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by Joseph Parker
(Rome, a.d. 63)
[Note. With regard to the condition of the Hebrews, and scope of the Epistle, Smith's Dictionary of the Bible says: "The numerous Christian churches scattered throughout Judaea (Acts 9:31 ; Gal 1:22 ) were continually exposed to persecution from the Jews ( 1Th 2:14 ), which would become more searching and extensive as churches multiplied, and as the growing turbulence of the nation ripened into the insurrection of a.d. 66. Personal violence, spoliation of property, exclusion from the synagogue, and domestic strife were the universal forms of persecution. But in Jerusalem there was one additional weapon in the hands of the predominant oppressors of the Christians. Their magnificent national Temple, hallowed to every Jew by ancient historical and by gentler personal recollections, with its irresistible attractions, its soothing strains, and mysterious ceremonies, might be shut against the Hebrew Christian. And even if, amid the fierce factions and frequent oscillations of authority in Jerusalem, this affliction were not often laid upon him, yet there was a secret burden which every Hebrew Christian bore within him the knowledge that the end of all the beauty and awfulness of Zion was rapidly approaching. Paralysed, perhaps, by this consciousness, and enfeebled by their attachment to a lower form of Christianity, they became stationary in knowledge, weak in faith, void of energy, and even in danger of apostasy from Christ. For, as afflictions multiplied round them, and made them feel more keenly their dependence on God, and their need of near and frequent and associated approach to him, they seemed, in consequence of their Christianity, to be receding from the God of their fathers, and losing that means of communion with him which they used to enjoy. Angels, Moses, and the High-priest their intercessors in heaven, in the grave, and on earth became of less importance in the creed of the Jewish Christian; their glory waned as he grew in Christian experience. Already he felt that the Lord's day was superseding the Sabbath, the New Covenant the Old. What could take the place of the Temple, and that which was behind the veil, and the Levitical sacrifices, and the Holy City, when they should cease to exist? What compensations could Christianity offer him for the loss which was pressing the Hebrew Christian more and more?
"James, the bishop of Jerusalem, had just left his place vacant by a martyr's death. Neither to Cephas at Babylon, nor to John at Ephesus, the third pillar of the Apostolic Church, was it given to understand all the greatness of his want, and to speak to him the word in season. But there came to him from Rome the voice of one who had been the foremost in sounding the depth and breadth of that love of Christ, which was all but incomprehensible to the Jew; one who feeling more than any other Apostle the weight of the care of all the churches, yet clung to his own people with a love ever ready to break out in impassioned words, and unsought and ill-requited deeds of kindness. He whom Jerusalem had sent away in chains to Rome again lifted up his voice in the hallowed city among his countrymen; but with words and arguments suited to their capacity, with a strange, borrowed accent, and a tone in which reigned no apostolic authority, and a face veiled in very love from wayward children who might refuse to hear divine and saving truth, when it fell from the lips of Paul.
"He meets the Hebrew Christians on their own ground. His answer is 'Your new faith gives you Christ, and, in Christ, all you seek, all your fathers sought. In Christ the Son of God you have an all-sufficient Mediator, nearer than angels to the Father, eminent above Moses as a benefactor, more sympathising and more prevailing than the High-priest as an intercessor: his Sabbath awaits you in heaven; to his covenant the old was intended to be subservient; his atonement is the eternal reality of which sacrifices are but the passing shadow; his city heavenly, not made with hands. Having him, believe in him with all your heart, with a faith in the unseen future, strong as that of the saints of old; patient under present, and prepared for coming, woe; full of energy, and hope, and holiness, and love.' Such was the teaching of the Epistle to the Hebrews.
"And this great Epistle remains to aftertimes, a keystone binding together that succession of inspired men which spans over the ages between Moses and St. John. It teaches the Christian student the substantial identity of the revelation of God, whether given through the prophets, or through the Son; for it shows that God's purposes are unchangeable, however diversely in different ages they have been 'reflected in broken and fitful rays, glancing back from the troubled waters of the human soul.' It is a source of inexhaustible comfort to every Christian sufferer in inward perplexity, or amid 'reproaches and afflictions.' It is a pattern to every Christian teacher of the method in which larger views should be imparted, gently, reverently, and seasonably, to feeble spirits prone to cling to ancient forms, and to rest in accustomed feelings."]
the First Week of Advent