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CHARACTER-FITNESS FOR HIGH-PRIESTLY WORK
CRITICAL AND EXEGETICAL NOTES
THE writer now fixes attention on the high-priesthood, shows what are its characteristic and essential features, and makes comparisons with, and in part contrasts with, the high-priesthood of Christ. His points are:
1. The priest was appointed for men; on behalf of, to superintend and direct the concerns which men have with God.
2. The priest, by reason of his own personal experiences of human infirmity, must be able to sympathise.
3. The priest could only be constituted such by Divine appointment. In showing that Christ is an abiding and all-sufficient High Priest and Saviour, the writer is led to speak of deep and difficult things, involving a very full and spiritual knowledge of the sacred word. He therefore stops in his argument to reprove the slowness and dulness of the spiritual understanding of those to whom he writes.
Hebrews 5:1. Taken from among men.—Or, “since he is taken.” There is no suggestion that Christ was not so taken. The expression simply means, “inasmuch as taken from men.” To this condition the eternal Word conformed by becoming incarnate. For men.—On men’s behalf; for the benefit of men (ὑπέρ). Not meaning “instead of.” Things.—τὰ πρὸς τὸν Θεόν: men’s religious concerns; such of them at least as deal with ceremonial relations, worship, and sacrifice. Gifts and sacrifices.—δῶρα καὶ θυσίας, thank-offerings, and sin- and trespass-offerings, the latter differing from the former in involving the life of a victim. In classical Greek the word “sacrifices” is only used to mean “slain beasts.” In Old Testament usage the term “gifts” included both unbloody and bloody offerings. All forms of offering had to be presented by the priest. So all forms of spiritual gift and sacrifice have to be presented by Christ as the great High Priest.
Hebrews 5:2. Have compassion.—μετριοπαθεῖν. The classical usage of this word is thus explained: The Stoics said man should be ἀπαθής, not subject to passions. The Platonists said man should be μετριοπαθής, moderate in affections, and not ἀπαθής. The use of the verb is peculiar to the New Testament. The leading idea of the word is to be moderate in our feelings and passions; here wisely restrained in dealing with those who err through ignorance. The word is found both in Philo and Josephus. Margin, “reasonably bear with”; R.V. “bear gently with.” Ignorant … out of the way.—R.V. “ignorant and erring.” Those whose burdens are sins of frailty, and those whose burdens are sins of wilfulness. Both classes seek and need the sympathy of the high priest. Himself also.—A frail man. Fellow-experience is the condition of all true help given to others. Those who have not themselves erred are proverbially harsh: ἀσθένεια here means moral infirmity, not the natural frailty of the physical system.
Hebrews 5:3. Reason hereof.—By reason of his own moral infirmity, which involves his own sin. Reference may be intended to the particular ceremonies of the Day of Atonement. (In Hebrews 7:26-28 the difference in this respect between the old high priest and Christ is presented.) He ought.—“He is bound not merely as a legal duty, but as a moral necessity.”
Hebrews 5:4. Unto himself.—The jealousy with which the high-priesthood was kept in the God-appointed family of Aaron is a remarkable feature of the old economy. Farrar quotes the following sentence from one of the Jewish Midrashim: “Moses says to Korah, ‘If Aaron, my brother, had taken upon himself the priesthood, ye would be excused for murmuring against him; but God gave it to him.’ ” See Numbers 16-18. R.V. gives the verse precisely, “And no man taketh the honour unto himself, but when he is called of God, as was Aaron.”
Hebrews 5:5. Glorified.—Did not claim honour for Himself (John 8:54; Romans 11:13). Begotten Thee.—As applied to an office, this means “exalted.”
Hebrews 5:7.—This and the two following verses illustrate Hebrews 5:2 in reference to Christ. “I. have shown you that a priest must have experience and fellow-feeling; our great High Priest has.” Days of His flesh.—As distinguished from His present day of glory. The special scene in the mind of the writer appears to be the agony in Gethsemane. That scene should be read in the light of this text. There can be no question about Christ’s having an actual experience of man’s inward soul-troubles. The difficulty of the verse is connected with the sentence, “and was heard in that He feared,” ἀπὸ τῆς εὐλαβείας; R.V. “having been heard for His godly fear”; “because of His reverential awe.” The words may mean, “because of His fear”; or, “on account of His fear”; or, “in respect of that which He feared.” Stuart prefers, “was delivered from that which He feared.”
Hebrews 5:8. Learned He.—Or, “He was subjected, though so exalted a personage, to learn experimentally, what it is to obey in the midst of sufferings.”
Hebrews 5:9. Made perfect.—In the sense of being adequately fitted for His work, and entirely competent to undertake it. Eternal salvation.—In the sense of being a continuous, abiding, perpetual, ever-working power to save and sanctify. The word “eternal” in the New Testament is often used as equivalent to “spiritual.” And the spiritual is necessarily the permanent.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Hebrews 5:1-10
Qualifications of Priesthood.—The subject which mainly occupies the attention of this writer is introduced in Hebrews 4:14-16, which should properly begin chap. 5. The references to the Divine nature of Christ in chap. 1, and to the human nature of Christ in chap. 2, were introductory to the full consideration of the relation in which this Divine-human person stood to men, and of the office which He held in order to accomplish man’s full redemption. He was writing to Jews, who were not only familiar with the priestly system, but were hindered by their interest in its formality from apprehending its spiritual fulfilment in Christ. As the writer had both compared and contrasted Moses and Christ, giving all honour to Moses that was due to him, but giving the greater honour to Christ, so now he both compares and contrasts the older formal high priest and the new spiritual High Priest, giving honour to the old, while showing that, having fruitened in the new, it may be allowed to pass away. In the passage Hebrews 4:14-16 what is involved in the humanity and sinless experience in a sinful world of the new High Priest is stated in a general way. In the passage now before us the qualifications of the new High Priest are given more in detail, and with the qualifications of the Jewish priests in mind. The comparison of the Aaronical priesthood, as to dignity, duties, office, and utility, with that of Christ, and of their functions with His, makes up the body of the epistle, extending to Hebrews 10:18. Stuart gives the comparisons of the passage now before us thus: “
1. Every priest is appointed on behalf of men, in order that he may superintend and direct the concerns which men have with God, and may present their oblations and sacrifices before Him.
2. Every priest being himself ‘compassed with infirmity,’ is prepared by his own experience to sympathise with others in like condition; and because of his own sins and imperfections, it becomes his duty to offer expiatory sacrifices for himself as well as for them.
3. No priest appoints himself to the sacred office; his appointment is by Divine direction.” But the comparison may be somewhat more fully elaborated.
I. A necessary qualification of priesthood is a Divine call.—“No man taketh the honour unto himself, but when he is called of God, as was Aaron.” This is an appeal to the sentiment of the stricter Jews, who regarded with extreme jealousy the exclusive rights of the Aaronic priesthood. It alone was the appointment of God. It was an easy thing for an objector to distress the Jewish Christians by urging on their attention that Christ could have no claims to the high-priesthood, seeing that He belonged to the tribe of Judah, not to the tribe of Levi, and not in any sense to the Aaronic family. The answer is as simple as it is satisfactory. True, God appointed Aaron. True, no one can alter the appointment but He who made it. But God is not imprisoned in His own appointments. He can alter them if He wills so to do. His fresh appointments are as valid as His earlier ones. He has superseded the Aaronic priesthood. He has called Jesus to a permanent spiritual priesthood; and this the Scriptures plainly testify. Two passages are given, and these, according to Jewish principles of interpretation, would be regarded as fully satisfactory evidence. We should pay more heed to the evidence of the Incarnation, and of the Divine voice of attestation at our Lord’s baptism and transfiguration.
II. A necessary qualification of priesthood is gracious character.—The high priest ought always to have been the ideal good man of his generation—“who can bear gently with the ignorant and erring, for that he himself also is compassed with infirmity.” Our almost exclusive attention to the sacrificial side of priestly work has prevented our giving due heed to the priestly example and moral influence. A side-light is thrown upon it by the narrative of Hannah’s visit to the tabernacle. The high priest Eli noticed her, and felt it to be a part of his duty to reprove what seemed to be a fault in her. There can be no doubt that the high priests were the moral and religious advisers of the people. It was not only that the people inquired of God through the high priest, who had the oracle, they also sought advice from him in the difficulties and perplexities of their commonplace, everyday effort to live the godly life. It was absolutely essential therefore that he should have
(1) a gracious natural disposition;
(2) a wisely trained and cultured character; and
(3) the discipline of personal experience of the sorrows of human life. Grant this, and it may easily be shown that the Lord Jesus, as the spiritual High Priest, altogether surpasses any previous priest in this threefold qualification. In Him there was unusual natural power of sympathy; complete, all-round culture of character; and very full discipline through experience of suffering. “Having been made perfect, He became unto all them that obey Him the Author of eternal salvation.” Christ’s character is power.
III. A necessary qualification of priesthood is the discipline of experience.—Mention has been made of this in its relation to character; now we see it in relation to official duties. A man must know life, as it can only be known, by passing through its varied experiences, if he is to advise, convict, aid, or comfort his fellows. The tone on a man’s work is strangely changed when he has come through suffering. The older priests lived a family life through a great part of the year, and so shared common human experiences. If the veil were lifted from the first thirty years of our Lord’s life, we should probably be surprised to see how severe was the discipline of experience that He passed through. Two things are prominent in this passage:
1. Our Lord’s experience of prayer (Hebrews 5:7).
2. Our Lord’s experience of suffering (Hebrews 5:8).
IV. A necessary qualification of priesthood is a Divinely appointed order.—“Named of God a high priest after the order of Melchizedek.” A man called of God is not to be regarded as an independent man, who may carry out his priesthood in his own ways. He belongs to some order. But God has more than one order. All we have to be anxious about is, that the man should be in one of God’s orders. He has temporary orders, such as that of Levi; and He has permanent orders, like that of Melchizedek. He has hereditary orders, and orders of personal Divine call. This subject is treated more fully in a later chapter of the epistle.
In application show that the qualifications of priesthood are the qualifications of all who engage in the sacred ministry, and indeed of all who are endeavouring to serve others in the name of Christ.
SUGGESTIVE NOTES AND SERMON SKETCHES
Hebrews 5:1-10. Fitness of the High Priest.—The general idea of this passage has been thus given: “For as every human high priest shares the nature of those on behalf of whom he appears before God, and thus can be compassionate towards them; and, moreover, can only receive his appointment from God; so Christ is God-appointed. He has learned His obedience through sufferings, and, thus made perfect, is declared by God High Priest for ever.”
The Essence of Christianity.—Christianity is obedience to a Person, a Master, a Lord. Submission to Christ characterises the first act and the whole action of the spiritual life. Hence the necessary connection between faith and obedience. Whatever may have been the moral character previously, this is the uniform mark of those who are heirs of salvation, that they obey Christ with a direct conscious intention.
Hebrews 5:2. The Compassion of a Priest.—Farrar gives the following note, which is both suggestive and illustrative: “The word μετριοπαθεῖν means properly ‘to show moderate emotions.’ All men are liable to emotions and passions (πάθη). The Stoics held that these should be absolutely crushed, and that ‘apathy’ (ἀπάθεια) was the only fit condition for a philosopher. The Peripatetics, on the other hand,—the school of Aristotle—held that the philosopher should not aim at apathy, because no man can be absolutely passionless without doing extreme violence to nature; but that he should acquire metriopathy—that is, a spirit of ‘moderated emotion’ and self-control. The word is found both in Philo and Josephus. In common usage it meant ‘moderate compassion,’ since the Stoics held ‘pity’ to be not only a weakness but a vice. The Stoic ἀπάθεια would have utterly disqualified any one for true priesthood. Our Lord yielded to human emotions, such as pity, sorrow, and just anger; and that He did so and could do so, ‘yet without sin,’ is expressly recorded for our instruction.”
Hebrews 5:7. The Divine-human Model of Prayer.—R.V. “And having been heard for His godly fear.” There can be no doubt that the writer had chiefly in mind the scene of Gethsemane. But while the agonising prayer of our Divine Lord on that occasion is a model of some kinds of Christian prayer, it cannot be taken as a model of all kinds. It was a model of the prayer by the aid of which man brings his will into full accord with the Divine will; and so it was a prayer of preparation for doing high-priestly service. And this seems to be indicated by the form of the sentence given in the Revised Version. God’s recognition rested on the character of the suppliant, as shown in His supreme anxiety concerning God’s will, and in His readiness to undergo suffering in order to carry out, and so to glorify, the Divine will. “Having been heard for His godly fear.” That is the one feature of the scene of Gethsemane on which the writer fixes for his present purpose; and it is precisely to his point. He is dealing with the importance of character in a high priest, and with the sublime way in which the character of Jesus gave Him high-priestly power. A man’s intercession can be no mere perfunctory, official duty. It is the power of the man; it is the acceptableness—the representative acceptableness—of personal and gracious character. Gethsemane teaches us that a man must be in right mind-moods, and right heart-moods, if his prayer is to be heard and answered. And while this is true of man’s prayers for personal blessings, it is even more true of his intercessions. It is not merely a submissive mood that he must cherish. The Divine-human Model in Gethsemane has a more searching appeal to us than that. It is a submission which is seen to involve personal suffering and sacrifice. That alone reveals such a character, such a godly fear, as will ensure an intercessor’s prayers being heard. The character and quality of prayer is often dwelt on. We may “ask amiss.” But the character and right mood of him who prays is not so often commended to our attention. And just that is the gist of the example of intercessory prayer of our Divine-human Lord. He was what ensured the answer to His plea.
Hebrews 5:8-9. Learning the Obedience of Sonship.—An abstract relationship is of little interest apart from the fulfilment of those duties that are involved in the relationship. It is a comparatively unimportant thing that Christ stood in relation to God as a Son. It is a most important thing, a most powerful, effective, persuasive thing, that He showed and proved His Sonship in a life of obedience, which was fully tested by suffering.
I. This absolute fact about Christ—He is “the Son.”—“Though He were a Son.” That appears to be a fact of extreme plainness and simplicity; and yet the fiercest theological battles have raged around it. Is the Son-relation of Christ to God a relation that involves equality with God or subordination to Him? Must we think of His Sonship as an eternal relation which He sustained towards the Father before all worlds? or is it only the mode of His revelation to men, the aspect under which His mediatorship is presented, the relation demanded by the exigencies of human redemption? Such grave questions interest theologians, but if we could settle them we should not be satisfied. The Divine voice said, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” We turn to the Man who was thus addressed; we watch His life; we observe His spirit and conduct, in order to find out the charms that lay in His Sonship. There is no term of relationship which can surpass in interest that of sons. God takes to represent Himself the highest, tenderest, and most affecting relationship into which His creatures can come. We do not read aright the story of Christ’s life on the earth, save as we discern, in it all, the exhibition and illustration of His Sonship, the obedience of the child, the devotion of the Son. This is the fact concerning Christ, He is a Son. But this fact must not stand alone. The Sonship must come out to view; it must be shown, tested, proved.
II. The trial, or proof, of His Sonship.—“Learned He obedience by the things which He suffered.” If this trial is to be of interest to us, and morally effective on us, it must be made in this our earthly sphere, and under our human conditions. If He be only the eternal Son, then there may have been expressions and testings of that Sonship in the “heavenly places”; but we could not apprehend those forms of testing, and we could feel but little impulse from their revelation to us. The whole fascination gathers round Christ, because He alone shows us perfect, Divine Sonship, lived out in human scenes, and under human conditions. Each relationship in which men stand has some one thing which is its essential feature and characteristic. The essential of kingship is the spirit of judgment; of fatherhood, loving authority; of motherhood, sacrificing affection; of sisterhood, thoughtfulness for others; and of sonship, obedience. We have no right to the name of son save as we obey. We take the life of the Lord Jesus, and search it, seeking for signs of that which we know to be the very essence of sonship, and we receive surprising impressions of the perfectness and Divine beauty of His obedience. He spoke the Father’s words; He did the Father’s works; He showed the Father’s spirit; He fulfilled the Father’s mission; He glorified the Father’s name. Watching that life of earnest, cheerful, hearty, loving obedience, who of us does not say, “We know now what sonship to God means, we feel now its transcendent charm and beauty”? But the obedience of sonship is no mere series of acts. It is that series of acts only as they are instinct with the spirit of obedience, done in the freeness of the will, under the impulse of the affection of the heart. A life full of obedient acts will never make or glorify a sonship, any more than a wealth of apples, tied on, can make a fruitful tree. They must be the utterances of the soul’s life in God. And the great charm of our Saviour’s life is this—His acts suffice to open and reveal to us a loving, devoted, obedient soul. But was that Sonship never tested or tried? Was it easy for Jesus to be good? Did He never know trial or temptation? Did His ship sail over the ocean of life all in fair weather? Did never one black cloud skirt the horizon for Him? Did never one storm-wind raise the tossing waves? If we had to say that Jesus knew no testings, then almost all the glory of Christ would, for us, fade away. His nearness, His brotherhood, would be gone. But suffering, tried, and tempted as He was, He is infinitely attractive to suffering, tried, and tempted men. How is it that suffering, here on earth, becomes such a testing and proving of obedience? In this—suffering provides a scene in which a conflict can be carried on between self-will and God’s will. Every scene of suffering in our life is really this—God providing a battle-ground in which the son in us may win a victory over the self. All suffering-times are represented in Gethsemane. Suffering of any kind is never pleasing to self. We shrink from it, resist it, mourn over it. Natural inclination never helps us to bear it. But the question is put to the son, “Can you bear this as duty? Can you master your own feeling, and bear it as your Father’s will?” The perfect Son, and all who catch His Spirit, answer “Yes,” and are obedient even unto death.
III. The proved, tested Sonship of Jesus becomes a mighty moral power on human hearts.—
1. There is nothing touches our hopefulness like it.
2. We soon get bewildered and agitated, wanting guidance as to what shall constitute the spirit and life of a son. Then we look to Christ, and see what sonship means; practically and plainly we discern how it works out in common life, how it acts even under the test of suffering.
3. It glorifies service, submission, obedience, ministry. Christ changes the very ground of our estimate of moral qualities; sets that first which was last, and that last which was first. The world-despised virtues of meekness, patience, dependence, submission, and obedience are lifted into the first place in our esteem; we see them to be the elements of a true and noble sonship; and the world-praised qualities of valour, and courage, and energy, and wisdom, and genius go for evermore into a second place; they are only the elements of a true and noble manhood.
4. And the proved Sonship, shown in obedience, tested in suffering, is a secret of our Lord’s saving power—His power to deliver men from their sins, their sin, and their self: His own beautiful Sonship touching, quickening theirs; finding them out in their wandering, prodigal misery, and wakening in their lost souls the cry of the child, “I will arise, and go to my Father.” Shown to be obedient, even through suffering, He, “being made perfect, becomes the Author of eternal salvation unto all them that obey Him.”
Hebrews 5:9. Eternal Salvation.—It is not possible to limit the meaning of the word “eternal” to the time figure that is in it, and then intelligently apply the word to the various things to which the Scripture writers apply it. Putting their references and associations before us, we cannot but be impressed by the necessity for finding some less limited connotation for the term. It will increasingly come to us that we use the term “spiritual” very much as Scripture writers used “eternal.” They spoke of “heaven” and the “heavenly,” and we understand them to mean the other, unseen, spiritual world. We know they did not mean a place, a local habitation. In the same way they spoke of “eternal” things, and we know that they meant “otherwise” things, immaterial things, spiritual things, things related to the real life of the souls that we are. Thus we find the following associations of the word “eternal” (there are more if we take the answering word “everlasting”): “Eternal God,” “eternal excellency,” “eternal condemnation,” “eternal sin” (R.V.), “eternal power,” “eternal weight,” “eternal house,” “eternal purpose,” “eternal King,” “eternal glory,” “eternal salvation,” “eternal judgment,” “eternal redemption,” “eternal Spirit,” “eternal inheritance,” “eternal fire,” “eternal life.” In many cases it is absolutely necessary to put some special meaning to the term, if the time limitation is in any way to be preserved. Take two illustrative cases. Sin is an act, and in its very nature temporary. To say “eternal sin” must be made to mean a continuous and unchanging bad mood of man, a continuous state of sinfulness. But our Lord was speaking of an act, the act of blasphemy against the Holy Ghost, and that is a spiritual sin, a sin of our spirit, against the great Spirit. So with “eternal judgment.” The word may be applied to the consequences of judgment, but the judgment as an act is temporary. So “eternal salvation” is not persistently continuous salvation. What Christ gained power to give us was soul salvation, spiritual salvation: that is continuous by its very nature.
Christ Perfect.—The Greek word translated “perfect” was used among the heathen in a specific sense: for instance, one thoroughly initiated into the arcana or other mysteries was called “a perfect man.” The meaning was not morally or personally perfect, but thoroughly acquainted with all the facts and mysteries of the caste or service. Now Christ was made perfect by being made thoroughly acquainted with human nature in every point, even to its lowest depths, which needed thirty-three years of the Son of God to fathom it.—Dr. Cumming.
ILLUSTRATIONS TO CHAPTER 5
Hebrews 5:1. Sacrifice.—Amidst the various elements of worship which were to be carried on in and around the tabernacle, the most conspicuous was, so far as we can judge, peculiarly fitted to the mind of an Arabian tribe. We may indulge in philosophical or theological speculations concerning the institution of sacrifice, but historically (and this is the only point of view in which we are now to consider it) we cannot overlook its adaptations to the peculiar period of the Israelites’ existence in which we find it first described at length. Some of the forms are identical with those of Egypt and of India. But it is remarkable that the institution (taken in its most general aspect), after having perished everywhere else among the worshippers of one God, still lingers among that portion of the Semitic nations which more than any other represents the conditions of Israel at Sinai. Extinct almost entirely in the Jewish race itself, it is still an important part of the worship of the Bedouin Arabs. In the desert of Sinai itself sacrifice is almost the only form which Bedouin religion takes, at the chief sanctuary of the peninsula, the tomb of Sheykh Saleh, and on the summit of Serbal. When Burckhardt wished to penetrate into the then inaccessible fastness of Petra, the pretext which afforded him the greatest security was that of professing a desire to sacrifice a goat at the tomb of Aaron.—Dean Stanley.
Hebrews 5:9. Learning Obedience.—An American writer tells a story of the veteran General Sumner at the battle of Antietam. His son, young Captain Sumner, a youth of twenty-one, was on his staff. The old man calmly stood amidst a storm of shot and shell, and turned to send him through a doubly raging fire upon a mission of duty. He might never see his boy again, but his country claimed his life; and, as he looked upon his young brow, he grasped his hand, encircled him in his arms, and fondly kissed him. “Good-bye, Sammy!” “Good-bye, father!” And the youth, mounting his horse, rode gaily on the message. He returned unharmed, and again his hand was grasped with a cordial, “How d’ye do, Sammy?” answered by a grasp of equal affection.
CRITICAL AND EXEGETICAL NOTES
Hebrews 5:11. Hard to be uttered.—R.V. “hard of interpretation.” But the difficulty was mainly due to the spiritual incapacity of those to whom the epistle was written. Dull of hearing.—Not of listening, but of apprehending.
Hebrews 5:12. First principles.—Rudiments; lit. “rudiments of the beginning.” Oracles of God.—Not the Old Testament Scriptures, but the truths and doctrines which God has revealed under the gospel. Need of milk.—Farrar says young students or neophytes in the Rabbinic schools were called thînokoth, “sucklings.”
Hebrews 5:13. Unskilful.—Or, “one who has not that skill or experience in regard to anything which is requisite to a due apprehension and consideration of it.” Word of righteousness—which cultures, builds up, the life of righteousness. Babe.—For Pauline use of this figure see Galatians 4:3; 1 Corinthians 2:6; Ephesians 4:13-14; and also 1 Corinthians 14:20.
Hebrews 5:14. Full age.—R.V. “full-grown men.” τέλειον, “grown up”; “matured.” Senses.—Here, spiritual faculties; the internal senses of Christians, αἰσθητήρια. The word is not found anywhere else in the New Testament. Good and evil.—Not mere right and wrong, but the value or worthlessness of the forms and aspects in which the Christian truth might be presented to them by different teachers.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Hebrews 5:11-14
A Hindrance to Advanced Teachers.—Those under Christian instruction ought to grow stage by stage, so as to be able to receive higher and fuller teachings. They are expected to “grow in grace,” in everything that relates to Christian character; but also to grow “in the knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ,” in the mental apprehension of Divine and eternal things. It is necessary to point out that growth in Christian knowledge is in every way as important, as essential indeed, as growth in Christian grace. So often credit is claimed for keeping to first principles and Christian simplicities; it is a ground of reproach, not of credit. It is like grown men and women reading nothing but the picture-books of their childhood. The Christian teaching properly advances from the simplicities suited to the child-stage of religious life, to the philosophy and theology, and even what may be called “mysticism,” suited to the full-grown stage of religious life. The milk of Christian truth is good, but it is good for babes. He is a poor Christian who keeps always to his milk. He does no honour to the grace that he has received. The hindrance this writer complains of is failure to grow under Christian instructions. But it may be unfolded so as to present its various applications. The hindrance may appear as—
1. Dulness of hearing, as if the ear were stopped up with other, selfish, or worldly interests.
2. Lack of receptivity for truth. There is often great readiness for religious emotions and sensations; and these almost always go with a lack of interest in truth, other than the stock ideas of some sect.
3. Inability to deal with truth. “Senses not exercised to discern between good and evil.” Either stubborn resistance of all truth that sounds new, or fatal readiness to take up with everything new.
4. Clinging to child-simplicities; forgetful that truth cannot be its full, best self for children, because it must be qualified and adapted to them. We think gospel simplicities are the truth; they are but the truth for children. We may be grown, yet only a child in Christ. We may be grown, and a man in Christ.
SUGGESTIVE NOTES AND SERMON SKETCHES
Hebrews 5:12. The Scriptures as Oracles of God.—The term “oracles” may give us some right views of the Holy Scriptures, but there is grave danger of its giving us wrong ideas. It certainly will if we fail to see the radical distinctions between the oracles of heathenism and paganism, and the oracles of either the Old or the New Testament religion. Our Scriptures are not like pagan oracles, and the idea of Divine inspiration which is toned by those oracular associations is altogether false and unworthy. λογίων Θεοῦ means, “doctrines,” “communications” of God; and the association of the word “oracle” belongs entirely to our English translation. No precise idea answering to it is found in the Greek word. Farrar thinks that the term is not intended to apply to the Old Testament at all, but belongs only to the Christian principles and doctrines which the writer so evidently has in mind. It seems, however, from allusions in Philo and other writers, that the term “oracles of God” was in those days commonly employed for the Scriptures of the Old Testament. The pagan idea of “oracles” may be wisely contrasted with the idea of Christian teachers who used the term “oracles” of the Scriptures. A pagan oracle was an answer to a question submitted to some god; the answer was a precise sentence, often of an enigmatical character, which could be adapted to the event that might happen, whatever that event might be. The medium used in communicating the answer had no part (or was assumed to have no part) in shaping the answer. Often the oracle only came to a person who was in a state which permitted her taking no intelligent part in the communication she made. So uncertain was the meaning of the messages given that the word “oracle” has come to mean, “a grand sounding utterance which nobody can be ever quite sure that he understands.” It is evident that none of these ideas can be associated with our Scriptures, which are Divine revelations through legend, biography, history, incident, rite, song, proverb, and prophecy, always assuming that the thought God puts into men, but the shaping of the thought is given by the men. Men spake and wrote as they were moved by the Holy Ghost who was in them.
Hebrews 5:13. Signs of Unskilfulness in Christian Teachers.—“Unskilful in the word of righteousness.” R.V. “without experience of the word of righteousness.” Two distinct ideas are suggested by these two renderings, and yet the two are so closely associated that they are really but one. The A.V. suggests inefficiency, the R.V. inexperience; but it is at once evident that the inefficiency is the natural and necessary result of the inexperience. Skill comes by practice; and this is as true of Christian teaching as of other things.
I. Skill for teaching comes by personal experience of the truth.—A man can only teach what he himself has tasted and handled and felt of the word of life; and his power in teaching will depend on the measure of his tasting and handling. This especially applies to advanced truths, which can only be wisely dealt with when there is ripe experience.
II. Skill for teaching comes by practice in teaching.—And that will both compel a man, and enable a man, to advance in the range of his teaching subjects. The practised teacher cannot keep in the simplicities.
III. The unskilful teacher is the man who can only keep in the lower range, who satisfies himself with the milk suitable for babes, and will not see that if he would feed grown men he must have strong meat of truth suited for them.
Hebrews 5:14. Exercising the Moral Discernment.—“Senses exercised to discern good and evil.” We speak of the “moral sense.” The senses of the body are taken to suggest the spiritual faculties (αἰσθητήρια). We have the bodily senses, eye, ear, touch, taste, smell, as faculties and possibilities. The mother anxiously watches her new-born babe, to see if all the sense-possibilities are there. But they have to be developed by exercise, training, and discipline, into actually operative life-forces, which will take the whole body and the whole life into their control. And so with the moral sense, the recognition of distinction between good and evil. We have it as a mere possibility. Let a man have no culture of the moral sense, or let the culture be a mere accident, and you have either a useless or a dangerous man. Every force that bears on the growing child is a force unto the culture of the moral sense. Parenthood is; teacherhood is; friendship is; religion is. And there is, as in all growth, unfolding in detail, differentiation. As in nature there is development in the ear, from a simple box to the complicated human organ, so with the moral sense, through exercise there is unfolding from simple discernment of the distinction between right and wrong to sensitive recognition of the true, the good, the beautiful, as the adapted right.
Soul-food adapted to Age and Capacity.—“But solid food is for full-grown men.” Body-life and soul-life, both depend on nourishment and food. That is the law of all life other than the life of God Himself. Angels live on angels’ food; souls live on appropriate souls’ food; and bodies live by meat and drink and air. Science tells us that bodily life, health, fatness, vigour, directly depend on the character and quantity and appropriateness of the food supplied. Given vitality, and freedom from active disease, and any bodily result that is desired can be obtained by giving flesh-forming or bone-forming or brain-making foods. But our farmers knew this experimentally long ago, though they were ignorant of scientific terms. The results which they can with certainty produce, in relation to beast or bird, can be just as certainly produced in man, so far as he is one of the animals; and medical science in modern times is in part devoted to the discovery of flesh-forming and health-nourishing foods. It is even found that a man’s food must bear a direct relation, in quantity and quality, to the work which he is called to do. This was impressed upon us in a very striking way by the experience of our soldiers during the Crimean war. They were terribly exposed in the muddy trenches during that severe winter, and at first the mortality among them was frightful. But it was observed that the French soldiers, though exposed to the same toils and perils, did not suffer so much; and on inquiry the reason for the difference was found to be this—the French officers increased the quantity and improved the character of the rations when their men had to endure unusual exposure and fatigue, whereas our officers continued the regulation ration under all the circumstances. The mortality was soon checked when food was properly adjusted to work. The health, vigour, and work of our soul’s life just as directly depend upon the food with which it is nourished. Would we get more work out of our souls, we must feed them better. Do we expose our souls to much peril? We must improve and increase their food. The real trouble so often is that we are under soul-fed, injudiciously soul-fed. So often our souls are really half starved; their voice is so weak; it is hardly more than a whisper; the soul-hands are so feeble that they cannot grasp Christian work. Even in the land of spiritual plenty we may fail to grow into strength. Classifications are quite unsatisfactory because they are incomplete, but still they do help to clear apprehensions. We may therefore speak of the soul’s life as being faith and love, and as having for its natural expressions worship and work. Then the soul-food provided must bear, in the most direct and efficient way, on these four things. Here is a sublime but most practical problem for each one of us to solve: What will nourish into the fullest health and strength my soul’s faith and my soul’s love? What will strengthen my soul’s brain and heart for holy worship, for prayer and praise, and my soul’s muscle and nerve for holy work? And as circumstances arise making greater demands on the vigour of our souls, on our faith, our devotion, our love, or our hope, we must see to it that an adequate increase of spiritual food is made. God offered to the wearied Elijah angels’ food a second time, as if one good meal were not enough, using this persuasion, “Arise, and eat; because the journey is too great for thee. And he arose, and did eat and drink, and went in the strength of that meat forty days and forty nights unto Horeb the mount of God.” And speaking of the putting-forth of miraculous and unusual spiritual energy, our Lord most impressively said, “This kind goeth not out but by prayer and fasting.” Here we all so sadly fail. We keep the soil so poor. We keep the plant indoors, and never let the nourishing rains fall on it. And yet we may be quite sure that there is this absolute law for all body-life and for all soul-life—if more is to be got out of body or out of soul, more and better food must be given to them.
Lost Interest in Higher Christian Truth.—Those who are addressed had lost interest in the deeper truths of Christianity, those truths which alone expressed and explained its proper nature. Their temptation was apparently towards mingling a rudimentary Christian doctrine with the teaching of the synagogue. Yielding to this, they would lose all real knowledge of the very elements of Christian truth, and with this all true knowledge of the Old Testament itself. “Solid food belongs to full-grown men.” If they occupied themselves with the rudiments alone, their spiritual senses could not be trained by use (or habit) in distinguishing between good and evil, truth and falsehood, in the various systems of teaching which men offered as the doctrine of Christ.—W. F. Moulton, D.D.
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Hebrews 5". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29