Click here to learn more!
CRITICAL AND EXEGETICAL NOTES
Hebrews 7:1. Melchizedek.—Already three times referred to (chaps. Hebrews 5:6; Hebrews 5:10, Hebrews 6:20); in each case the order of priesthood which Melchizedek represents, rather than the man himself, is in the writer’s mind. Melchizedek is a very vague and indistinct figure. All that is actually known concerning him is found in Genesis 14:18-20. He is mentioned in Psalms 110:4. The writer gives a mystical explanation of these brief references to a priestly order, antecedent to, and independent of, the order of Aaron. Notice that Melchizedek is the only priestly figure presented in tradition or history prior to the anointing of Aaron. Farrar reminds us that the “Jews attached high honour to the name of Melchizedek, whom they identified with Shem; and Philo had already spoken of Melchizedek as a type of the Logos.” The mystical explanation of his priestly order is the advanced truth for which the writer feared that his readers were hardly prepared. Salem.—Perhaps another name for Jebus, which was afterwards Jerusalem. Perhaps it is an appellative, rather than the name of a place (see Hebrews 7:2). Farrar identifies it with the town near Shechem (see Genesis 33:18; John 3:23); and this is the view of Jerome. Priest.—Genesis 14:18. It was common among the ancients for the kings to be priests also, as in the time of the Maccabees; but we look for something unusual in this priesthood of Melchizedek. The suggestion made by Miss Corbaux, in her work on the Rephaim, is worthy of special attention. She thinks that Salem was the central seat of their authority, and that the king who reigned there was the supreme head of their nation, to whom the different tribes were subordinate. If Melchizedek had been a mere local chief, it is difficult to see why the King of Sodom, an Emim prince, and why Abraham, should pay him the deference they did. “But the moment the important fact comes in by way of explanation, supported by sufficient extrinsic evidence, that the King of Salem was the supreme chief of the entire nation, and the local chiefs of the tribes were his subordinates, the whole transaction recorded in Genesis becomes intelligible, because we understand the mutual relation of all the parties concerned in it.” This suggests that Melchizedek was the one high priest of the day, and not one of many priests. Most high God.—R.V. “God most high.” El elión, also a title of God among the Phœnicians. Distinctly the one and only God, specially known to the Hebrews as “Jehovah.” A true high priest of the true God. There need be no assumption that the knowledge of the true God was confined to the family of Abraham. Slaughter.—Better, smiting, with the sense of defeat. Blessed him.—This is significant, as indicating a distinctly priestly act.
Hebrews 7:2. King of righteousness.—βασιλεὺς δικαιοσύνης. King of peace.—βασιλεὺς εἰρήνης. Philo also interprets “King of Salem” as “King of peace.” A mystical connection between the two names may be intended, since “righteousness” is the necessary antecedent to “peace.” See Isaiah 32:17; Ephesians 2:14-15; Ephesians 2:17; Romans 5:1.
Hebrews 7:3. Without father, etc.—These are not stated as actual facts concerning Melchizedek. They are true so far as the narrative of Genesis presents him to us. He is set before us without any genealogy. The writer argues from the silence of Scripture. “The fact that Melchizedek had no recorded father or mother or lineage enhanced his dignity, because the Aaronic priesthood depended exclusively on the power to prove a direct descent from Aaron, which necessitated a most sorupulous care in the preservation of the priestly genealogies.” The Arabians say of a man who has by his own efforts procured an exalted place of honour, and who is descended from ignoble parents, he had no father—that is, he is not named from his father, does not derive his titles and honours from his father. Beginning of days.—Or a fixed and limited period during which to exercise his priesthood. For limitation of Levitical service see Numbers 4:3; Numbers 4:23; Numbers 4:35; Numbers 4:43; Numbers 4:47; and compare Numbers 8:24-25. Continually.—Perpetually. As we have no intimation of its ever having ceased, we assume it is still going on.
We are now prepared for the arguments or illustrations that are to be based on this man’s name and history—on what is not known about him as well as what is known. The writer treats Scripture in a singular way.
A general sketch of the comparison of the orders may be given, in order to show that the order of Melchizedek’s priesthood better represents that of Christ than the Levitical. It should be noticed that Christ’s priesthood gets illustration from Melchizedek, but Christ’s work as a priest gets illustration from Aaron. These are the chief points brought out:—
(1) To show the dignity and superiority of the order of Melchizedek.
(a) Abraham, though founder of the Jewish people, gave tithes to Melchizedek.
(b) Though Levi was appointed to receive tithes, nevertheless, in the person of Abraham, he virtually paid tithes to Melchizedek.
(2) Continuing the comparison between the orders.
(a) The office of Levi was subject to change and death; the office of Melchizedek was permanent and perpetual.
(b) The prophecy of Messiah as belonging to another priesthood indicated the imperfection of the first priesthood.
(3) Proof that Christ is Priest after the order of Melchizedek.
(a) He sprang from the tribe of Judah, not the tribe of Levi.
(b) There was a priest promised after the order of Melchizedek.
(c) That promise is only fulfilled in Christ.
(4) Further extension of the comparisons.
(a) Appointment of priests was without an oath, and with an oath.
(b) Priests of Levi were many; Melchizedek was one priest.
(c) The sacrifices of Levi were many, the sacrifice of Christ was one.
(d) Christ is a heavenly, spiritual Priest; Levites were only earthly, ceremonial priests.
Christ could not be an earthly priest, seeing that God had already appointed such. He must be a priest after a new order. So the writer keeps close to his point, the uniqueness of Christ. He belongs to his own plane.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Hebrews 7:1-3
The Historical and Symbolical Melchizedek.—Only a passing allusion is made to Melchizedek in the book of Genesis. He flashes into view for a brief moment, and then passes back into the darkness. So vague is our knowledge of him that many have doubted whether he is to be regarded as an historical personage, or only a poetical or legendary character.
I. The Historical Melchizedek.—For many it settles the question of his historical character that he is mentioned in a Bible book; but the critical-minded are disturbed by the evident legendary character of some parts of the book of Genesis, and find it difficult to decide what is historical and what is not. This much may be said, Melchizedek is as real a person as Abraham. To accept the narrative of the slaughter of the kings involves accepting the paying of tithes to Melchizedek. Recent researches have confirmed the view that from very early times Salem, or Jerusalem, was inhabited, and occupied a central position, and a special sovereignty, in relation to the tribes that dwelt around. If this be so, the sovereign rights of Melchizedek may be fully understood. The word Melchizedek means “king of righteousness,” which may mean, or suggest the meanings, “king of morals,” “king of religion,” which is essentially righteousness; or “righteous king,” recognised and named because of his character; or “one who rules in righteousness”; or “one whose rule makes for righteousness.” The name at least suggests that he was no mere king of a ceremonial system, but a king of the spiritual things of character, and so a fitting foreshadowing of Him who was “Lord of lambs the lowly, King of saints the holy.” “Whence he came, from what parentage, remains untold; nay, even of what place he was king remains uncertain (for Salem may be either Jerusalem or the smaller town of which, in after-times, the ruins were shown to Jerome, not far from the scene of the interview). He appears for a moment, and then vanishes from our view altogether.” His name is Semitic, but he dwelt among Canaanitish people. Possibly he was a relic of the older inhabitants, and for this reason held in peculiar reverence. In some respects he may be compared to Balaam. Historically treated, three things claim attention:
1. His kingship, which may have been that of a particular town, but, more probably, was a suzerainty over the whole land. That kingship was exercised for righteousness, and therefore Melchizedek was a peacemaker. It is, however, quite possible that he was not an actual reigning king, but the kingly man of the age—the standard of goodness, the model of righteousness. If so, we can better understand his being also priest.
2. His priesthood. It is true that in early ages the heads of tribes were also priests of the tribe; but it is much more true that the exceptionally good man always is a priest to his fellows, a ministrant of heavenly blessings to them, and an intercessor with God for them. The best man is always both kingly and priestly.
3. His religion. There need be no difficulty about recognising this as the genuine religion of humanity, the worship of the one God according to the principles of His universal revelation to humanity. “His pure and holy faith in the ‘Most High God’ was doubtless a relic of the anciently universal recognition of the one Creator.… God has at no time left Himself without a witness even in lands secluded from the direct privileges of His people.” El or Il was the ancient supreme god of the Semitic races of Babylonia.
II. The Symbolical Melchizedek.—If he belonged to the earlier races of Palestine, and was above the average size of the existing inhabitants, vague ideas, and strange legends, might easily gather about him. The people around would know nothing about him, about his father, or about the office he held: they would only feel a vague reverence for the unusual-looking, beneficent, and other-world sort of man who moved to and fro amongst them. He became the symbol of the permanent priest of humanity; who must be—
1. Human, yet distinct from humanity.
2. Able to gain power by what he is in holy character.
3. Presenting the claims of righteousness wherever he goes.
4. Always the same, in order to stamp righteousness as an unchangeable thing. No more fitting, and no more suggestive, symbol of Christ, man’s spiritual and eternal priest, could be wished for
SUGGESTIVE NOTES AND SERMON SKETCHES
Hebrews 7:1. The Historical Figure of Melchizedek.—This passage, which has ofttimes been misunderstood, presents no real difficulties. The last clause, “without descent,” is explanatory of the two former. Melchizedek is thus styled “without father and without mother” simply because he was not, as were the Levitical priests, recorded in any genealogy. This is made more plain by the language used in Hebrews 7:6 : “But he whose descent is not counted from them [i.e. the sons of Levi, Hebrews 7:5] received tithes,” etc. “These words,” says Tholuck, “denote him whose genealogy is unknown; while a priest, in the Levitical sense, could not, by any means, dispense with the proof of his descent.” Stuart and others differ slightly from the explanation of the phrase “without descent” given above. They take the sense to be, “whose father and mother are not mentioned in Scripture.” Kuinoel takes the meaning to be, “who had not a father, a priest, nor a mother the daughter of a priest.” The sense given by Tholuck, from whom Kuinoel differs but little, appears to us the most simple. All these authors substantially agree in the meaning they attach to the first two clauses. That the words “without father and without mother” may be used in a modified sense to indicate those whose parentage is either obscure or unknown, is evident from many passages in the Greek and Latin writers. Thus Ion, in Euripides, conceiving himself of mean birth, says, “As I am without mother, and without father, I attend the temple of Apollo.” So Philo calls Sarah, of whose mother no mention is made, “without mother.” In Latin authors this usage is still more common. Seneca, in his 108th Epistle, writes: “There are two Roman kings, of whom the one has not a father, the other a mother.” He then refers to Servius Tullius and Ancus Martius. Of the former king, Livy states that he was born of a female slave, “of no father.” Horace speaks of men “sprung from no ancestors” who had risen to great eminence and renown. Even the Rabbins have the same sort of speech. In the Bereshith Rabbi, sect. 18, 18, 2, it is said, “The Gentiles have no father,” having no Jewish pedigree. The explanation given above is further sustained by the ancient versions and the most eminent commentators. The Syriac Version, peculiarly valuable for its antiquity and fidelity, admirably renders the passage thus: “Whose father and mother are not inscribed among the genealogies.” The Arabic, being taken from the Syriac, substantially agrees with it. Chrysostom and Theophylact entertain the same opinion. Suidas thus writes: “He is, therefore, declared to be without descent or genealogy, because he is not of the seed of Abraham, but of Canaanitish origin … therefore he is destitute of the honour of a genealogy.” “Thus,” says Dr. Owen, “was Melchizedek without father and mother, in that the Spirit of God, who so strictly and exactly recorded the genealogies of other patriarchs, etc., speaks nothing to this purpose concerning him.” The opinions of better and later critics have already been given; to these two or three more may be added. Dr. Robinson informs us that Melchizedek is styled “without father, without mother,” because neither his father nor his mother was found in the Hebrew genealogies. “Being a Canaanite, and not standing in the public genealogical registers, as belonging to the family of Aaron, he was a priest, not by right of sacerdotal descent, but by the grace of God.” His priesthood, therefore, is of a higher and more ancient order than that of Aaron. “The context,” says Schleusner, “requires us to believe that Melchizedek is called ‘without father’ by Paul because his father was not inscribed in the genealogies of the Jewish priests.” It may, however, appear somewhat to militate against this interpretation that Melchizedek is mentioned immediately after the passage cited above as having “neither beginning of days nor end of life.” We may answer this objection in two ways. With Tholuck, we may adopt the language of Chrysostom, and say, “How ‘having neither beginning of days nor end of life’? How? as it is not contained in Scripture; this is ‘having no beginning,’ this is ‘having no end.’ ” “We must,” Tholuck goes on to add, “at ‘having neither beginning of days nor end of life,’ conceive added, ‘in history.’ These words would then be understood of the Mosaic annals, or of the early chronologies referred to by Josephus.” There is another answer. It is this, in the language of Stuart: “ ‘Having neither beginning of days nor end of life’; i.e. who, as high priest, has no limited time assigned for the commencement and expiration of his office; for so the following clause leads us to interpret this expression. The Levitical priests were limited in their service (see Numbers 4:3; Numbers 33:35; Numbers 33:43; Numbers 33:47 : compare Numbers 8:24-25). The meaning of the writer then is, that Melchizedek’s priesthood was limited to no definite time, i.e. sacerdos perpetuus, a priest without limitation of office.” The latter explanation strikes us as being the best. Melchizedek appears then, in history, as an enigmatic priest-king. From what race he sprang, where he obtained his knowledge of the true God, what was the nature and authority of his priestly office, we know not. He comes before us as a mysterious being. He disappears we know not when or where. In the dignity and perpetuity of his priesthood, how admirable a type he is of our High Priest—a priest for ever after the order (i.e. of an order or rank like that) of Melchizedek.—Biblical Treasury.
Hebrews 7:3. A Successor to Melchizedek.—Recent discoveries of Oriental archæology have established the strictly historical character of the account of the campaign of Chedorlaomer and his allies against Palestine. The accounts of Melchizedek, king of Salem, which the critics were unanimous in pronouncing to be mythical, have also received an unexpected confirmation from the same source. The new light has come from the decipherment of the Tel-el-Amarna tablets. “Among the correspondents of the Egyptian Pharaohs, whose letters have been found at Tel-el-Amarna, is a veritable successor of the priest-king Melchizedek. Ebed-Tob, the king of Uru-Salim, or Jerusalem, was indeed a vassal of Egypt; but he was a vassal who boasts that, unlike the other Egyptian governors in Canaan, he did not owe his position to the Egyptian monarch, nor was his royal dignity inherited; it was neither his father nor his mother, but an oracle of the god—‘the mighty king’—whom he worshipped, that had conferred it upon him. This god bore the name of Salim, the god of ‘peace.’ The royal priest, accordingly, who ruled in Uru-Salim, ‘the city of Salim,’ might be called ‘the king of Salim,’ with even more truth than ‘king of Jerusalem.’ Like the descendants of David, whom Isaiah beheld in prophetic vision (Hebrews 7:6), he was a ‘prince of peace.’ The description given of himself by Ebed-Tob, in his letters to the Egyptian monarch, explains the suddenness, as it were, with which Melchizedek is introduced upon the scene. His father is unmentioned. As the author of the epistle to the Hebrews says (Hebrews 7:3), he comes before us ‘without father, without mother, without descent.’ Like Ebed-Tob, it was not from his father or mother that he inherited his royal office—he had been appointed to it by the deity whom he worshipped, and he was king because he was also priest.”—After Sayce.
CRITICAL AND EXEGETICAL NOTES
Hebrews 7:4. How great.—Lit. “of what exalted rank.” Jesus had shown great reverence for Abraham. Spoils.—Lit. “the top part of a heap of grain.” Then firstfruits. “As offerings were made to their gods, by the Greeks, from spoils taken in war, ἀκροθίνια came at last to signify, in the Greek language, any kind of spoils from which an offering for the gods was taken.
Hebrews 7:5. Take tithes.—See Numbers 18:28-30; Deuteronomy 14:22; Deuteronomy 14:27-29. Tithe-giving was a recognition of superior dignity. Out of the loins.—A Hebrew figure (Genesis 35:11): descendants from Abraham.
Hebrews 7:6. Descent.—R.V. “genealogy”; margin, “pedigree.” Received.—R.V. “hath taken.” δεδεκάτωκε is Hellenistic; found only in the New Testament and the LXX. Blessed.—The act of a superior.
Hebrews 7:7. Less.—Simply inferior in rank or office. Lit. “Inferiority is blessed by superiority.”
Hebrews 7:8. That die.—Not natural death; whose term of ministry ends. The writer has in mind the limitation of the Levitical priestly office, as a sign of its inferiority. There.—In the Scripture narrative of Melchizedek. Liveth.—No mention being made of his priesthood ending, it is taken as continuing. The writer is raising an argument to prove the perpetuity of Christ’s priesthood.
Hebrews 7:9. May so say.—Or, “If I may be allowed the expression.” The apology indicates a fear that what he was about to say would seem far-fetched and exaggerated; and it is a kind of argument that Western minds are very imperfectly able to appreciate. Note that Isaac was not born until fourteen years after the incident of the tithe-paying. The writer’s suggestion must be taken as popular and rhetorical, not as logical or scientific. Payed tithes.—The whole race, according to Eastern ideas, may be spoken of as paying tithes, representatively, in Abraham, its head; and Levi is included in the race. “The descendants of Abraham cannot but occupy a lower position in presence of one who appears as Abraham’s superior.” Only “in a certain sense” was Levi then potentially existent. The argument depends on patriarchal and tribal notions and sentiments.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Hebrews 7:4-10
The Greatness of Melchizedek.—Not as a man, or as a king, but as the remarkable representative of an order of priesthood antecedent to the Aaronic, independent of the Aaronic, continuous in a line outside of Jewish exclusiveness, and coming into world-prominence once again in the priesthood of the Son of God. “We have long looked upon Abram as the one witness to monotheism among an idolatrous people, and to see him holding a position inferior to this hitherto unknown chieftain is an unexpected difficulty.” Abraham was himself a king-priest in his tribe, and yet he at once acknowledged a supremacy in Melchizedek. He did not look on him as one tribal patriarch would look upon another, who stood in a position of equality. Abraham distinctly recognised a superior person, one in a higher standing with the same God whom He served.
I. The greatness of Melchizedek is seen in his receiving tithes from Abraham.—It is not that Abraham made certain handsome presents to the supreme king of the country; it is that he “paid tithes,” which are distinctly religious dues, the proper claim of the priests. Jewish priests claimed tithes of their brethren by the authority of God; and Abraham must have realised that Melchizedek was priest by Divine authority, or he would never have given him the priest’s portion. The argument is, that Abraham’s act shows him to have recognised in Melchizedek one greater than himself; but Abraham was a race-father, and by his act represented his race. None of his descendants could be greater than himself, and none of them, therefore, could be greater than Melchizedek. The conclusion to which the writer would lead is this: Jesus is priest of the order of Melchizedek; therefore, if his priesthood is superior to the Aaronic, the priesthood of Jesus must also be superior. Abraham’s descendants may be required to pay tithes to the descendant—or, if you will, the continuance—of Melchizedek.
II. The greatness of Melchizedek is seen in his blessing Abraham.—The blessing given by a priest is the assurance of the acceptance and approval of God. The blessing of Melchizedek was the Divine recognition of Abraham’s prompt and decisive action in the overthrow of the invaders, and recovery of the spoil. But Abraham would never have cared to receive a blessing from a smaller man, and a man in a lower office than himself. “Without any dispute the less is blessed of the better.” The suggestion is, that Christ, as of the order of Melchizedek, wants no blessing from the house of Aaron. The bigoted Jews exaggerated the dignity and authority of the Jewish priests. The truth is, that they needed to seek the blessing of Him who represented the superior order of Melchizedek.
III. The greatness of Melchizedek as the type of an undying priest.—It was a distinct stamp of inferiority that the Levitical priests only held office for a fixed term of years. It was not for them an office belonging to their lives. Melchizedek’s office was continuous with his life. It is suggested that Christ’s office is also continuous with His life, and He lives for ever. It is not natural life, or future immortality, that is dealt with in Hebrews 7:8, but an enduring, unlimited time of priesthood. “So far as the letter of Scripture is concerned, Melchizedek stands in a perpetuity of mystic life.” And Christ, having risen from the dead, dieth no more, but “abideth a priest continually.”
IV. The greatness of Melchizedek as receiving tithes from Levi.—In a representative way Abraham’s act included that of his race, and therefore that of Levi. The writer presents this point in a way which would be more impressive on those who made much of genealogies than it is upon us. The representative act may be used to impress yet again the independence and superiority of Christ’s priesthood.
In conclusion show that Christ’s priesthood is—
1. For humanity, not for a section of it.
2. That it is spiritual, and concerns men’s primary, not merely ceremonial, relations with God. Therefore men need not fear to let formal, Aaronic priesthoods pass away, and satisfy themselves with the great, the true Melchizedek.
ILLUSTRATIONS TO CHAPTER 7
Hebrews 7:5. Tithes in the Christian Church.—The revenue of the Church was increased by tithes or firstfruits. The primitive Church might be expected to have introduced this ordinance of the Jews from the beginning; but it was wholly unknown until the fourth or fifth century. Irenæus, indeed, speaks of firstfruits at an earlier period, but it is a disputed passage, and only relates to the wine and bread of the Eucharist as the firstfruits of Christ. Besides Irenæus, Chrysostom, Gregory Nazianzen, Hilary, Augustine, and others, all enjoin the paying of tithes as a duty, and not in imitation of the Jews. These tithes and firstfruits the primitive Christians gave as a free-will offering, and not by constraint of law, of which there appears no indication in the first five centuries. The Council of Maçon, in the year 585, ordered the payment of tithes in the Church, as the restoration of an ancient and venerable custom. This, it will be observed, was merely an ecclesiastical law. No mention is made of any enactment of the State. Charlemagne first required the payment of tithes by statute law, and enforced the duty by severe penalties. That emperor himself paid tithes from his private property and his Saxon possessions. His successors confirmed and completed the system of tithe by law, which was subsequently introduced into England and Sweden.—L. Coleman.
CRITICAL AND EXEGETICAL NOTES
Hebrews 7:11.—Here begins the argument of the next nine verses. Perfection.—A difficult word; the full meaning of everything that could be required of a human priesthood. “Power of perfectionment, capacity to achieve the end in view.” This was not to be attained through the Levitical priesthood. Some say the term means “accomplishment”; others “sanctification”; others “consummate happiness”; others “moral rectitude.” Compare Hebrews 9:9-14; Hebrews 10:1, Hebrews 10:2-4; Hebrews 10:3; Hebrews 10:14. The point of the writer is, that it could not meet the entire circle of human need. It could neither spiritually purify their worshippers, nor free them from the conscience-burden of their sins, nor from their apprehension of eternal punishment. There was, therefore, manifest room for another priesthood after another order.
Hebrews 7:12. Being changed.—Better, “being transferred”; a mild and delicate term is purposely chosen, μετατίθημι. “It is a characteristic of the writer to be thus careful not to shock the prejudices of his readers more than was inevitable. His whole style of argument, though no less effective than that of St. Paul in his own sphere, is more conciliatory, more deferential, less vehemently iconoclastic. This relation to St. Paul is like that of Melancthon to Luther” (Farrar). Also of the law.—From a ceremonial to a spiritual range. With the ceremonial alone had the Levitical priest to deal. This change of the law is not sufficiently recognised. It is easy to go astray if we attempt to explain the work of Christ by the formal terms of the Mosaic law. Christ is the fulfilment of its spiritual suggestions and meanings.
Hebrews 7:14. Out of Juda.—Whatever may be the difficulties of our Lord’s genealogies, as given in Matthew and Luke, the fact is clear that He belonged to Judah, not Levi. This is mentioned as one instance of change in the law.
Hebrews 7:15. More evident.—Because there is a distinct prophecy and promise of another priest. Ariseth.—Is to arise.
Hebrews 7:16. Carnal.—Fleshly, in the range of the outward, the material. Not here “fleshly” in its bad sense, but simply “human.” Power of an endless life.—Stuart renders ἐντολῆς σαρκικῆς as preceptum caducum, an obligation of a temporary, perishable nature; and ζωῆς , indissoluble life, or perpetuity. The word ἀκαταλύτος is not elsewhere found in the New Testament. Based on the assumption that the priesthood of Melchizedek was without limitations of time.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Hebrews 7:11-17
The Two Priestly Orders.—It must be evident to every candid reader of this epistle that its author does not use the older Scriptures as confirmation or proof precisely in the way that we do. He probably follows the method taught in the Rabbinical schools, which laid undue stress upon single, and often subordinate, words. It is necessary to bear in mind that truths are eternally true, but the methods in which they are presented and proved belong to each particular age, and are precisely adapted to each age. We are not obliged to recognise the force of every argument that has ever been used to support a truth. The Divine inspiration works through the mental methods and mental moods of each age, with a precise adaptation to one age, and a general adaptation to all ages. What the student has to do is to put himself into the times when a particular method of proof was used, and so get to feel its precise force. And this may be quite in harmony with his endeavours to find and use the method of proof which may be effective on his own generation. These remarks are important because the proofs from Scripture given in this epistle often become a grave stumbling-block to critical-minded readers. All the offices which the Lord Jesus Christ is represented as filling are interesting to us. Some we can appreciate at once. Some require much and careful thought before we are able to trace their permanent relations and value. And some are difficult to appraise aright, because we have no help from our associations. Such an office is that of priest. We are not in any sense familiar with it. It does not come into the range of ordinary Christian thought, but it was bound up with the religious thought, and the daily life, of the Jews. And this writer addressed Jews, to whom the high priest was a most familiar figure, and who had thoughts about him that we can hardly realise. In endeavouring to detach the Jewish Christians from their new-found faith in Christ, the bigoted Jews made a strong point of the fact that Jesus could not be a priest, seeing that they all admitted the Aaronic priesthood to be the direct appointment of God. So far from Jesus being in the Aaronic order, He did not even belong to the tribe of Levi, but to a tribe of which nothing had been said concerning priesthood. This was a very fair plea from their outward, national, and limited standpoint. It is indeed so fair a plea that the writer of this epistle feels bound to give it elaborate and careful consideration, meeting this strictly Jewish objection on strictly Jewish lines. Admitting that God did establish the Aaronic order of priesthood, and that it stood, and always had stood, upon the Divine authorisation, he argues—
1. That God’s having appointed one order does not involve that He never has appointed, and never will appoint, any other. In asserting the priesthood of Christ, it is only necessary for him to prove that the same God appointed Him, in His order, as appointed the Aaronic priests in theirs; and consequently that Christ, as priest, equally acts upon Divine authorisation.
2. But he can advance on this, and say, not only may God appoint another order of priesthood, but He has done so; He had done so long before He established the Aaronic order, and entirely independent of it. The order of Melchizedek was no seed out of which the Aaronic order grew; it was a priesthood for men quite distinct from the priesthood for a particular nation—the Jews. Patriarchal priesthood was established by God long ages before the Levitical. It was a universal human priesthood, and out of the range of the limited Mosaic Revelation 3:0. Then he is able to make a somewhat surprising assertion. The earlier order of Melchizedek was recognised by the later as higher than itself, and the earlier order actually received the representative homage of the later. It received tithes from Abraham. “And so to say, through Abraham, even Levi, who received tithes, hath paid tithes; for he was yet in the loins of his father when Melchizedek met him.”
4. The appeal is now made to Scripture. God can make a new order; God had made another order; and God has actually promised in the Scripture to raise up a new priest after the older order.
5. That promise, he claims, was fulfilled in the raising up of Jesus, and constituting Him priest, not as the Aaronic, “after the law of a carnal commandment,” but as the order of Melchizedek, “after the power of an endless [indissoluble] life.” It is important that we should understand the distinctions between the two priestly orders, so that we may recognise the peculiarities of the priesthood of our Lord Jesus Christ.
I. The order of Melchizedek had all the permanent essentials of priesthood.—And these are three:
1. The power of intercession. Too readily we assume that the essential thing in priesthood is presidency over a religious ceremonial, which includes sacrifice. But this is an accident of priesthood; the essential thing is his acting as medium of communication between God and man—the difference between a “priest” and a “prophet” being that a priest so acts constantly, and the prophet so acts occasionally. In thinking of the Jewish high priest we seldom see the importance of wearing the breastplate, and being the people’s mediator. Melchizedek was an intercessor. He stood for Abraham to present to God the tithes of thanksgiving. He stood for God to present to Abraham acceptance and blessing.
2. The power of character. Ideally this is absolutely essential to priesthood. It is the secret of acceptance with God, and the secret of influence on men. It is the basis of reverence and trust. It was not guaranteed in Jewish priests, seeing their office was hereditary: it was found in Melchizedek, as indicated in the respect shown him, which Abraham felt, and responded to.
3. The power of continuity. A priesthood which is really efficient cannot be thought of as stopped or changed. If there is need for change in it, then there must be some imperfection in it, or in its adaptations. The priesthood of Melchizedek was never changed while he lived. The ideal priesthood of man, which he represented, God established for ever; He has never changed it: in the line of the absolute priesthood of universal humanity Jesus came.
II. The order of Aaron had certain temporary characteristics.—Especially may be noticed its—
1. Limitation to a
(3) time. Jewish priests only held office from thirty to sixty years of age.
2. Its hereditary character, which did not involve any direct Divine call to individuals. A man was an Aaronic priest, not because he was singularly fitted for the office, but because his father was a priest.
3. Its sacrificial character. Careful distinction needs to be made between the great and universal human ideas of sacrifice, and the small and particular Jewish ideas of sacrifice, connected with a local religion, a limited revelation, and an elaborate social and ceremonial system. The priests of the Jewish cult must be distinguished from the priests of humanity. In Judaism the system was greater than any individual.
III. The priesthood of Christ represents the permanent, and not the temporary, ideas of priesthood.—Therefore it is said to be after the order of Melchizedek, and not after the order of Aaron.
1. He is our Intercessor. This is the essential side of priestliness. It need not be affirmed that Melchizedek presented no sacrifice, but it should be noticed that no mention is made of any in the narrative (Genesis 14:0), and that the interceding element of his priesthood is the one set forth prominently.
2. His power lies in His personal character. “Such a high priest became us, holy, guileless, undefiled, separate from sins.” He, on this ground, stands in acceptance with God: “He offered Himself without spot to God.” He, on this ground, gains influence on men, who always respond, with their confidence, to ideal goodness.
3. And His relation is a continuous one. He has an unchangeable priesthood, in the power of an endless life. What He is to us He is for ever, He is so long as we need Him.
Conclusion.—The cry of human souls, in the sense of their separation from God, is for a priest, an intercessor. That cry can never be stilled by the ministry of any man. It can be quieted, and the soul can be satisfied, with the full, and practical, acceptance of Jesus as actually now, for us, “our great High Priest, passed into the heavens,” “ever living to make intercession or us.”
SUGGESTIVE NOTES AND SERMON SKETCHES
Hebrews 7:11. Perfection as Complete Meeting of Requirements.—Perfection applied to the uncreated, independent Being, God, is an absolute quality. It is the standard. But perfection applied to any one, or anything, in the created sphere, can never be more than a relative thing. It may reach the standard of its particular class or order. An absolutely perfect man is inconceivable. A man perfect, according to the perfection that is possible to humanity, is conceivable. An act of a created human being that is absolutely perfect is inconceivable, but an act judged perfect according to the standard of the class of acts to which it belonged is quite conceivable. And only such perfection can be of any real or vital interest to us, because only such perfection is attainable by us. Another idea of perfection is embodied in the word “entire.” It is often applied to animals. Given a whole set of organs and capacities as belonging to an animal, if we find all those organs and capacities in any animal, and those organs all in full health, and harmonious proportions, we call that animal “entire.” And it is easy to see how the idea can be applied in the Christian life. But in our text the idea of “perfection,” though related, is somewhat different. A thing is “perfect” when it precisely and fully meets what is reasonably required and expected of it. So a man who invents or makes a machine strives to make it “perfect” in the sense of adequately meeting what is expected of it. It is “imperfect” if it leaves any expectation unfulfilled, or only half fulfilled. In this sense of “perfection” the old Mosaic economy of sacrifices, and ceremonies, and formal rules has to be judged. And so judged, the writer is compelled to condemn it as imperfect. Given the reasonable expectations of a particular nation, in a particular set of circumstances, and at a particular time, and the Levitical system may be considered “perfect.” But given the requirements of man as man, of man as a moral being, of man as sinful, of man as out of relations with God, of man as deteriorated by his wilfulness—given the requirements of man’s conscience and will, and relations with God, and with fellow-men, and then the Levitical system must be condemned; perfection is not that formal, outward way. A spiritual religious system is wanted in order to meet spiritual conditions.
Hebrews 7:16. The Power of an Endless Life.—The suggestion is, that the priesthood of Christ is graduated by the wants and measures of the human soul, as the priesthood of the law was not; that the endless life in which He comes matches and measures the endless life in mankind whose fall He is to restore; providing a salvation as strong as their sin, and as long or lasting as the run of their immortality.
I. The power of an endless life in man, what it is, and, as being under sin, requires.—The word translated “power” in the text is the original of our word “dynamic,” denoting a certain impetus, momentum, or causative force, which is cumulative, growing stronger and more impelling as it goes. And this is the nature of life or vital force universally—it is a force cumulative as long as it continues. The cumulative powers of vegetable life are only feeble types of that higher, fearfully vaster power, that pertains to the endless life of a soul—that power that, known or unknown, dwells in you and in me. The possible majesty to which any free intelligence of God may grow, in the endless increment of ages, is after all rather hinted than imaged in their merely vegetable grandeur. Mere attention to eternal duration limits thought and apprehension. If we look no further, that is only the eternal continuance of its mediocrity or comparative littleness. Its eternal growth in volume and power is, in that manner, quite lost sight of. The growth of the soul is a merely spiritual growth, indicated by no visible and material form that is expanded by it and with it. As in old age there seems to be an apparent limit to the spiritual powers and faculties, we drop into the impression that these have now passed their climacteric. But the soul outgrows the growth and outlives the vigour of the body, which is not true in trees. In the beginning of the soul’s history, it is a mere seed of possibility. But a doom of growth is in it, and the hidden momentum of an endless life is driving it on. What a chasm there is between the idiot and the man! One a being unprogressive, a being who is not a power; the other a careering force started on its way to eternity, a principle of might and majesty begun to be unfolded, and to be progressively unfolded for ever. Intelligence, reason, conscience, observation, choice, memory, enthusiasm—all the fires of his inborn eternity are kindling to a glow, and, looking on him as a force immortal, just beginning to reveal the symptoms of what he shall be, we call him man. And yet we have, in the power thus developed, nothing more than a mere hint or initial sign of what is to be the real stature of his personality in the process of his everlasting development. We exist here only in the small, that God may have us in a state of flexibility, and bend or fashion us, at the best advantage, to the model of His own great life and character. And most of us, therefore, have scarcely a conception of the exceeding weight of glory to be comprehended in our existence. Illustration may be taken from the faculty of memory, imagination, acquisition—from the executive energy of the will, from the benevolent affections, and from all the active powers. What force must be finally developed in what now appears to be the tenuous and fickle impulse, and the merely frictional activity of a human soul! But this expression looks on the soul as a falling power, a bad force, rushing downward into ruinous and final disorder. It was this which made the mighty priesthood of the Lord necessary. By what adequate power, in earth or in heaven, shall man’s sin be taken away?
II. What Christ, in His eternal priesthood, has done; or the fitness and practical necessity of it, as related to the stupendous exigency of our redemption.—The great impediment which the gospel of Christ encounters in our world is that it is too great a work. It transcends our belief—it wears a look of extravagance. We are beings too insignificant and low to engage any such interest on the part of God, or justify any such expenditure. In the contemplations started on this subject, the purpose is to start some conception of ourselves, in the power of an endless life, that is more adequate. Mere immortality, or everlasting continuance, when it is the continuance only of littleness or mediocrity, does not make a platform or occasion high enough for this great mystery of the gospel. It is only when we see in human souls, taken as germs of power, a future magnitude and majesty transcending all present measures, that we come into any fit conception at all of Christ’s mission to the world. This power of endless life, could we lay hold of it, could we only grasp the force there is in it, how true and rational, how magnificently Divine would the great salvation of Christ appear, and in how great dread of ourselves should we hasten to it for refuge! Then it would shock us no more that visibly it is no mere man that has arrived. Were He only a human teacher, reformer, philosopher, coming in our human plane to lecture on our self-improvement as men, in the measures of men, He would even be less credible than now. Nothing meets our want, in fact, but to see the boundaries of nature and time break way to let in a Being and a Power visibly not of this world. Let Him be made a priest for us, and not after the law of a carnal commandment, but after the power of an endless life. Humbled to the flesh and its external conditions, He will only the more certainly even Himself with our want, if He dares to say, “Before Abraham was, I am.” The great salvation is a work supernatural transacted in the plane of nature; and what but such a work could restore the broken order of the soul under evil? It incarnates God in the world; and what but some such opening of the senses to God, or of God to the senses, could reinstate Him in minds that have lost the consciousness of Him, and fallen off to live apart? What but this could enter Him again, as a power, into the world’s life and history? We are astonished by the revelation of Divine feeling; the expense of the sacrifice wears a look of extravagance. If we are only the dull mediocrities we commonly take ourselves to be, it is quite incredible. But if God, seeing through our possibilities into our real eternities, comprehends in the view all we are to be or become, as powers of endless life, is there not some probability that He discovers a good deal more in us than we do in ourselves, enough to justify all the concern He testifies, all the sacrifice He makes in the passion of His Son? Inasmuch as our understanding has not yet reached our measures, we plainly want a grace which only faith can receive. Christ therefore comes not as a problem given to our reason, but as a salvation offered to our faith. His passion reaches a deeper point in us than we can definitely think, and His eternal Spirit is a healing priesthood for us, in the lowest and profoundest depths of our great immortality, those which we have never seen ourselves. He is somehow able to come into the very germ principle of our life, and be a central, regulating, new-creating force in our disordered growth itself. And if we speak of righteousness, it is ours when it is not ours. How can a being unrighteous be established in the sense of righteousness? Logically, or according to the sentence of our speculative reason, it is impossible. And yet, in Christ, we have it! We are consciously in it, as we are in Him; and all we can say is, that it is the righteousness of God, by faith, unto all, and upon all, them that believe.—Horace Bushnell, D.D.
An Indissoluble Life.—The Greek word would be more precisely rendered an “indissoluble” life. There are no conceivable agencies, influences, or forces that can break it up. Let a thing once be moved, and it will go on moving for ever, unless something acts upon it to check it. Let a thing once exist, and it will never cease to exist, unless some outside force acts upon it to destroy it. Let a thing be a whole, it will remain a whole for ever, if no power breaks it up. Thus we are absolutely assured of the continuty and unchangeableness of God, because it is wholly impossible for us to conceive of any being, or force, or combination of forces, that can affect them so as to make any change in Him. It may further be observed that continuity is one of our chief “notes of value.” We estimate things in the light of their persistency. They are valuable if they will last unchanged for a long while. The diamond is counted the most valuable of all earthly possessions, not for its appearance, but for its imperishableness. We know of nothing that can destroy it; it outlasts the generations; it can cut its kind, but nothing else can cut it. That note of value is taken to bring home to our minds the infinite value of Christ our Priest and Saviour. He has an “endless,” or an “indissoluble,” priesthood. It is not possible for us to conceive the conditions of humanity for which that priesthood is not necessary and effective. It is not possible for us to conceive of any forces that can ever so affect that priesthood as to make changes in it which will imperil its efficiency.
An Endless Life.—Life! the dearest and most wonderful thing we know—wonderful in its universality, its diversity, its mystery. Next comes life’s crowning wonder, death. Life’s greatest question is, What is it to be dead? What, in death and after death, becomes of life? The answer of the text is, The human race has the power of an endless life. We can, indeed, no more be eternal, as God is, than we can be almighty, or all-present, as God is. What is possible for us is an immortal life in the eternal life of God—to keep in and after death our consciousness, memory, will, and affections—ourselves: to find ourselves alive after death, and alive for evermore.
1. Without laying undue stress upon it, the mere existence of a world-wide belief in an endless life is, in a world with such a history and such daily experiences as ours, very wonderful. The history of the world is a history of death. And yet men refuse to believe in death! In Greenland and in Greece, in Rome and Egypt, Persia and India, men have persistently refused to believe the testimony of death; and wherever they raised a stone to chronicle a death, on that stone, by word or rude symbol, they recorded their undaunted faith in a life beyond the grave. Here then is a creed old as time, wide as the world, catholic as the race, native to every climate, and common to every religion.
2. Do not men’s mental powers point to another life? All but man reach their highest development here. Man dies with the best powers undeveloped. His great actions are only specimens, earnests of what he could do were not time too niggard of its days. We may see the possible progress by the actual achievement of man.
3. What is God to us—what are we to God? Man is a creature with strong longings for life, and apparently fitted for immortality. God is not playing with human life. He is our Father in heaven, and we are His children. And here is the ground of our faith: Man has a capacity for life; God a desire that we should live. Eternal life is the gift of eternal love.—J. M. Gibbon.
Hebrews 7:17. The Order of Melchizedek.—The references to Melchizedek are found in Genesis 14:18-20; Psalms 110:4. “Without descent” means without genealogy, such as Levitical priests had. “Without end of life” means that no limit of age attached to his office, as to that of Jewish priests. Observe the application of the argument of this chapter to the fact, that the Jewish religious system was a temporary one, that it had now done its work, and was decaying and passing.
I. The order of Melchizedek involves superiority to the Levitical order.—Abraham, the Jewish race-father, paid tithes to Melchizedek. The contrast was so pointed when the writer presented it, because then the Jewish system was evidently decaying. The Jews clung desperately to it, but nevertheless it was fast slipping out of their grasp.
1. The order of Melchizedek is antecedent to that of Aaron.
2. The order of Melchizedek is intercessory, not sacrificial.
3. The new priesthood, being spiritual and universal, must of necessity supplant that which is material and local.
II. The order of Melchizedek involves the direct appointment of God.—The Jewish priests came into office by regular succession from father to son, and no priest was ever able to claim direct Divine appointment. Both Melchizedek and Christ were specially called by God. Illustrate by the witness of the Divine voice at our Lord’s baptism.
III. The order of Melchizedek involves the perpetuity of priesthood.—There is no account of Melchizedek’s having died—no account of his priesthood’s ever closing. And Christ’s death was but the beginning of His spiritual and eternal life. “Abideth a priest for ever.”
IV. The order of Melchizedek involves the union of two offices, king and priest.—“King of righteousness.”
1. That—righteousness—is the end and object of his rule.
2. That—righteousness—is the characteristic of the peoples whom he rules. “King of peace”—which of necessity always attends upon the triumph of righteousness. “Righteousness and peace have kissed each other.” They always do. Christ in the eternal temple is our King-priest. King of righteousness, which is for sinful humanity the essential condition of peace.
CRITICAL AND EXEGETICAL NOTES
Hebrews 7:18. Disannulling.—Setting aside from its active place and work, as that which has had its day, and is no longer efficient. It had to be superseded. A stronger word is now used than that in Hebrews 7:12. Weakness, etc.—See following verse. Sufficient in relation to man’s spiritual needs. The Jews recognised imperfection in the Mosaic system, as they expected perfection only when Messiah should have appeared.
Hebrews 7:20. Not without an oath.—Sign of an immediate call. Compare the Levitical priests, who came into office by simple right of descent. See the allusion to Psalms 110:4.
Hebrews 7:22. Better testament.—διαθήκη should have been translated covenant. Heb. Berîth. Of “testaments” the Hebrews knew nothing.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Hebrews 7:18-22
The Reversion to an Older Order of Priesthood.—Here was a difficulty for the bigoted Jews to explain if they could. When God proposed to call out a new priest, why did He not choose a man out of the house of Aaron, and arrange his priesthood on the Aaronic lines? The only answer that can be given is, that the Aaronic priesthood had worn itself out; its mission had only been temporary, it had now come to its end: it was an effete thing, and therefore an ineffective thing. Illustration may be taken from the king-priests of the Maccabean era, or from the Annas or Caiaphas of our Lord’s time. It is manifest that the Priest-saviour of a sinful world could never have come in the order of which such men were representatives. The reversion to the older order is the public declaration of the helpless inferiority of the later.
I. The inferiority is seen in its temporary character.—It was a priesthood for a nation, not for the world; for a time, and not for ever—the for ever of the life of humanity. The Jewish was a temporary revelation, a preparation for a fuller revelation that was to come, and be universal and permanent. The temporary is transitional, and there need be no alarm when the time comes for it to pass away. Christianity is no reformed Judaism; it is the return upon the primary principles of God’s dealing with humanity. But in one line Judaism prepared the way for it. St. Paul’s teaching of the relation of Christianity to the Mosaic system should be noted.
II. The inferiority is seen in its limited range.—This is only hinted at here, and further unfolded later on in the epistle. It is suggested in the sentence, “the weakness and unprofitableness thereof.” The range of Judaism was outward and ceremonial. It took man’s conduct and relations—not his will, heart, motives—into its management, imposed its penalties upon disobedience, and arranged its sacrificial and ceremonial conditions of restoration to privilege. But man wants more than the ordering of his conduct: he wants a power of inward renewal, an object of love who can be to him a supreme inspiration to righteousness.
III. The inferiority is seen in its imperfect agents.—Stress is laid on the fact that each priest is not, as an individual, directly called, and set apart for his office by God. There is no precise recognition of ability and fitness—no Divine consecration of each man. Consequently a Jewish priest might be a good man, or he might not. He was a priest because his father was, and not because he himself was a good and priestly man. Their imperfection as persons stands out distinctly in contrast with Melchizedek, who, by direct selection and appointment, was priest of the Most High God; and in contrast with Christ, who in Scripture is declared to be “a priest for ever after the order of Melchizedek,” and to whom the Divine call directly came at Jordan: “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” It was an inferior covenant, administered by inferior men. Valuable enough for its time, and for its mission; but its time had passed, and its mission was done. Let it go. The greater High Priest had come, the surety of an altogether better and spiritual covenant. Cease to exaggerate the importance or authority of the Aaronic priesthood. Welcome the new Priest, the Melchizedek of the new era, on whom the most solemn Divine assurance rests—you have read it many a time in the word, you know its full significance now: “Thou art a priest for ever after the order of Melchizedek.”
SUGGESTIVE NOTES AND SERMON SKETCHES
Hebrews 7:18. Good Things may become Ineffective.—We have always to take account of the fact that, while the animal world can repeat itself generation after generation with absolute precision, the moral world never has repeated itself, and never can repeat itself, in two succeeding generations. “One generation passeth, and another, and a differently thinking, and differently circumstanced, generation cometh; but the earth abideth ever.” The birds build their nests to-day exactly as the same birds built them in the trees of Paradise. The foxes make their burrowed holes just as they made them of old in the hillsides of Palestine. But man makes his house to-day altogether otherwise than Adam did when he wove tree-branches into a bower outside Eden. Moral man moves forward. He does not think to-morrow as he thought to-day. He wants something more to-morrow than he wanted to-day. And the Divine revelations to the moral being, man, must always be precisely relative to what he is, and thinks, and wants, when the revelation is given. Indeed, a revelation which, in form, can adapt itself to all the generations of humanity, is inconceivable and impossible in the very, nature of things. There are permanences in humanity; moral man has his unchanging essentials, and there is an essential in all Divine revelation which meets the essential and permanent in man, but we are not dwelling upon that feature now. If man is ever changing—moral man, intellectual man, social man—and revelation must of necessity change to adapt itself to the changes, then things that are good, right, adapted, Divine, may come to be practically ineffective, and have to be put up on the shelf of history. Illustration may be taken from the work of the Puritan divines, or the Schoolmen, or the Cambridge Platonists,—most valuable and effective in their day; most ineffective in our day. The world’s lumber-room is full of good things that have had their day, and have ceased to be living forces. The stamp of the Divine on the Mosaic economy in no way exempts it from the operation of the ever-working Divine laws, which are superior to any local and particular revelation. Mosaism was a good thing, but the world’s progress made it ineffective.
Hebrews 7:19. Law replaced by Hope.—Law is an external and authorised direction, which takes the ordering of a man’s conduct and relation into its control. Strictly speaking, the range of law—certainly of revealed law—is external: it has nothing to do with thought, or feeling, or will: it is concerned with actions, with conduct. The apostle Paul states this with great plainness and force, when he compares the righteousness which comes by the law, and the righteousness which comes by Christ. “For Moses writeth that the man that doeth the righteousness which is of the law shall live thereby. But the righteousness which is of faith saith thus … If thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Jesus as Lord, and shalt believe in thy heart that God raised Him from the dead, thou shalt be saved.” Law, as ordering of conduct, has its time and place and work; it belongs to the rudimentary stages of the moral life. It is the proper thing for the child life of individuals, of nations, and of humanity. Joubert says the great principle guiding the education of humanity is, “Force till right is ready.” Hope is an effective force on thought, feeling, ambition. It is the inward inspiration of effort to win righteousness. Hold something before a man, and you make the man act from himself with the view to the attainment of that which he hopes for. Here is the difference between law and hope. Law takes the man into its control, and makes the man do what it would have him do. Hope makes the man take himself into his own control, and bring himself into all obediences and goodnesses. Therefore hope is such an advance upon law, that we may say the Divine anxiety, (and the answering human anxiety) is to get the orderings of law replaced by the inspirations of hope. Christ both elevates and redeems humanity, by bringing in a hope. It is a better hope, because all the law could offer was the acceptance and reward of obedient acts; but this hope offers the acceptance of, and Divine satisfaction in, loyal, loving, obedient persons. That which is the law for the individual, the nation, and humanity, is also the law for the Christian experience. The young Christian can only begin with laws and rules for the precise shaping of Christian habits and conduct. If he grows, that law power will pass, and give place to the ennobling and sanctifying inspiration of Christian hope.
CRITICAL AND EXEGETICAL NOTES
Hebrews 7:24. Continueth ever.—A firm assertion of the present living priesthood of Christ. Unchangeable.—R.V. margin, “hath a priesthood that doth not pass to another.” Vulgate, sempiternum. Stuart, “without succession.” Moulton, “Since His life is indissoluble, none can trespass on His right and invade His priesthood.”
Hebrews 7:25. Save.—To be understood here as embracing the various services to men that are represented in the work of the high priest. Uttermost.—Or “consummate end.” Completely deal with even their highest, most spiritual needs. Judaism could not “save to the uttermost,” because its range was confined to ceremonial offences. Make intercession.—Lit. to interpose on their behalf who employ him as their High Priest.
Hebrews 7:26. Became us.—Was necessary for us, who are conscious of these higher, spiritual needs. That which is precisely “befitting” may be spoken of as necessary. Holy.—Internal. Harmless.—External. One who does no evil. Undefiled.—This is the opposite to the “unclean” of Judaism. Free from ceremonial charge. Separate from sinners.—Diverse from them; unlike them; having no sort of fellowship with them. Made higher than the heavens.—Exalted above the heavens. Compare Hebrews 1:3. For this idea of Christ’s exaltation in acknowledgment of the perfect fulfilment of His mission, see Philippians 2:9; Colossians 1:8; Hebrews 2:9; Hebrews 8:1; Revelation 5:12; Matthew 25:31.
Hebrews 7:27. Daily.—The high priest officiated every day, as well as on the Day of Atonement (Hebrews 6:19-20; Numbers 28:3-4). His own sins.—See the order of ceremonies on the Day of Atonement. Offered up Himself.—Surrendered Himself in life and death obedience; this was the one sacrifice.
Hebrews 7:28. Infirmity.—Here moral infirmity, which involved the need of their offering sacrifices for themselves. Since the law.—And therefore a later and fuller manifestation of the will of God. Consecrated.—As High Priest for a perpetual service to sinful men. Stuart renders, “the Son, who is for ever exalted to glory.” R.V. reads, “a Son perfected for evermore.” Whose unchangeable, untransmissible, ever-living priesthood is our ground of hope.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Hebrews 7:23-28
Our Priestly Saviour.—The main purpose of this epistle is the exaltation of the person, the offices, and the work of the Lord Jesus, by comparing, and in some ways contrasting, Him with the most honoured persons associated with the older history and dispensation—with angels, with the patriarch Abraham, with Moses, with the high priest. The text stands nearly at the height of the comparisons of the person and office, and introduces the comparison of His work.
I. The nature of Christ’s office.—He is the “living Intercessor.” It is anxiously set before us that our Lord actually holds present office. The idea that His work was completed while He was here on earth is only true when it is precisely and carefully stated, and with due qualifications. The work of Christ is both present and past. The past explains the efficiency of the present; the present guarantees the acceptableness of the past. The present work is essentially the same, but not formally, or to outward seeming, the same that He carried through in the past: He is in the office, and does the precise work now for which the earth experience has fitted Him. It is therefore better for us to say of Christ, not “He has redeemed,” but “He can redeem, and does.” Describe the office of intercessor, as illustrated in Moses, in the Jewish high priest, and in the Scripture figure of the “Angel of the covenant.” Observe that the work of our Lord’s present office is stated in the passage to be, not only mediating for Christians in the supplying of Christian needs, but also an actual present saving of men. “Save to the uttermost all coming to God by Him.” Christ is set now in the office of dispenser of the salvation that He has won for men. Man, as a moral being, is to be saved, not by a salvation, but by a Saviour, through the agency of a salvation. The familiar words, “Simply to thy cross I cling,” are a poetical figure, which, stated in a plain, prosaic way, would be, “Simply to Thyself I cling.” In unfolding our Redeemer’s particular office as priestly Saviour, show—
1. Its sphere. Heaven as the symbol of the spiritual. The souls of men. The presence of the eternal Father.
2. Show its work. Saving, in the large and comprehensive sense of effecting all deliverances from all moral evils, and from all their consequences.
3. And show the ways in which He has won the fitness, and the ability, to be this living Saviour. “Therefore God also hath highly exalted Him.”
(1) By the faithful execution of a particular work entrusted to Him, He has proved Himself worthy of a higher trust. According to His own principle, embodied in the parables of the “talents” and the “pounds.”
(2) By the intimacy, variety, and completeness of His human experience, He has become precisely fitted for the sympathetic application of the saving power.
II. The extent of the power which belongs to Christ’s present office.—“To the uttermost.” This expression comprehends—
1. Power to meet the precise case of every one. And salvation is not quite the same thing for every man. It must be adapted to individuality.
2. Power to completely satisfy the needs of each one. Here Christ’s power is contrasted with that of Jewish high priests, who could not touch soul-sin. The infinite ability of Christ is our encouragement in the committal of our entire saving and sanctifying to Him.
III. The persons for whom especially the power is exercised.—Does the expression of Hebrews 7:25 mean “everybody”? And if not, what are its suggested limitations? Those who come into the saving power are those—
1. Who spiritually turn towards God. There must be some opening of the soul to God.
2. Those who, in thus turning, seek the help of Christ. To these, and under these conditions, He becomes an all-sufficient and almighty Saviour. Or we may say, that the condition of getting the exercise of this saving power is, that a man fully trusts his case to Christ. But nobody ever does that until he has ceased to feel that he can very well manage it himself. These considerations reaffirm the two essential things in every coming to God through Christ—penitence and faith. Reimpress the important truth, that the intercession of our Divine Lord is founded on His voluntary offering of Himself without spot to God.
SUGGESTIVE NOTES AND SERMON SKETCHES
Hebrews 7:22. Christ as Surety of a Covenant.—Dr. Moulton’s note on the word “covenant” may be found specially helpful: “This is the first occurrence in this epistle of a very interesting word (διαθήκη), which hereafter will occupy an important place in the argument. Throughout the Greek translation of the Old Testament it is used to represent a Hebrew word which is (more than two hundred times) rightly rendered ‘covenant’ in our version; and, like the Hebrew word, it is applied both to mutual agreements between man and man, and to ‘covenants’ or engagements into which God enters in regard to man. In classical writers διαθήκη commonly denotes a “testament”; and hence in the old Latin translation of the Scriptures testamentum became the common rendering of the word. As, however, this rendering is very often found where it is impossible to think of such a meaning as will (e.g. in Psalms 83:5, where no one will suppose the psalmist to say that the enemies of God ‘have arranged a testament against Him’), it is plain that the Latin testamentum was used with an extended meaning, answering to the wide application of the Greek word. St. Paul’s designation of the Jewish Scriptures as the ‘old covenant’ (2 Corinthians 3:14) thus became familiarly known as ‘the Old Testament.’ … Here only is Jesus spoken of as a Surety, elsewhere as Mediator (chaps. Hebrews 8:6, Hebrews 9:15, Hebrews 12:24). As through the Son of man the covenant becomes established, so in Him it remains secure; the words addressed by God to Him as Priest and King contain the pledge of its validity and permanence.” Ἔγγυος means sponsor, pledge, surety. In a covenant each party may be represented by some one who will guarantee their good faith. The case is conceivable in which the same person may guarantee the good faith of both parties; and then such a person would stand as a living pledge of the fulfilment of the terms of the covenant on both sides. That conceivable thing is actually realised in the case of Jesus Christ, and in relation to the new Christian covenant. He stands for God, and pledges His good faith. He stands for man, and pledges his good faith. And so long as Jesus lives we have the assurance that God will keep His word; and God has the assurance that we will keep ours. Christ pledges us both.
Hebrews 7:23-28. Uttermost Salvation.—We are taught here—
I. The perfection of Christ’s priesthood.—He is lifted above all other priests—
1. By the immortality of His nature (Hebrews 7:24). He only hath immortality.
2. By the perfection of His character (Hebrews 7:26). Glorious in holiness.
3. By the efficacy of His sacrifice (Hebrews 7:27). So rich and prevalent that offering of the cross.
II. The consequent perfection of Christ’s saving power (Hebrews 7:25).—Christ is able to save in every way, in all respects, “unto the uttermost,” so that every want and need, in all its breadth and depth, is utterly done away.
1. His salvation extends to the worst. Such is the greatness of Christ’s sympathy and power, that He reaches down to the lowest, and can lift the lowest to heights of purity and glory.
2. His salvation comprehends all. In this sense He saves to the uttermost. Philanthropists usually select some particular class of sinners or sufferers as their sphere of beneficence—one cares for the slave, another for the prisoner, a third for the orphan; but Christ is “the Saviour of all men.” There is a Rabbinical legend to the effect that, when the law was given at Sinai, all the yet unborn souls of the Jewish nation were assembled to hear it. Certainly, when Christ died on Calvary, He saw around Him the spirits of all flesh, and bare in His body the iniquities of them all.
3. His salvation is complete. “Uttermost” signifies completeness; it forms an antithesis here to Hebrews 7:19, where it is stated “the law made nothing perfect.” Christ shall fully restore our nature to purity, to beauty, to joy. There is such a thing as being saved from fire, and yet the nerves to be shattered, and the flesh scarred; such a thing as being saved from shipwreck, and yet to stand bleeding and beggared on the shore; such a thing as being saved in the day of battle, and yet to have lost a limb. Not with such a salvation does Christ save His people.
4. His saving power continues undiminished by lapse of time. The power of Christ is as fresh and full to-day as it ever was; so it will continue to the latest age.
5. His salvation confers eternal security and joy. He ever liveth to continue the fellowship between His saints and God So all-comprehending is the salvation of Jesus Christ, He saves from deepest depths, to ends of the earth, to end of time: He saves thoroughly; He saves with the power of an endless life.
III. The subjects of Christ’s saving grace.—Them that come unto God by Him, come penitently, come boldly, come now.—W. L. Watkinson.
Hebrews 7:24. No Change in Christ’s Priestly Relations conceivable.—If the relations were material and temporal, change in them would be quite possible, and might indeed reasonably be expected. Those relations are spiritual and eternal, and they are therefore permanent and unchangeable. Or we may say, that the priestly relations of Christ do not concern the merely accidental conditions of men, but the essential and universal conditions; and so the adaptations of His priestly ministry can never pass or change. The thought of the writer may not, however, be so comprehensive and so philosophical as this. The point immediately before him is the limited time in which a Mosaic high priest served his office, and the unlimited time that Christ, as our spiritual High Priest, serves His. This was suggested by the prominent fact concerning Melchizedek, that there was no fixed beginning to his office, and no fixed termination. If an office is put into the hands of a succession of men, it is manifestly entrusted to a variety of men; and many men have many ways. The methods of carrying out the duties of the office must, of necessity, vary. Each man will put his own impress upon it. But if an office could be held by one person throughout all generations, and that one person had the power of precisely adapting his principles and his methods to each generation, he would virtually hold an unchangeable office. And that is precisely what we are to understand concerning Christ. He is the one and only spiritual High Priest of humanity. There was no time, since humanity has existed, in which He was not its High Priest. He was spiritual High Priest when there were formal high priests according to the law. And there will be no time, while humanity exists, in which He will not be High Priest. If we do but grip the idea that He is spiritual High Priest to spiritual humanity—and that alone is humanity—we shall easily see that change in the principles and methods of His priesthood cannot be, for the very simple reason that the conditions and needs of spiritual humanity—of the souls which men are—never do change, and so there can be no call for any change to meet their new needs.
Hebrews 7:25. The Eternal Saviour.—Happily we are not dependent on this or any other single passage of Scripture for our belief in the doctrine that Christ’s power to save is practically unlimited. We are not certain that the word rendered “to the uttermost” has more than a temporal significance. Probably it has. But if the text does not positively affirm, it supports and suggests the truth, left beyond all doubt elsewhere, that the power of Christ to save—
I. Is unconditioned by the character of the case.—However complicated or aggravated that may be, no fear or doubt need be entertained for a moment. Men may, and they sometimes do, think that their sin is unpardonable, or that their true manhood cannot be restored, that no human or Divine power can raise and renew them. But Scripture and experience alike prove that they are wrong. There is no depth of iniquity to which man can descend from which the power of Christ cannot lift him up. There are no crimes against heaven and earth which the mercy of God in Jesus Christ will not cover. He saves to the uttermost.
II. Extends through the whole of our human life.—We may have to change priests or pastors, and we may be troubled by the fact. We have not to change one Saviour for another. The thought is too familiar to affect us, but it is a very precious truth, that all our life through we have to do with an unchanging Lord and Friend. It means—
1. That Christ is ours through all the successive periods of our life, each one of which has its own dangers and difficulties, and demands special grace and power. Of Him do we all receive “grace upon grace,” one kindness after another, varying according to the stage we have reached, and to the peculiar need of the passing hour (see John 1:16).
2. That in any great sorrow or emergency that may overtake us we are sure to have our Divine Friend to whom we can resort, and on whose sympathy and succour we can rely.
3. That in the great, continuous work of spiritual culture we may count on His help. We are in some serious danger of supposing that there are faults in our character, and blemishes in our behaviour, which are irremovable, and must be accepted as an inevitable detraction from our worth and influence. But by what right do we accept these as permanent and incurable? With an ever-living Saviour, a helpful High Priest, “ever living to make intercession,” able to save His people to the uttermost from all their sin and shortcoming, we ought to be striving for and expecting a full deliverance, a complete salvation, through sanctity of spirit and excellency of life. We have no leave to settle down into a complacent tolerance of any evil thing in temper or in spirit, in speech or in conduct.
III. Will continue through all generations.—Many systems have had a brief day of power and have passed away. They have had adventitious or spasmodic advantages, and have done great things for a little while. Then testing time has come, and they have waned and disappeared. Jesus Christ has not lost one jot or tittle of His power to save and heal. Where His truth has been corrupted it has been enfeebled, as we can well understand it must be; but where it has been cleansed of its accretions, and has been presented in its purity, it has proved “the power of God unto salvation.” This it is proving now. At home and abroad it is found to be the one sovereign power that transforms the base, that uplifts the degraded, that arouses the sluggish, that calls the worldly to the service of God, that makes the selfish to be concerned for the welfare of their kind, that comforts the sorrowful, that cheers the lonely, that gives peace in strife, and hope in death. It shows no signs of age, no symptoms of decay. There is nothing ready to supply its place. Eighteen centuries of physical research and philosophic inquiry have not provided any substitute for Christian truth. It is Christ alone who can speak to us with authority upon God, upon sin, upon human life, upon the future; it is He alone that can give rest to heavy-laden souls. Christ is proving to be the eternal Saviour to whom mankind in every age can turn with trustful and thankful heart. To whom, if not to Him, shall we go? He only has the words of eternal life on His lips, and the gift of eternal life in His hand. But if we would find we must seek. It is “they who draw near to God through Him” that are saved. We must—
1. Gladly and gratefully receive the great truth of God’s Fatherhood as taught by Jesus Christ.
2. Confidently approach our heavenly Father through His mediation.
3. Eagerly accept the grace of God unto eternal life for His sake.—Selected.
Salvation to the Uttermost.—The writer is dealing with that continuous work of saving which was the ministry entrusted to the old Jewish priests, and is, in the highest senses, the ministry entrusted to our great High Priest. It needs to be well kept in mind, that the old priests did not merely do one great saving work for the people, they stood in constant saving relations with them. Every year, nay, every day, they were executing some saving ministry for them; and the very essence of their saving work consisted in this—they were the mediums through whom any one who wanted to come to God with a petition, or an act of devotion, found access to Him, and acceptance with Him. To express the work of the old priests in the language of this text, “they were able, in limited measures, to save those who came to God through them, seeing that they were the appointed persons for making intercession.” When this is clearly seen, the contrast between the limitations of the old priestly ministries, and the perfections of the ministries of Jesus, our great High Priest, comes to view with a singular and surprising force. “Wherefore also He is able to save to the uttermost them that draw near unto God through Him, seeing He ever liveth to make intercession for them.” “Wherefore” is the usual term for introducing the conclusion of an argument. And it is necessary to understand what the writer has been presenting, from which he draws this conclusion. He is writing to professing Christians about themselves. He knows the perils and temptations to which they are exposed, but he has every confidence in the sincerity and earnestness of their Christian life. He wants to help them to enter fully into all their Christian privileges. In this part of his epistle he is trying to show these Christian Jews that Christ, in His sublime spiritual work, as High Priest of the new and spiritual dispensation, must be in every respect superior to the old temporal high priests of the old formal and typical dispensation. In the verses immediately preceding this text the argument is brought to one point. These old Jewish priests were necessarily insufficient, because they could not continue in their office by reason of death. “The vacancies caused in their number by the ravages of death required to be constantly replenished.” They cannot be thought of as altogether efficient when they entered on their office. They gained efficiency by practice and experience. But as they could not continue by reason of death, their practised efficiency could only reach a certain point, and then it was broken off. The dying priest could not transmit his efficiency to the new priest who took his office; the new man had to gain his efficiency in precisely the same way, and then to die as soon as he had gained it. But see how this affected the people, who sought the priest’s sympathy and help in their “drawing near to God.” They would get to know and love the priest; they would find one especially sympathetic and helpful, in dealing with their weaknesses and difficulties. But he would die, and they would feel quite at sea with the new man, who would surely be of another temperament, and would surely adopt new methods. It would be a long time before they would quite fit to the new man and the new regime. I think it was in the Catholic Cathedral at Arundel that this came home to me with singular power. On one side of the nave there are recesses, partitioned off, with the partitions pierced by small grated windows. These are the confessional chambers, where souls confidentially seek the aid of a priest in securing their access to God, and confirming their relations with Him. Outside each recess is a card, with the name of the priest who could be consulted there. On one of the cards had been put the word “dead”; and I thought of the poor souls who had found him their spiritual helper coming to seek him in vain, and broken-heartedly trying to get another priest to understand and sympathise with them, as their old, and perhaps life-long, friend had done. It brought up vividly the insufficiency of the old priesthood, by reason of its limitations. It helped to the realisation of the infinite and unchangeable efficiency of our great High Priest, who is our Priest in the “power of an endless life.” Christ continueth ever, and His priesthood continues with Him. He gains an efficiency of service to us which never breaks off, is never interrupted, and never stops. Of this we may be absolutely assured: we shall never be shifted off to another priest; we shall never be compelled to try and fit ourselves to another. He abideth our Priest continually, here and now, yonder and by-and-by. We need never think of our life under any conditions in which we shall not have Jesus as our Priest. We get full trust in Him, and that trust never will be broken off. See then why the Levitical priesthood, and every other human priesthood, must be considered as far inferior to that of Jesus. “As men in a frail and dying state are constituted priests, the consequence is, that the priesthood is liable to continual change, and must necessarily pass from the hands of one to another, in a short time. Not so in the case of Christ, who, being exalted above the heavens, and constituted High Priest in the temple not made with hands, hath an immutable priesthood, subject to no succession.” Christ’s endless life involves the continuity of His office, and this involves His ability to save His saved ones to the uttermost. Consider—
I. Christ’s continuous work of saving the saved.—Scripture does not speak of a man’s salvation as a thing completed at a given time, or in any single act. It is a Divine process in souls which has a beginning, but is of no value unless it is continued. Scripture speaks of “full salvation,” of salvation in advance, “ready to be revealed.” The term “saving” covers all that God does in the spiritual recovery and culture of men. It is true that we are saved. It is more true that we are being saved, that we are put into Christ’s power for saving, and that He is now doing that saving work. When is a man saved? When the whole work of grace entrusted to the ministry of the great High Priest is fully wrought out in him. Then, and not till then. It is the hope of our life, it is the inspiration of all high endeavour, that we saved ones are being saved. And does not this way of stating truth come close home to us? Is not this just what we feel can alone satisfy us? We cannot be satisfied with that salvation which began our relations with Christ. In our best moments we want to know this—Is He following up His saving work? In a Christmas sermon by George Macdonald, the continued saving work that Jesus has to do in us is suggested in His inimitable way. “It is as if God spoke to each of us according to our need. My son, My daughter, you are growing old and cunning; you must grow a child again, with My Son, this blessed birth-time. You are growing old and selfish; you must become a child. You are growing old and careful; you must become a child. You are growing old and distrustful; you must become a child. You are growing old, and petty, and weak, and foolish; you must become a child—My child, like the baby there, that strong sunrise of faith, and hope, and love, lying in his mother’s arms in the stable.” What is that but saying in a poetic way that Christ’s continuous work is “saving the saved.” In the text, however, the comprehensive word “save” is put into one particular relation, but it is the all-inclusive relation. Christ is saving us by helping us to “come to God,” to “draw near to God,” to keep in right and close relations with God, and to bring all our ever-varying and ever-multiplied needs and wants to Him. All the saving work will go on, if only we keep constantly “coming boldly to the throne of the heavenly grace.” Our Priest keeps up the relations, is our constant medium; and so we go on towards the “full salvation.”
II. The ground of His ability to save the saved.—It rests upon this, “He ever liveth.” He has the power which belongs to an endless and indissoluble life. He is a priest for ever. There can be no question of His power to carry through what He has undertaken. Man’s work never can be guaranteed as complete. Death comes to men at all times, and stops their work; and whenever he comes, he compels a man to cry out and say, “My purposes are broken off.” The symbol of man’s incomplete life undertakings is the broken pillar over the graves in the cemetery. Christ’s work can be absolutely guaranteed as complete, for death can never arrest Him, can never pluck His priesthood away, and give it to another. It continues to the very uttermost of human need. It is unchangeable, since it keeps ever in the same all-wise, all-loving, and all-sympathetic hands. The ground of Christ’s ability to save the saved is that experience of the needs of the saved which He gained by His own life among men. He can be a merciful and faithful High Priest in things pertaining to God. It is that trust of the high-priestly office which God has made to Him, as the recognition of His infinite acceptableness and efficiency. Able—His ability is Divinely recognised in His trust. But what we need more especially to see is, that the adequate impression of His ability is made upon our hearts by the assurance that “He ever liveth.” If death cannot touch Him, then we know that nothing else can. If death cannot put limits on His priesthood, nothing else can. The ability is unchangeable. He will never be other to us than we have proved Him to be, and He can save us to our “uttermost.”
III. The method of His work in saving the saved.—“To make intercession for them.” Sometimes we see that work as what the living Lord Jesus does, by His Spirit, in His people; and then we call it His sanctifying work. But here the writer dwells on another method in which the saving work is carried out. He secures the supply of all the need which the saved ones ever recognise, and want to carry to God, seeking its supply. No matter when or where, or for what, the saved one wants to draw near to God, to come to the throne of the heavenly grace, there is his High Priest, ready to take his prayer, to present it perfumed with the ever-acceptable incense of His own merit, and to guarantee him answers of blessing and of peace. “He ever liveth to make intercession for us”; and by that method of helping us He is ever carrying out His work of saving the saved. Our relations with God are never broken; our communications with God, our communications from God, are never stopped, and we are sure they never will be stopped, for our High Priest, our Intercessor, is there, and always will be there.
IV. The limit of His efficiency in saving the saved.—“Unto the uttermost.” It is not possible even to suggest all the difficulties and anxieties and distresses into which Christ’s people may get; they never get into any which put them beyond the high-priestly power of Christ. We may have proved His power to strange and exceeding limits, but we have never gone beyond Him, and we never shall. He can save His saved ones to the uttermost. Think again of the poor souls that in their thousand-fold distresses go seeking the sympathy and help of some human priest. What a wealth of woe has been poured into the ears of father-confessors through all the long ages! But how often, oh how painfully often, the priest is helpless, agonisingly helpless! The suppliant goes utterly beyond him with his great cry for help. No saved one ever yet got beyond the great High Priest with the cry of his need. He has always been able to save the saved ones to the uttermost. And He always will be: for He ever lives. What He was yesterday, He is to-day, and He will be for ever; and never shall the hour come round when we may not draw near with our burdened hearts, and find Him there—there ready—there as He has ever been: “able to save unto the uttermost all that would draw near unto God, seeing He ever liveth to make intercession for them.”
A Living Saviour, therefore a Complete Salvation.—The saint learns that salvation must be continuous, that he can no more keep than redeem himself, and that he needs a Saviour, not for once, but for always, not in the first stages of redemption only, but every step of the way—in a word, what we have in the text, One who is “able to save to the uttermost.” And this His ability is because “He ever liveth to make intercession.” Salvation will be to us what it might be in proportion as we look for it, not to the cross, but to Him who, once crucified, is now living—living for evermore, to continue in heaven the work begun on earth.
I. The text reveals our Lord as living to save.—The Atonement does not include the whole work of salvation. As Saviour Christ never rests. He ascended to carry on His work to further developments.
1. Nothing less than this reaches the perfection of grace.
2. Without this His work on earth were unavailing.
3. Only this explains our continued spiritual enrichment.
II. The method by which our Lord carries on His saving work in heaven is that of ceaseless intercession.—
1. This intercession is for those that come unto God by Him.
2. It secures for them everything they ask.
3. And it includes all possible good.
III. This intercession enables Him to save to the uttermost.—
1. To the uttermost depth of depravity.
2. To the uttermost limit of time.
3. To the uttermost measure of perfection.—Charles New.
Hebrews 7:26. Christ as Separate from the World.—With us of to-day it is the commendation of Jesus that He is so profoundly humbled, identified so affectingly with our human state. But the power He had with the men of His time moved in exactly the opposite direction, being the impression He made of His remoteness and separateness from men, when He was, in fact, only a man as they supposed, under all human conditions. The contrast, however, between their position and ours is not so complete as may at first seem to us, for that which makes their impression makes, after all, a good part of ours. The present subject is—The separateness of Jesus from men; the immense power it had, and must ever have, on their feeling and character. Christ was not separated as being at all withdrawn, but only that, in drawing Himself most closely to them, He was felt by them never as being on their level of life and character, but as being parted from them by an immense chasm of distance. His disciples had no definite ideas as to His being a higher nature incarnate. His miracles, and the expectation of Messiah, may have had something to do with their impressions. But there was nothing that should separate Him specially from mankind as being a more than humanly superlative character.
I. Notice how the persons most remote and opposite, even they that finally conspired His death, were impressed or affected by Him.—Spite of their treatment of Him, we can easily see that there is growing up, in their minds, a most peculiar awe of His person. And it appears to be excited more by His manners and doctrine, and a certain indescribable originality and sanctity in both, than by anything else. The public mind became gradually saturated with a kind of awe of His person, as if He might be some higher, finer nature come into the world. It grew until it became a general superstition. The problem with the officials was, not how to arrest any common man, or sinner of mankind, but a superior, mysterious, fearful One, and there wanted, as they imagined, some kind of magic to do it. They took up thus an impression that, if they could suborn one of His followers, it would break the spell of His power, and they could proceed safely. Pilate was profoundly impressed with the sense of something superior, more wise, or holy, or sacred, than he had seen before. The centurion, in presence of the cross, exclaimed, “Truly this was the Son of God!”
II. Notice how the disciples were impressed or affected by the manner and spirit of Jesus.—The remarkable thing is, that He took possession of them strangely, even at the very first, and yet they appear to be more and more impressed with the distance between Him and themselves, the longer they know Him, and the more intimate and familiar their acquaintance with Him. Of this St. Peter affords a striking example. This, in part, is their blessing; for, as they are humbled by it, so they are raised by it, feel the birth of new affinities, rise to higher thoughts, and are wakened to a conscious struggle after God.
III. What is the solution of this profound impression of separateness made by Christ on the world?—His miracles and the repute of His Messiahship do not wholly account for it. It may be said that He produced this impression artificially, by means of certain scenes and observances designed to widen out the distance between Him and the race. Were the really astounding assumptions put forth by Christ designed as declarations or assertions of a superhuman order in His natural person? Certainly He is challenging, in such utterances, honours and prerogatives that are not human. At the same time, if He had not before separated Himself heaven-wide from men, by His character, and produced, in that manner, a sense of some wonderful mystery in Him, He would have been utterly scouted and hooted out of the world for His preposterous assumptions. Indeed, the minds of His disciples were so much occupied with the impressions they felt, under the realities of His character, that they scarcely attended to the strange assumptions of His words, and did not even seem to have taken their meaning till after His death. The impression of Christ’s separation was made, not by scenes, nor by words of assertion, nor by anything designed for that purpose, but it grew out of His life and character—His unworldliness, holiness, purity, truth, love; the dignity of His feeling, the transcendent wisdom and grace of His conduct. He was manifestly one that stood apart from the world in His profoundest human sympathy with it. He rose up out of humanity, or the human level, into Deity and the separate order of uncreated life, by the mere force of His manner and character, and achieved, as man, the sense of a Divine excellence before His personal order as the Son of God was conceived. And so it finally became established in men’s feelings, as it stood in His last prayer, that there was some inexplicable oneness where His inmost life and spirit merged in the Divine and became identical. How great a thing it is that such a Being has come into our world and lived in it! What is meant by holiness, and what especially is its power, or the law of its power? It is the sense of a separated quality in one who lives on a footing of intimacy and oneness with God. It means being drawn apart, or exalted, by being consecrated to God and filled with inspiration from God. This is holiness—the condition of a man when he is separated visibly from the world, and raised above it by a Divine participation. Christianity is a regenerative power upon the world only as it comes into the world in a separated character—as a revelation or sacred importation of holiness. In this lies the efficacy of Christ’s mission, that He brings to men what is not in them, what is opposite to them—the separated glory, the holiness of God. We want a salvation which means a grace brought into the world that is not of it. So Christ will not be a popular Saviour. His profound singularity, as a Being superior to sin and to all human conventionalities, would offend men, and drive them quite away. There is no greater mistake, as regards the true manner of impression on the world, than that we impress it by being homogeneous with it. It is not the being popular that makes one a help to religion,—no holy man was ever a truly popular character. There is no just mode of life, no true holiness, or fruit of holy living, if we do not carry the conviction, by our self-denial, our sobriety in the matter of show, and our withholding from all that indicates our being under the world, that we are in a life separated to God. And there is most profound philosophy in this—“Come out from among them, and be ye separate.”—Horace Bushnell, D.D.
The Divine Charm of Christ’s Character.—“Holy, harmless [guileless, R.V.], undefiled, separate [separated, R.V.] from sinners.”
1. The Christ whom the Jews expected was one whose works should be great—by no means one in whom there should be a humanly superlative character.
2. The separation of Christ from sinners was not one which came out of words of assertion, but one which grew out of His character and His life.
3. We have had among us a Visitor, living out in the moulds of human character, conduct, and feeling the perfections of God. Who, after this, can ever think it a low and common thing
(1) to fill these human spheres;
(2) walk these ranges of human life; and
(3) do these common-place, every-day, human duties?—After Bushnell.
Hebrews 7:27. One Sacrifice suffices.—“Once for all, when He offered up Himself.” That sacrifice suffices for two good reasons:
1. It is the real thing, to which all the pictorial, illustrative, and typical sacrifices pointed.
2. It is so altogether satisfactory, that there cannot possibly ever be any call to have it repeated. Why should it be? The supreme question, in regard to any sacrifice, is this—Is it acceptable to God? Will He make it a basis on which to accept us? If it is acceptable to Him, if He does accept us on the ground of it, what more has to be said? Who has any right to complain? On what ground can any other sacrifice be asked for? And that is precisely what we claim to be the fact concerning the sublime self-sacrifice of the Lord Jesus Christ, concerning the offering of Himself. God is infinitely satisfied with it: He is willing to accept us on the ground of it. And there is nothing more to be said, and nothing more can be required. God requires no other sacrifice; He has accepted this, and makes no other demand. We cannot possibly require any other sacrifice, for we have gained all the acceptance that we can ever want on the ground of this. “By one offering” Christ has gained all-sufficient power to save unto the uttermost: “He hath perfected for ever them that are sanctified.”
ILLUSTRATIONS TO CHAPTER 7
Hebrews 7:25. “He redeemed me!”—The tears of a slave girl just going to be put up for sale drew the attention of a gentleman as he passed through the auction mart of a Southern slave state. The other slaves of the same group, standing in a line for sale like herself, did not seem to care about it, while each knock of the hammer made her shake. The kind man stopped to ask why she alone wept, and was told that the others were used to such things, and might be glad of a change from the hard, harsh homes they came from, but that she had been brought up with much care by a good owner, and she was terrified to think who might buy her. “Her price?” the stranger asked. He thought a little when he heard the great ransom, but paid it down. Yet no joy came to the poor slave’s face when he told her she was free. She had been born a slave, and knew not what freedom meant. Her tears fell fast on the signed parchment, which her deliverer brought to prove it to her. She only looked at him with fear. At last he got ready to go his way, and as he told her what she must do when he was gone, it began to dawn on her what freedom was. With the first breath she said, “I will follow him! I will serve him all my days!” and to every reason against it she only cried, “He redeemed me! He redeemed me! He redeemed me!” When strangers used to visit that master’s house, and noticed, as all did, the loving, constant service of the glad-hearted girl, and asked her why she was so eager with unbidden service night by night and day by day, she had but one answer, and she loved to give it—“He redeemed me! He redeemed me! He redeemed me!” “And so,” said the servant of Christ, who spent a night on his journey in a Highland glen, and told this story in a meeting where every heart was thrilled, “let it be with you. Serve Jesus as sinners bought back with blood; and when men take notice of the way you serve Him, the joy that is in your looks, the love that is in your tone, the freedom of your service, have one answer to give—‘He redeemed me!’
Intercession.—“A child,” saith Ambrose, “that is willing to present his father with a posy goes into the garden, and there gathers some flowers and some weeds together; but coming to his mother, she picks out the weeds, and binds the flowers, and so it is presented to the father.” Thus, when we have put up our prayers, Christ comes and picks away the weeds, the sin of our prayers, and presents nothing but flowers to His Father, which are a sweet-smelling savour.—Thomas Watson.
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Hebrews 7". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29