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COMPARISON OF THE TWO GREAT MEDIATORS
CRITICAL AND EXEGETICAL NOTES
IN the estimation of the Jews the pre-eminence of the Law—by that term meaning the Old Testament dispensation—was seen in three things:
(1) it was ministered by angels;
(2) it was in the hands of a mediator of singularly exalted character;
(3) its principal official was a high priest of superior dignity and authority. Having compared the ministry of angels with the ministry of the Son, and brought out the superiority of the new dispensation, and answered the objections which might be grounded on the humiliation and shameful human death of the Son, the writer proceeds to compare Christ with the two great officials of the older dispensation. In the comparison of the mediators the following points are presented:
1. In the one respect of faithfulness there is similarity.
2. In another matter there is equality; for God is the Author of both dispensations.
3. Moses, however, does but take a place as part of the furniture of the house; Christ takes His place with God as the Founder and Builder of it.
4. Moses was a servant in the house; but Christ was the Son, who is over the house. Then follows a hortatory passage bearing on the peril of apostasy.
Hebrews 3:1. Wherefore.—Lit. “whence.” Allowing what has been said of Christ to be true, there is ground for fixing further and even closer attention upon Christ. Holy brethren.—An expression indicating the conciliatory tone of the epistle. As separated unto Jehovah, the Jews were a “holy nation.” The writer makes no assertion of their personal holiness; he does but recognise the Jews as a people separated by God unto Himself. “This people have I formed for Myself; they shall shew forth My praise.” “Brethren” asserts the common relation of Jew and Christian to special revelations from God. The word means “one of the same faith or profession”; but it carries also the idea of friendly feeling, mutual sympathy. Heavenly calling.—Privileges of the new dispensation. “Heavenly” may be taken as equivalent to “spiritual,” and as contrasted with the material features of the Jewish calling. Consider.—Fix your attention on. A worthy apprehension of the person of Christ would preserve these Jewish Christians from the temptation to return upon the older system. So Jesus endeavoured to give His disciples right ideas concerning Himself. Starting thought by asking them, “What think ye of Christ?” Apostle.—Compare ἄγγελος. That word is not used here because the writer had already used it in a special sense. The Jews called the minister or ruler of the synagogue an apostle. The word means “sent one”; “mediator,” “communicator” between two parties; and comparison can be made between Moses and Christ, because they bore similar relations to each of the dispensations. Our profession.—Either
(1) whom we confess; or
(2) what we confess. A doubtful passage in Philo calls the Logos “the Great High Priest of our Confession.” Bengel marks the distinction between Apostle and High Priest: “As Apostle, Jesus pleads the cause of God with us; as High Priest, He pleads our cause with God.” Christ Jesus.—The best manuscripts omit the word “Christ.” Stuart gives the point of the verse thus, “If the curator ædis sacræ et novæ be compared with the curator ædis sacræ et antiquæ, the result will be such as the sequel discloses.”
Hebrews 3:2. Faithful.—In carrying out the particular duties of His office. For the faithfulness of Moses see Numbers 12:7. House.—Not the tabernacle only, but the entire theocratic system. Compare “the house of God which is the Church of the living God” (1 Timothy 3:15). Moulton says, “The house, or household, is God’s people Israel.”
Hebrews 3:3. This man.—R.V. “He”—that is, Jesus. More glory.—Or, a fuller glory. Farrar points out that the “Jews had begun to elevate Moses into a position of almost supernatural grandeur, which would have its effect on wavering and almost apostatising converts.” Builded the house.—Not “founding a family,” but establishing a dispensation, under the figure of erecting and furnishing a house. Christ was really the Founder of the house in which Moses was an official. So Christ has higher honour than Moses. Observe the assumption that the Divine Son was ministrant of the older dispensation. He is the Executor of the Divine purpose in all material spheres.
Hebrews 3:4.—The thought here is that every house has its maker, and we must conceive of a Maker of this house, or dispensation. It can be no other than God.
Hebrews 3:5. Servant.—Ministering according to the will of another. Not δοῦλος, slave, nor διάκονος, minister, but θεράπων, voluntary attendant.
Hebrews 3:6. Over His own house.—R.V. “over His,” i.e. God’s “house.” House are we.—For the figure see 2 Corinthians 6:16; Ephesians 2:21-22; 1 Peter 2:5. The rights of sonship are wholly distinct from and superior to the rights of servant-hood. Sonship involves independent authority. Hold fast.—A transition to the hortatory passage.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Hebrews 3:1-6
Christ above Moses.—The bigoted Jewish party distressed the Christian Jewish party, by urging that the Jewish dispensation was manifestly superior to the Christian, on two grounds:
(1) it was ministered by angels;
(2) its agent was the most remarkable man that had ever lived. In the previous two chapters the assumed superiority in the ministration of angels has been dealt with. Now the writer deals with the extravagant claims advanced on behalf of Moses (see Illustration), and shows that in nature, relation to God, and office, Christ is altogether above Moses.
I. Fix attention on the Head of the new dispensation.—The word “consider” means “fix your thoughts attentively on.” His unique nature, as the Divine-human Being, and His primary and essential relationship to God as Son, have already been treated. Now attention is fixed upon His office. The writer takes an ideal rather than an actual view of Moses. In fact, Moses was prophet or apostle, and Aaron was high priest; but Aaron’s association with Moses was a Divine after-thought. Ideally, and in the Divine plan, Moses was the head of the dispensation, and was both the prophet and the priest, and as such was the type of Messiah the Christ. A man occupying the position of Moses must be what Bengel says Christ is, Apostle from God to man, and High Priest from man to God. “As Apostle Jesus pleads the cause of God with us; as High Priest He pleads our cause with God.” The complete mediatorship of the Old Testament was, in fact, in the hands of Moses and Aaron combined, and regarded as one. The Mediatorship of the new dispensation is in the hands of Christ alone, and He is actually one. Here is a mark of superiority.
1. One side of Christ’s work is represented by the term “Apostle,” which is virtually the same as “prophet.” Both terms mean “messenger,” “sent one.” Both imply a direct commission from God to men; a Divine message which they—prophet or apostle—have to put into their human language for the apprehension of men. Moses and Christ were both revealers, prophets, teachers, for God. Fixing attention on Christ, we can see two marked peculiarities:
(1) His message was Himself, in a sense that Moses’ message was not.
(2) His message belonged to the sphere of spiritual things, not of material or ceremonial.
2. Another side of Christ’s work is represented by the term “High Priest.” Later in the epistle this term is treated more fully. Here one thing more especially is in the mind of the writer. One work of the Mosaic high priest was to “make reconciliation [propitiation] for the sins of the people” (Hebrews 2:17). The limited idea, which need not injuriously affect the larger idea, which we shall have to consider later on, is this. When as a prophet Moses brings a message from God, the fact must be taken into account that men will use their free wills upon the message, and will receive it or reject it: the rejection of it will be sin, and will lead to sin, and will put men out of relation with God. The prophet therefore will need to be also priest, and deal with the restoration and reconciliation of those who break their relations with God by rejecting His message. And this which applies to Moses must apply also to Christ, who, if He is Apostle, must needs also be Priest.
II. Compare the heads of the two dispensations.—Lest the writer should be thought in any sense to lower the dignity of Moses, he freely recognises that both the apostle and high priest of the old dispensation, and the Apostle and High Priest of the new, were faithful to their several trusts. There is no call whatever for exalting Christ by the depreciation of any other of God’s servants. Accept every man at his best; estimate his life and work most charitably and most hopefully, and still there will be no difficulty in showing the unique superiority of Him who is Son of God, Son of man, and Saviour from sin. The faithfulness of Moses is asserted in Numbers 12:7.
III. Contrast the heads of the two dispensations.—The use of the term “house” as a figure for dispensation, or religious system, suggests the points of contrast. “The house is God’s house or household, i.e. the theocratic family of which the tabernacle was a symbol. See 1 Timothy 3:15.
1. Christ was more honourable than Moses, as a person, seeing that He was Owner of the house in which Moses was a servant.
2. And Christ’s range of service was higher than that of Moses, as owner-faithfulness must always be in a higher plane than servant-faithfulness—though, as faithfulness, both may stand in equal acceptance. The contrast of service may also be seen in this:
(1) That of Moses was a service of preparation;
(2) that of Christ was a service of fulfilment. Do, then, all honour to Moses. Recognise the dignity of his position and the faithfulness of his service, and still it is reasonable to ask that men should pass from Moses to Christ, seeing that He is no servant in the house, but Son over His own house. Carry all thankfulness for the earlier revelation, and all honouring of the agent of that revelation, over with you into the reception of the later, completing, and spiritual revelation, of which the Son of God is the agent. Keep considering, fixing attention, and ever learning more concerning, the “Apostle and High Priest of our confession.”
Jewish Glorifying of Moses.—Eagerly as the writer is pressing forward to develop his original and central conception of Christ as our eternal High Priest, he yet has to pause to prove His superiority over Moses, because the Jews had begun to elevate Moses into a position of almost supernatural grandeur, which would have its effect on the imaginations of wavering, and almost apostatising, converts. Thus the Rabbis said that “the soul of Moses was equivalent to the souls of all Israel” (because by the cabalistic process called Gematria the numerical value of the letters of “Moses our rabbi” in Hebrew equal 613, which is also the value of the letters of “Lord God of Israel”). They said that “the face of Moses was like the sun”; that he alone “saw through a clear glass,” not as other prophets “through a dim glass”; and that whereas there are but fifty gates of understanding in the world, “all but one were opened to Moses.” St. Paul, in 2 Corinthians 3:7, contrasts the evanescing splendour on the face of Moses with the unchanging glory of Christ.—Farrar.
SUGGESTIVE NOTES AND SERMON SKETCHES
Hebrews 3:1. Messenger and Priest.—
1. Consider Christ as the Apostle or Messenger of God. The word “apostle” means “messenger”—one ordained and sent on a particular embassy.
2. Consider Christ as the High Priest of our profession. The duty of the High Priest was twofold: to make atonement; to make intercession.
(1) Consider Christ as making atonement.
(2) Consider Christ as making intercession.—R. M. McCheyne.
The Duties of the High Priest.—He must be free from every blemish and defect (Leviticus 21:16-23). He must not observe the external signs of mourning for any person, or leave the sanctuary upon receiving intelligence of the death of even father and mother. He must wash his hands and feet when he went into the tabernacle of the congregation, and when he came near the altar to minister (Exodus 30:19-21). He must offer daily, morning and evening, the peculiar meat-offering he offered on the day of his consecration (Exodus 29:0). He must perform the ceremonies of the day of expiation (Leviticus 16:0). He must arrange the shewbread every Sabbath, and eat it in the holy place (Leviticus 24:9). He must judge of the leprosy, and adjudicate in certain legal questions. When there was no Divinely inspired judge, the high priest was the supreme ruler, until the time of David, and again after the return from the Captivity (1 Samuel 4:18). Other duties were: Bearing before the Lord the names of Israel for a memorial (Exodus 28:12; Exodus 28:29); inquiring of God by Urim and Thummim (1 Samuel 23:9-12; 1 Samuel 30:7-8); consecrating the Levites (Numbers 8:11-21); appointing priests to offices (1 Samuel 2:36): interceding (Numbers 16:43-48); blessing (Leviticus 9:22-23).—After Kitto.
I. One great comprehensive demand—consider Christ.—The word implies an earnest, fixed, prolonged attention of mind. A Christian man’s thoughts should be occupied with his Saviour. A simple and obvious remark, but one much forgotten in practice. The measure of a man’s Christianity is the occupation of his mind and heart with the truth as it is in Jesus. There is implied in the word “consider”:
1. That the occupation of mind must be the result of conscious effort.
2. It must be the look of eager interest; it must be intense as well as fixed.
3. It must be steady or continuous.
II. The great aspects of Christ’s work which should fix our gaze.—We have Himself proposed as the object of our thoughts; not merely the truth concerning Him, but Him as brought near us by the truth. Scripture never deals with Christ’s work apart from Him, the worker, nor presents truth in the hard and abstract form which it must necessarily take when men begin to reflect upon it, and try to arrange their thoughts into something like order and consistency. Two aspects—consider Him as Apostle and as High Priest. He is the “Apostle” of our profession. No declaration was more common on our Lord’s lips when on earth than that He was “sent of God.” He is the sole messenger, sent by God as none others are sent, to declare His whole name once and for all, to bring His whole love, not only to serve but to save, not only to help but to rule, the sons of men, His brethren. The Apostolate and the Priesthood are to be included in the one word, Mediator. The idea of priesthood depends upon that of sacrifice, and the idea of sacrifice is incomplete without that of expiation. The idea of priesthood includes that of representation, and the priestly representation of the people is incomplete without the presence of the priest within the veil.
III. The great reasons for this occupation of mind and heart with Christ, our Mediator.—They are:
1. Our relation to Christ, and the benefit we derive from it.
2. The calling of which we are partakers.
3. The avowal which we have made concerning Him. Cultivate the habit of fixed calm meditation on Christ.—A. Maclaren, D.D.
Two Terms for the One Mediator.—Such passages as 1 Timothy 2:5, Galatians 3:20, set forth the position of Christ as Mediator. A mediator must sustain a twofold relation—a relation to each party between whom he mediates. He may do a twofold work—that of interpreter, and that of reconciler. In the case of Christ this twofold relation and twofold work will come out if we consider—
I. Christ as God’s Apostle to men.—Christ is God in respect of wisdom; as High Priest He is man, in order to be true representative. To unfold the idea of apostle take two analogies:
1. Moses, as an apostle in the distinct sense of interpreter.
2. The twelve apostles, in the distinct sense of teachers. Show how both involved also the idea of ruling, and point out the relations of Moses to God and the apostles to Christ. The ruling will take up the later Jewish idea of ἀπόστολος, as curator.
II. Christ as man’s High Priest to God.—Bring in the second idea of mediator, viz. reconcilement and intercession.
1. The high priest was commissioned by the people to go into the Holy of Holies for them; so Christ is commissioned by us to go, as our Representative, into the eternal Holy of Holies.
2. The high priest not only went as the first representative, but he took with him the terms on which he asked for reconciliation; and so Christ took with Him into the eternal Holy of Holies the terms on which He pleaded for reconciliation.
3. The high priest had himself previously prepared these terms; and so Christ Himself prepared the terms, and was indeed in Himself the terms on the ground of which He asked acceptance.
4. The high priest, having gained acceptance, asked of the propitious and reconciled God the supply of blessings to the people; and so Christ, having gained acceptance for men, becomes their Intercessor.
The Heavenly Calling.—Heavenly is placed in contrast with earthly. It precisely answers to the contrast spiritual and material. The heavenly temple represents the spiritual worship of God. The heavenly world is that in which the spiritual life is lived. And so the “heavenly calling” is that call of God to live a life of spiritual relations with Him which has come to us through Jesus Christ. Response to the call is possible with the power of the Holy Spirit.
Christ our Apostle and High Priest.—Consider the offices and relations of Christ Jesus. That is precisely the work that we should do in preparing our hearts for our sacramental service. The text seems to brace up our attention, in view of some unusually important subject that is to be considered. The writer has already presented two subjects. He has shown the contrast between Christ as the Son and angels as servants, as ministering spirits. His primary and essential relation to God is altogether unique. None in heaven and none on earth can ever stand in precisely His relation. And he has dwelt on the humanity of Christ, bringing Him out of the realms of mystery, and making clear His brotherhood with us in the human limitations and infirmities. “Forasmuch then as the children are partakers of flesh and blood, He also Himself likewise took part in the same; that through death He might destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver them who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage.” Now the writer proceeds to deal with the superiority and the exceeding glory of His offices in relation to God and man, comparing them with the highest offices in the Old Testament economy. He calls attention by addressing his readers as “holy brethren.” Saints, brethren in faith and feeling, as consecrated with him to Christ and to Christ’s service. By “heavenly calling” he figuratively describes the more spiritual blessings to which men were introduced by Christ Jesus. And Christ being the very centre of this new spiritual dispensation, deserves special attention and consideration; we cannot too resolutely fix eye and heart on Him. “Apostle” and “High Priest” are terms that explain the more general and comprehensive word “Mediator.” That is a characteristic term used by the apostle Paul. Writing to the Galatians, he says, “The law was ordained by angels in the hand of a mediator. Now a mediator is not a mediator of one, but God is one” (Galatians 3:19-20). Writing to Timothy, he says, “There is one God, and one Mediator between God and man, the Man Christ Jesus” (1 Timothy 2:5). Now a mediator sustains a twofold relationship—a relation to each of the parties between whom he mediates. It is this twofold work that is brought out by the terms used in our text. A mediator may do a twofold work—he may be an interpreter, and he may be a reconciler. This will come out clearly to view in relation to Christ if we put it in this way: Jesus Christ is God’s Apostle to man, and Jesus Christ is man’s High Priest to God. You will easily see how these terms conserve the truths of which we are so supremely jealous. Christ is God revealing Himself to man; He is God’s Representative. And Christ is man entering into communion with God—man’s Representative. So we have freshly suggested to us the dual truth of the Deity and humanity of Christ.
I. Christ is God’s Apostle to man.—The word “apostle” simply means “one sent,” a person under commission—one who is entrusted with some duty to discharge for another. Every ambassador is an apostle; every missionary is an apostle; every prophet is an apostle. The term has been especially applied to twelve of our Lord’s disciples because they were the first persons to receive His commission, and to be sent out as preachers of His gospel. But the term was subsequently applied to Silas and Barnabas and Paul. We need not think of any special authority belonging to the so-called apostles; they were simply men entrusted with a Divine message and mission for men; they were the prophets or preachers of the new dispensation. Their office was in no sense restricted to themselves. They were what their Master was; and we are what both they and their Master was. We are all God’s sent ones, God’s ambassadors, God’s apostles to our fellows.
1. Moses was an apostle in the distinct sense of being an interpreter. The writer of this epistle had Moses in his mind, for he immediately refers to him, saying of Christ the Apostle, “Who was faithful to Him that appointed Him, as also Moses was faithful in all his house.” The inspiration of Moses to his work came out of the conviction that he was a sent one, Divinely commissioned; and his authority with the people followed upon their belief that he was Divinely sent. He had been arrested of God that day when he was compelled to turn aside and see that great sight, the bush that burned and yet was not consumed. That day God made Moses an apostle, and this was his commission: “Now therefore, behold, the cry of the children of Israel is come unto Me: and I have also seen the oppression wherewith the Egyptians oppress them. Come now therefore, and I will send thee unto Pharaoh, that thou mayest bring forth My people the children of Israel out of Egypt.” His work is usually put into the word “mediator.” He was the “go-between.” And as such the people fully accepted him; for when God’s great thunder-voice, proclaiming the law from Sinai, filled the people with alarm, they made this their prayer to Moses, “Speak thou with us, and we will hear: but let not God speak with us, lest we die.” As apostle, or mediator, or ambassador, we may look at the work of Moses from three sides:
(1) He was to reveal God’s will. This he could only do as the will was revealed to him; and that he might be fitted to receive it, he spent those long days in communion with God. It was not that what Moses received would take forty days to tell: it was that only after prolonged abstraction and devotion could Moses be spiritually fitted to receive the revelation. When it did come to him, it proved to be ten clear-cut sentences. They embodied God’s will for the people, and that will Moses was commissioned to reveal to the people. It may be said that the tables of the law could have been handed to Moses in an hour. And so they could, but in that case Moses would not have so entered into the soul of them, gained such sympathy with them, or felt the applications of them, as would enable him rightly to reveal them to the people. On his revealing work had to rest the impress of his own soul-culture and soul-sympathies.
(2) For it must be borne in mind that Moses had not only to reveal God’s will, but also to interpret the revelation. It is now known to all Bible scholars that the elaborations and details of Levitical law given to us in later Exodus, Leviticus, and Numbers, were worked out by Moses after his time on Sinai, and in the power of the inspiration he there received. His apostolic service was in part working out the great principles of the Sinaitic law into all the relations and duties of life. And that was the work of years.
(3) And the writer of the Hebrews points out another feature of Moses’ apostleship: he was to preside over and rule his house, or dispensation; for he who reveals and interprets the Divine will cannot help gaining supreme influence and authority in so doing. But the only healthy authority over men is that which comes, not by any form of personal claim, but by virtue of the commission entrusted to us. We have dwelt for a moment on the apostleship of Moses because he helps us to understand the sense in which Christ was an Apostle—“the Apostle of our profession.” To us He is the Sent One who reveals to us God. If I were required to put the mission of Christ into a sentence, and were allowed only one sentence in which to put it, I would say this, “He came to show us God.” “This is eternal life, to know Thee, the only true God.” And He revealed this concerning God—you will never apprehend God aright until you take your human father-idea at its best, and apply it to Him. Ask me what is the very essence of Christ’s Apostleship, the one all-controlling purpose for which He was sent. I answer, “To reveal the Fatherliness of God.” I prefer to answer, “To show the Fatherliness of God.” But He is our Apostle in a further sense, for He interprets to us the will of God. When He has told us and shown us what God is, He proceeds to tells us and to show us what God wishes. The Son interprets the Father. And just as Moses elaborated the great principles of the Sinaitic revelation, so our Lord Jesus elaborates and applies to all the duties and relations of our lives the mind and will of our Father. And as in the case of Moses authority was seen to grow out of commission, so with the Apostle of our profession, Christ Jesus, He is become the Head of all those who love and serve God—“Head over all things to His Church”; and this office and relation we give Him with all our hearts. He is our Moses, God’s Sent One to us, who reveals to us God, interprets to us His will, and takes, what we lovingly and gratefully give Him, supreme lordship and rule over our hearts and lives.
2. The twelve disciples of Christ were apostles in the distinct sense of being teachers. This is an advance on the idea of an apostle as interpreter, and adapts the figure to more settled and continuous relations. We occasionally want revealers and interpreters; we always want teachers. In this sense the disciples had only a tentative apostleship while Christ lived. That was their preparation-time for the teaching-work of the future—the time when they were being taught to teach. After the ascension of their Divine Lord, we can clearly see what was their office and their work. Christ sent them forth in His name, as His witnesses, His ambassadors. They were to tell men anything and everything that they knew about Him, what He had been, what He had said, and what He had done. If they began to do this, they would realise that they were sent to preach. If they continued to do this, they would realise that they were sent to teach. And out of this teaching of those who accepted Jesus as their Saviour would surely grow their work of forming and guiding the assemblies, or Churches. But in all this those apostles were but repeating what Christ Himself had been, and exhibiting what Christ is in the higher sense, in His present spiritual relations with His Church. He is still the Apostle of our profession, the present Teacher of His Church, in the working of His Holy Spirit. He alone has the right to teach, to reveal truth and duty, and to rule in His Church; and we may not let any conceptions of a past and completed Mediatorship keep us from realising that He is to-day the Apostle of our profession, the Teacher who, by His Spirit, still to-day, leadeth us into all truth. It is the present actual, effective relation of the Lord Jesus to our soul-life and culture that comes into our view when, in the presence of the sacramental emblems, we consider the Apostle of our profession. It is of that living relation we need to be supremely jealous.
II. Christ is man’s High Priest with God.—Now the essential idea of the high priest was representation. He stood for the people; he represented them in all dealings with God. The more important features of his work were reconcilement and intercession.
1. The high priest went on behalf of the people into the Holy of Holies. The incidents of the great Day of Atonement set forth the work of the high priest very vividly. His everyday work is seen in the light of that one day’s work. “The priests went always into the first tabernacle, accomplishing the service. But into the second went the high priest alone, once every year.” And so Christ our High Priest has gone, not once for the year, but once for all, into the heavenlies, heaven itself, the region of spiritual and eternal realities; “Christ being come, an High Priest of good things to come,” enters a “greater and more perfect tabernacle, one not made with hands, that is to say, not of this building.” Our interests with God absolutely and entirely stand in Christ our High Priest, who is for us in the world of spiritual and Divine realities.
2. The high priest not only went into the Holy of Holies, he took with him the terms of acceptance; “not without blood, which he offered for himself and for the errors of the people.” The blood that he took represented the devoted life of a creature on whom the sins of the people had been confessed. That creature represented the humble, penitent reconsecration of the people, the fresh giving of themselves in love and obedience to Jehovah; it was the blood, or life, of the creature that symbolised that purposed complete obedience which the high priest took into the Holy of Holies as the plea and the ground of acceptance. And so Jesus Christ, the High Priest of our profession, took into the spiritual Holy of Holies His own proved and perfected obedience, sealed in His life-blood, which carries with it, and pledges, ours as the plea and the ground on which He claims acceptance for us. “By His own blood [or, with His own blood] He entered in once for all into the holy place, obtaining thus eternal redemption for us.… How much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without spot to God, purge your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?”
3. Now we come to a point which is of great importance, and yet can only with difficulty be presented. It may be easy to grip in a formal way; it is hard to reach in that spiritual manner in which we always seek to apprehend truth. The high priest had himself prepared the terms on which he sought the people’s acceptance. He was to put his hands on the living creature; he was, as his own act, to take the life of the living creature; he was to take the blood with him, as if it were a part of himself, into the holy place. He went in at once a priest and a sacrifice, in both representing the people. They went, in him, seeking Divine acceptance. It is the foreshadowing, the solemn picturing of the spiritual mystery of the union we find in Christ. He prepared, as our High Priest, His own sacrifice. It was Himself. It was His own surrender. It was His own yielded life. It was His own obedience unto death. He went into the spiritual Holy of Holies with His sacrifice, at once our Priest and our Offering. His redemptive work was His alone. And He is, Himself, now, in the presence of God, our Sacrifice, the ground of our acceptance, and our Priest pleading for our acceptance on the ground of His sacrifice. The truth is embodied for us in a striking symbol. Before the eternal throne is seen the Mediator of the new covenant; but behold Him! Is it not a surprise that suggests inquiry? He is a “Lamb as it had been slain.” Once again:
4. The high priest, having gained acceptance, sought blessings for the people. While the high priest was within the veil, on that great Atonement Day, the vast company of Jews crowded the outer courts, and watched most anxiously for the moving of the outer veil of the tabernacle, and the first sight of the returning priest. If he were delayed, the intense excitement moved those people to press nearer in their anxious watching; and when at last he came forth, and the light of acceptance was on his face, we can picture to ourselves how every heart thrilled with thankful joy, and how every head was bowed, as he stood and breathed forth the benedictions he had won for them from their God. We do not wait expecting to see our great High Priest come forth from the heavenlies, to speak in human words the forgiveness and acceptance He has won for us; but we do expect Him to come in spiritual fashion to our waiting souls, with Divine comfortings and assurances. We think of Him as entered once into the holy place, there to abide for ever; always there, the “Lamb as it had been slain,” the ground of our acceptance; always there, the “Angel of the covenant,” waving the golden censer wherein are the prayers of the saints; always there, the Medium whence comes to us every spiritual good; always there representing us. There where one day we hope to be beside Him. He is at once our Moses and our Aaron joined in one—Moses as God’s Apostle, Aaron as our High Priest with God. What then do we need for the strengthening and comforting and satisfying of our souls? A steadier setting of eye on Jesus Christ. Consider Him. Consider His mission, His work, His offices, His relations. Consider what He is to God. Consider what He is to us. More and more it is being pressed on attention that Christ Himself is the centre of the Christ-revelation. Christianity is no organised force of doctrines and demands. It always was, though men have overlaid it—it is to-day, though men crowd creeds and rites into it—the living power, to convict, convert, redeem, comfort, teach, and sanctify, of the living Lord Jesus Christ Himself. My Sacrifice for sin—it is Christ Himself. My ground of acceptance with God—it is Jesus Himself. My Advocate with the Father—it is Jesus Himself. My one only and all-sufficient Teacher—it is Jesus Himself. “Consider the Apostle and High Priest of our profession”—our Alpha and our Omega—our All in all, it is the ever-living, glorified, spiritual, Divine Lord Jesus.
Hebrews 3:2. Faithfulness is independent of the Nature of our Trust.—Two persons are introduced here for the sake of a comparison which is to be made between them. But first of all it must be seen that in character they are one. Both good men, and both faithful men. Their trusts differ. The relations in which they stand to their work differ. But no disadvantage, in personal character, attaches to either. Jesus was “faithful to Him that appointed Him, as also was Moses in all his house.” Faithfulness is a virtue. It includes the purpose of the will. A man must mean to be faithful, or there can be no moral value in his faithfulness. Faithful by natural disposition, and faithful by accident, have no moral quality in them. But the purpose of the will must be matched by the endeavour of the life. For will is only virtuous when it finds fitting expression in conduct and relations. Faithfulness implies the recognition of dependence, the sense of responsibility, the clear knowledge of what ought to be done, and the personal interest and pleasure of a man in the doing. The term “faith-ful” suggests the carrying out of the work entrusted thoroughly; going beyond the limits of bare necessity to do the work even over-efficiently, if that be possible, the thoroughness indicating that the heart is wholly in it. With such views of faithfulness read the life-work both of Moses and of the Lord Jesus.
I. Faithfulness is not dependent on ability.—The man who has the trust of ten talents has no better possibility of faithfulness than the man who has the trust of one. It may be that the men of marked ability get the recognition of faithfulness from their fellow-men. The faithful man who has no special ability is absolutely secure of the recognition of God. And “there are last which shall be first.”
II. Faithfulness is not dependent on trusts.—As there are all sorts of persons to make up a world, so there are all sorts of missions for meeting the world’s needs. Everybody cannot have what men call high and honourable trusts. Some must have the lowly ones, even what men think the unlovely ones. In them they can be as faithful as the favoured few.
III. Faithfulness is not dependent on success.—A grave mistake is often made in relation to this. We think those are proved to be faithful who succeed. God knows His faithful ones who fail. We are not bound to succeed. Succeed or fail, we are bound to be faithful, and that we can be.
Hebrews 3:4. The House and its Builder.—Had the house a builder, or did it build itself? This is a question which is occupying many minds, many tongues, many pens, just now, one to which various answers are given, though only two of them seem worth considering. If we say, “The house built itself,” that clearly is a straightforward answer to the question, however unsatisfactory it may prove on examination. And if we say, “The house was built by God,” that again is clearly an answer to the question, and an answer which seems at once to commend itself to our common sense, however disputable it may be. But if we have nothing more to say than “We do not know,” clearly we do not answer the question at all; we do not even show it to be unanswerable; we simply admit our incapacity to answer it; and though that may be a sufficiently interesting fact to us, it has no interest for the world at large, which cares very little for us, but cares a great deal for the question we have raised.—S. Cox, D.D.
The Relativity of Christ and Moses to their Dispensations.—The term “house” here properly suits the idea of building, but the writer is referring to the “dispensations,” or religious systems, which are associated with the names of Moses and of Christ. In some sense both were the founders and organisers of their dispensation. But not in the same sense. And the writer suggests that the differences are of greater importance than the similarities. The earlier is not properly called the Mosaic dispensation; it should be called the Jehovah dispensation; for Jehovah was the founder of it, and the Jehovah revelation is the very heart of it. And Moses was no more than the earth-ministrant of it, who must stand beside but never before Jehovah. The later is not properly called the Christian dispensation; it should be called the Father dispensation. But Christ stands in an altogether unique relation to it. He does not minister it; He embodies it. It is His Sonship, and what His Sonship did, does, and can do for men.
ILLUSTRATIONS TO CHAPTER 3
Hebrews 3:1. The Moral Influence of a Leader.—There is a touching fact related in history of a Highland chief, of the noble house of MacGregor, who fell wounded by two balls at the battle of Prestonpans. Seeing their chief fall, the clan wavered, and gave the enemy an advantage. The old chieftain, beholding the effects of his disaster, raised himself up on his elbow, while the blood gushed in streams from his wounds, and cried aloud, “I am not dead, my children; I am looking at you to see you do your duty.” These words revived the sinking courage of the brave Highlanders. There was a charm in the fact that they still fought under the eye of their chief. It roused them to put forth their mightiest energies, and they did all that human strength could do to turn and stem the dreadful tide of battle.
Hebrews 3:4. God in Nature.—See here; I hold a Bible in my hand, and you see the cover, the leaves, the letters, the words, but you do not see the writers, or the printer, the letter-founder, the ink-maker, the paper-maker, or the binder. You never did see them, you never will see them, and yet there is not one of you who will think of disputing or denying the being of these men. I go further; I affirm that you see the very souls of these men in seeing this book, and you feel yourselves obliged to allow that, by their contrivance, design, memory, fancy, reason, and so on, the book was made. In the same manner, if you see a picture, you judge there was a painter; if you see a house, you judge there was a builder of it; and if you see one room contrived for this purpose and another for that, a door to enter, a window to admit light, and a chimney to hold fire, you conclude that the builder was a person of skill and forecast, who formed the house with a view to the accommodation of its inhabitants. In this manner examine the world, and pity the man who, when he sees the sign of a wheatsheaf, hath sense enough to know that there is a joiner and somewhere a painter, but who, when he sees the wheatsheaf itself, is so stupid as not to say to himself, “This had a wise and good Creator.”—R. Robinson.
CRITICAL AND EXEGETICAL NOTES
Hebrews 3:7-19 form part of an exhortation, based on the superiority of Christ over Moses, and the conduct of the Jewish people in their relation to Moses. They were the chosen people of God, and yet they provoked Him by their unbelief, and were consequently precluded from entering the rest of Canaan. A promise of rest is also given to us. What is it? It cannot be the Sabbatic rest of God from the work of creation: it cannot be the rest of settling in Canaan. It is the rest of belief in Christ, ceasing from our own works and trusting in Christ. Let us take care lest we also fail to gain our rest.
Hebrews 3:7. Holy Ghost.—Better throughout the epistle “Holy Spirit.” Here conceived as Inspirer of the Bible-writers; and inspiration carries persuasion and authority (Hebrews 3:7-11 are a parenthesis). In what sense was the Holy Spirit in the older dispensation? The prophetic gifts, and the special endowments of such kings as Saul and David, gave the Jews their idea of inspiration.
Hebrews 3:8. Harden not.—Do not resist good influence. See case of Pharaoh. The peril of free-will is that we can “harden ourselves against.” Provocation.—Or time of provocation: from πικραίνω, to embitter. One typical occasion is referred to (Exodus 17:7. Compare 1 Corinthians 10:1-12). Day of temptation.—If single day be meant, the reference may be to the aggravations of the time of worshipping the golden calf. But the expression may be intended to sum up the thirty-eight years of testing Israel amid the wilderness experiences. Those years of wandering in the desert made up their “day of testing.”
Hebrews 3:9.—Then comes a play on the words “tempted,” “proved,” Me. They tested Me in an evil and unworthy spirit. God may be tested by us when we want to believe, but feel as if we could not. God must never be put to the test by us in a spirit of doubting and suspicion, and with a view to the support of our self-schemes, and of our unbelief.
Hebrews 3:10. Grieved.—The figure in the word is “running a ship ashore.”
Hebrews 3:11. My rest.—For the Jews that was Canaan. It was called “rest” because it came after their long wanderings. The figure of God swearing is consistent with the idea of Him as an Eastern king. But the swearing is strictly official.
Hebrews 3:12.—Carries on the “wherefore” or “whence” of Hebrews 3:7. Evil heart of unbelief.—Doubting may be good or bad, right or wrong, according to the state of will that is behind it. An evil heart wants to doubt, and is keen to find reasons and excuses. Faith, when intellectual only, is belief; when inspired by heart-feeling, it is trust. Departing.—In the sense of apostatising.
Hebrews 3:13. Exhort.—Admonish; use Christian fellowship for the establishing of faith. Deceitfulness of sin.—Sinful delusions; either influence of Judaising teachers, or of persecution and worldliness.
Hebrews 3:14. Partakers of Christ.—Of His living and saving grace.
Hebrews 3:19. Could not.—The failure was altogether on their side. The word “unbelief” reminds us that the reason of failure was a heart-reason.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Hebrews 3:7-19
The Warning of Ancient Failures.—This passage is hortatory. It is an earnest appeal and warning breaking in upon the course of argument, after the manner of this writer. What is its special point of view? The times of Moses have been prominent in the writer’s thought. They were times which there was a strong disposition to unduly magnify. It was easy to slip over the painful things in the older history. But they were there, and were there for the permanent warning of God’s people. The evils, and especially the great evil of unbelief, which broke relations with Jehovah, prevented many from realising the fulfilment of God’s promise, and delayed the fulfilment for many years, were evils still working; and they would prove as effective as ever in delaying or removing the spiritual blessings of the new covenant. Apostasy is always the bad fruitage of cherished unbelief.
I. The responsibility of self rests upon self.—“Harden not your hearts.” A man has control of, power of influence upon, his own heart for good or for evil. He can deal with, restrain, check, qualify, resist, the influences which rest upon his own heart. Therefore it is said, “Keep thy heart with all diligence, for out of it are the issues of life.” Every man is responsible for himself to himself, as well as to God. And this is true in relation to unbelief. Negligence of spiritual culture, injudicious reading, unsuitable associations, and other things, tend to nourish unbelief; but these are all within a man’s own control. “Take heed, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief, in departing from the living God.”
II. The responsibility for each rests on the other.—“But exhort one another day by day … lest any of you be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.” It is true that each man must “bear his own burden”; but it is also true that each must bear the other’s burden; the strong bear the infirmities of the weak. We can come into each other’s lives as gracious remedial forces; and this is especially true when mischievous teachers are exerting injurious influence, and the young, or those of receptive or sceptical dispositions, are placed in special temptation. We can “exhort one another.”
III. Our anxiety should concern the subtlety of sin and temptation.—Unbelief begins in secret questionings and doubtings: it easily grows into a fatal habit. The tempter keeps up the subtlety of Eden by suggesting suspicions,—“Yea, hath God said.” But the kind of subtlety indicated here is the exaggeration of a lower truth so as to push a higher one out of thought. The magnifying of Moses was intended to push out of thought the spiritual claims of Christ.
IV. The direction in which evil works is generally towards unbelief.—Trust is the element in which spiritual life thrives. Therefore the main effort of evil is to disturb that trust. Suspicion, doubt, unbelief, are the elements in which evil thrives. This is illustrated in the experience of the Israelites during their forty years of desert experience. It is the experience of religious life to-day. An age of criticism is an age of enfeebled spiritual life.
V. Unbelief always means hindrance from blessing.—It did, when those who came out of Egypt with Moses died in the wilderness (save the two men of faith, Caleb and Joshua). It did, when it kept the nation back from Canaan for eight-and-thirty years. It does, for God can make no response where there is doubt or unbelief. He cannot, because His response could be no blessing to men who were in such a mood of mind. God’s ever-working law of blessing is succinctly given by the Lord Jesus thus, “According to your faith be it unto you.” The good man always responds to trust. He can do anything for those who commit their interests wholly to him. And the good God is checked from blessing by nothing else as He is by distrust. The saddest thing is said concerning the towns beside the Lake of Galilee, in relation to the Lord Jesus, “He could not do many mighty works there because of their unbelief.” Do we ask anything of God? His first word in response always is, “Believest thou that I am able to do this?”
SUGGESTIVE NOTES AND SERMON SKETCHES
Hebrews 3:7. The Holy Ghost in the Old Testament.—“Even as the Holy Ghost saith,” in the book of psalms. God the Spirit bears relation to man the spirit. For man is a spirit. The great Spirit can overshadow, hallow, help, purify, teach, us dependent spirits. Luther illustrates the relation of the Divine Spirit to the human spirit by the effect of fire in heating, and in some respects changing the character of, water, so that under the power of the fire the water can do what of itself it could not do. The great fire-spirit can penetrate and influence the water-spirit. God, as a Spirit, must always have borne relations to the human spirit, and this superadding and inworking of God’s Spirit must always have been the secret source of all moral goodness. The inspirings of God are not the exclusive privilege of any one age. Illustrate this from—
I. The patriarchal period.—We cannot expect to find much respecting a subject which is the burden of God’s last and highest revelation in this primitive age. We may, however, look for some hints that would indicate, even then, the apprehension of God as working for man, not only externally in nature and providence, but in the very heart of things, and upon the mind or spirit of men. We ought not, however, to be surprised if we also meet with some confusion between man’s spiritual nature and the Spirit of God, or the spiritual working of God. As specimens of the references that may be found, turn to three passages:
1.Genesis 1:2; Genesis 1:2 : “The Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.” The Spirit is evidently apprehended as the great quickening principle, bearing intimate relation to life, and so dealing with the inward, secret heart of things.
2.Genesis 6:3; Genesis 6:3 : “My Spirit shall not always strive with man, for that he also is flesh.” The reference may be either to the Holy Spirit, or to the spiritual as opposed to the animal principle in man. Whichever meaning we prefer, the passage indicates discernment of the relation God bears to the inner, spiritual nature of man.
3.Genesis 41:38; Genesis 41:38 : “Can we find such a one as this is, a man in whom the Spirit of God is?” Without pressing unduly the meaning of Pharaoh in his use of the term “Spirit of God,” we have here also the indication of the same idea on the part even of the idolatrous peoples. Besides such passages as these we have many suggestions of God’s inwardly helping men in those days. At first we have only external relations with Adam and Noah, excepting perhaps the hint of internal relations afforded by the terms in which Enoch is spoken of: “Enoch walked with God, and he was not, for God took him.” Passing thus into the spiritual world seems to suggest Divine culture of the spiritual nature. But by-and-by we come to visions, dreams, inward voices, seen and heard by Abraham and Jacob. These reveal personal and individual relations of God with men, and His immediate communication with man’s mind and spirit. These visions, dreams, and inward voices are the proper beginnings and foreshadowings of the spiritual impulses, the inner workings of the Holy Spirit, which we know. And observe how exactly Abraham’s faith was like ours. He believed an inward voice which could not be absolutely verified, even as by our faith we now lay hold of the unprovable. “Blessed,” said Christ, “are they who have not seen, and yet have believed.” It is said in relation to the offering of his son God did tempt Abraham. This tempting, testing, trying of Abraham was manifestly God spiritually dealing with Abraham’s spiritual nature. And the same remark may be applied to the scene at Jabbok: it was the wrestling together of the Divine Spirit and the human spirit of Jacob.
II. The Mosaic period.—This was coincident with a more extensive and exact outward revelation of God. The prominent thing is minute and elaborate ceremonial: the entire outward life of the people in its social, political, and religious phases coming under Divine regulation. We may, however, reasonably expect clearer signs of the recognition of the inward workings of God on the part of those who, within the ceremonial, cultured their inner, spiritual nature. We find a number of passages in which the skill, talents, power to prophesy, and to deliver the country, are traced to the inworking of the Spirit of God. As specimens, refer to Exodus 31:2-3 : “I have called Bezaleel … and I have filled him with the Spirit of God, in wisdom, and in understanding,” etc. Bezaleel’s talents, genius, are directly traced to the inspiration of God. The same applies to Balaam’s power of prophesying. See Numbers 24:2 : “And Balaam lifted up his eyes, and he saw Israel abiding in his tents according to their tribes; and the Spirit of God came upon him.” See also in reference to the judges:—Judges 3:10 : Othniel—“The Spirit of the Lord came upon him and he judged Israel and went out to war.” Judges 6:34 : “The Spirit of the Lord came upon Gideon.” So of Saul and Saul’s messengers. 1 Samuel 10:10 : “A company of prophets met him; and the Spirit of God came upon him, and he prophesied among them.” 1 Samuel 19:20 : “The Spirit of God was upon the messengers of Saul, and they also prophesied.” There is an exceedingly interesting passage in Numbers 11:17, etc. Moses felt oppressively the burden of his charge in the ruling and judging of so great a people. God graciously arranged for the appointment of seventy elders to relieve him of part of the burden. In connection with this arrangement God said, “I will take of the spirit which is upon thee, and will put it upon them.” See Numbers 11:25 : “When the spirit rested on them they prophesied, and did not cease.” Compare Numbers 11:29. Here we have very distinctly presented Moses’ own spirit, and the Spirit of God overshadowing and inspiring it. God is called the God of the spirits of all flesh in Numbers 16:22; Numbers 27:16-17. And we have the hardening of the hearts of men traced to the operation of God’s Spirit, as in Deuteronomy 2:30 : “But Sihon king of Heshbon would not let us pass by him: for the Lord thy God hardened his spirit, and made his heart obstinate.”
III. The Davidic period.—Here one or two passages will suffice to remind of more familiar ones. Turn to Psalms 51:10-12 : “Cast me not away from Thy presence; and take not Thy Holy Spirit from me.” Here you observe that repentance was bringing up to light some of the deepest feelings and convictions of David’s soul; it was making him intensely spiritual: so he came to realise his inner dependence on the teachings and movings of God’s Spirit, and was led to express his fear lest at any time he should be left without the succour of the Spirit. See also Psalms 143:10 : “Teach me to do Thy will; for Thou art my God: Thy Spirit is good; lead me into the land of uprightness.” But even in this period it is evident that the externality of God, the things God does for us, still occupy chief attention. God is rock, refuge, fortress, deliverer. The inward inspirations of God are clearly recognised, and lovingly dwelt upon, only in the intenser, more spiritual moments of life.
IV. The prophetic period.—And what may we expect in this prophetic age? Its characteristic feature is a struggle to bring to its proper light and influence the inward claims and workings of God. The prophets do not, however, fully deal with the nature of this inward working of God. That would have been to anticipate Pentecostal times. They assume, assert, and vindicate the fact, and then proceed to urge the duty of man’s offering spiritual response to the fact. They were, as prophets, inwardly, Divinely moved men. Not really different from others, only the prominent examples of inspiration which every heart open to God might surely know. So their very presence asserted God’s spiritual relations with spirit. In the histories of the prophetic period we have the continuation of the idea on which we have dwelt: that talent, especially prophetic, is due to the working of God’s Spirit. Elisha desires a first-born’s portion of Elijah’s spirit (2 Kings 2:9; 2 Kings 2:15). Pul and Tiglath-pileser are said to be stirred up to war by the Spirit, as we have seen Sihon was hardened. And the captives of Babylon were roused up by the Spirit to return to their own land (Ezra 1:5). In the actual prophecies we have again and again the formula, “The word of the Lord came unto me,” implying operation of God on the spirit. Nehemiah says in his prayer, “Yet many years didst Thou forbear them, and testified against them by Thy Spirit in Thy prophets.” Isaiah speaks of the wanderings of Israel in the desert in this way:—Isaiah 63:10-11 : “But they rebelled, and vexed His Holy Spirit: therefore He was turned to be their enemy, and He fought against them. Then He remembered the days of old, Moses, and His people, saying, Where is He that brought them up out of the sea with the shepherd of His flock? where is He that put His Holy Spirit within him?” Ezekiel often speaks of the inner impulses of the Spirit. Zechariah, speaking of the former time, says (Hebrews 7:12), “Yea, they made their hearts as an adamant stone, lest they should hear the law, and the words which the Lord of hosts hath sent in His Spirit by the former prophets.” Enough has been said to show that throughout all ages of the world men have, with more or less distinctness, recognised the relation between God the Spirit and man’s spirit; with more or less clearness men have seen, as one text expresses it, that “there is a spirit in man, and the inspiration of the Almighty giveth him understanding.” But it will be suggested to your minds to inquire: Have we any reason for identifying this work of the Spirit in Old Testament times with the work of the Holy Ghost in this our Christian dispensation? Is the Spirit of God spoken of in the old age to be identified with the Holy Ghost of the new? If it is not, then we shall have to face the difficulty of two senses in which the Spirit of God is spoken of in Scripture, and to deal with the confusion of imagining there has been no unity in the Divine dealings with our race. All thought of God’s education of the world must be put away, and we must think of His ways with us as a number of abrupt and unconnected dealings, fashioned for adaptation to peculiar and unexpected circumstances. “The God of the whole earth” He can hardly “be called.” Turn to two passages in the epistles of Peter (1 Peter 1:10-11): “Of which salvation the prophets have enquired and searched diligently, who prophesied of the grace that should come unto you: searching what, or what manner of time the Spirit of Christ which was in them did signify, when it testified beforehand the suffering of Christ and the glory that should follow.” Now the spirit of the prophets is declared to have been the Spirit of Christ. The Spirit of Christ is none other than the Holy Ghost: for in 2 Peter 1:21 it is said, “For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost.” We may therefore say that, apprehended in its most simple form, the Holy Spirit, the Holy Ghost, the Third Person of the Trinity, may be conceived of as God acting upon man’s spirit, inspiring, moving, leading him to the apprehension of all moral truth, and the expression in conduct of all moral goodness. “There is a spirit in man, and the Spirit of God influences it, giving to it understanding and impulse.”
Hebrews 3:10. Can God suffer?—Is there any sensibility in God that can suffer? Is He ever wrenched by suffering? Nothing is more certain. He could not be good, having evil in His dominions, without suffering even according to His goodness. For what is goodness but a perfect feeling? And what is a perfect feeling but that which feels towards every wrong and misery according to its nature? And thus it is that we freely impute to Him, whether we observe it or not, every sort of painful sensibility that is related to bad and suffering subjects. We conceive of Him as feeling displeasure, which is the opposite of pleasure. We ascribe it as one of His perfections that He compassionates, which means that He suffers with the fallen. We conceive that He loathes what is disgusting, hates what is cruel, suffers long what is perverse, grieves, burns, bears, forbears, and is even afflicted for His people, as the Scripture expressly declares. All which are varieties of suffering. We also ascribe it to God, as one of His perfections, that He is impassible; but here, if we understand ourselves, we mean that He is physically impassible, not that He is morally so. Moral impassibility is really to have no sensibilities of character, which is as far as possible from being any perfection. Indeed there is a whole class of what are called passive virtues that cannot, in this view, belong to God at all, and His perfection culminates without including more than half the excellencies demanded even of us, in the range of our humble, finite capacity. There is then some true sense in which even God’s perfection required Him to be a suffering God—not a God unhappy, or less than perfectly, infinitely blessed; for though there be many subtractions from His blessedness, there is never any diminution; because the consciousness of suffering will bring with it, in every case and everlastingly, a compensation which, by a great law of equilibrium in His and all spiritual natures, fully repays the loss; just as Christ, assailed by so many throes of suffering sensibility—in the temptation, in His ministry, in the garden—still speaks of His joy, and bequeaths it as a gift most real and sublime to His followers. It is this suffering sensibility of God that most needed to be revealed, and brought nigh to human feeling, in the incarnate mission of Jesus.—Horace Bushnell, D.D.
Hebrews 3:12. Good Unbelief and Bad.—“An evil heart of unbelief.” A head of unbelief may be good; a heart of unbelief must be bad. Doubt may be a condition of mental growth; suspicion and mistrust spoil all moral relations. It is said of the Berœans, “Now these were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, examining the Scriptures daily, whether these things were so.” But their superior nobility consisted in their taking an attitude of interested doubt. They listened well, but would not believe until they had removed their reasonable hesitation by full inquiry. It may even be said that a man cannot be capable of faith if he is incapable of unbelief. A mere uninquiring recipiency indicates a very undeveloped moral nature. A man is not manly unless he is able to say, “I can doubt, but I do believe.” Doubt is the impulse to inquiry and search; and therefore absolute certainty is not attainable by man in relation to anything in which he is interested. He is always under inspiration to “prove all things.” Unbelief of the head then may be good. Intelligence involves doubting. He who receives everything thinks about nothing, and receives only as a sponge does. All mental attainments are battles with unbelief. “I am not sure about it”; then, “I must satisfy myself about it.” Intelligent men go through doubt to faith. Unbelief of the heart is bad. That is the unbelief which is so sternly rebuked in the Scriptures. A man may doubt, but want to believe if he can. A man may doubt, and want to find excuse for not believing if he can. The one is good, and the other is evil. The Israelites of the wilderness did not, fail by reason of intellectual unbelief, but by reason of failure in heart-trust: their sin was an “evil heart of unbelief.” Capernaum and the cities of Galilee were not condemned for intellectual unbelief, but for heart-resistance of the claims of the great Teacher. The unbelief that imperils is not opinion, but feeling, mood, bias. It is a resistance of the will, a moral condition which makes evidence ineffective, and persuasion helpless. When the heart influences the head, unbelief becomes ruinous.
Hebrews 3:13. The Deceitfulness of Sin.—The most marked characteristic of sin is indicated in its first personification, when it was set in relation to man’s moral fall. “Now the serpent was more subtle than any beast of the field which the Lord God had made.” Subtlety, secret movement, insincerities, and deceptions, are essentials in the working of sin. That they must be so is seen at once when we apprehend that sin is no creative agency, but a disturbing and upsetting agency. If a man is going to do something, he can be open and above-board; but if he is going to upset something, he will have to work in secret and practise deceptions. The enemy who sowed tares in the wheat-field had to do it secretly and deceptively while men slept. The special deceitfulness of sin referred to here is its way of affecting a man’s will and purpose and heart in relation to the religious life. Its agency is self-interest. In the saved man the self-interest is dethroned, and the Christ-interest enthroned. The work of evil is the subtle endeavour to revive the self-interest. The man finds himself growingly interesting to himself, and before he is aware he finds his heart self-hardened against Christ through the deceitful workings of sin.
Our Only Possession—To-day.—In what sense can a man be said to possess anything? Strictly speaking a man has nothing but the use of things. As the old satirist expresses it, the man who sits down to a loaded table of luxuries really has no more than the little that he can eat. The farmer thought he possessed goods and time. “Soul, thou hast much goods laid up for many years.” He had power to hold no handful of the goods and no day of time. We speak of what we will do on the morrow, and no man has any to-morrow until God gives it to him, and then he has to call it “to-day.”
“To-morrow, Lord, is Thine,
Lodged in Thy sovereign hand.”
A man has one thing only—the present hour. To-day—that is our only actual possession. Everything else save the thing of the hour, and every coming hour, is God’s possession, not ours; He will give it to us if it pleases Him so to do.
Hebrews 3:14. Safety in continuing.—“If we hold fast the beginning of our confidence firm unto the end.” St. Paul expresses the same truth in commending “patient continuance in well-doing.” And the risen and living Lord bade His Church be “faithful unto death.” Older Scriptures present the same truth, “Then shall ye know, if ye follow on to know the Lord.”
I. There is no safety in beginning a Christian profession.—There might be, if we were translated as soon as we had planted our first footstep on the Christian highway. There is not, because that first step does but start a pilgrimage, which is a serious testing of that beginning. The teaching which exaggerates the safety of an act of beginning is mischievous.
II. There is no safety in spasmodic experiences.—Such as are provided for Christians in times of religious excitement. Many think they are safe because they have felt intense feelings occasionally.
III. There is only safety in continuance and persistency.—Because the Christian life is a moral cult, an advancing sanctification, a man only keeps right by keeping on.
Hebrews 3:16. Relief of a Dark Picture.—The story of the murmuring, distrustfulness, and self-interested rebelliousness of ancient Israel in the wilderness is a sad, dark story. It never ceases to surprise and pain us; and we never feel that the excuses offered for them are sufficient to relieve the darkness. They were the chosen people of Jehovah, brought out of a stern bondage by magnificent displays of Divine power which ought to have inspired absolute confidence—provided for in every way, every recurring need graciously met, every foe held off, and a plain way made for the possession of the Promised Land. And yet persistent rebellion at last reached a climax, and the judgment went forth that doomed every man who had come out of Egypt to find a grave in the wilderness. It was the doom of those who could not take God at His word, and trust Him fully. There is a relief to the almost too dark picture. Two men stand out to view. They will be spared. They will enter the Promised Land. And what is there peculiar in their case? They kept their trust in God. They “followed the Lord fully.” God always honours full trust.
ILLUSTRATIONS TO CHAPTER 3
Hebrews 3:13. The Power of Habits.—“Hardened through the deceitfulness of sin.” The longer you sit under the gospel and continue in sin, the more easily you can hear it without alarm. If a person were obliged to sleep near a waterfall, he would not be able for the first few weeks to sleep soundly for the noise, but in a very short time he would hardly be able to sleep without it. I have seen in Scotland a dog, during the blacksmith’s labour at the anvil, sleeping soundly with the shower of live sparks falling around him.—Dr. Cumming.
So used to it.—You may observe, in travelling on a railroad, how the young cattle run away in terror from the engine, while those that have often seen it pass go on quietly grazing and do not regard it; so one who has been accustomed to be a “hearer of the word, and not a doer,” will acquire more and more of the same kind of familiarity. Suppose that there is in your neighbourhood a loud bell, that is ringing very early every morning to call the labourer to some great manufactory. At first and for some time your rest will be broken by it; but if you accustom yourself to be still, and try to compose yourself, you will become in a few days so used to it that it will not even wake you. But any one who makes a point of rising immediately at the call will become so used to it, in the opposite way, that the sound will never fail to rouse him from the deepest sleep. Both will have been accustomed to the same bell, but will have formed opposite habits from their contrary modes of action. Of sporting dogs there are some, such as the greyhound, that are trained to pursue hares; and others which are trained to stand motionless when they come upon a hare, even though they see it running before them. Now both are accustomed to hares, and both have originally the same instincts—all dogs having an instinctive tendency to pursue game. But the one kind has always been accustomed to run after a hare, and the other has always been chastised if it attempted to do so, and has been trained to stand still.—Whately.
Perilous Beginnings.—You remember the old story of the prisoner in his tower, delivered by his friend, who sent a beetle to crawl up the wall, fastening a silken thread to it, which had a thread a little heavier attached to the end of that, and so on, and so on, each thickening in diameter until they got to a cable. That is the way in which the devil has got hold of a great many of us. He weaves round us silken threads to begin with, slight, as if we could break them with a touch of our fingers, and they draw after them, as certainly as destiny, at each remove, a thickening chain, until at last we are tied and bound, and our captor laughs at our mad plunges for freedom, which are as vain as a wild bull’s in the hunter’s nets.—A. Maclaren, D.D.
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Hebrews 3". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
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