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CHRIST’S ONE SACRIFICE IS ALTOGETHER SUFFICIENT
CRITICAL AND EXEGETICAL NOTES
THE first eighteen verses of this chapter are in the nature of a summary of what has already been presented, with some further unfoldings of the argument. One point is made especially prominent; it is that the repetition of the olden sacrifices testified to their inadequacy, while Christ’s one offering is perpetually availing to complete the purification of those who are affected by it. The main thesis of the writer should be kept well before the mind. He argues that the Jewish sacrifices availed for nothing more than external or ceremonial purifications, but the one offering of the obedient will of Christ purifies the soul or mind (συνείδησιν) from the uncleanness of sin, and renders it capable of offering acceptable service to the living God.
Hebrews 10:1. The law.—Used here for the Mosaic system or dispensation. The term is used in the New Testament with other meanings, such as the Ten Commandments, the general law relations of God with man. See St. Paul’s use of the word in Romans and Galatians. Shadow.—Imperfect sketch. Very image.—Full representation. The words σκιάν and εἰκών are related, as the Latin umbra and effigies are. See Hebrews 1:3. Stuart gives the point of the sentence thus: “The law did not go so far as to exhibit a full image of future blessings, but only a slight adumbration.” Farrar quotes the following sentence from St. Ambrose: “The Law had the Shadow; the Gospel the Image; the Reality itself is in Heaven.” Good things to come.—See Hebrews 9:11. The spiritual things of the new dispensation. Christ is the very image of God. Christ’s work is the very image of heavenly realities. Only it is the image, not the reality. Can never.—This vital imperfection lay in those older sacrifices. Perfect.—Much importance attaches to the writer’s use of this word. Compare Hebrews 9:9-10. It is used here in the sense of fully meeting the whole circle of our spiritual need. The ineffectiveness of the sacrifices is shown in the fact that the sense of sin which they are supposed to remove recurs again, so that fresh sacrifices are found necessary.
Hebrews 10:2. Not have ceased.—The Mosaic ritual might have been retained if it had proved efficient. The precise thought here is, however, rather this—“If the offerings could have perfected those who presented them, would not the offerings have ceased?” It might be answered, “They would have ceased so far as concerned the offerers once purged, but they would have had to be constantly renewed for the sake of other worshippers.” Conscience.—συνείδησιν; apprehension of the consequences of sin; consciousness of guilt. Pardon does not remove the fact of our guilt, nor destroy the memory of it, but it does remove the fear of penalty, and bring a sense of freedom.
Hebrews 10:3. Remembrance.—By the repetition of the same sacrifice for the same person. The writer dwells on his point so fully, because this view of the essential imperfection of Judaism would be exceedingly distasteful to his Jewish readers. But the inefficiency would not be apparent to those who lived under the Mosaic dispensation. It came to view only when the higher and spiritual dispensation was introduced. In the light of Christianity the weakness of Judaism appears. Farrar’s note on this verse is specially suggestive: “This view of sacrifices—that they are ‘a calling to mind of sins yearly’—is very remarkable. It seems to be derived from Numbers 5:15, where ‘the offering of jealousy’ is called ‘an offering of memorial, bringing iniquity to remembrance.’ Philo also speaks of sacrifices as providing, ‘not an oblivion of sins, but a reminder of them.’ But if the sacrifices thus called sins to remembrance, they also daily symbolised the means of their removal, so that when offered obediently with repentance and faith they became valid symbols.”
Hebrews 10:4.—“This verse explains those which precede. No inconsistency really belonged to these sacrifices and this ceremonial, though so often repeated; for it was impossible that any such sacrifice should really remove sin. The offering was necessary, and it answered its purpose; but it could not remove the necessity for another and a better offering” (Moulton). Not possible.—Compare 1 Samuel 15:22; Isaiah 1:11-17; Jeremiah 6:20; Jeremiah 7:21-23; Amos 5:21-24; Micah 6:6-8; Hosea 6:6; Psalms 40:6-8, etc. “Sins” and “blood of animals” have no necessary relation to each other; none save that which, for teaching purposes, God pleases to fix to them. Sins can only be taken away by spritual influences exerted on spiritual conditions. All physical, material sacrifices are symbols of spiritual things. So is Christ’s bodily sacrifice. (See Outline Homily on Hebrews 9:22.) Sins.—Properly and precisely speaking, sin is not a particular act which is done, but the wilful condition of the mind, for which the act only finds expression. In this verse not penalties are dealt with, but sins. All sacrifices had their value, not in themselves, but in the spiritual condition of the worshippers, as is clearly seen in the cases of Cain and Abel, the first sacrificers.
Hebrews 10:5. When He cometh.—As antitype; spiritual realisation. See Psalms 40:7. Sacrifice and offering.—The two classes of sacrifice that Judaism demanded. Victims sacrificed; slaughtered beasts; and unbloody offerings expressing gratitude and dependence. Wouldest not.—See Hebrews 10:7. No desire for any more such; desire now is for the reality that was symbolised in them. A body hast Thou prepared Me.—The Hebrew seems to mean, “Mine ears hast Thou opened,” or “ears hast Thou dug, or hollowed out, for Me.” The Hebrews speak of “opening the ears,” and of “uncovering the ears,” in order to designate the idea of prompt obedience, of attentive listening to the commands of any one. The idea, “Mine ears hast Thou bored through in token of My servitude,” does not appear at all suitable here. Better read, “Thou hast given Me the power of hearing, so as to obey. A channel of communication has been opened, through which the knowledge of God’s true will can reach the heart, and excite the desire to obey.” The obedience (sacrifice) of Christ was the full surrender of His will to the will of God: but to be a human obedience, bearing relation to us, it must have a body sphere. This explains the physical phase of the great sacrifice.
Hebrews 10:6. Burnt-offerings.—Should be “whole burnt-offerings.” These represented the full surrender of himself by the offerer, when they were made really spiritual sacrifices. Usually they were regarded but as ceremonials. The idea of corrupt Judaism is, that God is pleased with burnt-offerings as offerings, and for their own sake.
Hebrews 10:7. In the volume of the book.—Besides the reference to Psalms 40:0, the writer intimates that this is the general burden of the Messianic allusions in the Old Testament Scriptures. Come to do Thy will.—Clearly stating wherein consists the true spiritual sacrifice, even in the full surrender of Christ’s whole self in obedience to God, through life and death. Perfect human obedience in human spheres God required. He who rendered it made the “great sacrifice.”
Hebrews 10:10. By the which will.—Or by the yielding to the will, in obedience unto death. Or by the voluntary self-sacrifice of Christ. We are sanctified.—Set right and made right. Observe how entirely this is conceived by the writer in a spiritual sense. The antitypical sacrifice is the offering of the will of Jesus, in obedience to the Divine will. But our wills can only act, and gain expression, through our bodies and our bodily relations, and therefore our Lord’s sublime self-surrender took a bodily form.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Hebrews 10:1-10
The Shadow and Image of Sacrifice.—The law of all effective teaching is, “Simplify and repeat.” This writer does not hesitate to repeat, endeavouring to fix on attention the points which he regards as of supreme importance. In the first portion of this chapter there is a summary of previous teachings. He had previously spoken of the “law,” or ceremonial and sacrificial system of Judaism, as a copy, or shadow, of heavenly or spiritual things (Hebrews 8:5). He does not deny the value of the shadow, but it is a value which strictly belongs to it as a shadow, and we must never get to value it for its own sake, only for the sake of the reality, whose existence, and whose presence, it indicates. “Shadow” is an imperfect sketch, a mere outline, a slight representation or resemblance. “Image” is a picture filled out or completed, and made, in all its minuter parts, to resemble the original. Illustration may be found by contrasting the black outline portraits, which were the fashion fifty years ago—mere shadows of our friends—and the modern photographs, which give us their very image. But we need not be so strictly limited to the exact meaning of the terms which this writer uses. And this explanation hardly seems to catch his point of distinction. A shadow is not an independent thing. It is thrown by something. Something real, substantial, exists, which casts the shadow, and which the shadow, in some imperfect way, represents. To this writer the spiritual relations of men with God, as secured by the spiritual sacrifice of the spiritual High Priest, form the reality, the thing itself, the “image”; and the material, outward, ceremonial system of Judaism was the shadow which it flung on earth beforehand, to give men some outline idea of it, and prepare them for realising it fully by-and-by. Taking this view, we inquire—
I. What the “shadow” was.—A system of rules, rites, sacrifices; involving a material tabernacle, articles of furniture, and an order of priesthood. All Divinely arranged, and bearing Divine authority. In no sense to be thought of as an independent system, or an independent revelation. It was the shadow that belonged to something, and told of what it belonged to. No man ever saw it aright without saying, “What can that be which has caused this shadow?”
II. What the “shadow” could do.—Meet the needs of the hour, which were not purely spiritual needs. Religious education was then in no sense complete. It was in its pictorial stage. The nation of Israel was then in its formative period. It was getting all its civil, social, and governmental relations put into order. All its interest was in outward things, and its religion had to be in harmony, and to be concerned also with outward things. So the “shadow” religious system was occupied with arranging religious affairs, and rectifying them when they became disturbed.
III. What the “shadow” could not do.—Satisfy spiritual needs. Deal with the personal, the soul, relations of men with God, who bore on them the conscience of sin. The shadow could take away ceremonial penalties: it could not take away sin. It could not “make the comers thereunto perfect.” It might help the spiritually-minded to enter into that spiritual reality, that eternal meaning of things, which its outline could only suggest.
IV. What the “Image” was.—A spiritual High Priest, abiding ever in the presence of God mediating for man. The spiritual and infinitely acceptable sacrifice of the High Priest Himself. The offering of a spotless life of obedience, tested and proved by the strain of an awful death. That sacrifice ever in God’s view, because the Priest is always before Him. And a spiritual covenant which pledges, not the mere shaping of conduct, but the renewal of men’s hearts and wills; the implanting of a love which will make obedience both easy and acceptable.
V. What the “Image” could not do.—Fit to the age that was past; or to those who persisted in keeping the attitude, and limited capacity, that properly belonged to the past. The times were changed; men’s spiritual instincts were awakened; and the system that was called for could do nothing for those who kept down on the materialistic, symbolical, and ceremonial levels. Farrar illustrates the awakened spiritual feeling of the times in which the epistle to the Hebrews was written when he says: “Philo, in one of his finest passages, shows how deeply he had realised that sacrifices were valueless, apart from holiness, and that no mere external acts can cleanse the soul from moral guilt. He adds that God accepts the innocent even when they offer no sacrifices, and delights in unkindled altars if the virtues dance around them. The heathen had learnt the same high truths.”
VI. What the “Image” could do.—Remove sins—the spiritual penalties that necessarily follow sins: the conscience of sins which always burdens when the spiritual nature of sin is apprehended. It effected the purging, or cleansing away, of sinfulness, which in its essence is child-wilfulness; and this goes when into the child-heart is put again, through the sacrifice, mediation, and grace of Christ, the spirit of child-obedience. The dispensation which is the very image and reality can make men and women once again, and once for ever, “sons and daughters of the Lord God Almighty.”
 An image is an exact draft of the thing represented thereby. The law did not go so far, but was only a shadow, as the image of a person in a looking-glass is a much more perfect representation than his shadow upon the wall. The law was a very rough draft of the great design of Divine grace, and therefore not to be so much doted on.—Matthew Henry.
The relativity of a religion of shadows.—The efficiency of a religion of shadows lies in its relativity to a particular age, and a particular people. The Syrian Version gives the first sentence of Hebrews 10:1 thus: “The law—not having the reality of the things.” The Greek word for “image” means, not a resemblance or likeness, but the essential form of a thing. It stands as the representative of σῶμα, the body or substance.
SUGGESTIVE NOTES AND SERMON SKETCHES
Hebrews 10:1. The Imperfect Efficiency of the Jewish Sacrifices.—“They can never with the same sacrifices year by year, which they offer continually, make perfect them that draw nigh” (R.V.). Dr. J. Harris says: “What is the Jewish economy, if we desire to reach its interior truths, but a vast, profound, elaborated enigma—to which the gospel, indeed, brings us the key, but the opening and exploration of which is yet incomplete?” The legal sacrifices, being offered year by year, could never make the comers thereunto perfect, for then there would have been an end of offering them. Could they have satisfied the demands of justice, and made reconciliation for iniquity—could they have purified and pacified conscience—then they had ceased, as being no further necessary, since the offerers would have had no more sin lying upon their consciences. But this was not the case; after one day of atonement was over, the sinner would fall again into one fault or another, and so there would be need of another day of atonement, and of one every year, besides the daily ministrations. Whereas now, under the gospel, the atonement is perfect, and not to be repeated, and the sinner, once pardoned, is ever pardoned as to his state, and only needs to renew his repentance and faith, that he may have a comfortable sense of a continued pardon. As the legal sacrifices did not of themselves take away sin, so it was impossible they should (Hebrews 10:4). There was an essential defect in them.
1. They were not of the same nature with those who sinned.
2. They were not of sufficient value to make satisfaction for the affronts offered to the justice and government of God. They were not of the same nature that offended, and so could not be suitable. Much less were they of the same nature that was offended, and nothing less than the nature that was offended could make the sacrifice a full satisfaction for the offence.
3. The beasts offered up under the law could not consent to put themselves in the sinner’s room and place. The atoning sacrifice must be one capable of consenting, and must voluntarily substitute himself in the sinner’s stead: Christ did so.—Matthew Henry.
Hebrews 10:2. The Bad Consciousness taken away.—The reading is, not “conscience of no more sins,” as if the sins were stopped, but “no more conscience of sins,” as if the conscience of sins already past were somehow extirpated, or else the sins taken quite away from it, and for ever extirpated themselves, as facts, or factors of the life. How is it, or how is it to be imagined, that Christ, by His sacrifice, takes away the condemning conscience, or the felt dishonour of transgression?
I. The supposed answers that are not sufficient.—When it is conceived that Christ has borne our punishment, that, if it were true, might take away our fear of punishment; but fear is one thing, and mortified honour, self-condemning guilt, self-chastising remorse, another and very different thing. Neither will it bring any relief to show that the justice of God is satisfied. Be it so; the transgressor is none the better satisfied with himself. Is it conceived that what has satisfied the justice of God has also atoned the guilty conscience? Will it then make the guilty conscience less guilty, or say sweeter things of itself, that it sees innocence, purity, goodness Divine, put to suffering for it? Is it then brought forward to quell the guilt of the conscience that Christ has evened our account legally by His sacrifice, and that we are even justified of God for Christ’s sake? But if God calls us just, do we any the less certainly disapprove ourselves? Forgiveness, taken as a mere release of claim, or a negative letting go of right against transgression, brings, if possible, even less help to the conscience. Christ had forgiven His crucifiers in His dying prayer, but it was the very crime of the cross, nevertheless, that pricked so many hundred hearts on the Day of Pentecost. But Christ renews the soul itself, it will be said, and makes it just within, when, of course, it will be justified. That does not follow. But the fatherhood of God—the disciple of another school will take refuge under that, and say that here, at least, there is truly no more conscience of sin. Conscience, in man, is God’s throne of judgment in the man. If God, in His fatherhood, were a being dealing in laxities and fond accommodations, having no care for His rectoral honour, as the defender of right and order, we certainly are not such to ourselves.
II. The answer that is given by the Scriptures of God.—Is it possible, and how far possible, to change the consciousness of a soul, without any breach of its identity? In this manner, we shall find, the gospel undertakes to remove, and assumes the fact of the removal of, the dishonour and self-condemnation of sin. See first certain analogies. A thoroughly venal, low-principled man, elected President of the United States, will undergo, not unlikely, an inward lifting of sentiment and impulse, corresponding with the immense lift of his position. He wants to deserve the place, and begins to act in character in it. How many thousand soldiers, who before were living in the low, mean vices, lost to character and self-respect, have been raised, in like manner, in our armies, to quite another grade of being! The same is true, in a different way, of all the gifted ones in art and speech and poetry when they are taken by the inspirations of genius. When such a soul, that was down upon the level of uses, torturing itself into production for applause, begins to behold God’s signature upon His works, then he becomes to himself quite another creature. In such examples we are made familiar with the possibility of remarkable liftings in the consciousness of men, such as make them really other to themselves, and set them in a higher range of being; and we are prepared for that more wonderful ascent above ourselves which is accomplished in Christ, when He takes us away from the conscience of sins. He does it by so communicating God, or Himself as the express Image of God, that He changes, in fact, the plane of our existence. The very thing that Christianity proposes is to bring us up into another level, where the consciousness shall take in other matter, and have a higher range. But you will not conceive how very essential this idea of a raising of the consciousness may be, if you do not bring up distinctly the immense fall of our moral consciousness in the precipitation of our sin. In their true normal condition, as originally created, human souls are inherently related to God, made permeable and inspirable by Him, intended to move in His Divine impulse for ever. A sponge in the sea is not more truly made to be filled and permeated by the water in which it grows, than a soul to be permeated and possessed by the infinite Life. It is so made that, over and above the little tiny consciousness it has of itself, it may have a grand, all-inclusive consciousness of God. In that consciousness it was to be, and be lifted and blessed evermore. But this higher consciousness, the consciousness of God, is exactly what was lost in transgression, and nothing was left of course but the little defiled consciousness of ourselves, in which we are all contriving how to get some particles of good, or pleasure, or pride, or passion, that will comfort us. The true normal footing or plane of our humanity was thus let down, and it is exactly this which Christ undertakes to restore. As soon as the soul is opened to God, by the faith of Jesus Christ, and is truly born of God, it begins to be the higher creature God meant it to be—the same yet another. The disciple, raised thus in his plane, has the same consciousness, and remembers the same sins, and is the very same person that he was before; but the consciousness of God, now restored, makes him so nearly another being to himself, that the old torment of his sin will scarcely so much as ripple the flow of his peace. If Christ is purging thus men’s consciences, by lifting them above themselves, into a higher range of life, the conception will appear and reappear, in many distinct forms, and weave itself in so many varieties, into the whole texture of Christianity. Three of the forms may be noticed:
1. Justification by faith. Gospel justification turns on no such mere objective matter as the squaring of an account, nor on any such subjective matter as our being made inherently righteous; but it turns on the fact of our being so invested with God, and closeted in His righteous impulse, that He becomes a felt righteousness upon us. Inherently speaking, we are not righteous; our store is in God, not in ourselves; but we have the supply traductively from Him, just as we have the supply of light from the sun. But the new Divine consciousness in which we live is continually conforming us, more and more deeply, and will settle us at last, in its own pure habit. It is “the righteousness of God, which is by faith of Jesus Christ, unto all and upon all them that believe.” It is a higher consciousness which God generates and feeds, and as long as He does it there is no more conscience of sins.
2. The same truth of a raising of our plane appears in what is called the witness of the Spirit. Being spirit, we are permeable by the Divine Spirit, and He has a way of working in our working, so as to be consciously known as a better presence in our hearts.
3. It is also presented in what is said of the conscious inhabitation of Christ. “Until Christ be formed in you.” “I live, yet not I, but Christ liveth in me.” It is as if Paul’s being itself were taken well-nigh out of its identity by Christ revealed in it. The old sin he does not think of. The conscience of sins—it may be that he has it in a sense; for, being an eternal fact, he must eternally know it; but the Christ-consciousness in him ranges so high above the self-consciousness, that he lives in a summit of exaltation, which the infinitesimal disturbances of his human wrong and shame cannot reach. When once you have conceived the possibility of raising a soul into a higher grade and order, where the consciousness shall take in more than the mere self, the body of God’s own righteousness and love and peace, the problem is solved, and that in a way so plain, yet so easily ennobling to our state of shame, that it proves itself by its own self-supporting evidence.—Horace Bushnell, D.D.
Conscience of Sins after Ceremonies.—“Should have had no more conscience of sins.” Ritual religions can never deal with any more than the legal penalties attending on sin, and the outward relations into which men are brought by sin. There may be a personal and spiritual religion within the ritual, and finding expression through it, or there may not. The spiritual religion within is by no means essential to the efficiency of the ritual religion, so far as it goes. But it is evident that no ritual religion can alone suffice to meet the necessities of man as a spiritual being, standing in spiritual relations; afflicted in conscience, as well as disturbed in relations, by sin. No ritual ever yet cleansed a conscience of its sense of sin, or lifted from a soul its burden of guilt. This may be effectively illustrated by the religion represented by the book of Psalms. Such psalms as the thirty-second and fifty-first bring before us men who have, or who have had, the conscience of sin. But they do not seek their soul-relief from Levitical sacrifices, from any routine ceremonies. They evidently feel instinctively that these cannot meet their case. They go direct to God Himself, past all ceremonies and symbols, seeking personal relations, and immediate forgiveness.
Hebrews 10:4. Everything to its Sphere.—Everything that exists by nature, and everything that takes shape “by art and man’s device,” has its proper sphere, its adaptation to that sphere, and its efficiency within that sphere. Nothing can be its real, best self, nothing can be really efficient, outside of or transcending its proper sphere. It does not fit. It is too large, or too small, or otherwise. Blood of bulls and goats has a sphere, strictly limited to the removal of ceremonial uncleanness. It is efficient there. It is helpless in the sphere of soul-sin and burdened conscience.
Hebrews 10:5. A Living Sacrifice.—These words, as used of Christ, unfold the mystery of His redeeming work: as used by the psalmist, they show us what is the spirit of the redeemed life. Christ did not come to offer a sacrifice in Jewish mode, or to offer Himself in the mode in which a Jewish sacrifice was offered; but to do that which the sacrifices of Judaism typified, to offer the obedience of a life, and that obedience in a human body.
1. God does not ask of any man first what he has. He asks first for the man himself—what he is.
2. If any man is willing to give God what he is, then that man will find that God is willing to accept what he has.
3. But how far may the distinction between what a man has, and what a man is, be carried? In life we have to do with some persons who want what we have; but we have to do with others—altogether dearer ones—who can be satisfied with nothing less than ourselves—what we are; just our love is their wealth. It is somewhat thus with God. The design of God in giving us what we have, is that by means of it we may carry ourselves to Him. What a man is includes his body. Man is not a spirit only; he is a spirit in a certain particular body, which has certain particular relations. So we never can give ourselves to God until we give Him soul and body together. Show how much larger an idea of the “living sacrifice” this is than is generally conceived. To make any gift acceptable to any one—and certainly to God—a man must put himself into the gift. Our bodies must carry us to God, as the body of Jesus (and indeed of the psalmist) carried Him.
The Atonement.—Why is the doctrine of the Atonement called an immoral doctrine? It is based, it is said, on injustice. The point on which the objector has fixed is the substitution of one man for another to suffer for sin. But he does not take the doctrine of substitution as represented and interpreted by Christian teachers, but barely and nakedly, simply as the principle of vicarious punishment. So stated, the notion is certainly a barbarous one. But God cannot regard punishment apart from the person to whom it is due. He cannot be appeased by pain as such, without reference to the bearer of it. He cannot be contented, so long as the punishment is suffered, that another than the criminal should be the sufferer. Such a bald notion of atonement does not require that the sacrifice should be voluntary. Punishment, vicarious or other, does not require a voluntary sufferer—only a sufferer. A striking illustration of an atonement was found in the state religion of Mexico. The gospel is, that love is of the very essence of sacrifice, and that there cannot be sacrifice without will. In the case of Christ there was no earthly altar, no expiatory form, no visible priest. Nobody could have told, either from His life or from His death, that He was a victim. He died by the natural course of events, as the effect of a holy and courageous life operating upon the intense jealousy of a class; He died by civil punishment; and yet in heaven that death pleaded as the sacrifice that taketh away the sin of the world. But that sacrifice was a willing self-offered sacrifice; and this takes away all question of injustice to the victim. In common life no wrong is done to one who volunteers to take a painful office. The existence of pain and evil being supposed, there arises a special morality upon this fact, and in connection with it. It is the morality of sacrifice. Sacrifice then becomes, in the person who makes it, the most remarkable kind of manifestation of virtue, which ennobles the sufferer, and which it is no wrong-doing in the universe to accept. What is the effect of such an atonement on the sinner? The willingness of the sacrifice changes the mode of the operation of the sacrifice, so that it acts on a totally different principle and law from that upon which a sacrifice, if a mere substitution, acts. When a man substitutes himself for another, he really means to soften the heart of the judge, to stimulate the element of mercy in the judge. The gospel puts the doctrine of Atonement in this light. The mercy of God the Father is called out toward man by our Lord’s generous sacrifice of Himself in behalf of men. Neither in natural mediation nor in supernatural does the act of suffering love, in producing that change of regard to which it tends, dispense with the moral change of the criminal. We cannot, of course, because a good man suffers for a criminal, alter our regards to him, if he obstinately remains a criminal. And if the gospel taught any such thing in the doctrine of the Atonement, it would certainly expose itself to the charge of immorality. Undoubtedly there must be this change, but even with this past crime is not yet pardoned. There is room for a mediator—room for some source of pardon which does not take its rise in a man’s self, although it must act with conditions. But viewed as acting upon this mediatorial principle, the doctrine of the Atonement rises altogether to another level; it parts company with the gross and irrational conception of mere naked material substitution of one person for another in punishment, and it takes its stand upon the power of love, and points to the actual effect of the intervention of suffering love in nature, and to a parallel case of mediation as a pardoning power in nature. The doctrine of Scripture, so far from being the doctrine of mere substitution, is a protest against that doctrine; it makes accurate provision for moral claims; it enforces conditions on the subject of the sacrifice; it attributes a reasonable and rational ground of influence and mode of operation to the sacrifice. There is, however, undoubtedly, contained in the Scriptural doctrine of the Atonement, a kind, and a true kind, of fulfilment of justice. It is a fulfilment in the sense of appeasing and satisfying justice. And so, also, there is a kind of substitution involved in the Scriptural doctrine of the Atonement, and a true kind; it is not a literal, but a moral substitution. The doctrine of the Atonement is the doctrine which most of all comes into collision with, and declares most unextinguishable war with, materialistic ideas of the Deity.… So rooted is the great principle of mediation in nature, that the mediatorship of Christ cannot be revealed to us without reminding us of a whole world of analogous action, and of representation of action. How natural thus does the idea of a mediator turn out to be! Yet this is exactly the point at which many stumble: pardon they approve of; reconciliation they approve of; but reconciliation by means of mediation is what they cannot understand. Why not dispense with a superfluity? they say; and why not let these relieve us from what they consider the incumbrance of a mediator? It has, however, appeared to the great mass of Christians infinitely more natural to be saved with a Mediator than without one.—J. B. Mozley, D.D.
A Sacrifice in the Living of a Human Life.—“A body hast Thou prepared Me.” A human body is the medium through which a soul—a spiritual being—is enabled to live a human life on the earth—a life of various earthly relations. What is here affirmed appears to be this—that God was pleased to find a material, human body, in which His Son, the spiritual being Jesus, could live out a human life, as a human son, perfecting an obedience to the will of God, which should be a representative obedience for humanity. And it seems to be distinctly declared that the real spiritual sacrifice which Jesus offered to God on behalf of humanity was that life of obedience and submission and service which He lived through—under a strain and stress which reached its climax in the cross—in that human body which God had prepared for Him, in which He could, fully and representatively, do and bear God’s will for humanity.
The Sacrifice of the Body.—This sentence is a quotation from one of the Psalms, but it is not quoted with strict accuracy. In the psalm there is a figure; in the quotation the figure is not repeated, it is translated, and its meaning is suggested. In Psalms 40:6 the words are, “Sacrifice and offering Thou didst not desire; Mine ears hast Thou opened.” But the Hebrew would be more precisely rendered, “Ears hast Thou digged or pierced for Me.” Two explanations of this figure have been offered. There was a curious ancient custom, which some think may be referred to here. When a Hebrew voluntarily resolved to be the life-long servant or slave of another person, that person accepted the surrender by boring through the ear of the would-be slave with an awl. The law regulating this matter is given in Exodus 21:5-6 : “And if the servant [who could claim his freedom] shall plainly say, I love my master, my wife, and my children; I will not go out free: then his master shall bring him to the judges; he shall also bring him to the door, or unto the door-post; and his master shall bore his ear through with an aul; and he shall serve him for ever.” If this could be received as the basis of the figure in the psalm, the sentence would then mean, “I am, through life, thy voluntary servant.” But if that had been the reference, a certain technical word would have been used; and even the English reader can see that in the psalm both ears are mentioned, and the Hebrew boring was done only to one ear. The better explanation is that opening the ears, digging out the ears, hollowing the ears, uncovering the ears, suggested to the Hebrews the idea of prompt obedience, of attentive listening to the commands of any one. We may understand the figure to mean, “Thou hast made me obedient,” or “I am entirely devoted to thy service.” What God desires is not sacrifice, but hearing ears, and consequently the submission of the person himself in willing obedience. Where the writer of the epistle to the Hebrews gained his translation of the figure into “a body hast Thou prepared Me” does not clearly appear. Some of the manuscripts of the Septuagint Version have this rendering, and the writer may have met with one of these; but some think he purposely made the alteration so as to make the Messianic reference of the psalm more distinct. Ears are given so that we may hear and heed. A body is given so that we may obey and serve in the earthly spheres. And Messiah is represented as saying, “Lo, I come [in the body which Thou hast given me] to do Thy will, O God.” The text is part of an argument. The writer is urging that the animal sacrifices of Judaism availed only for external or ceremonial purification. They vitally and eternally saved nobody. They represented the true sacrifice, which God then accepted, and still accepts—the sacrifice of an obedient will, and of a consecrated life. He has provided for us bodies; He has uncovered for us ears; we too can do His will. Our text then embodies a great principle which I want to state, to illustrate, and to enforce. It was true for the psalmist; it was true for our Lord Jesus Christ; and it is true also for us. The principle is this—God never asks of any man first of all what he has. God asks of every man first of all, himself, what he is. If any man is willing to give himself to God, then God will lovingly accept also what he has.
I. God never asks of any man first of all what he has.—“Sacrifice and offering Thou wouldest not, neither hadst pleasure therein.” Sacrifice and offering both represent man’s gifts to God. They are things which a man has; they are things belonging to man. The distinction between them is a Jewish one. Sacrifice is a gift to God of that which has life—life which can be surrendered. Offering is a gift to God of something which has no life, but which can be used in God’s service. The man who brought a bullock, or a lamb, or a dove made his gift to God; and the man who brought his shekel, or his flower, or his jewel, or his robe also made his gift to God. He brought of his property—of the things that he had. And if that was all he brought, God never asked for it, and never wanted it. “To what purpose is the multitude of your sacrifices unto Me, saith the Lord; I am full of the burnt-offerings of rams, and the fat of fed beasts; and I delight not in the blood of bullocks, or of lambs, or of he-goats. Bring no more vain oblations.” The prophet Isaiah gives these searching words as the utterance of God’s Spirit through him; but the earlier psalmist had quite as clear a vision of the truth that God never has cared for mere things. “I will take no bullock out of thine house, nor he-goats out of the folds, for every beast of the forest is Mine, and the cattle upon a thousand hills. I know all the fowls of the mountains; and the wild beasts of the field are Mine. If I were hungry, I would not tell thee: for the world is Mine, and the fulness thereof.” “Sacrifice and offering”! They are only things of which man claims possession, and which, as his own, he consents to give. Cattle from his folds, corn and fruit from his fields, gold and jewels from his treasuries. In what sense they are his does not readily appear, since man has nothing to possess, but everything lent him just for use during his brief spell of life. When good men give to God, they reverently say, “Of Thine own have we given Thee.” In the sight of God there is a most valid and practical distinction between what a man has, and what a man is. In our sight that distinction is most strangely confused. We are constantly valuing men according to the measure of what they call their wealth. God reckons a man’s possessions at nothing, save as it deepens the man’s responsibility for the faithful use of his trusts. The man himself is of priceless worth. “What shall it profit a man if he gain the whole world and lose his own soul?” We need to learn how to distinguish between the essentials and the accidents of the man; between the man and the clothes which, at a given time, he may happen to wear; between the man and the material circumstances with which he may be surrounded. Job expresses the distinction very vigorously when all his things that he had were gone from his grasp, seized by the invader, or whirled away in the storms. “Naked came I out of my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return thither.” Things were gone; but he was what he was. A man carries his entire self into the next world. Death cannot rob him of that. Death cannot touch or injure that. But man cannot carry into the next world a single one of the things that he only has. Death has its power on them, and plucks them all away—plucks away the monarch’s crown, and the nobleman’s estate, and the lady’s gay apparel and costly jewels. Death stands before the dying man, and compels him to surrender absolutely everything that he has. Death will not let the man take even his grave-clothes with him. The wild Indian will have his bow and arrows put into the grave with him, that they may be ready for use in the happy hunting-grounds he is anticipating. But it is a vain delusion. They only rot in the dampness of the grave. When a late Queen of Madagascar died, they arrayed her in her most gorgeous dresses, ornamented her with her jewels, and so laid her in the tomb. But they only wasted what might have been of use to somebody, and put temptation in the way of thieves. No dresses nor jewels deck her majesty in the other life. She is just herself, and a poor miserable self she must be. Moses and Elijah reappeared from the glory, but they were the very men they were, just the men, even the earth-form and dress was but a seeming. Realise the distinction between the essentials of a man and the accidents of a man, and then you will understand what I mean when I say, that God never has, and never will, ask first of all for the accidents of a man.
1. Because whatsoever a man may seem to have, it is not really his. It is only a loan to him, only a trust to him. It all belongs to God; and to give it to God is only to give God His own. He needs nothing from us. “In His hand are the deep places of the earth; the strength of the hills is His also. The sea is His, and He made it; and His hands formed the dry land.” “What have we that we have not received?”
2. And because nothing that man has could reach up to satisfy the claims of God. Know God as the infinite moral Being, the Source of all moral being, as the eternal Father of mankind, and at once it comes to mind that His claim must be for love, for trust, for obedience, for service. No mere material things can ever satisfy parent hearts. Fathers and mothers stand in soul-relations, and they can never be satisfied with other gifts from their children instead of soul-gifts. So thoroughly is God represented as despising mere things that have no soul in them, that when men failed to give themselves in and with their gifts, God actually dealt severely with their gifts. Cain brought an offering only of things. He was not himself in his gift. And “unto Cain, and to his offering, the Lord had not respect.” Pleading with a people who had become wholly formal in their religious gifts, God says, “Incense is an abomination unto Me; the new moons and sabbaths, the calling of assemblies, I cannot away with; it is iniquity, even the solemn meeting.” “To what purpose cometh there to Me incense from Sheba, and the sweet cane from a far country? Your burnt-offerings are not acceptable, nor your sacrifices sweet unto Me.” “I hate, I despise your feast days, and I will not smell in your solemn assemblies. Though ye offer Me burnt-offerings and your meat-offerings, I will not accept them; neither will I regard the peace-offerings of your fat beasts. Take thou away from Me the noise of thy songs; for I will not hear the melody of thy viols” (Amos 5:21-23). This truth is indeed set forth so plainly, and so impressively, that it is passing strange to find men still deluded by the notion that God can be pleased with gifts. Heathen people still say, “Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, and with ten thousands of rivers of oil? shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?” Christian people still give goods, or prayers, or emotions. And still the apostolic words may be used, and we may say, God seeks “not yours, but you.”
II. God asks of every man the gift of himself, of what he is.—If we separate a man from his possessions, from the things that he only has, what is gathered up in the man? There is body, mind, affections, character, soul. For this earth-sphere a man is not a simple spirit, but a spirit with a certain particular environment. And it is this whole self which God asks. “Yield yourselves unto God, as those that are alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness unto God.” “Glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are His.” “I beseech you therefore, brethren, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service.” We find our model gift in the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave His whole bodily and spiritual manhood in one life-long devotion to God. There is a sense in which men may properly be regarded as not already God’s. Something which can only be called independence has been given to us. Though it is placed under strict limitations, our free-will does make us separate persons, and give us some sort of right in ourselves. And we well know how self-will exaggerates the independence, and throws off God, saying, “Who is the Lord, that we should serve Him? and what profit should we have, if we pray unto Him?” In whatsoever sense man is himself, he can give that self to God. The truth is, that the only thing which any man has that he can give to God is himself. This every man, poor or rich, wise or ignorant, can give; and this is every man’s grandest and noblest gift.
“Lord, in the strength of grace, with a glad heart and free,
Myself, my residue of days, I consecrate to Thee.
Thy ransomed servant, I restore to Thee Thine own;
And from this moment live or die, to serve my God alone.”
A man can give his will to God, voluntarily choosing Him, and acceptting His service, saying with the noble Joshua, “Whatsover others do, we will serve the Lord.” A man may give his love to God; and of such a man God will surely say, “Because he hath set his love upon Me, therefore will I deliver him.” A man may give his penitence to God, going to Him and saying, “Father, I have sinned, and am no more worthy to be called Thy son.” And such a man ever finds the Father waiting and watching for his return, and hears the sweetest sounds of home-welcome, “Bring forth the best robe, and put it on him; and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet; and bring hither the fatted calf, and kill it; and let us eat and be merry: for this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.” A man may give to God his obedience. It is this which comes fully into view in our text: “Then said I, Lo, I come (in the volume of the book it is written of Me) to do Thy will, O God.” This is what God asks of you and me, asks of every one: “Be Mine. I am Father. Be thou My son indeed.” All the revelations that God makes to men, read in the light of their deepest meanings, are just persuasions to making full surrender of themselves to Him. The type of them all is to be found in the vision given to Jacob at Bethel. He felt like a homeless wanderer. He was bearing the burden of his own wrong-doing. Yet God was mindful of him, caring for him, watching him, tending him all night through with loving angel ministries. That vision was God calling upon Jacob to give Him himself; and Jacob did it. “And Jacob rose up early in the morning, and took the stone that he had put for his pillow, and set it up for a pillar, and poured oil upon the top of it. And Jacob vowed a vow, saying, If God will be with me, and will keep me in this way that I go, and will give me bread to eat, and raiment to put on, so that I come again to my father’s house in peace; then shall the Lord be my God: and this stone, which I set up for a pillar, shall be God’s house. And of all which Thou, O God, shalt give me, I will surely give the tenth unto Thee.”
III. When a man gives to God what he is, God graciously accepts, with him, what he has.—How very different is the value we put on the various gifts that we receive! Some are mere gifts. They say nothing; they mean nothing. We take them. But we wish we had not to take them. We put them aside, after a cold thanksgiving. And we do not much care if we never see the thing any more. We are like God in this—that we are very indifferent to mere things as gifts. But the very same gifts, and even inferior gifts, may become priceless. They are if they carry to us a heart’s love—if the gift is the person, expressed only in the thing that is offered. Then the gifts are treasured. Then they find conspicuous place. Then they are looked at again and again, and always seem to freshen the love-gift of which they remind. It is thus with God. At one time sacrifice and offering will seem to Him altogether worthless. It is only sacrifice and offering. At another time they will seem to Him of priceless value, because they express love, and trust, and obedience, full heart-surrender. When we can say, “Lo, I come to do Thy will,” when we can give to God ourselves, then everything we bring with us will be acceptable unto Him. Passing by the receipt of custom, our Lord found Matthew seated, busily engaged with his work. Our Lord called him. But Matthew did not respond by giving his money, Christ cared nothing for that. Matthew responded by giving to Christ himself, and that gift carried with it his money, his abilities, everything that Matthew had. Some time ago I took part in a scene of peculiar interest and suggestiveness. Well-nigh two thousand persons were assembled in the largest chapel in Liverpool, to bid God-speed to a band of missionaries who were about to leave home and friends, and devote themselves to Christ’s service in heathen lands. Twenty-three men and women faced that great audience as they sat together upon the platform. As I watched them I thought what a variety of powers and talents they represented—what various riches they had. But they were not giving to Christ their abilities, their doctoring skill, their teaching efficiencies, their power to draw or to preach. Those men and women were giving to Christ themselves—themselves as spiritual beings. The company on that platform was a company of consecrated men and women; their manhood and their womanhood lay on the altar of Christ. They gave “their own selves to the Lord.” But they gave themselves in their bodies, with their bodies. The gift of themselves carried with it all they had; and the God who so graciously accepted them, as graciously accepted theirs with them. And so they represented a whole devotement—what they were, and what they had. There they sat, the realisation of the whole burnt-offering unto the Lord. That truth fills our thoughts and hearts—God wants us first, then ours. Have we been making the fatal mistake, and bringing, as offerings to God, our things? Have we imagined that God’s claim could be satisfied with gifts of our money, of anything that we only have? See this truth once again. God wants you. Yes, first you. He will receive nothing from you until you give Him yourself. And when you give yourself, you cannot help giving all you have. This is God’s order; you cannot alter it—first you, then yours. This is the Lord’s sacrifice—yourself in the body prepared for you.
Hebrews 10:7. Submission and Obedience.—The “will of God” is a present, living reality. It is not something shut up in a book. It is a living revelation to us, made by the indwelling, presiding Spirit. We may know the “will of God” now as truly as our fathers did when the will came to them in an audible voice, or by an angel-messenger. We may even conceive the time when the written word will cease to be the medium of the will, because spiritual relations will be perfected. This text presents one form in which we have to accept the Divine will, and it suggests the other; for there are two forms in which the will of God has to be met:
(1) By submission—bearing; and
(2) by obedience—doing. Prominence is here given to obedience. In Gethsemane prominence is given to submission. Too often it is urged that submission is the only attitude for us to take in relation to the will. This may, indeed, be fittingly commended to the sick, the suffering, and the dying, but it is not the attitude most wisely commended to the healthy, the active, and the enterprising. It is the glory of our nature that we are not mere things to be acted upon, but persons, agents, by and through whom ends are to be reached, and purposes accomplished. Therefore, while it is a great and blessed thing to submit to the will of God, it is, for active man, an even greater and more blessed thing to do the will.
I. Submission.—God sometimes deals with us as if He would convince us that He is the Creator, and we but the creatures of His power. He sweeps over our life in a majesty of wild storm-wind, and there is nothing for us to do but to submit. But usually God deals with us in such ways of mingled severity and tenderness, that He seems to be asking us to yield, even making it easy for us to yield. And there is nothing essentially Christian about our submission until it becomes both voluntary and cheerful. Our submission is never possible by knowing what God is doing with us; it is only possible by knowing God Himself better, and so gaining an all-conquering faith (trust) in Him.
II. Obedience.—Illustrate this phase by patriarchal times. Abraham obeyed God: also by the human life and devoted service of the Lord Jesus. Our common life can be looked at in two ways:
(1) As the scene in which we are doing and accomplishing something for ourselves; or
(2) as the scene in which, as servants, we are doing and accomplishing the will of God. It is freely granted that the former way of viewing life will seem the most attractive to us as men; but the latter may be commended as the altogether noble, and the more satisfying way. In what spheres can the will of God be discerned? We are to bring our thought, our speech, and our relationships into the obedience of Christ. Then in these spheres we can know the will. And besides the more general disclosures to us of the Divine mind, the open heart will be always able to discern special calls to particular forms of duty. The ideal Christian life is a full, free, constant, loving response to the Divine will, in a holy blending of submission and obedience.
The Sacrifice of an Obedient Will.—This is a quotation from the fortieth Psalm, and it is helpful to understand precisely what thought and feeling the psalmist expressed by it. Dean Perowne says: “The psalmist declares what had been the great lesson of his affliction—how he had learnt that there was a better sacrifice than that of bulls and goats, even the sacrifice of an obedient will. It is as if he had said, ‘Once I should have thought sacrifices and offerings a proper and sufficient acknowledgment. Now I feel how inadequate these are, for Thou hast taught me the truth; my deaf, unwilling ears hast Thou opened, that I might understand that a willing heart was the best offering I could render. Then, being thus taught by Thee, I said, Lo, I come! Presenting myself before Thee, not with a dead and formal service, but with myself as a living sacrifice.’ ”
The Religion of Divine Humility.—To preach Christ is to preach the doctrine of surrender to the will of God. The religion of Christ has been well called “The Religion of Divine Humility.” This is Christianity: love to God, and love to man; that surrender of self-will through life and death which marks the whole existence of the Redeemer.—F. W. Robertson.
Christ’s Own References to the Will He obeyed.—It is some disadvantage to our apprehension of the will of God for humanity, and so the will of God for Jesus, the representative man, that in this chapter it is so closely associated with altar-forms. Our Lord’s own references to the will which He fulfilled are free from this association. As He regards it, it is a moral obedience, a heart obedience, finding expression in doing, bearing, and suffering whatever may be recognised as the will of God in a human life. In Gethsemane it was seen by the Lord Jesus that the will of God immediately before Him was a time of overwhelming shame and suffering, and the agony of a violent and dishonourable death; and He would wholly lift Himself up to an entire, unquestioning, and uncomplaining obedience.
Hebrews 10:7; Hebrews 10:9. The Will of God which Christ came to do.—He was to do the will of God in several ways. “Not only as a prophet to reveal the will of God; not only as a king to give forth Divine laws; but as a priest to satisfy the demands of justice, and to fulfil all righteousness. Christ came to do the will of God in two instances:
1. In taking away the first priesthood, which God had no pleasure in; not only taking away the curse of the covenant of works, and cancelling the sentence denounced against us as sinners, but taking away the insufficient typical priesthood, and blotting out the handwriting of ceremonial ordinances, and nailing it to His cross.
2. In establishing the second, that is, his own priesthood and the everlasting gospel, the most pure and perfect dispensation of the covenant of grace: this is the great design upon which the heart of God was set from all eternity. The will of God centres and terminates in it; and it is not more agreeable to the will of God than it is advantageous to the souls of men; for it is by this will that we are sanctified, through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.”—Matthew Henry.
Hebrews 10:10. Christ’s Antitypical Sacrifice.—This epistle being directly addressed to Jewish Christians, it is of first importance that we should endeavour to understand their views. They were men who had been lifted from the material to the moral. That was the work that had been done for the Jewish nation by the later prophets. They were men that had been lifted from the ritual to the spiritual. That was the work which had been done for them by the Lord Jesus Christ. But these Jewish Christians found it very difficult to keep up to the higher level they had attained. There were certain forms in which temptations to revert to their old standpoint came to them.
1. Persecution by the bigoted and extreme Jewish section—represented by Saul of Tarsus.
2. An exaggeration of the claims of Judaism as an unquestionable revelation from God—specially honourable as having been ministered by angels.
3. The spiritualising of Philo and the Alexandrian School, which worked for a reform of Judaism, and shook confidence in Christ. The writer of this epistle has to counteract these three evil influences. But such temptations are better met by persuasions than by arguments: only the persuasions must be based upon arguments precisely adapted. One great point is made by the writer: “First that which is natural, and afterward that which is spiritual.” The material is pictorial—it is the picture-teaching of truth, which is necessary for all child-stages of the individual, the nation, or the world. The moral is the reality which is pictured in the material, and it is the proper thing for the man-stage. We teach children arithmetic by showing them, and by working, balls on a frame; by-and-by they come to apprehend the principles and relations of numbers. But what has such comparison to do with us, who have no association with material bodily sacrifices as the Jewish Christians had? Is it possible that there may be a material, pictorial setting of the sacrificial work of the Lord Jesus Christ, which may be limiting us somewhat as the ritual of Moses limited the Jews? These Christian Jews evidently had not spiritual views of Christ’s work, and Christians now may keep in the pictorial range for babes when they ought to be in the spiritual range for men. They do when they see Christ’s offering of Himself to be a ritual, not a spiritual sacrifice.
I. The surrendered will is the sanctifying sacrifice.—Trace the argument. Those old Jewish sacrifices had no value in themselves. The prophets—especially Isaiah and Hosea—made that quite plain. Their value lay solely in their being a means by which the will of a man was offered to God. When this is taught so as to be fully apprehended, formal sacrifice may cease. It has done its work. The final lesson is the Divine acceptance of the offering of Himself which came to Jesus. Christ’s whole life was His sacrifice. The sacrifice that God wants is the man, not something a man gives. The offering of a man himself is the offering of a life—that alone is the man. This makes Christ’s death the final act, the seal, the perfecting of His sacrifice; because that death completes, rounds off, the life. No life is complete until death seals it. Christ’s death is the great act of surrendered will under the most severe testing-conditions. Dead—human life ended—there is a whole man offered unto God.
II. That sacrifice—the spiritual sacrifice of the surrendered will—was offered through the body.—Things can have no influence on us that do not come within our range, do not lie in our plane. Moral forces are compelled to use material agencies because we are in material limitations. The surrender of the will of an angel is nothing to us. The surrender of the will of a human being like ourselves is everything to us. Christ became man that He might be able to offer a human sacrifice, because that is precisely what we ought to offer. An angel could not offer our sacrifice: the Son of God, as only Son of God, could not. Christ became representative man that He might offer His sacrifice of Himself in our name, as standing for and pledging us.
III. That offering satisfies once for all.—Picture-teaching needs repetition, “line upon line, precept upon precept.” The teaching of principles is done once for all. Christ’s sacrifice need not be repeated, because it effected its end—
1. With God. Did this representative offering of the surrendered will meet God’s requirement from us His creatures? The answer is the Resurrection.
2. With men. Was that devotion of Christ to our interests, which led Him to suffer so much in order to secure an acceptable sacrifice for us, such a devotion as could be really persuasive on us? The answer is our experience. The sacrifice of Christ must not be repeated, even in symbol. To repeat the sacrifice is to remove Christ from His present work of applying the gains of His sacrifice. What then have we to keep in mind? Is it only the medium, the bodily agency of the great sacrifice? Every incident of the Passion is intensely interesting to us. But there is a mystery within it. There is a real spiritual sacrifice. It is a man’s surrendered will. We cannot offer a material sacrifice with Christ. We can offer a spiritual sacrifice with Him. That we will offer it He pledges in our name. But our sacrifice, like His, must be made through our bodies. Our lives, lived unto God, are our sacrifice (see Romans 12:1).
The First and Second Sacrifices.—That which is temporarily efficient may, and indeed must, in time become inefficient, because the conditions which it once met undergo change. Whatever concerns the accidents of things must be changed. Whatever concerns the essentials of things is of necessity unchangeable. The first sacrifices, those of Judaism, dealt with accidental conditions of men. The second sacrifice deals with the essential states and relations of men. The first sacrifices could not last; and it was significant of their fading away that the Shekinah-glory left the Temple, that even the ark was lost, and the tables of the covenant. In Pompey’s time the Temple was but an empty shell with the kernel gone; for when he forced his way into the Holy of Holies, he found only an empty chamber. The very heart and life of the old sacrifices was already gone, wholly gone.
CRITICAL AND EXEGETICAL NOTES
Hebrews 10:12. This man.—The expression is intended to remind us of His relation to us as federal Head. For ever.—Or as we use the word, “finally.” Never again to be repeated. Sat down.—Implying two things:
(1) the acknowledgment of the acceptance of His sacrifice; and
(2) the delegation to Him of the right and the power to apply to men the benefits gained by the sacrifice.
Hebrews 10:14. Perfected for ever.—As above, “finally.” Not “at once,” “entirely,” “as soon as they believe.” The word stands in relation to the “repetition” spoken of above.
Hebrews 10:15-18. Holy Ghost.—As the seal and witness. The redemption wrought by Christ alters, once for all, our standing with God. But this writer is evidently supremely anxious to impress the moral value and sphere of the redemptive work. Our vital and saving relations of faith and love, with Christ, bring to us a new principle of obedience, and inspiration to righteousness. With these established in us, all the past of our sin can be freely and fully forgiven. This concludes the doctrinal portion of the epistle, and the writer proceeds to give further exhortations, and fresh appeals and encouragements, all clearly intimating that his main purpose was not speculative or theological, but practical and moral. Indeed, the writer is rather a rhetorician than a theologian, with a keener eye to the setting of truth that tells than to the abstract value or argumentative soundness of the setting. Under the influence of the Alexandrian School, he is under constant temptation to overpress the significance of single words. And, altogether, his argument must be regarded as much better suited to the mystical mind of the East than to the logical mind of the West.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Hebrews 10:11-18
The Power of the Spiritual Sacrifice.—Over and over again the nature of our Lord’s sacrifice, as the sacrifice of an obedient will, is presented. He came to “do the will of God” perfectly, in man’s name, and to sacrifice Himself in the doing. We know the power of an old formal Jewish sacrifice of bull or of goat. It could cleanse the offerer from ceremonial defilement, and restore him again to tabernacle relations. In this paragraph we are helped to realise what is the power of the spiritual sacrifice of an obedient will. “By the which will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.” “For by one offering He hath perfected for ever them that are sanctified.” The word “sanctified” here is not used of progressive sanctification, but of “consecration in a pure state to God’s service.”
I. Power on man the spirit.—George Macdonald makes one of his characters speak in this way: “We should not say, We are bodies, and have souls; we should say, We are souls, and have bodies.” The spiritual sacrifice has its range first in man’s spirit. The sacrifice of the obedient will has its power and persuasion on the human will. The essence of redemption is regeneration. Formal sacrifices have their power to change men’s relations. Christ’s sacrifice has power to change men themselves. They become “new creatures in Christ Jesus,” by the renewal of their wills in the holy constraint of His sacrificing love. Christ wins us to Himself, and that is winning us to His obedient Sonship.
II. Power on man the human.—For man is not pure spirit; he is put into, and limited by, a human body; and that has made a special set of conditions, which angels have no power to adapt themselves to. He only has power on man the human who, Himself, though spirit, became human: “took on Him the nature of Abraham, was made in likeness of man.” He is actually in our range and sphere—actually in our human limitations. His sacrifice has power on us because it is ours, it is human. We are “sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.”
III. Power on man’s enemies.—The statement of Hebrews 10:13, “From henceforth expecting till His enemies be made the footstool of His feet,” may be simply rhetorical, the writer’s mind being full of the psalms from which he had been quoting, and so carried on to complete his reference. But there may be a suggestion intended which does not immediately appear. He who offered the sacrifice of the obedient will, and so gained power to save, will surely have enemies, who will resist His work, and try and keep men from rising out of their material systems, to accept a spiritual salvation. But those enemies will not conquer Him. He will eventually constrain even them, and they shall submit, and become as the footstool of His everlasting throne. And those who accept Him as their Saviour will have the same enemies to fight. But they who “suffer with Him shall also reign with Him.” Their enemies—the enemies of the spiritual—are His, and their subjection is guaranteed in the holy triumph which He is sure to win.
IV. Power on men’s motives.—This is the idea of the covenant which pledges that God, in and through Christ, will get right into men’s hearts, and so constrain them with His love—that they shall want to obey, resolve to obey, strive to obey, and enjoy obeying. Fear of God is man’s usual motive, and it never yet inspired a noble life. Love is Christ’s new motive, and it inspired His noble life, and it can inspire ours.
V. Power on men’s sins.—The prophet Ezekiel forshadowed the gospel dispensation in a way which has not been sufficiently noticed. He says that if God can only get a man himself right, He can at once, fully and freely, forgive all His sins. “If the wicked will turn from all his sins that he hath committed, and keep all My statutes, and do that which is lawful and right, he shall surely live, he shall not die” (Ezekiel 18:21). It is a part of the new covenant, that whenever we, in Christ, become sons again, with God’s laws in our love, and God’s will our delight, our “sins and iniquities shall be remembered no more.”
SUGGESTIVE NOTES AND SERMON SKETCHES
Hebrews 10:14. The Sanctifying Power of a Spiritual Sacrifice.—“For by one offering He hath perfected for ever them that are sanctified.” “Are sanctified” should be rendered “are being sanctified.” To understand this verse it is necessary to remember that the cleansing effected by means of the old Levitical sacrifices was, from the Jewish point of view, a sanctifying. The man cleansed and restored was a man sanctified. But such sanctifying, such ritual cleansing, was only the shadow and suggestion of the true sanctifying, the spiritual cleansing. A man heart-cleansed, conscience-cleansed, and so restored to his right relations with God, is the man truly sanctified. And what has to be shown is, that the one spiritual offering which Christ made of His whole human life, in one sublime and perfect obedience to the will of God, has an effective power unto such spiritual sacrifice. By “perfected for ever” is clearly meant, proved wholly effective, so that no other supplementary agency can ever be necessary. How then does that one sacrifice which Christ offered act in a way of sanctifying upon our hearts and lives.
1. It presents to us the model of what a sanctified life for humanity is?
2. It acts persuasively upon us, urging us to make the same surrender to God.
3. It puts into a state of separation unto God all who by faith are linked with it. Christ and His people are together sanctified.
4. As a spiritual sacrifice it is influential in our spiritual relations; but those are our permanent and eternal relations, and whatever sanctifying work is done in them can never need to be re-done. Sanctify a man’s will, and you have sanctified the man’s life, and sanctified the man for ever. We may gain some illustration of the sanctifying power of a surrendered will by considering the moral influence upon us of severe, and life-long, and hopeless sufferers from disease, who have entered into the perfect peace of yielding their wills wholly to God.
Hebrews 10:17. Self-sacrifice the Way to Happiness.—The way of happiness is the path of principle, and the governing principles of life, which lead to nobility of character, are bound up in Christ’s salvation. Human life, even under civilisation, is placed face to face with the elements of danger.
I. The highest, happiest, noblest life is a life of self-sacrifice in common conditions.—In our quiet circle we may defeat the selfishness that is around us; and if we cannot undo the selfishness of civilisation, we can undo it in ourselves, and in some that are round our life-path.
1. Let no one say that God has placed us in such a position that to be selfish, avaricious, lustful, worldly, cannot be helped. The theory of “can’t help it” is hateful, because it is utterly cowardly and entirely false. “Can’t help it” is the answer of materialism; it is a base philosophy.
2. Utilitarianism will not help us. There is no morality without God.
II. To do God’s will is a motive to self-sacrifice.—God is the sanction of moral life. In our calm moments, and in our moments of terror, the great motive to stay us constantly in life’s great struggle is God. We can do right, not because there is a law, but because the law expresses the law of the Lawgiver—the great, the beautiful, the holy God.
III. God in Christ is the expression of supereminent love.—To feel the love of wife, of mother, of sister, of child, of friend, makes us feel the dignity of life; to feel the love of Jesus, God in humanity, makes us feel that self-sacrifice is possible, that we had better perish than be selfish, that our love of God has increased the great motive of our love of men.
IV. Power to do what there is motive to enforce is submitted to us all.—Grace is offered in answer to prayer, to help us to do His will, to speak His will, to speak His word, to be content to do it, with His law in us. His love is over us; He will not forsake us.—Canon Knox-Little.
ILLUSTRATIONS TO CHAPTER 10
Hebrews 10:18. Remission of Sins.—A French girl of fourteen once appeared before Napoleon, and casting herself at his feet cried, “Pardon sire! pardon for my father!” “And who is your father?” asked Napoleon; “and who are you?” “My name is Lajolia,” she said; and with flowing tears added, “but sire, my father is doomed to die.” “Ah! young lady,” replied Napoleon,” I can do nothing for you. It is the second time your father has been found guilty of treason against the State.” “Alas!” exclaimed the poor girl, “I know it, sire; but I do not ask for justice; I implore pardon. I beseech you, forgive, oh, forgive my father!” After a momentary struggle of feeling, Napoleon gently took the hand of the young maiden, and said, “Well, my child, for your sake, I will pardon your father. That is enough; now leave me.”
CRITICAL AND EXEGETICAL NOTES
Hebrews 10:19.—Compare chaps. Hebrews 4:14-16. Brethren.—A sign of the conciliatory tone which the writer is anxious to preserve. Boldness.—See on chaps. Hebrews 3:6, Hebrews 4:16. Enter into the holiest.—Free access to the sanctuary. This point the writer has argued. By the blood of Jesus.—ἐν τῷ αἵματι. Moulton says, “It is not that we enter with the blood, as the high priest entered the Holy of Holies (Hebrews 9:25); no comparison is made between Christ’s people and the Jewish high priest. But as when he entered within the veil the whole people symbolically entered in with him, so do we enter with our High Priest, who ‘by means of His own blood’ entered for us into the immediate presence of God. In that through which He entered we have our ‘boldness to enter.’ ”
Hebrews 10:20. Consecrated.—Or “inaugurated.” His flesh.—“Through His suffering humanity He passed to His glory.”
Hebrews 10:21. An high priest.—ἱερέα μέγαν, a great priest. See Zechariah 6:11-13.
Hebrews 10:22. Sprinkled, etc.—Allusion is to the ceremonies by which the Jewish priests were cleansed from ceremonial defilements. The writer thinks of Christian believers as being “priests unto God” (Revelation 1:5-6).
Hebrews 10:23.—For faith, R.V. properly reads “hope.” Without wavering.—Or, “so that it do not bend.”
Hebrews 10:24. Provoke.—A singular word to use here, because it is generally employed in a bad sense. There seems to be an implied reproof of the contentions of the disciples, which had been “provocations” in a bad sense.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Hebrews 10:19-25
Duty rests on Privilege.—In this section the hortatory portion of the epistle really begins There have been, again and again, hortatory “asides”; now there is a general practical application of the truths to which attention has been so earnestly directed. The main position of the writer is briefly stated afresh, and in terms which show that he still had the solemn ceremonies of the great Jewish Day of Atonement in his mind. He had fixed attention on this fact—the way into the Holy of Holies, where God’s presence was manifested in sacred symbols, had never been open and free to everybody. A veil hid it away, and that veil never might be passed save on definitely arranged conditions. “Into the second tabernacle the high priest went alone, once in the year, not without blood, which he offereth for himself, and for the errors of the people.” That was picture-teaching of spiritual things. The Holy Ghost signified something by it. The Holy of Holies represents the “more perfect tabernacle, not made with hands”—the place in which God now receives His people. Free access there is lost for man by reason of his wilfulness and sin. God has put a veil which no sinful man may pass. And yet the fact is, that the veil is now done away. The fact is, that man now has free access to God’s spiritually manifested presence. How has this come about? and what is involved in our now having this extraordinary liberty and privilege? The first question is answered by the writer in this way: “But Christ having come, a High Priest of the good things to come [or that are come], through the greater and more perfect tabernacle, not made with hands, that is to say, not of this creation, nor yet through the blood of goats and calves, but through His own blood, entered in once for all into the Holy Place, having obtained eternal redemption for us.” The material ceremonies of the material tabernacle secured for Israelites material privileges, and pictured and foreshadowed the spiritual ceremonies of the spiritual tabernacle which secure for all men spiritual privileges. When we speak of Christ, we need to remember that the Holy of Holies which He entered is the spiritual presence of God; that the blood which He took is spiritual blood, the offering of Himself, His will, His life, His perfect obedience of sonship; that the veil through which He entered was His life in the flesh, in which the perfection of His obedience was tested and proved; and that the benefits and privileges which He secured for us were wholly spiritual benefits, summed up in right soul-standing with God, and free soul-access to Him. This privilege is restated for us in Hebrews 10:19 : “Having therefore, brethren, boldness to enter into the Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by the way which He dedicated for us, a new and living way, through the veil, that is to say, His flesh; and having a great Priest over the house of God.” The old priest went into the old sanctuary, but took no one in with him. When he went in, he closed the veil behind him. When he came out, he carefully closed the veil again. Our new and spiritual High Priest, being Himself also His infinitely acceptable offering, took the veil aside, and went in, leaving the veil drawn aside, and the way in open for every one who would come to God by Him. That High Priest went in, and never came out again, and never closed the veil behind Him, and never will. There it stands to-day just as He left it, thrust right back; and there He stands to-day, just as He took His stand when He entered, as sacrifice and priest, the Holy Place. And there the open way is, just as He made it; and by that way we have freedom and boldness of access to God. If those Christian Jews to whom the epistle was written would but enter fully into their new and spiritual privileges in Christ Jesus, they would readily let the old, formal, and material system pass away, and they would be no longer disturbed in mind by those who exaggerated the importance of what was but temporary and preparatory. If they did enter fully into their spiritual privileges, they would surely find that those privileges brought calls to duty, and that the earnest and persistent fulfilment of the duty ensured the constant renewal and constant enjoyment of the privileges. The safeguard of religious truth and religious privilege is not contention and dispute, but an earnest, devoted, obedient life of love and service.
I. Our duty to ourselves.—It is not selfishness or self-centredness to do our duty to ourselves—to meet our obligations to ourselves. A man is just as truly put in trust of himself as he is put in trust of others. “Every man must bear his own burden,” the responsibility of being himself. No man can rightly neglect his own spiritual life upon the excuse that he is busily attending to other people’s. Three things are urged by this writer, as included in our duty to ourselves—Prayer, Purity, Profession.
1. We must freely use our new-found privilege of access to God. Prayer is the spiritual agency by means of which our souls pass along the new Christ-opened way into the presence and communion of God. “Let us draw near, with a true heart, in fulness of faith.”
2. We must be very jealous about that condition of using the new Christly way which is the condition on our side. It is not anybody who may pass in, only those who are aiming at personal purity, who are setting their wills upon righteousness, whose consciences do not accuse them of wilful and purposed sin, and who are putting a strong hand of control upon their daily conduct and relations, to ensure that they run in lines of consistency and righteousness. “Having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience, and our body washed with pure water”—figures evidently taken from the anxiety of the high priest, on the Atonement Day, to secure both bodily and moral purity before venturing through the veil.
3. And we must recognise the importance of a steady persistency in the profession of our faith, and a constant readiness to make confession of our faith, whenever the call to make confession comes. Spiritual safety is guaranteed when a man has no idea of hiding whose he is and whom he serves—when he can say, even before those who persecute him, as did the saintly Polycarp, “I am a Christian.” It was the half-shame and half-fear which were keeping the Jewish Christians from openly confessing Christ, that put their standing in Christ in peril. “Let us hold fast the confession of our hope, that it waver not.”
II. Our duty to one another.—It is of the very essence of a Christian Church that those who stand in the recovered sonship are brought into mutually helpful relations in the recovered brotherhood. A Christian is his “brother’s keeper.” We are responsible to one another for what we can do for one another in the culture and fitting expression of that spiritual life which we have in common. It is not often set before us with sufficient clearness and force, that our duty to fellow-Christians is not merely common-place, every-day, human kindness. This is due from man to man in the ordinary human brotherhood. Our call is to serve our Christian brethren precisely in the sphere of their Christian, that is, their spiritual, life. “Let us consider one another to provoke unto love and good works.” In every Church there are the strong and the weak: “Let those who are strong bear the infirmities of the weak.” In every Church there are the advanced, the experienced, the saintly: let them provoke to all goodness the beginners, the young, and those whose life is in its struggling-time. Spiritual things, virtues, powers, experiences, are never to be thought of as personal possessions: they are trusts for use; they are for mutual edification. The man will lose them who thinks to keep them to himself; the man will keep them who uses them in service to others. Provoke others, then, to love, which is the essence of the Christian life; and to good works, which are the essentials of the expression of the Christian life. Each may be the “helper of another’s joy.” And the peril of the Jewish Christian Churches would be easily removed, if only they would take proper spiritual care of one another.
III. Our duty to the Church.—We stand in relation not only to one another, but also to the Church, as a body, to which we may belong. We are responsible for our personal example of godliness, and for our loyalty to all the Church’s arrangements and claims. This is put into one matter—one which we are surprised to find thus early in the history of the Church causing serious anxiety: “Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is.” Nothing puts a man’s spiritual life in more serious peril than irregular attendance at the services of his Church; nothing more readily checks the process of spiritual culture; nothing affords a more injurious example to others; and nothing indicates a weaker sense of the responsibilities under which a man comes in entering the fellowship of a Church. These duties wait on privilege. There can be no enjoyment of the privilege without meeting the obligations. Let no one deceive himself on that point.
SUGGESTIVE NOTES AND SERMON SKETCHES
Hebrews 10:19. Free Admission to the Holiest.—The humility which is suitable to the Christian life is suitable also in our relations to the Christian truth. We never can, at any one time, see wholes of truth. As with our bodily, so with our mental vision, we may see the front and one side, but we cannot at the same time see the other side and the back. It is well to bear in mind the fact that each representation of truth made to us is only one aspect of it. It may be the best aspect for us, and not be also the best aspect for others. We should therefore hold each setting of religious truth charitably, and with due consideration of the differing thoughts and feelings of others. Each man has a different apprehension of the truth of the Reconciliation or Atonement. Some approach it as philosophical inquirers, and some as conscious sinners. (These are likely to see special value in the substitutionary aspects of the Redeemer’s work.) Some as saved ones, who, looking back, try to understand the salvation. (These are likely to give special prominence to the moral power in our Redeemer’s work.) But all sides and aspects of a truth must be taken into due account if we would apprehend it as a whole.
I. The condition of entrance into the Holiest.—“By the blood of Jesus.” Great spiritual verities are illustrated by the old Jewish ritual. The “Holiest” was separated from the “Tabernacle,” picturing for us the truth that, as men, the worship of the Creator, the God of providence, can be carried on daily; but, as sinners, God is, in some sense, hidden, and can only manifest His favour on conditions. The “mercy-seat” is within the space called the “Holiest.” Many think of the “mercy-seat” as if it were a common thing belonging to the outer court, and always accessible. Note the significance of the veil, and the mode of entrance. The conditions on which sinners can come to God are given in the text and context.
1. The blood of Jesus. This was required on God’s side. It was necessary to the vindication of God’s truth, and the honouring of God’s law, so that no dishonour should come to Him while extending His mercy to sinners, and so that all presumption might be checked. God was honoured in Christ’s obedience unto death, in His surrender of life, or blood-shedding.
2. The humanity of Jesus—“His flesh.” This was required on man’s side. The God we cannot see is behind the veil of Christ’s flesh. Only through the humanity of Jesus do we come to God—to know God—to hold communion with God. It is quite impossible for us men to come to a God conceived only as an abstraction. He must be God manifest.
3. The priesthood of Jesus. This is needed both by God and by us. It represents a living mediation. On such a basis we may well have “boldness, and access with confidence.”
II. The joy of being in the Holiest.—Having free admission to it is a “sacred joy.” Conceive the joy of the high priest while privileged to be within the veil. In the older days there was no abiding there, nor indeed any frequent going there. Show—
1. Our joy in gaining admission to God. Imagine a high priest going into the Holiest for the first time. Compare our first sense of being within the veil.
2. Our joy in securing liberty of access. Gaining the feeling of a right to enter. The right of gracious invitation, and an offered way.
3. Our joy in using our privilege. Able to go to God in all our difficulty, trouble, faintness, feebleness, and sin. As men, we can always go into the outer court to praise, and to thank God, and to worship. Should it not be a joy indeed to us that—as sinners—we can always go into the “Holiest?”
1. How firmly based is our forgiveness and acceptance with God! The “Holiest” opened; the “veil” rent; the “blood” sprinkled; the Priest before the “mercy-seat” for us.
2. How large is our privilege of access! “Boldness to enter”! Is it too large? Does it seem to be too easy? God’s commonest mercies are the most necessary, yet the most neglected. Shall it be so with this? A rent veil, and none, or but few, passing through it! A living Priest, and no worshippers, or but few, for Him to present! The Angel of the covenant standing, and no prayers, or but few, for Him to put into His censer!
The Veil of the Flesh.—The veil in the Temple which interposed between the worshipper and the visible presence of Jehovah is compared to the body of Christ (John 2:21). As the veil concealed the glory of Jehovah from ocular sight, so the body of Jesus shrouded His original glory. As God dwelt behind the veil in the earthly Temple, so God dwells behind the veil of human flesh in the person of Jesus: that is, God can be approached only by means of Him. The rending of the Temple veil at the death of Christ attested the fact that His death gave a right of free access to every man to the presence of God. The typical meaning which is here attached to the veil shows that the actual approach to God is made by the existing humanity of Jesus.—Webster and Wilkinson.
Hebrews 10:20. The New and Living Way.—“Consecrated,” or “dedicated,” or even better, “inaugurated.” This way was opened to us by Christ; in it we follow Him. For Him, the way into the Holiest led through the veil—His flesh. As the veil concealed from the high priest the place of God’s presence, which he could enter only by passing through the veil, so, although in His earthly life Jesus dwelt in the presence of God, yet as our representative He could not enter the heavenly sanctuary until He had passed through and out of His life of flesh (see Hebrews 9:11). There is probably a covert allusion to the rending of the Temple veil in the hour when Jesus thus passed through the rent veil of His flesh. This way is new (Hebrews 9:8; Hebrews 9:12), it is living, for in truth this “way” is living union with Christ (John 14:6).—Dr. Moulton.
The Body of Christ a Tabernacle.—In many passages the human nature or body of Christ seems to be regarded as a kind of temporary tabernacle, or veil of the Divine nature which dwelt in Him. As God dwells behind the veil in His earthly Temple, so God dwells behind the veil of Jesus’ body in His spiritual temple, i.e. He can be approached only through the medium of this, or by means of this.
Hebrews 10:23. Holding fast Profession.—The text invites consideration of the duties involved in a Christian profession, and of the watchfulness that is necessary if we are to keep faithful to it. The profession, or confession, of Christ is a voluntary act; and by voluntary efforts it is to be maintained.
I. The duties involved in a Christian profession.—
1. Allegiance to certain revealed truths, as revealed. We are under no obligation to be loyal to those truths as any particular man may have been pleased to restate them.
2. Submission to the living rule of Christ.
3. Keeping of certain well-defined rules, and doing of certain carefully prescribed works. After unfolding each of these, press home the command of the text, “hold fast,” with
II. The dangers attending a Christian profession.—The great danger called to mind here is liability to wavering.
1. Liability to waver from allegiance to truth. Note the influence of speculation and criticism—the wisdom of this world; and of religious prejudice, bigotry, sectarianism, and exclusiveness, which are always trying to shift us from God’s truth to men’s opinions.
2. Liability to waver from submission to the living rule of Christ. Easily drift to become self-pleasers and men-pleasers. The inspiring truth of Christ’s living high-priesthood is meant to counteract this. All will be well if we keep Him constantly in soul-vision.
3. Liability to waver in the fulfilment of Christian obligations. That danger always comes when the spiritual health flags, and the vital force is lowered. Depressed life is always attended with neglect of duty. Health and activity and energy in service always go together.
Holding fast Profession.—Observe—
1. The duty of “holding fast profession” itself. Getting and keeping such hold as will effectually secure us against
2. The manner in which we must do this: without
(2) without doubting;
(3) without disputing;
(4) without dallying with temptation to apostasy.
3. The motive or reason enforcing this duty. God’s faithfulness to His promise should be our perpetual inspiration.
Hebrews 10:24. Mutual Consideration and Mutual Provocation.—As Christian individuals responsibilities, obligations, claims, and duties come to us. As members of Christian communities our fellow-members have claims upon us, and we have claims upon them. All human relationships involve mutual responsibilities. God purposes to carry on His redeeming and sanctifying work in small circles by the piety, the gracious words, and hallowing influence of individuals, and in larger circles by the piety, devotion, zeal, and aggressive activity of Churches.
I. We ought to consider one another.—To know one another, to be interested in one another, to be ready to serve one another, but especially to be interested in the Christian well-being and progress of those who are united to us in the Christian fellowship. Take interest in others, and spheres of work and influence are sure to open before us. There are always spiritually feeble ones whom we may strengthen: the permanently feeble, who are always finding it difficult to maintain the religious life; the temporarily feeble, in times of bodily sickness, or family or business troubles. But if we are to be true helpers one of another, it will be necessary for us to watch against the upgrowth of those jealousies and misunderstandings and prejudices that tend to divide us one from another. We should give more thought to our oneness in Christ, and less to our mutual peculiarities and infirmities.
II. We ought to provoke one another to love and good works.—This we may do by—
1. Our example of Christian living. That example should be no doubtful or uncertain witness. With sincerity we should be able to say, “Be ye followers of me, as I am of Christ.”
2. By our joy in meeting Christian obligations and fulfilling Christian duties. This has a most inspiring influence. Illustrate from
(1) attendance on means of grace;
(2) generosity and charity;
(3) Christian aggressive work.
3. By our anxiously using our opportunities for speaking to others. The living Christian should be doing the same work as the living word, which is given “for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for instruction which is in righteousness.” “Ye which are strong ought to bear the infirmities of the weak,” and help others into the spirit of “love” and the life of “good works.”
Pastor and People.—Attention may be fixed on the way in which the writer puts himself into his recommendations and counsels. “Let us consider one another.” He was not only a brother-Christian, he was a teacher, he may have been an apostle: he evidently had some personal office in relation to the Jewish Christian Churches, or some especial authority in them. Advice is never effectively given when the adviser in any sense holds himself aloof from the advice he gives. It is most effective when it is evident that the adviser applies the advice to himself. He carries us with him when he says we, not you. Here then pastor and people are called upon to “consider one another” and to “provoke one another.”
I. What can pastors do for the people?—The word “provoke” is generally used by us in a bad sense, but it need not be. It is a suitable word with which to describe a minister’s work, if we will take it aright. It means, “stir up; urge with all holy persuasions; do not let rest; keep on stirring up; never mind if there is resistance; keep on trying to get a gracious and good influence.”
1. Ministers may provoke by presenting inspiring examples. “Be thou an ensample to the flock.” The example should not be merely of truthfulness, integrity, purity, and “heavenly, Divine charity”: it should be a specifically Christly example of forbearance—“the servant of the Lord must not strive”; of gentleness; of meekness, in its nobler sense of “non-self-assertiveness”; of sympathy, which enables him to come helpfully near to all kinds of human sorrow. But we may not limit ministerial examples to Christly graces; the minister must be an ensample of Christly activity and energy. To deal with this fully would need an audience of ministers. Enough to say now, that a minister should be what he can make himself and what Christ can make him; but in actual fact he too often is only what the people make him, and then he is far down below what, in his moments of noble aspiration, he intensely longs to be. He would, when he is his truest self, provoke men by an inspiring example.
2. Ministers may “provoke” by wise and strong and spiritual teachings. Fearing that he had given offence to a leading member of his congregation by some very strong appeals which he had been led to make, a clergyman foolishly went to him to explain and apologise. The man was wiser than the minister, for he very quietly replied, saying, “My dear sir, it is a very poor sermon that does not hit somebody.” Smoothness and platitudes are helpless, hopeless, and injurious things. Men can go to sleep, and even die in their sins. A minister must so teach as to provoke. He must provoke men to think; provoke men to examine the beliefs which they are holding to-day for no other reason than that they have held them for years; provoke them to self-examinations, that they may see whether their spirit and their conduct are such as “becometh the gospel of Christ”; provoke them to see whether they are cherishing evil, untrustful, unforgiving feelings towards any others; provoke them to put away their sins and self-indulgences; provoke them to the renewal of their neglected religious duties. Christian teachings are not sweet, soft playings on a harp. They are not mild nothings of sentimental comfort. They are—they ought to be—clarion-calls to come forth to the “help of the Lord against the mighty,” who in these days are imperilling the Christian truth, the Christian righteousness, and the Christian charity. We want the holy provocations of a vigorous, searching, and strong ministry.
3. Ministers may provoke by spiritual quickenings. There is something required more than example, and more than teaching. It is the mysterious quickening influence of vigorous, healthy, refined, sensitive, spiritual life. Sometimes we use the term “mesmeric,” and we say of ministers that they have a strange mesmeric power over their congregations. Call it what we may, we all know what is meant, for we ourselves have come again and again into its power. High soul-life has quickened soul-life in us. Spiritual power has provoked the dying embers of our soul-life, and stirred them into a flame again. That supremely good work ministers may do for the people. They may, but only on conditions that are not easily realised.
4. And ministers may provoke by leading the people into new enterprises and good works. The initiative need not always come from the minister; but the leadership of the enterprise, when started, may properly come from him; and with wisdom, courage, and persistency he may help over early difficulties, and guide development along healthy lines.
II. What can the people do for their pastors?—“Provoke to love and good works.” Provoke in a good sense. Ministers are but human. They are as susceptible to kindly surroundings of trustfulness, to signs of sympathy and affection, as other people are; and they readily respond when sweet confidences and loving services tell how God is using them in culturing religious life and virtue. The spiritual life and power of ministers flag very readily, and they have always to set the counsel well in view, “Keep thy heart with all diligence, for out of it are the issues of life.” What then can the people do for their minister?
1. Trust him. He cannot always do what the people think to be wise; he often does not do what the people think he ought to do; and he is sure to say, if he really is a man of God and not a mere time-server, what the people think he ought not to say. Trust him. If he is in God’s lead and keeping, trust him. Depend upon it God’s truth and God’s honour are as precious to him as to any of his people.
2. Stand by him. A minister, in coming to preside over a people, commits his reputation, his ministerial reputation, to their charge, and they should be very jealous of it. Calumniators there may be; let them be outside his Church. The healthiest thing for a Church to do is to insist that it will discuss the teachings which the minister presents, but it will not discuss the minister. How wise the rebuke of the good man who, checking remarks at his table that tended to disparage the minister, calmly but firmly said, “He is our minister, and I never allow such remarks as these in my house.”
3. Pray for him. That is the truest and most blessed form of provocation. When persons get out of sympathy with their minister, they always cease to pray for him, or their prayer becomes a mere grumbling to God about him. That prayer-power is always at the command of a congregation, and a marvellous power it is to provoke pastors unto “love and good works.” And when they thus each provoke the other, what a noble life they can live together as pastor and people! what sacrificing services they can render together! Services then are times of refreshing. Christian work is done then with full consecration. “Let us consider one another to provoke unto love and good works.” Let us use our power of mutual provocation.
Hebrews 10:25. The Duty of the House of God.—“Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together.” We have all been surprised to find that our Christian brethren have passed through our experience, have felt our feelings, have battled with our difficulties, and have won the rest which we have gained, by the very means which we had employed. As soon as we know the heart-story of our brethren, we find in how large a measure it is true that “no temptation has taken us but such as is common to man.” And the idea we have of the singularity of our own experience we are disposed to transfer to the Church itself. Men say that there never has been such a period in the Church’s history as the present. It has never been surrounded with the same evils and temptations, or been marked by the same peculiarities. But the truth is, that there is no temptation that has taken the Churches of to-day but such as is common to Churches. In the early days of first love and zeal, the Christian teachers had to deal with a difficulty which sorely troubles the Church of to-day. Men were neglecting the “assembling of themselves together.”
I. Religion is a personal thing, an individual thing, a spiritual thing.—A personal thing—each man must attend to it himself. An individual thing—no man can lose himself in a crowd of seekers; he must stand alone before God, and carry his sin-burden alone to Christ. A spiritual thing—mere association with services and ceremonies cannot secure it; it belongs to a man’s heart, not his hands or his head or his tongue. The best things are liable to abuse. Divine truths suffer, in practically working them out, through our infirmities. We are always too ready to exalt one truth above another, one form of duty at the expense of another. Some make too much of the individuality and personality of religion, and because they are growing all by themselves, are growing long and thin and pale and weak, as many “only children” do growing up all by themselves in homes. A man set by himself to nourish his own religion can never reach the highest stages of Christian life and experience. There is, indeed, a long roll of saintly men and women who, in hermit cells and in monastic and conventual seclusion, have sought holiness, but their lives have always fallen short of the Christian ideal. There are Christian virtues which never can be nourished in this way. All that part of Christian character which relates to the unselfish demands association with others. If a Christian is to be in health, he must not only breathe Christian feeling and feed on Christian truth, he must also feel the power of daily contact with those who are conscious of the same sins, glory in the same Saviour, and labour to win the same holiness. Upon Christian associations, in worship and in work, the culture of a high, worthy, Christian life depends.
II. The religion of Jesus Christ makes plain demand on us not only to nourish our own life, but also to interest ourselves in the Christian life of others.—The Christian spirit in us urges us to care for others, that
(1) they should begin the godly life, and
(2) that they should walk worthy of their vocation. We are gathered up together as redeemed sons of God, children together of the one Father, heirs together of the same infinite inheritance; and there is properly expected from us a family, a brotherly, interest in each other. In the early days of the Church all who had truly learned of Christ consecrated themselves to works of charity and mercy: they relieved the sick and afflicted; they instructed in Christian truth; they preached in order that, if possible, all men might be saved. Our Lord left us an example. In His life the most prominent thing is care for others, self-sacrifice in the effort to bless others. He is never seeking to get pleasure; He is always trying to give pleasure. And He gets the truest and best pleasure in the giving. The first natural cry of a renewed soul is for some one with whom to talk about the new emotions. We cannot be glad, as Christians, without wanting somebody to stand beside us, and join their voice to our psalm of thanksgiving. We cannot pray, but we want some one to kneel beside us, and utter their heart out along with ours in fervent wrestlings and supplications. We cannot listen to the preached word with profit unless others sit beside us, and the dews of Divine truth are refreshing also the soil of their hearts. Plants and trees never do well unless they grow together. It is a pilgrim path we have to tread, but the pilgrims may walk together. The spirit of sin is the spirit of separation. Sin makes men walk in lonely paths, thinking their own thoughts, wrestling with their own doubts. If it were not the spirit of sin, we might say it was the spirit of the age in which we live. The selfishness of modern business competition is opposed to that generous thoughtfulness of others which properly distinguishes the Christian. The world would cut off every tie that binds us to others. Christ would make every tie hold more closely.
III. Our modes of assembling together are practically fitted to accomplish both these ends—to strengthen and develope our own religious life, and to exhibit and express our interest in the religious life of others.—Our text evidently puts our “assembling together” as a means of “provoking one another to love and good works”; and that is the only kind of “provoking” Christians ever should do. Our modes of assembling are mainly of three kinds:
1. We assemble together for purposes of Christian fellowship.
2. We assemble together for purposes of worship and instruction.
3. And we assemble together to remember our Lord’s death, with the help of His appointed emblems. We need all these kinds of meetings. We need all for the full development of our own life. We need all for the adequate expression of our consideration for others.
The Day approaching.—Christians ought to observe the signs of the times, such as God has foretold. There was a day approaching, a terrible day, to the Jewish nation, when their city should be destroyed, and the body of the people rejected of God for rejecting Christ. This would be a day of dispersion and temptation to the chosen remnant. Now the apostle puts them upon observing what signs there were of the approach of such a terrible day, and upon being the more constant in meeting together and exhorting one another, that they might be the better prepared for such a day. There is a trying day coming on us all, the day of our death, and we should observe all the signs of its approaching, and improve them to greater watchfulness and diligence in duty.—Matthew Henry.
CRITICAL AND EXEGETICAL NOTES
Hebrews 10:26. Sin wilfully.—Such sins contrast with sins of ignorance, frailty, and error. Involving the will, they put men outside the influence of remedial or recovering agencies. No more sacrifice for sins.—Lit. “no sacrifice for sins is any longer left to them.” They wilfully reject that, and there is no other for them. It is distinctly assumed that the man keeps in this wilful mind. If he comes to a better mind, he comes within the range of the sacrifice that has been provided. “The writer does not say that they have exhausted the infinite mercy of God, nor can we justly assert that he held such a conclusion; he only says that they have, so long as they continue in such a state, put themselves out of God’s covenant, and that there are no other covenanted means of grace.”
Hebrews 10:27. Fiery indignation.—R.V. “a certain fearful expectation of judgment, and a fierceness of fire.” Lit. “a jealousy of fire.” The Hebrew suggests “vehement displeasure.” Compare Hebrews 12:29; Psalms 79:5. Devour the adversaries.—Not sinners generally, but specifically the impenitent Jews and the wilful apostates from the Christian faith, “All who oppose themselves to the character, claims, and kingdom of Christ.” Farrar’s hint concerning the limitation of this threatening deserves careful consideration: “It is at least doubtful whether the writer meant to imply anything beyond that prophecy of doom to the heirs of the old covenant which was fulfilled a few years later, when the fire of God’s wrath consumed the whole system of a Judaism which had rejected its own Messiah.”
Hebrews 10:29. Punishment.—Here the word used (τιμωρίας) means “vengeance,” or “retribution.” “Vindictive punishment can only be attributed to God by the figure of speech known as anthropopathy, i.e. the representation of God by metaphors drawn from human passions.” Trodden underfoot.—A strong figure taken from our way of treating a thing that we despise. Blood of the covenant.—See Hebrews 13:20. Done despite unto.—Openly insulted; ἐνυβρίσας, only here in New Testament; treating with spite, malignity, or contempt. Spirit of grace.—The Spirit who bestows grace, i.e. gospel favours and privileges. It is not, however, quite clear that the Holy Ghost is referred to.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Hebrews 10:26-31
The Judgment of the Wilful.—If others remind the Jewish Christians of the authority, inspiration, and value of the Mosaic ceremonial system, this writer will remind them of the solemn sanctions of that system. If he has proved to them that the dispensation of which Christ is the head is in every way superior, it follows that the sanctions will be found altogether more searching and severe.
I. The sanctions of the Jewish dispensation (Hebrews 10:28).—Moses’ law was most considerate and merciful in dealing with sins of frailty, lapses through inadvertence, weakness, and ignorance. Its rites and ceremonies provided for all kinds of sin arising out of human infirmities. Its severity is often dwelt on; its mercifulness is far more remarkable than its severity. But for wilful sin based on knowledge that what was done was sin it had no sacrifice. Let it be fully proved by witnesses that a man has wilfully done what he knew to be sin, and then he is recognised as a man who has set at nought Moses’ law, and he must die without compassion. Every care must, however, be taken to ensure that the man’s wrong was persistently wilful, and that it was intelligently wilful, being based on knowledge. It is necessary to press this point very closely, because upon it the comparison of this paragraph depends.
II. The sanctions of the spiritual dispensation.—Merciful in all matters of frailty, it also is severe, with a yet intenser severity, in all matters of wilfulness upon and after knowledge and experience. Lapses or slidings from the faith in Christ are not dealt with here, but wilful departures from the faith after having confessed it. Apostasy which implies resolute wilfulness is here indicated. “If we sin wilfully, after that we have received the knowledge of the truth.” In the passage four things are presented for our consideration:
1. The true significance of such wilful apostasy. It might seem only giving up one particular phase of religion, and falling back upon an older. It might be represented as a loosening of hold on the uncertain, and gripping tight that which had been the confidence of men through long ages. But all such representations only obscured the solemn truth, and confirmed men in their wrong-doing. See the wilful departure from Christ aright, and it has a most terrible threefold significance, which the writer does indeed present in the line of Old Testament figures and associations, but which readily impress their solemnity on every heart. It really is such an insult to Christ, as
(1) would be involved in treading underfoot the Son of God. It is such an awful meanness as
(2) counting the blood of the covenant, by which the man was sealed over to Christ for ever, a thing to be lightly trifled with—an unholy thing. It is even
(3) doing despite unto the Spirit of grace. In the common associations of men it is thought an insulting thing for a man to throw up his membership. What must it be to apostatise from Christ, after a man has professed to have obtained through Him eternal salvation?
2. The hoplessness of such apostasy regarded as a moral condition. For it should be clearly seen that no merely intellectual doubting is here dealt with. The apostasy is a settled feeling of the heart, and a resolute determination of the will. It is a hopeless moral state, which may find expression in a specific act. It is hopeless because it is immoral. The bringing of further proofs may persuade the intellect; but if the sacrifice of Christ has made its persuasions of the heart and the will, and then that persuasion is put away, refused, and resisted, it is plain that that sacrifice can no longer be used as persuasion; and there is no other, no higher moral force that can be exerted upon the man; and so his case has become necessarily a hopeless one—unshielded the man stands exposed to the full blasts of the Divine indignation. “There remaineth no more a sacrifice for sin, but a certain fearful expectation of judgment, and a fierceness of fire which shall devour the adversaries.”
3. The punishment of such apostasy which is inevitable. He who ventures outside the shelter stands exposed to the storm. Figures alone, such as that of fire, can convey to human minds fitting ideas of Divine indignation and wrath. All punishment is necessarily relative to the being punished; and we have to realise what punishment of a spiritual being, such as man is, may possibly be. Scripture uses two words, both of which are of awful significance—“eternal punishment,” and “eternal death.”
4. The warning which the possibility of such apostasy should prove to those who are exposed to malign influences and subtle temptations. Take heed lest you yield even a step; it may be putting your foot upon a slide, and before you are aware you may have drifted away. See how “fearful a thing it is to fall into the hands of the living God,” as you must if you are found outside that shelter and resting-place which you have in Christ. Hold fast your profession. Help one another to hold fast. For Christ’s sake, for your own sake, for each other’s sake, hold fast.
Note on “sinning wilfully.”—The word “wilfully” stands in contrast with sins of weakness, ignorance, and error. If the writer meant to say that, after the commission of heinous and wilful sins, “there remaineth no more sacrifice for sins,” this would not only be the most terrible passage in Scripture, but would do away with the very object of redemption, and the possibility of any forgiveness of sins. It would, as Kurtz says, “be in its consequences truly subversive and destructive of the whole Christian soteriology.” But the meaning rather is, “if we are willing sinners,” “if we are in a state of deliberate and voluntary defiance to the will of God.” He is alluding not only to those sins which the Jews described as being committed presumptuously “with uplifted hand” (Numbers 15:30; Psalms 19:13—see Hebrews 6:4-8, Hebrews 12:16-17), but to the deliberate continuity of such sins as a self-chosen law of life; as, for instance, when a man has closed against himself the door of repentance, and said, “Evil, be thou my good.” Such a state is glanced at in 2 Peter 2:20; Matthew 12:43-45.—Farrar.
SUGGESTIVE NOTES AND SERMON SKETCHES
Hebrews 10:26. No other Sacrifice.—There remaineth no longer a sacrifice for sins, so far as they are concerned, because that offering of Jesus which they deliberately reject has abolished all the earlier sacrifices. The observances and ceremonies of Judaism, which had been full of meaning while they pointed to Him that was to come, have lost all their virtue through His coming. Nay more, for such sin as this, the sin of knowing and wilful rejection of the only Sin-offering, God has provided no other sacrifice.—Dr. Moulton.
Apostasy is Perdition.—If you make defection from Christianity, and renounce your hope and trust in the atoning sacrifice of Christ, no other is provided, or can be provided, for you—no other makes real atonement for sin; this being renounced, therefore, your case is desperate. The sacrifice under the new covenant is never, like the Jewish offerings, to be repeated. Apostasy from your present religion, then, is final perdition.—Moses Stuart.
No Sacrifice for Some Sins.—There were some sins under the law for which no sacrifices were provided; but yet if those who committed them did truly repent, though they might not escape temporal death, they might escape eternal destruction; for Christ would come, and make atonement.—Matthew Henry.
Only One Atoning Sacrifice.—They have rejected the work of Christ, and it cannot be done for them over again. There is one atoning sacrifice, and that they have repudiated. He does not say that they have exhausted the infinite mercy of God, nor can we justly assert that he held such a conclusion; he only says that they have, so long as they continue in such a state, put themselves out of God’s covenant, and that there are no other covenanted means of grace. For they have trampled underfoot the offer of mercy in Christ, and there is nosalvation in any other (Acts 4:12).—Farrar.
Falling from Grace.—He only who stands high can fall low. A lively reference in the soul to what is good is necessary, in order to be thoroughly wicked; hence man can be more reprobate than the beasts, and the apostate angels than apostate man.—Tholuck.
Hebrews 10:30. God the Hater of Sin.—God stands between the right and the wrong, not looking pleasant on the one and equally pleasant on the other; not looking as the sun looks, with a benignant face on the evil and on the good; and not as man looks, with only a less benignant face upon the evil. He stands with all the fervour of His infinite love and all the majesty of His unlimited power,—approving good, and legislating for it on the one side; and disapproving evil, and abhorring it, and legislating it down to the dust, and beneath the dust, into infamy and eternal penalty on the other side. And if there be one truth that speaks throughout the Bible like the voice of God, and resounds with all the grandeur of Divine intonation, it is the truth that God does not look with an equal eye upon the evil and the good, that He is a discriminator of character, a lover of that which is right, and a hater of that which is wrong.—H. Ward Beecher.
Vengeance.—To our minds this word conveys a meaning which makes it unsuitable for application to God. It is hardly possible for us to separate personal feeling, and unrestrained passion, from it. The Bible idea of the term is best understood by thinking of the family goël, avenger, or as it is in Numbers 35:0, revenger of blood. That family revenger took vengeance; he was bound to take vengeance; but he imported no personal feeling into his vindication of outraged family sanctities. Vengeance was the solemn duty of his position, office, and relation. With such an association we may rightly conceive of vengeance as applied to God.
ILLUSTRATIONS TO CHAPTER 10
Hebrews 10:27. Fear of the Judgment.—Jerome used to say, that it seemed to him as if the trumpet of the last day was always sounding in his ear, saying, “Arise, ye dead, and come to judgment.” The generality, however, think but little of this awful and important period. A Christian king of Hungary being very sad and pensive, his brother, who was a gay courtier, was desirous of knowing the cause of his sadness. “Oh, brother,” said the king, “I have been a great sinner against God, and know not how to die, or how to appear before God in judgment.” His brother, making a jest of it, said, “These are but melancholy thoughts.” The king made no reply; but it was the custom of the country, that if the executioner came and sounded a trumpet before any man’s door, he was presently led to execution. The king, in the dead of the night, sent the executioner to sound the trumpet before his brother’s door; who, hearing it, and seeing the messenger of death, sprang into the king’s presence, beseeching to know in what he had offended. “Alas! brother,” said the king, “you have never offended me. And is the sight of my executioner so dreadful? and shall not I, who have greatly offended, fear to be brought before the judgment-seat of Christ?”
CRITICAL AND EXEGETICAL NOTES
Hebrews 10:32. Illuminated.—Enlightened, by the preaching of the Christian truth. (Compare 2 Corinthians 4:6; 1 Peter 2:9.) At a later period the word φωτισθέντες became a synonym for “to baptise.”
Hebrews 10:33. Gazing-stock.—Lit. “as one set on a theatrical stage.”
Hebrews 10:34. In heaven.—An incorrect reading. R.V. has, “knowing that ye yourselves have a better possession and an abiding one.” Moulton thinks the translation should be, “perceiving that ye have your own selves for a better possession and one that abideth.” “He points them to the tranquil self-possession of a holy heart, the acquisition of our own souls, as a sufficient present consolation for the loss of earthly goods, independently of the illimitable future hope.”
Hebrews 10:38. The just shall live by faith.—A much-disputed sentence. In some manuscripts the word μου is found, which alters the idea of the clause. ὁ δὲ δίκαιός μου ἐκ πίστεως ζήσεται, would mean, “But My righteous one shall live by faith.” In the Hebrew of Habakkuk the word “faith” means “faithfulness” or “fidelity”; and that is probably the writer’s meaning here. He is commending steadfastness as opposed to defection from the faith. “But the thought of faithful constancy to God is inseparably connected with trustful clinging to Him.” A man lives indeed if he is faithful.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Hebrews 10:32-39
The Inspiration of Experience.—To have had the experience of the joys of salvation may increase our judgment if we fail, but it also increases our stability if we “hold fast.” There are times in life when looking back upon religious experiences that we have had in the past has a distinctly weakening influence on our religious life, making us morbid and depressed. But there are other times when such reviewing of the past is inspirational. We convince ourselves of the reality and power of our religion by remembering what it was to us in the beginning of our career, and what it has been again and again to us in the strain-times of life. The writer here thinks that reminding the Jewish Christians of their new-found joy, of their new-found faith in Christ, will materially help them to “hold fast the confession of their faith, that it waver not.” His plea is this: “You have withstood severe suffering and persecution for Christ’s sake. You did not fail then, and why should you suffer yourselves to fail now?”
I. The former experiences.—The persecutions which arose about Stephen, in the very first months of the Christian history, scattered the first Jewish Christian Church, and brought persecutions on the members, which are indicated by the activity, energy, and unscrupulousness of Saul of Tarsus. It involved personal sufferings, open insults and reproaches, loss of property and work. And some of those to whom this epistle was addressed had actually come through all these bitter experiences, and had come through them well, “holding fast.” “Ye endured a great fight of afflictions.” The first flush of faith, and the glow and enthusiasm of first love, no doubt helped them very greatly over their difficulties then; but lengthened experience and settled principles ought to give them even a fuller power to withstand now. They should be far better able to stand a strain than they were in those days when they were first “enlightened.” But let them not forget that they had passed through this experience. It had been proved that they could hold their Christian faith through times of temptation, strain, and persecution.
II. The new afflictions.—They were sufficiently like the old to make their former experience avail. They were sufficiently unlike the old to make a special demand for watchfulness. Persecutions were renewed, and they could but take many of the old forms; but the special peril of the hour was the enticement of subtle persuasions to fall back upon the older Jewish faith, the faith of their childhood. These persuasions came from those in close association with them, and became very serious trials of their faith.
III. The conditions of renewing the old victory of steadfastness.—
1. The spirit of Christian endurance.
2. The realisation that, in having Christ, they had in themselves a “better possession” than could be taken away from them by any persecutions.
3. A holy boldness that would enable them to set a firm front against every foe, that would enable them to resist evil influence by attacking the evil.
4. The patience which could rise into persistency, be determined to know the will of God, and to stand by it.
IV. The reward of those who finally overcome.—“They receive the promise.”
1. They are in a state of readiness for the Lord’s coming.
2. They realise the true life now, in keeping their faith, and living the life of faith.
3. They are conscious of the acceptance and favour of God, who finds “His pleasure in them.”
4. They receive the full salvation of the soul—its emancipation from all bodily limitations, and full unfolding into the image of the risen and glorified Son of God. The mention of the life of faith, the life ruled and toned by a steadfast faith in God, prepares the way for the striking series of illustrations of the power of faith in life which are given in the next chapter.
SUGGESTIVE NOTES AND SERMON SKETCHES
Hebrews 10:32. Admonished by the Past.—“But call to remembrance the former days.” At different times and in various moods of mind we find ourselves variously impressed by the sameness, or by the diversity, of our human experiences. It may be true to say that, strictly, a past experience is never repeated; for if the thing that happens is the same, the attendant circumstances and conditions are not the same, and our personal states, in relation to the thing, are not the same. It is with examples taken from our own past as it is with the examples offered us in the blessed human life of our Divine Lord; we can copy neither in any minute detail. But we are not therefore shut off from following the example of our Divine Lord, nor are we prevented from being duly admonished and aided by our own past experiences. What we require to see is that all things enshrine principles, express principles in some one direction and with some precise limitation. We remember the thing, the incident, the conflict, the success or failure, for the sake of the principle which found expression in it, and may gain a new application to our new scenes and difficulties. There is a sense in which man can only progress by forgetfulness of the past—“leaving the things that are behind.” “Let the dead past bury its dead.” It is at once the mission and the weakness of the aged, their keeping us in touch with the past. But it is equally true that nothing is ever safely built up—no truth, no character, no human life, nothing moral—save on the foundations of the past. It is the young man’s mission and weakness that he imagines things are new, and wants everything to be independent of everything else. The point in relation to the past specially presented in this text is, that former experiences have put good principles, right motives, and good inspirations to the test—perhaps to a severer test than they are ever likely to be subjected to again. They stood the test; they stood the test well: then you may safely trust those principles, motives, and inspirations in view of new emergencies.
Hebrews 10:35-36. The Need of Patience.—Patience is the ballast of the soul, that will keep it from rolling and tumbling in the greatest storms; and he that will venture out without this to make him sail even and steady will certainly make shipwreck and drown himself, first in the cares and sorrows of this world, and then in perdition.—Hopkins.
Christian Patience.—Results are slowly produced in the natural, the moral, and the spiritual worlds. Men who only gaze upon work, and have not to do it, are often impatient. Some of the early Christians were in danger even of apostasy through the want of patience amid the trials which they had to endure.
I. The need which there is of patience in Christian life and work.—There are difficulties connected with our life and work common to all times.
1. The difficulty of fully understanding the gospel ourselves, and of making it understood by others.
2. The moral difficulties we have to encounter are even greater than the intellectual.
3. We need patience on account of the opposition which we have to encounter.
4. On account of the deep obscurity in which we labour—obscurity applying to the results of our labour as well as to its design.
5. And on account of delay in the fulfilment of God’s promises.
II. The root from which patience will spring—confidence or faith.—The man who has no faith in the soil will not plough it; the man who has no faith in the seed will not sow it; and the man who has no faith in the return of the seasons will neither plough nor sow. So it is in spiritual things.
III. The reward with which patience shall at length be crowned.—It hath “great recompence of reward.” Ye shall “receive the promise.”—Absalom Clark.
The Promises call for Patience.—The greatest part of the saints’ happiness is in promise. They must first do the will of God before they receive the promise, and after they have done the will of God they have need of patience to wait for the time when the promise shall be fulfilled; they have need of patience to live till God calls them away. It is a trial of the patience of Christians to be content to live after their work is done, and to stay for the reward till God’s time to give it them is come. We must be God’s waiting servants when we can be no longer His working servants.—Matthew Henry.
Hebrews 10:36. The Expectation of Future Blessedness.—Whereas we have here the expression of “receiving the promise,” it is plain the promise must be understood objectively—that is, that transcendent good that was promised; namely, that principally wherein all the promises do finally and lastly centre: which it is plain the apostle here most especially intends, as being eminently called “the promise.”
I. The business of a sincere Christian in this world is to be doing the will of God.—By the will of God we are to understand the object of His will, or that which He wills—namely, the thing willed. Our duty willed by Him and not mere events, that must be understood to be the object of this will. Of this every sincere Christian must be the active instrument: it is the business of a devoted person, one given up to God in Christ. Such only are in an immediate capacity or promptitude to do the will of God intentionally and with their own design, though it be the undoubted duty of all who are naturally capable thereof.
II. Patience, in the expectation of the blessedness of the heavenly estate, is very needful to every sincere and thorough Christian.—Give some account of this patience. The natural constitution of the human soul disposeth it equally to covet and pursue a desirable good as to regret and shun a hurtful evil. The want of such a desirable and suitable good, understood to be so, is as truly afflicting and grievous as the pressure of a present evil. An ability to bear that want is as real and needful an endowment as the fortitude by which we endure a painful evil. Therefore it equally belongs to patience to be exercised in the one case as well as in the other. What does patience suppose, as it hath its exercise this way, viz. in the expectation of future blessedness?
(1) That blessedness, truly so called, be actually understood and apprehended by the expectants as a real and most desirable good to them.
(2) That the delay and deferring of this blessedness must be an afflicting and felt grievance: otherwise patience can have no place or exercise about it. Wherein does patience consist? It is “an ability becomingly to endure.” But its reference to God must be maintained. And this reference must be to Him as to the Author of it and the object of it. Patience is not only a rational temperament, it is also a gratuitous donation, a gift of the good Spirit of God. God is said to be “the God of patience.” A deference of His holy pleasure in ordering the occasions of such exercise is carried in the notion of it. It hath in it submission to the will of God. Consider patience in its peculiar effect—the “work of patience.” It gives a man a mastery and conquest over all undue and disorderly passions. It fixes the soul in a composed serenity; creates it a region of sedate and peaceful rest; infers into it a silent calm; allays or prevents all turbulent agitations; excludes whatsoever of noisy clamour; permits no tumults, no storm or tempest, within,—whatsoever of that kind, in this our expecting state, may beset a man from without. Christ said, “In your patience possess ye your souls.” If you have not patience, you are outed of yourselves; you are no longer masters of your own souls; can have no enjoyment of yourselves; and, therefore, are much less to expect a satisfying enjoyment of Him. The temper of spirit it introduces is a dutiful silence. In reference to the delay of the blessedness we expect, we ought not to be without sense, as if it were no grievance. And we ought not to have an excessive sense of it which were peevishness or impatience.
III. The necessity of patience arises from a consideration of the principles from whence the necessity arises, and the ends which it is necessary unto.—The principles are such as these: faith of the unseen state; hope; love; holiness, which includes hatred of the opposite—sin; and a tendency to the improving and heightening itself. Where there is an inchoate holiness, there cannot but be a tendency unto consummate perfect holiness. As holiness includes conformity to the preceptive will of God, so it doth to His disposing will being made known. Therefore when we understand it to be His pleasure we should wait, the holy nature itself, which prompts us so earnestly to desire the perfection of our state, must also incline us patiently to expect it. The sovereign and supreme principle is the blessed Spirit of God Himself. He begets, raises, and cherisheth such desires after the blessedness of the heavenly state as makes this patience most absolutely necessary. Consider the ends which patience serves. The nearer and more immediate—“our doing the will of God”; the remoter and ultimate—“our inheriting the promise.” Patience conduces to our doing God’s will. Not that it is the proper principle of doing it—active vigour is that; yet the concomitancy of patience is requisite thereto. Two things God doth ordinarily will concerning the way wherein He conducts and leads on those that peculiarly belong to Him to the blessed end and consummate state He designs them to, the one whereof is also requisite to the other:
1. Their gradual growth and improvement in holiness and all dutiful dispositions towards Him, till they come nearer to maturity for glory, and a meetness for the heavenly state.
2. Their maintaining an intercourse with Himself in order thereto.—John Howe.
Hebrews 10:38. Drawing Back.—As the fig tree began to wither so his gifts began to paire, as if a worm was still gnawing at them; his judgment rusts like a sword which is not used; his zeal trembleth as though it were in a palsy; his faith withereth as though it were blasted; and the image of death is upon all his religion. After this he thinketh, like Samson, to pray as he did, and speak as he did, and hath no power, but wondereth, like Zedekiah, how the Spirit is gone from him. Now when the good Spirit is gone, then cometh the spirit of blindness, and the spirit of error, and the spirit of fear, and all to seduce the spirit of man. After this, by little and little, he falls into error, then he comes into heresy; at last he plungeth into despair: after this, if he inquire, God will not suffer him to learn; if he read, God will not suffer him to understand; if he hear, God will not suffer him to remember; if he pray, God seemeth unto him like Baal, which could not hear. At last he beholdeth his wretchedness, as Adam looked upon his nakedness; and mourneth for his gifts, as Rachel wept for her children, because they were not. All this cometh to pass that the Scripture might be fulfilled: “Whosoever hath not, from him shall be taken that which he seemeth to have.”—H. Smith.
Hebrews 10:39. Shrinking Back and Keeping On.—“But we are not of them that shrink back unto perdition; but of them that have faith unto the saving of the soul.” There is no more difficult work given to Christian teachers to do than to “reprove, rebuke, exhort, with all long-suffering and gentleness.” It is easy work, there is a certain personal gratification found in the work, of denouncing and condemning. The denouncer has a pleasant consciousness of moral superiority; but a man must have himself in noble restraint, and go well out of himself in pitiful interest in others, before he can rebuke wisely and effectively, and put compassion and Christly sympathy into his reproofs. The writer of this epistle had a very serious work of warning to do. It so thoroughly possessed him that it comes out into varied expression at every opportunity. It is like the ever-recurring refrain of a song or a piece of music. And he seemed himself to get almost weary of it, and to fear that it would be unduly wearying and depressing to those whom he addressed. So in this passage he tries hard to get into another mood, and to write trustingly and hopefully. The mood of our text is a cheerful one, but the cheerfulness is only gained through a struggle. The writer has evidently been greatly distressed by failures from the Christian profession. He has almost overwhelming impressions of the perils to which Christian professors were exposed in his days, more especially Christian professors who had come out of Jewish associations. He has every confidence and satisfaction in the sincerity and stability of those to whom he wrote, and yet he felt that he must warn them carefully, for a spirit of self-security might creep in upon them, and then the temptations, false teachings, and imperilling influences and associations would have every chance with them; for “let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall.” The writer’s confidence in the people was partly based on the fact that he and they had already passed through a very bitter experience together, and they had acted nobly all through it, and come out nobly from it. He knew therefore how they could “stand fast in the Lord.” He bids them “call to remembrance the former days, in which, after ye were enlightened, ye endured a great conflict of sufferings; partly, being made a gazing-stock both by reproaches and afflictions; and partly, becoming partakers with them that were so used. For ye both had compassion on them that were in bonds, and took joyfully the spoiling of your possessions, knowing that ye yourselves have a better possession and an abiding one.” It may be asked, If they had shown themselves so noble, why should their teacher have any such grave anxieties concerning them, and address such careful warnings to them? The answer is twofold:
1. In the very fact of their coming so well out of one time of strain lay a peril of unwatchfulness, and unpreparedness to meet a fresh time of strain. An army is never in such peril as in the hours succeeding a victory. A man is placed in the gravest moral peril immediately after he has gained a great moral success. It is so easy for a man to delude himself with the idea that one success guarantees continuous success; so easy to argue, “I have stood, therefore I shall stand”; so easy to fail to realise that life is a continuous moral battle, a series of surprises; our moral foes are skilful in assuming various devices, and the successes of our past form no guarantee whatever for triumph in the future, even our experiences but feebly preparing us for the strain-times that are before us. Froude reminds us that experience is like the stern-light of a ship, it does but cast its rays upon the way that has been taken. To moral victors the counsel must be given, “Be not high-minded, but fear.
2. But the other answer is this—The new peril to which they were exposed bore an altogether new character, and they might not be prepared for it. Their early experience had been one of active persecution. The government and society of the day had been arrayed against them. Some of them had been cast into prison, many of them had been despoiled of their goods, their characters had been maligned, and they had been hated of all men for Christ’s name’s sake. And such times of outward persecution and material peril have passed again and again over Christ’s Church. They are the times of which the most can be made in history, but they are not the times that bring the gravest peril to the spiritual life of the Church. That life has always survived its martyr ages. If there is a seeming exception to that “always,” it is found in the driving of evangelical religion out of France for generations by the persecutions which culminated in Black Bartholomew’s Day. But even in France evangelical religion did but hide its head awhile, waiting its opportunity to lift it high again in the latter days. The experiences of persecuting ages never fit men to meet all the forms of peril in which the Christian life may be placed, and they do us some injury if they start in us the impression that all strain upon the religious profession will take this outward form. These Jewish Christians would fail to see the new forms that temptation was taking, if they persisted in thinking that all temptation would follow the pattern of that which they had already gone through and overcome. The evils around them now were of a subtle character. They came even from the fact that they were not persecuted. They came from that easy-going spirit which comes when there is no evident call to watchfulness and enterprise. They came from their ability to put their Christian weapons aside on the shelf; they were losing the power to use them skilfully, and were disinclined to take them down when any foe appeared. And they came in the opportunity the leisure afforded for the influence of enervating and false teachings, and for the attraction of pleasurable but demoralising self-indulgences. When the sky is clear, the air dry, the sunshine warm, the atmosphere genial, the trees budding, and the flowers opening freely, when there is no warning of storm, and no mutter of distant war, then subtle pestilence may be stalking abroad, and secretly imperilling life and health. The Church has lost most in its times of apparent security. It has been drawn back rather than driven back. The ship will sail the great Southern Seas, safely outriding the great gales, and, if bruised, still sound, when it has been smitten with the lightnings, tossed with the tempests, and helplessly driven before the hurricanes; and then it will come out into smooth seas, and the blue shall reach from rim to rim, no more than a gentle breeze shall play upon the waters, and it shall feel restfully, peacefully, unwatchfully secure. But almost out of sight is yonder island, with its coral reef, over which the waves dash violently. That island is a source of new, unknown, subtle and well-nigh overwhelming danger to the ship. It has a strange attractive power upon the under-waters. Towards the reef the currents are setting, and they may seize the ship, and bear her secretly on, until at last, no hurried turning of the helm, no desperate hanging out of every yard of sail that the ship can carry, will save her; on, on she is borne, till they can hear the wild lashing of the waves upon the coral rocks, and soon the ship is crashed upon them, drawn back, and crashed again upon them, until the fragments of a hopeless wreck are borne over the reef to tell their tale of woe. Well, indeed, may we be warned of the perils that belong to quiet times of religious experience. Then—yes, then more especially—there be many that shrink back to perdition. We may well thank our Bible Revisers for that very suggestive term “shrink back.” They seem to have caught the writer’s idea precisely. He evidently fears chiefly a spirit of religious sluggishness, donothingness, listlessness. He had the same kind of fear about his people that St. Paul had about Timothy. That quiet, studious, weakly-bodied young man was inclined to take things too easily, to let things go rather than battle with them. And this brought grave fears for him to his father in Christ; so he sent him this arousing message, “Endure hardness, as a good soldier of Jesus Christ.” And what this writer fears is not a determinedly going back from the faith of Christ, not an open and resolute apostatising, nothing disgraceful like the forsaking of Demas, or the violent enmity of Julian; but a drifting away, a shrinking back, a silent action of the current of worldliness, or a current of false teaching, which would take all the inspiration and sanctifying impulse out of the Christian faith, until the Church would but keep its name to live, and be dead. His point may be simply illustrated by the fish in a rapid stream. So long as they actively swim, let their life go out in energetic efforts, they can go up the stream, advance against the current. But peril lies in sluggishness. Cease to swim, and silent, ever-working forces act upon the fish; he shrinks back, he is borne downward, though he may think he keeps his place; presently he will feel the power of the downward swirl; it will be beyond his power of resistance, and over the great fall he is borne. It is thus with the Christian. He need only do nothing to “shrink back unto perdition.” Relative to the Christian life, we must accept of the world as a force, like a descending stream, ever bearing us downward. In the stream of the world we have to be, we must be. Against the stream we have to swim if we would reach the restful lake of the holy ones. Against the stream, always against the stream, day and night against the stream—that is how it must be with us. Relax one moment, the current seizes you, and ere you know it you have shrunk back a little way. Get into a listless, careless way in the religious life, and it is inevitable that downward you go. Perhaps you will even be so fascinated at first that you will quite enjoy the rest from toil and strain, and find all around so pleasant that you feel sure the end must be like the way. But what an awful delusion all that is! See which way are you moving? The lake of holiness and God is not that way. You are “shrinking back,” you are going down, the rapids are that way, the frightful fall is that way, the whelming waters are that way. Shrinking back is always “unto perdition.” There are two ways of living the Christian life. There is “keeping on,” and there is “letting go.” The “keeping on” folk are they who have faith (and let it inspire activity and effort) unto the saving of the soul. The “letting go” folk, who make no effort to follow on and keep up, are they who “shrink back unto perdition.” Would you be “keeping on”? Then you must mean to keep on, plan to keep on, master yourself, and master your circumstances, in order to keep on. Keeping on is never a matter of accident, it is always a matter of thought and effort. Keeping on the whir and whirl of machinery means persistent toil in renewing the fires, and replenishing the boilers. Would you be “letting go”? Then no resolve whatever is needed, you are required to make no effort, you simply need do nothing: cease to keep on, stop, and you will surely drift. You can only keep up to a level reached by persistently striving to reach a level beyond. The law of the garden is the law of the soul. Toil, weed, watch, culture, plant, put energy into it, wisely directed, well-adapted energy into it, and the garden will be an ever-increasing joy to you. But stop, be careless, leave it alone, cease to work at it—that is all you need do—do nothing—it will soon be overgrown with weeds, a ruin and a disgrace. Toil, strive, watch, be active, enterprising, energetic, in the religious life, and beauty, power, joy, will abundantly respond to you. Let things go, let duty be done perfunctorily, and worship become formality; rest upon a past experience; want nothing higher or better; get through a religious life somehow, anyhow, with a wretched sort of lifeless hope that somehow all will come out right at last,—you can picture that soul-garden; you do not need that I should picture it for you. It is evidently “shrinking back unto perdition.” The cultured place is fast becoming a wilderness. In the religious life there is one absolute and universal law always working: “Strive, and you shall live”; “Cease to strive, and you shall die.” Let the oars lie still on the rapid stream of life—the oars of your soul’s boat—you need do nothing more, the stream of life will do its fatal work only too surely—“you will shrink back unto perdition.” The truth may be illustrated in our several Christian spheres.
1. The Christian life demands anxious and continuous attention to personal culture. Flag in it, stop it, and your Christian character will soon shrink back.
2. The Christian life demands active endeavour to exert gracious personal influence, and to use in service entrusted talents and gifts. Persistently send out holy influences, and you will keep and enlarge your powers of influencing. Stop all effort to influence, and the very ability will fade away, as the blacksmith’s muscle becomes flaccid when he ceases to wield the hammer.
3. The Christian life demands a persistency and continuity of attendance on Christian worship and means of grace. Begin to flag; do not go sometimes; become irregular; go when you feel inclined, not when you ought; and you will soon cease to get a blessing, and easily shrink back into indifference. But the writer of our text wrote hopefully, and we would speak hopefully to you. We must warn you faithfully; but we hope that you are “not of them that shrink back unto perdition, but of them that have faith unto the saving of the soul.”
ILLUSTRATIONS TO CHAPTER 10
Hebrews 10:33. A Gazing-stock.—The Greek word here used means to expose to view as in a public theatre, which was commonly done in those days. The expression here is figurative, yet it was afterwards literally carried out, when Christians were exposed in the theatres, not only to opprobrium and insult, but made the victims of wild beasts, or assaulted by gladiators.
Hebrews 10:36. Patience likened to a Jewel.—“I compare patience to the most precious thing that the earth produces—a jewel. Pressed by sand and rocks, it reposes in the dark lap of the earth. Though no ray of light comes near it, it is radiant with imperishable beauty. Its brightness remains even in the deep night; but when liberated from the dark prison, it forms, united to gold, the distinguishing mark and ornament of glory, the ring, the sceptre, and the crown,” said the wise Hillel. “Her end and reward is the crown of life.”—Krummacher.
The Leaves teaching Patience.—O impatient ones! Did the leaves say nothing to you as they murmured when you came hither to-day? They were not created this spring, but months ago, and the summer just begun will fashion others for another year. At the bottom of every leaf-stem is a cradle, and in it is an infant germ; and the winds will rock it, and the birds will sing to it all summer long; and next season it will unfold. So God is working for you, and carrying forward to the perfect development all the processes of your lives.—H. Ward Beecher.
The Work of Patience.—Patience is the guardian of faith, the preserver of peace, the cherisher of love, the teacher of humility. Patience governs the flesh, strengthens the spirit, sweetens the temper, stifles anger, extinguishes envy, subdues pride; she bridles the tongue, refrains the hand, tramples upon temptations, endures persecutions, consummates martyrdom. Patience produces unity in the Church, loyalty in the State, harmony in families and societies; she comforts the poor, and moderates the rich; she makes us humble in prosperity, cheerful in adversity, unmoved by calumny and reproach; she teaches us to forgive those who have injured us, and to be the first in asking forgiveness of those whom we have injured; she delights the faithful and invites the unbelieving; she adorns the woman, and improves the man, is loved in a child, praised in a young man, admired in an old man; she is beautiful in either sex and every age.—Horne.
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Hebrews 10". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29