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This chapter contains an application of the doctrine, declared and confirmed in the foregoing chapter, unto the use of the Hebrews. Doctrine and use were the apostle’s method; and must, at least virtually, be theirs also who regard either sense, or reason, or experience, in their preaching. It would be an uncouth sermon that should be without doctrine and use. And there are three general parts of the chapter:
1. A pressing of the exhortation in hand from the testimonies before insisted on, with new additional motives, encouragements, and directions, unto the end of the 11th verse.
2. A direction unto especial duties, necessary unto a due compliance with the general exhortation, and subservient unto its complete observance, Hebrews 12:12-17.
3. A new cogent argument unto the same purpose, taken from a comparison between the two states, of the law and the gospel, with their original, nature, and effects; unto the end of the chapter.
In the first general part, or enforcement of the exhortation, there are four things:
1. The deduction of it from the foregoing instances and examples, Hebrews 12:1.
2. The confirmation of it from the consideration of Christ himself, and his sufferings, Hebrews 12:2-3.
3. The same is pressed from their known duty, Hebrews 12:4. And,
4. From the nature of the things which they were to undergo in their patient perseverance, as far as they were afflictive; with the certain advantages and benefits which they should receive by them, Hebrews 12:5-11.
Having insisted long on a multitude of instances, to declare and evidence the power and efficacy of faith to carry and safeguard believers through all duties and difficulties that they may be called unto in the way of their profession, he proceeds thereon to press his exhortation on the Hebrews unto a patient perseverance in the profession of the gospel, notwithstanding all the sufferings which they might meet withal. And his discourse on this subject is exceedingly pregnant with arguments unto this purpose. For it both declares what hath been the lot of true believers in all ages from the beginning, which none ought now to be surprised with, or think strange of; what was the way whereby they so carried it as to please God; and what was the success or victory which they obtained in the end: all which were powerful motives unto them for the diligent attendance unto and discharge of their present duty.
Hebrews 12:1 . Τοιγαροῦν καὶ ἡμεῖς , τοσοῦτον ἔχοντες περικείμενον ἡμῖν νέφος μαρτύρων ¸ ὄγκον ἀποθέμενοι πάντα καὶ τὴν εὐπερίστατον ἀμαρτίαν , δι᾿ ὑπομονῆς τρέχωμεν τὸν προκείμενον ἡμῖν ἀγῶνα .
Τοιγαροῦν , “ ideoque,” “quamobrem,” “igitur,” “proinde,” “quoniam; ” Syr., “propter hoc,” “for this cause;” a vehement note of inference. Τοσοῦτον , etc., “we also, who have all these witnesses, who compass us about as a cloud.” Περικείμενον . Vulg. Let., “impositam nubem;” Rhem., “a cloud put upon us;” that is, ἐπικείμενον , which here hath no place, but is very improper. ῎Ογκον ἀποθέμενοι πάντα . Vulg. Lat.,” deponentes omne pontius;” Rhem., “laying away all weight,” for “every weight.” “Abjecto omni pondere,” “casting away every weight.” Others, “deposito omni onere,” “laying aside every burden,” a weight that is burdensome, and so a hinderance. Syr., “loosing ourselves from all weight.” Εὐπερίστατον ἁμαρτίαν . Vulg. Let., “et circumstans nos peccatum;” Rhem., “and the sin that compasseth us,” “that stands round us.” Beza, “peccatum ad nos circumeingendos proclive:” which we render,” the sin that doth so easily beset us;” that is, to oppose and hinder us in our progress, which is to beset us. Syr., “the sin which at all times is ready for us;” that is, to act itself in us or against us. Erasmus, “tenaciter inhaerens peccatum,” “the sin that doth so tenaciously inhere or cleave to us;” perhaps to the sense of the place, though it mistakes the precise signification of the word. Smid., “peccato facile noxio,” “the sin that doth so easily hurt us;” to comply with the exposition of the words which he embraceth. The mind of the Holy Ghost in this expression we must further inquire into.
Τρέχωμεν τὸν προκείμενον ἡμῖν ἀγῶνα . Vulg. Lat., “curramus ad propositum nobis certamen;” Rhem., “let us run to the fight that is proposed unto us.” But ἀγών is not properly a fight; and the interposing of the preposition ad, “to,” corrupts the sense: though the Syriac retaining the Greek word seems to own it, לאגוּנָא , “leagona,” “to the race,” course. But we are to run the race, not run to it. ᾿Αγῶνα , “stadium,” “the race;” “certamen,” the contest in the race or course.
Hebrews 12:1 . Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside [cast away] every weight [ or burden], and the sin that doth so easily beset [us], and let us run with patience the race that is set before us.
Some things may be observed concerning these words, as unto the manner of speech used in them; as,
1. The whole of it is figurative, consisting in sundry metaphors, drawn out of that which is the principal, namely, the comparison of our patient abiding in the profession of the gospel unto running or contending in a race for a prize.
2. That the allusions being plain and familiar, as we shall see, they convey a great light unto the understanding, and have a great efficacy upon the affections.
3. It being so, the exposition of the words is not so much to be taken from the precise signification of them, as from the matter plainly intended in them.
4. The structure of the words is pathetical, becoming an exhortation of so great importance.
There is in the words themselves,
1. A note of inference from the preceding discourse, intimating the influence which it hath into what follows: “Wherefore;” ‘Seeing it is thus with us in respect unto them who went before us, whose faith is recorded for our use and example.’
2. An exhortation unto patient perseverance in the profession of the gospel, notwithstanding all difficulties and oppositions; metaphorically expressed by “running with patience the race that is set before us.”
3. A motive and encouragement thereunto, taken from our present state with respect unto them who went before us in the profession of the faith, and whose example we are obliged to follow: “Seeing we also are compassed with so great a cloud of witnesses.”
4. A declaration of something necessary unto a compliance with this exhortation, and the duty required in us; which is, to “cast off every weight, and the sin that doth so easily beset us.”
I shall open the words in the order wherein they lie in the text.
1. The first thing expressed, is the motive and encouragement given unto our diligence in the duty exhorted unto: “Seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses.” ‘We having so great a cloud of witnesses placed about us.’
(1.) The persons spoken of are “we,” “we also,” or “even we.” The apostle joins himself with these Hebrews, not only the better to insinuate the exhortation into their minds, by engaging himself with them, but also to intimate that the greatest and strongest of believers stand in need of this encouragement. For it is a provision that God hath made for our benefit, and that such as is useful unto us and needful for us. Wherefore this expression, “even we,” compriseth all believers that were then in the world, or shall be so to the end of it.
(2.) That which is proposed unto us is,
[1.] That we have “witnesses.”
[2.] That we have a “cloud” of them.
[3.] That they are placed “about” us, or we are “compassed” with them.
These witnesses are all the saints of the old testament whose faith is recorded in the Scripture; both those mentioned by name by the apostle, and all others who in general are testified unto. And how these are said to be witnesses, with respect unto us, must be inquired into. [1.] Witnesses are of two sorts:
1 st . Such as behold the doing of any thing, and give their testimony unto it when it is done.
2dly . Such as testify unto any thing, that it ought to be done; or unto any truth that it is so, whereby men may be engaged unto what it directs unto.
If the sense of the word be to be regulated by the metaphorical expression of the duty exhorted unto, namely, running in a race, then the witnesses intended are of the first sort. For at the striving and contest in those public games which are alluded unto, there were multitudes, clouds of spectators, that looked on to encourage those that contended by their applauses, and to testify of their successes.
So is it with us in our patient perseverance; all the saints of the old testament do as it were stand looking on us in our striving, encouraging us unto our duty, and ready to testify unto our success with their applauses. They are all placed about us unto this end; we are “compassed” with them. And they are so in the Scripture; wherein they, being dead, yet see, and speak, and bear testimony. The Scripture hath encompassed us with them; so that when we are in our trials, which way soever we look in it, we may behold the face of some or other of these worthies looking on us, and encouraging of us. So the apostle chargeth Timothy with his duty, not only “before God, and the Lord Jesus Christ,” unto whom he was to give his account, but “before the elect angels” also, who were to be witnesses of what he did therein, 1 Timothy 5:21. And it is not unuseful for us, in all our trials for the profession of the faith, to consider that the eyes as it were of all that have gone before us in the same, or the like, or greater trials, are upon us, to bear witness how we acquit ourselves.
But the intention of the apostle may be better taken from his general scope, which requireth that the witnesses be of the second sort, namely, such as testify unto what is to be done, and the grounds of truth whereon it ought to be done. For he intends especially the persons whom he had before enumerated: and that which they testify unto is this, that faith will carry believers safely through all that they may be called to do or suffer in the profession of the gospel; which even we, therefore, ought with all patience to abide in. They all jointly testify unto these things: that it is best for us to believe and obey God, whatever may befall us in our so doing; that faith, where it is true and sincere, will engage those in whom it is to venture on the greatest hazards, dangers, and miseries in the world, rather than to forego their profession; and that it will safely carry us through them all. Those that testify these things are important witnesses in this cause. For when, upon the approaches of danger and trouble, it may be death itself, we are brought to contest things in our own minds, and to dispute what is best for us to do, wherein Satan will not be wanting to increase our fears and disorders by his fiery darts, it cannot but be an unspeakable advantage and encouragement to have all these holy and blessed persons stand about us, testifying unto the folly of our fears, the falseness of all the suggestions of unbelief, and the fraud of Satan’s temptations; as also unto the excellency of the duties whereunto we are called, and the certainty of our success in them through believing.
And in this sense do I take the witnesses here intended, both because of the scope of the place, and that we know by experience of what use this kind of testimony is. But if any think better of the former sense, I shall not oppose it. For in the whole verse the apostle doth, as it were, represent believers in their profession as striving for victory as upon a theater. Christ sits at the head or end of it, as the great agonothetes, the judge and rewarder of those that strive lawfully, and acquit themselves by perseverance unto the end. All the saints departed divinely testified unto stand and sit on every side, looking on, and encouraging us in our course; which was wont to be a mighty provocation unto men to put forth the utmost of their strength in their public contests for victory. Both these senses are consistent.
[2.] Of these witnesses there is said to be a “cloud;” and that not positively only, but a great cloud, “ so great a cloud.” A cloud in Hebrew is called עָב that is, “a thing thick, perplexed, or condensed.” And Aristotle says,
Τὸ νέφος πάχος ἀτμῶδες συνεστραμμένον , De Mundo, cap. iv.; “A cloud is a thick conglomeration of humid vapours.” So God compares the sins of his people unto “a cloud,” and “a thick cloud,” because of their multitude, the vapor of them being condensed like a cloud, Isaiah 44:22. And in all authors, a thick body of men, or soldiers compacted together, is usually called a cloud of them. So Homer’s Iliad. 4, ῞Αμα δὲ νέφος εἵπετο πεζῶν , “With him followed a cloud of foot-men.’So Livy, “Peditum equitumque nubes;” “a cloud of horse and foot.” Wherefore, “so great a cloud,” is a metaphorical expression for ‘so great a number:’‘so great a multitude at once appearing together to witness in this cause.’And he doth at once in this word represent unto us the force of his preceding discourse, wherein he had called out many of his witnesses by name, and then made a conglomeration or gathering of them into one body, like a great cloud, Hebrews 11:32-35, etc.
[3.] ‘This cloud,’saith he, we are “encompassed with,” it is placed about us;’where and how is not expressed. But it is placed in the Scripture, wherein it is set round about us to behold. For what is done in the Scripture for our use, is immediately done unto us; and what is spoken in it, is spoken unto us. So verse 5, those words in the Book of Proverbs, “My son, despise not thou the chastening of the Lord,” he affirms to be an exhortation spoken unto us. And the recording of those witnesses in the Scripture is the actual compassing of us with them. For our life and our walk being in the Scripture, that which is placed therein for our use, we are compassed withal.
And there is a great emphasis in the expression. For when a great multitude do encompass men, in any cause, drawing about them, and near unto them, to give them encouragement, they cannot but greatly countenance and further them in their way. So doth this cloud of witnesses them that do believe.
And as to our own instruction, we may hence observe,
Obs. 1. In all Scripture examples we are diligently to consider our own concernment in them, and what we are instructed by them. This inference the apostle makes from the collection he had made of them: “Even we also.”
Obs. 2. God hath not only made provision, but plentiful provision, in the Scripture for the strengthening of our faith and our encouragement unto duty: “A cloud of witnesses.”
Obs. 3. It is an honor that God puts on his saints departed, especially such as suffered and died for the truth, that even after their death they shall be witnesses unto faith and obedience in all generations They continue, in a sense, still to he martyrs. The faithful collection of their sufferings, and of the testimony they gave therein unto the gospel, hath been of singular use in the church. So hath the Book of Martyrs been among ourselves, though now it be despised by such as never intend to follow the examples contained in it.
Obs. 4. To faint in our profession whilst we are encompassed with such a cloud of witnesses, is a great aggravation of our sin. These things are proposed unto us that we faint not.
2. The second thing in the words is the prescription of the means which we must use, that we may discharge the duty we are exhorted unto. And this is, that we “cast off every weight, and the sin that doth so easily beset us.”
There is no doubt but that, in the exposition of these words, respect is to be had unto the metaphor whereby the apostle expresseth the duty exhorted unto; namely, that we should “run with patience the race that is set before us.” Those who were to run in a race did always free themselves from all those things which might hinder them thereinAnd they were of two sorts:
(1.) Such as were a weight or burden upon them; any thing that was heavy, which men cannot run withal.
(2.) Such as might entangle them in their passage; as long clothing, which cleaving unto them, would be their continual hinderance in every step they should take. In compliance with this similitude, the apostle enjoins our duty under these two expressions, of laying aside,
(1.) “Every weight;” and,
(2.) “The sin that doth so easily beset us:” and what he intends in particular we must inquire, both as to the manner of laying aside, and then as to the things themselves.
(1.) The manner of the performance of this duty is expressed by “laying aside,” or as others render the word, “casting away.” ᾿Αποτίθημι is once used in the New Testament with respect unto things natural: Acts 7:58, “The witnesses ἀπεθεντο τὰ ἱμάτια αὐτῶν ,” “laid down” (that is, “put off,” and laid down) “their clothes:” which gives light unto the metaphor. In all other places it is used with respect unto vicious habits, or causes of sin, which we are to part with, to cast away, as hinderances in our way and work. So Ephesians 4:22; Ephesians 4:25; Colossians 3:8; Jas 1:21 ; 1 Peter 2:1. It is the word wherewith our duty with respect unto all vicious habits of mind, especially such as are effectual hindrances in our Christian course, is expressed. For in every place where it is used it doth not absolutely respect things themselves to be laid aside, but as they are obstructions of our faith and obedience; as the apostle doth here, as we shall further see immediately. Naturally such things are signified as are in us, on us, and do cleave unto us; as are great hindrances in our Christian race. Let no man be confident in himself. He hath nothing of his own, but what will obstruct him in his way of holy obedience. Unless these things are deposed, laid aside, cast away, we cannot run the race with success whereunto we are called. How this is to be done, shall be afterwards declared.
(2.) The words wherein the things themselves to be laid aside are expressed being metaphorical, and not used anywhere else in the Scripture unto the same purpose, occasion hath been taken for various conjectures about their sense and precise intendment. Especially the last word, εὐπερίστατος , being used but this once in the New Testament, and scarce, if at all, in any other author, hath given advantage unto many to try their critical skill to the utmost. I shall not concern myself in any of them, to approve or refute them. Those which are agreeable unto the analogy of faith may be received as any shall see reason. This I know, that the true exposition of those words, or the application of them unto the purpose intended, is to be taken from other Scripture rules, given in the same case and unto the same end, with the experience of them who have been exercised with trials for the profession of the gospel. These I shall attend unto alone in the interpretation of them; which will give us a sense no way inconsistent with the precise signification of the words themselves, which is all that, is necessary.
[1.] That which we are first to lay aside, is “every weight.” The expression will scarce allow that this should be confined unto any one thing, or things of any one kind. No more seems to be intended, but that we part with every thing, of what kind soever it be, which would hinder us in our race. And so it is of the same importance with the great command of self-denial, which our Savior gives in such strict charge to all who take on them the profession of the gospel, as that without which they would not persevere therein, Matthew 16:25; Matthew 16:25. We may have the cross laid upon us, whether we will or no, but we cannot take it up, so as to follow Christ, unless we first deny ourselves. And to deny ourselves herein, or to this purpose of taking up the cross, is to take off our minds from the esteem and value of all things that would hinder us in our evangelical progress. This is to “lay aside every weight” in a metaphorical expression, with respect unto our obedience as a race. And as this sense is coincident with that great gospel-rule given us in the same case, so it is suited unto the experience of them that are called to suffer. They find that the first thing which they have to do, is universally to deny themselves; which if they can attain unto, they are freed from every weight, and are expedite in their course. And this exposition we may abide in.
But because there is another great gospel rule in the same case, which restrains this self-denial unto one sort of things, which the word seems to point unto, and which falls in also with experience, it may have here an especial regard. And this rule we may learn from the words of our Savior also, Matthew 19:23; Matthew 19:25,
“Jesus said unto his disciples, Verily I say unto you, That a rich man shall hardly enter into the kingdom of heaven. And again I say unto you, It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God.”
Nothing but the exceeding greatness of the power of God and his grace can carry a rich man safely, in a time of suffering, unto heaven and glory. And it is confirmed by the apostle, 1 Timothy 6:9-10,
“But they that will be rich fall into temptation, and a snare, and into many foolish and hurtful lusts, which drown men in destruction and perdition,” etc.
The riches of this world, and the love of them, are a peculiar obstruction unto constancy in the profession of the gospel, on many accounts. These, therefore, seem to be a burden, hindering us in our race in an especial manner.
And these things are called a “weight,” not from their own nature, for they are light as vanity, but from the consequent of our setting our hearts and affections upon them. When we so embrace them, so adhere unto them, as to take them into our minds and affections, they are a weight wherewith no man is able to run a Christian race. If when we are called to sufferings, the love of this world, and the things of it, with our lives in the enjoyment of them, be prevalent in us, we shall find them such a weight upon us as will utterly disenable us unto our duty. A man may burden himself with feathers or chaff, as well as with things in themselves more ponderous.
That which remains unto the exposition of these words, is, how this weight should be laid aside; which although it be the principal thing to be regarded, yet is it wholly overseen by expositors, as most things practical are.
Suppose the weight to be laid aside to be the good things of this life, with the engagement of our affections unto them; then unto this laying them aside,
1 st . It is not ordinarily required that we should absolutely part with them, and forego our lawful possession of them: I say, it is not so ordinarily. But there have been, and may be seasons, wherein that direction of our Savior unto the young man, “Go sell what thou hast, and give to the poor, and follow me,” must take place. So many in the primitive times sold their possessions, distributing what they had to the poor, Acts 4:0. And that example may be obliging, where there is a coincidence of great persecution in any one nation, and great opportunities of propagating the gospel elsewhere, as the case then was. But ordinarily this is not required of us. Yea, there are times wherein some men’s enjoyments and possession of riches may be no hindrance unto themselves, and of great use unto the whole church, by their contributions unto its relief; which are frequently directed by the apostles. And in the discharge of this duty will lie a decretory determination of the sincerity of their faith and profession.
2dly . This laying them aside includes a willingness, a readiness, a resolution, to part with them cheerfully for the sake of Christ and the gospel, if called thereunto. So was it with them that “took joyfully the spoiling of their goods.” When this resolution is prevalent in the mind, the soul will be much eased of that weight of those things which would hinder it in its race. But whilst our hearts cleave unto them with an undue valuation, whilst we cannot attain unto a cheerful willingness to have them taken from us, or to be taken ourselves from them, for the sake of the gospel, they will be an intolerable burden unto us in our course. For hence will the mind dispute every dangerous duty, hearken to every sinful contrivance for safety, be surprised out of its own power by every appearing danger, and be discomposed in its frame on all occasions. Such a burden can no man carry in a race.
3dly . Sedulous and daily mortification of our hearts and affections, with respect unto all things of this nature, is that which is principally prescribed unto us in this command of laying them aside as a weight. This will take out of them whatever is really burdensome unto us. Mortification is the dissolution of the conjunction or league that is between our affections and earthly things, which alone gives them their weight and cumbrance. See Colossians 3:1-5. Where this grace and duty are in their due exercise, these things cannot influence the mind into any disorder, nor make it unready for its race, or unwieldy or inexpedite in it. This is that which is enjoined us in this expression; and therefore, to declare the whole of the duty required of us, it were necessary the nature of mortification in general, with its causes, means, and effects, should be opened which because I have  done elsewhere at large, I shall here omit.
 See vol. 6 of the author’s miscellaneous works. Ed.
4thly . There is required hereunto continual observation of what difficulties and hindrances these things are apt to cast on our minds, either in our general course, or with respect unto particular duties. They operate on our minds by love, fear, care, delight, contrivances, with a multitude of perplexing thoughts about them. Unless we continually watch against all these ways of engaging our minds, to obviate their insinuations, we shall find them a weight and burden in all parts of our race.
These are some of the ways and means whereby those who engage their hearts unto a constant, patient perseverance in the profession of the gospel, may so far lay aside the weight of earthly things, and disentangle their affections from them, as that they may comfortably pass on, and go through with their engagement.
And the days wherein we live will give us a better understanding of the duty here prescribed unto us, than any we are likely to learn from the conjectures of men at ease about the precise signification of this or that word, which, being metaphorically used, is capable of various applications. But the world is at present filled with fears, dangers, and persecutions, for the gospel. Those who will live godly in Christ Jesus must expect persecution. Loss of goods, estates, liberties, lives, are continually before them. They, and no others, know how far the minds of believers are solicited with these things, what impressions they make on them, and what encumbrance they design to be, and in some measure are, unto them in their progress; and they alone understand what it is to lay aside the weight of them, in the exercise of the graces and duties before mentioned. Faith, prayer, mortification, a high valuation of things invisible and eternal, a continual preference of them unto all things present and seen, are enjoined in this word, of “laying aside every weight.”
[2.] The second thing to be laid aside, is “the sin that doth so easily beset us.” I intimated before, that by reason this word is nowhere else used in the whole Scripture, many have multiplied their conjectures concerning the meaning of it. I shall, without any great examination of them, make that inquiry into the mind of the Holy Ghost herein which God shall direct and enable unto.
1st . The great variety of translations in rendering the word make it apparent that no determinate sense could be gathered from its precise signification. For otherwise, both in its original and its double composition, the words themselves are ordinary, and of common use. See the various translations before mentioned, whereunto many others may be added, scarce two agreeing in the same words.
2dly . We may be satisfied that no bare consideration of the word, either as simple, or in its composition, or its use in other authors, will of itself give us the full and proper signification of it in this place. And it is evident unto me from hence, in that those who have made the most diligent inquisition into it, and traced it through all its forms, are most remote from agreeing what is, or should be the precise signification of it, but close their disquisitions with various and opposite conjecture. And, which is yet worse, that which mostly they fix upon is but a sound of words, which conveys no real sense unto the experience of them that do believe. Howbeit, it was no part of the design of the apostle to give us a perplexity, by the use of an ambiguous word; but the thing he intended was at that time commonly known, and not obscured by the new clothing given it, to accommodate the expression of it unto the present metaphor.
3dly . I shall therefore attend unto the guides before mentioned, namely, other Scripture directions and rules in the same case, with the experience of believers, who are exercised in it, and the use of those other words with which this ἅπαξ λεγόμενον is here joined.
1st . The word ἀποτίθημι , to “lay aside,” is never used in the Scripture, with respect unto that which is evil and sinful, but with regard unto the original depravation of nature, and the vicious habits wherein it consists, with the effects of them. The places are these alone: Ephesians 4:22, ᾿Αποθέσθαι ὑμᾶς , “That ye put off, concerning the former conversation, the old man, which is corrupt according to the deceitful lusts.” None doubts but that it is the original pravity of our nature that is here intended. Verse 25, Διὸ ἀποθέμενοι τὸ ψεῦδος , “Wherefore put away lying;” a branch springing from the same root. Colossians 3:8, Νυνὶ δὲ ἀποθέσθε καὶ ὑμεῖς τὰ πάντα , “But now ye also put off all these;” that is, the things which he discourseth of, or original corruption, with all the fruits and effects of it. James 1:21, Διὸ ἀποθέμενοι πᾶσαν ῥυπαρίαν “Wherefore lay apart all filthiness and superfluity of naughtiness;” which is the same. 1 Peter 2:1, ᾿Αποθέμενοι οὐν πᾶσαν κακίαν , “Laying aside all malice;” to the same purpose. Elsewhere this word is not used. It is therefore evident, that in all other places it is applied only unto our duty and acting with reference unto the original pravity of our nature, with the vicious habits wherein it consists, and the sinful effects or consequents of it. And why it should have another intention here, seeing that it is not only suited unto the analogy of faith, but most agreeable unto the design of the apostle, I know not. And the truth is, the want of a due consideration of this one word, with its use, which expositors have universally overlooked, hath occasioned many fruitless conjectures on the place.
2dly . The general nature of the evil to be deposed or laid aside, is expressed by ἀμαρτία , and that with the article prefixed, τὴν ἁμαρτίαν , “that sin.” Now this, if there be nothing to limit it, is to be taken in its largest, most usual, and eminent signification. And that this is the original depravation of our nature, cannot be denied. So it is in an especial manner stated, Romans 7:0. where it is constantly called by that name: Verse 13, ἡ ἁμαρτία , “sin;” that is, the sin of our nature. And the ἡ οἰκοῦσα ἐν ἐμοὶ ἁμαρτία , verse 17, “the sin that dwelleth in me,” is of the same force and signification with ἡ ἁμαρτία ευπερίστατος , “the sin that doth so easily beset us;” though the allusions are various, the one taken from within, the other from without. See verses 20,23. But,
3dly . I do not judge that original sin is here absolutely intended, but only with respect unto an especial way of exerting its efficacy, and unto a certain end; namely, as it works by unbelief to obstruct us in, and turn us away from, the profession of the gospel. And so the instruction falls in with the rule given us in the same case in other places of the epistle; as Hebrews 3:12, “Take heed, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief, in departing from the living God.” To depart from the living God, and to forsake the course of our profession, are the same. And the cause of them is, an “evil heart of unbelief.” For so it is expounded in the next verse, “That ye be not hardened through the deceitfulness of sin.” And the like rule is given us in this chapter, verse 15. The sin therefore intended is indwelling sin; which, with respect unto the profession of the gospel and permanency therein with patience, worketh by unbelief; whereby it exposeth us unto all sorts of temptations, gives advantage unto all disheartening, weakening, discouraging considerations, still aiming to make us faint, and so at length to depart from the living God.
These things being fixed, it is all one whether we interpret εὐπερίστατος , “that which doth easily beset us,” that is in a readiness always so to do; or “that doth easily expose us to evil;” which are the two senses of the word with any probability contended for. Both come to the same.
There are two things yet remaining for the exposition of these words:
1 st . How this sin is said easily to beset us; and,
2 dly . How we must lay it aside.
1 st . And the first is spoken of it, because it hath all advantages to solicit and draw off our minds from this duty, as also to weaken us in the discharge of it. This is confirmed by the experience of all who have been exercised in this case, who have met with great difficulties in, and have been called to suffer for the profession of the gospel. Ask of them what they have found in such cases to be their most dangerous enemy, what hath had the most easy and frequent access unto their minds, to disturb and dishearten them, of the power whereof they have been most afraid: they will all answer with one voice, it is the evil of their own unbelieving hearts. This hath continually attempted to entangle them, to betray them, in taking part with all outward temptations. When this is conquered, all things are plain and easy unto them. It may be, some of them have had their particular temptations, which they may reflect upon; but any other evil by sin, which is common unto them all, as this is unto all in the like case, they can fix on none. And this known experience of the thing in this case I prefer before all conjectures at the signification of the word, made by men who either never suffered, or never well considered what it is so to do.
This sin is that which hath an easy access unto our minds, unto their hinderance in our race, or doth easily expose us unto danger, by the advantage which it hath unto these ends. For, (1st.) It is always present with us, and so never wanting unto any occasion. It stands in need of no help or furtherance from any outward advantages to attempt our minds. Dwelling in us, abiding with us, cleaving unto us, it is always ready to clog, to hinder, and disturb us Doth any difficulty or danger appear in the way? it is at hand to cry, “Spare thyself,” working by fear. Is any sinful compliance proposed unto us? it is ready to argue for its embracement, working by carnal wisdom. Doth the weariness of the flesh decline perseverance in necessary duties? it wants not arguments to promote its inclinations, working by the dispositions of remaining enmity and vanity. Doth the whole matter and cause of our profession come into question, as in a time of severe persecution? it is ready to set all its engines on work for our ruin; fear of danger, love of things present, hopes of recovery, reserves for a better season, the examples of others esteemed good and wise, shall all be put into the hands of unbelief, to be managed against faith, patience, constancy and perseverance.
(2dly.) It hath this advantage, because it hath a remaining interest in all the faculties of our souls. It is not in us as a disease that attempts and weakens one single part of the body, but as an evil habit that infects and weakens the whole. Hence it hath a readiness to oppose all the actings of grace in every faculty of the soul. “The flesh,” always and in all things, “lusteth against the Spirit.” But the whole discourse, which I have long since published, of the Nature and Power of the Remainders of Indwelling Sin in Believers, being only a full exposition of this expression, “The sin that doth so easily beset us,” I shall not further here again insist on it.
 See vol. 6 of miscellaneous works. Ed.
2 dly . The last inquiry is, how we may “lay it aside,” or put it from us. One learned man thinks it a sufficient reason to prove that the sin of nature is not here intended, because we cannot lay that aside whilst we are in this life. But I have showed that the word is never used, when a duty is in it enjoined unto us, but it is with respect unto this sin. Wherefore,
(lst.) We are to lay it aside absolutely and universally, as unto design and endeavor. We cannot in this life attain unto perfection in holiness, yet this is that which we are to endeavor all the days of our lives: so, though we cannot absolutely and perfectly destroy the body of death, crucify the old man in its lusts utterly by a total death, and so lay aside indwelling sin, yet it is our duty to be endeavoring of it all our days. So the apostle proposeth both these equally unto us, 2 Corinthians 7:1, “Let us cleanse ourselves from all pollution of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God.” We must equally watch unto both, and work for both, though in neither we can attain absolute perfection in this life. This we are always to aim at, and pray for, 1 Thessalonians 5:23.
(2ndly.) We ought actually to lay it aside in such a measure and degree, as that it may not be a prevalent hindrance unto us in any of the duties of Christian obedience. For it may have various degrees of power and efficacy in us, and hath so, according as it is neglected or is continually mortified. And it ofttimes takes advantage, by a conjunction with outward temptations, unto our unspeakable prejudice. We ought to labor in the lessening of these degrees, in the weakening of its strength, so as that, although it will fight and rebel against the law of the Spirit of life in our minds, it shall not prevail to hinder, entangle, or weaken us in any spiritual duty, nor either so vex us or defile us as to deprive us of that holy confidence in our walk before God which we ought to preserve. And this is actually attainable in this life; and it is from our woful neglect and sin, where it is otherwise. And if the mortification of it be neglected in any one branch, or any of its puttings forth of power, if any one sin be indulged unto, it will ruin all strength and resolution in and for suffering on the account of the gospel. So we see by daily experience; one is ruined by one lust, another by another. Hence after the apostle hath given in charge this mortification in general, he applies it unto all sorts of particular sins, Ephesians 4:22-32. And we may observe,
Obs. 5. That universal mortification of sin is the best preparative, preservative, and security, for constancy in profession in a time of trial and persecution. Whatever may be our purposes, resolution, and contrivances, if unmortified sin in any prevalent degree, as love of the world, fear of man, sensual inclinations to make provision for the flesh, do abide in us, we shall never be able to hold out in our race unto the end.
Obs. 6. Whereas the nature of this sin, at such seasons, is to work by unbelief towards a departure from the living God, or the relinquishment of the gospel and profession of it, we ought to be continually on our watch against all its arguings and actings towards that end. And no small part of our spiritual wisdom consists in the discovery of its deceitful working; which the apostle gives us severe cautions about, Hebrews 3:0: And the way whereby it principally manifests itself, is by the clogs and hindrances which it puts upon us in the constant course of our obedience. Hence many think, that whereas it is said “easily to beset us,” that is, unto our let and hinderance, an allusion is taken from a long garment; which if a man wear in the running of a race, it will hinder, perplex, and entangle him, and sometimes cast him to the ground; so that unless he east it away he can have no success in his race.
3. The last thing expressed is the duty itself directed and exhorted unto, “Let us run with patience the race that is set before us.” What is the duty in general intended hath been sufficiently declared; but whereas the terms wherein it is expressed, all but that word, “with patience,” are metaphorical, they must be opened.
(1.) That with respect whereunto we are exhorted, is ἀγών , “certamen,” “a strife or conflict.” It is used for any thing, work or exercise, about which there is a striving and contending unto the utmost of men’s abilities, such as were used when men contended for mastery and victory in the Olympic games: and so it is applied unto all earnest spiritual endeavors in any kind, Philippians 1:30; Col 2:1 ; 1 Thessalonians 2:2; 1 Timothy 6:12. In all which places it is used to express the earnest endeavors of the preachers and ministers of the gospel for the conversion of souls and edification of the church, in the midst of all difficulties, and against all oppositions. And the apostle expresseth the whole course of his ministry and obedience by it, 2 Timothy 4:7, Τὸν ἀγῶνα τὸν καλὸν ἠγώνισμαι : which we render, “I have fought a good fight;” ‘I have gone through that contest, against all oppositions, which is allotted unto me, unto a victory.’Here the sense of the word is restrained unto the particular instance of a race, because we are enjoined to run it; which is the means of success in a race. But it is such a race as is for a victory, for our lives and souls; wherein the utmost of our strength and diligence is to be put forth. It is not merely “cursus,” but “certamen.” And by the verb our whole contest for heaven is expressed, Luke 13:24, ᾿Αγωνίζεσθε εἰσελθεῖν , “Strive to enter.” We render it, “striving for the mastery,” 1 Corinthians 9:25; where the apostle hath the same allusion unto the Olympic games. And in the same allusion it is called a “wrestling.” ῎Εστιν ἡμῖν ἡ πάλη , “There is a wrestling assigned unto us,” appointed for us, Ephesians 6:12; which was the principal contest in the old trials for mastery. And what is required thereunto the apostle doth most excellently declare in that place, verses 10-13. Wherefore sundry things are intimated in this metaphorical expression, of our Christian obedience and perseverance therein.
[1.] That it is a matter of great difficulty, whereunto the utmost exercise of our spiritual strength is required. Contending with all our might must be in it; without which all expectation of success in a race for mastery is vain and foolish. Hence the apostle prescribes, as a means of it, that we be “strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might,” Ephesians 6:10; giving us his own example in a most eminent manner, 1 Corinthians 9:24-27.
[2.] It is such a race as wherein we have all those things to consider which they had who strove for mastery in those games, from whence the allusion is taken: as there is the judge or βραβευτής , the “rewarder” of them which overcome, which is Christ himself’; and there is the reward proposed, which, as the apostle tells us, is an incorruptible crown of glory; and there are encouraging spectators, even all the holy angels above, and the church below; with sundry other things which might be usefully improved.
[3.] It being a race, it is of no advantage for any one merely to begin or make an entrance into it. Every one knows that all is lost in a race, where a man doth not hold out unto the end.
(2.) This race is said to be “set before us.” It is not what we fall into by chance, it is not of our own choice or projection; but it is set before us. He that sets it before us is Christ himself, who calls us unto faith and obedience. And a double act of his is intended in this setting of the race before us:
[1.] Preparations, or his designing, preparing, and appointing of it. He hath determined what shall be the way of obedience, limiting the bounds of it, and ordering the whole course, with all and every one of the duties that belong thereunto. There are races that men have chosen, designed, prepared for themselves; which they run with all earnestness. Such are the ways of will-worship, superstition, and blind, irregular devotion, that the world abounds with. [Believers attend unto that race alone which Christ hath designed and prepared for them; which is therefore straight and holy.
[2.] Proposition: it is by him proposed unto us, it is set before us in the gospel. Therein he declares the whole nature of it, and all the circumstances that belong unto it. He gives us a full prospect of it, of all the duties required in it, and all the difficulties we shall meet withal in the running of it. He hides nothing from us, especially not that of bearing the cross; that our entrance into it may be an act of our own choice and judgment. Whatever, therefore, we meet withal in it, we can have no cause of tergiversation or complaint. And both these he confirms by his own example, as the apostle shows in the next verse. This is that which believers both reprove and refresh themselves withal, when at any time they fall into tribulation for the gospel ‘Why do you faint? why do you recoil? Hath he deceived you, who calls you to follow him in obedience? Did he hide any thing from you? Did he not set these tribulations before you, as part of the race that you were to run?’So they argue themselves into a holy acquiescency in his wisdom and will.
This is the great encouragement and assurance of believers in their whole course of obedience, that whatever they are called unto is appointed for them and prescribed unto them by Jesus Christ. Hence the apostle affirms, that he did not “fight uncertain]y, as one beating the air,” because he had an assured path and course set before him. ‘This is that which Christ hath appointed for me; this is that which at my first call he proposed to me, and set before me,’are soul-quieting considerations.
(3.) Our whole evangelical obedience being compared to a race, our performance of it is expressed by “running,” which is proper and necessary unto a race. And the obedience of faith is often so expressed: Psalms 119:32; Song of Solomon 1:4; Isaiah 40:31; 1 Corinthians 9:24; Galatians 2:2; Philippians 2:16; Galatians 5:7. And there are two things required unto running:
[2.] Speed; the one unto it, the other in it.
There is nothing that more strength is required unto than unto running in a race: “Rejoiceth as a strong man to run a race,” Psalms 19:5. He had need be a strong man, who undertakes to run a race for a prize or victory. And speed is included in the signification of the word. To “run,” is to go swiftly and speedily. The first is opposed unto weakness, and the other to sloth and negligence. And these are the things required unto our Christian race:
[1.] Strength in grace;
[2.] Diligence with exercise. The due performance of gospel obedience, especially in the times of trial and temptation, is not a thing of course, is not to be attended in an ordinary manner. Spiritual strength, put forth in our utmost diligence, is required unto it.
Seeing, therefore, that we are called unto the running of a race, we should greatly consider the things which may enable us so to do, that we may “so run as that we may obtain.” But our weakness, through our want of improving the principles of spiritual life, and our sloth in the exercise of grace, for the most part, cannot sufficiently be bewailed; and I am sure are inconsistent with this exhortation of the apostle.
(4.) The last thing to be considered in the words, is the necessary adjunct or concomitant of this running the race, namely, that it be “with patience.” Patience is either a quiet, submissive suffering of evil things, or a quiet waiting for good things future with perseverance and continuance, unto the conquest of the one, or the enjoyment of the other. The word here used is by most translated “tolerantia,” and so principally respects the suffering of evil and persecution, which they were to undergo. But these things may be distinguished, though they cannot be separated, where patience is a fruit of faith. He who suffereth quietly, submissively, with content and satisfaction, what he is called unto for the profession of the gospel, doth also quietly wait for and expect the accomplishment of the promises made unto them which so suffer, which are great and many.
There are sundry things supposed unto this prescription of patience in our race; as,
[1.] That the race is long, and of more than ordinary continuance. So it is, and so it seems unto all that are engaged in it.
[2.] That we shall be sure to meet with difficulties, oppositions, and temptations in this race.
[3.] That these things will solicit us to desist, and give over our race. With respect unto them all, patience is prescribed unto us; which, when it hath its “perfect work,” will secure us in them all. See the exposition on Hebrews 6:12; Hebrews 6:15. And,
Obs. 7. The reward that is proposed at the end of this race is every way worthy of all the pains, diligence, and patience, that are to be taken and exercised in the attainment of it.
The apostle here riseth unto the highest direction, encouragement, and example, with respect unto the same duty, whereof we are capable. Hitherto he hath proposed unto us their example who had and professed the same faith with ourselves; now, he proposeth Him who is the author and finisher of that faith in us all. And therefore their faith is only proposed unto us for our imitation; his person is proposed unto us as a ground also of hope and expectation.
Hebrews 12:2 . ᾿Αφορῶντες εἰς τὸν τῆς πίστεως ἀρχηγὸν καὶ τελειωτὴν ᾿Ιησοῦν· ὅς ἀντὶ τῆς προκειμένης αὐτῷ χαρᾶς , ὑπέμεινε σταυρὸν , αἰσχύνης καταφρονήσας , ἐν δεξιᾷ τε τοῦ θρόνου τοῦ Θεοῦ ἐκαθισεν .
᾿Αφορῶντες . Vulg. Lat., “aspicientes;” Eras., “respicientes;” Bez., “intuentes;” Syr., ונְחוּר , “et respiciamus;” “looking: “ we want a word to express that act of intuition which is intended.
Εἰς , “in,” “ad;” “on, unto;” “looking on;” or as we better, “unto.” ᾿Αρχηγόν . Vulg. Lat., “auctorem,” the “author;” “ducem,” the ‘captain,” the “leader.” Syr., דְּהָו חֲוָּא רִישָׁא “who was,” or “who was made, the beginning” or the “prince.”
Τελειωτήν , “consummatorem,” “perfectorem.” Syr., גָמורָא , “the completer” or “perfecter.” Rhem.,” the consummator,” “the finisher.” The word is commonly used in this epistle for that which is complete or perfect in its kind.
᾿Αυτί is omitted by the Vulg.; and the sentence is rendered by the Rhem. “who, joy being proposed unto him.” “Pro,” it may be for ἕνεκα . The meaning of it must be considered.
Προκειμένης αὑτῶ . Syr., דִּאית הֲוָא לֵהּ ,”which he had,” which was unto him, proposed unto him. Αἰσχύνης καταφρονήσας . Vulg. Lat., “confusione contempta.” Rhem,, “contemning confusion” Syr., וְעַל בְּ הַתְתָּא אַמְסַר , “and exposed himself unto confusion.” “He despised the shame.’ “Ignominid contempta,” “scornful shame.”
Hebrews 12:2 . Looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of the faith; who, for the joy that was set before him, endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God.
Herein, as I said, the apostle issues his encouraging exhortation unto perseverance in the faith and obedience of the gospel. He had before gathered up particular instances for our example, from the beginning of the world. And he chose out those persons which were most eminent, and those things wherein their faith was most eminent, wherein they have witnessed unto the truth which he confirms. Some did it by doing, and some by suffering; some one way, some another. But he ascends now unto Him who had all in himself, and gave a universal example of faith and obedience in every kind. From our companions in believing he leads us unto “the author and finisher of our faith.” And therefore he doth not propose him unto us in the same manner as he did the best of them, as mere examples, and that in this or that particular act of duty; but he proposeth his person in the first place, as the object of our faith, from whom we might expect aid and assistance for conformity unto himself, in that wherein he is proposed as our example. And I shall first open the words, and then show wherein the force of the apostle’s argument and exhortation doth consist.
1. There is a peculiar way or manner of our respect unto him prescribed; which is not so with respect unto the witnesses before called out. This is “looking” to him. And being put in the present tense, a continued act is intended. In all that we do, in our profession and obedience, we are constantly to be looking unto Christ.
“Looking,” in the Scripture, when it respects God or Christ, denotes an act of faith or trust, with hope and expectation. It is not a mere act of the understanding, or consideration of what we look on; but it is an act of the whole soul in faith and trust. See Psalms 34:4-6. Isaiah 45:22, “Look unto him, and be saved, all the ends of the earth;” that is, by faith and trust in him. Such is the look of believers on Christ as pierced, Zechariah 12:10. See Hebrews 11:10, Micah 7:7, “I will look unto the LORD; I will wait for the God of my salvation: my God will hear me.”
Wherefore the Lord Jesus is not proposed here unto us as a mere example to be considered of by us; but as him also in whom we place our faith, trust, and confidence, with all our expectation of success in our Christian course. Without this faith and trust in him, we shall have no benefit or advantage by his example.
And the word here used so expresseth a looking unto him, as to include a looking off from all other things which might be discouragements unto us. Such are the cross, oppositions, persecutions, mockings, evil examples of apostates, contempt of all these things by the most. Nothing will divert and draw off our minds from discouraging views of these things but faith and trust in Christ. Look not unto these things in times of suffering, but look unto Christ. Wherefore,
Obs. 1. The foundation of our stability in faith and profession of the gospel, in times of trial and suffering, is a constant looking unto Christ, with expectation of aid and assistance; he having encouraged us unto our duty by his example, as in the following words. Nor shall we endure any longer than whilst the eye of our faith is fixed on him. From him alone do we derive our refreshments in all our trials.
2. The object of this act or duty is proposed unto us:
(1.) By his name, “Jesus.”
(2.) By his office or work; “the author and finisher of our faith.”
(1.) He is here proposed unto us by the name of “Jesus.” I have before observed more than once, that the apostle in this epistle makes mention of him by all the names and titles whereby he is called in the Scripture, sometimes by one, and sometimes by another; and in every place there is some peculiar reason for the name which he makes use of. The name Jesus minds us of him as a Savior and a sufferer: the first, by the signification of Matthew 1:21; the latter, in that it was that name alone whereby he was known and called in all his sufferings in life and death, that is, in that nature signified in that name. As such, under this blessed consideration of his being a Savior and a sufferer, are we here commanded to look unto him: and this very name is full of all encouragements unto the ‘duty exhorted unto. Look unto him as he was Jesus; that is, both the only Savior and the greatest sufferer.
(2.) He is proposed by his office or work: “The author and finisher of our faith.” He is so, and he alone is so; and he may be said so to be on various accounts.
[1.] Of procurement and real efficiency. He by his obedience and death procured this grace for us. It is “given unto us on his account,” Philippians 1:29. And he prays that we may receive it, John 17:19-20. And he works it in us, or bestows it on us, by his Spirit, in the beginning and all the increases of it from first to last. Hence his disciples prayed unto him, “Lord, increase our faith,” Luke 17:5. See Galatians 2:20. So he is the “author” or beginner of our faith, in the efficacious working of it in our hearts by his Spirit; and “the finisher” of it in all its effects, in liberty, peace, and joy, and all the fruits of it in obedience: for “without him we can do nothing.”
[2.] He may be said to be so with respect unto the revelation of the object of our faith, that which under the gospel we are bound to believe. So “grace and truth came by him,” in that “no man hath seen God at any time, the only-begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him,” John 1:17-18. So he affirms of himself, “I have manifested thy name unto the men which thou gavest me out of the world,” John 17:6. And in distinction from all revelations made by the prophets of old, it is said, that: “in these last days God hath spoken unto us by his Son,” Hebrews 1:1-2. Hence he is called “The apostle of our profession,” Hebrews 3:1. See the exposition. So he began it, or was the author of that faith which is peculiarly evangelical, in his prophetical office, the word which “began to be spoken by the Lord,” Hebrews 2:3; and which he hath so finished and completed that nothing can be added thereunto. But this alone is not sufficient to answer these titles. For if it were, Moses might be called the author, if not the finisher also, of the faith of the old testament.
[3.] Some think that respect may be had unto the example which he set us in the obedience of faith, in all that we are called to do or suffer by it or on the account of it. And it was so, a full and complete example unto us; but this seems not to be intended in these expressions, especially considering that his example is immediately by itself proposed unto us.
[4.] He is so by guidance, assistance, and direction. And this is certainly intended; but it is included in that which was in the first place insisted on. It is true, that in all these senses our faith from first to last is from Jesus Christ. But that [mentioned] in the first place is the proper meaning of the words; for they both of them express an efficiency, a real power and efficacy, with respect unto our faith. Nor is it faith objectively that the apostle treats of, the faith that is revealed, but that which is in the hearts of believers. And he is said to be “the author and finisher of the faith;” that is, of the faith treated on in the foregoing chapter, in them that believed under the old testament, as well as in themselves. And,
Obs. 2. It is a mighty encouragement unto constancy and perseverance in believing, that He in whom we do believe is “the author and finisher of our faith.” He both begins it in us, and carries it on unto perfection. For although the apostle designs peculiarly to propose his sufferings unto us for this end, yet he also shows from whence his example in them is so effectual, namely, from what he is and doth with respect unto faith itself.
Obs. 3. The exercise of faith on Christ, to enable us unto perseverance under difficulties and persecutions, respects him as a Savior and a sufferer, as the author and finisher of faith itself.
3. The next thing in the words, is the ground or reason whereon Jesus did and suffered the things wherein he is proposed as our example unto our encouragement; and this was, “for the joy that was set before him.”
The ambiguous signification of the preposition ἀντί hath given occasion unto a peculiar interpretation of the words. For most commonly it signifies, “in the stead of,” one thing for another. Thereon this sense of the words is conceived, ‘Whereas all glory and joy therein did belong unto him, yet he parted with it, laid it aside; and instead thereof chose to suffer with ignominy and shame.’So it is the same with Philippians 2:5-8. But there is no reason to bind up ourselves unto the ordinary use of the word, when the contexture wherein it is placed requires another sense not contrary thereunto. Wherefore it denotes here the final moving cause in the mind of Jesus Christ for the doing what he did. He did it on the account of “the joy that was set before him.” And we are to inquire,
(1.) What this “joy” was; and,
(2.) How it was “set before him.”
(1.) “Joy” is taken for the things wherein he did rejoice; which he so esteemed and valued as on the account of them to “endure the cross and despise the shame;” that is, say some, his own glorious exaltation. But this is rather a consequent of what he did, than the motive to the doing of it; and as such is expressed in the close of the verse. But this joy which was set before him, was the glory of God in the salvation of the church. The accomplishment of all the counsels of divine wisdom and grace, unto the eternal glory of God, was set before him; so was the salvation of all the elect. These were the two things that the mind of Christ valued above life, honor, reputation, all that was dear unto him. For the glory of God herein was and is the soul and center of all glory, so far as it consists in the manifestation of the infinite excellencies of the divine nature, in their utmost exercise limited by infinite wisdom. This the Lord Christ preferred before, above, and beyond all things. And that the exaltation of it was committed unto him, was a matter of transcendent joy unto him. And so his love unto the elect, with his desire of their eternal salvation, was inexpressible. These things were the matter of his joy. And they are contained both of them in the promise, Isaiah 53:10-12, “When thou shalt make his soul an offering for sin, he shall see his seed, he shall prolong his days, and the pleasure of the Lord shall prosper in his hand,” etc. See how he expresseth his joy herein, Hebrews 10:5-9, with the exposition.
(2.) Our second inquiry is, How was joy “set before him? “ It is an act, or acts of God the Father, the sovereign Lord of this whole affair, that is intended. And respect may be had unto three things herein:
[1.] The eternal constitution of God, that his suffering and obedience should be the cause and means of these things; namely, the eternal glory of God, and the salvation of the church. In this eternal decree, in this counsel of the divine will, perfectly known unto Jesus Christ, was this joy set before him, as unto the absolute assurance of its accomplishment.
[2.] Unto the covenant of redemption between the Father and the Son, wherein these things were transacted and agreed, as we have at large elsewhere declared.
[3.] To all the promises, prophecies and predictions, that were given out by divine revelation, from the beginning of the world. In them was this joy set before Christ. Whence he makes it the ground of his undertaking, that in the volume, or head of the Book of God, it was written of him, that he should do his will, Hebrews 10:0. Yea, these things were the principal subject and substance of all divine revelations, 1 Peter 1:11-12. And the respect of Christ unto these promises and prophecies, with his doing things so as that they might be all fulfilled, is frequently mentioned in the evangelists. So was the joy set before him, or proposed unto him. And his faith of its accomplishment, against oppositions, and under all his sufferings, is illustriously expressed, Isaiah 50:6-9.
Obs. 4. Herein is the Lord Christ our great example, in that he was influenced and acted, in all that he did and suffered, by a continual respect unto the glory of God and the salvation of the church. And,
Obs. 5. If we duly propose these things unto ourselves, in all our sufferings, as they are set before us in the Scripture, we shall not faint under them, nor be weary of them.
4. The things themselves wherein the Lord Jesus is proposed as bur example are expressed: “He endured the cross, and despised the shame.” Pain and shame are the two constituent parts of all outward sufferings. And they were both eminent in the death of the cross. No death more lingering, painful, and cruel; none so shameful in common reputation, nor in the thing itself, wherein he that suffered was in his dying hours exposed publicly unto the scorn and contempt with insultation of the worst of men. It were easy to manifest how extreme they were both in the death of Christ, on all considerations, of his person, his nature, his relations, disciples, doctrine, and reputation in them all And the Scripture doth insist more on the latter than on the former. The reproaches, taunts, cruel mockings, and contempt, that were cast upon him, are frequently mentioned, Psalms 22, 69. But we must not here enlarge on these things. It is sufficient that under these heads a confluence of all outward evils is contained, the substance of all that can befall any of us on the account of the profession of the gospel. Neither Paganism nor Popery can go farther than painful death, shameful hanging, and the like effects of bloody cruelty.
With respect unto the first of these, it is said “he endured it.” He “patiently endured it,” as the word signifies. The invincible patience of our Lord Jesus Christ, enduring the cross, was manifested, not only in the holy composure of his soul in all his sufferings to the last breath, expressed by the prophet, Isaiah 53:7; but in this also, that during his torments, being so unjustly, so ungratefully, so villanously dealt withal by the Jews, he neither reviled, reproached, nor threatened them with that vengeance and destruction which it was in his power to bring upon them every moment; but he pitied them, and prayed for them to the last, that if it were possible their sin might be forgiven, Luke 23:34; 1 Peter 2:21-23. Never was any such example of patient enduring given in the world, before nor since; nor can any equal to it be given in human nature.
Obs. 6. This manner of Christ’s enduring the cross ought to be continually before us, that we may glorify God in conformity thereunto, according to the measure of our attainments, when we are called unto sufferings. If we can see the beauty and glory of it, we are safe.
As unto the second, or shame, “he despised it.” Unto invincible patience he added heroic magnanimity. is “ignominy, contempt, shame, from reproach and scorn;” such as the Lord Jesus in his death was exposed unto. An ignominy that the world, both Jews and Gentiles, long made use of, to countenance themselves in their unbelief. This he “despised;” that is, he did not succumb under it; he did not faint because of it; he valued it not, in comparison of the blessed and glorious effect of his sufferings, which was always in his eye.
Obs. 7. This blessed frame of mind in our Lord Jesus in all his sufferings, is that which the apostle proposeth for our encouragement, and unto our imitation. And it is that which contains the exercise of all grace, in faith, love, submission to the will of God, zeal for his glory, and compassion for the souls of men, in their highest degree. And,
Obs. 8. If he went so through his suffering, and was victorious in the issue, we also may do so in ours, through his assistance, who is “the author and finisher of our faith.” And,
Obs. 9. We have the highest instance that faith can conquer both pain and shame. Wherefore,
Obs. 10. We should neither think strange of them nor fear them, on the account of our profession of the gospel, seeing the Lord Jesus hath gone before, in the conflict with them and conquest of them; especially considering what is added in the last place, as unto the fruit and event of his sufferings, namely, that he is “set down at the right hand of the throne of God;” in equal authority, glory, and power with God, in the rule and government of all. For the meaning of the words, see the exposition on Hebrews 1:3; Hebrews 8:1. In the whole, we have an exact delineation of our Christian course in a time of persecution:
1. In the blessed example of it, which is the sufferings of Christ.
2. In the assured consequent of it, which is eternal glory: “If we suffer with him, we shall also reign with him.”
3. In a direction for the right successful discharge of our duty: which is the exercise of faith on Christ himself for assistance,
(1.) As a sufferer and a Savior;
(2.) As the author and finisher of our faith.
4. An intimation of the great encouragement, which we ought to fix upon under all our sufferings; namely, the .joy and glory that are set before us, as the issue of them.
And the apostle carries on the same argument, with respect unto an especial improvement, of it in this verse.
Hebrews 12:3 . ᾿Αναλογίσασθε γὰρ τὸν τοιαύτην ὑπομεμενηκότα ὑπὸ τῶν ἁμαρτωλῶν εἰς αὑτὸν ἀντιλογίαν , ἵνα μὴ κάμητε , ταῖς ψυχαῖς ὑμῶν ἐκλυόμενοι .
᾿Αναλογίσασθε . Syr., חֲזַו , “see,” “behold.” Vulg., “recogitate.” Rhem., “think diligently on;” not unfitly. Beza, “reputate quis ille sit,” “counting,” “reckoning,” “judging who he is;” referring it to the person of Christ.
Γάρ . Vulg., “enim.” Syr., חָכִיל , “therefore;” for in some copies of the Greek it is ου῏ν : but when γάρ is a note of inference from what was said, and not redditive of the reason of what was said, it is better rendered in Latin by “nam” than “enim,” and includes the force of οὗν , “therefore.”
Τοιαύτην ἀντιλογίαν . Syr., כְּמָא “quantum” or “quanta,” “how great things;” referring unto the sufferings of Christ. And indeed ἀντιλογία signifies not only a “contradiction in words,” but an “opposition in things” also, or else the translator quite left out this word, rendering τοιαύτην by כְּמָא . Vulg., “talem contradictionem,” “such contradiction.”
῾Υπὸ τῶν ἁμαρτωλῶν . Syr., מֵן חַטָיֵא חָנוּן , “from those wicked ones;” referring it to them by whom he was crucified.
Εἰς αὑτὸν , “adversus semet ipsum,” “against himself.” The Syriac here departs from the original, דְּהָנוּן הֲווּ סַקוּבְלָא לְנַפְשְׁחוּן , “who were enemies” or “adversaries unto their own souls;” intimating the ruin that the persecutors of him brought on themselves.
῞Ινα μὴ κάμητε . Syr., דְּלָא תִּאמַן לְכוּן , “that ye be not weary,” that it be not irksome unto you. Vulg. Lat., “ut ne fatigemini.” Rhem., “that ye be not wearied,” in a passive sense: “fatiscatis,” “faint not.”
᾿Εκλυόμενοι , “deficientes,” “fracti,” “remissi;” “faint,” “be broken in your minds.” We read the words, “lest ye be wearied, and faint in your minds;” but “and” is not in the original, and the introduction of it leads from the sense of the words: for that which is exhorted against is expressed in κάμητε , to be “wearied,” or “faint;” and the other words express the cause of it, which is the sinking of our spirits, or the breaking of our resolution, or fainting in our minds.
Hebrews 12:3 . For consider him [call things to account concerning him] that endured such [so great] contradiction of sinners against himself, that ye be not wearied through fainting in your minds.
The introduction of the close of this exhortation from the looking unto Jesus, is by γάρ . This renders not a reason of what was spoken before, but directs unto an especial motive unto the duty exhorted unto. Some copies read ου῏ν , “therefore,” in a progressive exhortation.
The peculiar manner of the respect of faith unto Christ is expressed by ἀναλογίσασθε , which we render “consider.” So we are directed to consider him, Hebrews 3:1. But there in the original it is κατανοήσασθε , a word of another form, used again Hebrews 10:24. So we also render θεωρεῖτε , Hebrews 7:4. This word is nowhere else used in the New Testament. ᾿Αναλογία , from whence it is taken, is so once only, Romans 12:6; where we render it “proportion,” “the proportion of faith:” and so is the word used in mathematical sciences, whereunto it doth belong; the due proportion of one thing unto another; so that the verb is to compare things by their due proportion one to another. Whether it respects the person of Christ, or his sufferings, we shall see immediately.
The object of this consideration is, “him that endured.” Of this enduring we spake in the verse foregoing. But whereas mention is made of him who endured, and of what he endured, we must inquire where the emphasis lies that determines the object of the computation by proportion whereunto we are directed, though neither of them be excluded.
In the first way, the force of the apostle’s exhortation is taken from the person of Christ; in the latter, from his sufferings. As,
1. ‘“Consider him;” “qualis sit;” make a just estimate between him and us. If he suffered, if he endured such things, why should not we do so also? For he is the Son of God, “the author and finisher of our faith.” He had all glory and power in his own hand.’And, 2. As to the event of his sufferings, he is set down at the right hand of God.’Compute thus with yourselves, that if he, being so great, so excellent, so infinitely exalted above us, yet “endured such contradiction of sinners,” ought we not so to do, if we are called thereunto?
In the latter way, supposing the proposal of his person unto us in the foregoing verse, he calls us unto the consideration of what he suffered in particular, as unto the “contradiction of sinners;” “such,” so great “contradiction.” And the word is applied unto all manner of oppositions, and not to contradiction only, and so may include all the sufferings of Christ. These he calls us to consider, by comparing our own with them. And this sense the following words incline unto, ‘“For ye have not yet resisted unto blood,” as he did.’
But although these things are thus distinguished, yet are they not to be divided. Both the person of Christ, and what he suffered, are proposed unto our diligent consideration and computation of them, with respect unto us and our sufferings.
There is in this verse,
1. A caution against, or a dehortation from, an evil that is contrary to the duty exhorted unto, and destructive of it; “that ye be not wearied.”
2. The way whereby we may fall into this evil; and that is by “fainting in our minds.”
3. The means to prevent it, and to keep us up unto our duty; which is the diligent consideration of the Lord Christ, whom we are to look unto: and that,
(1.) As unto the excellency of his person; and,
(2.) As unto his sufferings in one peculiar way, of “enduring the contradiction of sinners.”
(3.) As unto the greatness of that contradiction, “such contradiction,” or so great.
4. The force of this consideration unto that end is to be explained.
1. That which we are cautioned about is, “that we be not wearied.” Κάμνω is “to labor so as to bring on weariness;” and “to be sick,” which is accompanied with weariness, James 5:15, Σώσει τὸν κάμνοντα , “Shall save the sick;” and “to be spent with labor, so as to give over:” so here, and Revelation 2:3; in which places alone the word is used. Κεκμηκότες , in war and games for victory, are opposed to ἀκμῆτες , “those that are courageous and successful;” signifying “such as despond, faint, and give over.” Lucian in Hermot. cap. 40: Καί ἔστι τοῦτο οὐ μικρὰ εὐτυχία τοῦ ἀθλητοῦ τὸ μέλλειν ἀκμῆτα τοῖς κεκμηκόσι συμπεσεῖσθαι , “It is no small good fortune of a champion, when he that is bold and courageous, falls in contention with faint-hearted persons.” And the apostle treating before of a race, and our conflict therein, may easily be supposed to have respect unto such as fainted through weariness in those contests. But the sense of the word is fully explained in that other place, where it is used in the same case, Revelation 2:3,
“Thou hast borne, and hast patience, and for my name’s sake, hast labored, and hast not fainted.”
To abide and persevere in suffering and labor for the name of Christ, is, not to faint or be wearied. Wherefore, to be “wearied” in this case, is to be so pressed and discouraged with the greatness or length of difficulties and trials as to draw back, to give over partially or totally from the profession of the gospel. For there is such a weariness, as whereon men do not absolutely give over the work or labor wherein they are engaged, but it grows very uneasy and tedious unto them, that they are even ready so to give over. And this I judge to be the frame of mind here cautioned against by the apostle, name]y, the want of life, vigor, and cheerfulness in profession, tending unto a relinquishment of it. And it is hence evident,
Obs. 1. That such things may befall us, in the way of our profession of the gospel, as are in themselves apt to weary and burden us, so as to solicit our minds unto a relinquishment of it. Such, in particular, are the mentioned reproaches and contradictions of men, making way unto further sufferings.
Obs. 2. When we begin to be heartless, desponding, and weary of our sufferings, it is a dangerous disposition of mind, towards a defection from the gospel. So it hath been with many, who at first vigorously engaged in profession, but have been wrought over unto a conformity with the world, by weariness of their trials. And,
Obs. 3. We ought to watch against nothing more diligently than the insensible, gradual prevailing of such a frame in us, if we intend to be faithful unto the end.
2. There is the way whereby we fall into this dangerous condition, in the last words of the verse; it is by “fainting in our minds.” For so I take the mind of the apostle to be. Τῇ ψυχῇ ἐκλύεσθαι , is “animo defici et concidere;” “to have the strength and vigor of the mind dissolved, so as to faint and fall;” to be like a dying man, to whom “solvuntur frigore membra,” by a dissolution of all bodily strength. And wherein this doth consist we must inquire.
There is a spiritual vigor and strength required unto perseverance in profession in the time of persecution. Hence our duty herein is prescribed unto us under all the names and terms of preparation for a severe fight or battle. We are commanded to “arm ourselves with the same mind that was in Christ,” 1 Peter 4:1; to “take to ourselves the whole armor of God, that we may be able to resist and stand,” Ephesians 6:13; to “watch, to stand fast in the faith, to quit ourselves like men, to be strong,” 1 Corinthians 16:13. And it is the constant, vigorous acting of faith that is required in all these things. Wherefore this “fainting in our minds,” consists in a remission of the due acting of faith by all graces, and in all duties. It is faith that stirs up and engageth spiritual courage, resolution, patience, perseverance, prayer, all preserving graces and duties. If it fail herein, and our minds are left to conflict with our difficulties in their own natural strength, we shall quickly grow weary of a persecuted profession. Here lies the beginning of all spiritual declensions, namely, in the want of a due exercise of faith in all these graces and duties. Hereon our spiritual strength is dissolved, and we wax weary. And,
Obs. 4. If we design perseverance in a time of trouble and persecution, it is both our wisdom and our duty to keep up faith unto a vigorous exercise; the want whereof is the fainting in our minds. This is like the hands of Moses in the battle against Amalek.
3. The third thing in the words is that which is laid down in the beginning of the verse; which is, the way and means of our preservation from this evil frame, and danger thereon. And this is, the diligent consideration of the person of Christ and his sufferings, or of his person in his sufferings.
The meaning of the words hath been before spoken unto. The duty itself enjoined is built on the direction in the foregoing verse, to look unto him. So look unto him, as to consider diligently both who he is, and what he suffered; and so consider it as to make application of what we find in him and it unto our own case. Are we called to suffer? let us weigh seriously who went before us herein.
The excellency of his person, with respect unto his sufferings, is in the first place to be called unto an account, and adjusted as unto our sufferings. This our apostle fully proposeth unto us, Philippians 2:5-11.
And as unto his sufferings, he proposeth the consideration of them in one especial instance, and therein every word is emphatical:
(1.) It was contradiction he underwent.
(2.) It was such, or so great, as is not easy to be apprehended.
(3.) It was the contradiction of sinners.
(4.) It was against himself immediately.
(1.) He endured “contradiction.” The word, as was observed, is used for any kind of opposition, in things as well as words, and so may include the whole suffering of Christ from men, both in the cross and in the shame thereof; but no doubt the apostle hath peculiar respect unto the revilings and reproaches which he underwent, the opposition made unto his doctrine and ministry, proclaiming himself to be a deceiver, and his doctrine to be a fable. And yet more especially, regard may be had to their triumphing over him when he was crucified: “Let the King of Israel come down from the cross, and we will believe. He saved others, himself he cannot save.” Thus was it with him. And,
(2.) The apostle intimates the severity and cruelty of those contradictions; and herein he refers us unto the whole story of what passed at his death. “Such contradiction,” so bitter, so severe, so cruel: whatever the malicious wits of men, or suggestions of Satan could invent or broach, that was venomous and evil, was cast upon him.
(3.) It was the “contradiction of sinners;” that is, such as gave no bounds to their wrath and malice. But withal, the apostle seems to reflect on them as unto their state and condition. For it was the priests, the scribes, and Pharisees, who from first to last managed this contradiction; and these all boasted themselves to be just and righteous, yea, that they alone were so, all others in comparison with them being sinners. Herewith they pleased themselves, in the height of their contradiction to Jesus Christ. And so it hath been and is with all their successors in the persecution of the church. But they did deceive themselves; they were sinners, the worst of sinners, and had the end of sinners.
(4.) It was an aggravation of his suffering, that this contradiction against him was immediate, and as it were unto his face. There is an emphasis in that expression, εἰς αὑτόν , “against himself” in person: so they told him openly to his face that he had a devil, that he was a seducer, etc.
All this he “patiently endured,” as the sense of the word was declared on the foregoing verse.
4. Lastly, The consideration hereof, namely, of the Lord Christ’s patient enduring these contradictions against himself, is proposed as the means to preserve us from being weary and fainting in our minds.
It is so,
(1.) By the way of motive; for if he, who in himself and in his own person was infinitely above all opposition of sinners, as the apostle states the case, Philippians 2:5-8, yet for our sakes would undergo and conflict with them all, it is all the reason in the world that for his sake we should submit unto our portion in them.
(2.) By the way of precedent and example, as it is urged by Peter, 1 Peter 2:21-22.
(3.) By the way of deriving power from him; for the due consideration of him herein will work a conformity in our minds and souls unto him in his sufferings, which will assuredly preserve us from fainting. And we may observe,
Obs. 5. That the malicious contradiction of wicked priests, scribes, and Pharisees, against the truth, and those that profess it, on the account thereof, is suited to make them faint, if not opposed by the vigorous acting of faith on Christ, and a due consideration of his sufferings in the same kind.
Obs. 6. Whoever they are, who by their contradictions unto the truth, and them that do profess it, do stir up persecution against them, let them pretend what they will of righteousness, they are sinners, and that in such a degree as to be obnoxious unto eternal death.
Obs. 7. If our minds grow weak, through a remission of the vigorous acting of faith, in a time of great contradiction unto our profession, they will quickly grow weary, so as to give over, if not timely recovered.
Obs. 8. The constant consideration of Christ in his sufferings is the best means to keep up faith unto its due exercise in all times of trial.
Οὔτω μέχρις αἵματος ἀντικατέστητε πρὸς ἁμαρτίαν ἀνταγωνιζόμενοι .
Hebrews 12:4 . Ye have not yet resisted unto blood, striving against sin.
Having proposed the great example of Jesus Christ, and given directions unto the improvement of it, the apostle proceeds unto more general arguments, for the confirmation of his exhortation unto patience and perseverance in the times of suffering. That in this verse is taken from the consideration of their present state, and what yet they might be called unto, in the cause wherein they were engaged. For what can redeem them from ruin under greater trials who faint under the less?
The argument being taken from comparing their present state with what they might justly expect, the consideration of the things ensuing is necessary unto the exposition of the words:
1. What was their present state with respect unto troubles.
2. What they might; yet be called unto.
3. The cause whence their present and future sufferings did and were to proceed.
4. The way of opposing these evils, or danger from them.
5. The force of the argument that is in the words unto the end of the exhortation.
1. The first of these, or their present state, is expressed negatively: “Ye have not yet resisted unto blood.” He grants that they had met with many sufferings already; but they had been restrained, so as not to proceed unto blood and life. And he hath respect unto what he had affirmed of their past and present sufferings, Hebrews 10:32-34. See the exposition of the place. In all these they had well acquitted themselves, as he there declares. But they were not hereby acquitted and discharged from their warfare; for,
2. He intimates what they might yet expect; and that is blood. All sorts of violent deaths, by the sword, by tortures, by fire, are included herein. This is the utmost that persecution can rise unto. Men may kill the body; but when they have done so, they can do no more. Blood gives the utmost bounds to their rage. And whereas the apostle says, “Ye have not yet resisted unto blood,” two things are included:
(1.) That those who are engaged in the profession of the gospel have no security, but that they may be called unto the utmost and last sufferings, by blood, on the account of it. For this is that which their adversaries in all ages do aim at, and that which they have attained to effect in multitudes innumerable. And God hath designed, in his infinite wisdom, that for his own glory, the glory of Christ, and of the gospel, and of the church itself, so it shall be.
(2.) That whatever befall us on this side blood, is to be looked on as a fruit of divine tenderness and mercy. Wherefore I do not think that the apostle doth absolutely determine that sufferings amongst those Hebrews would come at length unto blood; but argues from hence, that whereas there is this also prepared in the suffering of the church, namely, death itself in a way of violence, they who were indulged, and as yet not called thereunto, ought to take care that they fainted not under those lesser sufferings whereunto they were exposed. And we may see,
Obs. 1. That the proportioning the degrees of sufferings, and the disposal of them as unto times and seasons, are in the hand of God. Some shall suffer in their goods and liberties, some in their lives, some at one time, some at another, as it seems good unto him. Let us therefore every one be contented with our present lot and portion in these things.
Obs. 2. It is highly dishonorable to faint, in the cause of Christ and the gospel, under lesser sufferings, when we know there are greater to be undergone, by ourselves and others, on the same account.
3. The third thing, is the cause of their suffering, or rather the party with whom their contest was in what they suffered; and this was “sin.” The apostle abides in his allusion unto strife or contest for victory in public games. Therein every one that was called unto them had an adversary, whom he was to combat and contend withal. So have believers in their race; and their adversary is sin. It was not their persecutors directly, but sin in them, that they had to conflict withal But whereas sin is but an accident or quality, it cannot act itself but in the subjects wherein it is. This, therefore, we may inquire, namely, in whom it is that this sin doth reside, and consequently what it is.
Sin, wherewith we may have a contest, is either in others or in ourselves. These others are either devils or men. That we have a contest, a fight in our profession, with sin in devils, the apostle declares, Ephesians 6:12, ῎Εστιν ἡμῖν ἡ πάλη , “Our wrestling,” “our contest, is with,” or “against principalities and powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickednesses in high places.” In this sort of persons, that is, wicked angels, sin continually puts forth, and acts itself for the ruin and destruction of the church. Especially it doth so in stirring up persecution against it. “The devil shall cast some of you into prison,” Revelation 2:10. Against sin in them, and all the effects produced thereby, we are to strive and contend. So is it with men also, by whom the church is persecuted. They pretend other reasons for what they do; but it is sin acting itself in malice, hatred of the truth, blind zeal, envy, and bloody cruelty, that engageth, influenceth, and ruleth them in all they do. With all the effects and fruits of sin in them also believers do contend.
Again; they have a contest with sin in themselves. So the apostle Peter tells us, that “fleshly lusts” do “war against the soul,” 1 Peter 2:11. They violently endeavor the overthrow of our faith and obedience. How we are to strive against them, was fully declared in the exposition of the first verse.
So the apostle seems to have respect unto the whole opposition made unto our constancy in profession by sin, in whomsoever it acts unto that end, ourselves or others. And this is a safe interpretation of the word, comprehensive of a signal warning and instruction unto the duty exhorted unto. For it is a subtle, powerful, dangerous enemy which we have to conflict withal, and that which acts itself in all ways and by all means imaginable. And this answers the comparison or allusion unto a public contest, which the apostle abideth in. Yet I will not deny, but that not only the sin whereby we are pressed, urged, and inclined, but that also whereunto we are pressed and urged, namely, the sin of defection and apostasy, may be intended. This we are to contend against. But these things are not separable. And we may observe,
Obs. 3. That signal diligence and watchfulness are required in our profession of the gospel, considering what enemy we have to conflict withal This is sin, in all the ways whereby it acts its power and subtlety, which are unspeakable.
Obs. 4. It is an honorable warfare, to be engaged against such an enemy as sin is. This is all the enemy that Christians have, as such. It works in devils, in other men, in themselves; yet nothing but sin, and that as sin, is their enemy. And this being the only contrariety that is to the nature and will of God himself, it is highly honorable to be engaged against it.
Obs. 5. Though the world cannot, or will not, yet Christians can distinguish between resisting the authority of men, whereof they are unjustly accused; and the resistance of sin, under a pretense of that authority, by refusing a compliance with it.
4. The way or manner of the opposition to be made unto sin, in and for the preservation of our profession, is to be considered. And this is by “resisting” and “striving.” They are both military terms, expressing fortitude of mind in resolution and execution. There is included in them a supposition of a vigorous and violent assault and opposition, such as enemies make in fight or battle. It is not a ludicrous contest that we are called unto. It is our lives and souls that are fought for; and our adversary will spare neither pains nor hazard to win them. Hereunto, therefore, belong all the instructions that are given us in the Scripture, to “arm ourselves, to take to ourselves the whole armor of God, to watch, to be strong, to quit ourselves like men.” They are all included in the sense of these two words. And,
Obs. 6. There is no room for sloth or negligence in this conflict.
Obs. 7. They do but deceive themselves, who hope to preserve their faith in times of trial, without the utmost watchful diligence against the assaults and impressions of sin. Yea,
Obs. 8. The vigor of our minds, in the constant exercise of spiritual strength, is required hereunto.
Obs. 9. Without this, we shall be surprised, wounded, and at last destroyed, by our enemy.
5. Lastly, The force of the argument in these words, unto the confirmation of the present exhortation, ariseth from the application of it unto the present state of these Hebrews. For whereas, in taking upon them the profession of the gospel, they had engaged to bear the cross, and all that was comprised therein, they were not yet come or called unto the utmost of it, namely, a resistance unto blood; so that to faint in their present state, under lesser trials, was exceedingly unbecoming of them. And,
Obs. 10. They that would abide faithful in their profession in times of trial, ought constantly to bear in mind and be armed against the worst of evils that they may be called unto on the account thereof. This will preserve them from being shaken or surprised with those lesser evils which may befall them, when things come not to an extremity.
Καὶ ἐκλέλησθε τῆς παρακλήσεως , ἥτις ὑμῖν ὡς υἱοῖς διαλέγεται· Υἱέ μου , μὴ ὀλιγώρει παιδείας Κυρίου , μηδὲ ἐκλύου ὑπ᾿ αὐτοῦ ἐλεγχόμενος .
Παρακλήσεως . Vulg. Lat., “consolationis,” “of the comfort” or “consolation;” which is another signification of the word, but not proper to this place. Syr., ליוּלפָנָא אֵינָא , “of that doctrine.” “Exhortationis,” “adhortationis;” “of·the exhortation.”
῞Ητις . The Syriac having rendered the word by “that doctrine,” adds next, “which we have spoken unto you, as unto children;” referring it unto some instructions given by the apostle.
Παιδείας . Vulg., “disciplinam,” “the discipline.” Syr., . מיְדוּתֵהּ , “correction,” “rebuke;” “castigationem,” “the chastisement.” ᾿Εκλύου Vulg., “ne fatigemini;” “be not weary;” “ne sis remissus;” “faint not.”
᾿Ολιγώρει , Vulg., “ne negligas:” so others, “neglect not:” we, “despise not,” properly; for not only doth the word itself signify “to set light bye” but the Hebrew אלאּתִּמְאָס , Proverbs 3:11, is “to repudiate, to reject and contemn.” And מוּסָר is properly “correction.”
Hebrews 12:5 . And ye have forgotten the exhortation which speaketh unto you as unto children, My son, despise not thou the chastening of the Lord, nor faint [or wax weary] when thou art rebuked of him.
The apostle in these words proceeds unto a new argument, whereby to press his exhortation unto patience and perseverance under suffering. And this is taken from the nature and end, on the part of God, of all those sufferings which he sends or calls us unto. For they are not only necessary, as testimonies unto the truth, but as unto us they are chastisements and afflictions, which we stand in need of, and wherein God hath a blessed design towards us. And this argument he enforceth, with sundry considerations, unto the end of verse 13.
Obs. 1. This is a blessed effect of divine wisdom, that the sufferings which we undergo from men, for the profession of the gospel, shall be also chastisements of love from God, unto our spiritual advantage. And,
Obs. 2. The gospel never requires our suffering, but if we examine ourselves, we shall find that we stand in need of the divine chastisement in it. And,
Obs. 3. When, by the wisdom of God, we can discern that what we suffer on the one hand is for the glory of God and the gospel, and on the other is necessary unto our own sanctification, we shall be prevailed with unto patience and perseverance. And, despond, if they find themselves called to suffer for the gospel, when they seem to be unfit and unprepared for it; seeing it is the design of God, by those sufferings whereunto they are called, on a public account, to purify and cleanse them from their present evil frames.
This multitudes have found by experience, that their outward pressing sufferings, between them and the world, have been personal, purifying chastisements between God and their souls. By them have they been awakened, revived, mortified unto the world, and, as the apostle expresseth it, made partakers of the holiness of God, unto their inexpressible advantage and consolation. And,
Hereby doth God defeat the counsels and expectations of the world, having a design to accomplish by their agency which they know nothing of. For those very reproaches, imprisonments, and stripes, with the loss of goods, and danger of their lives, which the world applies unto their ruin, God at the same time makes use of for their refining, purifying, consolation, and joy.
In all these things are the divine wisdom and goodness of God, in contriving and effecting all these things unto the glory of his grace and the salvation of the church, for ever to be admired.
In the words we may consider,
1. The connection of them unto those foregoing.
2. The introduction of a new argument, by a reference unto a divine testimony; and the nature of the argument, which consists in an exhortation unto duty.
3. Their former want of a due consideration of it.
4. The manner of the exhortation; it “speaketh as unto sons:” and,
5. The matter of it, expressed in two branches, containing the substance of the duty exhorted unto.
1. The connection is in the conjunctive particle, “for.” It denotes a reason given of what went before. Wherefore there is in the foregoing words a tacit rebuke, namely, in that they were ready to faint under the lesser trials wherewith they were exercised. And the apostle gives here an account how and whence it was so with them; and makes that the means of the introduction of the new argument which he designed; as is his manner of proceeding in this whole epistle. ‘The reason,’saith he, ‘why it is so with you, that you are so ready to faint, is, because you have not attended unto the direction and encouragement which are provided for you.’And this, indeed, is the rise of all our miscarriages, namely, that we attend not unto the provision that is made in the Scripture for our preservation from them.
2. The introduction of his argument is by reference unto a divine testimony of Scripture, wherein it is contained, and that appositely unto his purpose; for it is proposed in the way of an exhortation. And as this was of great force in itself, so the Hebrews might see therein that their case was not peculiar; that it was no otherwise with them than with others of the children of God in former ages; and that God had long before laid in provision for their encouragement: which things give great weight unto the argument in hand. And it hath force also from the nature of it, which is hortatory in the name of God. For divine exhortations unto duty, wherein He entreats who can and doth command, are full of evidences of love, condescension, and concernment in our good. And it is the height of pride and ingratitude not to comply with God’s entreaties.
3. The apostle reflects on their former want of a due consideration of this exhortation, “Ye have forgotten.” What we mind not when we ought, and as we ought, we may justly be said to have forgotten. So was it with these Hebrews in some measure; whether by “the exhortation” we understand the divine words themselves, as recorded in the Scripture, or the things exhorted unto, the subject-matter of them. Under their troubles and persecutions they ought in an especial manner to have called to mind this divine exhortation, for their encouragement, and preservation from fainting. This, it seems, they had not done. And,
Obs. 5. The want of a diligent consideration of the provision that God hath made in the Scripture for our encouragement unto duty and comfort under difficulties, is a sinful forgetfulness, and of dangerous consequence unto our souls. We shall be left to fainting. For “whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope,” Romans 15:4.
Again; in their trials, and to prevent their fainting, the apostle sends these Hebrews unto the Scriptures: which, as it proves that they ought to be conversant in them, demonstrates the springs of all spiritual strength, direction, and consolation, to be contained in them. And if this be the mind of Christ, then he that would deprive the people of the constant, daffy use of the Scriptures, is Antichrist.
4. In the manner of the exhortation, “Which speak eth unto you as unto children,” there are sundry things very remarkable.
(1.) It is said to speak. The Scripture is not a dumb and silent letter, as some have blasphemed. It hath a voice in it, the voice of God himself. And speaking is frequently ascribed unto it, John 7:42; John 19:37; Romans 4:3; Romans 9:17; Romans 10:11; Galatians 4:30; James 4:5, And if we hear not the voice of God in it continually, it is because of our unbelief, Hebrews 3:7; Hebrews 3:15.
(2.) The word which was spoken so long before by Solomon unto the church in his generation, is said to be spoken unto these Hebrews For the Holy Ghost is always present in the word of the Scripture, and speaks in it equally and alike unto the church in all ages. He doth in it speak as immediately unto us as if we were the first and only persons unto whom he spake. And this should teach us with what reverence we ought to attend unto the Scripture, namely, as unto the way and means whereby God himself speaks directly unto us.
(3.) The word here used is peculiar, and in this only place applied unto the speaking of the Scripture. Διαλέγεται , it “argues,” it “pleads,” it maintains a holy conference with us It presseth the mind and will of God upon us. And we shall find the force of its arguing, if we keep it not off by our unbelief.
(4.) There is the infinite condescension of God in it, that “he speaketh unto us as sons:” which is proved by the application of the text, “My son.” The words are originally the words of Solomon; not as a natural father, speaking to his own son after the flesh; but as a prophet and teacher of the church, in the name of God, or of the Holy Ghost, which speaks in him and by him. It is a representation of the authority and love of God as a father. For whereas these words have a respect unto a time of trouble, affliction, and chastisement, it is of unspeakable concernment unto us to consider God under the relation of a father, and that in them he speaks unto us as sons. The words spoken by Solomon, were spoken by God himself.
Although the words, “My son,” are used only to denote the persons to whom the exhortation is given, yet the apostle looks in the first place unto the grace contained in them. ‘He speaketh unto us as unto sons.’This he puts a remark upon, because our gratuitous adoption is the foundation of God’s gracious dealings with us. And this, if any thing, is meet to bind our minds unto a diligent compliance with this divine exhortation, namely, the infinite condescension and love of God, in owning of us as sons, in all our trials and afflictions. And,
Obs. 6. Usually God gives the most evident pledges of their adoption unto believers when they are in their sufferings, and under their afflictions. Then do they most stand in need of them; then do they most set off the love and care of God towards us.
“My son,” is an appellation that a wise and tender father would make use of, to reduce his child to consideration and composure of mind, when he sees him nigh unto disorder or despondency, under pain, sickness, trouble, or the like: ‘“My son,” let it not be thus with thee.’God sees us, under our afflictions and sufferings, ready to fall into discomposures, with excesses of one kind or another; and thereon applies himself unto us with this endearing expression, “My children.”
‘But if God have this kindness for believers, and no affliction or suffering can befall them but by his ordering and disposition, why doth he not prevent them, and preserve them in a better state and condition?’I answer, that the wisdom, the love, the necessity of this divine dispensation, is that which the apostle declares in the following verses, as we shall see.
5. The exhortation itself consisteth of two parts:
(1.) “Not to despise the chastening of the Lord.”
(2.) “Not to faint when we are rebuked of him.”
Although it be God himself principally that speaks the words in the first person, yet here he is spoken of in the third; “of the Lord,” and “of him;” for “my,” and “by me: “ which is usual in Scripture, and justifieth our speaking unto God in prayer sometimes in the second, sometimes in the third person.
All our miscarriages under our sufferings and afflictions may be reduced unto these two heads. And we are apt to fall into one of these extremes, namely, either to despise chastisements, or to faint under them.
(1.) Against the first we are cautioned in the first place; and the word of caution being in the singular number, we have well rendered it, “Despise not thou,” that every individual person may conceive himself spoken unto in particular, and hear God speaking these words unto him. And we may consider,
[1.] What is this “chastening of the Lord.”
[2.] What it is to “despise it.”
[1.] The word is variously rendered,” doctrine,” “institution,” “correction,” “chastisement,” “discipline.” And it is such correction as is used in the liberal, ingenuous education of children by their parents, as is afterwards declared. We render it “nurture,” Ephesians 6:4; where it is joined with νουθεσία , that is, “instruction.” And 2 Timothy 3:16, it is distinguished both from “reproof” and “correction;” whence we render it “instruction.” And παιδεύω , the verb, is used in both these senses; sometimes “to teach,” or “to be taught, learned, instructed,” Acts 7:22, 1Ti 1:20 ; 2 Timothy 2:25: sometimes “to correct” or “chastise,” Luke 23:16; Luk 23:22 ; 1 Corinthians 11:32; Revelation 3:19. Wherefore it is a “correction for instruction.” So it is expressed by the psalmist: “Blessed is the man whom thou chastenest, O LORD, and teachest him out of thy law,” Psalms 94:12. So doth God deal with his children; so is it necessary that he should do. It is needful that divine institution or instruction should be accompanied with correction. We stand in need of it in this world.
But that which I would principally look on in the words, is the application of this exhortation unto us under sufferings, troubles, and persecutions for the gospel, which is here used by the apostle. For whereas we can see nothing in them but the wrath and rage of men, thinking them causeless, and perhaps needless; they are indeed God’s chastisements of us, for our education and instruction in his family. And if we duly consider them as such, applying ourselves to learn what we are taught, we shall pass through them more to our advantage than usually we do. Let us bend our minds unto that which is the proper work that in our persons we are called unto, and we shall find the benefit of them all.
[2.] That which we are cautioned against, with respect unto chastening for this end, is, that we “despise it not.” The word is nowhere used in the Scripture but in this place only. It signifies “to set lightly by, to have little esteem of, not to value any thing according to its worth and use.” The Hebrew word which the apostle renders hereby is מָאַם ; which is commonly tendered by ἀποδοκιμάζειν , “to reprobate, to reject, to despise;” sometimes by ἐξουθενεῖν , “pro nihilo reputare,” “to have no esteem of.” We render the apostle’s word by “despise;” which yet doth not intend a despising that is so formally, but only interpretatively. Directly to despise and contemn, or reject, the chastisements of the Lord, is a sin that perhaps none of his sons or children do fall into. But not to esteem of them as we ought, not to improve them unto their proper end, not to comply with the will of God in them, is interpretatively to despise them. Wherefore the evil cautioned against is,
1 st . Want of a due regard unto divine admonitions and instructions in all our troubles and afflictions. And that ariseth either from,
(1st.) Inadvertency; we look on them, it may be, as common accidents of life, wherein God hath no especial hand or design: or,
(2dly.) Stout-heartedness; it may be they are but in smaller things, as we esteem them, such as we may bear with the resolution of men, without any especial application unto the will of God in them.
2dly . The want of the exercise of the wisdom of faith, to discern what is of God in them; as,
(1st.) Love unto our persons;
(2ndly.) His displeasure against our sins;
(3dly.) The end which he aims at, which is our instruction and sanctification.
3 dly . The want of a sedulous application of our souls unto his call and mind in them;
(1st.) In a holy submission unto his will;
(2dly.) In a due reformation of all things wherewith he is displeased;
(3dly.) In the exercise of faith for supportment under them, etc. Where there is a want of these things, we are said interpretatively to “despise the chastening of the Lord;” because we defeat the end and lose the benefit of them no less than if we did despise them.
Obs. 7. It is a tender case to be under troubles and afflictions, which requires our utmost diligence, watchfulness, and care about it. God is in it, acting as a father and a teacher. If he be not duly attended unto, our loss by them will be inexpressible.
(2.) The second caution is, that we “faint not when we are reproved;” for this is the second evil which we are liable unto, under troubles and afflictions.
[1.] The word, both in the Hebrew and in the Greek, signifies “a reproof by rational conviction.” The same thing materially with that of “chastisement” is intended; but under this formal consideration, that there is in that chastisement a convincing reproof. God, by the discovery unto ourselves of our hearts and ways, it may be in things which we before took no notice of, convinceth us of the necessity of our troubles and afflictions. He makes us understand wherefore it is that he is displeased with us. And what is our duty hereon is declared, Habakkuk 2:1-4; namely, to accept of his reproof, to humble ourselves before him, and to betake ourselves unto the righteousness of faith for relief.
[2.] That which we are subject unto, when God makes his chastisements to be reproofs also (which is not always, but when we are uncompliant with his will in a peculiar manner, for which we are reproved) is to “faint.” The word hath been opened on verse 3.
And this fainting under God’s reproofs consists in four things:
1 st . Despondency and heartless dejection in our own minds; which David encourageth himself against, Psalms 42:5-6; Psalms 43:5.
2 dly . Heartless complaints, to the discouragement of others. See Hebrews 12:12-13.
3 dly . Omission, or giving over our necessary duty; which befalls many in times of persecution, Hebrews 10:25-26.
4 thly . In judging amiss of the dealings of God, either as unto the greatness or length of our trials, or as unto his design in them. Isaiah 40:27-31.And we may learn,
Obs. 8. That when God’s chastisements in our troubles and afflictions are reproofs also, when he gives us a sense in them of his displeasure against our sins, and we are reproved by him; yet even then he requires of us that we should not faint nor despond, but cheerfully apply ourselves unto his mind and calls. This is the hardest case a believer can be exercised withal, namely, when his troubles and afflictions are also in his own conscience reproofs for sin.
Obs. 9. A sense of God’s displeasure against our sins, and of his reproving us for them, is consistent with an evidence of our adoption, yea, may be an evidence of it, as the apostle proves in the next verses.
The sum of the instruction in this verse is, that,
Obs. 10. A due consideration of this sacred truth, namely, that all our troubles, persecutions, and afflictions, are divine chastisements and reproofs, whereby God evidenceth unto us our adoption, and his instructing us for our advantage, is an effectual means to preserve us in patience and perseverance unto the end of our trials. They who have no experience of it, have no knowledge of these things.
῞Ον γὰρ ἀγαπᾷ Κύριος , παιδεύει· μαστιγοῖ δὲ πάντα υἱὸν ὅν παραδέχεται .
The apostle, proceeding with the divine testimony unto his purpose recorded by Solomon, retaining the sense of the whole exactly, changeth the words in the latter clause. For instead of יִרְצֶה וּכְאָב אֶתאּבֵּן , “and as a father the son in whom he delighteth,’with whom he is pleased; he supplies μαστιγοῖ δὲ πάντα υἱὸν ὅν παραδέχεται , “and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth.” In the Proverbs the words are exegetical of those foregoing, by an allusion unto an earthly parent: “For whom the LORD loveth he correcteth, even as a father the son in whom he delighteth.” In the apostle they are further explanatory of what was before affirmed; but the sense is the same. And the reason of the change seems to be, because the apostle would apply the name of “son,” from whence he argues, unto them principally intended, namely, the children of God; and not unto them who are occasionally mentioned in the allusion, which are the children of earthly parents. Or we may say, that the apostle makes this addition, confirming what was before spoken; seeing he fully explains the similitude of the latter clause in the original, in the following verses. However, the sense in both places is absolutely the same.
The Syriac in the latter clause reads לבְּנָיֵּא , in the plural number, “the sons; ” and in the last words retain the Hebraism, בְּהוּן דְּהָו צָבֵא , “in whom he willeth,” from רָצָה , that is, “is well pleased.”
There may be a double distinction in reading of the last clause. Some place the incisum, or note of distinction, at πάντα ; and then the sense is, “He scourgeth every one, whom he receiveth or acknowledgeth as a son:” some at υἱόν , as we render it, “every son whom he receiveth; ” which is the better reading.
Hebrews 12:6 . For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth.
There is a reason given us in these words why we should not faint under divine chastisements, as the redditive conjunction “for,” signifies. And this reason consists in a general rule, whereby what is spoken before is confirmed as highly reasonable, and way is made for what ensues. And this rule is of that nature, as is suited to answer all objections against the doctrine of afflictions, and God’s dealing with us in them; which, when we come to the trial, we shall find to be many.
And this rule is, that all these things are to be referred unto the sovereignty, wisdom, and goodness of God. ‘This,’saith he, ‘is the way of God; thus it seems good to him to deal with his children; thus he may do because of his sovereign dominion over all. May not he do what he will with his own?
This he doth in infinite wisdom, for their good and advantage; as also to evidence his love unto them and care of them.’And this is that which we are principally taught in these words, namely,
Obs. 1. That in all our afflictions, the resignation of ourselves unto the sovereign pleasure, infinite wisdom, and goodness of God, is the only means or way of preserving us from fainting, weariness, or neglect of duty. After all our arguings, desires, and pleas, this is that which we must come unto: whereof we have an illustrious instance and example in Job. See Job 33:12-13; Job 34:18-19; Job 34:23; Job 34:31-33; Job 42:-6
First, In the first part of the testimony given unto the sovereignty and wisdom of God, in the ways and methods of his dealing with his children, we are instructed,
Obs. 2. That love is antecedent unto chastening: he chastens whom he loves. So it is with any father. He hath first the love of a father, before he chastens his son. Whatever, therefore, is the same materially with the chastisement of children, if it be where the love of adoption doth not precede, is punishment. The love, therefore, here intended, is the love of adoption; that is, the love of benevolence, whereby he makes men his children, and his love of complacency in them when they are so.
Obs. 3. Chastising is an effect of his love. It is not only consequential unto it, but springs from it. Wherefore there is nothing properly penal in the chastisements of believers. Punishment proceeds from love unto justice, not from love unto the person punished. Chastisement is from love to the person chastised, though mixed with displeasure against his sin.
Obs. 4. Unto chastisement is required that the person chastised be in a state wherein there is sin, or that he be a sinner; but he is not properly chastised because he is a sinner, so as that sin should have an immediate influence unto the chastisement, as the meritorious cause of it, whence the person should receive a condignity of punishment thereunto. But the consideration of a state of sin is required unto all chastisement; for the end of it is to take away sin, to subdue it, to mortify it, to give an increase in grace and holiness, as we shall see. There is no chastisement in heaven, nor in hell. Not in heaven, because there is no sin; not in hell, because there is no amendment. Chastisement is a companion of them that are in the way, and of them only.
Obs. 5. Divine love and chastening are inseparable. “Whom he loveth;” that is, whomsoever he loveth. None goes free, as the apostle declares immediately. It is true, there are different degrees and measures of chastisements; which comparatively make some seem to have none, and some to have nothing else: but absolutely the divine παιδεία , or instructive chastisement, is extended unto all in the family of God, as we shall see.
Obs. 6. Where chastisement evidenceth itself (as it doth many ways, with respect unto God the author of it, and those that are chastised) not to be penal, it is a broad seal set to the patent of our adoption: which the apostle proves in the following verses.
Obs. 7. This being the way and manner of God’s dealing with his children, there is all the reason in the world why we should acquiesce in his sovereign wisdom therein, and not faint under his chastisement.
Obs. 8. No particular person hath any reason to complain of his portion in chastisement, seeing this is the way of God’s dealing with all his children, 1Pe 4:12 ; 1 Peter 5:9.
Secondly, the latter clause of this divine testimony, as expressed by the apostle, “And scourgeth every son whom he receiveth,” if it were, as it is generally understood, the same with the former assertion, expressed with somewhat more earnestness, would need no further exposition, the same truth being contained in the one and the other. But I confess, in my judgment, there is something peculiar in it; which I shall propose, and leave it unto that of the reader. And,
1. The particle δέ is nowhere merely conjunctive, signifying no more but “and,” as we and others here render it. It may rather be “etiam,” “even;” or” also,” “moreover.”
2. The verb, “scourgeth,” argues at least a peculiar degree and measure in chastisement, above what is ordinary; and it is never used but to express a high degree of suffering. A scourging is the utmost which is used in παιδεία , or “corrective instruction.” Wherefore the utmost of what God inflicts on any in this world is included in this expression.
3. By παραδέχεται , “receiveth, accepteth, owneth, avoweth,” the apostle expresseth יִרְצֶה in the original; the word whereby God declares his rest, acquiescency, and well-pleasing in Christ himself, Isaiah 42:1. So that anespecial approbation is included herein.
4. “Every son,” is not to be taken universally, for so every son is not scourged; but it is restrained unto such sons as God doth so accept.
On these considerations, I am induced to judge this to be the meaning of the words, namely, ‘Yea, even (also) he severely chastiseth, above the ordinary degree and measure, those sons whom he accepts, and delights in a peculiar manner.’For,
1. This gives a distinct sense to this sentence, and doth not make it a mere repetition in other words of what went before.
2. The introductive particle and meaning of the words themselves require that there be an advancement in them, above what was before spoken.
3. The dealings of God in all ages, as unto sundry instances, with his children, have been answerable hereunto.
4. The truth contained herein is highly necessary unto the supportment and consolation of many of God’s children. For when they are signalized by affliction, when all must take notice that they are scourged in a peculiar manner, and suffer beyond the ordinary measure of the children of God, they are ready to despond, as Job was, and David, and Heman, and be utterly discouraged. But a due apprehension hereof, (which is a truth, whether intended here or no, as I judge it is,) namely, that it is the way of God to give them the severest trials and exercises, to scourge them, when others shall be more lightly chastened, whom he loves, accepts of, and delights in, in a peculiar manner, will make them lift up their heads, and rejoice in all their tribulations. See Romans 5:3-5; Rom 8:35-39 ; 1 Corinthians 4:9-13, 2 Corinthians 6:4-10; 2 Corinthians 11:23-28.
The reasons and ends of God’s dealing thus with those whom he owneth and receiveth in a peculiar manner, with that provision of heavenly consolation for the church, with holy weapons against the power of temptations in such cases as that complained of by Heman, Psalms 88:0, which are treasured up in this sacred truth, are well worthy our enlargement on them, if it were suitable unto our present design.
Εἰ παιδείαν ὑπομένετε , ὡς υἱοῖς ὑμῖν προσφέρεται ὁ Θεὸς τίς γάρ ἐστιν υἱὸς ὅν οὐ παιδεύει πατήρ ;
Παιδείαν ὑπομένετε . Vulg. Lat., “in disciplina perseverate;” Rhem., “persevere ye in discipline:” neither to the words nor to the sense of the place.
῾Υμῖν προσφέρεται ὁ Θεός . “Vobis offert se Deus,” Vulg.; “God doth offer himself unto you.” “Exhibebit,” or “exhibet.” Syr., צֵיאדְיכוּן דֵּאֵיךְ דַּלְוָת בְּנָיֵא סָעֵר , “dealeth with you as with children.”
Πατήρ , אֲבוּהִי , “his father.”
Tremellius renders the Syriac, “Endure therefore chastisement, because God dealeth with you as with children;” which somewhat alters the sense of the original but gives that which is good and wholesome.
Hebrews 12:7 . If ye endure chastening, God dealeth with you as with sons; for what son is he whom the father chasteneth not?
It is not a new argument that is here produced, but an inference from and an especial application of that foregoing, and the exhortation confirmed by it. There are three things in the words:
1. A supposition of the performance of the duty exhorted unto:” If ye endure,” etc.
2. The benefit or advantage obtained thereby: “God dealeth,” etc.
3. An illustration of the whole, by a comparison with men in their dealings: “For what son,” etc.
As to the First, the Vulgar reads, as we observed, “Persevere ye in discipline;” probably for εἰ reading εἰς , and taking ὑπομένετε in the imperative mood. But as ὑπομένειν εἰς παιδείαν is no proper Greek expression, so the sense is obscured by it. There is therefore a supposition in the words, ‘If you do comply with the exhortation.’
Both the words have been opened before. Schlichtingius, Grotius, etc., would have ὑπομένετε to signify only “to undergo,” “to endure the sorrow and pain of afflictions, without respect unto their patience or perseverance in enduring of them.” And so, saith Grotius, is the word used James 1:12; which is quite otherwise, as every one will discern that doth but look on the text. Nor is it ever used in the New Testament but to express a grace in duty, a patient endurance. So is it twice used in this chapter before, Hebrews 11:1-2. And there is no reason here to assign another sense unto it. Besides, a mere suffering of things calamitous, which is common unto mankind, is no evidence of any gracious acceptance with God. “If ye endure;” that is, with faith, submission, patience, and perseverance, so as not to faint.
The chastisement intended, we have before declared.
This, therefore, is that which the apostle designs: ‘If,’saith he, afflictions, trials, and troubles, do befall you, such as God sends for the chastisement of his children, and their breeding up in his nurture and fear; and you undergo them with patience and perseverance, if you faint not under them, and desert your duty, etc.’And,
This patient endurance of chastisements is of great price in the ,sight of God, as well as of singular use and advantage unto the souls of them that believe. For,
Secondly, Hereon “God dealeth with you as with sons.” The word προσφέρεται is peculiar in this sense. ‘He offereth himself unto you in the σχέσις , the “habit” of a father to his children.’‘He proposeth himself unto you [as a father,] and acteth accordingly; not as an enemy, not as a judge, not as towards strangers; but as towards children.’I think, “He dealeth with you,” doth scarce reach the importance of the word.
Now, the meaning is not, ‘That hereupon, on the performance of this duty, when you have so done, God will act towards you as sons;’for this he doth in all their chastisements themselves, as the apostle proves: but, ‘Hereby it will evidently appear, even unto yourselves, that so God deals with you; you shall be able, in all of them, to see in him the discipline and acting of a father towards his sons. As such, he will present himself unto you.’ Wherefore,
Obs. 1. Afflictions or chastisements are no pledges of our adoption, but when and where they are endured with patience. If it be otherwise with us, they are nothing but tokens of anger and displeasure. So that,
Obs. 2. It is the internal frame of heart and mind under chastisements that lets in and receives a sense of God’s design and intention towards us in them. Otherwise “no man knoweth love or hatred, by all that is before him;” no conclusion can be made one way or other from hence, that we are afflicted. All are so, the best and worst, or may be so. But it is unto us herein according unto our faith and patience. If the soul do carry itself regularly and obedientially under its trials, every grace will so act itself as to beget in it a secret evidence of the love of God, and a view of him, as of a father. If our hearts tumultuate, repine, faint, and are weary, no sense of paternal love can enter into them, until they are rebuked and brought into a composure.
Obs. 3. This way of dealing becomes the relation between God and believers, as father and children; namely, that he should chastise, and they should bear it patiently. This makes it evident that there is such a relation between them. And this the apostle illustrates from the way and manner of men in that relation one to another.
Thirdly, “For what son is he whom the father chasteneth not?” ‘Think not strange hereof; it is that which necessarily follows their relation, “for what son.”’The apostle doth not take his allusion from matter of fact, but from right and duty: for there are many, too many sons, that are never chastised by their fathers; which commonly ends in their ruin. But he supposeth two things:
1. That every son will more or less stand in need of chastisement.
2. That every wise, careful, and tender father will in such cases chasten his son.
Wherefore the illustration of the argument is taken from the duty inseparably belonging unto the relation of father and son; for thence it is evident that God’s chastening of believers is his dealing with them as sons.
Εἰ δὲ χρωίς ἐστε παιδείας , ἧς μέτοχοι γεγόνασι πάντες , ἄρα νόθοι ἐστὲ , καὶ οὐχ υἱσί .
Νόθοι . Syr., נּוּכְיָיֵא “aliens,” “foreigners,” “strangers.” Vulg. Lat.,” adulteri;” which the Rhem. render “bastards,” because of the palpable mistake in the Latin. Bez., “supposititil;” which, as Renius on Valla observes, is ὑποβολιμαῖοι , properly “spurii,” “bastards,” children illegitimate, who have no right to the inheritance.
Hebrews 12:8 . But if ye be without chastisement, whereof all are partakers, then are ye bastards, and not sons.
The rule which the apostle hath laid down concerning chastisements, as a necessary, inseparable adjunct of the relation between father and son, is so certain in nature and grace, that to the inference which he hath made on the one hand unto the evidence of sonship from them, he adds here another no less unto his purpose on the other; namely, that those who have no chastisements are no sons, no children.
There is in the words,
1. A supposition of a state without chastisement;
2. An application of the rule unto that state, “All sons are chastised;”
3. An inference from both, that such persons are “bastards , and not sons:” whereunto we must add the force of this reasoning unto his present purpose.
1. The introduction of the supposition by εἰ δέ , “but if,” declares that what he speaks is of another, contrary nature unto that before proposed: ‘But if it be otherwise with you, namely, that ye are without chastisement.’
Take “chastisement” materially for every thing that is grievous or afflictive, and no man is absolutely without it. For all men must die, and undergo the weaknesses or troubles that lead thereunto; and commonly this is most grievous unto them who have had least trouble in their lives. But comparatively, some even in this sense are freed from chastisement. Such the psalmist speaks of, “There are no bands in their death, but their strength is firm. They are not in trouble as other men, neither are they plagued like other men,” Psalms 73:4-5: which he gives as a character of the worst sort of men in the world.
But this is not the chastisement here intended. We have showed before that it is an eruditing, instructive correction; and so doth the design of the place require that it should here signify. And this some professors of Christian religion may be without absolutely. Whatever trouble they may meet withal, yet are they not under divine chastisements for their good. Such are here intended. Yet the apostle’s design may reach farther; namely, to awaken them who were under troubles, but were not sensible of their being divine chastisements, and so lost all the benefit of them. For even such persons can have no evidence of their sonship, but have just ground to make a contrary judgment concerning themselves.
2. To confirm his inference, the apostle adds the substance of his rule: “Whereof all are partakers.” The Syriac reads it, “Wherewith every man is chastised;” but it must be restrained to “sons,” whether the sons of God or of men, as in the close of the foregoing verse. This, therefore, the apostle is positive in, that it is altogether in vain to look for spiritual sonship without chastisement. They are all partakers of it, every one of his own share and portion. There is a general measure of afflictions assigned unto the church, Head and members, whereof every one is to receive his part, Colossians 1:24.
3. The inference on this supposition is, that such persons are “bastards, and not sons” Their state is expressed both positively and negatively, to give the greater emphasis unto the assertion. Besides, if he had said only, ‘Ye are bastards,’it would not have been so evident that they were not sons, for bastards are sons also; but they are not such sons as have any right unto the paternal inheritance. Gifts they may have, and riches bestowed on them by their fathers; but they have no right of inheritance by virtue of their sonship. Such doth the apostle here declare them to be who are without chastisement. And we may hence observe,
Obs. 1. That there are no sons of God, no real partakers of adoption, that are without some crosses or chastisements in this world. They deceive themselves, who expect to live in God’s family and not to be under his chastening discipline. And this should make every one of us very well contented with our own lot and portion, whatever it be.
Obs. 2. It is an act of spiritual wisdom, in all our troubles, to find out and discern divine, paternal chastisements; without which we shall never behave ourselves well under them, nor obtain any advantage by them. So should we do in the least, and so in the greatest of them.
Obs. 3. There are in the visible church, or among professors, some that have no right unto the heavenly inheritance. They are bastards; sons that may have gifts and outward enjoyments, but they are not heirs. And this is a great evidence of it in any, namely, that they are not chastised; not that they are not at all troubled, for they may be in trouble like other men, (for “man is born unto trouble, as the sparks fly upward,”) but that they are not sensible of divine chastisement in them; they do not receive them, bear them, nor improve them, as such.
Obs. 4. The joyous state of freedom from affliction is such as we ought always to watch over with great jealousy, lest it should be a leaving of us out of the discipline of the family of God. I do not say, on the other hand, that we may desire afflictions, much less cruciate ourselves, like some monastics or Circumcelliones; but we may pray that we may not want any pledge of our adoption, leaving the ordering and disposal of all things unto the sovereign will and pleasure of God.
Lastly, There is great force from this consideration added unto the apostle’s exhortation, namely, that we should not faint under our trials and afflictions: for if they are all such divine chastisements as without which we can have no evidence of our relation unto God as a father, yea, as without a real participation wherein we can have no right unto the eternal inheritance, it is a thing unwise and wicked to be weary of them, or to faint under them.
Ει῏τα τοὺς μὲν τῆς σαρκὸς ἡμῶν πατέρας εἴχομεν παιδευτὰς , καὶ ἐνετρεπόμεθα· οὐ πολλῷ μᾶλλον ὑποταγησόμεθα τῷ Πατρὶ τῶν πςευμάτων , καὶ ζήσομεν ; Οἱ μὲν γὰρ πρὸς ὀλίγας ἡμέρας , κατὰ τὸ δοκοῦν αὐτοῖς , ἐπαίδευον· ὁ δὲ ἐπὶ τὸ συμφέρον , εἰς το , μεταλαβεῖν τῆς ἀγιότητος αὐτοῦ .
Ει῏τα . Syr., וֵאן , “and if;” that is, εἰ δέ : which Beza judgeth the more commodious reading; which is undoubtedly a mistake, for the apostle intimates a progress unto a new argument in this word. Vulg. Lat., “deinde;” and so Beza, properly; which we render “furthermore,” or “moreover.” Some, “ira;” “so,” “in like manner.”
Τοὺς μὲν τῆς σαρκός , etc. Some refer σαρκός to παιδευτάς , and not to πατέρας . So the sense should be, “we have had fathers, chasteners of the flesh.” But the opposition between “fathers” in the first place, and the “Father of spirits” afterwards, will not admit hereof, And the Syriac determines the sense, דְּבֶסְרָא רָדִין הֲווּ לַן אֲבָהיִּן “and if the fathers of our flesh have chastised us”
᾿Ενετρεπόμεθα . Vulg. Lat., “reverebamur cos,” “reveriti sumus;” “we gave them reverence.” All supply “them” unto the text. Syr., “we were affected with shame for them;” as all correction is accompanied with an ingenuous shame in children.
Πρός ὀλίγας ἡμέρας . Vulg., “in tempore paucorum dierum.” Rhem., “for a time of few days,” a short time. Syr., לזְבָן הוּ זְעוּר , “Ad paucos dies,” “for a few days.”
“for a little while.” Κατὰ τὸ δοκοῦν αὐτοῖς . Vulg., “secundum voluntatem suam,” “according to their will.” Syr., אֵיךְ דְּצָבִין חֲווּ , “according as they would.” [Beza,] “prout ipsis videbatur,” “as it seemed good unto them.” We, “after their own pleasure;” without doubt improperly, according to the usual acceptation of that phrase of speech. For it intimates a regardlessness to right and equity, whereof there is nothing in the original. “According to their judgment,” “as they saw good,” or supposed themselves to have reason for what they did. ᾿Επὶ το , συμφέρον , “ad id quod utile est,” “unto that which is profitable.” Syr., for ὁ δέ , אַלָחָא דֵּין , “but God,” who is intended; לְעוּדְרָנַן , “unto out’aid” or “help.” “Ad commodum,” that is, “nostrum;” “for our profit.”
Εἰς τὸ μεταλαζεῖν τῆς ἁγιότητος αὐτοῦ . Vulg., “in recipiendo sanctificationem ejus;” Rhem., “in receiving of his sanctification;” missing the sense of both the words. Sanctification is ἀγιασμός , not ἁγιότης ; and εἰς τό expresseth the final cause.
Hebrews 12:9-10 . Moreover, we have had fathers of our flesh, who chastened [us,] and we gave [them] reverence: shall we not much rather be in subjection unto the Father of spirits, and live? For they verily for a few days chastened [us,] as it seemed good unto them; but he for [our] profit, that [we] might partake of his holiness.
The design of these words is further to evince the equity of the duty exhorted unto, namely, the patient enduring of divine chastisement; which is done on such cogent principles of conviction as cannot be avoided.
It is a new argument that is produced, and not a mere application or improvement of the former; as the word ει῏τα , “furthermore,” or “moreover,” doth signify. The former was taken from the right of parents, this is taken from the duty of children.
And the argument in the words is taken from a mixture of principles and experience. The principles whereon it proceeds are two, and of two sorts: the first is from the light of nature, namely, that children ought to obey their parents, and submit unto them in all things; the other is from the light of grace, namely, that there is the same real relation between God and believers as is between natural parents and their children, though it be not of the same nature. The whole strength of the argument depends on these undoubted principles.
For the confirmation of the first of these principles, common experience is produced. ‘It is so, for it hath been so with us; we ourselves have had such fathers,’etc.
As for the manner of the argument, it is “a comparatis,” and therein “a minori ad majus.” ‘If it be so in the one case, how much more ought it to be so in the other.’ In each of the comparates there is a supposition consisting of many parts, and an assertion on that supposition: in the first, as to matter of fact, in the latter, as unto right; as we shall see.
The supposition in the first of the comparates consists of many parts; as,
1. That “we have had fathers of our flesh;” those from whom we derived our flesh by natural generation. This being the ordinance of God, and the way by him appointed for the propagation of mankind, is the foundation of the relation intended, and that which gives parents the right here asserted. That learned man did but indulge to his fancy, who would have these “fathers” to be the teachers of the Jewish church; which how they should come to be opposed unto “the Father of spirits,” he could not imagine.
2. That they were chasteners: “They chastened us.” They had a right so to do, and they did so accordingly.
3. The rule whereby they proceeded in their so doing is also supposed, namely, they used their judgment as unto the causes and measure of chastisement; they did it “as it seemed good unto them.” It is not said that they did it for or according to their pleasure, without respect unto rule or equity; for it is the example of good parents that is intended: but they did it according to their best discretion; wherein yet they might fail, both as unto the causes and measure of chastisement.
4. The exercise of this right is “for a few days.” And this may have a double sense:
(1.) The limitation of the time of their chastisement, namely, that it is but for a little while, for a few days; to wit, whilst we are in infancy, or under age. Ordinarily corporal chastisements are not longer continued. So “a few days,” is a few of our own days. Or,
(2.) It may respect the advantage which is to be obtained by such chastisement; which is only the regulation of our affections for a little season.
The case on the one hand being stated on these suppositions, the duty of children, under the power of their natural parents, is declared. And the word signifies “an ingenuous, modest shame, with submission;” opposite unto stubbornness and frowardness. We add the word “them” unto the original, which is necessary; “we had them in reverence.” ‘We were kept in a temper of mind meet to be applied unto duty. We did not desert the family of our parents, nor grow weary of their discipline, so as to be discouraged from our duty.’And,
Obs. 1. As it is the duty of parents to chastise their children, if need be, and of children to submit thereunto; so,
Obs. 2. It is good for us to have had the experience of a reverential submission unto paternal chastisements; as from hence we may be convinced of the equity and necessity of submission unto God in all our afflictions. For so these things are improved by the apostle. And they arise from the consideration of the differences that are between divine and parental chastisements. For,
1. He by whom we are chastised is “the Father of spirits.” He is a father also, but of another kind and nature than they are. “The Father of spirits; that is, of our spirits: for so the opposition requires; the fathers of our flesh, and the Father of our spirits. And whereas the apostle here distributes our nature into its two essential parts, the flesh and the spirit; it is evident that by the “spirit,” the rational soul is intended. For although the flesh also be a creature of God, yet is natural generation used as a means for its production; but the soul is immediately created and infused, having no other father but God himself. See Numbers 16:22; Zechariah 12:1; Jeremiah 38:16. I will not deny but that the signification of the word here may be farther extended, namely, so as to comprise also the state and frame of our spirits in their restoration and rule, wherein also they are subject unto God alone; but his being the immediate creator of them is regarded in the first place.
And this is the fundamental reason of our patient submission unto God in all our afflictions, namely, that our very souls are his, the immediate product of his divine power, and under his rule alone. May he not do what he will with his own? Shall the potsherd contend with its maker?
2. It is supposed from the foregoing verses, that this Father of our spirits doth also chastise us; which is the subject-matter treated of.
3. His general end and design therein, is “our profit” or advantage. This being once well fixed, takes off all disputes in this case. Men, in their chastisements, do at best but conjecture at the event, and are no way able to effect it: but what God designs shall infallibly come to pass; for he himself will accomplish it, and make the means of it certainly effectual. But it may be inquired, what this “profit,” this benefit or advantage, is; for outwardly there is no appearance of any such thing. This is declared in the next place.
4. The especial end of God in divine chastisements, is, “that he may make us partakers of his holiness.” The holiness of God, is either that which he hath in himself, or that which he approves of and requires in us. The first is the infinite purity of the divine nature; which is absolutely incommunicable unto us, or any creature whatever. Howbeit we may be said to be partakers of it in a peculiar manner, by virtue of our interest in God, as our God: as also by the effects of it produced in us, which are his image and likeness, Ephesians 4:24; as we are said to be made “partakers of the divine nature,” 2 Peter 1:4. And this also is the holiness of God in the latter sense; namely, that which he requires of us and approves in us.
Whereas, therefore, this holiness consists in the mortification of our lusts and affections, in the gradual renovation of our natures, and the sanctification of our souls, the carrying on and increase of these things in us is that which God designs in all his chastisements. And whereas, next unto our participation of Christ, by the imputation of his righteousness unto us, this is the greatest privilege, glory, honor, and benefit, that in this world we can be made partakers of, we have no reason to be weary of God’s chastisements, which are designed unto no other end. And we may observe,
Obs. 3. No man can understand the benefit of divine chastisement, who understands not the excellency of a participation of God’s holiness. No man can find any good in a bitter potion, who understands not the benefit of health. If we have not a due valuation of this blessed privilege, it is impossible we should ever make a right judgment concerning our afflictions.
Obs. 4. If under chastisements we find not an increase of holiness, in some especial instances or degrees, they are utterly lost: we have nothing but the trouble and sorrow of them.
Obs. 5. There can be no greater pledge or evidence of divine love in afflictions than this, that God designs by them to “make us partakers of his holiness,” to bring us nearer to him, and make us more like him.
5. The reasons from whence they have their efficacy unto this end, and the way whereby they attain it, are,
(1.) God’s designation of them thereunto, in an act of infinite wisdom; which gives them their efficacy.
(2.) By weaning us from the world, and the love of it, whose vanity and unsatisfactoriness they openly discover, breaking the league of love that is between it and our souls.
(3.) By calling us unto the faith and contemplation of things more glorious and excellent, wherein we may find rest and peace.
That which is required of us, as children, is, that we be “in subjection” unto him, as “the Father of spirits.” This answers unto the having of our earthly parents in reverence, before mentioned; the same which the apostle Peter calls, “humbling of ourselves under the mighty hand of God,” 1 Peter 5:6. And there may be respect unto the disobedient son under the law, who refused to subject himself to his parents, or to reform upon their correction, Deuteronomy 21:18-21; which I the rather think, because of the consequent assigned unto it, “And live;” whereas the refractory son was to be stoned to death. And this subjection unto God consists in,
1. An acquiescency in his right and sovereignty to do what he will with his own.
2. An acknowledgment of his righteousness and wisdom in all his dealings with us.
3. A sense of his care and love, with a due apprehension of the end of his chastisements.
4. A diligent application of ourselves unto his mind and will, as unto what he calls us unto in an especial manner at that season.
5. In keeping our souls, by faith and patience, from weariness and despondency.
6. In a full resignation of ourselves unto his will, as to the matter, manner, times, and continuance of our affliction.
And where these things are not in some degree, we cast off the yoke of God, and are not in due subjection unto him; which is the land inhabited by the sons of Belial. Lastly, The consequent of this subjection unto God in our chastisements, is, that “we shall live:” “And,” or “for so we shall live.” Though in their own nature they seem to tend unto death, or the destruction of the flesh, yet is it life whereunto they are designed, which is the consequent, which shall be the effect of them, 2 Corinthians 4:16-18. The increase of spiritual life in this world, and eternal life in the world to come, are that whereunto they tend. The rebellious son, who would not submit himself to correction, was to die without mercy; but they who are in subjection unto God in his chastisements, shall live.
Πᾶσα δὲ παιδεία πρὸς μὲν τὸ παρὸν οὐ δοκεῖ χαρᾶς ει῏ναι , ἀλλὰ λύπης· ὕστερον δὲ καρπὸν εἰρηνικὸν τοῖς δι᾿ αὐτῆς γεγυμνασμένοις ἀποδίδωσι δικαιοσύνης .
Καρπόν . Syr., פִּארֵא דָּשְׁלָמָא וַדְזַדִּיקוּחָא , “the fruit of peace and righteousness.” Vulg., “fructum pacatissimum;” “most, peaceable,” Rhem.; and ἀποδίδωσι it renders in the future, “reddet,” for “reddit.”
Hebrews 12:11 . Now no chastening for the present seemeth to be joyous, but grievous; nevertheless, afterward it yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness, unto them which are exercised thereby.
This is the close of the apostle’s dispute and arguing about sufferings and afflictions, with the use of them, and our duty in bearing them with patience. And he gives it us in a general rule, wherein he balanceth the good and evil of them, showing how incomparably the one exceedeth the other. The same argument he insisteth upon, 2 Corinthians 4:17, “For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory.”
And he states his rule so as, by a concession, to obviate an objection against a compliance with his exhortation; and this is taken from the trouble and sorrow wherewith chastisement is accompanied. This, therefore, he takes for granted, he will not contend about it; but he takes off all its weight, by opposing the benefit of it thereunto.
The literal expression in the original is, “But every chastisement at present seems not to be of joy;” that is, none doth seem so to be.
The introduction of the whole is by the particle δέ , which some render by “enim,” some by “autem;” “for” and “but.” There is no more in it (for it is used variously) but an intimation of a progress in discourse. We render it “now,” not as an adverb of time, but as a note of attention.
The particle μέν is omitted in our translation. Others render it by “quidem,” “truly.” And where it is so joined in sense with δέ , as here it is, it hath the force of an asseveration, “for truly,” or “now truly.”
First, In the concession we may observe,
1. The universality of the expression, “every chastisement,” not any excepted: for what is affirmed is of the nature of chastisements; what is not so is none. If any thing that is evil befall a man, if it be no way dolorous unto him, it may be a judgment on him, it is not a chastisement to him.
2. The time wherein a judgment is made of it, wherein this concession is made: “For the present;” that is, whilst it is actually on us, whilst we suffer under it, especially in its first ingress and assault; whilst the wound it gives unto the mind is fresh, before it be mollified by the ointment of faith and submission unto God.
3. Hereof it is affirmed, that “it seemeth not to be joyous, but grievous;” that is, whatever be spoken of the good of chastisement, it represents itself otherwise unto us, it appears with another face unto us, and we cannot but make another judgment of it. The meaning is not, that it only seems so to be, but is not so; but really so it is, and so we do esteem it.
And the original is, “It is not of joy, but of sorrow;” that is, say some, there is an ellipsis, to be supplied by ποιητική , or some such word, ‘It is not effective of joy, but of sorrow.’But this seems not to be the meaning of the words; for it is in the issue really effective of joy also. And the apostle speaks not of it here as unto its effects, but as unto its nature in itself. And so it is not of joy; it belongs not unto things joyous and pleasant. It is not a sweet confection, but a bitter potion. It is of the nature of things sorrowful. It is of sorrow; which we render “grievous.” But that word is of an ambiguous signification in our language. Sometimes we render βαρύς by it, 1 John 5:3, Καὶ αἱ ἐντολαὶ αὐτοῦ βαρείαι οὐκ εἰσίν , “And his commandments are not grievous;” that is, “heavy, burdensome:” sometimes λύπη , as in this place; that is, “dolorous and sorrowful.” So it is here; a matter of sorrow. It is in the nature of every chastisement to be a matter of sorrow and grief at present unto them that are chastised. This we render, being “in heaviness,” 1 Peter 1:6, λυπηθέντες ; being “afflicted with sorrow, through manifold temptations,” or afflictions. And sundry things we may yet observe, to clear the sense of the place; as,
Obs. 1. When God designeth any thing as a chastisement, it is in vain to endeavor to keep off a sense of it; it shall be a matter of sorrow unto us. Men are apt in their trials to think it a point of courage and resolution to keep off a sense of them, so as not to be affected with grief about them. It is esteemed a piece of pusillanimity to mourn, or be affected with sorrow about them. It is true, indeed, that so far as they are from men, and am sufferings for the gospel, there is a heroic frame of spirit required to the undergoing of them; so as that it may appear that we are “in nothing terrified by our adversaries.” But there is no pusillanimity in us towards God. It is our duty to take in a deep sense of his rebukes and chastisements. And if he doth design any thing that doth befall us as a chastisement, it is in vain for us to contend that it may not be a matter of sorrow unto us. For if it yet be not so, it is but an entrance into his dealing with us. He will not cease, until he hath broken the fierceness and tamed the pride of our spirits, and hath brought us, like obedient children, to submit ourselves under his mighty hand. Wherefore,
Obs. 2. Not to take in a sense of sorrow in affliction, is through stout-heartedness to “despise the chastening of the Lord;” the evil that we are cautioned against, verse 5.
Obs. 3. The sorrow intended, which accompanies chastisement, is that which the apostle terms λύπη κατά Θεόν , 2 Corinthians 7:9-10; “Sorrow according unto God,” or “after a godly sort.” It is not the wailing of the flesh upon a sense of pain; it is not the disorder of our affections upon their encounter with things grievous to our present state and ease; it is not a heartless despondency under our pressures, enfeebling us unto our duties: but it is a filial sense of God’s displeasure, accompanied with nature’s aversation and declension from things evil unto it and grievous.
Obs. 4. The nature and end of afflictions are not to be measured by our present sense of them. At present they are dolorous; but the great relief under what is grievous at present in them, is the due consideration of their end and tendency, as unto what they are appointed for of God. And,
Obs. 5. All the trouble of afflictions is but “for the present,” at most but for the little while which we are to continue in this world. Within a very short time we shall leave them and their trouble behind us for evermore.
Secondly, In balance against this matter of sorrow in chastisement, the apostle lays the advantage and benefit of it. And this he doth in three things: 1. By showing what that benefit is; 2. When it is received; and, 3. By whom.
1. For the benefit of chastisement itself, it is expressed in a three, fold gradation:
(1.) That it “yieldeth fruit.”
(2.) That this fruit is the “fruit of righteousness.”
(3.) That this fruit of righteousness is “peaceable.”
(1.) It “yieldeth fruit.” Not, it will do so, as the Vulgar reads; but it doth so; namely, in the season designed. It is not a dead, useless thing. When God purgeth his vine, it is that it may bear more fruit, John 15:2. When he dresseth his ground, it shall bring forth herbs meet for himself, Hebrews 6:7. The whole of God’s dealing and design herein is set forth in an elegant allusion unto a husbandman in the management of his corn, Isaiah 28:23-29. And this fruit in general is of two sorts:
[1.] The taking away of sin, by the mortification of it: “By this therefore shall the iniquity of Jacob be purged; and this is all the fruit to take away his sin,” Isaiah 27:9.
[2.] In the increase of righteousness or holiness; which is here expressed.
(2.) This fruit, then, is the “fruit of righteousness;” not righteousness itself, not that fruit which righteousness is, but that which it bears or brings forth. Neither our doing nor our suffering is the cause of our righteousness; but they promote it in us and increase its fruit. So the apostle prays for the Corinthians, that God would “increase” in them “the fruits of their righteousness,” 2 Corinthians 9:10: and for the Philippians, that they might be “filled with the fruits of righteousness, which are by Jesus Christ, unto the glory and praise of God,” Philippians 1:11. Wherefore by “righteousness” in this place, our sanctification, or the internal principle of holiness and obedience, is intended; and the “fruits” hereof, are its increase in the more vigorous actings of all graces, and their effects in all duties. Especially, the fruits of righteousness here intended, are patience, submission to the will of God, weanedness from the world, mortification of sin, heavenly-mindedness, purity of heart, readiness for the cross, and the like. See Romans 5:3-5, with John 15:2-4; which places compared, are a full exposition of this.
(3.) This fruit of righteousness, which chastisement yieldeth, is “peaceable.” “The work of righteousness shall be peace,” Isaiah 32:17.
“The fruit of righteousness is sown in peace,” James 3:18. And it is so on a threefold account:
[1.] Because it is a pledge and evidence of our peace with God. When we are chastised, especially if our pressures are great or many, we are apt to question what our state is with respect unto God, who seems to be so displeased with us as to make us the peculiar objects of his anger; but when these fruits are brought forth in us, they are high evidence that God is at peace with us, and that he designs our eternal good in all these chastisements, Romans 5:3-5.
[2.] Because they bring in peace into our own minds. Afflictions are apt to put our minds into a disorder; our affections will tumultuate, and raise great contests in our souls. But by these fruits of righteousness our hearts are quieted, our minds composed, all tumults allayed, and we are enabled to “possess our souls in patience.”
[3.] With respect unto other men. The next thing which the apostle giveth us in charge, after he hath discharged his discourse about suffering and afflictions, is, that we should “follow peace with all men,” verse 14. Now, the way whereby we may do this, is only by abounding in these fruits of righteousness; for they alone are the way and means of attaining it, if it be possible so to do. And therefore that charge of following peace with all men, is nothing but an injunction to perform all duties of righteousness towards them.
This is the advantage which comes by chastisements, which the apostle lays in the balance against all that is grievous in them.
2. There is the season wherein they yield this fruit; and that is, “afterward:” “Nevertheless,” or “but afterward;” that is, plainly, after we have been a while exercised with them. This effect of them, it may be, doth not appear at first. We have their surprisal, as it was with Job, to conflict withal, which suspends for a while the production of these fruits. So the apostle Peter prays for believers, that ὁλίγον πάθοντας , “after they had suffered a while, God would strengthen and perfect them,” 1 Peter 5:10. And so it is evident in experience. Chastisements do not effectually operate unto this end until after some time of exercise. They first tend to subdue the flesh, to root up weeds, thorns and briers, to break up the stubborn fallow ground, and then to cherish the seeds of righteousness.
3. So it is added in the last place, it yieldeth this fruit “unto them,” that is, only unto them, “ who are exercised thereby.” The word here used signifies an exercise with diligence and vehemence; there being an allusion in it unto those who stripped themselves naked, so as to put out all their strength in their public games, or contests for mastery. See Hebrews 5:14, with the exposition. Wherefore to be exercised by chastisement, is to have all our spiritual strength, all our faith and patience, tried to the utmost, and acted in all things suitably to the mind of God. So was it with Job.
And what remains for the further explication of these words, is contained in these ensuing observations.
Obs. 6. Those who cannot see an excellency in the abounding of the fruits of righteousness before described, can never apprehend that there is either good or benefit in chastisements. For this alone is that which the apostle proposeth to answer all that is grievous or evil in them. But these things believers value above life itself, and can esteem well of every thing, be it never so sharp unto the flesh, that doth promote them in their souls.
Obs. 7. We can never find any benefit in chastisements, unless we are “exercised” by them; that is, that all our graces are stirred up by them unto a holy, constant exercise. For hereby alone do they yield “the peaceable fruit of righteousness.”
Obs. 8. It is the fruit of righteousness alone that will bring in peace unto us, that will give us a sense of peace with God, peace in ourselves, and with others, so far as is possible. And,
Obs. 9. Grace in afflictions will at length prevail quietly to compose the mind under the storm raised by them, and give rest with peace unto the soul.
Obs. 10. Herein lies the wisdom of faith in this matter, not to pass a judgment on chastisements, from the present sense we have of what is evil and dolorous in them, but from their end and use, which are blessed and glorious.
In these verses an entrance is made into the second part of the chapter, which is designed unto the application of the doctrine concerning sufferings, afflictions, and chastisements, before insisted on. And there are three parts of it:
1. A general exhortation unto an improvement of the said doctrine, in a conformity of mind unto it.
2. A prescription of sundry important duties, in their joint walking before God unto the same end, verses 14-16.
3. A confirmation of the whole, by an instance or example of one who did all things contrary unto the duties prescribed, namely, Esau; with the severe issue thereon, verses 16,17. The first of these is contained in these two verses.
Hebrews 12:12-13 . Διὸ τὰς παρειμένας χεῖρας καὶ τὰ παραλελυμένα γόνατα ἀνορθώσατε· καὶ τροχιὰς ὀρθὰς ποιήσατε τοῖς ποσὶν ὑμῶν , ἵνα μὴ τὸ χωλὸν ἐκτραπῇ , ἰαθῇ δὲ μᾶλλον .
Hebrews 12:12-13 . Wherefore lift up the hands which hang down, and the feeble knees; and make straight paths for your feet, lest that which is lame be turned out of the way; but let it rather be healed.
1. “Wherefore,” διό , “quapropter,” “quamobrem;” it shows that the ensuing exhortation is wholly derived from the preceding discourse.
‘Seeing things in this case are as we have declared, this is your duty thereon.’And in no writing of the New Testament is this method so much observed as in this epistle’; namely, to lay down doctrines of truth, to confirm them by divine testimonies and reasons, and then to make the use and application of them. And the reason of it is, because the whole design of the epistle is parenetical, with respect unto practice.
2. For the right understanding of the mind of the Holy Ghost in the words, we must take notice that there is a supposition included in them of some failure in the Hebrews, as unto their courage and constancy in suffering; at least that they were in great danger of it, and that it began to affect the minds of many, and perhaps greatly to prevail in some among them. This he had insinuated before, in the entrance of his discourse on this subject, verses 3-5, and now resumes it as a ground of his exhortation. And,
Obs. 1. It is the duty of all faithful ministers of the gospel to consider diligently what failures or temptations their flocks are liable or exposed unto, so as to apply suitable means for their preservation.
3. The words in general contain an exhortation unto duties, flowing directly from the doctrine insisted on in its application unto these Hebrews. And whereas there were two sorts of them (which distinction the apostle frequently intimates in the epistle);
(1.) Such as were really guilty of the evils dehorted from; and,
(2.) Such as were not so, at least not in such a degree as some others were; the exhortation respects both sorts of them. Unto the first sort it enjoins their own present duty; and directs the latter how to behave themselves towards those who were so defective; as we shall see in the progress.
4. That part of the exhortation which is contained in verse 12, is taken Isaiah 35:3, הזְּקוּ יָדַיִם רָפוֹת וּבִרְכַּיִם כּשְׁלוֹת אַמֵּצוּ , “Confortate marius remissas, et genua labantia roborate.” The Vulgar Lat. in that place reads, “manus dissolutas,” and “genua debilia;” here, “manus remissas,” and “genua soluta.” The translation of the LXX. renders הַזְּקוּ by ἰοχύσατε , “be ye strong,” speaking to the hands and knees in the second person; and אַמֵּצוּ by παρακαλήσατε ; unless that word belongs to the following sentence. The apostle useth one word, applying it to both hands and knees, it being equally proper to both.
5. The way of the proposal of the exhortation is in continued metaphors, in answer to the first prescription of the duty exhorted unto; which was, to run in a race, or to strive for victory, verse 1. And in the verse foregoing he requires of us, in this case, that we should be γεγυμνασμένοι , “exercised,” like those that were stripped or made naked for a contest; wherefore,
6. The exhortation is applied unto the parts of the body which are of principal use in gymnastical exercises, namely, the hands, the knees, and the feet, whereby the body putteth forth all its strength to obtain the prize; the hands and knees being the principal seat of strength and activity. And we must consider,
(1.) What is the defect blamed in them;
(2.) What is the remedy prescribed unto that defect;
(3.) What is the spiritual meaning of both.
(1.) The defect charged on the hands is, that they “hang down,” LXX., ἀνειμένας , “remissas.” We want a word exactly to express the Hebrew, רָפוֹת It is not so much “hanging down,” as “weakened and dissolved in their strength, whence they do hang down.” And when it is so with any, they declare themselves weary of what they are engaged in; faint, unready, and giving over.
That charged on the knees is, that they are παραλελυμένα , “soluta,” “dissoluta;” or, as in the Hebrew, “labantis” We use a proper word here, and in the prophet, “feeble;” that is, “debilia,” weak, whose nervous vigor is dissolved. So we render כּשְׁלוּ , Psalms 109:24, “My knees are weak through fasting.” So, in great weakness, fear, and despondency, the knees are said to smite together, Nahum 2:10.
In both there is a description of a man heartless or slothful, or so fainting in the running of a race as to be ready to cast off all hopes of success, and to give over.
(2.) It is the same kind of distemper which affects these several parts; and therefore the apostle prescribes the same remedy to them both, namely, ἀνορθώσατε , “surripite,” “erigite.” It is not, ‘Elevate,’‘Lift up,’which is proper to the hands only; but, ‘Erect or raise them to a due state, frame and posture; set them right again; apply them to their duty.’So in the cure of the woman that had the infirmity wherewith she was bowed down, we render it, “made straight,” Luke 13:13, or upright again; and by “setting up,” Acts 15:16; in which two places alone, besides this, the word is found. It is therefore a restoration unto their former state that is directed in this word.
(3.) Wherefore the spiritual sense of the words, or meaning of the similitudes, is plain; and there is no necessity to make a distribution of parts, as unto what is particularly intended by the hands or knees. For by the same kind of defect in both, the fault of the whole is described. Now this is such a decay in Christian courage and resolution, as brings along with it a great weakness and unreadiness for duty.
In our Christian race we are to put forth our utmost spiritual strength and activity. All graces are to be kept up unto their exercise, and all duties to be attended unto with diligence. But where the course is long, or the difficulties are great, we are apt to grow weary, to despond; first to wish it at an end, and then to give over. And this frame ariseth from a composition of two evil ingredients:
[1.] Despondency as to success;
[2.] Weariness of duty. In them do our hands hang down, and our knees grow feeble.
Obs. 2. This is the great evil which, in all our sufferings and afflictions, we are with all intension of mind to watch against. This is the way whereby multitudes have entered into scandalous backslidings, and many into cursed apostasies.
Obs. 3. We are apt to pity men who are weary and fainting in their courage, and under their burdens; and we do well therein, for they have spent all their strength, and have no way of supply; but we are to be no way gentle towards ourselves, in our spiritual weariness and decays; because we have continual supplies of strength ready for us, if we use them in a due manner. See Isaiah 40:28-31.
Obs. 4. This exhortation being a conclusion or inference made from the preceding discourse, concerning the nature, use and end of sufferings and afflictions, this instruction is given us in a peculiar manner, namely, that we ought to confirm our minds against all discouragements and despondencies under them, by the consideration of God’s design in them, and the blessed success which he will give unto them.
Obs. 5. The recovery of this frame, or the restoration of our spiritual hands and knees to their former vigor, is by stirring up all grace unto its due exercise, which is torpid and desponding under sloth in this frame.
As this direction concerns others, other professors, other members of the church, and not so much ourselves, it compriseth all the duties of exhortation, consolation, instruction, and prayer, which are useful unto that end.
Hebrews 12:13. The first part of this exhortation concerns the inward frame of the minds of men, with respect unto themselves and their own souls. That which follows, verse 13, looks unto their ways, walking and conversation, with respect unto others, that they may receive no damage, but benefit by it. And therefore the apostle doth not herein direct us to strengthen our feet, as he doth our hands and knees; but to “make straight paths” for them, wherein we may walk. And the conjunctive καί , “and,” denotes an additional duty.
There are two things in the words:
1. A duty prescribed;
2. An enforcement of it from an evil consequent of its omission; both in terms metaphorical.
1. Our feet are those members of our body which carry us on in our course; which is the ability and activity of our minds for spiritual duties. These feet must have a path to walk in, or they can make no progress. According as that path is right and straight, or crooked and uneven, so will our course be. It is therefore highly incumbent on us to look well unto the paths wherein we are going. And this is here prescribed unto us.
The direction seems to be taken from Proverbs 4:26, “Ponder the path of thy feet, and let all thy ways be established; ” or rather, “all thy ways shall be ordered aright;” which is the sense of this place.
In order unto a discovery of the duty here prescribed, we must consider,
(1.) What are the paths of our feet;
(2.) How we are to make them straight.
(1.) Our “paths,” τροχιαί . Τροχός is “a wheel;” and τροχιά is τῶν τρόχων χάραξις ,” the mark made by wheels;” “or bits.” So, though it be taken for “semita,” “a path,” yet it is such a path as is marked out for others, that leaves a track wherein we may be followed. The Vulgar renders it by “gressus,” our “steps;” but it is rather the way wherein we tread, which is said to be made straight.
Our obedience unto God is called our “walking before him,” namely, all that obedience which he requires in the covenant, Genesis 17:1. The first divine testimony given unto any man, was unto his faith in sacrifice, Genesis 4:4; that is, as expressed with respect unto the atonement to be made by Christ. And the second was unto obedience, under the name of walking with God: “Enoch walked with God,” Genesis 5:24. In these two, thus exemplified from the beginning, faith and obedience, doth the life of God in the church consist. And as this obedience is called our walking, so it is called our path, Psalms 27:11; Psalms 119:35; Psalms 119:105; Isaiah 26:7; Psalms 23:3; Psalms 25:4; Matthew 3:3; Luke 3:4. And these paths are distinguished into the “paths of the righteous” and the upright, and the “paths of the wicked” and the froward; that is, every one’s course of actions, with respect unto God and his will, is his path.
And this is called our path,
[1.] Because it is that wherein we are continually conversant.
[2.] Because it is that whereby we tend unto the end which we aim at, and that which will certainly bring us thereunto.
[3.] Because all the circumstances of our observation of a path, and walking in it, do illustrate the way and manner of our obedience and duties of it, as might be declared.
This path of our obedience may be considered either objectively only; and so it is nothing but the will of God revealed unto us, the canon or rule which we are to walk according unto, that we may have peace, Galatians 6:16. And in this sense the path of all men is one and the same, absolutely invariable; nor can we make it straight or crooked: it is absolutely and perfectly straight in itself. Or it may be considered with respect unto them that walk in it; and so there are degrees of its straightness. Men may continue in it, yet fail variously as to its universal rectitude: they may fail in it, though they do not utterly leave it, or fall from it. So it is affirmed of Peter, and those with him, when they failed in the matter of compliance with the Jews, that they did not ὀρθοποδεῖν , Galatians 2:14, “walk with a right foot.” They continued in the path of the truth of the gospel, but they stumbled in it, they warped in one instance from it.
(2.) And hereby we may understand what is here enjoined in way of duty, namely, “to make these paths straight.” For there are two things herein:
[1.] That we walk uprightly in the paths of obedience. Then are our paths straight, when we walk uprightly in the paths of God. And as this respects our universal obedience, as it doth everywhere in the Scripture, so I doubt not but regard is had unto halting, or taking some crooked steps in profession during trial. Deserting of church assemblies, forbearance of sundry necessary duties that might be provocations to their adversaries, irregular compliances with the Jews in their worship, are things that the apostle intimates them to have been liable unto. Where these things were, though they forsook not utterly the path of the gospel, yet they walked not in it with a right foot; they failed in the way, though they fell not from it. These things the apostle would have rectified.
[2.] That we walk visibly in these paths, This is included both in the signification of the word τροχιαί , and in the precept to make our paths straight; to wit, that they may be seen and known so to be. For this is necessary unto the end proposed, namely, the preservation of others from being turned out of the way, or their recovery from their wandering.
And therefore I do grant, that the duties especially intended in this precept are, courage, resolution, constancy in profession, with a diligent watch against all crooked compliances or fearful relinquishment of duties. And therefore,
Obs. 1. It is our duty not only to be found in the ways of God in general, but to take care that we walk carefully, circumspectly, uprightly, and diligently in them. Hereon depend our own peace, and all our usefulness towards others. It is a sad thing when some men’s walk in the ways of God shall deter others from them, or turn them out of them. Yet so it falls out in the negligent, careless profession of many.
Obs. 2. To make halts or baulks in our way of profession, or crooked paths, in neglect of duty or compliances with the world, in time of trial and persecution, is an evidence of an evil frame of heart, and of a dangerous state or condition.
2. The enforcement of the duty required is the next thing in this verse: “Lest that which is lame be turned out of the way; but let it rather be healed.” The apostle continues in the use of metaphors, according as he began this discourse. And having described our careful obedience, by “making straight paths for our feet,” he calls that or those which are defective therein, “lame;” “that which is lame.” The Vulg. reads the words, “ut non claudicans qui erret;” which the Rhemists render, “that no man halting err,” without any good sense. The Syriac, “that the member which is lame.” The principal internal hinderance from walking is lameness. He that is lame can make but slow progress, and is often ready by his halting to stumble out of the way. Lameness, therefore, is some defect that is distinguished from external hinderances, and from mere fainting or weariness, (whereof the apostle had spoken before, which may befall them that are not lame,) which obstructs men in their progress, and makes them be easily turned out of the way: besides, it includes an inward disease and distemper in particular, whence the apostle says, it is to be “healed”
And by the way we may observe, that sundry diseases, weaknesses, and lamenesses, are apt to fall out in the flock of God. These he promiseth himself to be tender toward, and to heal, Zechariah 11:15-16; as he severely threatens those shepherds by whom they are neglected, Ezekiel 34:4, etc.
Considering what at this time was the state of the Hebrews who had received the doctrine of the gospel, as both this epistle and the story of them in the Acts of the Apostles do declare; as also what fell out afterwards among them; I do judge that by this τὸ χωλόν among them, “that which is lame,” the apostle peculiarly intends those that would retain the Judaical ceremonies and worship together with the doctrine of the gospel. For hereby they were made weak and infirm in their profession, as being defective in light, resolution, and steadiness; as also, seemed to halt between two opinions, as the Israelites of old between Jehovah and Baal.
This was that which was lame at that time among these Hebrews. And it may, by analogy, be extended unto all those who are under the power of such vicious habits, inclinations, or neglects, as weaken and hinder men in their spiritual progress.
The caution concerning this sort of persons is, that they be not “turned out of the way.” To be “turned out of the way,” is to be turned off from the profession of the gospel. This those who were “lame,” as before described, were very liable and subject unto; a small matter would turn them aside, as afterwards many of them were turned off from the truth. The apostle doth not thereon declare a displeasure against them; he is not angry with them, but adviseth others to deal carefully and tenderly with them, avoiding every thing that might give occasion unto their turning aside.
And this the apostle extends to their healing: “But rather let it be healed.” “To be healed,” is not opposed to “to be turned aside,” as though that word should signify a ‘further breach or luxation of that which is lame; but it denotes the cure of him that is lame, by a continuation of the same metaphor. ‘Be so far from doing or omitting any thing, which might give them occasion to turn from the way, as that you endeavor the removal of those causes of lameness which you see in them.’And the sense of the words may be included in the ensuing observations.
Obs. 3. A hesitation or doubtfulness in or about important doctrines of truth, will make men lame, weak, and infirm in their profession. And,
Obs. 4. Those who are so, are disposed unto a total defection from the truth, and are ready on all occasions to go out of the way. Also, in general,
Obs. 5. Every vicious habit of mind, every defect in light or neglect of duty, every want of stirring up grace unto exercise, will make men lame and halt in profession, and easy to be turned aside with difficulties and oppositions,
Obs. 6. When we see persons in such a state, it is our duty to be very careful so to behave ourselves as not to give any occasion to their further miscarriages, but rather to endeavor their healing.
Obs. 7. The best way whereby this may be done, is by making visible and plain unto them our own faith, resolution, courage, and constancy, in a way of obedience becoming the gospel. Hereby we shall both excite, promote, and direct them, in and unto their duty. For,
Obs. 8. The negligent walking of those professors who are sound in the faith, their weakness and pusillanimity in times of trial, their want of making straight paths for their feet in visible holiness, are a great means of turning aside those that are lame, weak, and halting.
Obs. 9. It is good to deal with and endeavor the healing of such lame halters whilst they are yet in the way; when they are quite turned out, their recovery will be difficult, if not impossible.
From his exhortation unto patient perseverance in the profession of the gospel, under sufferings and afflictions, the apostle proceeds unto a prescription of practical duties; and although they are such as are absolutely necessary in themselves at all times, yet they are here peculiarly enjoined with respect unto the same end, or our constancy in professing the gospel For no light, no knowledge of the truth, no resolution or courage, will preserve any man in his pro-fcssion, especially in times of trial, without a diligent attendance unto the duties of holiness and gospel obedience. And he begins with a precept general and comprehensive of all others.
Hebrews 12:14 Εἰρήνην διώκετε μετὰ πάντων , καὶ τὸν ἁγιασμὸν , οὗ χωρὶς οὐδεὶς ὅψεται Κύριον .
Διώκετε . Vulg., “sequimini;” others, “sectamini,” which comes nearer the original, and denotes a vehement pursuit. Syr., הרְטוּ בָּתַר , “run after” peace. We elsewhere translate the same word in the same duty, by “pursue” and “ensue;’ Psalms 34:14; 1 Peter 3:11.
Hebrews 12:14 . Earnestly follow peace with all [men], and holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord.
The direction here given is general, consisting of two parts; the first whereof contains our duty towards men; and the other our duty towards God, whereby the former is to be regulated.
In the first we have,
1. The duty prescribed; which is “peace.”
2. The manner of the attaining it, or the way of the performance of the duty enjoined; which is “earnestly to follow it.”
3. Those with whom we are to seek peace; which are “all men.”
1. The substance of our duty towards all men as men, in all circumstances and relations, is to seek peace with them. And that we may have peace with all men, at least that we may do our duty to attain it, three things are required:
(1.) righteousness. “The fruit of righteousness is peace.” To wrong no man, to give everyone his due, to do unto all men as we would have them do unto us, are required hereunto. The want hereof is the cause of all want of peace, of all confusions, disorders, troubles, and wars in the world.
(2.) Usefulness. That we may have peace in a due manner, it is not enough that we hurt no man, defraud no man, injure no man; but it is moreover required of us, that in our station and calling, according unto our circumstances and abilities, we be useful unto all men, in all duties of piety, charity, and beneficence. Galatians 6:10, “As we have opportunity, ἐργαζώμεθα τὸ ἀγαθὸν πρὸς πάντας “let us be useful,” profitable, beneficial, working that which is good, “unto all men.” This is required of us in that divine law of human society under which we are stated.
(3.) Avoiding of just offense. “Give none offense, neither to the Jews nor to the Gentiles,” 1 Corinthians 10:32.
These are the ways and means whereby we must “earnestly follow peace with all men.” We are not to do it by a compliance with them in any evil; not by a neglect of any duty; not by any thing that intrencheth on holiness towards God. Peace with men is not to be followed nor practiced at any such rate. We must eternally bid defiance unto that peace with men which is inconsistent with peace with God.
These ways of following peace with all men are such as carry along with them their own satisfaction and reward, although the end be not attained. For this ofttimes depends on the minds of other men, even such as are “like the troubled sea, whose waters cast up mire and dirt,” who have no peace in themselves, nor will let others be at peace, Psalms 120:6-7. Hence the apostle gives that limitation unto our endeavors for peace: “If it be possible,” and, “what lieth in you, live peaceably with all men,” Romans 12:18.
2. From these difficulties ariseth the injunction of the especial way and manner of seeking it: “Earnestly follow.” We render the same word by “pursue,” Psalms 34:14; and “ensue,” 1 Peter 3:11. And it is in both places spoken of as that which exceeds in earnestness and diligence in the seeking of it. It is that which will fly from us, and which we must with all earnestness pursue, or we shall not overtake it. Both the words, in the Hebrew and Greek, do signify “to persecute;” which we know is the fiercest of prosecution. And this is so expressed, because of the many ways and pretences which most men use to avoid peace with those who profess the gospel. All these, as much as in us lieth, we are to overcome in the pursuit of peace, never giving it over whilst we are in this world.
3. And this we are to do “with all men;” that is, all sorts of men, according as we stand in relation unto them, or have occasion of converse with them. The worst of men are not excepted out of this rule; not our enemies, not our persecutors; we are still, by all the ways mentioned, to follow peace with them all. Let this alone be fixed, that we are not obliged unto any thing that is inconsistent with holiness, that is contrary to the word of God, that is adverse to the principles and light of our own minds and consciences, for the obtaining of peace with any or all the men in the world, and this rule is absolute and universal. Wherefore,
Obs. 1. A frame and disposition of seeking peace with all men, by the means before laid down, is eminently suited unto the doctrine and grace of the gospel. A froward spirit, apt and ready for strife and contention, to give and receive provocations, to retain a sense of injuries, to be satisfied with uselessness whilst it is supposed they do no wrong, is quite contrary to what the gospel requireth of us. The glory of the kingdom of Christ therein is frequently promised under the name of peace, with a cessation of wars and contentions among men. And an evidence this is how little of the power of the gospel remains at present in the minds of men in the world, when all things amongst those who are called Christians are filled with hatred, strife, persecutions, and savage warn But this frame is,
1. A great ornament to our profession. A man cannot, in the eyes of men not utterly flagitious and hardened in sin, more adorn the gospel, than by evidencing that in his whole course he doth what in him lies to follow after peace with all men.
2. A great comfort and supportment unto ourselves in our sufferings. For when we have the testimony of our consciences that we have sincerely sought peace with all men, it will not only make us rest satisfied in what they unjustly do unto us, but give us a triumph over them in our minds, in that we have attained a compliance with the will of God above them herein.
The second thing enjoined respects our duty towards God. And there are two things in the words: 1. The duty itself enjoined; and that is holiness. 2. The enforcement of it from its absolute necessity in order unto our eternal blessedness; for without it, destitute of it, we shall never see the Lord.
1. It refers to the same way of seeking it, namely, to “follow it earnestly,” to pursue it by all ways and means appointed unto that end.
Some by “holiness” here understand peculiarly the holiness or purity of chastity; for so is the word used, 1 Thessalonians 4:3, “For this is the will of God, even your sanctification, that ye should abstain from fornication.” There is a peculiar defilement in the sins that are against the body, as the apostle declares, 1 Corinthians 6:18-19. Wherefore the sanctification of the body (1 Thessalonians 5:23) by this grace may be peculiarly called our holiness. Besides, the “seeing of God” here referred unto, is peculiarly promised unto “the pure in heart,” Matthew 5:8; because the mind is thereby peculiarly prepared for the divine vision.
But there is no cogent reason why we should restrain the signification of the word. It is universal holiness which is here prescribed unto us. This we are in all things always to follow after. What this evangelical holiness is, what is its nature, wherein it doth consist, what is required unto it, by what means it may be attained and preserved, how it differs from morality, or the virtues of the best of unbelievers; I have declared at large in another  discourse, and shall not here again insist upon it.
 See miscellaneous works, vol. 1:242, 288 ED.
2. The enforcement of this duty is in these words, “Without which no man shall see the Lord.” It is all one whether we understand God absolutely, or the Lord Christ in an especial manner, by the name “Lord;” for we shall never see the one without the other. Christ prays for us, that we may be where he is, to behold his glory, John 17:24. This we cannot do but when we see God also, or the eternal glory of God in him. This sight of God in Christ, which is intellectual, not corporeal; finite, not absolutely comprehensive of the divine essence; is the sum of our future blessedness.  The nature of it I have elsewhere explained.
 In treatise on the Holy Spirit, vol. 3 of miscellaneous works. ED.
Now this future sight of the Lord doth depend peremptorily on our present holiness. It doth not do so as the meritorious cause of it; for be we never so holy, yet in respect of God we are “unprofitable servants,” and “eternal life is the gift of God by Jesus Christ.” But it doth so on a double account: (1.) Of an eternal, unchangeable, divine constitution. God hath enacted it, as an eternal law, that holiness shall be the way of our attaining and coming to blessedness.
(2.) As it is a due prepara tion for it, the soul being by holiness made meet and fit to come to the sight of the Lord, Colossians l:12,13. And therefore οὗ χωρίς is well rendered, “qua destitutus,” whereof whoever is destitute, in whom this holiness is not, he shall never see the Lord. And,
Obs. 2. They are much mistaken in the Lord Christ, who hope to see him hereafter in glory, and live and die here in an unholy state. It is not privileges, nor gifts, nor church office or power, that will give an admission to this state.
Obs. 3. If this doctrine be true, that “without holiness no man shall see the Lord,” the case will be hard at last with a multitude of popes, cardinals, and prelates, who pretend that they have the opening of the door into his presence committed unto them.
Obs. 4. We may follow peace with men, and not attain it; but if we follow holiness, we shall as assuredly see the Lord, as we shall come short of this without it.
Obs. 5. The same means is to be used for the securing of our present perseverance and of our future blessedness, namely, holiness.
From a prescription of necessary duties, the apostle proceedeth to give caution and warning against sundry sins and evils that are contrary unto them, and such as, if admitted, would prove ruinous unto their profession. And concerning these he gives his caution not directly unto individual persons, but unto the whole church, or society of professors, with respect unto their mutual duty among themselves.
Hebrews 12:15 . ᾿Επισκοποῦντες μή τις ὑστερῶν ἀπὸ τῆς χάριτος τοῦ Θεοῦμή τις ῥίζα πικρίας ἄνω φύουσα ἐνοχλῇ , καὶ διὰ ταύτης μιανθῶσι πολλοί .
᾿Επισκοποῦντες . Vulg., “contemplantes.” The Rhemists more properly, “looking diligently.” Syr., והֲוַיְתיּן זְהִרִין , “and be ye watchful,” “take ye, heed.” “Prospicientes,” “superintendentes,” “using diligent inspection and oversight.”
Μή τις ὑστερῶν , “ne quis desit gratiae Dei.” Rhem., “lest any man be wanting to the grace of God;” which mistake in the translation some expositors of the Roman church make use of to prove that all the efficacy of divine grace depends on the use of our free-will in compliance with it. Syr., “lest a man” (any man) “be found among you דּהסִיר מֵן טַיְבוּתָא דַּאלָהָא ” “destitute or forsaken of the grace of God.” “Ne quis deficiat a gratia Dei;” “come behind,” “come short,” or “fail.” We put “fall from” in the margin; which the word doth not signify.
῾Ρίζα πικρίας , “radix amaritudinis,” “radix amara;” that is, וְלַעֲנָה שֹׁרֶשׁ פֹּרֶה ראֹשׁ , Deuteronomy 29:17, “a root that beareth gall” (or “poison”) “and wormwood.”
Hebrews 12:15 . Looking diligently lest any man fail of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up trouble [you], and thereby many be defiled.
What is required of us in our own persons was before prescribed in positive duties; here is declared what is our work and duty towards others, with respect unto sins contrary to those duties. For this and the ensuing instructions concern the body of the church, or society of the faithful, as unto what is mutually required of them and amongst them. And although the practice be always lost in the world, the rule abides for ever.
There are two things in the words:
1. A duty enjoined, “Looking diligently.”
2. A double evil cautioned against, to be prevented by the exercise of that duty:
(1.) “Any man’s failing of the grace of God: “ wherein we must inquire,
[1.] What is meant by “the grace of God; ”
[2.] How any man may “fail” of it.
(2.) A “root of bitterness springing up,” etc: and hereof we must inquire,
[1.] What is this “root of bitterness;”
[2.] What is the progress of the evil contained in it; as,
1 st . It “springeth up;”
2 dly . It “troubles all;”
3dly . It “defiles many.”
And there is a progress in evil intimated, from the less to the greater. It is a less evil for any one to “fail of the grace of God” in his own person, (though the greatest of evils unto himself,) than to be a “root of bitterness to trouble and defile others” also. And the apostle would have us obstare principiis, to hinder the entrance of this evil, and so effectually to prevent its progress.
1. The duty prescribed is, to “look diligently” after this matter. The word is only twice used in the Scripture, here and 1 Peter 5:2. And in that place of Peter it denotes the discharge of the office-duty of the elders of the church, in their care and oversight of the flock. Here it respects the common charitative duty of all believers, as they are called unto it by occasions and circumstances. So there are sundry other duties, which are given in charge unto the officers or guides of the church, to be authoritatively attended unto, and discharged by virtue of their office, which yet, being in themselves of a moral nature, are incumbent on all believers in a way of love or charity. But this looking diligently unto the good of others, and to prevent their evil, is not here prescribed as a moral duty, whereunto we are obliged by the light of nature and royal law of love, but as that which is also an especial institution of Christ, to be observed in his church. The Lord Christ hath ordained, that the members of the same church or society should mutually watch over one another, and the whole body over all the members, unto their edification. This therefore is here prescribed unto these Hebrews; and that the practice of it is so much lost as it is, is the shame and almost ruin of Christianity.
The word signifies a careful inspection unto a certain end. And hereof there are two parts: first, The promotion of spiritual good; secondly, The prevention of all that is spiritually or morally evil. Hereunto it is peculiarly applied by the apostle in this place. And he instanceth in four things in this and the following verse:
(1.) Failing of the grace of God;
(2.) The springing up of a bitter root;
(4.) Profaneness: wherein he compriseth the principal sins of the flesh and of the spirit which professed Christians are in danger of.
And he doth it in a regular gradation, from the lowest declension from grace unto the highest contempt and defiance of it; as we shall see in the opening of the words.
2. (1.) The first evil to be obviated by this church- inspection, is failing of the grace of God: “Lest any man fail of the grace of God.”
[1.] By the “grace of God,” God’s gracious favor and acceptance in Christ, as it is proposed and declared by the gospel, is intended. Herein all spiritual mercies and privileges, in adoption, justification, sanctification, and consolation, do consist. For these things proceeding from the love, grace, and goodness of God in Christ, and being effects thereof, are called “the grace of God.” The attaining and participation of these things, is that which in the faith and profession of the gospel men aim at and design; without which both the one and the other are in vain.
[2.] This grace, under all their profession of the gospel, men may “fail of;” which is the evil cautioned against. The word ὑστερέω , signifies sometimes “to want, or be deficient in any kind,” Matthew 19:20; Luke 15:14; Luke 22:35: sometimes “to come behind,” 1 Corinthians 1:7; 2 Corinthians 11:5: sometimes “to be destitute,” Hebrews 11:37: sometimes “to fail or come short of,” as Romans 3:23; Hebrews 4:1. See the exposition of that place. It nowhere signifies to fall from: so that the inquiries of men about falling from grace, as unto these words, are impertinent. Wherefore, to “fail of grace,” is to come short of it, not to obtain it, though we seem to be in the way thereunto. See Romans 11:7; Romans 9:30-31. So also to “fall from grace,” Galatians 5:4, is nothing but not to obtain justification by the faith of Christ.
This, therefore, is that which the apostle intimates, namely, that there were, at least there might be, in the church, some or many, who, under the profession of the truth of the gospel, yet, through their sloth, negligence, formality, unbelief, or some other vicious habits of their minds, might not attain unto the grace and favor of God, exhibited therein unto sincere believers. For this comes not to pass without their own guilt. And the mind of the Holy Ghost in the words may be comprised in the ensuing observations.
Obs. 1. The grace, love, and good-will of God, in the adoption, justification, sanctification, and glorification of believers, is proposed unto all in the gospel, as that which may infallibly be attained in the due use of the means thereunto appointed; namely, sincere faith in Christ Jesus.
Obs. 2. The outward profession of the gospel, with the performance of the duties and enjoyment of the privileges thereunto belonging, will not of themselves instate any man in the grace of God, or an assured interest therein Men deceive themselves when they rest in these things. And multitudes do so; yea, the most are angry if they are told that there is any more required of them.
Obs. 3. There is no man who, under the profession of the gospel, comes short of obtaining the grace and favor of God, but it is by reason of himself and his own sin. The proposal of it, on the terms expressed in the gospel, is sure, and none shall ever fail of it who embrace it on these terms. This is included in the word, which hath a charge in it of a vicious deficiency in seeking after this grace.
Obs. 4. Negligence and sloth, missing of opportunities, and love of sin, all proceeding from unbelief, are the only causes why men under the profession of the gospel, do fail of the grace of God.
Now this is the first thing which the apostle enjoins believers to exercise their church-inspection about, namely, lest there should be amongst them unsound professors; such as, through their negligence, carelessness, and fostering the love of some sin, or of the world, were not like to attain unto the grace of God, on the terms of the gospel. These they were to consider in all their circumstances and temptations, to instruct, exhort, warn, and admonish, that they might be brought unto sincerity in faith and obedience. This was their charitative episcopacy; this was the duty, this was the practice of the members of churches of old: and it is not to be admired if many churches now come short of them in faith and holiness, seeing the very duties whereby they might be preserved and promoted are lost or despised. Whatever is pretended to the contrary, if any one should endeavor the reduction of some such known duties into the practice of churches, he would be laughed to scorn.
This is the first and the least degree of men’s miscarriage under the profession of the gospel; yet is it that from whence all the rest of the evils mentioned do arise and proceed. For of this sort of men it is, from them that fail of the grace of God under the profession of the gospel, as unto a real interest therein, that those who fall into the ensuing crimes do come.
(2.) The next evil cautioned against, is the “springing up of the root of bitterness.” And we must inquire,
[1.] What is this “root of bitterness;
[2.] How it ‘springeth up;”
[3.] How it “troubles” all;
[4.] How it “defileth many:” which is the progress here assigned unto it by the apostle.
[1.] As to the first, all agree that the apostle hath respect unto the words of Moses, Deuteronomy 29:18, “Lest there should be among you a root that beareth gall and wormwood.” Gall, or hemlock, was a poisonous weed in the eastern countries, as Hosea 10:4; and these names are applied unto poisonous sins, Amos 6:12; Deuteronomy 32:32. Now it is evident, that, in the words of Moses, by this “root,” a person, or persons inclining to apostasy and departure from God are intended. So the foregoing words do make it manifest, “Lest there should be among you man, or woman, or family, or tribe, whose heart turneth away this day from the LORD our God, to go and serve the gods of these nations;” that is,
“Lest there should be among you a root that beareth gall and wormwood.”
‘Be it one or more, “man or woman, family or tribe,” that is thus affected, it is a “root of bitterness” among you.’Hence it is evident what or who it is that the apostle intendeth. It is not any evil in the abstract, any heresy or sin, but persons guilty of this evil, which he intends. And this is that which in another place he expresseth by “an evil heart of unbelief, in departing from the living God;” which he cautioneth these Hebrews to exercise their mutual inspection about, as he doth in this place, Hebrews 3:12-15. See the exposition. Wherefore this “root of bitterness,” is persons in the church whose hearts are inclined and disposed unto apostasy from the gospel, on one pretense or another, with a return either to Judaism or sensuality of life, as the following instances do also intimate. And this exactly answers the sin condemned in Moses, of a “heart turning away from the LORD our God.” And it is evident that there were many such at that time among the professing Hebrews.
And this evil is called a “root of bitterness:”
(1st.) Because at the beginning it is hidden in the hearts of men, where it cannot be discovered. So speaks Moses, “Whose heart turneth away.” So it is with roots, until they discover themselves by springing up.
(2dly.) Because from hence, from this “evil heart of unbelief,” doth the whole evil of apostasy in every way proceed, as fruit from its proper root. And
2dly. It is called a root of “bitterness,” because of its noxious and poisonous qualities in them in whom it is, and unto others also.
[2.] Towards the completing of the evil intended, it is said that this root “springeth up.” This is the natural way whereby a root discovers itself, both where it is and of what nature. Generally, when men’s hearts are inclined unto apostasy from the gospel, as then to Judaism, and now to Popery, they conceal it for a season, like a root in the earth; but as they have opportunity they begin to discover what is within. And several ways they do so. Commonly they begin the discovery of themselves in the neglect of church assemblies and duties, as the apostle declares, Hebrews 10:25; Hebrews 10:25; thence they proceed to perverse disputings, and contentions against the truth, 1 Timothy 6:5; and so go on to manifest themselves in practices, as occasions, opportunities, and advantages are ministered. This root will not always lie covered, this evil heart will manifest itself: which is the springing up which is here intended.
[3.] The first effect hereof in the church is trouble springing up; “do trouble you.” It doth so, it will do so, in and upon its springing up. The word is nowhere used in the Scripture but in this place. It is “to give trouble by bringing things into disorder, tumult, and confusion.” And a threefold trouble is, or may be, given unto the church by this means:
1st . A trouble of sorrow and grief, for the evil, sin, and eternal ruin, of those who have been united with them in the same society of the profession of the gospel It is no small trouble, unto them who have the bowels of Christian compassion, to see men wilfully ruining their own souls, as they do in this case, Hebrews 10:26-29.
2dly . When those in whom this root is are either confident or many, they will trouble the church, disorder it, and cast things into confusion, by wrangling disputes, speaking perverse things, endeavoring to draw disciples, to corrupt and deceive; as is the way and manner of all apostates.
3 dly . They trouble the church, by bringing an evil report upon it, for divisions, contentions, and instability; ofttimes also, by one means or another, exposing it to external trouble and persecution. This is the first effect which the springing up of this root of bitterness in churches, or among professors of the gospel, doth produce; it troubleth them. And herein the apostle includeth an argument unto the diligent inspection which he exhorts unto, namely, the prevention of this trouble in the church.
[4.] The last effect of it, the utmost of its progress, is, that “many be defiled” by it. “And thereby,” by this root, so springing up, and bearing this fruit of trouble. A dangerous thing it is to have such things fall out in churches; namely, that there be amongst them a man or woman, a family or tribe, few or more, that on any pretences incline unto a departure from the truth of the gospel. It seldom stops with themselves. The ignorance, negligence, darkness, but especially the want of experience of the power of the truth of the gospel, are easily imposed on by them, and thereby they are defiled. And thus it often falls out, not with one or two, but with “many.” Ofttimes whole churches have been ruined by this means; yea, hereby a fatal apostasy was introduced in all the visible churches of the world.
There is no difficulty in the expression of the apostle, of their being “defiled;” as though it were not proper to be defiled by a root springing up. For the apostle doth not speak of the manner of its operation and infection, but of the effect it produceth; and this is, that men who have been cleansed by baptism, and the profession of the truth, should be again contaminated with abominable errors, or filthy lusts, as it is fully declared, 2 Peter 2:18-22. And we may observe,
Obs. 5. That the root of apostasy from God and the profession of the gospel may abide invisibly in professing churches So our apostle declares it at large, 2 Timothy 2:16-21; with the reason of it. And we may hence infer,
1. That we ought not to be surprised when any such root discovereth itself by springing up; it is no more but what we are warned of.
2. That in such a season it is divine election that secures true believers from apostasy and defilement, 2 Timothy 2:19, Matthew 24:24.
Obs. 6. Spiritual evils in churches are progressive. From small, imperceptible beginnings, they will grow and increase to the worst of evils, 2 Timothy 2:17; 2 Timothy 3:13. And it will hence follow, that it is the duty of churches to watch against the first risings and entrances of such evils amongst them; which is here given them in charge.
Obs. 7. It is the duty of churches, what in them lies, to prevent their own trouble, as well as the ruin of others.
Obs. 8. There is a latent disposition in negligent professors to receive infection by spiritual defilements, if they are not watched against, “Many will be defiled.”
Obs. 9. That church-inspection is a blessed ordinance and duty, which is designed by Christ himself as a means to prevent these contagious evils in churches. And the neglect of it is that which hath covered some of them with all manner of defilements.
Μή τις πόρνος ἢ βέβηλος ὡς ᾿Ησαῦ , ὅς ἀντὶ βρώσεως μιᾶς ἀπέδοτο τὰ πρωτοτόκια αὑτοῦ· ἴστε γὰρ ὅτι καὶ μετέπειτα θέλων κληρονομῆσαι τὴν εὐλογίαν ἀπεδοκιμάσθη· μετανοίας γὰγ τόπον οὐχ εὗρε , καίπερ μετὰ δακρύων ἐκζητήσας αὐτήν .
Μή τις πόρνος . Syr., “lest any man should be found among you who is a fornicator.” ῎Η βέζηλος . Syr., ורְפֵא , and “fainting,” or a backslider. ᾿Αντὶ βρώσεως μιᾶς . Vulg., “propter unam escam.” Rhem., “one dish of meat.” Bez., “uno edulio;” “one morsel,” something to be eaten at once. We say, “one morsel of meat;” but it was “broth,” which is no less “edulium” than meat.”
῎Ιστε γάρ . Vulg., “scitote enim.” “For know ye,” imperatively. “For ye do know.” Syr., יָרְעִין אַנְתּוּן , “you are knowing of it.”
Hebrews 12:16-17 . Lest there be any fornicator, or profane person, as Esau, who for one morsel of meat sold his birthright. For ye know that afterward, when he would have inherited the blessing, he was rejected: for he found no place of repentance, though he sought it carefully with tears.
The apostle proceeds to give other instances of such evils as whereby Christian societies would be corrupted, and way made for total apostasy; which were to be diligently heeded and carefully watched against. And the end hereof is, that either such evils may be prevented, or those who are guilty of them be recovered, (the difficulty whereof in the latter instance is declared), or be cast out of the church, that it be not defiled; which are the ends of this inspection.
He puts together “fornication” and “profaneness;” and that probably for these three reasons:
1. Because they are, as it were, the heads of the two sorts of sins that men may be guilty of, namely, sins of the flesh, and sins of the mind, Ephesians 2:3.
2. Because they usually go together. Fornicators, that is, those who are habitually so, do always grow profane; and profane persons, of all other sins, are apt to set light by fornication. These things are written with the beams of the sun in the days wherein we live.
3. They are the especial sins whose relinquishment by sincere repentance is most rare. Few fornicators or profane persons do ever come to repentance.
It is one of these alone, namely, profaneness, whereof we have an instance in Esau. The Scripture mentioneth nothing of his fornication. His taking of wives from among the Hittites, who seem to have been proud, evil, idolatrous persons, in that they were “a grief of mind,” or a bitter provocation, “unto Isaac and to Rebekah,” Genesis 26:34-35,
cannot be called fornication, as the sense of the word was then restrained, when the evil of polygamy was not known.
There is in the words,
1. The evils to be watched against, in the way and manner before declared.
2. An effectual motive to abstain from the latter of them, taken from the example of one who was guilty of it, and the success of that guilt; which was Esau.
3. In that example we may observe,
(1.) That he is charged with this sin of profaneness;
(2.) The way whereby he manifested himself so to be, or wherein his profaneness did consist;
(3.) The issue of it;
(4.) His vain attempt to recover himself from that condition whereinto he was cast by his profaneness: all which must be opened.
1. The first evil mentioned is “fornication.” But the caution is given, as unto the church, with respect unto persons in the first place: “That there be no fornicator.” Reference is had unto the former charge: ‘Look ye to it diligently, that there be no fornicator in your society. Take care that no persons fall into that sin; or if they do, let them be removed from among you. The sin is evil unto them, but the communion of their persons is evil unto you.’ Now, because the apostle placeth this evil, with that which follows, at the door of final apostasy, and doth more than intimate the difficulty, if not the moral impossibility, of the recovery of those who are guilty of them, we must inquire into the nature of it, and thereon its danger. And,
(1.) This sin is most directly and particularly opposite unto that holiness which he is exhorting them unto, as that without which they shall not see the LORD. And some do judge, that by “holiness” in that place, the contrary habit unto fornication is intended. However, this is peculiarly opposite unto gospel holiness and sanctification, as the apostle declares, 1 Corinthians 6:18-20. And it is that sin which men who are forsaking the profession of holiness do usually fall into, as experience testifieth.
(2.) Though here and elsewhere the sin of fornication be severely interdicted, yet in this place the apostle doth not intend every such person as may, through temptation, be surprised into that sin, nor will one fact give this denomination; but those who live in this sin, who are fornicators habitually, such as are placed at the head of them that shall never inherit the kingdom of God, 1 Corinthians 6:9. Such are to be excluded out of the church, as a certain pledge and token of their exclusion out of heaven. It is no wonder, therefore, if the apostle intimates a great difficulty of the recovery of such.
(3.) Under this name of “fornicator,” or fornication, all sins of the same kind are intended. For the Scripture calls all conjunction with women, not in lawful marriage, by the name of fornication, 1 Corinthians 5:9-12; Eph 5:5 ; 1 Timothy 1:10. So that by “fornicators,” whoremongers and adulterers, as it is expressed, Hebrews 13:4, or all such as sin against their own bodies, be it in or out of the state of wedlock, be it with single or married persons, are intended. Wherefore the warning doth not respect the practice of the Gentiles at that time, wherein the fornication of single persons was lightly set by; nor the licentiousness of the Jews, who thought it no sin to accompany with a heathen, at least if she were not in wedlock; but it is general, as unto all who are so guilty of uncleanness as to come under this denomination.
(4.) This is a sin, which when men are habitually given up unto, they are never, or very rarely, recovered from it. When any sensual lust hath obtained a habitual predominancy in any, it doth contract so intimate a league with the flesh, as it is hardly eradicated. Such sins do usually keep men secure unto the future judgment,. Hence God, for the punishment of idolatry, gave some up unto uncleanness, through the lusts of their own hearts, Romans 1:24-26, namely, that by them they might be secured unto that eternal vengeance which they had deserved.
(5.) There is no sort of sinners that would be so scandalous unto churches, should they be tolerated in them, as fornicators. And therefore the Pagans endeavored, in the utmost of their malice and false accusations, to fasten the charge of adulteries, incests, promiscuous lusts and uncleanness, on Christians in their assemblies. For they knew full well, that let them pretend what else they pleased, if they could fix this stain upon them, they would be the common hatred and scorn of mankind. For the higher men’s pretences are unto God and religion, if they issue in such vile lusts, they are the more contemptible, and the more to be abhorred. Whereas, therefore, the church doth make a peculiar profession of a separation and dedication unto God, in holiness, purity of heart and life, nothing can be a greater reproach unto it than that fornicators should be found in its communion. And the carelessness of the visible church herein for some ages, suffering licentiousness of life in the lusts of the flesh to diffuse itself greatly amongst its members, being promoted in the clergy by an interdiction of lawful marriage unto them, proved its ruin. And,
Obs. 1. That church which tolerates in its communion men living in such gross sins as fornication, is utterly, as unto its discipline, departed from the rule of the gospel. And it is also hence evident, that,
Obs. 2. Apostatizing professors are prone to sins of uncleanness. For being overcome of the flesh, and brought into bondage, as 2 Peter 2:19, they are slaves and debtors unto it, to serve it in the lusts of uncleanness.
2. The second evil to be watched against is “profaneness;” or that there be no profane person among them. For it is persons that are firstly intended, as is evident in the instance of Esau. To be “profane,” may be taken passively or actively. In the first sense, it is a person or place separated and cast out from the society of things sacred. So holy things are said to be profaned, when men take off the veneration that is due unto them, and expose them to common use or contempt. “To profane,” is to violate, to corrupt, to prostitute to common use, things sacred and holy, either in their nature or by divine institution. “Profane” actively, is one that despiseth, sets light by, or contemneth sacred things. Such as mock at religion, or who lightly regard its promises and threatenings, who despise or neglect its worship, who speak irreverently of its concerns, we call profane persons; and such they are, and such the world is filled withal at this day.
This profaneness is the last step of entrance into final apostasy. When men, from professors of religion, become despisers of and scoffers at it, their state is dangerous, if not irrecoverable.
3. An instance of this evil is given us in Esau: “A profane person, as Esau.” ‘That is,’say some, ‘he was the type of a profane person; it doth not appear that he was such himself.’But the apostle calls him expressly, a “profane person,” and declares how he evidenced himself so to be, or wherein his profaneness did consist. And the truth is, there are very few in the Scripture concerning whom more evidences are given of their being reprobates. And this should warn all men not to trust unto the outward privileges of the church. He was the first-born of Isaac, circumcised according to the law of that ordinance, and partaker in all the worship of God in that holy family; yet an outcast from the covenant of grace and the promise thereof.
4. The way whereby he exerted and manifested his profaneness is declared: “Who for one morsel of meat sold his birthright.” Many expositors, in the consideration of the sin of Esau, as it is recorded, Genesis 25:29-34, reflect on many crimes in him, especially intemperance and gluttony; as far as I can see, without cause. His desire of food from his own brother, when he was hungry and faint, might be harmless. But he fell into his sin on the occasion that then fell out; which the apostle here reports as unto the matter of fact, and chargeth on profaneness. The matter of fact is known, and we must inquire wherein his profaneness acted itself. And it did so,
(1.) In a readiness to part with his birthright, with whatsoever was contained in it and annexed unto it. Though I suppose he was then very young, for the story is added immediately after these words, “And the boys grew,” verse 27; yet being bred in the family of Isaac, he could not but know what did belong to that birthright, and what was annexed unto it by divine institution. And whereas, as we shall see, this had something in it that was sacred, the undervaluing it was a high profaneness; we must inquire hereon, what this birthright was, and how he sold it, and wherein he manifested himself to be profane thereby. He sold τὰ πρωτοτόκια αὑτοῦ , “suum jus primogeniti,” Bez;. “his right of the first-born.” “Jus primogeniturae suae, “the right of his own primogeniture;” the things belonging unto him as the first-born.
It is evident in the Scripture, that there were many rights and privileges of primogeniture in the church; some of them arising from the light of nature, and so common amongst all mankind; and some of them of divine institution.
Among these, the Jews, many of them, do reckon the priesthood; and they are followed herein by most of our expositors. But I am much mistaken if, by “the priesthood of the first-born,” the Jews intend any thing but their dedication unto God by virtue of the law of the sanctification of every male that opened the womb, Exodus 13:2; Exodus 22:29; Exodus 34:19: whence they were changed for the Levites, who were taken into the sacred office, Numbers 8:16-18. The priesthood, therefore, being settled in that tribe, which God took in exchange for the first-born, who were dedicated by the law of opening the womb, they called their state a priesthood. But it doth not appear that there was any ordinary office of the priesthood until the institution of that of Aaron, to be typical of the priesthood of Christ; only there was one person before extraordinarily called unto that office, unto the same purpose, namely, Melchizedek. But the reader, if he please, may consult our Exercitations on the Priesthood of Christ, prefixed unto the second volume of this Exposition, where these things are handled at large, Exercitations 25-34., I shall not therefore admit this among the privileges of the birthright, and can give arguments sufficient to disprove it. But this is not a place to insist on these things.
A double portion of the paternal inheritance was ascertained unto the first- born by the law, Deuteronomy 21:17. And this was but the determination of the light of nature unto a certain measure; for a natural reason is given for it: “He is the beginning of his strength: the right of the first-born is his.” So when Reuben forfeited his birthright, the double portion was given unto Joseph and his sons, 1 Chronicles 5:1. This right, therefore, was certainly sold, what lay in him, by Esau.
There was also in it a right of rule and government, ever the rest of the children of the family; which was transferred to Judah on the forfeiture made by Reuben, 1 Chronicles 5:2. And therefore when Isaac had transferred the birthright and blessing unto Jacob, he tells Esau, “I have made him thy lord, and all his brethren have I given to him for servants,” Genesis 27:37.
These things did ordinarily, yea constantly, belong unto the firstborn. [But moreover, there was a blessing that from Abraham ran in the patriarchal line, which was communicated from father unto son, containing an enclosure of all church privileges, and the preservation of the promised Seed. This, I confess, was distinct from the birthright, and so it was distinguished by Esau, who in his complaint of his brother, cried out,
“He hath supplanted me these two times: he took away my birthright; and, behold, now he hath taken away my blessing,” Genesis 27:36.
But although it was not annexed inseparably unto the birthright, yet there was a just expectation that it should be conveyed according to the primogeniture. Hence not only Esau calls it his blessing, “He hath taken away my blessing,” verse 36, but Isaac calls it so too, “He hath taken away thy blessing,” verse 35. It was not his by divine destination, as appeared in the issue; nor had he made it his by obtaining an especial interest in the promise by faith, for he had it not; but in the ordinary course it was to be his, and in the purpose of his father it was his, and so in his own expectation: but God cut off the line of succession herein, and gave it unto Jacob.
Now, as Jacob, in his whole design, aimed not at personal riches and power, wherein he was contented to see his brother far exceed him, as he did; but at an inheritance of the patriarchal blessing, wherein the promised Seed and the church-state were contained, whereinto the birthright was an outward entrance, a sign and pledge of it: so Esau, by selling his birthright, did virtually renounce his right unto the blessing, which he thought annexed thereunto.
(2.) But it may be inquired how he sold this birthright, or how he could sell that which was not in his own power. The word is ἀπέδοτο , “he gave away,” or “he gave up; ” but whereas he did it on a price which he esteemed a valuable consideration for it, and did make an express bargain about it, the sense intended in the word is, that he sold it, as it is expressed, Genesis 25:33.
He could not by any contract change the course of nature, that he who was the first-born should really not be so; but it was his right by virtue thereof that he parted withal. Now, although this was not absolute, or immediately vested in him, seeing the father, yet living, might on just causes disinherit the first-born, as Jacob did Reuben; yet he had a right unto it, “jus ad rein,” and an assured interest in it, as unto his father’s affections. This he renounced; and hereby also he virtually parted with the blessing. But this he directly apprehended not. Wherefore although he never sought the recovery of the birthright, whose renunciation he had confirmed with an oath, yet he hoped that he might retain the blessing still.
(3.) It is evident how in all this action he carried it profanely. For,
[1.] He discovered an easiness and readiness to part with his birthright, and all that was annexed thereunto by divine institution. Had he placed his principal interest therein, had he considered aright the privilege of it, had he by faith entertained the promise that went along with it, he would not have been so facile, nor so easily surprised into a renouncing of it. But being a man given wholly to his pleasures, and the love of present things, he seems scarce ever to have entertained serious thoughts about what it was significant of, in things spiritual and heavenly.
[2.] In that he did it on so slight an occasion, and valued it at so small a rate as one “mess of pottage,” or one “morsel of meat;” that is, of what was to be eaten.
[3.] In that, without further deliberation, he confirmed the sale with a solemn oath; whereby he discovered the highest contempt of what he had parted withal.
[4.] In his regardlessness of what he had done, after the power of his present temptation was over: for it is said, “He did eat and drink, and rose up and went his way,” as a man utterly unconcerned in what he had done; whereon the Holy Ghost adds this censure, “Thus Esau despised his birthright.” He did not only sell it, but despised it, Genesis 25:31-34.
This was the profaneness of Esau. And we may observe, that,
Obs. 3. Evil examples proposed in Scripture-light, divested of all colors and pretences, laid open in their roots and causes, are effcacious warnings unto believers to abstain from all occasions leading unto the like evils, and much more from the evils themselves. To this end is the sin of Esau here called over.
Obs. 4. Where there is in any a latent predominant principle of profaneness, a sudden temptation or trial will let it out unto the greatest evils, as it was with Esau; and we see it daily verified to amazement.
Obs. 5. This principle of profaneness, in preferring the morsels of this world before the birthright privileges of the church, is that which at this day threatens the present ruin of religion. What is it that makes so many forsake their profession in a time of trial or persecution? It is because they will not be hungry for the gospel; they will have their morsels, which they prefer before the truth and privileges thereof. What makes the profession of religion in some nations to totter at this day? Is it not because of the morsels of outward peace, with, it may be, dignities and preferments that lie on the other side, and some present hunger or supposed want of earthly things, that they may fall into? Let men pretend what they please, it is from a spirit of profaneness that they forsake the privileges and assemblies of the church for any outward advantage; and what will be their success, we shall see in the next verse.
Hebrews 12:17 . “For ye know how that afterward, when he would have inherited the blessing, he was rejected: for he found no place for repenance, though he sought it carefully with tears.”
1. The efficacy of the example proposed consists in the due consideration of the consequent of the sin exemplified. ‘Such was the sin of Esau, which ye ought to watch against in yourselves and others; for ye know what ensued thereon.’This the particle, “for,” declares to be the reason of the following account of it.
2. The way is expressed whereby they understood this consequent of Esau’s sin: “Ye know.” They knew it from the Scripture, where it is recorded. He supposeth them acquainted with the Scriptures, and what is contained in them; as they were; in like manner as he says of Timothy, 2 Timothy 3:15; as it is the duty of all Christians to be. Besides, there is a peculiar force of persuasion and conviction, when we argue from men’s own knowledge and concessions. ‘Ye know this yourselves; ye know it full well from the Scripture, and therefore let it be of great weight and consideration with you.’
3. The general force of the exhortation from the consideration of the event of Esau’s profaneness, is taken from the surprisal that befell him when he found what his sin had brought him unto. For he is represented as a man under great amazement, as if he had little thought to fall into such a condition. And thus at one time or another it will befall all profane persons, who have refused the mercy and privileges of the gospel; they shall at one time or other fall under dreadful surprisals, in life, or at death, or at the last day. Then shall they see the horror of those crimes which before they made nothing of. Wherefore the Hebrews are here warned, and all professors of the gospel with them, that they decline not from their profession, lest they fall into the like surprisals, when it is too late to seek for deliverance out of them.
4. What he did upon this surprisal, with the effects of it, are declared,
(1.) The time wherein he did it is noted; it was “afterward.” This afterward was not less, perhaps, than forty or fifty years. For he sold his birthright when he was young; now, when he designed the receiving of the blessing, Isaac was old, namely, about an hundred and forty years old, Genesis 27:2. So long did he live in his sin, without any sense of it or repentance for it. Things went prosperously with him in the world, and he had no regard in the least of what he had done, nor of what would be the end of it. But falling now into a new distress, it fills him with perplexity. And so it is with all secure sinners. Whilst things go prosperously with them, they can continue without remorse; but at one time or other their iniquity will find them out, Genesis 42:21-22.
(2.) What he designed; and that was, to inherit the blessing: “He would have inherited the blessing.” He esteemed himself the presumptive heir of the patriarchal blessing, and knew not that he had virtually renounced it, and meritoriously lost it, by selling his birthright. So the apostle here distinguisheth between the birthright and the blessing. He “sold” birthright, but would have inherited the blessing; esteemed it to belong unto him by right of inheritance, when he had himself destroyed that right. So he distinguished himself: “He took away my birthright; and, behold, now he hath taken away my blessing,” Genesis 27:36. He had, no doubt, an apprehension that there were many excellent things contained in it; especially, a flourishing state and condition in this world, in a multiplication of posterity, and power over enemies, which were express in the promise made unto Abraham, Genesis 22:17. This made him put in his claim for the blessing, without the least sense of the spiritual privileges of it; for he was a “profane person.” And herein he was a type of the unbelieving Jews at that time; for they adhered to the outward things of the blessing, the carcass of it, unto the rejection of Him who was the whole life, soul, and power of it. And it is not unusual, that men should earnestly desire the outward privileges of the church, who value not the inward grace and power of them; but they are profane persona
(3.) The event of this attempt was, that “he was rejected.” “He was reprobated.” So translators generally. Not that his eternal reprobation is hereby intended, (but this open, solemn rejection of him from the covenant of God, and the blessings thereof, was an evidence of his being reprobated of God, whence he is proposed as the type of reprobates, Romans 9:11-12), but the refusal of his father to give him the patriarchal blessing is that which is here intended.
(4.) There is his behavior under this rejection, and the event thereof: “He sought it diligently with tears,” but “he found no place of repentance.” For that which the apostle intends fell out after his rejection, when his father had declared unto him that his blessing was gone for ever, Genesis 27:33-38. It is all one whether we refer αὐτήν , in the close of the verse, unto the remote antecedent, “the blessing,” or unto the next, which is “repentance;” for that which he sought for in repentance, namely, the repentance of his father, or the change of his mind, was the blessing also. For it is now generally agreed by all, that there is nothing in the words which should in the least intimate that he sought of God the grace of repentance; nor is there any thing in the record that looks that way. And I shall rather interpret this word, with Beza, of the blessing, than of the repentance of Isaac; because his cry in the story was immediately and directly for the blessing.
(5.) The manner how he sought the blessing, is, that “he did it diligently with tears.” So the apostle expresseth the record, Genesis 27:38, “And Esau said unto his father, Hast thou but one blessing, my father? bless me, even me also, O my father. And Esau lifted up his voice and wept:” as those also of verse 34. No man, considering the intense affections that were between them, can express that conflict of nature which was on this occasion between Isaac and Esau. But in the one, grace and submission unto the will of God overcame all natural reluctancy; in the other, resolution for further sin offered itself for relief, “he said in his heart that he would slay his brother,” verse 41. So it is in all like cases. Things that are most terrible and convulsive to nature, in them that believe, are brought into order in due time by grace and resignation unto the will of God; and on the other hand, sin, with its deceitful contrivances, will not cease to offer its reliefs unto unbelievers in distress, until all hopes are cut off and vanished for ever.
But because here is an appearance of somewhat more than ordinary severity, in the peremptory denial of a divine blessing unto one who so earnestly sought and cried for it, the manner of his seeking it must be considered. And,
[1.] He did it when it was too late. For he had not only forfeited his right unto it long before, and lived in impenitency under that forfeiture, but the sacred investiture of another in that blessing was solemnly past, which could not be recalled. So speaks Isaac even under his surprisal: “I have blessed him; yea, and he shall be blessed,” Genesis 27:33.
Whatever men may pretend, whatever presumptuous sinners may flatter themselves withal, there is a limited time of the dispensation of grace, beyond which men shall not be admitted unto a participation of it, nor shall ever use the right way of attaining it. And this they may do well to consider who spend their lives in continual procrastination of their conversion to God. They may live, yet their time may be past, and a caveat entered against them, that they shall never enter into God’s rest. See Hebrews 3:11-15, with the exposition.
[2.] He sought it not at all in a due manner. Outward vehemency in expressions, and tears, may be influenced by such considerations as not to be an evidence of inward sincerity. He sought it not of God, but only of him that was the minister of it. And according to the law of God’s institution, the ministers of gospel blessings may be limited from a communication of them; but there is no law or bounds put unto the infinite treasures of divine goodness, if application be made thereunto in a due manner. But he sought the end without the means: he would have the blessing, but he used not the means for the attaining of it; namely, faith and repentance. For notwithstanding all his sorrow and trouble upon his disappointment, he entertained no thought about any repentance in himself; for he immediately fell into a resolution to follow Cain in his rejection, and to kill his brother. Yet herein lies the great folly that the generality of men are betrayed into through the deceitfulness ,of sin, namely, that they would have the end, the blessing of mercy and glory, without the use of the means, in faith, repentance, and obedience. But it is in vain to desire or endeavor a separation of those things which God, by an immutable constitution, hath conjoined and put together.
Lastly, The reason of this event is expressed: “He found no place for repentance.” That is, notwithstanding his pretended right, his claim of it, his earnestness with tears about it; notwithstanding the inexpressible affection of Isaac unto him, and his trembling surprisal at an apprehension that he had missed the blessing; yet Isaac did not, could not, might not, change his mind, or repent him of what he had done, in conferring the blessing on Jacob, which God approved of. This sad event had the profaneness of Esau. And we may observe,
Obs. 1. This example of Esau cuts off all hopes by outward privileges, where there is an inward profaneness of heart. He had as much to plead for the blessing, and as fair a probability for the attaining it, as ever any profane hypocrite can have in this world. And,
Obs. 2. Profane apostates have a limited season only, wherein the recovery of the blessing is possible. For although here be no intimation of a man’s seeking of repentance from God in a due manner, and being rejected, which is contrary to the nature of God, who is a rewarder of all that diligently seek him, yet there is an indication of severity, in leaving men in an irrecoverable condition, even in this life, who are guilty of such provocations. ordinance for the preservation of them that believe, and the edification of the whole church, Romans 11:22.
Obs. 4. Sin may be the occasion of great sorrow, where there is no sorrow for sin; as it was with Esau. Men may rue that in the consequents, which yet they like well enough in the causes.
Obs. 5. No man knows whereunto a deliberate sin may lead him, nor what will be the event of it. Esau little thought, when he sold his birthright, that he had utterly forfeited the eternal blessing.
Obs. 6. Profaneness and despising spiritual privileges, is a sin that God at one time or other will testify his severity against; yea this, on many accounts, is the proper object of God’s severity. It shall not be spared in the eldest son and most dearly beloved of an Isaac.
Obs. 7. Steadfastness in faith, with submission unto the will of God, will establish the soul in those duties which are most irksome unto flesh and blood. Nothing could prevail with Isaac to change his mind, when he knew what was the will of God.
The discourse from hence unto the end of the chapter is of great weight, and accompanied with sundry difficulties, of which expositors do scarcely so much as take notice. Hence many different interpretations are given concerning the design of the apostle, and the principal things intended in the words. And because on the whole it gives the best rule and guidance for its own interpretation, in all the particulars of it, I shall premise those general considerations which will direct us in its exposition, taken from the scope of the words and nature of the argument in hand; as,
1. The whole epistle, as we have often observed, is, as unto the kind of writing, parenetical. The design of the apostle in it, is to persuade and prevail with the Hebrews unto constancy and perseverance in the profession of the gospel For herein they seem at this time to have been greatly shaken. To this end he considers the means and causes of such backslidings as he warned them against. And these may be referred unto four heads:
(1.) An evil heart of unbelief, or the sin that doth easily beset them;
(2.) An opinion of the excellency and necessity of Mosaical worship and the old church-state;
(3.) Afflictions and persecutions for the gospel;
(4.) Prevalent lusts and sins, such as profaneness, fornication, and the like: all which we have spoken unto in their respective places, Hereunto he adds a prescription of that universal obedience, and those especial duties of holiness, which their profession required, and which were necessary to the preservation of it.
2. The main argument which he insists on in general unto this end, and wherein the didactical part of the epistle doth consist, is the excellency, glory, and advantage, of that gospel-state whereunto they were called. This he proves from the person and office of its Author, his priesthood and sacrifice, with the spiritual worship and privileges belonging thereunto. All these he compareth with things of the same name and place under the law, demonstrating the excellency of the one above the other; and that especially on this account, that all the ordinances and institutions of the law were nothing but prefigurations of what was for to come. 3. Having insisted particularly and distinctly on all these things, and brought his especial arguments from them unto an issue, he makes in the discourse before us a recapitulation of the whole: for he makes a brief scheme of the two states that he had compared, balanceth them one against the other, and thereby demonstrates the force of his argument and exhortation from thence unto constancy and perseverance in the faith of the gospel. It is not therefore a new argument that here he proceeds unto; it is not an especial confirmation of his dehortation from profaneness, by the example of Esau, that he doth design: but as Hebrews 8:1, he gives us the κεφάλαιον , the “head” or sum of the things which he had discoursed concerning the priesthood of Christ; so here we have an ἀνακεφαλαίωσις , or “recapitulation” of what he had proved concerning the two states of the law and the gospel.
4. This summary way of arguing he had before touched on in his passage, as Hebrews 2:2-3; Hebrews 3:1-3, etc., Hebrews 4:1. And he had more distinctly handled the antithesis in it on an alike occasion, Galatians 4:21-28. But here he makes use of it as a close unto his whole disputation, adding nothing unto it but a prescription of particular duties.
5. It must be observed, that the great honor and privilege of the Judaical church-state, whereon all particular advantages did depend, was their coming unto and station at mount Sinai, at the giving of the law. There were they taken into covenant with God, to be his peculiar people above all the world; there were they formed into a national church; there had they all the privileges of divine worship committed unto them. Hereon theirs was “the adoption, and the glory, and the covenants, and the giving of the law, and the service of God, and the promises,” as the apostle speaks, Romans 9:4. This is that glory which they boast of unto this day, and whereon they rely in their unbelief and rejection of the gospel.
6. Wherefore the apostle, allowing all this communication of privileges unto them at Sinai, observes, that it was done in such a way of dread and terror as that sundry things are manifest therein; as,
(1.) That there was no evidence, in all that was done, of God’s being reconciled unto them, in and by those things. The whole representation of him was as an absolute sovereign and a severe judge. Nothing declared him as a father, gracious and merciful.
(2.) There was no intimation of any condescension from the exact severity of what was required in the law; or of any relief or pardon in case of transgression.
(3.) There was no promise of grace, in a way of aid or assistance, for the performance of what was required. Thunders, voices, earthquakes, and fire, gave no signification of these things.
(4.) The whole was hereby nothing but a glorious ministration of death and condemnation, as the apostle speaks, 2 Corinthians 3:7; whence the consciences of sinners were forced to subscribe to their own condemnation as just and equal.
(5.) God was here represented in all the outward demonstrations of infinite holiness, justice, severity, and terrible majesty, on the one hand; and on the other, men in their lowest condition of sin, misery, guilt, and death. If there be not, therefore, something else to interpose between God and men, somewhat to fill up the space between infinite severity and inexpressible guilt, all this glorious preparation was nothing but a theater, set up for the pronouncing of judgment and the sentence of eternal condemnation against sinners. And on this consideration depends the force of the apostle’s argument: and the due apprehension and declaration of it are a better exposition of verses 18-21 than the opening of the particular expressions will amount unto; yet they also must be explained.
7. It is hence evident, that the Israelites, in the station of Sinai, did bear the persons of convinced sinners under the sentence of the law. There might be many of them justified in their own persons by faith in the promise, but as they stood and heard and received the law, they represented sinners under the sentence of it, not yet relieved by the gospel. And this we may have respect unto in our exposition, as that which is the final intention of the apostle to declare, as is manifest from the description which he gives us of the gospel-state, and of those that are interested therein.
These things are necessary to be premised, unto a right understanding of the design of the apostle in the representation he gives us of the original of the old church-state. And one thing must be observed concerning his description of the gospel-state, which doth ensue. And this is,
8. That all spiritual things of grace and glory, in heaven and earth, being recapitulated in Christ, as is declared Ephesians 1:10, all brought unto a head and all centring in him, our coming unto him by faith gives us an interest in them all; so as that we may be said to come unto them all and every one, as it is here expressed. There is not required a peculiar acting or exercise of faith distinctly in reference unto every one of them; but by our coming unto Christ we come unto them all, as if every one of them had been the especial object of our faith, in our initiation into the gospel-state. Hence is the method or order in their expression; he and his mediation being mentioned in the close of the enumeration of the other privileges, as that upon the account whereof we are interested in them all, or as the reason of our so being.
9. The remainder of this discourse consists of two things:
(1.) The enforcement of the exhortation from the balancing of these states, and comparing them together. And this falls under a double consideration:
[1.] Of the things themselves on the part of the gospel: and this is from the eternal sanction of it, namely, the certain, infallible salvation of them that do believe, and the no less certain destruction of unbelievers and apostates.
[2.] Of the comparison itself between the two states, which confirms that part of the exhortation which is taken from the certain destruction of unbelievers, by evidencing the aggravation of their sin above theirs who despised the law, Hebrews 12:25.
(2.) He issues and closeth the whole argumentative part of the epistle, here summarily represented, with a declaration of the end and issue of the two states which he had so compared; namely, that one of them was speedily to be removed and taken out of the way, and the other to be established for ever, Hebrews 12:26-27. And hereon he closeth the whole with a direction how to behave ourselves in the evangelical worship of God, in the consideration of his glorious majesty and holiness, both in giving the law and the gospel.
A due attendance unto these rules will guide us in the exposition of this whole context.
Hebrews 12:18-19 . Οὐ γὰρ προσεληλύθατε ψηλαφωμένῳ ὅρει , καὶ κεκαυμένῳ πυρὶ ¸ καὶ γνόφῳ , καὶ σκότῳ , καὶ θυελλῃ , καὶ σάλπιγγος ἤχῳ , καὶ φωνῇ , ῥημάτων , ἧς οἱ ἀκούσαντες παρῃτήσαντο μὴ προστεθῆναι αὑτοῖς λόγου . Προσεληλύθατε . is the word constantly used by our apostle to express a sacred access, or coming unto God in his worship. See Hebrews 10:1.
Υηλαφωμένῳ ὅρει . “the mountain,” is not in the Syriac translation, nor the Arabic; but they retain, “which may be touched,” referring it to the fire, “to the fire which burned, and might be touched.” But the failure is evident; for that of touching relates unto the order about the mount, and not to the fire, which would also be improper. Vulg., “ad tractabilem montem;” Rhem., “a palpable mount;” improperly. Bez., “contrectabilem.” “Tactus sensui expositum.”
Κεκαυμένῳ . Vulg., “accessibilem ignem;” Rhem., “an accessible fire: “ probably “accensibilem” was intended, whence the Rhemists put “kindled or burning” in the margin; for the fire was inaccessible. Bez., “et ardentem ignem.” “Ignem incensum.” Some refer κεκαυμένῳ to ὅρει , as we do, “the mount that burned;” some join it with πυρί , “the fire that burned,” which I rather choose.
Καὶ σάλπιγγος ἤχω . Syr., לְקָלָא דְּקַרְנָא “to the voice of the horn;” alluding to the rams’horns whereof they made a kind of trumpets.
Hebrews 12:18-19 . For ye are not come unto the mount that might be touched, and that burned with fire, [or the fire that burned,] nor unto blackness, and darkness, and tempest, and the sound of the trumpet, and the voice of words, which [voice] they that heard entreated that the word should not be spoken to them any more.
The general scope of the words must be first opened, and then the particular expressions contained in them.
The principal design in hand is a description of that evangelical state whereinto the Hebrews were called, which they were come and entered into; for from thence the apostle infers his ensuing exhortation. But this their coming he expresseth negatively, to introduce a description of the church-state under the old testament, and the manner of the people’s entrance into it; whence he confirms both his argument and his exhortation: “Ye are not come.” And two things are included in that negative expression:
1. What their fathers did. They came, as we shall see, unto the things here mentioned. 2. What they were delivered from by their call unto the gospel. They were no more concerned in all that dread and terror. And the consideration of this deliverance was to be of moment with them, with respect unto their perseverance in the faith of the gospel; for this is the fundamental privilege which we receive thereby, namely, a deliverance from the terror and curse of the law.
And we may observe some few general things, in this proposal of the way of the people’s approach unto God at Sinai, before we open the several passages contained in the words; as,
1. The apostle in this comparison, between their coming of old into the legal church-state, and our admission into the state of the gospel, includes a supposition of the way and manner whereby they approached unto God in the giving of the law. This was by the sanctification of themselves, the washing of their clothes, (as an outward sign thereof,) with other reverential preparations, Exodus 19:10-11. Whence it will follow, that, the gospel church-state being so much more excellent than that of old, God himself being in it in a more glorious and excellent manner, we ought to endeavor a more eminent sanctification and preparation, in all our approaches unto God therein. And therefore he closeth his discourse with an exhortation thereunto: “Let us have grace, whereby we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear,” verse 28. This therefore he teacheth us in the whole, namely, that the grace, love, and mercy of God, in the dispensation of the gospel, requires an internal sanctification and due preparation, with holy fear and reverence, in all our approaches unto him in his worship; answerable unto the type of it in the people’s preparation for the receiving of the law, and the fear that was wrought in them by the terror of God therein Our fear is of another kind than theirs was; yet ought it to be no less real and effectual in us, unto its proper end.
2. As unto the appearance of the divine Majesty here declared, we may observe, that all such apparitions were still suited unto the subject-matter, or what was to be declared of the mind of God in them. So he appeared unto Abraham in the shape of a man, Genesis 18:1-2; because he came to give the promise of the blessing Seed, and to give a representation of the future incarnation. In the like shape he appeared unto Jacob, Genesis 32:24; which was also a representation of the Son of God as incarnate, blessing the church. Unto Moses he appeared as a fire in a bush which was not consumed, Exodus 3:2-6; because he would let him know that the fire of affliction in the church should not consume it, because of his presence in it. “He dwelt in the bush.” Unto Joshua he appeared as an armed man, with his sword drawn in his hand, Joshua 5:13; to assure him of victory over all his enemies. But here he appears encompassed with all the dread and terror described; and this was to represent the holiness and severity of the law, with the inevitable and dreadful destruction of sinners who betake not themselves unto the promise for relief.
3. These appearances of God were the glory of the old testament, the great fundamental security of the faith of believers, the most eminent privilege of the church. Yet were they all but types and obscure resemblances of that which was granted in the foundation of the gospel church-state: and this was, that “God was manifest in the flesh;” “the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us;” or the incarnation of the Son of God. For therein “the fullness of the Godhead dwelt in him bodily,” Colossians 2:9; that is, really and substantially, whereof all other appearances were but shadows.
4. We may also observe some things in general concerning this appearance of the divine Majesty, which intimate the glory and terror of it; as,
(1.) It was on the top of a high mountain, not in a plain. As this had a great appearance of the throne of majesty, so, it being above the people, as it were over them, it was meet to fill them with dread and fear. They looked up, and saw the mountain above them full of fire and smoke; the whole mount quaking greatly, thunders and terrible voices being heard in the air, Exodus 19:18; Exodus 20:18; Deuteronomy 4:11. They could have no other thoughts hereon, but that it was a fearful thing to come to judgment before this holy God. And one view of that terror of the Lord’s holiness and severity, which were here represented, is enough to make the stoutest sinner to quake and tremble.
(2.) To increase the reverence due to this appearance, the people were commanded their distance, and straitly forbidden an approach beyond the bounds fixed unto them.
(3.) This prohibition was confirmed with a sanction, that every one who transgressed it should be stoned, as detestable and devoted unto utter destruction. These things, accompanied with the dreadful spectacles here mentioned by the apostle, did all lead to ingenerate an awful fear and reverence of God, in his giving of the law. This was the way whereby those under the old testament entered into their church-state; which begot in them a spirit of bondage unto fear, during its continuance.
That expression, “They came,” included in this, “Ye are not come,” compriseth all the sacred preparation which, by God’s direction, the people made use of when they approached unto the mount; concerning which the reader may see our Exercitations in the first volume of the Exposition, Exercitations 19.
There are two things in the remaining words: first, What the people so came unto; secondly, What effect it had upon them, especially as unto one instance.
1. The things that they came unto, as recorded by the apostle, are seven:
(1.) The mount that might be touched.
(2.) The fire that burned.
(6.) The sound of the trumpet.
(7.) The voice of words.
2. The event was, that they entreated that the words might be spoken to them no more.
FIRST, They came to,
1. “The mount that might be touched.” This mount was Sinai, in the wilderness of Horeb, which was in the deserts of Arabia So saith our apostle, “mount Sinai in Arabia,” Galatians 4:25. And the apostle mentions this in the first place, because with respect unto this mountain all the laws and directions of the people’s approach unto God were given, Exodus 19:0.
Of this mount it is said, “It might be touched.” Ψηλαφάω is “to feel, to touch, to handle,” Luke 24:39; 1 John 1:1; and it is sometimes applied to any means of attempting the knowledge of what we inquire after, Acts 17:27. And the apostle observes this concerning the mountain, that “it might be touched,” felt, or handled, that it was a sensible, carnal thing, exposed to the outward senses, to the most earthly of them, namely, feeling, from the prohibition given, that none should touch it: for unless it might have been touched naturally, none could have been morally prohibited to touch it. And he makes this observation for two ends:
(1.) To manifest how low and inferior the giving of the law was, in comparison of the promulgation of the gospel, which was from heaven; as we shall see afterwards, verse 25. It was that which might be touched with the hands of men, or by beasts themselves.
(2.) To intimate the bondage and fear the people were then in, who might not so much as touch the mountain where were the signs of God’s presence, though it was in itself a thing exposed to the sense of all creatures.
And there is much of divine wisdom, that manifests itself in the choice of this place for the giving of the law. For,
(1.) It was an absolute solitude, a place remote from the habitation and converse of men. Here the people could neither see nor hear any thing but God and themselves. There was no appearance of any relief, or place of retreat; but there they must abide the will of God. And this teacheth us, that when God deals with men by the law, he will let them see nothing but himself and their own consciences: he takes them out of their reliefs, reserves, and retreats. For the most part, when the law is preached unto sinners, they have innumerable diversions and reliefs at hand, to shield themselves from its terror and efficacy. The promises of sin itself are so, and so are the promises of future amendment; so also are all the businesses and occasions of life which they betake themselves unto. They have other things to do than to attend unto the voice of the law; at least it is not yet necessary that they should so do. But when God will bring them to the mount, as he will here or hereafter, all these pretences will vanish and disappear. Not one of them shall be able to suggest the least relief unto a poor guilty sinner. His conscience shall be kept to that which he can neither abide nor avoid. Unless he can make the great plea of an interest in the blood of Christ, he is gone for ever. And God gave herein a type and representation of the great judgment at the last day. The terror of it consists much in this, that sinners shall be able to see nothing but God and the tokens of his wrath. Nor doth the law represent any thing else unto us. (2.) It was a barren and fruitless desert, where there was neither water nor food. And, answerably thereunto, the law in a state of sin, would bring forth no fruit, nothing acceptable unto God nor useful unto the souls of men. For there was nothing on Sinai but bushes and brambles; whence it had its name. These made an appearance at a distance of some fruitfulness in the place; but when it came to be tried, there was nothing but what was fit for the fire. And so is it with all that are under the law. They may seem to perform many duties of obedience, yea, such as they may trust unto, and make their boast of: but when they are brought unto the trial, they are no other but such as God speaks of, Isaiah 27:4:
“Who would set the briers and thorns against me in battle? I would go through them, I would burn them together.”
Other fruit the law will not bring forth. Nor was there any water in that desert of Horeb, to make it fruitful. That which the people lived on was brought out of the rock; and “that rock was Christ.” From him alone are all refreshments to them that are under the law.
(3.) No place in the habitable world hath been ever since more desolate and forsaken; and such it continueth unto this day.
And thereby we are taught,
[1.] That although there was a necessity for the renovation of the law at that season, to give bounds unto sin, yet that that dispensation should not be continued, but be left for ever as it is under the gospel.
[2.] That those who will abide under the law, shall never have any token of God’s presence with them, but shall be left to desolation and horror. God dwells no more on Sinai. Those who abide under the law, shall neither have his presence nor any gracious pledge of it. And all those things are spoken, to stir us up to seek for an interest in that blessed gospel-state which is here proposed unto us. And thus much we have seen already, that without it there is neither relief from the curse of the law, nor acceptable fruit of obedience, nor pledge of divine favor, to be obtained.
[3.] It manifests that the holiness of things and places is confined unto their use; which when it ceaseth, they become common. What more holy place than Sinai, during the presence of God on it? What now more desolate, forlorn, and despised? For although the superstition of latter ages hath built a house or monastery on the top of this hill, for a mere superstitious devotion, yet God in his providence hath sufficiently manifested his regardlessness of it, and the casting it out of his care. And he denounceth sentence herein on all that superstition and idolatry which are in the church of Rome, in their veneration of relics, and pilgrimages to places of a supposed holiness, though utterly forsaken of all pledges of the divine presence.
2. The second thing they came unto was “the fire that burned;” for so I rather read the words, than “the mount that burned with fire.” For the fire was of itself a distinct token of God’s presence, and a distinct means of filling the people with dread and fear. This fire is mentioned, Exodus 19:18, “The LORD descended on the mount in fire;” and Deuteronomy 4:12, “The LORD spake out of the midst of the fire.” It is said, indeed, that “the mountain burned with fire;” that is, fire burned on the mountain. And this fire had a double appearance:
(1.) That which represented the descent of God on the mount: “The LORD descended in fire.” The people saw the token of God’s presence in the descent of fire on the mount.
(2.) Of the continuance of his presence there, for it continued burning all the while God spake: “He spake out of the fire.” And it was a flaming fire, which raised a smoke, like the smoke of a furnace, Exodus 19:18; which our apostle seems to express by “blackness,” in the next word. Yea, this fire flamed, and “burned unto the midst of heaven,” Deuteronomy 4:11. This fire was an emblem of the presence of God; and of all the appearances on the mount, it was of the greatest terror unto the people. And therefore, in their request to be freed from the dread of the presence of God, they three times mention this fire as the cause of their fear, Deuteronomy 5:24-26. And God is often in the Scripture represented by fire, Deuteronomy 4:24; Isaiah 30:33; Isaiah 33:14. And his severity in the execution of his judgments is so called, Isaiah 66:15; Amos 7:4; Ezekiel 1:4. And although here the light, purity, and holiness of the nature of God, may also be represented by it, yet we shall confine it unto the interpretation given of it in the Scripture itself. And first, as unto God himself, it signified his jealousy. So Moses expounds it, Deuteronomy 4:24, for he closeth his discourse hereof with these words, “For the LORD thy God is a consuming fire, even a jealous God.” And the jealousy of God is his holy severity against sin, not to leave it unpunished. And with respect unto the law which he then gave, “From his right hand went a fiery law for them,” Deuteronomy 33:2, it signified its inexorable severity and efficacy to destroy its transgressors. And we may add hereunto, that it declared the terror of his majesty, as the great legislator. Hence in the Scripture he is often said to be accompanied with fire. See Psalms 18:9-12. Psalms 1:3, “A fire shall devour before him.” Psalms 97:3. “A fire goeth before him.” Daniel 7:10, “A fiery stream issued and came forth from before him.” For there is nothing more apt to fill the hearts of men with a majestic awe than a fire absolutely prevalent above the power of all creatures.
This is the first thing which the people beheld when they came to the mount. And when men under the law have to deal with God, their first apprehensions of him are his holiness and severity against sinners, with his anger and displeasure against sin. There the law leaves them; and thence they must be consumed, without relief by Jesus Christ. These things are hid from sinners, until they are brought to the law, or the law to them. They have no views, no notices of them in a due manner. Hence, until the law comes, they are alive; that is, at peace and in security, well satisfied with their own condition. They see not, they think not of the fire, that is ready to consume them; yea, for the most part they have quite other notions of God, Psalms 50:21, or none at all. But this is the second work of the law: when it hath by its convictions brought the sinner into a condition of a sense of guilt which he cannot avoid, nor will any thing tender him relief, which way soever he looks, for he is in a desert, it represents unto him the holiness and severity of God, with his indignation and wrath against sin; which have a resemblance of a consuming fire. This fills his heart with dread and terror, and makes him see his miserable, undone condition. Infinite holiness, inexorable justice, and fiery indignation, are all in this representation of God. Hence the cry of those who find not the way of relief wilt one day be, ‘Who among us shall dwell with that devouring fire? Who shall inhabit with those everlasting burnings?’
This is the way and progress of the work of the law on the consciences of sinners: First, when they are brought unto it, “it stops their mouths,” makes them “guilty before God,” or subject to his judgment, Romans 3:19; it “shuts them all up in unbelief,” Romans 11:32; it “concludes,” or shuts them up, “under sin,” Galatians 3:22, gives them to see their lost condition, without help, without relief. They are in a wilderness, where is none but God and themselves. And, secondly, in this condition they see the fire: God is represented unto them therein in his jealousy and severity against sin; which fills their hearts with dread and terror. O this fire will consume them! If they continue to hear the voice out of the fire, they shall die! Somewhat hereof, in some degree, is found in all on whom the law hath its proper and effectual work, in order unto the bringing of them unto Christ, the deliverer. And all others shall find it in the highest degree, when it will be too late to think of a remedy.
3. Unto “fire” the apostle adds “blackness,” as we render the word; whereto follow “darkness and tempest.” Before we speak unto the words and things signified in particular, we must consider the consistency of the things that are spoken. For, whereas fire is light in itself, and giveth light, how is it said that together with it there was blackness and darkness?
Some distinguish the times, and say there was an appearance of fire at first, and afterwards of blackness and darkness. But this is directly contrary to the text, which frequently assigns the continuance of the fire unto the end of God’s speaking unto the people. Others would have respect to be had unto several distinct parts of the mountain; so as that the fire appeared in one part, and the darkness in another. But it is evident, in the description given by Moses, that they were mingled all together. For he affirms sometimes, that God spake in and out of the fire; sometimes out of the thick darkness, Deuteronomy 5:22-24. “The LORD spake unto all your assembly in the mount out of the midst of the fire, of the cloud, and of the thick darkness,” Deuteronomy 5:22. “The voice out of the midst of the thick darkness,” Deuteronomy 5:23. “The voice out of the midst of the fire,” Deuteronomy 5:24. And the same is fully expressed, Deuteronomy 4:11-12. So that it is evident there was a mixture of them all together; and so it is described by David, Psalms 18:8-13. And nothing can be conceived of greater dread and terror, than such a mixture of fire, and darkness, and tempest, which left nothing of light unto the fire but its dread and terror. For by reason of this blackness and darkness, the people had no useful light by the fire. This filled them with confusion and perplexity.
The word γνόφος , here used by the apostle, is intended by some “turbo;” Syr., חְשׁוּכָא , “tenebrae,” “darkness;” but that is σκότος , the word following. “Turbo” is a “storm or tempest.” The apostle by these words expresseth those of Moses, חשֶׁךְ עָנָז וַעֲרָפֶל , Deuteronomy 4:11, which we render, “darkness, clouds, and thick darkness;” the LXX. using the same words with the apostle, but not in the same order, Γνόφος , saith Eustathius, is from νέφος ; νόφος , “a cloud,” in the AEolic dialect. Wherefore the apostle in this word might have respect unto that blackness which was caused by the thick cloud wherein God descended, Exodus 19:9, “Lo, I come unto thee in a thick cloud;” which cloud abode upon the mount, verse 16, the blackness of it being not taken away by the fire that was in it, every part of the appearance reserving its own terror. Or he might have respect unto the smoke caused by the fire, which was “as the smoke of a furnace,” verse 18; for he doth not mention it in particular. But the Syriac and Arabic, with other translations, put the words in construction, and render them, “the blackness” or obscurity “of the cloud;” which probably is intended in this word and that following.
But this γνόφος , “blackness” or obscurity, had evidently three things in it:
(1.) As it was mixed with fire, it increased the dread of the appearance.
(2.) It hindered the people from clear views of the glory of God in this dispensation. With respect hereunto, it is often said that “clouds and darkness are round about him, Psalms 98:2.
(3.) It declared the dread of the sentence of the law, in fire and utter darkness.
And this is a third thing in the progress of the work of the law on the consciences of sinners: When they are shut up under guilt, and begin to be terrified with the representation of God’s severity against sin, they cannot but look to see if there be any thing in the manifestation of God and his will by the law that will yield them relief. But here they find all things covered with blackness, or obscurity. The glory of God, in his design in bringing them unto the law, or the law to them, is hid and covered under the veil of this blackness. The design of God herein is not death, though the law in itself be “the ministration of death;” but he deals thus with them to drive them to Christ, to constrain them to flee for refuge unto him. But this design, as unto the law, is covered with blackness; the sinner can see nothing of it, and so knows not how to order his speech towards God by reason of darkness, Job 37:19. It is the gospel alone that reveals this design of God in the law. But instead hereof, this blackness insinuates into the mind a dread of worse things than yet it can discern. When men see blackness in a cloud, they are apt to expect that thunder will break out of it every moment. So is it with sinners; finding all things covered with blackness, in the view they would take of God by the law, it increaseth their dread, and lets them into the things that follow. Wherefore,
Obs. 1. A view of God as a judge, represented in fire and blackness, will fill the souls of convinced sinners with dread and terror. How secure soever they may be at present, when God calls them forth unto the mount their hearts cannot endure, nor can their hands be strong.
4. Unto this “blackness” the apostle adds “darkness.” Blackness is a property of a thing in itself; darkness is its effect towards others. This blackness was such as withal caused darkness, with respect unto them unto whom it was presented. So we may distinguish between the blackness and darkness of a thunder cloud. It is black in itself, and causeth darkness unto us. But this darkness is mentioned distinctly, as a part of the appearance: Exodus 20:21, “Moses drew near unto the thick darkness where God was;” and Deuteronomy 4:11, “Darkness, clouds, and thick darkness.” What this darkness was, we cannot well apprehend. But this it teacheth us, that notwithstanding the revelation that God made of himself in this dispensation of the law, he was, as unto his glory in the purposes of his grace and mercy, in thick darkness unto the people; they could not see him nor discern him. Sinners can see nothing thereof, in or by the law. How this darkness was removed by the ministry of Christ and the gospel, how this cloud of darkness was scattered, and the face of God as a father, as a reconciled God, uncovered, revealed, and made known, is the subject of the writings of the New Testament. Hence the execution of the law is called “blackness of darkness,” Jude 1:13.
5. Hereunto the apostle adds, “and tempest.” And in this word he compriseth the thundering, lightning, and earthquake, that were then on and in the mount, Exodus 19:16; Exodus 19:18; Exodus 20:18. These increased the terror of the darkness, and made it עֲרָפֶל , “a thick darkness,’as it is in Moses.
As it was without in the giving of the law, so it is within in the work of the law; it fills the minds of men with a storm, accompanied with darkness and perplexity. This is the issue that the law brings things unto in the minds and consciences of sinners. Its work ends in darkness and tempest. It hath these two effects: First, it brings the soul into darkness, that it knows not what to do, nor how to take one step towards its own relief. It can see no light, either for its direction or consolation. And hereon it either tires and wearies itself with vain endeavors for relief by its own works and duties, or else sinks into heartless despondencies and complaints; as is the manner of men in darkness. And secondly, it raiseth a tempest in the mind, of disquieting, perplexing thoughts; ofttimes accompanied with dread and terror. In this state the law leaves poor sinners; it will not accompany them one step towards deliverance; it will neither reveal nor encourage them to look after any relief. Yea, it declares that here the sinner must die and perish, for any thing that the law knows or can do. This, therefore, is the place and season wherein Christ interposeth, and cries unto sinners, “Behold me! behold me!”
Now, though all these things tend unto death, yet God was, and God is, exceedingly glorious in them. Yea, this administration of them was so. “The ministration of death” and condemnation “was glorious;” though “it had no glory in this respect, by reason of the glory that excelleth,” namely, in the dispensation of the gospel, 2 Corinthians 3:7; 2 Corinthians 3:10-11. Howbeit in itself it did, and it doth, manifest the glory of the holiness, justice, and severity of God; wherein he will be glorified, and that unto eternity.
These things, with all their dreadful effects, the apostle minds the Hebrews of their deliverance from by Jesus Christ and his gospel, to oblige them unto constancy and perseverance in the profession of the faith; which we shall speak somewhat unto afterwards.
Hebrews 12:19 .
6. They came to “the sound of the trumpet.” This is called קוֹל שֹׁפָר , “the voice of the trumpet,” Exodus 19:16; Exodus 19:19; and was of great use in that solemnity. It is well rendered by the apostle, “the sound of a trumpet;” for it was not a real trumpet, but the sound of a trumpet, formed in the air by the ministry of angels, unto a degree of terror. So it “waxed louder and louder,” to signify the nearer approach of God. This sound of the trumpet, or an allusion unto it, is of great use in sacred things. Here it was used in the promulgation of the law. And there was under the law “a memorial of blowing of trumpets,” on the first day of the seventh month, to call the people unto the solemn day of expiation, Leviticus 23:24; which was a type of preaching the gospel, and a declaration of the remission of sins by the atonement made in the sacrifice of Christ. But the principal solemnity hereof was in the proclamation of the jubilee, every fiftieth year, Leviticus 25:7-9, when liberty was proclaimed throughout all the land, to all the inhabitants thereof, verse 10; which was fulfilled in the ministry of Christ, Isaiah 61:1-2. Whence the people were blessed that heard that joyful sound, Psalms 89:15. So it is frequently applied unto the promulgation of the gospel. It is also used as an indication of the entrance of divine judgments on the world, Revelation 8:6. And lastly, it is used as the means of summoning all flesh to judgment at the last day, 1 Corinthians 15:52; 1 Thessalonians 4:16.
Here it had a treble use, and a double typical signification:
(1.) It was to intimate the approach of God, to prepare the hearts of men with a due reverence of him.
(2.) It was to summon the people to an appearance before him, as their lawgiver and judge; for on the sound of the trumpet, “Moses brought forth the people to meet with God; and they stood at the nether part of the mount,” Exodus 19:17.
(3.) It was the outward sign of the promulgation of the law, with the sanction of it; for immediately upon the sound of the trumpet God spake unto them. And as unto its typical signification, it was,
(1.) A pledge of the future judgment, when all flesh shall be summoned before the judgment-seat of Christ, to answer the terms of the law. And,
(2.) As it was changed in the following institution of the feast of expiation, and in the year of jubilee, it was, as was observed, a type of the promulgation of the gospel in the ministry of Christ himself. And,
Obs. 2. When God calls sinners to answer the law; there is no avoiding of an appearance; the terrible summons and citation will draw them out, whether they will or no. In some the word is made effectual in this life, to bring them into the presence of God with fear and trembling; but here the whole matter is capable of a just composure in the blood of Christ, unto the glory of God and eternal salvation of the sinner. But those that here escape must answer for the whole, when the final summons shall be given them by the trumpet at the last day.
Obs. 3. It is a blessed change, to be removed from the summons of the law to answer for the guilt of sin, unto the invitation of the gospel to come and accept of mercy and pardon. He that shall compare this terrible citation of sinners before the throne of God, to receive and answer the law, with those sweet, gracious, heavenly invitations, with proclamations of grace and mercy, given by Christ in the gospel, Matthew 11:28-30, may apprehend the difference of the two states here insisted on by the apostle. And thus are things stated in the consciences of sinners, with respect unto the different sounds of the trumpet: The summons of the law fills them with dread and terror. Appear they must before God, there is no avoidance; but stand before him they cannot. They are like Adam, when he could no longer hide himself, but must appear and answer for his transgression. They have no refuge to betake themselves unto. The law condemns them; they condemn themselves; and God is represented as a judge full of severity. In this state, when mercy is designed for them, they begin to hear the voice of the trumpet for the promulgation of the gospel, and of grace and mercy by Jesus Christ. This “proclaims liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound,” Isaiah 61:1; that is, to such poor condemned creatures as they are. At first they are not able to believe it, it is so contrary to the summons which was given them by the law; but when it is made manifest unto them that the charge of the law is answered, and thereon mercy and peace are freely tendered unto them, it is as life from the dead, Habakkuk 2:1-4.
Under this dreadful summons of the law the gospel finds us; which exceedingly exalts the glory of the grace of God and of the blood of Christ, in the consciences of believers, as the apostle declares at large, Romans 3:19-26.
7. Hereunto is added, “the voice of words.” It is said that “God spake by a voice,” Exodus 19:19; that is, an articulate voice, in the language of the people, that might be understood by all. Hence he is said to speak with the people, Exodus 20:19. “The LORD spake unto them out of the midst of the fire,” and “they heard the voice,” Deuteronomy 4:12; Deuteronomy 5:23. Now, the words that were uttered with this voice were “the ten words,” or “ten commandments,” written afterwards in the two tables of stone, and no more. This the people all of them heard of the voice of God, and this only:
Deuteronomy 5:22, “These words the LORD spake unto all your assembly” (speaking of the ten commandments) “in the mount out of the midst of the fire, of the cloud, and of the thick darkness, with a great voice, and he added no more: and he wrote them in two tables of stone, and delivered them unto me;” that is, afterwards.
Wherefore, from the midst of the dreadful appearance of fire, clouds, and darkness, all other noises of thunder and the trumpet ceasing, God caused a voice, speaking the words of the ten commandments articulately in their own language, to be heard by the whole congregation, men, women, and children, in the station wherein they were placed at the foot of the mount And this voice was so great and terrible as that the people were not able to bear it; for although it is evident that they were terrified with the dreadful appearances on the mount, yet was it this speaking of God himself that utterly overwhelmed them.
This law, for the substance of it, was written in the hearts of mankind by God himself in their original creation; but being much defaced, as to the efficacious notions of it by the entrance of sin and the corruption of our nature, and greatly affronted as unto the relics of it in the common practice of the world, God gave it in the church this becoming renovation with terror and majesty. And this he did, not only to renew it as a guide unto all righteousness and holiness, as the only rule and measure of obedience unto himself and of right and equity amongst men, and to give check, by its commands and sanction, unto sin; but principally to declare in the church the eternal establishment of it, that no change or alteration should be made in its commands or penalties, but that all must be fulfilled to the uttermost, or sinners would have no acceptance with God: for it being the original rule of obedience between him and mankind, and failing of its end through the entrance of sin, he would never have revived and proclaimed it, in this solemn, glorious manner, if it had been capable of any abrogation or alteration at any time. Therefore these words he spake himself immediately unto the people, and these only. His will concerning alterable institutions, he communicated by revelation unto Moses only. How this law is established and fulfilled, is declared in the gospel. See Romans 10:1-4.
The unchangeable nature and sanction of this law, as unto its rewards and punishments, were eternally secured in the hearts and consciences of mankind; for it was so inlaid with the principles of our nature, so ingrafted on all the faculties of our souls, that no flesh is able utterly to subduct itself from under its power. Though sinners find it contrary unto them in all their desires and designs, and that which continually threatens their ruin, yet are they not able to cast off the yoke of it; as the apostle declares, Romans 2:14-15. But there are many additional evidences given hereunto, in this solemn renovation of it. For,
(1.) It was for the promulgation of this law alone that there was all that dreadful preparation for the presence of God on mount Sinai. (2.) These were the first words that God spake unto the people; yea,
(3.) The only words he spake.
(4.) He spake them with a voice great and terrible; and,
(5.) Wrote them with his own finger on tables of stone.
By all these ways did God confirm this law, and sufficiently manifest that it was liable neither to abrogation nor dissolution, but was to be answered and fulfilled to the utmost. And,
Obs. 4. Let no man ever think or hope to appear before God with confidence or peace, unless he have an answer in readiness unto all the words of this law, all that it requires of us. And they who suppose they have any other answer, as their own works, merits, suffrages, and supererogations of others, masses, indulgences, and the like, any thing but the substitution of the Surety of the covenant in our stead, with an interest by faith in his mediation, blood, and sacrifice, will be eternally deceived.
SECONDLY, The last thing in this verse is the event of this sight and hearing on the part of the people. There was a voice of words; whereon it is said, “They that heard the voice entreated that the word should not be spoken to them any more.” The story hereof is recorded, Exodus 20:19; Deuteronomy 5:23-25.
1. Those spoken of are those that then heard that voice, that is, the whole assembly or congregation; of all which, those that were above the age of twenty years, and so able to understand the matter and personally engage in the covenant, except two persons, died in the wilderness under the displeasure of God. So that,
Obs. 5. No outward privilege, such as this was, to hear the voice of God, is sufficient of itself to preserve men from such sins and rebellions as shall render them obnoxious unto divine displeasure. For notwithstanding all the things that they had seen, all those signs and great miracles, “the LORD had not given them an heart to perceive, nor eyes to see, nor ears to hear,” Deuteronomy 29:2-4. In hearing they heard not, in seeing they perceived not; and did therefore “alway err in their heart,” not knowing the ways of God, Hebrews 3:10. Forunto a right improvement of such outward privileges it is moreover required that God should “circumcise our hearts, to love the LORD our God with all our heart, and all our soul,” Deuteronomy 30:6, by the administration of efficacious grace.
2. “They entreated that the word should not be spoken unto them any more;” or that the speech, namely, of God, should not be continued unto them immediately. The word here rendered by “entreated,” we express by “refusing,” verse 25. And in all other places it signifies to excuse one’s self from doing any thing, Luke 14:18; “to refuse,” Acts 25:11; “to decline, avoid and turn from,” 1 Timothy 4:7; 1Ti 5:11 , 2 Timothy 2:23, Titus 3:10. Wherefore such an entreaty is intended as included a declension and aversation of mind from what they spake about. They deprecated the hearing of the word in that manner any more. And they did this, no doubt, by their officers and elders. For both themselves being terrified, and observing the dread of the whole congregation, they made request for themselves and the rest unto Moses. And because they did it with a good intention, out of a reverence of the majesty of God, without any design of declining obedience, it was accepted and approved of by Deuteronomy 5:28-29.
“They entreated that the word might not be added to them.” Λόγος is both the speech and the thing spoken. And although they could not bear the latter either, as we shall see on the next verse, yet it is the former, the speech itself, or the immediate speaking of God himself unto them, which they did deprecate. So they express themselves, “If we hear the voice of the LORD our God any more, then we shall die,” Deuteronomy 5:25. This voice, this word, this speech, proceeding immediately from God, out of the fire and darkness, was that which heightened their fear and dread to the utmost. And we may see,
Obs. 6. Then is the sinner utterly overwhelmed, when he hath a sense of the voice of God himself in the law. When he finds God himself speaking in and unto his conscience, he can no longer bear it.
Obs. 7. That the speaking of the law doth immediately discover the invincible necessity of a mediator between God and sinners The people quickly found that there was no dealing with God for them in their own persons, and therefore desired that there might be one to mediate between God and them. And, Obs. 8. If the giving of the law was so full of terror that the people could not bear it, but apprehended that they must die, if God continued to speak it to them; what will be the execution of its curse in a way of vengeance at the last day!
Hebrews 12:20-21 . ( Οὐκ ἔφερον γὰρ τὸ διαστελλόμενον· κἃν θηρίον θίγῃ τοῦ ὄρους , λιθοβοληθήσεται , ἤ βολίδι κατατοξευθήσεται . Καί , οὕτω φοβερὸν η῏ν τὸ φανταζόμενον , Μωϋσῆς ει῏πεν , ῎Εκφοβός εἰμι καὶ ἔντρομος .)
Οὐκ ἔφερον . Vulg., “non portabant;” “they did not bear.” “Non ferebant,” Bez. Syr., לָא גֵּיר מֶשְׁכְּהִין הֲווּ לַמְסַיְבָרוּ , “for they were not able to sustain,” or “bear.” We, “to endure.”
Τὸ διαστελλόμενον . Vulg., “quod dicebatur,” “that which was spoken.” There is more in the word. Syr., “quod praecipiebatur;” “that was commanded, enjoined.” “Edicebatur,” “which was spoken out, enacted.” Bez., “interdicebatur,” “that was forbidden or interdicted,” referring it unto the following words. We, “was commanded.”
῎Η βολίδι κατατοξευθήσεται . These words are omitted both in the Vulgar and in the Syriac and Arabic. But they are in all the best Greek copies; and they are necessary, as being a part of the original interdict. Nor is it absolutely true that such beasts should be stoned; for they were to be “stoned, or thrust through with a dart,” Exodus 19:12-13. These words, therefore, are necessary in this place. “Sagitta configetur.”
Τὸ φανταζόμενον . Vulg., “quod videbatur,” “that which was seen.” Syr., הֶזְוָא , “the vision.” Bez., “visum quod apparebat,” “the sight that appeared.” The sense of the whole sentence seems somewhat defective, for want of a note of connection between the parts of it: “And so terrible was the sight, Moses said, I exceedingly fear.” We supply that; “that Moses said.” Beza joins Moses immediately unto “and” in the beginning, putting a distinction between it and οὕτω , “so:” “Et Moses, adeo horrendum erat visum, dixit;” “And Moses, so terrible was the sight, said:” which is the true construction of the words.
῎Εχφοζος , “exterritus,” “expavefactus;” “I exceedingly fear,” or “I am  exceedingly afraid.”
 VARIOUS READING. ῎Η βολίδι κατατοξευθήσεται are omitted by Bengel, Griesbach, Scholz, Lachmann, and Tischendorf. The insertion of them is contrary to the authority of all the uncial manuscripts, by far the most of the cursive manuscripts, and all the versions. EXPOSITION. No modern critic agrees with Owen in supposing τὰ διαστελλόμενον to be the law, and not the particular interdict immediately quoted. As to the exclamation attributed to Moses, in regard to which Owen appears somewhat at a loss, as it is not recorded in Old Testament history, Knapp, Tholuek, Ebrard, Conybeare and Howson, explain it by reference to the phrase of the Septuagint in Deuteronomy 9:19, ἐκφοβός εἰμι . “It was the remembrance,” observe the two last-mentioned authors, “of this terrible sight which caused Moses to say this; much more must he have been terrified by the reality.” ED.
Hebrews 12:20-21 . For they could not endure [bear] that which was commanded. And if so much as a beast touch the mountain, it shall be stoned or thrust through with a dart. And so terrible [dreadful] was the sight [which appeared], [that] Moses said, I exceedingly fear and tremble.
The law about the beast is not distinct, as here proposed, but it is a part of the general prohibition: “Whosoever toucheth the mount shall be surely put to death,” Exodus 19:12. This concerns the people only: but in the prescription of the manner of the death to be inflicted it is added, “There shall not an hand touch it, but he shall surely be stoned or shot through: whether it be beast or man, it shall not live,” verse 13. Which manner of its introduction we respect in our translation, “If so much as a beast;” which was not at first named, but added in the repetition of the law. The word בְּהֵמָה signifies all sorts of cattle; which the apostle renders by θηρίον , to include those also which were of a wild nature. No living creature was allowed to come to the mount.
For the opening of the words, we must inquire,
1. What it was that was commanded.
2. How they could not endure it.
3. What further evidences there were that it was not to be endured by them; which are added unto the assertion laid down in the beginning of the 20th verse.
First, “That which was commanded:” “The edict;” or as some, “the interdict.” For it may relate unto that which follows, that which was commanded, namely, that “if so much as a beast touch the mountain, it should be stoned, or thrust through with a dart.” Respect is had herein unto the whole charge given unto the people of not touching the mount or passing the bounds fixed unto them; wherein beasts also were included. And this, no doubt, was a great indication of severity, and might have occasioned danger unto the people, some or more of them. But this is not intended herein, nor hath this word respect unto what followeth, but unto what goeth before. For,
1. The note of connection, γάρ , “for,” intimates that a reason is given in these words of what was asserted before: “They entreated that the word should not be spoken to them any more: for they could not endure that which was commanded.”
2. The interdict of touching the mount was given three days before the fear and dread of the people, as is evident in the story: so as no respect could be had thereunto in what they said afterwards, when they were surprised with fear.
3. Though there was in it an intimation of the necessity of great reverence in their approach unto God, and of his severity in giving of the law, yet the people did not look on it as a matter of terror and dread, which they could not bear. For they came afterwards unto the bounds prescribed unto them, with confidence; nor did they begin to fear and tremble until the mount was all on fire, and they heard the voice of God out of the midst of it.
4. Even the words of Moses, repeated in the next verse, were before the people had declared their dread and terror.
So that both these things are added only as aggravating circumstances of the insupportableness of what was commanded.
“That,” therefore, “which was commanded,” was nothing but the law itself.
Secondly, Hereof it is said, “They could not endure it,” or, “They could not bear it,” or stand under it. And there were three things that concurred to convince them of their disability to bear the command:
1. The manner of its delivery; which they had a principal respect unto in their fear, and desire that it might be spoken unto them no more. This is plain in the story, and so they directly express themselves, Deuteronomy 5:23-26.
2. It was from the nature of the law itself, or the word that was spoken, with respect unto its end. For it was given as a rule of justification, and of acceptance with God: and hereon they might easily see how unable they were to beat it.
3. There was administered with it “a spirit of bondage unto fear,”
Romans 8:15, which aggravated the terror of it in their consciences.
These are the effects which a due apprehension of the nature, end, and use of the law, with the severity of God therein, will produce in the minds and consciences of sinners. Thus far the law brings us; and here it leaves us. Here are we shut up. There is no exception to be put in unto the law itself; it evidenceth itself to be holy, just, and good. There is no avoidance of its power, sentence, and sanction; it is given by God himself. The sinner could wish that he might never hear more of it. What is past with him against this law cannot be answered for; what is to come cannot be complied withal: wherefore, without relief in Christ, here the sinner must perish for ever. This, I say, is the last effect of the law on the consciences of sinners: It brings them to a determinate judgment that they cannot bear that which is commanded. Hereon they find themselves utterly lost; and so have no expectation but of fiery indignation to consume them. And accordingly they must eternally perish, if they betake not themselves unto the only relief and remedy.
Thirdly, Of this terror from the giving of the law, and the causes of it, the apostle gives a double illustration.
The first whereof is in the interdict given as unto the touching of the mount. For this was such as extended unto the very beasts: “Si vel bestia,” “And if so much as a beast.” For so was the divine constitution, “Whether it be beast or man, it shall not live,” Exodus 19:13. I doubt not but that divine Providence removed from it such brute creatures as were not under the power of men, such as might be wild about those mountainous deserts, or the fire consumed them, to the least creeping thing; but the prohibition respects the cattle of the people, which were under their power and at their disposal. And besides being an illustration of the absolute inaccessibleness of God, in and by the law, it seems to intimate the uncleanness of all things which sinners possess, by their relation unto them. For unto the impure all things are impure and defiled. Therefore doth the prohibition extend itself unto the beasts also.
The punishment of the beast that did touch the mount, was, that it should die. And the manner of its death (and so of men guilty in the like kind) was, that “it should be stoned, or thrust through with a dart? It is expressed in the prohibition, that no hand should touch that which had offended. It was to be slain at a distance with stones or darts. The heinousness of the offense, with the execrableness of the offender, is declared thereby. No hand was ever more to touch it; either to relieve it (which may be the sense of the word), or to slay it, lest it should be defiled thereby. And it showeth also at what distance we ought to keep ourselves from every thing that falls under the curse of the law.
Hebrews 12:21. The second evidence which he gives of the dreadful promulgation of the law, and consequently of the miserable estate of them that are under its power, is in what befell Moses on this occasion. And we may consider,
1. The person in whom he giveth the instance.
2. The cause of the consternation ascribed unto him.
3. How he expressed it.
1. The person is Moses. The effect of this terror extended itself unto the meanest of beasts, and unto the best of men. Moses was,
(1.) A person holy, and abounding in grace above all others of his time; the meekest man on the earth.
(2.) He was accustomed unto divine revelations, and had once before beheld a representation of the divine presence Exodus 3:0.
(3.) He was the internuncius, the messenger, the mediator between God and the people, at that time. Yet could none of these privileges exempt him from an amazing sense of the terror of the Lord in giving the law. And if with all these advantages he could not bear it, much less can any other man so do. The mediator himself of the old covenant was not able to sustain the dread and terror of the law: how desperate then are their hopes who would yet be saved by Moses!
2. The cause of his consternation was the sight, it was “so terrible:” “Visum quod apparebat;” that which appeared, and was represented unto him. And this takes in not only what was the object of the sight of his eyes, but that of his ears also, in voices, and thundering, and the sound of the trumpet. The whole of it was “terrible,” or “dreadful.” It was “so dreadful,” unto such an incomprehensible degree.
3. His expression of the consternation that befell him hereon is in these words, “I exceedingly fear and tremble.” He said so; we are assured of it by the Holy Ghost in this place. But the words themselves are not recorded in the story. They were undoubtedly spoken then and there, where, upon this dreadful representation of God, it is said that he spake; but not one word is added of what he spake: Exodus 19:19, “And when the voice of the trumpet sounded long, and waxed louder and louder, Moses spake, and God answered him by a voice;” yet nothing is added, either of what Moses spake, or of what God answered. Then, no doubt, did he speak these words: for it was immediately upon his sight of the dreadful appearance; unto which season the apostle assigns them.
The expositors of the Roman church raise hence a great plea for unwritten traditions; than which nothing can be more weak and vain. For,
(1.) How do they know that the apostle had the knowledge hereof by tradition? Certain it is, that in the traditions that yet remain among the Jews there is no mention of any such thing. All other things he had by immediate inspiration, as Moses wrote the story of things past.
(2.) Had not these words been now recorded by the apostle, what had become of the tradition concerning them? would any man living have believed it? Let them give us a tradition of any thing spoken by Moses or the prophets, or by Christ himself, which is not recorded, with any probability of truth, and somewhat will be allowed to their traditions. Wherefore,
(3.) The occasional divine record of such passages, ascertaining their verity, without which they would have been utterly lost, is sufficient to discover the vanity of their pretended traditions.
Moses spake these words in his own person, and not, as some have judged, in the person of the people. He was really so affected as he expressed it. And it was the will of God that so he should be. He would have him also to be sensible of his terror in the giving of the law.
It is said that “God answered him with a voice;” but what he said unto him is not recorded. No doubt but God spake that which gave him relief, which delivered him out of his distress, and reduced him unto a frame of mind meet for the ministration committed unto him; which in his surprisal and consternation he was not. And therefore immediately afterwards, when the people fell into their great horror and distress, he was able to relieve and comfort them; no doubt with that kind of relief which he himself had received from God, Exodus 20:20. It appears, then, that,
Obs. All persons concerned were brought unto an utter loss and distress, by the renovation and giving of the law; from whence no relief is to be obtained, but by Him alone who is “the end of the law for righteousness unto every one that believeth.”
Hebrews 12:22-24 . ᾿Αλλὰ προσεληλύθατε Σιὼν ὄρει , καὶ πόλει Θεοῦ ζῶντος , ῾ιερουσαλὴμ ἐπουρανίῳ , καὶ μυριάσιν ἀγγέλων , πανηγύρει καὶ ἐκκλησίᾳ πρωτοτόκων ἐν οὐρανοῖς ἀπογεγραμμένων , καὶ κριτῇ Θεῷ πάντων , καὶ πνεύασι δικαίων τετελειωμένων , καὶ διαθήκης νέας μεσίτῃ ᾿Ιησοῦ , καὶ αἵματι ῥαντισμοῦ , κρείττονα λαλοῦντι παρὰ τὸν ῎Αβελ .
The Vulgar Latin and the Syriac seem to have read μυριάδων instead of μυριάσιν ; hence they join πανηγύρει , the word following, unto those foregoing, “unto the assembly of many thousands of angels;” but without  warrant from any copies of the original.
ft6 EXPOSITION. Some critics put a comma after “myriads,” which are considered as comprehending the bodies denoted in the two following clauses, thus: “And to myriads, the general assembly of angels, and the church of the first-born who are written in heaven.” Others, putting the same stop after “myriads,” place a colon or semicolon after the next clause, and thus elicit this sense’ “To myriads, the general assembly of angels; and to the church,” etc Turner. The only right construction is that of Wolf, Rambach, Griesbach, Knapp, Bohme, Kuinoel, Tholuck, Bengel, Lachmann, De Wette, Bleek, etc.; according to which ἀγγέλω is dependent on πανηγύρει . It is then most natural to take the two members, ἀγγέλων πανηγύρει , and ἐκκλησιᾷ πρωτοτόκων , as epexegetical of υμριάσιν “And to entire hosts, to the hosts of angels, and to the church of the first-born. Ebrard. In regard to the dispute whether the blood of Abel’s sacrifice or Abel’s person be referred to in the last clause, Stuart, Tholuck, Turner, Ebrard, Genesis 4:10. ED
Hebrews 12:22-24 . But ye are come unto mount Sion, and unto the city of the living God, [namely,] the heavenly Jerusalem, and to an innumerable company [myriads] of angels, to the general assembly and church of the first-born, which are written [enrolled] in heaven, and to God the judge of all, and to the spirits of just men made perfect, and to Jesus the mediator of the new covenant, and to the blood of sprinkling, speaking better things than [that of] Abel.
This is the second part of the comparison, completing the foundation of the exhortation intended by the apostle. In the former he gave an account of the state of the people and the church under the law, from the giving of it, and the nature of its commands. In this, he so declares the state whereinto they were called by the gospel, as to manifest it incomparably more excellent in itself, and beneficial unto them. And because this whole context, and every thing in it, is peculiar and singular, we must with the more diligence insist on the exposition of it.
1. We have here a blessed, yea, a glorious description of the catholic church, as the nature and communion of it are revealed under the gospel. And such a description it is as which, if it were attended unto and believed, would not only silence all the contentious wrangling that the world is filled withal about that name and thing, but east out also other prejudicate conceptions and opinions innumerable, which divide all Christians, fill them with mutual animosities, and ruin their peace. For if we have here the substance of all the privileges which we receive by the gospel; if we have an account of them, or who they are, who are partakers of those privileges, as also the only foundation of all that church-communion which is amongst them; the grounds of our perpetual strifes are quickly taken away. It is the access here ascribed unto believers, and that alone, which will secure their eternal salvation.
2. Whereas the catholic church is distributed into two parts, namely, that which is militant, and that which is triumphant, they are both comprehended in this description, with the respect of God and Christ unto them both. For the first expressions, as we shall see, of “mount Sion, the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem,” do principally respect that part of the church which is militant; as those that follow, the most of them, do that which is triumphant. There is, in the religion of the Papists, another part of the church, neither on the earth nor in heaven, but under the earth, as they say, in purgatory. But herewith they have nothing to do who come unto Christ by the gospel. They come indeed unto “the spirits of just men made perfect;” but so are none of those, by their own confession, who are in purgatory. Wherefore believers have nothing to do with them.
3. The foundation of this catholic communion, or communion of the catholic church, comprising all that is holy and dedicated unto God in heaven and earth, is laid in the recapitulation of all things in and by Jesus Christ: Ephesians 1:10, “All things are gathered into one head in him, both which are in heaven, and which are on earth;” which is the sole foundation of their mutual communion among themselves. Whereas, therefore, we have here an association, in the communion of men and angels, and the souls of them that are departed, in a middle state between them both, we ought to consider always their recapitulation in Christ as the cause thereof. And whereas not only were all things so gathered into one by him, but “by him also God reconciled all things unto himself, whether they be things in earth, or things in heaven,” Colossians 1:20, God himself is here represented as the supreme sovereign head of this catholic church, the whole of it being reconciled unto him.
4. The method which the apostle seems to observe, in tibia description of the church catholic in both the parts of it, is first to express that part of it which is militant, then that which is triumphant, issuing the whole in the relation of God and Christ thereunto; as we shall see in the exposition.
5. That which we must respect, as our rule in the exposition of the whole, is, that the apostle intends a description of that state whereunto believers are called by the gospel For it is that alone which he opposeth to the state of the church under the old testament. And to suppose that it is the heavenly, future state which he intends, is utterly to destroy the force of his argument and exhortation; for they are built solely on the pre-eminence of the gospel-state above that under the law, and not of heaven itself, which none could question.
We must consider, then,
1. What believers are said to come unto; and,
2. How they do so come unto it, or wherein their coming unto it doth consist.
And FIRST we are said,
1. To come “unto mount Sion, and unto the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem.” The two last are not distinct expressions of diverse things, but different names of the same thing, “the city of the living God,” namely, “the new Jerusalem.” Nor is it necessary that we should appropriate these two expressions of “Mount Sion,” and “The city of the living God,” unto distinct or different things in the gospel-state, but only consider them as different expressions of the same thing. The sum of the whole is, that by the gospel we are called unto a participation of all the glory which was ascribed or promised unto the church under these names, in opposition unto what the people received in and by the law at mount Sinai.
Sion was a mount in Jerusalem which had two heads, the one whereof was called Moriah, whereon the temple was built, whereby it became the seat of all the solemn worship of God; and on the other was the palace and habitation of the kings of the house of David; both of them typical of Christ, the one in his priestly, the other in his kingly office.
The apostle doth not consider it naturally or materially, but in opposition unto mount Sinai, where the law was given. So he describeth the same opposition between the same Sinai and the heavenly Jerusalem, unto the same end, Galatians 4:25-26; where it is apparent, that by “mount Sion” and “the heavenly Jerusalem,” the same state of the church is intended.
And the opposition between these two mounts was eminent. For,
(1.) God came down for a season only on mount Sinai; but in Sion he is said to dwell, and to make it his habitation for ever.
(2.) He appeared in terror on mount Sinai, as we have seen; Sion was in Jerusalem, which is “a vision of peace.”
(3.) He gave the law on mount Sinai; the gospel went forth from Sion, Isaiah 2:2-3.
(4.) He utterly forsook Sinai, and left it under bondage; but Sion is free for ever, Galatians 4:0.
(5.) The people were burdened with the law at mount Sinai, and were led with it unto Sion, where they waited for deliverance from it, in the observation of those institutions of divine worship which were typical and significant thereof.
The Socinian expositor, who affects subtilty and curiosity, affirms, “That by mount Sion, either heaven itself, or rather a spiritual mountain, whose roots are on the earth, and whose top reacheth unto heaven, from whence we may easily enter into heaven itself, is intended:” wherein he understood nothing himself of what he wrote; for it is not sense, nor to be understood. And the reason he gives, namely, “That Sion in the Scripture is more frequently taken for heaven than the church,” is so far from truth, that he cannot give any one instance where it is so taken. But to know the true reason why the apostle calls the state of believers under the new testament by the name of Sion, we may consider some of the things that are spoken of Sion in the Scripture. And I shall instance in a few only, because they are multiplied throughout the whole Book of God; as,
(1.) It is the place of God’s habitation, where he dwells for ever, Psalms 9:11; Psalms 76:2; Joel 3:21, etc.
(2.) It is the seat of the throne, reign, and kingdom of Christ, Psalms 2:6; Isaiah 24:23; Micah 4:7.
(3.) It is the object of divine promises innumerable, Psalms 69:35, Isaiah 1:27; of Christ himself, Isaiah 59:20.
(4.) Thence did the gospel proceed, and the law of Christ come forth, Isaiah 40:9; Micah 4:2.
(5.) It was the object of God’s especial love, and the place of the birth of the elect, Psalms 87:2; Psalms 87:5.
(6.) The joy of the whole earth, Psalms 48:2.
(7.) Salvation, and all blessings came forth out of Sion, Psalms 14:7; Psalms 110:2; Psalms 128:5; with sundry other things alike glorious. Now these things were not spoken of nor accomplished towards that mount Sion which was in Jerusalem absolutely, but only as it was typical of believers under the gospel. So the meaning of the apostle is, that by the gospel believers do come unto that state wherein they have an interest in, and a right unto, all the blessed and glorious things that are spoken in the Scriptures concerning and unto Sion. All the privileges ascribed, all the promises made unto it, are theirs. Sion is the place of God’s especial gracious residence, of the throne of Christ in his reign, the subject of all graces, the object of all promises, as the Scripture abundantly testifies.
This is the first privilege of believers under the gospel. They “come unto mount Sion;” that is, they are interested in all the promises of God made unto Sion, recorded in the Scripture, in all the love and care of God expressed towards it, in all the spiritual glories assigned unto it. The things spoken of it were never accomplished in the earthly Sion, but only typically; spiritually, and in their reality, they belong unto believers under the new testament.
Some look on all those promises and privileges wherewith the Scripture is replenished, with respect unto Sion, to be now as things dead and useless. They esteem it a presumption for any to plead and claim an interest in them, or to expect the accomplishment of them in or towards themselves. But this is expressly to contradict the apostle in this place, who affirms that we are come unto mount Sion, then when the earthly mount Sion was utterly forsaken. All those promises, therefore, which were made of old to Sion, do belong unto the present church of believers. These, in every condition, they may plead with God. They have the grace, and shall have the comfort contained in them. There is the security and assurance of their safety, preservation, and eternal salvation. Thereon depends their final deliverance from all their oppressions.
Be their outward condition never so mean and destitute; be they afflicted, persecuted, and despised; yet all the glorious things that are spoken of Sion are theirs, and accomplished in them in the sight of God. But the excellent things whereof, under this notion of Sion, they are made partakers, are innumerable.
Let this be compared with the people’s coming unto mount Sinai, as we have before declared it, and the glory of it will be conspicuous. And believers are to be admonished,
(1.) To walk worthy of this privilege, as Psalms 15:0;
(2.) To be thankful for it;
(3.) To rejoice in it;
(4.) To make it an effectual motive unto obedience and perseverance, as it is here done by the apostle.
Obs. 1. All pleas about church order, power, rights and privileges, are useless, where men are not interested in this Sion state.
2. They are said to come “unto the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem.” Both these are the same. So Jerusalem is called “the city of God,” Psalms 46:4; Psalms 48:1; Psalms 48:8; Psalms 88:3; but in every place with respect unto Sion.
(1.) They came to a city. They received the law in a wilderness, where they had neither rest nor refuge. But in a city there is order, defense, and safety; it is the name of a quiet habitation.
(2.) This was the city of God. The state of the church under the new testament is so. As it hath the safety, beauty, and order of a city, so it is the city of God; the only city which he takes peculiarly to be his own in this world. It is his,
[1.] On the account of property. He framed it, he built it, it is his own; no creature can lay claim to it, or any part of it. And those who usurp upon it, shall answer unto him for their usurpation.
[2.] On the account of inhabitation. It is God’s city; for he dwells in it, and in it alone, by his gracious presence.
[3.] It is under God’s rule, as its only sovereign.
[4.] Therein he disposeth all his children into a spiritual society. So Paul tells the Ephesians, that by grace they were delivered from being “strangers and foreigners,” and made “fellow-citizens with the saints, and of the household of God,” Ephesians 2:19.
[5.] It hath its charter of liberty with all immunities and privileges, from God alone. And with respect unto these things, the church is called the city of God. (3.) The apostle adds a property of God of great consideration in this matter. It is the city of the living God; that is,
[1.] Of the true and only God;
[2.] Of him who is omnipotent, able to keep and preserve his own city, as having all life, and consequently all power, in himself;
[3.] Of him who lives eternally, with whom we shall live when we shall be here no more.
(4.) This city of the living God is the heavenly Jerusalem. And the apostle herein prefers the privileges of the gospel, not only above what the people were made partakers of at Sinai in the wilderness, but also above all that they afterwards enjoyed in Jerusalem in the land of Canaan: for in the glory and privileges of that city the Hebrews greatly boasted. But the apostle casts that city, in the state wherein it then was, into the same condition with mount Sinai in Arabia; that is, under bondage, as indeed then it was, Galatians 4:25: and he opposeth thereunto that “Jerusalem which is above;” that is, this “heavenly Jerusalem.” And it is called “heavenly,”
[1.] Because, as unto all its concerns as a city, it is not of this world;
[2.] Because no small part of its inhabitants are already actually instated in heaven;
[3.] As unto its state on earth, it comes down from heaven, Revelation 21:2-3, that is, hath its original from divine authority and institution;
[4.] Because the state, portion, and inheritance of all its inhabitants, lies in heaven;
[5.] Because the spiritual life of all that belong unto it, and the graces which they act therein, are heavenly;
[6.] Their πολίτευμα , or “city conversation,” is in heaven, Philippians 3:20.
This is the second privilege of the gospel-state, wherein all the remaining promises of the Old Testament are transferred and made over to believers. Whatever is spoken of the city of God, or of Jerusalem, that is spiritual, that contains in it the love, or grace, or favor of God, it is all made theirs; faith can lay a claim unto it all. Believers are so come to this city, as to be inhabitants, free denizens, possessors of it; unto whom all the rights, privileges, and immunities of it do belong. And what is spoken of it in the Scripture is a ground of faith unto them, and a spring of consolation. For they may with confidence make application of what is so spoken unto themselves in every condition; and they do so accordingly. And we may yet a little further represent the glory of this privilege, in the ensuing observations:
(1.) A city is the only place of rest, peace, safety, and honor, among men in this world. Unto all these, in the spiritual sense, we are brought by the gospel. Whilst men are under the law, they are at Sinai, in a wilderness where is none of these things. The souls of sinners can find no place of rest or safety under the law. But we have all these things by the gospel: Rest in Christ, peace with God, order in the communion of faith, safety in divine protection, and honor in our relation unto God in Christ.
(2.) The greatest and most glorious city which is, or ever was in the world, is the city of this or that man, who hath power or dominion in it. So spake Nebuchadnezzar of his city, “Is not this great Babylon, that I have built for the house of the kingdom by the might of my power, and for the honor of my majesty,” Daniel 4:30. We know what was the end of him and his city. The gospel-church is the city of the living God; and it is ten thousand times more glorious to be a citizen thereof, than of the greatest city in the world. To be a citizen of the city of God, is to be free, to be honorable, to be safe, to have a certain habitation, and a blessed inheritance.
(3.) God dwells in the church of believers. The great King inhabiteth his own city. Herein is the especial residence of his glory and majesty. He built it, framed it for himself, and says concerning it, “Here will I dwell, and this shall be my habitation for ever.” And it is no small privilege, to dwell with God in his own city. The name of this city is “Jehovah-shammah, The LORD is there,” Ezekiel 48:35.
(4.) The privileges of this city of God are heavenly; it is “the heavenly Jerusalem.” Hence it is that the world sees them not, knows them not, values them not. They are above them, and their glory is imperceptible unto them.
(5.) All the powers of the world, in conjunction with those of hell, cannot dispossess believers of their interest and habitation in this heavenly city.
(6.) There is a spiritual order and beauty in the communion of the catholic church, such as becomes the city of the living God; and such as wherein the order framed by the constitutions of men hath no concernment.
And in many other things we might declare the glory of this privilege. And,
Obs. 2. It is our duty well to consider what sort of persons they ought to be who are meet to be denizens of this city of God. The greater number of those who pretend highly unto the church and its privileges, are most unfit for this society. They are citizens of the world.
3. In the next place the apostle affirms, that believers are come to “an innumerable company of angels.” For having declared that they are come to the city of God, he shows in the next place who are the inhabitants of that city besides themselves. And these he distributes into several sorts, as we shall see, whereof the first is “angels.” We are come to them as our fellow-citizens, to “myriads of angels. Μυριάς is “ten thousand;” and when it is used in the plural number, it signifies “an innumerable company,”
as we here render it. Possibly he hath respect unto the angels that attended the presence of God in the giving of the law, whereof the psalmist says,
“The chariots of God are twenty thousand, even thousands of angels: the Lord is among them, as in Sinai, in the holy place,” Psalms 68:17;
or the account of them given by Daniel,
“Thousand thousands ministered unto him, and ten thousand times ten thousand stood before him,” Daniel 7:10, that is, “an innumerable company.”
This access unto angels is spiritual. The access of the people unto their ministry in Sinai was corporeal only, nor had they any communion with them thereby. But ours is spiritual, which needs no local access unto it. We come thereby unto them whilst we are on the earth and they in heaven. We do not so with our prayers; which is the doting superstition of the church of Rome, utterly destructive of the communion here asserted. For although there be a difference and distance between their persons and ours as to dignity and power, yet as unto this communion we are equal in it with them, as one of them directly declares; saying unto John,
“Worship me not: I am thy fellow-servant, and of thy brethren that have the testimony of Jesus,” Revelation 19:10; Revelation 22:9.
Nothing can be more groundless, than that fellow-servants should worship one another. But we have an access unto them all; not to this or that tutelar angel, but unto the whole innumerable company of them. And this we have,
(1.) By the recapitulation of them and us in Christ., Ephesians 1:10. They and we are brought into one mystical body, whereof Christ is head; one family, which is in heaven and earth, called after his name, Ephesians 3:14-15. We are brought together into one society: the nature of which effect of infinite wisdom I have elsewhere declared.
(2.) In that they and we are constantly engaged in the same worship of Jesus Christ. Hence they call themselves our “fellow-servants.” This God hath given in command unto them, as well as unto us. For he saith, “Let all the angels of God worship him,” Hebrews 1:6; which they do accordingly, Revelation 5:11-12.
(3.) We have so on the account of the ministry committed unto them for the service of the church, Hebrews 1:14. See the exposition of that place.
(4.) In that the fear and dread of their ministry is now taken from us; which was so great under the old testament, that those unto whom they appeared thought they must die immediately. There is a perfect reconciliation between the church on the earth and the angels above; the distance and enmity that were between them and us by reason of sin are taken away, Colossians 1:20. There is a oneness in design and a communion in service between them and us: as we rejoice in their happiness and glory, so they seek ours continually; their ascription of praise and glory to God is mingled with the praises of the church, so as to compose an entire worship, Revelation 5:8-12.
Wherefore by Jesus Christ we have a blessed access unto this “innumerable company of angels.” Those who, by reason of our fall from God, and the first entrance of sin, had no regard unto us, but to execute the vengeance of God against us, represented by the cherubim with the flaming sword, (for “he maketh his angels spirits, and his ministers a flame of fire,”) to keep man, when he had sinned, out of Eden, and from the tree of life, Genesis 3:24; those whose ministry God made use of in giving of the law, to fill the people with dread and terror; they are now, in Christ, become one mystical body with the church, and our associates in design and service. And this may well be esteemed as an eminent privilege which we receive by the gospel. And if this be so, then,
Obs. 3. The church is the safest society in the world. A kingdom it is, a city, a family, a house, which the power of hell and the world can never prevail against. Nor are these boasting words, in whatever distressed condition it may be in this world, but the faithful sayings of God. Our Lord Jesus Christ, the head of this society, when he was entering into his sufferings, to manifest that he did it by his own will and choice, and was not necessitated unto it by the power of men, affirms, that on one request, his Father would send “more than twelve legions of angels,” Matthew 26:53; more angels than there were soldiers in the whole Roman empire, whereof every one could destroy an army in an hour, as one did that of Sennacherib! And when all these belong unto the communion of the church, if the least evil be attempted against it, beyond or beside the will of God, they are all in readiness to prevent it, and revenge it. They continually watch against Satan and the world, to keep all the concerns of the church within the bounds and limits of the divine will and pleasure. They have a charge over all their fellow-servants in the blessed family, to take care of them in all their ways. Let us not fear the ruin of the church, whilst there is “an innumerable company of angels” belonging unto it.
Obs. 4. It is the most honorable society in the world; for all the angels in heaven belong unto it. This poor, despicable, persecuted church, consisting for the most part of such as are contemned in the world, yet is admitted into the society of all the holy angels in heaven, in the worship and service of Christ.
Obs. 5. And we may see hence the folly of that “voluntary humility, in worshipping of angels,” which the apostle condemns, and which is openly practiced in the church of Rome. And the apostle placeth the rise of this superstition in the church on a “voluntary,” uncommanded “humility.” For therein men debase themselves unto the religious worship of those who would be only their fellow- servants, in case they are real partakers of the benefits and privileges of the gospel.
Obs. 6. It is the highest madness for any one to pretend himself to be the head of the church, as the pope doth, unless he assume also unto himself to be the head of all the angels in heaven; for they all belong unto the same church with the saints here below. And therefore, where mention is made of the headship of Christ, they are expressly placed in the same subjection unto him, Ephesians 1:20-23.
4. Another instance of the glory of this state is, that therein believers come to “the general assembly and church of the first-born,” which are written in heaven.
Both the words here used, πανήγυρις and ἐκκλησία , are borrowed the customs of those cities whose government was democratical; especially that of Athens, whose speech was the rule of the Greek language, Πανήγυρις , was the solemn assembly of all persons of all sorts belonging unto the city, where they were entertained with spectacles, sacrifices, festival solemnities, and laudatory orations. Λόγος πανηγυρικός is “a commendatory oration.” Hence is the word used for any great general assembly, as we here translate it, with respect unto praise and joy. In these assemblies no business of the state was transacted. But ἐκκλησία was a “meeting of the citizens,” to determine of things and affairs which had had a previous deliberation in the senate. Hence it is applied to signify that which we call “the church,” or קָחָל , “the congregation.” For that is an assembly for all the spiritual ends of the society, or all that belong unto it.
Herein there may be an allusion unto the assemblies of such cities. But I rather think the apostle hath respect unto the great assembly of all the males of the church of the old testament. This was a divine institution to be observed three times a-year, at the solemn feasts of the church, Exodus 34:23; Deuteronomy 16:16. And the assembly of them was called “the great congregation,” Psalms 22:25; Psalms 35:18; Psalms 40:9-10; being the greatest solemnities, and the most glorious in the whole church, a matter of triumph unto them all. Or it may be, regard is had unto the general assembly of the whole people at Sinai, in receiving of the law. But there is also a great difference between those assemblies and this. For unto those civil and political assemblies, as also that of the church, it was necessary that there should be a local meeting of all that belonged unto them; but the assembly and church here intended are spiritual, and so is their meeting or convention. There never was, nor ever shall be, a local meeting of them all, until the last day. At present, such as is the nature of their society, such is their convention; that is, spiritual. But yet all that belong unto the general assembly intended, which is the seat of praise and joy, are obliged, by virtue of especial institution, whilst they are in this world, to assemble in particular church societies, as I have elsewhere declared. But we shall understand more of the nature of this assembly and church, when we have considered who they are of whom it doth consist,
“Of the first-born, which are written in heaven.” Some late expositors, as Schlichtingius, Grotius, and his follower, confine this unto the apostles and evangelists, with some others of the first Christian assembly. And in the same judgment Aquinas, with some others of the Roman church, went before them. The Greek scholiasts apply the words unto the elect, or all true believers: whom we must follow; for it is evident that not the apostles only are here intended. For,
(1.) It may be inquired, whether the apostles themselves, upon their call by the gospel, did not come unto “the assembly of the first-born?” If they did, then are not they themselves alone here intended.
(2.) Had the apostles alone their names written in heaven, as these first- born had, they, and none but they, are so written in heaven. But this is untrue, as we shall see.
(3.) Are not all elect believers capable of this character? For,
[1.] Doth not God call all Israel, who were a type of the spiritual church, his “first-born?” Exodus 4:22.
[2.] Are not all believers “the firstfruits of the creatures?” James 1:18; which, as unto dedication unto God, answereth the first-born among men. All redeemed ones are “the first-fruits unto God, and to the Lamb,”
[3.] Are they not all of them “heirs of God, and coheirs with Christ?” which is to be the first-born, Romans 8:17; “heirs of salvation,” Hebrews 1:14.
[4.] Are they not all “ kings and priests unto God?” which compriseth the whole right of the firstborn. Wherefore there is no reason to confine this expression unto the apostles; especially since most of them at that time were among “the spirits of just men made perfect.” Wherefore it is elect believers that are intended.
But it may be yet inquired, whether all, or some sort of them only, be designed. Some suppose that the saints departed under the old testament, being gathered unto God as his lot and portion, are so called. But the truth is, these must of necessity be comprised under the following expression, of “the spirits of just men made perfect.” The most extend it unto all elect believers from the beginning of the world unto the end; which is the catholic church. And the present church hath a communion and fellowship with them all, on the same account that it hath them with the angels. But it is, in my judgment, more suitable unto the mind of the apostle, and his dealing in particular with the Hebrews, that the whole church of elect believers then in the world, consisting of Jews and Gentiles, should be designed by him. The collection of the elect among the Jews and Gentiles into one body, one general assembly, one church, is that which he celebrates elsewhere as one of the greatest mysteries of divine wisdom, which was hid in God from the beginning of the world, and not until then revealed. See Ephesians 3:5-10. It was now made known, which was hid from those under the old testament, that there was to be a “general assembly,” or “church of the first-born,” taken out of the whole creation of mankind, without any respect or distinction of nations, Jews or Gentiles. So is this assembly described, Revelation 5:9-10, “Thou hast redeemed us to God by thy blood out of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation; and hast made us unto our God kings and priests;” that is, one “general assembly and church of the firstborn.”
This was the great and glorious mystery which was hid in the will and wisdom of God from the beginning; namely, that he would collect into one body, one assembly, one church, all his elect, in all nations, Jews and Gentiles, uniting them among themselves by faith in Christ Jesus.
An accession unto this assembly, whose members were thus diffused throughout the world, is that which he proposeth as a great privilege unto these believing Hebrews. This he calls the “making of twain into one new man,” by “reconciling both unto God in one body,” Ephesians 2:15-16. And as he presseth this on the Gentile believers, as an inexpressible advantage unto them, namely, that they were admitted unto the participation of all those privileges which before were enclosed unto the Jews, as Ephesians 2:11-19, in which place there is a full description of this general assembly and church of the first-born, so also he acquaints these believing Jews with the spiritual glory and advantage which they obtained thereby.
And their coming unto this assembly is opposed unto their coming unto mount Sinai; for therein there was both πανήγυρις , “a general assembly;” and ἐκκλησία , “a church.” It was a general assembly of all that people, men, women, and children; and it was a church, as it is called, Acts 7:38, upon the account of the order which was in it, in the station of the elders, priests, males, servants, and strangers, which I have elsewhere described. This was a general assembly and church, but of that people only, and that gathered together unto the dreadful and terrible delivery of the law. ‘In opposition hereunto,’saith the apostle, ‘you Hebrews, by faith in Jesus Christ, are come unto the general assembly and church of all the elect that are called throughout the world; you and they being made “one body;” yea, so strict is the union between you, “one new man,” both equally reconciled unto God and among yourselves.’
Obs. 7. The revelation of the glorious mystery of this general assembly is one of the most excellent pre-eminencies of the gospel above the law. A mystery it was of divine wisdom, hid in God from the beginning, but now shining out in its beauty and glory. An interest, therefore, herein is well proposed by the apostle as an eminent privilege of believers. Until the calling of this assembly, neither the first promise nor any of the institutions of the old testament could be perfectly understood, as unto what the wisdom of God had couched in them.
This is that church whereunto all the promises do belong; the church “built on the Rock, against which the gates of hell shall not prevail;” the spouse, the body of Christ, the temple of God, his habitation for ever. This is the church which “Christ loved, and gave himself for;” which he “washed in his own blood,” that “he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word, that he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish,” Revelation 1:5, Ephesians 5:25-27. This is the church out of which none can be saved, and whereof no one member shall be lost.
As unto the words themselves, there is a double allusion in them:
(1.) Unto the rights of the first-born in general; and herein the apostle seems to have respect unto what he had observed before of Esau, who, being a profane person, sold his birthright. Those who are interested really in the gospel-church, all of them have, and do all of them retain, a right unto the whole inheritance. By their adoption they come to have a right unto all that God hath provided, that Christ hath purchased, unto the whole inheritance of grace and glory.
(2.) Unto the enrolment of the first-born in the wilderness, Numbers 3:40-42. This is called “their names being written in heaven,” Luke 10:20; in “the book of life,” Philippians 4:3, Revelation 3:5; Revelation 17:8; “the book of life of the Lamb,” Revelation 13:8; “the Lamb’s book of life,” Revelation 21:27. This book of life is no other but the roll of God’s elect, in the eternal, immutable designation of them unto grace and glory.
This, therefore, is “the general assembly of the first-born, written” or enrolled “in heaven,” namely, the elect of God, called, and by gratuitous adoption interested in all the privileges of the first-born; that is, made coheirs with Christ and heirs of God, or of the whole heavenly inheritance. But although this is comprehensive of them all in all generations, yet believers come in a peculiar manner unto them of whom the church of God doth consist in the days of their profession. And further to make out this glorious privilege, we may observe,
Obs. 8. That Jesus Christ alone is absolutely the first-born and heir of all. See the exposition on Hebrews 1:2, where this is handled at large. He is the first-born among the elect, the eldest brother in the family of God, whereunto are annexed dominion and power over the whole creation; whence he is called “The first-born of every creature,” Colossians 1:15.
Obs. 9. Under the old testament, the promises of Christ, and that he was to proceed from that people according to the flesh, gave the title of sonship unto the church of Israel. So God calls them “his son, his first-born,” Exodus 4:22; because the holy seed was preserved in them. So these words of the prophet, Hosea 11:1, “When Israel was a child I loved him, and called my son out of Egypt,” are applied by the evangelist unto the person of Christ, Matthew 2:15. For although they were first spoken of the whole church of Israel, yet were they not so upon their own account, but of His alone who was to come forth of them.
Obs. 10. All the right and title of believers under the old  testament unto sonship, or the right of the first-born, arises merely from their interest in him, and participation of him, who is absolutely so. All things are theirs, because they are Christ’s, 1 Corinthians 3:22-23. Without this, whatever are our outward enjoyments and privileges, whatever place of dignity we may hold in the visible professing church, we are vagabonds, that have neither lot nor portion in things spiritual and eternal.
 He has spoken of the old testament in Obs. 9., and as he seems proving the general proposition in Obs. 8., can this be a misprint for “new”? ED.
Obs. 11. It is a glorious privilege to be brought into this blessed society, this general assembly of the first-born; and as such it is here proposed by the apostle. And we shall find it so, if we consider what company, society, or assembly, we belong unto without it; for this is no other but that of devils, and the wicked seed of the serpent.
Obs. 12. If we are come unto this assembly, it is our duty carefully to behave ourselves as becometh the members of this society.
Obs. 13. All contests about church-order, state, interest, power, with whom the church is, are vain, empty, fruitless, unprofitable, among those who cannot evidence that they belong unto this general assembly.
Obs. 14. Eternal election is the rule of the dispensation of effectual grace, to call and collect an assembly of first-born unto God.
5. The apostle proceeds, in the next place, to mind us of the supreme head of this holy society, the author and end of it; which is God himself: “And to God, the judge of all” The words, as they lie in the text, are, “To the judge, the God of all;” but none doubt but that, as unto the sense of them, the name “God” is the subject, and that of “judge” the predicate in the proposition, as we read, “To God, the judge of all.” It is not improbable, but that, in the enumeration of these glorious privileges, the apostle makes mention of the relation of God unto this society and communion, to beget in believers a due reverence of what they are called unto therein; and so he shuts up his improvement of this whole discourse, as we shall see verses 28, 29.
There are two things in the words:
(1.) That believers have a peculiar access unto God;
(2.) That they have it unto him as “the judge of all,” in a peculiar manner.
(1.) This access unto God by Jesus Christ is often mentioned in the Scripture as an eminent privilege. Without him they are afar off from God, placed at an infinite distance from him, by their own sin and the curse of the law; figured by the people’s removal and standing afar off at the giving of the law, Exodus 20:18-19. Neither was there any way to make an approach unto him; signified by the severe interdict against the touching of the mount, or taking one step over its bounds to gaze, when the tokens of his presence were upon it, in the legislation. But all believers have an access unto God by Christ. And hereof there are two parts:
[1.] They have an access unto his grace and favor by their justification, Romans 5:1-2.
[2.] An access unto him, and the throne of his grace, with liberty and boldness in their divine worship. This none have but believers; and they have it no otherwise but by Jesus Christ, Ephesians 2:18; Hebrews 4:15-16; Hebrews 10:19-22. See the exposition on the places.
(2.) They have an access unto God as “the judge of all.” This may not seem a privilege; for it is the lot of all men to appear before his judgment-seat. But it is one thing to be brought before a judge to be tried and sentenced as a criminal; another, to have a favorable access unto him as our occasions do require. Such is the access here intended. Considering God as the supreme governor and judge of all, men desire not, they dare not make use of, they cannot obtain, an admission into his presence: but we have this favor through Christ.
This therefore, in general, is the privilege intended, namely, that we have liberty and freedom to draw nigh unto God, even as he is “the judge of all;” which no others have, nor can pretend unto. But unto this access there are previously required the pardon of our sins, the justification of our persons, and the sanctification of our natures; without which no man can behold God as a judge, but unto his confusion. Behold, then, how great is the privilege of that state which we are called unto by the gospel, namely, which gives us such a sense and assurance of our pardon, adoption, justification, and sanctification, as that we may with boldness come unto the Judge of all on his throne!
On this supposition, there is a double consideration of God as a judge, which makes it our eminent privilege to have an access unto him as such:
[1.] That it is he who will judge the cause of the church against the world, in that great contest that is between them. However here they may be cast in their cause, by such as pretend a right to judge them, they have admission unto his throne, who will execute judgment in their behalf. See Micah 7:9-10. And it is a glorious prospect which they take of God as a judge, in the execution of his righteous judgments on their enemies, Revelation 15:3-4; Revelation 16:5-7.
[2.] That it is he who will, as a righteous judge, give them their reward at the last day: 2 Timothy 4:8, “There is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day:” which are blessed privileges. And we may observe, for the further clearing of the mind of the Holy Ghost, as unto our own concernment,
Obs. 15. In Jesus Christ believers are delivered from all discouraging dread and terror, in the consideration of God as a judge; such, I mean, as befell the people at Sinai in the giving of the law. They now behold all his glory in the face of Jesus Christ; which makes it amiable and desirable unto them. See our discourse of the glory of Christ, and of God in him. 
 See vol. 1 of his miscellaneous works. ED.
Obs. 16. Such is the pre-eminence of the gospel-state above that of the law, that whereas they of old were severely forbidden to make any approach unto the outward signs of the presence of God, we have now an access with boldness unto his throne.
Obs. 17. As the greatest misery of unbelievers, is to be brought into the presence of this Judge, so it is one of the greatest privileges of believers that they may come unto him. Hence is that cry of hypocritical sinners, Isaiah 33:14.
Obs. 18. Believers have an access to God, as the judge of all, with all their causes and complaints. As such he will hear them, plead their cause, and judge for them. However they may be here oppressed, in or out of the courts of men, the Judge of all will at all times receive their appeals, and do them right. This liberty no man can deprive them of; it is purchased for them by Christ, and makes their oppressions unsafe to the greatest of the sons of men. Wherefore,
Obs. 19. However dangerous and dreadful the outward state of the church may be at any time in the world, it may secure itself of final success; because therein God is judge alone, unto whom they have free access.
Obs. 20. The prospect of an eternal reward from God, as the righteous judge, is the greatest supportment of faith in all present distresses.
In all these things we are instructed.
6. It followeth in the next place, that we are come to “the spirits of just men made perfect.” They seem to be placed in this order because of their immediate presence with God, the judge of all And there is included in this expression,
(1.) That there are spirits of men in a separate state and condition, capable of communion with God and the church. That by these “spirits,” the souls of men departed, that essential part of our nature which is subsistent in a state of separation from the body, are intended, none questioneth. It is granted by the Socinians, who yet deny unto them a state of glory, or any intelligent actings, until the resurrection. But we are said here to “come unto them,” in those actings of our minds wherein this evangelical communion doth consist; and this requires that there be the like actings in them, without which there can be no such communion.
(2.) That the spirits of just men departed are all of them “made perfect.” All that depart out of this world have been in it just or unjust, justified or not. But the spirits of all them who being here just, or justified, and departed out of the world, are made perfect. And as unto such, we “come unto them.” Estius, one of the most modest and judicious expositors of the Roman church, concludes hence that there is a purgatory, wherein are the souls of some not yet made perfect. But, as we observed before, this state of purgatory is here plainly cast out of the communion of the catholic church. It hath none with it; although it might so have, were there any such state. For Estius himself says, that our coming unto these spirits of just men made perfect is by love; whence, by the right of communion, we may desire the help of their prayers. So do they lessen the matter, when they come to speak of their idolatry, in their direct and immediate supplications unto them. But why may we not thus come unto the souls in purgatory, were there any such place or souls? For we are obliged to love them, as those who are of the same mystical body with us: and our prayer for them, which is thought necessary, is as great an act of communion as the supposed prayer of them in heaven for us. Such a state, therefore, is here excommunicated by the apostle, or cast out of the communion of the catholic church. And the expression of the apostle being indefinite, makes no distinction between the spirits of just men departed, as if some of them were made perfect, and some not, but is descriptive of them all; they are all made perfect.
(3.) The “just men” intended, were all those whose faith and the fruits of it he had declared, chap. 11, with all others of the same sort with them from the foundation of the world. And in following of their example, whilst they were on the earth, we are admitted into communion with them now they are in heaven. But as all these are included, so I doubt not but especial respect is had unto the times now past of the days of the gospel, and those who have departed in them; for as they were most eminent in this world, most of the apostles themselves being now at rest in glory, so an access unto them is very expressive of the privilege of the believing Hebrews who were yet alive.
(4.) These spirits of just men are said to be “made perfect,” to be consummated. And herein three things are included:
[1.] The end of the race wherein they had been engaged, the race of faith and obedience, with all the difficulties, duties, and temptations belonging thereunto. So the apostle began that discourse which he now draws to the close of, by comparing our Christian obedience and perseverance therein unto running in a race, verses 1, 2. Now they who have “finished their course,” who have “so run as to obtain,” are said to be “consummated,” or to sit down quietly in the enjoyment of the reward.
[2.] A perfect deliverance from all the sin, sorrow, trouble, labor, and temptations, which in this life they were exposed unto.
[3.] Enjoyment of the reward; for it is not consistent with the righteousness of God to defer it, after their whole course of obedience is accomplished. This consummation they have in the presence of God, in perfection, according to their capacity, before the resurrection; there being nothing wanting unto them but the reception of their bodies in a state of glory. Though they are “made perfect,” yet are they no more but “spirits.”
And we have here a clear prospect into this part of the invisible world; namely, the state of the souls of just men departed. For it is declared,
(1.) That they do subsist, acting their intelligent powers and faculties. For we cannot in any sense “come” to them that are not, or are as in a sleep of death, without the exercise of their essential powers and faculties. Yea, they live in the exercise of them, inconceivably above what they were capacitated for whilst they were in the body. And their bodies at the last day must be glorified, to make them meet instruments to exert the powers that are in them.
(2.) They are in the presence of God. There they are placed by the apostle. For, in our access “unto God the judge of all,” we “come to the spirits of just men made perfect,” who must be in his presence. And they are so in his presence, as to be in conjunction with the holy angels in the temple- worship of heaven.
(3.) They bear a part in the communion, of the church catholic. Not as the object of the worship of men, nor of their invocation, or as mediators of intercession for them: such suppositions and practices are injurious to them, as well as blasphemous towards Christ. But they live in the same love of God which animates the whole catholic church below. They join with it in the ascription of the same praises to God and the Lamb; and have a concernment in the church militant, as belonging unto that mystical body of Christ, wherein themselves are sharers.
(4.) They are “consummated,” or “made perfect;” freed from all sins, fears, dangers, temptations, clogs of the flesh, and obnoxiousness unto death. Their faith is heightened into vision, and all their graces elevated into glory. And,
Obs. 21. A prospect by faith into the state of the souls of believers departed, is both a comfort against the fear of death, and a supportment under all the troubles and distresses of this present life.
7. The apostle proceeds unto the immediate spring and center of all this catholic communion; and that is, “Jesus the mediator of the new covenant.” He calls him here by the name of “Jesus;” which is significant of his saving the church; which he doth as he is “mediator of the new covenant.” What is this “new covenant” or “testament,” and how and in what sense Jesus is the “mediator” of it, have been so fully declared in the exposition of Hebrews 9:15-17, etc., as also in other places, that I see no reason here again to take up that subject; nor do know of any addition needful thereunto. Thither, therefore, I refer the reader.
He is here mentioned in opposition unto Moses, who, as unto the general nature and notion of the word, was a mediator, or middle agent, between God and the people. But as unto the especial nature of the mediation of Jesus, he had no interest in it. He was not the surety of the covenant unto God on the part of the people: he did not confirm the covenant by his own death. He did not offer himself in sacrifice unto God, as Jesus did. But as an internuncius, a middle person, to declare the mind of God unto the people, he was a mediator appointed by God, and chosen by the people themselves, Exodus 20:0. Unto him, as such a mediator, the people came. “They were all baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea,” 1 Corinthians 10:2. In opposition hereunto, believers come to “Jesus the mediator of the new covenant.”
And their coming unto him as such includes an interest in that new covenant, and all the benefits of it. Whatever, therefore, there is of mercy, grace, or glory, prepared in the new covenant, and the promises of it, we are made partakers of it all by our access unto Christ, the mediator of it. And whereas before he had evidenced from the Scripture how much more excellent this covenant is than the old one, or that made with the people at Sinai, there is force in it to persuade them unto steadfastness in the profession of the gospel; which is aimed at in all these arguings.
Obs. 22. This is the blessedness and safety of the catholic church, that it is taken into such a covenant, and hath an interest in such a mediator of it, as are able to save it unto the utmost.
Obs. 23. The true notion of faith for life and salvation, is a coming unto Jesus as the mediator of the new testament. For hereby we have an egress and deliverance from the covenant of works, and the curse wherewith it is accompanied.
Obs. 24. It is the wisdom of faith to make use of this mediator continually, in all wherein we have to do with God. To be negligent herein, is to reflect on the wisdom and grace of God in appointing him to be the mediator of the covenant; and on his love and power for the discharge of that office.
Obs. 25. But that which we are principally taught herein is, that the glory, the safety, the pre-eminence, of the state of believers under the gospel, consists in this, that they come therein to Jesus the mediator of the new covenant. This is the center of all spiritual privileges, the rise of all spiritual joys, and the full satisfaction of the souls of all that believe. He who cannot find rest, refreshment, and satisfaction herein, is a stranger unto the gospel.
8. Again, the most signal instance wherein the Lord Jesus exercised and executed his office of mediation on the earth, was the shedding of his blood for the confirmation of that covenant whereof he was the mediator. This blood, therefore, we are said in an especial manner to come unto. And he gives it a double description:
(1.) From what it is; it is “the blood of sprinkling.”
(2.) From what it doth; it “speaketh better things than the blood of Abel.” The Vulgar reads, “the aspersion” or “sprinkling of blood,” without cause, and by a mistake.
(1.) There is no doubt but that the blood of Christ is called “the blood of sprinkling,” in allusion unto the various sprinklings of blood by divine institution under the old testament. For there was no blood offered at any time, but part of it was sprinkled. But there were three signal instances of it:
[1.] The blood of the paschal lamb; a type of our redemption by Christ, Exodus 12:21.
[2.] The blood of the sacrifices wherewith the covenant was confirmed at Horeb, Exodus 24:6-8.
[3.] The sprinkling of the blood of the great anniversary sacrifice of expiation or atonement by the high priest, in the most holy place, Leviticus 16:14. All these were eminent types of the redemption, justification, and sanctification of the church, by the blood of Christ, as hath been before declared. But besides these, there was an institution of the sprinkling of the blood in all ordinary burnt-offerings and sacrifices for sin. And I no way doubt, but that in this appellation of the blood of Christ respect is had unto them all, so far as they were typical, by justifying and cleansing; what they all signified was efficaciously wrought thereby. But whereas it is immediately annexed unto the mention of him as mediator of the new covenant, it doth in an especial manner respect the sprinkling of the blood of the sacrifices wherewith the covenant at Horeb was confirmed. As that old covenant was ratified and confirmed by the mediator of it with the sprinkling of the blood of oxen that were sacrificed; so the new covenant was confirmed by the offering and sprinkling of the blood of the mediator of the new covenant himself, offered in sacrifice to God, as the apostle expounds this passage, chap. 10.
Wherefore the blood of Christ is called “the blood of sprinkling,” with respect unto the application of it unto believers, as unto all the ends and effects for which it was offered in sacrifice unto God. And to be sprinkled with the blood of Christ, is, not by the imitation of his sufferings to be led unto eternal life, which is the gloss of Grotius on the words; nor merely the belief of his death for the confirmation of the covenant, as Schlichtingius; (which are wide, if not wild interpretations of these words; without the least respect unto the signification of them, or to the nature and use of legal sacrifices, whence they are taken; or to the efficacy of the sacrifice of Christ, which is expressed in them;) but it is the expiating, purging, cleansing efficacy of his blood, as applied unto us, that is included herein. See Hebrews 9:14, with the exposition.
(2.) He describes the blood of Christ by what it doth: “It speaketh better things than that of Abel.” Some copies read παρὰ τόν , which must refer unto the person of Abel in the first place, “than Abel speaks.” Some, παρὰ τό , which are followed by all the ancient scholiasts; and then it must refer to αἷμα , “blood,” “the blood of Abel.” 
 Of the uncials, A. C. D. K are in favor of τόν , the uncial J gives τό . The latter is supported by several versions, the Syriac among the rest. ED.
[1.] The blood of sprinkling “speaketh.” It hath a voice; it pleads. And this must be either with God or man. But whereas it is the blood of a sacrifice, whose object was God, it speaks to God.
[2.] It speaks good things absolutely; comparatively better things than Abel’s. To “speak” here, is to call for, cry for, plead for. This blood speaks to God, by virtue of the everlasting compact between the Father and the Son, in his undertaking the work of mediation, for the communication of all the good things of the covenant, in mercy, grace, and glory, unto the church. It did so when it was shed; and it continues so to do in that presentation of it in heaven, and of his obedience therein, wherein his intercession doth consist.
[3.] Comparatively, it is said to speak “better things than that of Abel.” For it is granted here that Abel is the genitive case, to be regulated by αἷμα , or “blood.” But there was a double blood of Abel:
1 st . The blood of the sacrifice that he offered: for he offered of “the firstlings of his flock, and of the fat thereof,” Genesis 4:4; which was an offering by blood.
2 dly . There was his own blood, which was shed by Cain. All the ancients take “the blood of Abel” in this latter sense. Some of late have contended for the former, or the blood of the sacrifice which he offered.
The blood of Christ, they say, was better, and spake better things than did Abel in his bloody sacrifice. But (be it spoken without reflection on them) this conjecture is very groundless, and remote from the scope of the place. For,
1 st . There is no comparison intended between the sacrifice of Christ and those before the law; which belonged not at all to the design of the apostle. For it was only Mosaical institutions that he considered, in the preference which he gives to the sacrifice of Christ and the gospel, as is evident from the whole epistle. Nor did the Hebrews adhere to any other. Yet the pretense hereof is pleaded in the justification of this conjecture.
2 dly . The apostle hath a respect unto some Scripture record of a thing well known to these Hebrews; but there is not any one word therein of any speaking of Abel by the blood of his sacrifice.
3dly . It is expressly recorded, that Abel’s own blood, after it was shed, did speak, cry, and plead for vengeance, or the punishment of the murderer. So speaks God himself: “The voice of thy brother’s blood crieth unto me from the ground,” Genesis 4:10. And the only speaking of Abel is assigned by our apostle to be after his death, Hebrews 11:4, that is, by his blood; whereunto express regard is had in this place.
4 thly . The blood of the sacrifice of Abel did speak the very same things which the blood of Christ speaks, though in a way dark, typical, and obscure. It had nothing in itself of the same efficacy with the blood of Christ, but it spake of the same things. For being a sacrifice by blood, to make atonement in a typical representation of the sacrifice of Christ, it spake and pleaded, in the faith of the offerer, for mercy and pardon. But the opposition here between the things spoken for by the blood of sprinkling, and those spoken for by the blood of Abel, doth manifest that they were of diverse kinds, yea, contrary to one another.
5 thly . The ground of the comparison used by the apostle is plainly this: That whereas, as unto men, the blood of Christ was shed unjustly, and he was murdered by their wicked hands, even as Abel was by the hands of Cain, the consideration whereof might have cast many of the Jews who were consenting thereunto into Cain’s desperation, he shows that the blood of Christ never cried, as Abel’s did, for vengeance on them by whom it was shed, but pleaded their pardon as sinners, and obtained it for many of them: so speaking things quite of another nature than did that of Abel. This, therefore, is the plain, obvious, and only true sense of the place.
We may now take a little view of the whole context, and the mind of God therein. It is a summary declaration of the two states of the law and the gospel, with their difference, and the incomparable pre-eminence of the one above the other. And three things, among others in general, are represented unto us therein.
First, The miserable, woful condition of poor convinced sinners under the law, and obnoxious unto the curse thereof. For,
1. They are forced in their own consciences to subscribe unto the holiness and equity of the law, that “the commandment is holy, and just, and good;” so that whatever evil ensues thereon unto them, it is all from themselves, they are alone the cause of it. This gives strength and sharpness, and sometimes fury, to their reflections on themselves.
2. They are terrified with the evidences of divine severity against sin and sinners; which, as it was evidenced and proclaimed in the first giving of the law, so it still accompanies the administration of it.
3. They have hereon a full conviction that they are not able to abide its commands, nor to avoid its threatenings. They can neither obey nor flee. 4. Hereon in their minds they put in a declinatory, as to its present execution; they would have God speak no more unto them about this matter.
5. Upon the whole, they must perish eternally, they know they must, unless there be some other way of deliverance than what the law knoweth of. What is the distress of this state, they know alone who have been cast into it. Others, who now despise it, will also understand it when the time of relief shall be past.
Secondly, The blessed state of believers is also represented unto us herein, and that not only in their deliverance from the law, but also in the glorious privileges which they obtain by the gospel. But these having been particularly spoken unto, I shall not mention them again.
Thirdly, A representation of the glory, beauty, and order, of the invisible world, of the new creation, of the spiritual catholic church. There was originally an excellent glory, beauty, and order, in the visible world, in the heavens and the earth, with the host of them. There is a pretense unto these things amongst men, in their empire, dominion, power, and enjoyments. But what are the one or other to the beauty and glory of this new world, which is visible only to the eyes of faith! He is blind who sees not the difference between these things. This is the state and order of this heavenly kingdom, every thing that belongs unto it is in its proper place and station: God at the head, as the framer, erector, and sovereign disposer of it; Jesus, as the only means of all communications between God and the residue of the church; innumerable myriads of angels ministering unto God and men in this society; the spirits of just men at rest, and in the enjoyment of the reward of their obedience; all the faithful on the earth in a Sion-state of liberty in their worship, and righteousness in their persons. This is the city of the living God, wherein he dwelleth, the heavenly Jerusalem. Unto this society can no creature approach, or be admitted into it, who is not by faith united unto Christ, whatever pretences they may have to an interest in the visible church, framed as to its state and order by themselves unto their own advantage: without that qualification, they are strangers and foreigners unto this true church-state, wherein God is delighted and glorified. A view hereof is sufficient to discover the vain pretences unto beauty and glory that are amongst men. What are all the kingdoms of the world, and the glory of them, but mortality, wasting itself in vanity and confusion, ending in endless misery. Herein is true, eternal, never-fading glory, etc.
SECONDLY, Our last inquiry on these words is, How we “come” unto all these things? as it is in the beginning affirmed that we do, that all believers are so come; so come as to be admitted into, to be made members of this heavenly society, and to bear a part in the communion of it. I answer,
1. The original of this communion, the framer of this society, is God himself, even the Father, in a peculiar manner. Therefore doth our admission into it arise from and depend upon some peculiar act of his. And this is election. That is his book wherein he enrols the names of all angels and men that shall be of this society, Ephesians 1:3-4.
2. The only means of an actual admission into this society is Jesus Christ, in his person and mediation. For although angels are not redeemed and justified by him, as we are, yet their station in this society is from him, Ephesians 1:10. We cannot have an immediate access unto God himself; the power of it is not committed to angels or men. The ridiculous keys of the pope will open and shut purgatory only, which is excluded out of the territory of this heavenly kingdom. Wherefore,
3. The means on our part whereby we come to this state and society, is faith in Christ alone. Hereby we come to him; and coming to him he makes us free citizens of the heavenly Jerusalem.
If this only true notion of the catholic church were received, as it ought to be, it would cast contempt on all those contests about the church, or churches, which at this day so perplex the world. He who is first instated, by faith on the person and mediation of the Lord Jesus Christ, in this heavenly society, will be guided by the light and privileges of it into such ways of divine worship in churches here below as shall cause him to improve and grow in his interest in that above. And he who is not admitted into this society, let him be in the bosom, or at the head of all the churches in the world, it will be of no advantage unto him.
Hebrews 12:25-27 . Βλέπετε , μὴ παραιτήσνσθε τὸν λαλοῦντά εἰ γὰρ ἐκεῖνοι οὐκ ἔφυγον , τὸν ἐπὶ τῆς γῆς παραιτησάμενοι χρηματίζοντα , πολλῷ μᾶλλον ἡμεῖς οἱ τὸν ἀπ᾿ οὐρανῶν ἀποστρεφόμενοι ; Οὗ ἡ φωνή τὴν γῆν ἐσάλευσε τότε· νῦν δὲ ἐπήγγελται λέγων , ῎Ετι ἅπαξ , ἐγὼ σείω οὐ μὸνον τὴν γῆν , ἀλλὰ καὶ τὸν οὐρανόν . Τὸ δὲ , ῎Ετι ἅπαξ , δηλοῖ τῶν σαλευομένων τὴν μετάθεσιν , ὡς πεποιημένων , ἵνα μείνῃ τὰ μὴ σαλευόμενα .
Βλέπετε , “videte,” Vulg., Bez. So we, “see” Syr., אֶזְדַהֲרוּ , “take heed:” in which sense this verb is always used in the imperative mood, “look to it,” “take heed,” “beware;” and so it were better here translated; though “see” be of the same sense in common use.
Μὴ παραιτήσησθε . Vulg., “ne recusetis,” “that ye refuse not.” Bez., “he aversemini,” “that ye turn not away from.” Syr., דּלְמָא תֶּשְׁתֵּאלוּן , “that ye despise not:” which sense is expressed by ἀθετέω , chap 10:28, “He that despised Moses’law,” which is here included; for unavoidable penalties were peculiarly provided for despisers only.
Χρηματίζοντα . Vulg., “loquentem,” “that speaketh.” So the Syr., דְּמַלֵל עמְכיּם , “who speaketh with you.” Bez., “divinitus loquentem,” or “oracula loquentem;” “who spake divine oracles;” spake divinely, or with divine authority, which the word requires.
Τὸν ἀπ᾿ οὐρανῶν . There is a verb wanting. The Vulg., the Syr., and we, supply “speaketh,” “him that speaketh from heaven: “ as I judge, not properly; ὄντα is to be supplied, not λαλοῦντα ; “he who is from heaven.” “The Lord from heaven,” 1 Corinthians 15:47. “He that camedown from heaven, the Son of man which is in heaven,” John 3:13.
Εσάλευσε . Vulg., “movit,” “moved.” Syr., אֲזִיעַ “commovit.” Bez., “concussit.” So we, “whose voice then shook the earth.”
᾿Επήγγελται . Vulg., “repromittit;” “pollicetur,” “denuntiavit;” “promiseth,” or rather, “he hath promised,” declared, pronounced. The word is used in the middle sense, though it be passive.
῎Ετι ἅπαξ . Syr., חֲדָא זְבַן “one time;” “yet once.”
Ζείω , or as some copies read, σείσω , whence it is rendered “movebo,” “concutiara;” the subject-matter being future, the expressions are of the same importance. from] him that speaketh. For if they escaped not who refused him who spake [divinely warning] on earth, how much more [shall not] we [do so,] if we turn away from him who [is] from heaven: whose voice then shook the earth: but now he hath promised, saying, Yet once more I shake not the earth only, but also heaven? And this [word,] Yet once more, signifieth the removing of the things that are shaken, as of things that are made, that those things that cannot be shaken may remain.
Having given a summary account of the two states of the law and the gospel, with the incomparable excellency of the latter above the former, the apostle draws from thence a charge and exhortation unto these Hebrews, as unto perseverance in faith and obedience; as also to the diligent avoidance of all that profaneness, or other sinful miscarriages, which are inconsistent therewithal. And he doth not herein intend only those amongst them who had already actually professed the gospel; but all those unto whom it had been preached and who as yet had not received it, so as to make profession of it. For Christ is as well refused by them unto whom he is preached, who never comply with the word at all, as by those who after a profession of it do again fall away. Yea, that first sort of persons, namely, those who continue in their unbelief on the first tender of Christ in the preaching of the word, are the proper objects of evangelical threatenings, which are here proposed and pressed. But yet are not they alone intended; seeing in the close of the 25th verse he puts himself among the number and in the condition of them to whom he spake, “How shall we escape?” which can be intended only of them who had already made a profession of the gospel. In brief, he intendeth all sorts, in their several states and capacities, unto whom the gospel had been preached.
The words have many difficulties in them, which must be diligently inquired into, as they occur in the context. There are four things in them in general:
1. The prescription of a duty, by way of inference from the preceding discourse, Hebrews 12:25.
2. An enforcement of the duty and inference, from the consideration of the person with whom they had to do, Hebrews 12:25. greatness of that person, in what he had done, and would yet do, Hebrews 12:26.
4. An inference and collection from thence, with respect unto the law and the gospel, with what belonged unto them, Hebrews 12:27.
First, We have an injunction of a necessary duty, proposed in a way of caution or prohibition of the contrary evil: “See that ye refuse not him that speaketh.”
1. The caution is given in the word βλέπετε . It is originally a word of sense, “to see with our eyes: “ and so it is constantly used in the New Testament, unless it be in the imperative mood, and therein it always signifies, “to beware, to take heed,” to be very careful about what is given in charge, Matthew 24:4; Mark 13:5; Mark 13:33; 1Co 8:9 ; 1 Corinthians 16:10; Galatians 5:15; Ephesians 5:15; Philippians 3:2; Colossians 2:8. And both the weight of the duty and the danger of its neglect are included in it. And the apostle gives them this caution to shake of all sloth and negligence, from the greatness of their concernment in what was enjoined them.
2. The matter given in charge is, “not to refuse or turn away from, or despise him that speaketh.” Of the word and its signification we have spoken before, on verse 19. But in this prohibition of an evil, it is the injunction of a duty that is intended; and that is the hearing of him that speaketh; and that such a hearing as the Scripture intends universally, where it speaks of our duty to God; namely, so to hear as to believe, and yield obedience to what is heard. This is the constant use of that expression in the Scripture; wherefore the caution, not to refuse, is a charge so to hear him that speaks as to believe and obey. Whatever is less than this, is a refusal, a despising of him. It is not enough to give him the hearing, as we say, unless also we obey him. Hence the word is preached unto many; but it doth not profit them, because it is not mixed with faith.
3. We must thus not refuse τὸν λαλοῦντα , “him that speaketh.” That is, say some, for τὸν λαλήσαντα , “him that hath spoken;” for the speaking of Christ himself was now past. But Christ yet continued to speak in an extraordinary manner by some of the apostles, and by his Spirit, in the signs, wonders, and mighty works which yet accompanied the dispensation of the gospel. There is a general rule in the words, namely, that we are diligently to attend unto, and not to refuse any that speak unto us in the name and authority of Christ. And so it may be applied unto all the faithful preachers of the gospel, however they may be despised in this world. But it is here the person of Christ himself that is immediately intended.
And this command hath respect unto the double solemn charge given of God unto the church; the first on the closing of the law, and the other as the beginning and foundation of the gospel. The first, given to prepare the church for their duty in its proper season, is recorded, Deuteronomy 18:18-19, “I will raise them up a Prophet from among their brethren, like unto thee, and will put my words in his mouth; and he shall speak unto them all that I shall command him. And it shall come to pass, that whosoever will not hearken unto my words, which he shall speak in my name, I will require it of him;” which words are applied to the Lord Christ, Acts 3:22; Acts 7:37. This the apostle now minds them of: ‘Take heed that ye hear him; for if not, God will require it of you in your utter destruction.’The other charge to this purpose was given immediately from heaven, as the foundation of the gospel, Matthew 17:5; Matthew 17:5, “Behold a voice out of the cloud, which said, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased; hear ye him;” which voice the apostle Peter tells us came “from the excellent glory of the person of the Father,” 2 Peter 1:17-18.
This is the foundation of all gospel faith and obedience, and the formal reason of the condemnation of all unbelievers: God hath given command unto all men to hear, that is, believe and obey, his Son Jesus Christ. By virtue thereof he hath given command unto others to preach the gospel unto all individuals. They who believe them, believe in Christ; and they who believe in Christ, through him believe in God, 1 Peter 1:21: so that their faith is ultimately resolved into the authority of God himself. And so they who refuse them, who hear them not, do thereby refuse Christ himself; and by so doing reject the authority of God, who hath given this command to hear him, and hath taken on himself to require it when it is neglected: which is the condemnation of all unbelievers. This method, with respect unto faith and unbelief, is declared and established by our Savior, Luke 10:16, “He that heareth you heareth me; and he that despiseth you despiseth me; and he that despiseth me despiseth him that sent me.” Hence,
Obs. 1. Unbelief under the preaching of the gospel is the great, and in some respects the only, damning sin; as being accompanied, yea, consisting in, the last and utmost contempt of the authority of God.
Secondly, The apostle gives an enforcement of this duty. And this is taken from the consideration of the Person with whom they had to do herein, and a comparison between the event of the neglect of this duty in them, and a neglect of the same kind of duty in them unto whom the law was given. The inference from the comparison is expressed in the conjunctive particles, “for it.” ‘Consider with yourselves how it was with them on their disobedience. “For if they escaped not,”’etc. For the opening of this verse, we must inquire,
1. Who it is that spake on earth.
2. How the people did refuse him.
3. How they did not escape thereon.
4. Who it is that is, or speaks, from heaven.
5. How he may be turned away from.
6. How they who do so turn from him shall not escape.
1. Who it is that “spake on earth.” Most expositors say it was Moses, and that the opposition is here made between him and Christ. But all things in the text, and the circumstances in matter of fact, lie against this exposition. For,
(1.) Respect is had unto the giving of the law, which is unquestionable; but herein Moses was not ὁ χρηματίζων , he that spake divine oracles unto the people, but God himself.
(2.) The people thereon did not refuse Moses, but expressly chose him for a mediator between God and them, promising to hear him, Exodus 20:0., Deuteronomy 5:0.
(3.) Χρηματίζειν , though it sometimes signifies the answers that are given authoritatively by princes, yet in the Scripture it is applied unto God alone, though he may use the ministry of angels therein. See Hebrews 11:7, with the exposition.
(4.) He who “spake on the earth,” “his voice then shook the earth;” which was not the voice of Moses. Some therefore say that it is an angel that is intended, who delivered all those oracles on mount Sinai in the name of God. This pretense I have at large elsewhere discarded; nor can it be reconciled unto the principles of religion. For if, notwithstanding all the dreadful preparation that was made for the descent of God on mount Sinai; and although it be expressly affirmed that he was there in the midst of the thousands of his angels, Psalms 68:17; and that he came with ten thousands of his holy ones to give the fiery law, Deuteronomy 33:2; and that in giving the law he lays the whole weight of its authority on the person of the speaker, saying, “I am the LORD thy God:” if all this may be ascribed unto an angel, then there is one who is an angel by office and God by nature; or we are bound to take a created angel to be our God; nor can it be pretended that God ever spake himself unto mankind, seeing this was the most likely way of his so doing under the old testament.
Wherefore he that then spake on earth, who gave those divine oracles, was none other but the Son of God himself, or the divine nature acting itself in a peculiar manner in the person of the Son; and unto him all things do agree. What is purely divine was proper to his person, and what was of condescension belonged unto him in a way of office, as he was the angel of the covenant, in whom was the name of God.
But it will be said, ‘There is an opposition between “him that spake on earth,” and “him that is from heaven;” now whereas that was Christ, the Son of God, this cannot be so.’I answer, There is indeed no such opposition. For the opposition expressed is not between the persons speaking, but between earth and heaven, as the next verse sufficiently shown And that verse declares positively, that it was one and the same person whose voice then shook the earth, and under the gospel shaketh heaven also.
It is therefore God himself, or the Son of God, who gave those oracles on mount Sinai.
2. And it must be inquired how the people “refused him.” The word here used by the apostle is the same with that which, verse 19, we render by “entreated to hear no more;” that is, deprecated the hearing of the voice of God And that intended thereby was the request of the people, that God would not speak immediately unto them any more, because they could not bear the terror of it. This request of theirs God expressly approved of, “They have well said all that they have spoken,” Deuteronomy 5:28-29. Wherefore although the apostle did plainly demonstrate hereby the terror of the giving of the law, and the dread of the people, which was all he aimed at in that place, yet it doth not appear how they “escaped not” on that refusal, seeing God approved of what they said and did.
(1.) That although the word be the same, yet different things are intended by it. Both that of Hebrews 12:19 and this here agree in the general nature of a refusal, and so may be expressed by the same word; but the especial nature of the acts intended is diverse, or the word being in itself of a middle signification, including neither good nor evil, may have, as it here hath, a various application.
(2.) In that former refusal, or entreaty not to hear the voice of God any more, there was this good which was approved of God, namely, that it expressed that frame of fear and dread which he designed to bring them unto by giving of the law. But though their words were so good, and so well suited unto their present condition, yet it discovered a want of that faith and boldness of children which were necessary to enable them to abide with God. With respect hereunto the apostle might justly date the beginning of their departure from God and refusal of obedience, which immediately ensued on this discovery that they liked not the presence and voice of God.
But the people’s actual refusal of obedience unto him that gave them the law began in that which fell out not long after; namely in their making the golden calf, while Moses was in the mount, Exodus 32:0: from which they did not escape; for besides that three thousand of them on that occasion were slain by the sword, God made it a record concerning that sin, “In the day when I visit I will visit their sin upon them; and the LORD plagued the people,” Exodus 32:34-35. After this ensued sundry other rebellions of the people; in all which they “refused him who spake on earth.”
3. How did they “not escape” hereon, or what did they not escape? They did not evade, they could not escape or go free, but divine wrath and vengeance overtook them. This is so fully manifested by an induction of instances, 1 Corinthians 10:5-10, that it needs no further illustration. And we may see,
Obs. 2. That there is in all sins and disobedience a rejection of the authority of God in giving of the law.
Obs. 3. No sinner can escape divine vengeance, if he be tried and judged according to the law. See Psalms 130:3.
4. Who is it, or how is he to be considered, whom we are now to hear, not to turn away from? “Much more shall not we, if we turn away from him that is” (or “speaketh”) “from heaven.” There are two words defective, and only implied in the original. The first we supply by escape, “How shall we escape.” And herein all agree; the repetition of the sense of that word before used is necessary unto the comparison, and hath in it the enforcement of the exhortation, which is taken from the penalty of disobedience. The second is in the last clause, τὸν ἀπ᾿ οὐρανῶν , “him from heaven.” This some supply by λαλοῦντα , “speaketh,” as we do; some by ὄντα , “is,” “who is from heaven.” And the defect of the verb substantive is so frequent, that it is naturally to be supplied when the sense will bear it, as it will do in this place, as we shall see immediately.
We may observe further, that the apostle useth another word to express the refusal of hearing him who is from heaven, namely, ἀποστρεφόμενοι , than he did with respect unto them who refused him who spake on the earth; “turning away,” “How much more we turning away;” that is, if we do so: and it is more extensive than the other word, including that infidelity and disobedience which is purely negative, without any positive refusal or rejection of the word.
These things being premised, it is evident who it is that is here intended, and in what sense he is spoken of. And this is fully declared by himself, John 3:12-13, “If I have told you earthly things, and ye believe not, how shall ye believe, if I tell you of heavenly things? And no man hath ascended up to heaven, but he that came down from heaven, even the Son of man which is in heaven.” Add hereunto verse 31, “He that cometh from above is above all; he that is of the earth is earthly, and speaketh of the earth; he that cometh from heaven is above all.” See John 6:33; John 6:38. These places treat of the same matter with that intended in the text, namely, the revelation of heavenly things, or the mysteries of the will of God by Jesus Christ. In each place it is affirmed, that to make this revelation he came from heaven; so that he was from heaven: but withal, whilst he did so, he was still in heaven, “the Son of man who is in heaven.” He was so from heaven, in his descent to declare the will of God, as that he was in his divine person still in heaven. Wherefore, as unto the promulgation of the gospel, he is said to be “from heaven” on many accounts:
(1.) Of his full comprehension of all heavenly mysteries; for he came from the bosom of the Father, and thence declared him, with the mystery that was hid in him from the foundation of the world, John 1:18; Matthew 11:27.
(2.) Of his infinite condescension in his incarnation and susception of the office of mediator, to declare [he will of God; which in the Scripture is called most frequently his coming clown from heaven. Thereby he was “the Lord from heaven.”
(3.) Of his sovereign, heavenly authority in the discharge of his office. God was with him and in him; the fullness of the Godhead dwelt in him bodily; and he had all power in heaven and earth committed unto him.
(4.) Of his glorious ascension into heaven when he had accomplished his work in this world, represented by his ascent from mount Sinai, as the apostle declares, Ephesians 4:8-10.
(5.) Of his sending the Holy Ghost from heaven to confirm his doctrine, 1 Peter 1:12.
(6.) Of his opening heaven, and all the treasures of it, “bringing life and immortality to light by the gospel,” in comparison whereof the things of the law are called “earthly things.”
5. Thus was the Lord Christ, the Son of God, “from heaven” in the declaration of the gospel. And we must inquire, in the next place, what it is to “turn away from him.” And sundry things are included in this expression.
(1.) That in the declaration of the gospel by Jesus Christ from heaven, there is a call, an invitation of sinners to draw nigh, to come unto him, to be made partakers of the good things contained therein. This way of the proposal of the gospel was foretold by the prophets, as Isaiah 4:1-3. So it was constantly insisted on by him, Matthew 11:28, John 7:37-38. “Come unto me,” was the life and grace of the gospel. And what could be more, seeing they were the words of him who was “from heaven,” fully possessed of all the bosom counsels of the Father? And herein it differed sufficiently from the law in the giving of it. For that was so far from being proposed with an encouraging invitation to come to God thereby, as that it was only a terrible denunciation of duties and penalties, which they that heard “could not endure,” and removed as far as they could from it. With respect unto this invitation, unbelievers are said “to turn away from him;” which is the posture and action of them that refuse an invitation.
(2.) There is in it a dislike of the terms oft he gospel proposed unto them. The terms of the gospel are of two sorts:
[1.] Such as are proposed unto us;
[2.] Such as thereon are required of us Those proposed unto us include the whole mystery of the salvation of sinners by Jesus Christ, unto the praise and glory of God. Those of the latter sort are faith, repentance, and new obedience. The only motive unto those of the latter being the former, they cannot be taken into serious consideration until the first are duly pondered. Unless we see that which is good and excellent in the former terms, we cannot think it worth while to endeavor after the other. Herein, then, consists the beginning of the turning away from Christ, in the preaching of the gospel. Men like not the terms of it. They really account them foolish and weak, unbecoming the wisdom of God, and no way answering what they design in religion. This the apostle declares at large, 1 Corinthians 1:17-25. And there is no man who, upon the call of Christ, refuseth to believe and repent, but he doth it on this ground, that there is no such excellency in the terms of the gospel, no such necessity for a compliance with them, no such advantage to be obtained by them, as that it is either his wisdom or his duty to believe and repent that he may attain them. Herein do men “turn away from him that is from heaven.” They like not the terms of the gospel, whereon he invites them unto himself; and therein despise the wisdom, grace, and faithfulness of God unto the utmost. This is unbelief.
(3.) There is in this turning away, a rejection of the authority of Christ. For besides the matter which he declared and preached, his personal authority had its peculiar power and efficacy to require obedience. This the apostle had here an especial respect unto. It was “he that was from heaven,” being sealed unto this office thereby, God commanding all to hear him; and who spake in the name of him that sent him, even in the strength of the Lord, in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God: so as that all authority in heaven and earth was in him, and present with him. Wherefore a rejection and contempt of this sovereign, divine authority is contained in this turning away from him; that is, either in not receiving the gospel, or the relinquishment of it after it hath been professed.
And all these things have an influence into the “How much more,” with respect unto punishment, here insisted on by the apostle. For put these things together, namely, infinite condescension in the declaration of the gospel, by the way of a gracious, encouraging invitation; the glory of the terms proposed therein, being the highest effect of infinite wisdom and grace; with the divine authority of him by whom the invitation and proposal are made; and we need seek no further to justify the apostle’s “How much more,” in the aggravation of the sin of unbelief, as unto guilt and punishment, above any, above all sins whatever against the law. It is evident, on these considerations, that human nature cannot more highly despise and provoke God, than by this sin of unbelief. But,
(4.) An obstinacy in the refusal of him is also included herein. It is a turning away that is final and incurable.
This, therefore, is the sin which the apostle thus expresseth, declaring the equity of its exposing men to greater punishment, or of making them more obnoxious unto eternal vengeance, than the rejection of the law; namely, a refusal of the authority of Christ proposing the terms of the gospel, and inviting unto the acceptance of them; which is unbelief.
6. The last thing in the words is the inference and judgment that the apostle makes, on a supposition of this sin and evil in any; and this is, that “they shall not escape.” And this he proposeth in a comparison with the sin of them that refused the obedience required by the law, with the event thereof. But the meaning hereof is so fully declared in the exposition on Hebrews 10:28-29, as also on Hebrews 2:2-3, where the same thing is spoken unto, as that I shall not here again insist upon it. And we may hence learn,
Obs. 4. That it is the duty of the ministers of the gospel diligently and effectually to declare the nature of unbelief, with the heinousness of its guilt, above all other sins whatsoever. It is here laid in the balance with the rejection of the law, which contains in it the guilt of all other sins, and is declared to have a weight of guilt incomparably above it. “How much more”? none can justly conceive or express it. By most it is despised; they have no sense of it, nor can have, without a powerful conviction of the Holy Ghost, John 16:8-9. Sins against the light of nature, or express commands of the law, most men are sensible of; but as unto unbelief, and all the consequents of it, they regard it not. But it is not more the duty of the ministers of the gospel to declare the nature of faith, and to invite men unto Christ in the gospel, than it is to make known the nature of unbelief, and to evidence the woful aggravation of it, Mark 16:16.
Obs. 5. It is their duty so to do, not only with respect unto them who are open and avowed unbelievers, to convince them of the danger wherein they are, but also unto all professors whatever; and to maintain an especial sense of it upon their own minds and consciences. Thus the apostle placeth himself among them who ought always to weigh and consider this matter: “Much more shall not we escape, if we turn away.” There is a turning away after profession, as well as upon the first proposal of the gospel. The nature and danger thereof ought they diligently to press on their own consciences, and on them that hear them; for this is an ordinance of God for their good. By the declaration of its nature, they may be helped in the examination of themselves, whether they be in the faith or no; which they are obliged unto, 2 Corinthians 13:5. And by the evidence of its danger from its aggravations, they may be excited continually to watch against it.
Obs. 6. This is the issue whereunto things are brought between God and sinners, wherever the gospel is preached, namely, whether they will hear the Lord Christ, or turn away from him. On this one point alone depends their eternal safety or misery. If they hear him, God puts an end unto the whole claim of the law against them, on the account of all other sins: if they refuse so to do, they are left under the guilt of all their sins against the law, with the unspeakable aggravation of the contempt of Christ speaking to them from heaven for their relief.
Obs. 7. The grace, goodness, and mercy of God, will not be more illustrious and glorious unto all eternity, in the salvation of believers by Jesus Christ, than his justice, holiness, and severity will be in the condemnation of unbelievers. Some light may be given hereinto from the consideration of what is included in this turning away from Christ, as was before declared.
Thirdly, The two next verses, Hebrews 12:26-27, contain an illustration of the enforcement of the exhortation in the foregoing verse. And it is taken,
1. From the mighty power of the person from whom they would turn away by unbelief, instanced in what he had done of old: “Whose voice then shook the earth.”
2. From the work which by the same mighty power he would yet effect, as it was foretold by the prophet: “But now hath he promised, saying, Yet once more,” etc.
3. From the nature and end of that promised work, which he declares, Hebrews 12:27.
1. (1.) The thing spoken of, is the voice of the person intended: “Whose voice;” that is, the voice of him of whom he speaks, the voice of him who is from heaven; that is, of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the author of the gospel: for reference is had unto him who was last spoken of, nor is there any other in the context unto whom the relative οὗ , “whose,” should refer.
(2.) The voice of Christ absolutely, is his great power in exercise. So all the mighty effects of providence are ascribed unto the voice of God, Psalms 29:3-9. In particular, the declaration and exerting of his power in giving of the law is here intended.
(3.) The time wherein he put forth this mighty power was, τότε “then,” that is, at the time of the giving of the law, opposed unto what he would do now.
(4.) That which is ascribed unto it then is, that it “shook the earth.” The great commotion in the creation that was at mount Sinai, at the giving of the law, which he had before described, verses 18-21, is intended. In particular, the earth, or the mount, did “quake greatly,” or was greatly shaken, Exodus 19:18. But that alone is not comprised in this expression; the whole commotion that was in all the particulars which we have considered is comprehended therein. And the shaking is said to be of the earth, because it was all on the earth and of earthly things; part of the earth, by a synecdoche.
And we have here an illustrious evidence given unto the divine nature of Christ. For it is uuavoidable, that he whose voice this was is no other but he that speaks from heaven in the promulgation of the gospel; which to deny, is not only far from truth, but all pretense of modesty. Apparently it was one and the same person who spake from heaven in the promulgation of the gospel, whose voice shook the earth in giving of the law, and who promised in the prophet to shake heaven also. Unless this be granted, there is no sense nor coherence in the apostle’s discourse. The Socinian expositor turns himself unto many inventions to evade the force of this testimony.
[1.] He says, that he who gave the law, and then shook the earth, was a created angel. This presumption we have elsewhere discarded. But no place is more effectual unto that purpose than this text itself is. For he whose voice then shook the earth is the same, as the apostle affirms, with him who in the prophet promiseth to shake the heavens also; which is God, and not any creature.
[2.] He says, “There is a difference between God sending an angel from heaven to give the law, and his sending Christ to declare the gospel; so as that he may be said to do the one from heaven, the other on the earth. For Christ did always declare himself one diverse from God, and only the legate of God; but the angel that came from heaven bare the person and name of God, and spake as if he were God himself.” But,
1st. This plainly casts the advantage of honor and glory on the side of giving the law, above that of the promulgation of the gospel. For he who “bears the person and name of God, and speaks as if he were God,” must needs be more honorable than he who could do no such thing, but professed himself “one diverse from God;” and so Schlichtingius hath fairly confuted the apostle, if you will believe him.
2 dly . The Lord Christ did always profess himself, and bear himself as one distinct from the person of the Father; but that he did so as one “diverse from God,” as one that was not God, is most false. See John 8:58; John 10:30; John 10:33, etc. And in like manner, in his following discourse, he doth plainly confess that Christ was inferior in glory unto the angel that gave the law, and is only preferred above Moses; if he be spoken of at all. But this is to wrest and .pervert, and not to interpret the Scriptures.
2. The apostle adds another demonstration of the great power of Christ, in what he hath now promised to do: “But now he hath promised, saying, Yet once more I shake not the earth only, but also heaven.” The words are taken from Haggai 2:6-7: but the apostle quotes only part of the words there recorded; which were sufficient unto his purpose. The whole passage in the prophet I have at large explained, opened, and vindicated from the exceptions of the Jews, in the 13th Exercitation prefixed unto the first volume of this Exposition: I shall therefore here only speak unto them so far as the argument of the apostle is concerned in them.
(1.) There are in the words the notes of an opposition unto what was spoken before, as unto time: “But now.” And this now is not to be referred unto the time of the promise, ‘He hath now promised;’ but it denotes the time when that which was promised in the days of Haggai was to be accomplished: ‘Then, or of old, he shook the earth; but now he will shake heaven also, according to the promise.’
(2.) The prophet affirming that he would “shake the heavens and the earth,” the apostle, in an accommodation to his present purpose, expresseth it by, “Not only the earth,” namely, as of old, “but the heavens also.” Wherefore in this new shaking, a shaking of the earth also is comprised.
(3.) The principal inquiry is, what is the shaking of the heavens intended, and at what season it was to be done. And for the clearing hereof we must observe,
[1.] The same thing and time are intended by the prophet and the apostle. Unless this be granted, there can be no force in this testimony unto his purpose; as there is none in the application of any testimony to confirm one thing which is spoken of another.
[2.] These things are spoken in the prophet expressly with respect unto the first coming of Christ, and the promulgation of the gospel thereon. This is not questioned by any Christians; and I have evidenced the truth of it against the Jews, in the place before directed unto. Yea, this single testimony is sufficient to bear the weight of the whole cause and contest which we have with the Jews about the coming of the Messiah. This time, therefore, and what fell out therein, is intended by the apostle; or the testimony he useth is nothing to his purpose.
[3.] The apostle declares, verse 28, that believers do now actually receive what is the fruit and effect of the work here described, namely, “a kingdom that cannot be moved:” before which the removal of the things that were shaken must precede; which could only be in the coming of Christ, and promulgation of the gospel.
[4.] Whereas some would refer all these things unto the second coming of Christ, namely, unto judgment at the last day, when the whole fabric of heaven and earth shall be shaken and removed; besides that it is wholly alien unto the whole design of the words in the prophet, it no way belongs unto the argument of the apostle. For he compares not the giving of the law, and the coming of Christ to judgment at the last day; but the giving of the law, with the promulgation of the gospel by Christ himself. For his design is in all things to give the pre-eminence unto the gospel, whereunto the consideration of the coming of Christ unto judgment is no way subservient.
[5.] There is no reason why we should take this “shaking not only of the earth, but of heaven,” as it is in the apostle; or, of “the heavens, and the earth, and the sea, and the dry land,” as it is in the prophet; in a literal or natural sense. The prophet expounds it all in the next words, “And I will shake all nations.” And they are spiritual things whereof the apostle doth discourse, such as end in that unshaken kingdom which believers do receive in this world.
[6.] Whereas, therefore, it is evident that the apostle treats about the dealing of Christ in and with his church, both in giving of the law and the promulgation of the gospel, that which is signified in these expressions is the great alteration that he would make in the church-state, with the mighty works and commotions which it was to be accompanied withal. Such it was, as if heaven and earth and all things in them had been shaken, as the things were which in the prophetical style are signified by them.
[7.] Yea, take the words in any sense, and they are applicable unto the first coming of Christ, and the promulgation of the gospel. For take them literally, and in a natural sense, and the event was suited unto them. At his birth a new star appeared in the heavens, which filled the generality of men with amazement, and put those who were wise unto diligent inquiries about it. His birth was proclaimed by an angel from heaven, and celebrated by a multitude of the heavenly host. In his ministry the heavens were opened, and the Holy Ghost descended on him in the shape of a dove. And hereon, from thence also, God gave express testimony unto him, saying, “This is my beloved Son.” And these things may answer that mighty work in heaven which is here intimated. On the earth, wise men came from the east to inquire after him; Herod and all Jerusalem were shaken at the tidings of him. In the discharge of his work he wrought miracles in heaven and earth, sea and dry land, on the whole creation of God. Wherefore in the first coming of Christ, the words had their literal accomplishment in an eminent manner. Take the words metaphorically for great changes, commotions, and alterations in the world, and so also were they accomplished in him and his coming. No such alteration had been made in the world since the creation of it, as was then, and in what ensued thereon. All the heavens of the world were then shaken, and after a while removed; that is, all their gods, and all their worship, which had continued from time immemorial, which were the heavens of the people, were first shaken, then removed and utterly demolished. The earth also was moved, shaken, and changed. For all nations were stirred up, some to inquire after him, some to oppose him; whereon great concussions and commotions did ensue, until all the most noble parts of it were made subject unto him. So had the prophecy a full and just accomplishment.
[8.] But, as we observed before, it is the dealing of God with the church, and the alterations which he would make in the state thereof, concerning which the apostle treats. It is therefore the heavens of Mosaical worship, and the Judaical church-state, with the earth of their political state belonging thereunto, that are here intended. These were they that were shaken at the coming of Christ, and so shaken, as shortly after to be removed and taken away, for the introduction of the more heavenly worship of the gospel, and the immovable evangelical church-state. This was the greatest commotion and alteration that God ever made in the heavens and earth of the church, and which was to be made once only. This was far more great and glorious than the shaking of the earth at the giving of the law. Wherefore, not to exclude the senses before mentioned, which are consistent with this, and may be respected in the prophecy, as outward signs and indications of it, this is that which is principally intended in the words, and which is proper unto the argument in hand. And this alone is consistent with the ensuing interpretation which the apostle gives of the words, or the inference which he makes from them, as we shall see. And whereas he cites the testimony of the prophet, he abides in the prophetical style, wherein the names of heaven and earth are frequently applied unto the state of the church. And we may observe, that,
Obs. 8. The sovereign authority and mighty power of Christ are gloriously manifested, in that signal change and alteration which he made in the heavens and earth of the church, in its state and worship, by the promulgation of the gospel.
Obs. 9. God was pleased to give testimony unto the greatness and glory of this work, by the great commotions in heaven ant earth wherewith it was accompanied.
Obs. 10. It was a mighty work, to introduce the gospel among the nations of the earth, seeing their gods and heavens were to be shaken and removed thereby.
Fourthly, The apostle makes an inference, verse 27, from the signification of one word in the foregoing verse, unto the truth designed in general in the whole epistle, but not anywhere expressly spoken unto, unless it be in the end of the eighth chapter: “And this word, Yet once more, signifieth the removing of those things which are shaken, as of things which are made, that those things which cannot be shaken may remain.”
This is the conclusion of the whole argumentative part of this epistle, that which was aimed at from the beginning. Having fully proved the excellency of the gospel, and state of the church therein, above that under the law, and confirmed it by an examination of all the concernments of the one and the other, as we have seen; he now declares from the Scripture, according to his usual way of dealing with those Hebrews, that all the ancient institutions of worship, and the whole church-state of the old covenant, were now to be removed and taken away; and that to make way for a better state, more glorious, and that which should never be obnoxious to change or alteration. In the words, he expresseth the passage in the prophetical testimony, whereon he grounds his inference, and gives us the interpretation of it, with what necessarily ensues thereon.
1. He saith, “And this word, Yet once more;” ‘And this that is said;’or, ‘Whereas it is said, Once more,’ ἔτι ἅπαξ ; so the Greeks render עוּד אַחַת , “yet one,” or “once:” which determines,
(1.) That such a work as that spoken of had been before;
(2.) That it should be again, more eminently than formerly;
(3.) That it should be but once for ever again.
And from the consideration of all these the apostle takes the signification of the word, or what is contained in it, which he declares.
2. ‘This word,’saith he, ‘doth manifestly signify that which ensues.’And it doth so on the accounts mentioned. For,
(1.) It plainly intimates that there was, or had been, a work of the same or an alike nature wrought before; for he says, that he will work “once more.” This was the mighty work of God in giving of the law, before described. This the apostle makes evident, by distributing the things spoken of into that order, “Not the earth only, but the heavens.” That which concerned the earth alone was past, in the giving of the law.
(2.) It signifies plainly that he would work again, and that a work of the same kind; or else he could not be said to do it “once more.” Now, the general nature of this work was, the erection of a new church-state, which God then wrought, and would now do so again. And therefore,
(3.) It signifies the removal, the translation out of its place, of that which was before. The word signifies a translation, but withal such a removal thereby out of its place as contained a total abolition. For,
[1.] The things intended were shaken; and being of God’s own appointment, as was the divine worship and state of the church under the old testament, they could not be shaken by God himself but in order to their removal.
[2.] The things that were to be effected by this new work were to be introduced in their place; and therefore of necessity they were to be removed. So the apostle placeth the sole necessity of their removal, from the establishment of “the things that cannot be shaken.” These therefore must be of the same general nature and use with them, namely, a new church-state, and new divine worship; that is, the gospel with its privileges.
3. The apostle intimates the general ground and equity of the removal of these shaken things, and the introduction of those that cannot be shaken; and that is, because they were “things that were made.” Because they were made, they might be removed. For,
(1.) They were made by the hands of men; so were the tabernacle, the ark, the cherubim, with all the means of divine service. And the apostle here expressly alludes unto the making of them by Bezaleel and Aholiab. And they might thereon be well removed, for the establishment of that “tabernacle which God pitched, and not man.”
(2.) They were so made, as that they were made only for a season, namely, until “the time of reformation,” Hebrews 9:10. This the apostle hath abundantly proved, from their nature, use, and end. As such, therefore, it was equal they should be removed, and not have an eternal station in the church.
4. In the room of these things removed, things that are not, that “cannot be shaken,” are to be established. These things in the next verse he calls “a kingdom that cannot be moved,” which believers do receive; that is, the things of the spiritual kingdom of Jesus Christ; the gospel with all its privileges, worship, and excellency, in relation to Christ, his person, office, and grace; the things which the apostle hath proved to be signified by all the institutions of the law, and to be every way more excellent than they. These are so to be introduced and established, as to remain unto the consummation of all things.
We shall yet further observe, that although the removal of Mosaical worship and the old church-state be principally intended, which was effected at the coming of Christ, and the promulgation of the gospel from heaven by him, yet all other oppositions unto him and his kingdom are included therein; not only those that then were, but all that should ensue unto the end of the world. The “things that cannot be moved,” are to remain and be established against all opposition whatever. Wherefore, as the heavens and the earth of the idolatrous world were of old shaken and removed, so shall those also of the antichristian world, which at present in many places seem to prevail. All things must give way, whatever may be comprised in the names of heaven and earth here below, unto the gospel, and the kingdom of Christ therein. For if God made way for it by the removal of his own institutions, which he appointed for a season, what else shall hinder its establishment and progress unto the end?
Hebrews 12:28-29 . Διὸ βασιλείαν ἀσάλευτον παραλαμβάνοντες , ἔχωμεν χάριν δι᾿ ἧς λατρεύωμεν εὐαρέστως τῷ Θεῷ μετὰ αἰδοῦς καὶ εὐλαζείας· καὶ γὰρ ὁ Θεὸς ἡμῶν πῦρ καταςαλίσκον .
Hebrews 12:28-29 . Wherefore we receiving a kingdom which cannot be moved, let us have grace, whereby we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear: for our God [is] a consuming fire.  The apostle in these verses sums up both the doctrinal and hortatory parts of the epistle. For what by all his arguments he hath evinced, concerning the preference and preeminence of the gospel-state of the church above that under the law, he presseth as a reason for that obedience and constancy in profession which he exhorts unto. And from hence unto the close of the epistle he brancheth his general exhortation into a prescription of particular duties of most importance unto his general end.
 EXPOSITION. Καὶ γὰρ ὁ Θεός , κ . τ . λ . We have seen no translation but De Wette’s in which effect is given to the καί in this clause. De Wette translates it by “auch,” “even our God is a consuming fire;” that is,’However rich in grace to us who serve him, he is not the less inflexible in justice to those who serve him not, or do not serve him aright.’ ED.
In the words there are,
1. A note of inference; “wherefore.”
2. A privilege of gospel believers asserted; “we receiving a kingdom that cannot be moved.”
3. A duty pressed on the consideration of it; which is, to “serve God acceptably:” described from,
(1.) The means of it, “let us have grace;” and,
(2.) The manner of its performance, “with reverence and godly fear.”
1. The note of inference, “wherefore,” may respect either the whole discourse which he hath now passed through, or that immediately preceding, concerning the shaking and removal of the Judaical church- state, width the introduction and establishment of the things of the kingdom of Christ. The force of the exhortation ariseth equally from either of then ‘Seeing it is so, that the state of believers under the gospel is such as we have described, and the gospel itself whereunto they are called so excellent and glorious, it follows that this duty they are to apply themselves unto.’So,
Obs. 1. Such is the nature and use of all divine or theological truths, that the teaching of them ought constantly to be applied and improved unto practice; for faith and obedience are the end of their revelation. To remain within the compass of mere speculation, is to overthrow both their nature and use. Hence all preaching consists virtually in doctrine and use, or instruction and application; though the methods of it may be various, and ought to be varied as occasion doth require. 2. The privilege asserted is, that “we receive a kingdom that cannot be moved.” And herein we may consider,
(1.) The nature of this privilege; it is a “kingdom.”
(2.) The property of it, in opposition unto other things; “it cannot be moved.”
(3.) The way of believers’participation of it; “we receive it.”
(1.) As unto the nature of it, it is a kingdom, a heavenly, spiritual state, under the rule of Jesus Christ, whom God hath anointed, and set his king upon his holy hill of Zion, Psalms 2:6-7. The state of the gospel, and the rule of Christ therein, were represented and promised from the beginning under the name and notion of a kingdom, being properly so. See Isaiah 9:7. The kingly office of Christ, and his kingdom, were the common faith of the church of the old testament and the new. Whoever believed the promise of the Messiah, believed that he should be a king, and should have an everlasting kingdom, however the church of the Jews had lost the true notion of it in the latter days. This kingdom in the Scripture is everywhere called “the kingdom of God,” to distinguish it from all other dominions and kingdoms of the world, the kingdom wherein Christ proceeds in the name and majesty of God for all the ends of his glory, and the salvation of the church. And this kingdom is usually distinguished into the kingdom of grace and the kingdom of glory; but improperly. For although the saints that are now in glory do belong unto this kingdom, by virtue of the communion that is between them and the church below in Christ as their common head, yet this kingdom of Christ shall cease when the state of glory shall fully take place. So the apostle expressly declares, 1 Corinthians 15:24-28. Wherefore the kingdom of God, the kingdom of heaven, so often mentioned in the Scripture, is that which we call the kingdom of God only. It is true, the saints do and shall reign in heaven, whereon that state may be called the kingdom of glory; but the promised kingdom of the Messiah, is that rule which is to be continued unto the end of this world, and no longer. And at present those in heaven and these on earth do constitute but one kingdom, though they are in various conditions therein.
This kingdom, then, is that rule of Christ in and over the gospel-state of the church, which the apostle hath proved to be more excellent than that of the law. Hereunto belong all the light, liberty, righteousness, and peace, which by the gospel we are made partakers of, with all the privileges above the law insisted on by the apostle. Christ is the king, the gospel is his law, all believers are his subjects, the Holy Spirit is its administrator, and all the divine treasures of grace and mercy are its revenue. The reader may see a delineation of this kingdom in our exposition on Hebrews 1:2. This is the kingdom which is here intended, the present actual participation whereof is made the foundation of the exhortation ensuing, being undeniably cogent unto that end.
(2.) The especial property of this kingdom is, that it is ἀσάλευτος , such as cannot be shaken, or moved. It is true of it universally, and only, it cannot be moved in any sense, by any ways or means; and this is the only kingdom that cannot be moved. To speak of the unshaken, unmovable kingdom, is all one as if we expressly mentioned the kingdom of Christ, seeing that only is so. All other kingdoms have been, or shall be, shaken and overturned; all boastings and expectations to the contrary are but vain. No dominion ever so dreamed of eternity as did the Roman empire; but it hath not only been shaken, but broken to pieces, and scattered like chaff before the wind. See Daniel 2:44; Daniel 7:14; Daniel 7:27. No external opposition shall ever be able to shake or move this kingdom. The “gates of hell shall not prevail against it,” Matthew 16:18. No internal decays shall ruin it. The spring of it is in Him who lives for ever, and who hath the keys of hell and death.
These things are true, the kingdom of Christ is thus immovable: but that which is here peculiarly intended is, that it is not obnoxious unto such a shaking and removal as the church-state was under the old testament; that is, God himself will never make any alteration in it, nor ever introduce another church-state or worship. God hath put the last hand, the hand of his only Son, unto all revelations and institutions. No addition shall be made unto what he hath done, nor alteration in it. No other way of calling, sanctifying, ruling, and saving of the church, shall ever be appointed or admitted; for it is here called an immovable kingdom in opposition unto the church-state of the Jews, which God himself first shook, and then took away, for it was ordained only for a season.
(3.) Believers receive this kingdom. As the apostle had before joined himself with them in the threatening, “How shall we escape?” so he doth here in the privilege, “We receiving:” ‘You and I, even all that believe.’ And how they do so, we must inquire. [1.] Their interest in this kingdom is called their receiving it, because they have it by gift, grant, or donation from God their Father: Luke 12:32, “Fear not, little flock,” saith Christ, “it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom;” ‘freely to grant unto you an interest in his heavenly kingdom.’
[2.] They receive it in its doctrine, rule, and law, owning its truth, and submitting unto its authority. They “obey from the heart the form of doctrine which is delivered to them,” Romans 6:17; which constitutes them formally the subjects of his kingdom.
[3.] They receive it in the light, grace, mercy, and spiritual benefits of it. Such a kingdom it is as whose treasures and revenues consist in these things, namely, light, liberty, righteousness, peace, grace and mercy. For “the kingdom of God is righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost,” Romans 14:17. All these do they receive, in right, title, and possession, according to their various measures; and hereon are properly said to receive the kingdom itself.
[4.] They receive it in the privileges of it; which may be referred unto two heads: 1 st. Dignity; 2 dly. Safety; which are the two advantages of any kingdom added unto their wealth, which in this consists in the treasures before mentioned. As to the first, or dignity, this is such a kingdom as wherein, though with respect to Christ and his rule we are absolutely subjects, yet with respect unto others we are absolutely free: “Ye are bought with a price; be not ye servants of men,” 1 Corinthians 7:23; that is, in all things which belong to this kingdom. And not only so, but all the subjects of this kingdom are, with respect unto their acceptance with God, and power over their enemies, kings also: “A kingly priesthood,” 1 Peter 2:9; “Kings and priests unto God,” Revelation 1:6. And, secondly, for safety, they are all built on the Rock, against which the gates of hell cannot prevail. This dignity and safety are of eminent consideration, when we are said “to receive a kingdom;” for they are principal ornaments and advantages of such a state.
[5.] They receive it by an initiation into the sacred mysteries of it, the glory of its spiritual worship, and their access unto God thereby. Herein consists the glory of the administration of this kingdom, 2 Corinthians 3:0: And all believers have a right unto all the mystical ordinances of divine worship in this kingdom, which all others are excluded from. [6.] They receive it in its outward rule and discipline. And in all these things they receive it as a pledge of a future reign in glory. Wherefore,
Obs. 2. The privileges which believers receive by the gospel are inconceivable. They are a kingdom, the kingdom of God or Christ, a spiritual, heavenly kingdom, replenished with inexhaustible treasures of spiritual blessings and advantages.
Obs. 3. Believers are not to be measured by their outward state and appearance in the world, but by the interest they have in that kingdom which it is their Father’s good pleasure to give them.
Obs. 4. It is assuredly their duty in all things to behave themselves as becomes those who receive such privileges and dignity from God himself.
Obs. 5. The obligation from hence unto the duty of serving God here exhorted unto, of so serving God as is here described, is evident and unavoidable. Those on whom it hath not an efficacy, have no real interest in this privilege, whatever they pretend.
Obs. 6. Spiritual things and mercies do constitute the most glorious kingdom that is in the world, even the kingdom of God.
Obs. 7. This is the only kingdom that shall never be moved, nor ever can be so, however hell and the world do rage against it.
3. The duty exhorted unto, on the consideration of this blessed state and privilege is, that “we should serve God acceptably.” There is a duty previously required unto this enjoined us, which is to “have grace;” and this is introduced only as an effect thereof: “Let us have grace, whereby we may serve God.” But whereas this is the end for which we should endeavor to have grace, I place it as the duty exhorted unto in the circumstances described.
The word λατρεύω doth most frequently, if not only, signify that service unto God which consists in his worship; namely, in prayer and the observance of some other institutions of divine service. See Luke 2:37; Acts 7:7, Romans 1:9; Romans 1:25; Philippians 3:3; 2 Timothy 1:3; Hebrews 9:9; Hebrews 10:2; Hebrews 13:10; Revelation 7:15. I will not deny but that it may comprise the whole of gospel obedience, which is λογικὴ λατρεία , Romans 12:1, our “reasonable service;” but I judge that here peculiar respect is had unto the worship of God according to the gospel, which was brought in upon the removal of all those institutions of worship which were appointed under the old testament. Herein the apostle would have the believing Hebrews to be diligent; which they would not be in a due manner without an equal attendance unto all other duties of evangelical obedience.
Wherefore it is added, that we should thus serve God “acceptably,” as we have well rendered the word; that is, so as that we may be accepted, or find acceptance with him. As it respects the worship of God, it is sometimes applied unto the persons that perform it, sometimes unto the worship itself performed. With respect unto both, it signifies that which is well-pleasing unto God, that which is accepted with him, Romans 12:1-2; 2 Corinthians 5:9; Ephesians 5:10; Philippians 4:18; Colossians 3:20; Hebrews 11:5-6: in all which places, and others, the verb or adjective is used; the verb only in this place, “acceptably.”
There is an intimation that there may be a performance of the duties of divine worship, when yet neither the persons that perform them nor the duties themselves are accepted with God. So was it with Cain and his sacrifice; so is it with all hypocrites always. The principal things required unto this acceptation are,
(1.) That the persons of the worshippers be “accepted in the Beloved.” God had respect unto Abel, then to his offering.
(2.) That the worship itself, in all the duties of it, and the whole manner of its performance, be of his own appointment and approbation. Hereon all Judaical observances are rejected, because now disapproved by him.
(3.) That the graces of faith, love, fear, reverence, and delight, be in actual exercise: for in and by them alone, in all our duties, we give glory unto God; which the apostle declares in the remaining words of these verses.
4. In order unto this serving of God, it is required of us, in a way of duty, that we “have grace.” Some copies have ἔχομεν , which are followed by the Vulgar and some other translations, “We have grace.” But the most, and most ancient copies, have ἔχωμεν , “Let us have,” which suits the other words and design of the place; for it is not a privilege asserted, but a duty prescribed. Χάριν here may be taken in a double sense:
(1.) For the free grace and favor of God in Christ, which we obtain by the gospel. And in this sense it is most frequently used in the Scripture.
(2.) For internal, sanctifying, aiding, assisting grace, as it is in other places innumerable. And the word ἔχωμεν may have a double signification also. For it is not a bare having or possession that is intended; for that is not the object of an exhortation in the way of a duty: but it signifies either “to retain and hold fast,” as our translators render it in the margin; or to “obtain and improve;” in which sense the word is often used.
And these double significations of the words are suited unto one another. Take ἔχωμεν , “Let us have, in the first sense, “to retain and hold fast,” and it answers unto χάριν , or “grace,” in the first sense of the word, namely, the grace and favor of God, which we obtain by the gospel This we are exhorted unto, 1 Corinthians 15:1; Galatians 5:1; Philippians 1:27; Philippians 4:1; 1 Thessalonians 3:8. See Romans 5:2. Thus the duty intended should be perseverance in the faith of the gospel, whereby alone we are enabled to “serve God acceptably.” Take it in the latter sense, and it answers unto “grace” in the latter sense also; that is, for internal, spiritual aids of grace, enabling us unto this duty of serving God, without which we cannot so do. This is the proper sense of the place. The service of God in such a way and manner as is acceptable unto him is required of us, it is due upon the account of the unspeakable privileges which we receive by the gospel, before declared; but this of ourselves, without special divine aid and assistance, we are no way able to perform: for “without Christ we can do nothing.” We have no sufficiency of ourselves to think or do any thing as we ought: “It is God who worketh in us both to will and to do of his own good pleasure.” It is therefore in order unto the end of serving acceptably, required of us, that we have, that is, that we obtain and improve, this grace of God, or the aids of divine grace.
Now, whereas this “grace” may be considered either as unto its essence and the first communication of it unto us, or as unto its degrees and measures with respect unto its continual exercise, it may be here considered both ways. For without it in the first sense, as it is sanctifying, we cannot serve God acceptably at all; and in the latter, it is required to be exercised in every particular duty of divine worship. And this is especially intended, the former being supposed. ‘You that have received grace essentially considered, unto your sanctification, endeavor much an increase of it in its degrees and measures, so that being in continual exercise, you may be enabled by it to serve God acceptably.’And two things evince this sense:
(1.) That this grace is assigned as the instrumental efficient cause of the duty proposed: “By which,” ‘by virtue whereof, in whose strength, by which you are enabled.’Now, this is no other but internal, aiding, assisting grace, in its exercise.
(2.) The things prescribed to accompany this service of God on our part, namely, “reverence and godly fear,” are such graces themselves, or acts of that grace.
It is most true, that the holding fast the grace of the gospel, the doctrine of the love and favor of God in Christ Jesus, is an effectual means of enabling us to serve God acceptably. For thereby, or by the exercise of faith therein, we do derive spiritual strength from Christ, as the branches derive juice and nutriment from the vine, to enable us thereunto. And if we decay in the faith thereof, much more if we relinquish it, we can never serve God in a due manner. I would not therefore exclude that sense of the words, though I judge the latter to be more especially intended. And,
(1.) Without this grace we cannot serve God at all. He accounts not that as his worship or service which is performed by graceless persons.
(2.) Without this grace in actual exercise we cannot serve God acceptably; for it is the exercise of grace alone that is the life and soul of divine worship.
(3.) To have an increase in this grace as unto its degrees and measures, and to keep it in exercise in all duties of the service of God, is a duty required of believers by virtue of all the gospel privileges which they receive from God; for herein consists that revenue of glory which on their account he expecteth and requireth.
(4.) This is the great apostolical canon for the due performance of divine worship, namely, “Let us have grace to do it;” all others are needless and superfluous.
5. The manner of the performance of the duty exhorted unto is also prescribed. And this is, that it be done “with reverence and godly fear.” These words are not anywhere else used together with respect unto the service of God, nor apart. Αἰδώς , which we translate “reverence,” is but once more used in the New Testament, where it signifies “pudor” or “modestia, shame-facedness” or modesty,” 1 Timothy 2:9; but nowhere else. It is applied to denote a grace or virtue in the worship of God. Εὐλαβεία is used only here, and Hebrews 5:7; where see the exposition. See also Hebrews 11:7. We render it, “with godly fear.”
For the verb is sometimes used for “fear,” without any respect to religion, Acts 23:10; and the adjective, for “religious” or “devout,” without any especial respect to fear, Luke 2:25; Acts 2:5; Acts 8:2: both are included in it.
The sense of the words in this place may be learned best from what they are opposed unto. For they are prescribed as contrary unto some such defects and faults in divine worship as from which we ought to be deterred by the consideration of the holiness and severity of God; as is manifest from the addition of it in the next words, “For our God is a consuming fire.” Now those vices from which we ought to be deterred by this consideration, are,
(1.) Want of a due sense of the majesty and glory of God, with whom we have to do. For whereas he had provided against this evil under the old testament, by the dread and terror which were ingenerated in the people by the giving of the law, by many severe interdictions of their approach unto pledges of his presence among them, and the prescription of outward ceremonies in all their accesses unto him; all these things being now removed, yet a deep, spiritual sense of his holiness and greatness ought to be retained in the mind of all that draw nigh unto him in his worship.
(2.) Want of a due sense of our own vileness, and our infinite distance from him in nature and condition; which is always required to be in us.
(3.) Carnal boldness, in a customary performance of sacred duties, under a neglect of endeavoring the exercise of all grace in them; which God abhors.
To prevent these and the like evils, these graces or duties are prescribed. Wherefore αἰδώς , “or pudor spiritualis,” is “a holy abasement of soul in divine worship, in a sense of the majesty of God, and our own vileness, with our infinite distance from him.” This, in extraordinary instances, is called “blushing,” being “ashamed,” and “confusion of face,” Ezra 9:6; Daniel 9:7. So it is in extraordinary cases; but for the essence of it, it ought always to accompany us in the whole worship of God. And ἐλαβεία is, “a religious awe on the soul in holy duties, from a consideration of the great danger there is of sinful miscarriages in the worship of God, and of his severity against such sins and offenses.” Hereby the soul is moved and excited unto spiritual care and diligence, not to provoke so great, so holy and jealous a God, by a neglect of that exercise of grace which he requires in his service, which is due unto him on the account of his glorious excellencies.
And we may consider of how great importance this exhortation and duty are. For this charge of serving God from a principle of grace, in the manner described, is that which is given unto us in the consideration of the kingdom which we have received, and enforced with that of the terror of the Lord with respect unto all miscarriages therein; which is urged also in the last verse.
Hebrews 12:29 . “For our God [is] a consuming fire.” This is the reason making the foregoing duty necessary. ‘Therefore ought we to serve God with reverence and fear, because “he is a consuming fire.”’The words are taken from Deuteronomy 4:24, where they are used by Moses to deter the people from idols or graven images in the worship of God; for this is a sin that God will by no means bear withal. And the same description of God is applied here by the apostle unto the want of grace with reverence and fear in that worship which he hath appointed. We may not please ourselves that the worship itself which we attend unto is by divine institution, not idolatrous, not superstitious, not of our own invention; for if we are graceless in our persons, devoid of reverence and godly fear in our duties, God wilt deal with us even as with them who worship him after their own hearts’devisings.
There is a metaphor in the expression. God is compared to, and so called a “devouring fire,” because of a likeness in effects as unto the case under consideration. For as a vehement fire will consume and devour whatever combustible matter is cast into it, so will God with a fiery terror consume and destroy such sinners as are guilty of the sin here prohibited. And as such, will such sinners, namely, hypocrites and false-worshippers, apprehend him to be, when they fall under convictions, Isaiah 33:14.
And he is called herein “our God;” as in Moses to the people, “The LORD thy God.” A covenant relation unto him is in both places intimated. Wherefore although we have a firm persuasion that he is our God in covenant, yet it is his will that we should have holy apprehensions of his greatness and terror towards sinners. See 2 Corinthians 5:10-11.
Two things are represented unto us in this expression, “A consuming fire.”
1. The nature of God, as declared in the first commandment. And,
2. His jealousy with respect unto his worship, as it is expressed in the second.
1. The holiness and purity of his nature, with his severity and vindictive justice, are represented hereby. And these, as all other his essential properties, are proposed unto us in the first commandment. From them it is that he will consume impenitent sinners, such as have no interest in the atonement, even as fire consumes that which is cast into it.
2. His jealousy with reference unto his worship is here also represented, as declared in the second commandment. So it is added in that place of Moses, “The LORD thy God is a consuming fire, a jealous God.” This title God first gave himself with respect unto his instituted worship, Exodus 20:5. And this affection or property of jealousy is figuratively ascribed unto God, by an anthropopathy. In man, it is a vehement affection and inclination, arising from a fear or apprehension that any other should have an interest in or possess that which they judge ought to be peculiar unto themselves. And it hath place principally in the state of marriage, or that which is in order thereunto. It is therefore supposed that the covenant between God and the church hath the nature of a marriage covenant, wherein he calleth himself the husband thereof, and saith that he is married unto it, Isaiah 54:5; Jeremiah 3:14. In this state, it is religious worship, both as unto the outward form of it in divine institution, and its inward form of faith and grace, which God requires, as wholly his own.
With reference, therefore, unto defects and miscarriages therein, he assumeth that affection unto him, and calleth himself “a jealous God.” And because this is a vehement, burning affection, God is said on the account of it to be “a consuming fire.” And we may observe, that,
Obs. 8. However God takes us near unto himself in covenant, whereby he is our God, yet he requires that we always retain due apprehensions of the holiness of his nature, the severity of his justice against sinners, and his ardent jealousy concerning his worship.
Obs. 9. The consideration of these things, and the dread of being by guilt obnoxious unto their terrible consuming effects, ought to influence our minds unto reverence and godly fear in all acts and parts of divine worship.
Obs. 10. We may learn how great our care and diligence about the serving of God ought to be, which are pressed on us by the Holy Ghost from the consideration of the greatness of our privileges on the one hand, namely, our receiving the kingdom; with the dreadful destruction from God on the other, in case of our neglect herein.
Obs. 11. The holiness and jealousy of God, which are a cause of insupportable terror unto convinced sinners, driving them from him, have towards believers only a gracious influence into that fear and reverence which causes them to cleave more firmly unto him.
Μόνῳ τῷ Θεῷ δόξα .
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Owen, John. "Commentary on Hebrews 12". "John Owen Exposition of Hebrews". https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 13 / Ordinary 18