says everybody in fact. But if you are a believer you are perfectly understood. Christ is the only one who never expects you to be other than yourself, and He puts in abeyance towards you all but what is like you. He takes your view of things, and mentions no other. He takes the old woman's view of things by the washtub, and has a great interest in wash-powder; Sir Isaac Newton's view of things, and wings among the stars with him; the artist's view, and feeds among the lilies; the lawyer's, and shares the justice of things. But He never plays the lawyer or the philosopher or the artist to the old woman. He is above that littleness.'

References. IV. 16. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxxvi. No. 2148. W. J. Brock, Sermons, p. 97. H. Alford, Sermons on Christian Doctrine, p. 179. J. J. Blunt, Plain Sermons (3rd Series), p. 62. Marcus Dods, Christ and Man, p. 1. Expositor (4th Series), vol. iii. p. 30; ibid. (5th Series), vol. ii. p. 166. IV. 15, 16. J. S. Maver, Christian World Pulpit, vol. liii. p. 412. F. J. A. Hort, Village Sermons in Outline, p. 53.

The Throne of Grace

Hebrews 4:16

There is a science of prayer. In the words 'the Throne of Grace' may be found the beginning and the end of the same. Today we deal with the beginning, and the point to be emphasised is that the soul approaches in its need not a throne of mere justice, nor a throne of criticism, but a Throne of Grace. It is not needful at the start to lay down the full method and the perfect way of prayer. Our Lord Himself with loving boldness said at the beginning: 'Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you; for every one that asketh receiveth, and he that seeketh findeth, and to him that knocketh it shall be opened'. It is after this manner that the Christian teacher should begin.

I. Prayer in the fullest sense, the prayer that is wrought in us by the Spirit and presented by the Christ of God prayer that wins the King's ear is the last triumph of the life of grace. Prayer in the noblest sense implies a concentration of all man's united energies. Coleridge shortly before his death said these words to a friend who has recorded them: 'I do not account a solemn faith in God as a real object to be the most arduous act of the reason and the will. Oh, no, my dear sir, it is to pray with all my heart and strength, with the reason and with the will, to believe that God will listen to your voice through Christ, and verily do the thing He pleaseth thereupon. This is the last, the greatest achievement of the Christian's warfare on earth. "Teach us to pray, O Lord." Here he burst into a flood of tears, and begged me to pray for him.' The highest energy the human heart is capable of is to pray, like St. Paul, with the spirit and the understanding. But few may reach this victory, and it is deeply consoling to remember that it is a Throne of Grace before which we kneel, and that though our prayers may be marred and faultful, yet our Mediator interprets them in the ears of our loving Father, while the Spirit helps our infirmities and gives life and power to the failing, dying heart.

II. While we recognise that there is such a thing as formal prayer, and even such a thing as the blasphemous mimicry and caricature of prayer, we remember also that the throne is a Throne of Grace, and that the weakest and most sinful human cry will reach it. May I pray when I doubt? Monrad says: 'I once had an acquaintance an intimately trusted friend 1 could scarcely call him and as often as we met our conversation turned as a matter of course upon questions of deepest interest questions that stirred our inmost feelings. "Do you think," he once said to me, "that it is right for us to pray to the Lord God without really believing in Him?" I replied that if we do not believe in Him we shall scarcely be inclined to pray. "You are right," he answered, "for this reason it is something rare, yet so it is with me. I have a desire to fold my hands and say, 'If Thou existest, O God, hear me. If Thou hast a heart for the cares and anxieties of a poor mortal, incline Thine ear and hear what I would say to Thee.' But I know not whether I ought to pray thus, whether it is not sinful." On this I observed all depends on the motive. Some one might perhaps desire to speak thus in order in a sense proudly to challenge the Almighty, and, if he remains unpunished, to proclaim the impotence of God under the foolish notion that man is able to force the Almighty to a display of His power. But if no evil motive of this kind lay at the bottom of his wish, he need feel no scruple about carrying it into effect. "On thy responsibility be it," he exclaimed, and broke off the conversation.' It is right to pray even in deep doubt, it is right to express our dumb yearnings in a world we cannot read, for a God we cannot find. Many a soul is dimly searching and feeling after God that it may fill up the awful consciousness of blank and isolation. Let that soul turn to the Throne of Grace even though it cannot behold its brightness.

W. Robertson Nicoll, Sunday Evening, p. 339.

Hebrews 4:16

The secret of goodness and greatness is in choosing whom, you will approach and live with, through the crowding obvious people who seem to live with you.

Browning.

What makes religion vital is not the stern proud thinkings about it; it is the 'drawing near unto God'; it is the 'coming boldly to the throne of grace'.

Smetham.

References. IV. 16. W. L. Alexander, Sermons, p. 287. W. J. Brock, Sermons, p. 109. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xvii. No. 1024. Expositor (4th Series), vol. ii. pp. 132, 143; ibid. (6th Series), vol. v. p. 179. A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture Hebrews, p. 333. V. 1. Expositor (6th Series), vol. viii. p. 328. V. 2. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxiv. No. 1407; vol. xxxviii. No. 2251; vol. xliii. No. 2529. V. 3. A. Brown, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xliv. p. 372. V. 4. G. Trevor, Types and the Antitype, p. 168. V. 5. Expositor (6th Series), vol. x. p. 376. V. 7. R. M. Benson, Redemption, p. 61. Expositor (5th Series), vol. ii. p. 256; ibid. vol. iii. p. 224; ibid. (6th Series), vol. v. p. 414. A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture Hebrews, p. 342. V. 7-10. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxxii. No. 1927. Marcus Dods, Christ and Man, p. 48. V. 7-11. G. Body, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lvii. p. 214.

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Bibliographical Information
Nicoll, William Robertson, M.A., L.L.D. "Commentary on Hebrews 4". Expositor's Dictionary of Text. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/edt/hebrews-4.html. 1910.