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Bible Commentaries

Ironside's Notes on Selected Books

Hebrews 13

Verses 1-25

Section D. Hebrews 13:1-6

Sundry Exhortations

The doctrinal part of the Epistle is now finished and the last chapter gives us, as is usual in Paul’s writings, exhortations regarding the behavior of those who have laid hold in faith upon the truth heretofore declared. Brotherly love is emphasized. Those who have been drawn to Christ out of a world that rejects Him, should be characterized by love for each other. Alas, how often has it been otherwise!

Then there follows an exhortation to show hospitality to strangers, probably visiting servants of Christ first of all, and then of course others of God’s children who might be in need of kindly-entertainment as they pass from place to place, particularly those who were fleeing from persecution. Of old, some who thought they were thus showing courtesy merely to men, found it was their hallowed privilege to serve angelic visitors.

Many were already in bonds for Christ’s sake. The saints were exhorted to remember them and to keep in mind all who were suffering, from whatever cause, as being themselves still in the body and therefore exposed to similar testings. None knew when his turn might come to endure affliction for the sake of that worthy Name.

In contradistinction to the loose and immoral ideas so common in that day, and even in our day unblushingly held by many, marriage was to be recognized as honorable because of a divinely ordained relationship, and to be preserved in purity, knowing for certain that those who violated the marriage covenant would have to face God regarding their sin.

The Christian too should live a quiet consistent life, not coveting what others might possess, but content with what God had given, knowing that in Christ Himself he had been granted more than any worldling ever knew. To have His promise, “I will never leave thee nor forsake thee,” was enough. What more could be desired until called Home to be forever with Himself. Therefore in faith, each believer could confidently exclaim, “The Lord is my Helper, and I will not fear what man shall do unto me.” Some one has well said, “God is a Substitute for everything, but nothing is a substitute for God.”

“In that circle of God’s favor,

Circle of the Father’s love,

All is rest, and rest forever,

All is perfectness above.

“Blessed, glorious word ‘forever’!-

Yea, ‘forever’ is the word,

Nothing can the ransomed sever,

Nought divide them from the Lord.”

Section E. Hebrews 13:7-21

The Call to Absolute Separation from the Old System, Judaism

If we are correct in believing, in spite of what many have alleged to the contrary, that the apostle Paul was the author of this Epistle, we can well understand how earnestly he would now plead for complete separation from the ancient system, the glory of which had departed since the rejection of God’s Son. The dark clouds of judgment were hanging low over the land of Palestine. In a little while the sacred city would be a ruined heap. No more would the smoke of sacrifice ascend from Jewish altars. Moreover, most of the apostolic company had either been called Home or were laboring in distant lands. Paul himself was very shortly to be martyred by the executioner’s axe. With all these things pressing upon his soul, he urges the Hebrew believers to make a complete break with that system which had rejected the Lord of Glory.

And first he calls upon them to remember those who had been their guides in days gone by, who had instructed them in the Word of God, for here, in Hebrews 13:7, it is evident that he has in mind those who are no longer with them. They are to remember their leaders of the past and to imitate their faith, considering the end, or issue, of their manner of life. These men for Christ’s sake had suffered and toiled, gladly resigning all thought of worldly preferment that He might be glorified in their lives. The object of their faith was Jesus Christ, who is the same yesterday, today, and unto the ages to come; the unchanging Christ ever abiding amid changing scenes who is to be the Object of His people’s hearts. It is important to remember that this does not imply that our Lord’s administrations are always of the same character. “There are differences of administrations, but the same Lord.” He does not act in the same way in every dispensation, but He Himself abides the same in Person. If this were constantly kept in mind, Christians would not confuse things which God has clearly distinguished. For instance, it is often said by those who do not think clearly, that because the Lord healed all the sick who came to Him when He was here on earth, He will do the same to-day for all who seek His help, because “He is the same yesterday, to-day, and forever.” Strange that they do not go farther, and insist that He will raise the dead and restore to them their loved ones now as He did three times when here on earth. Such confusion of mind would be avoided if the differences of administrations were clearly apprehended.

The next warning is against false teaching. From a very early day men arose in the Christian companies and particularly in Jewish assemblies, presenting new and perverse teaching, against which it was necessary to warn the disciples. Some of these laid great stress on Mosaic and Rabbinic commandments concerning meats and ordinances which were connected with the temple service and had no proper place in the Christian economy. And so he writes, “Be not carried about with various and strange doctrines. For it is a good thing that the heart be established with grace; not with meats, which have not profited them that have been occupied therein.”

And now in Hebrews 13:10-14 we have the direct commandment to come outside the camp of Judaism in holy separation to the Lord Jesus Himself. We have an altar, he tells us, of which they who serve the tabernacle have no right to eat; that is, our altar and our service are all of a heavenly character. Since Christ has died there is no altar on earth; but in Heaven, that of which the golden altar was a type, abides, where Christ makes intercession for us. To talk of any other altar, as is done in Romanism for instance, and some sects of Protestantism, is to deny the truth of the finished work of Christ.

“No blood, no altar now,

The sacrifice is o’er;

No flame nor smoke ascends on high,

The Lamb is slain no more.”

In the time when the old Testament ritual was still recognized by God, the bodies of those beasts whose blood was brought into the sanctuary by the high priest for sin, when the sin offering was presented to God, were burned in a clean place outside the camp. In fulfilment of the type, “Jesus also, that He might sanctify the people with His own blood,” that is, that He might set them apart to God in all the value of His atoning work, “suffered without the gate.” He took the outside place there to bear the judgment that our sins deserved, and now we put our trust in Him, the rejected One, as our Saviour, and confess Him as our Lord. In faithfulness to the call of God we are to be identified with Him in His rejection, so the apostle exhorts, “Let us go forth unto Him.”

To these Hebrews this would mean even more than to believers in a later day, who have never been attached as they were to a divinely ordained system which was afterwards disowned by God. The deepest affections of their hearts, until they knew Christ, were twined about that system, but the apostle, speaking as a Jew to those who like himself had owned the Messiahship of Jesus, says, “Let us go forth unto Him without the camp, bearing His reproach. For here have we no continuing city, but we seek one to come.” It was a tremendous challenge to these Hebrew Christians. It meant the breaking of the tenderest of ties, and would necessarily lead to the gravest misunderstandings, but in no other way could they be faithful to the One whom the nation of the Jews had refused, but who had bought them with His blood. They must imitate their father Abraham, who left country and kindred because he sought a city which had foundations whose Builder and Maker is God.

I need hardly dwell on the fact that this expression, “Let us go forth unto Him without the camp,” has been gravely abused and greatly misused by many who would make of it the ground for separation from Christians often as godly as themselves, on the pretence that if they do not see eye to eye with them they themselves constitute the camp. But it is separation from Judaism of which the apostle is speaking; and not, thank God, from Christendom, which however far it may have departed in some respects from New Testament truth, has not yet been disowned by God.

In saying this, I would not for a moment be understood as condoning what is admittedly evil and unholy, but I do not think it can be insisted upon too strongly that there is no ground in this scripture for ecclesiastical pretension of any kind whatsoever. Ruin and failure are everywhere, and call for humble confession and self-judgment, not for pride of position.

We next have two verses that bring before us in a very precious way the sacrifice which believer-priests are now privileged to offer, for be it remembered, all Christians are now holy and royal priests. As holy priests we are to “offer the sacrifice of praise to God continually, that is, the fruit of our lips, giving thanks to His name.” God has said, “Whoso offereth praise glorifieth Me.” As holy priests, we enter into the sanctuary to present our worship and adoration to Him whom we now know as our God and Father. Then as royal priests we go out to man on God’s behalf, and so we have the exhortation, “But to do good and to share what you have with others, forget not: for with such sacrifices God is well pleased.” Our priesthood has both a Godward and a manward aspect, thus preserving that even balance which is so characteristic of the Word of God.

We have seen, in verse seven, how the writer called upon the saints to remember those who in days gone by had the rule over them. Now in verse seventeen he stresses obedience to those who now care for them in holy things. “Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves: for they watch for your souls, as those that must give account, that they may do it with joy, and not with grief; for that is unprofitable for you.” True spiritual authority will be manifested by real shepherd-care of the people of God, and when the Head of the Church gives the pastoral gift, it is for the blessing of all. To flaunt such a gift or to refuse recognition of it is to ignore and despise the Head Himself. On the other hand to confound the pastoral gift with the so-called clerical order is utterly unscriptural. No amount of training or ecclesiastical recognition can make a man a pastor. It is the Head of the Church Himself who gives such a “gift” to His people.

In true Pauline fashion the writer begs for an interest in their prayers. How characteristic this was of Paul! He says, “Pray for us; for we trust we have a good conscience, in all things willing to live honestly. But I beseech you the rather to do this that I may be restored to you the sooner.” At the most, he realized that in all probability it would not be very long until he sealed his testimony with his blood, and yet if in answer to prayer he might be restored to service for a little time, he would value this, while being in all things subject to the will of God. Who can tell how much each servant of Christ is indebted to the prayers of God’s hidden ones? To bear such up before Him is a wondrous ministry, the full fruit of which will only be manifested in that day when every secret thing will be revealed and each one will be rewarded according to his own service. Let none think that it is a little thing to pray. There is no higher ministry, no more important office, than that of the intercessor.

The beautiful benediction of verses twenty and twenty-one brings the Epistle proper to a close. How often the words have been uttered through the centuries; how preciously they still come home to every believing heart! “Now the God of peace, that brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the everlasting covenant, make you perfect in every good work to do His will, working in you that which is well pleasing in His sight, through Jesus Christ; to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.” How blessed the title, “The God of peace!” It is found elsewhere in the New Testament, as we know, and it tells of peace made by the blood of the cross, on the basis of which God is now speaking peace to all who trust His Son. Having raised from the dead Him who as the Good Shepherd offered Himself in behalf of the sheep and shed His blood for their redemption, thus sealing the everlasting covenant, God has now made that same Jesus to be both Lord and Christ. Exalted to the Father’s right hand, He is now the Great Shepherd guiding His chosen flock through the wilderness of this world. Soon, as the apostle Peter tells us, He will return in glory as the Chief Shepherd (1 Peter 5:4), to whom all the under-shepherds must render their account. Meantime, by His Spirit, He is working in those for whom He once wrought so effecttually on Calvary’s cross. By this inward work He is sanctifying His people to Himself, daily making them more like their blessed Master, to whom all the glory of their salvation belongs both now and for eternity. And so the “Amen” closes the doctrinal and practical parts of the letter.

Section F. Hebrews 13:22-25

Concluding Salutations. Paul’s Secret Mark

The concluding salutations need not occupy us long. In verse twenty-two he pleads with them to receive the word of exhortation, which will cut right across all their natural inclinations, but which he was pressed in the spirit to write, because of the circumstances in which they were found.

His companion Timothy who had apparently also been in prison, was now at liberty, and he hoped with Timothy to visit again the churches in which these Jewish believers were found, if it should be the will of the Lord. Then once more he mentions their guides, those who had oversight in spiritual things, sending to them a special salutation as well as to all the saints. This recognition of their leaders would come with good grace indeed from the apostle Paul, for there had been many who sought to bring about a breach between him and them. But he himself refuses to acknowledge anything of the kind, and he recognizes them in their God-given place as caring for the souls of the saints. The Italian brethren, doubtless Christians in Home, and elsewhere, joined with him in this salutation.

He concludes the letter by putting upon it what we have seen to be his own secret mark, “Grace be with you all. Amen.”

While specifically set apart by God as the apostle to the Gentiles, Paul never forgot that he himself was a Jew by nature. He knew all that it meant for his people to declare themselves followers of the Lord Jesus Christ. His heart yearned over them, and he was jealous with a holy jealousy lest they should come short of their full blessing by temporizing and clinging too long to forms and ceremonies, the legality and carnality of that which had now become a mere lifeless system since God’s own Son had been crucified. He would have them enter into and enjoy in the fullest possible way that grace which was the very centre and epitome of his message both to Jew and Gentile.

As we review the history of Christendom we can see today how necessary was this cleavage. The heart of man readily falls in with forms and ceremonies. It is only those who are led of God who worship in Spirit and in truth. On every hand men are turning back to ritualistic forms and liturgical systems, seeking thus to make up for the increasing lack of true spirituality and devotedness to Christ. Unsaved men can “enjoy” a “religious service,” but only the regenerate can worship by the Spirit of God.

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Bibliographical Information
Ironside, H. A. "Commentary on Hebrews 13". Ironside's Notes on Selected Books. 1914.