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THE CONTRAST OF THE TWO COVENANTS
CRITICAL AND EXEGETICAL NOTES
VIRTUALLY a new topic is dealt with in this chapter. Hitherto the personal characteristics of the high priest have occupied the chief place: from this point to Hebrews 10:18, the ministration of the high priest receives special attention. The writer first contrasts the two covenants. God, who entered into the old covenant, had promised, in Jeremiah, a new covenant. It would prove to be superior to the old in three respects:
1. Because the law of it would be written on the heart.
2. Because it would be a universal covenant, not limited to any one race.
3. Because it would be a covenant pledging forgiveness of sins: and so dealing with what, in every age, is found to be man’s deepest need. “The decrepitude of the old covenant, indicated by its being called ‘old,’ is a sign of its approaching and final evanescence” (Hebrews 8:13).
Hebrews 8:1. The sum.—κεφάλαιον; better, as R.V., “the chief point”; Stuart, “the most important thing”; Theophylact, “that I may say the greatest thing, and the most comprehensive.” The idea of review, or recapitulation, is not suitable here. The superiority of Christ’s person and office lead on to the superiority of Christ’s work and sacrifice. The superiority lies in this—the work of Christ is spiritual. So the sacrifice He offered must be a spiritual sacrifice. Three new points are introduced:
1. The nature of Christ’s sacrifice.
2. The place where it is offered.
3. Its efficacy to atone for sin. Who is set.—R.V. “who sat down”; perhaps with designed contrast. The older priests stood before God in His earthly sanctuary. But the contrast between the places is more important than between the attitudes. In the heavens.—Spiritual temple. “The one is seated on the throne of God in the heavens, while the other only ministers on earth, in a temple reared by the hands of men.” Each is on the right side as ministrant, but Christ is in the true temple.
Hebrews 8:2. Sanctuary.—The spiritual, heavenly counterpart of the Holy of Holies, in which the ancient high priest specially and alone ministered. Margin, R.V., gives “holy things.” The word used for minister, λειτουργός, means public “minister,” not merely “servant.” True tabernacle.—Not as distinct from “false,” but in our sense of “real”; “veritable” in contrast with “unsubstantial.” The tabernacle in heaven is the “substance”; that on earth is the “accident,” the “image,” the illustration. “The Alexandrian Jews, as well as the Christian scholars of Alexandria, had adopted from Plato the doctrine of Ideas, which they regarded as Divine and eternal archetypes of which material and earthly things were but the imperfect copies. They regarded the Mosaic tabernacle as a mere sketch, copy, or outline of the Divine Idea or Pattern. The Idea is the perfected Reality of its material shadow” (Farrar).
Hebrews 8:3. Gifts.—Oblations; firstfruits of grain, vegetables, etc. Sacrifices.—Offerings involving the devotion of animal life. “Both were presented to God by the priest, who acted as internuntius between Jehovah and the offerer.”
Hebrews 8:4. On earth.—In the ordinary earthly relations with men. Seeing there were divinely appointed priests for the earthly sphere, Christ could have no place as priest. In the Jewish Temple He was not wanted. Notice how carefully this writer guards the Divine claims of Judaism, while recognising the limitation of its sphere, and the temporary character of its mission.
Hebrews 8:5. Example and shadow.—ὑπόδειγμα, image, effigy, copy, resemblance. “A token suggesting, and designed to suggest, the original.” σκιά, shadow, slight and imperfect image, sketch. “The shadow has no substance or independent existence, but represents only the outline of a body.” “The tabernacle is only a sketch, an outline, a ground pattern, as it were—at the best a representative image—of the heavenly Archetype.” The words of God are not in the Greek. Pattern.—Exodus 25:40. The writer seems to have in mind the Jewish tradition, that a heavenly tabernacle was actually presented to the vision of Moses, and this model was to be imitated by him precisely. The passage in Exodus does not require us to assume a visible representation.
Hebrews 8:6. More excellent.—In a higher range. Old priests kept in the material range; Christ belongs to the spiritual range. Read the clause, “A ministry more excellent in proportion as He is also.” Better covenant.—Seen in one thing. Under the old there was law for the eyes; under the new there is law for the heart.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Hebrews 8:1-6
The Principal Thing concerning Christ.—“This is the sum” does not mean “this is a brief recapitulation.” It means “this is the chief point”: “this is the most important thing”; “this is the consideration upon which attention should be most anxiously fixed.” It is virtually a new topic that is dealt with here. “The writer has treated of the superiority of Christ’s priesthood, in respect to duration and succession. He has shown that Christ was made priest by the solemnity of an oath, while the Levites were not introduced to their office by such a solemnity. The priesthood of the latter was liable to continual interruption and vicissitude, from the frail and dying state of those who were invested with the office of priest; while the perpetuity of Christ’s priestly office was never exposed to interruption from causes of this nature. And the Jewish priests were themselves not only peccable, but peccant men, and needed to offer sacrifices on their own account, as well as for the sake of others; while Christ was holy, and perfectly free from all sin, and exalted to a glorious state in which He was placed for ever beyond the reach of it, so that His sacrifice would endure solely to the benefit of sinful men. Now the writer comes to the consideration of the duties themselves: viz. the nature of the sacrifice which Jesus offers; the place where it is offered; the efficacy which it has, to atone for sin; and the difference, in regard to all these points, between the sacrifice offered by Christ, and that which was presented by the Jewish priests. The dignity of an office, and the particular qualifications of the person who is invested with it, are things which in their own nature are subordinate to the great end which is to be accomplished by the office itself” (Moses Stuart). The passage before us introduces the new subject by reaffirming the essentially spiritual range and sphere in which this new, and altogether greater, High Priest works.
I. The sphere in which this great High Priest works is the spiritual tabernacle.—Which was but represented and foreshadowed in the Jewish tabernacle. The points presented are—
1. This High Priest is such by virtue of His character, which is a spiritual thing. He is “holy, guileless, undefiled.”
2. This High Priest is in heaven, the sphere in which God is and works, the sphere of spiritual interests and relations.
3. This High Priest ministers in “holy things”—that is, spiritual matters. (This is the marginal reading of the word “sanctuary.”) Reference, however, may be intended to the spiritual counterpart of the Holy of Holies, which Jesus, having once entered for us, never leaves. If the spiritual is higher than the natural; if it is that which the material pictures; if it is the reality,—then the Jewish Christians need not hesitate to give up the shadow for the true, the spiritual tabernacle, and the spiritual Priest who ministers in it. But just what Christian teachers have found supremely difficult in every age, was found as difficult in the first Christian age: it is to awaken in the minds and hearts of men a fitting sense of the value of the spiritual; to deliver them from the deteriorating slavery of the “material.”
II. The office which the great High Priest holds is a spiritual priesthood.—It is no question of rivalry with the Aaronic priests. Jesus cannot be compared with them at all. He does not lie in the same plane. There are priests, Divinely appointed, “who serve that which is a copy and shadow of heavenly things.” Jesus has nothing to do with firstfruits of grain, oblations of meal or of wine; blood of bulls or goats, ashes of heifers, or sweet-smelling incense. “If He were on earth, He would not be a priest at all.” A spiritual priesthood deals with the removal of sin, the effecting of reconciliation, the offering of men themselves to God, the covenant of soul-obedience, the maintenance of communion between God the Spirit and the spirits of men. A spiritual priesthood is the mediacy of spiritual affairs. As a priest Jesus must indeed have somewhat to offer. His offering was Himself. His sacrifice was this—“He offered Himself without spot to God.” That is the true sacrifice, which every other sacrifice does but represent. St. Paul says, “Christ … hath given Himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling savour” (Ephesians 5:2).
III. The ministry in which the great High Priest is engaged is carrying out the conditions pledged in a spiritual covenant.—He is established as Mediator of a better, because spiritual, covenant, which hath been enacted upon better, because spiritual, promises. “The first covenant only promised external purification, and the civil or ecclesiastical pardon of an offender who complied with the rites which it enjoined; but under the new covenant real pardon of sin by God is to be obtained, with purification and peace of conscience, the hope of eternal life, and union at last with the assembly of the redeemed in a better world.” Christ keeps for God all the terms of the new covenant on His side, and graciously and efficiently helps man to keep all the terms of the new covenant on his side. “Judaism was but a shadow of which Christianity was the substance; Judaism was but a copy of which Christianity was the permanent idea and heavenly archetype; it was but a scaffolding within which the genuine temple had been built; it was (now) but a chrysalis from which the inward winged life had departed” (Farrar).
Hebrews 8:2. The Genuine Tabernacle.—The word means “genuine,” and in this epistle “ideal,” “archetypal.” It is the antithesis not to what is spurious, but to what is material, secondary, and transient. The Alexandrian Jews, as well as the Christian scholars of Alexandria, had adopted from Plato the doctrine of Ideas, which they regarded as Divine and eternal archetypes of which material and earthly things were but the imperfect copies. They found their chief support for this introduction of Platonic views into the interpretation of the Bible in Exodus 25:40; Exodus 26:30 (quoted in Hebrews 8:5). Accordingly they regarded the Mosaic tabernacle as a mere sketch, copy, or outline of the Divine Idea or Pattern. The Idea is the perfected Reality of its material shadow. They extended this conception much further:—
“What if earth
Be but the shadow of heaven, and things therein
Each to the other like, more than on earth is thought?”
The “genuine tabernacle” is the heavenly Ideal (Hebrews 9:24) shown to Moses. To interpret it of “the glorified body of Christ,” by a mere verbal comparison of John 2:19, is to adopt the all-but-universal method of perverting the meaning of Scripture by the artificial elaborations and inferential after-thoughts of a scholastic theology.—Farrar.
SUGGESTIVE NOTES AND SERMON SKETCHES
Hebrews 8:1-2. The Enthroned Servant Christ.—In these two verses strikingly different representations of our Lord’s heavenly state are given. In the one He is regarded as seated “on the right hand of the throne of the Majesty.” In the other He is regarded as being, notwithstanding that session, a “minister of the sanctuary,” performing priestly functions there. The royal repose of Jesus is full of activity for us. Resting, He works; working, He rests. Reigning, He serves; serving, He reigns.
I. The seated Christ.—“Has taken His seat.” The writer, addressing Hebrews, who were steeped in Rabbinical thought, takes one of their own words, and speaks of God as the “Majesty in the heavens,” emphasising the idea of sovereignty, power, illimitable magnificence. “At the right hand” of this throned personal abstraction, “the Majesty,” sits the Man Christ Jesus. His manhood is elevated to this supreme dignity. The eternal Word who was with the Father in the beginning, before all the worlds, went back to “the glory which He had with the Father.” But the new thing was that there went, too, that human nature which Jesus Christ indissolubly united with Divinity in the mystery of the lowliness of His earthly life. We have a High Priest who, in His manhood, in which He is knit to us, hath taken His seat on the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens. There is a profound sense in which that session of Jesus at the right hand of God proclaims both the localisation of His present corporeal humanity, and the ubiquity of His presence. And what is the deepest meaning of it all? What means that majestic session at “the right hand of the throne”? Before that throne “angels veil their faces.” If in action, they stand; if in adoration, they fall before Him. Creatures bow prostrate. Who is He that, claiming and exercising a quality which in a creature is blasphemy and madness, takes His seat in that awful Presence? Other words of Scripture represent the same idea in a still more wonderful form when they speak of “the throne of God and of the Lamb,” and when He Himself speaks from heaven of Himself as “set down with My Father on His throne.” If we translate the symbol into colder words, it means that deep repose which, like the Divine rest after creation, is not for recuperation of exhausted powers, but is the sign of an accomplished purpose and achieved task, a share in the sovereignty of heaven, and the wielding of the energies of Deity—rest, royalty, and power belong now to the Man sitting at the right hand of the throne of God.
II. The servant Christ.—“A minister of the sanctuary.” The word employed here for “minister,” and which I have ventured variously to translate servant, means one who discharges some public official act of service, either to God or man, and it is especially, though by no means exclusively, employed in reference to the service of a ministering priest. The allusion in the second portion of my text is plainly enough to the ritual of the great Day of Atonement, on which the high priest once a year went into the Holy Place; and there, in the presence of God throned between the cherubim, by the offering of the blood of the sacrifice, made atonement for the sins of the people. Thus says our writer, that throned and sovereign Man who, in token of His accomplished work, and in the participation of Deity, sits hard by the throne of God, is yet ministering at one and the same time within the veil, and presenting the might of His own sacrifice. Put away the metaphor, and we just come to this, a truth which is far too little dwelt upon in this generation, that the work which Jesus Christ accomplished on the cross, all-sufficient and eternal as it was, in the range and duration of its efficacy, is not all His work. The past, glorious as it is, needs to be supplemented by the present, no less wonderful and glorious, in which Jesus Christ within the veil, in manners all unknown to us, by His presence there in the power of the sacrifice that He has made, brings down upon men the blessings that flow from that sacrifice. Our salvation is not so secured by the death upon the cross as to make needless the life before the throne. Jesus that died is the Christ that is risen again, who is even at the right hand of God, who also maketh intercession for us. In its implication the text suggests to us other ways in which the rest of Christ is full of activity. “I am among you as He that serveth” is true for the heavenly glory of the exalted Lord quite as much as for the lowly humiliation of His life upon earth. And no more really did He stoop to serve when, laying aside His garments, He girded Himself with the towel, and wiped the disciples’ feet, than He does to-day when, having resumed the garments of His glorious Divinity, and having seated Himself in His place of authority above us, He comes forth, according to the wonderful condescension of His own parable, to serve His servants who have entered into rest, and those also who still toil. The glorified Christ is a ministering Christ. In us, on us, for us, He works, in all the activities of His exalted repose, as truly and more mightily than He did when here He helped the weaknesses, and healed the sicknesses, and soothed the sorrows, and supplied the wants, and washed the feet, of a handful of poor men. This vision of the ascended Christ is—
1. For the past a seal. An ascended Christ forces us to believe in an atoning Christ.
2. For the present a strength. See Christ on the throne, and He interprets, dwindles, and yet ennobles the world and life.
3. For the future a prophecy. There is the measure of the possibilities of human nature. Whatever that Man is, we may be.—A. Maclaren, D.D.
Hebrews 8:3. Gifts and Sacrifices.—In Hebrews 5:1 the same distinction is made between “gifts,” or oblations, or free-will offerings, or thank-offerings, and sacrifices for sin, which include the various sin- and trespass-offerings, that involved taking the life of some animal. The two words are put together in order that the work of the old priests should not be unduly limited. If it were, their anticipation of the work of Christ would seem to limit His work also. And, in fact, the attention which has been so exclusively given to the bloody sacrifices of Judaism has involved a too exclusive attention to the sacrificial side of our Redeemer’s work. Christ also is “ordained for men in things pertaining to God, that He may offer both gifts and sacrifices for sins.” The high priest acted the part of a mediator between God and men; he was to aid men in regard to their spiritual and religious concerns. It is infinitely important that our Lord should, by the offering of Himself as the sacrifice for sin, secure our reconciliation and acceptance with God. But we must beware of keeping our interest too exclusively to that. It is the most serious loss to lose Christ’s relations to the whole circle of our religious thought, and feeling, and expression, and relation.
Christ’s Spiritual Offering.—“Wherefore it is necessary that this High Priest also have somewhat to offer.” But His range is the spiritual. There is no place for Christ as a priest in the material and earthly spheres. “There are those who offer gifts according to the law.” We can understand what gifts Christ can offer for us, if we can see what His own offering was. He offered Himself, in His human body, to God. He did not offer only something He possessed—He offered Himself, as a spiritual being. He offered to God His love, His trust, His obedience, His will, His life—Himself. No matter what was the medium through which the offering was made, that, and nothing less than that, was the offering. It carried with it everything He possessed, but it was Himself. And the offering which Christ makes for us as our High Priest is a spiritual offering—it is ourselves. He offers us to God even as He offered Himself—our love, our trust, our obedience, our will, our life; but the offering carries with it all our possessions, all we have, and all we can do. The apostle Paul finds the precise term for the spiritual offering which Christ, as our Priest, presents for us when He says, “I beseech you that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice.” Christ offers us to God even as He offered Himself.
Hebrews 8:6. The Spiritual is Every Way Better.—“A more excellent ministry.” We can hardly wonder that the apostles found it so difficult to lift men into the region of spiritual thoughts, and feelings, and associations, seeing that, in these advanced times, we still find it so supremely difficult to do the same thing. Materialistic conceptions of the redemption work namper earnest and enlightened Christian teachers to-day, and such men are called vague and mystical when they try to do the same work that the writer of this epistle did. Still the work must be done, whatever may be the personal sacrifice involved in the doing. The spiritual is the real. Christ is a spiritual being; His mission is to spiritual beings; He deals with spiritual matters; He deals with them in spiritual ways; and He works towards spiritual ends. The salvation He provides is a soul salvation for men who are souls. And the old salvations of Judaism, and the bodily healings of our Lord’s earthly life, are strictly pictorial and illustrative; they are but “figures of the true,” and the spiritual is every way the better. Writing of the antipathies of Jesus to the formalising, materialising, and outward teachings of the Pharisees, so mischievous because not only so unspiritual, but so opposed to the spiritual, Dr. A. B. Bruce says: “The spirit of Pharisaism lives on through the ages, ever embodying itself in new forms, and growing like a fungus on every manifestation of the Divine in human life, not excepting evangelic religion itself, which might be supposed to be its natural antithesis. The protest of the Founder of our faith did not slay the evil thing; it only clearly revealed its nature, and made manifest to the whole world that Christianity and it have nothing in common. Therefore the protest needs to be continually renewed.” We must demand that our Lord Himself, His life-work on earth, and His continuous work in the heavenlies, shall all be seen in the spiritual light. Getting what illustrative help we may from material things and relations, we must see that He is spiritual. His atonement was a spiritual one, and His intercession is spiritual; and for us the spiritual is better; it bears relation to the spiritual beings that we are.
Hebrews 8:6-13. Hand Guidance and Heart Guidance.—The first covenant was not found faultless; therefore place was found for another and a better covenant.
I. The first covenant was the guidance of the hand (Hebrews 8:9).—It was very condescending and gracious on the part of God thus to conduct Israel, but such guidance is suggestive of many imperfections.
1. The guidance of the hand is the guidance of childhood. Thus the parent leads the child. So the first dispensation dealt with a people in a state of childhood. When I was a child I understood as a child, I thought as a child, but when I became a man I put away childish things. How often may we be reminded of these words in reading the history of Israel! How often do we feel that they were but children in moral understanding and strength, and that God dealt with them as such! This is the precise argument of the apostle (Galatians 4:1-5).
2. The guidance of the hand is the guidance of blindness. Thus do we lead a blind man. Israel was guided by precepts and ceremonies, “seeing through a glass darkly.” How imperfectly they apprehended the spirituality of the law, the real glory of atonement, the highest perfection of character, the future life! And God guided them as a blind man is guided.
3. The guidance of the hand is the guidance of weakness. You stretch out the hand to support the old or sick who walk with tottering step. Thus Israel was “without strength.” “The law was weak through the flesh,” and God by many gracious expedients sought to hold up the ever-fainting, sinking race. This economy was evidently not the best, although it was the best possible for the period, and the fact that Israel on such a large scale lapsed into idolatry and sin proved the weakness and unprofitableness of their carnal dispensation.
II. The second covenant was the guidance of the heart.—
1. It is the guidance of manhood (Hebrews 8:10). The child is controlled by what is external, the man by what is internal and spiritual. So the Christian dispensation makes the mind and affections the grand source of obedience. It puts the love of God and the love of God’s law deep into the soul, and trusts everything to this. It speaks to our rational, affectional, immortal nature, and seeks to harmonise that nature with the Divine nature, so that we may instinctively walk in the right path.
2. The guidance of knowledge (Hebrews 8:11). All shall possess a true spiritual knowledge of God. In this dispensation the Spirit illuminates the soul, and we know the things which are freely given to us of God.
3. The guidance of power (Hebrews 8:12). It gives that purity which is only another name for power. It pardons sin, cleanses from sin, and by imparting righteousness to the soul enables us to go from strength to strength. The Jews are condemned for failing under the first dispensation, although it has so many limitations and defects, but how much more shall we be condemned if we fail under this best of covenants!—W. L. Watkinson.
CRITICAL AND EXEGETICAL NOTES
Hebrews 8:7. Faultless.—Not merely “free from defect,” but “incomplete,” unable fully to meet man’s case. The old system was complete enough for its limited sphere and purpose: fault was found with its limitations. No place have been sought.—There would have been no occasion for introducing another. The ground would have been covered. It may be said, Why then did not God make Judaism fully efficient? The answer may be given in the words of St. Paul, “That is not first which is spiritual, but that which is natural, and afterward that which is spiritual.” The spiritual always has to be prepared for.
Hebrews 8:8. He saith.—See Jeremiah 31:31-34. I will make.—Lit. “I will cut”; cutting a covenant was a familiar phrase, referring to the custom of slaying victims at the sealing of a covenant.
Hebrews 8:9. Not according to.—But different from; having a different central idea. The proved infirmity of men called for some alteration of the covenant terms. They needed to be dealt with in another way.
Hebrews 8:10. Covenant, etc.—This is the term of the new covenant; in it God undertook to inspire hearts, and not merely to guide conduct. Into their mind.—Deeply infix. This is fulfilled in Christ. His love is the best of all persuasions to righteousness. Contrast “law” and “love” as motive-powers; or obedience rendered from “fear” or from “affection.” Notice how fully the writer brings out the moral value of the Redeemer’s work.
Hebrews 8:11. Not teach, etc.—This describes generally the contrast between the time when a difficult law covered conduct, and the time when the love of Christ constrained. We need not press this beyond the proprieties of the figure. See Isaiah 54:13.
Hebrews 8:13. A new.—The writer fixes attention on this word. It involved the former covenant taking its place among things old and done with. If the new has come, and it is manifestly a fuller display of the Divine love and power, then the old is superseded. It is ready to vanish like a shadow. Let it go. Ready to vanish away.—Lit. “Now that which is becoming antiquated, and waxing aged, is near obliteration.” R.V. “But that which is becoming old, and waxeth aged, is nigh unto vanishing away.” “What is very old is near dissolution.” Observe that this writer could not have thus expressed himself after the final Roman siege of Jerusalem, which resulted in the sweeping away of the formal Mosaic system.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Hebrews 8:7-13
The Spirituality of the New Covenant.—Here is an important fact, which the Jewish Christians are called to face. They boasted of the old covenant. They clung to it tenaciously. They were even tempted by the bigoted party to return to their older form of allegiance to it; and yet their own Scriptures declared that God was dissatisfied with it, and with what had been accomplished by means of it, and had promised to establish with His people a new and better covenant. Already this writer had spoken of the older covenant as “weak, unprofitable, and earthly” (Hebrews 7:18). It is a great addition to his argument to be able to add, that Scripture declares God Himself to have been dissatisfied with its working. In support of his position the passage Jeremiah 31:31-34 is quoted. There is an important difference between the way in which the old system is dealt with in this epistle and in the recognised Pauline epistles. “To St. Paul the contrast between the law and the gospel was that between the letter and the spirit, between bondage and freedom, between works and faith, between command and promise, between threatening and mercy. All these polemical elements disappear almost entirely from the epistle to the Hebrews, which regards the two dispensations as furnishing a contrast between type and reality. This was the more possible to Apollos (if he was the writer), because he regards Judaism not so much in the light of a law as in the light of a priesthood, and a system of worship.” In three respects, according to the promise given to Jeremiah, the new covenant would be better than the old. And each respect is an advantage on the spiritual side.
I. The laws of the new covenant were to be written on men’s hearts.—The laws of the old covenant were engraven on stone slabs, or written in books, to be read by men’s eyes; and a thousand things would blind them to, or hinder them from, reading and obeying. And the obedience offered to outward and written law need only be formal and perfunctory. In the new covenant God’s laws get into man’s will through man’s love. The persuasion of “I ought” is changed into the sweet constraint of “I wish to.” Christ, the ministrant of the new covenant, gets His power in men’s hearts, and sways motives and will to an obedience which is a holy joy.
II. The privileges of the new covenant will be universally enjoyed.—A covenant that is spiritual is free from all local, national, or race restrictions. It is something for man as a spiritual being, and therefore something for universal man. Exclusiveness was characteristic of the Mosaic dispensation; it was a necessary feature, because the covenant was formal, and the terms purely material privilege. All barriers between Jew and Gentile, bond and free, male and female, are removed when God graciously makes spiritual covenant with spiritual beings.
III. The working of the new covenant involves free forgiveness of the sins of the older covenant.—This difficulty might come to the minds of those who were called to enter into the new and spiritual covenant—What is to be done with the penalties which rest on us because of the breaking of the old? The promise of Jehovah through Jeremiah is, that when men come into the new covenant, their sins and inquities shall be remembered no more. When men are brought into right relations with God, their past can be dealt with in a way of free forgiveness. Their sins can be blotted out. As the application of his point the writer urges, that to call the former covenant old implies that it had done its work, had become effete, and was ready to be put aside. The old covenant did not match the new times. Nobody need regret the putting aside of that old covenant, if they would enter fully into all the high spiritual privileges of the new. “What is very old is near dissolution.” “If ‘nigh unto vanishing’ at the time when Jeremiah wrote, well might it now be believed to have passed away.” Accept fully the new covenant, which pledges on your part the obedience of love.
SUGGESTIVE NOTES AND SERMON SKETCHES
Hebrews 8:10. God’s Side in the New Covenant.—“Called of God a high priest.” One of the grave perils of the evangelical setting of the redemption truths lies in the misapprehension of its teaching which men only too readily make. Fixing such exclusive attention on what Christ suffered and did, many persons are found to cherish the notion that the Atonement is something which Christ devised and carried through, if not in opposition to God, yet in some way to get over difficulties which, for some inscrutable reason, God could not surmount Himself. Notions of appeasing wrath, and uncareful settings of the idea of propitiating, tend to nourish such untrue and unworthy notions. It is the absolutely primary and essential truth of Christianity that the Redemption is God’s redemption, the Atonement is God’s own providing, and the Sacrifice is God Himself in sacrifice. There is no ground whatever for separating God from Christ in the work of the Atonement, either in the Scriptures, or in the doctrine of the Church. What has to be dealt with is the cherished sentiment of many persons, and the evil influence of undisciplined and enthusiastic teachers. It may therefore be shown—
1. That throughout our Lord’s life, and as a marked characteristic of all His teachings, He put Himself in the second place, and the Father-God first. His supreme idea was to get men to think well of God. It is to dishonour Christ to attempt to put Him in a place which He wholly refused to occupy. This kind of thing He asserted continually: “The Father’s who sent Me”; “Thou hast sent Me.”
2. The apostles, in their teaching, carefully keep Christ in the ministerial and mediatorial place, and ascribe all the glory of the world’s redemption to God. One passage may guide the Bible student to many. St. Peter, speaking of Christ, says, “Who by Him do believe in God, who raised Him up from the dead.”
3. A redemption for man could not be satisfactory unless it were God’s devising. This may be shown by the figure of a covenant. It were of little account to us if God were forced, by something Christ did, to enter into covenant with us. The persuasion is on us to enter into covenant, because God so graciously offers it, and provides the Person for negotiating it.
Hebrews 8:12. The Considerateness of the New Covenant.—“For I will be merciful to their iniquities, and their sins will I remember no more.” This is part of the anticipative description of the covenant that was to be made in the latter days; and it gives the supreme point of interest in that covenant. In a sense the old covenant of works had in it no considerateness. It demanded an absolute and perfect formal obedience to formal rules, and took no account whatever of human frailties. Its terms concerned conduct; every man was assumed to be able to order his conduct; and he must order it so as to secure a perfect obedience, or he must endure the punishment that must come on the disobedient. How inconsiderate of human infirmity the old covenant of works was comes into full view when the Pharisees try to translate that covenant for their day, and exaggerate its characteristics. They elaborated its demands until they put men’s lives into prison bonds. They allowed no excuses for failure, and so bound grievous burdens on men’s shoulders beyond their power to bear. The sin of Rabbinism lies in its exaggeration of the inconsiderateness of the formal covenant of works. Or the weakness of the old covenant, and the superiority of the new, may be seen from another point of view. It dealt with men’s legal offences, not with their moral conditions. It dealt with their sins against rules, but not with their sins against God. It did not take into its consideration the iniquities which burdened men’s consciences, but did not find expression in acts which disturbed relations. The considerateness of the new covenant is seen in its contrast with the old in both these respects. It does take account of men’s frailties. It seeks a response of good-will from men, and is pitiful and compassionate when the good-will is thwarted from adequate expression by human infirmities. Nay, in view of human frailty, it proposes to be a power in men. “The method of the kingdom is to have the law written on the heart. Thereby the keeping of all that is essential is effectually provided for.” And the covenant does deal with men’s iniquities, with men’s sins before God, assuring a full Divine forgiveness for the things which burden the conscience and oppress the heart.
Hebrews 8:13, taken with Hebrews 10:9. The True Sacrifice.—Simply a theological expression of the unvarying and unvaried process of all things pertaining to human life. From the embryo to the decaying time of life, all constitutions of men everywhere obey this law. As soon as life comes, it begins to grow, grows to greatness, and then passes on to decay. The writer distinctly states that these “tables of stone,” “written by the finger of God,” the goat’s hair, and the rams’ skins dyed red, and the badgers’ skins, and all these things, said to be ordered by God, are worn out. “Finding fault” with them, he tells us that they are no longer of any possible utility; that though asserted to be of Divine origin, yet they were human in their conditions, and when they got down to earth they were subject to moth, rust, and decay. And, holding up the old covenant as a worn-out vesture, he says, “it is ready to vanish away.” Necessity has ordered it so, that all things shall seem Divine to men which are accepted as such by the wisest men of the time; and, on the other hand, nothing ought to be Divine to any man except the soul of the wisest sees it to be so. Do we really believe that God instituted these sacrifices? The conception of God which led to sacrifice was like most of our thoughts about God. It was born in the human heart. It was of humanity. It is impossible that man can conceive of any God except in his own likeness. The thought of sacrifice proceeds out of sinful hearts, addresses itself to sinful souls, and it belongs to the morning-time of the world, when men were unable to think of a restoration to favour without a material guarantee. Those who are weak require the crutch of Forms. Man grows slowly out of the childish trappings of a time when only through these outward things could be made visible the unseen. The prophets arose, and cast scorn upon the useless system of sacrifices. The people still clung to it, because they thought that all this outward business was a very good substitute for inward repentance and purity; but their wise men knew that there can be no sacrifice of any avail without a penitent soul and a sad heart. Now in this manner of religion you can have habits and forms without any true religion at all; skeletons without any life; substitutes for thought. And the mere observances of such outward forms, things that are done from mere habit, are done at the expense of the soul. Men come to fast without caring or fearing, to bow without reverence, to sing without enthusiasm. Isaiah scorned the Sodom-apple of outward purity when there was no heart of reality within. At last these forms came to be looked upon as dead. Then began the bloodless religion. Wheresoever Paul went, there the knife was sheathed, the fire died down, the beast ceased to be offered up. Wheresoever Christ was preached, and the religion of Christ was introduced, this wonderful effect always followed—the ascending smoke of the sacrifice on the altar was for ever done away with. Even in the Romish Church, they do not offer sacrifice, but only a bloodless offering, in memory of a sacrifice. The orthodox belief touching the death of Jesus Christ is the sublimest progress that man has ever made, up to the time when, through the very sublimity of this progress, it became necessary to go much further. What a wonderful difference there is in the spiritual conception of sacrifice! When the beast died, he died unwillingly; but when the Divine sacrifice was made, it was the sacrifice of Christ’s own will. To come forth freely to save the people is one thing, but to be the unwilling victim of the sacrificing priest is quite another. Therefore the whole thought of the death of Christ, as a free-will offering laid down by Himself in the midst of perfect power to refuse, is an amazing gain, a wonderful improvement in spiritual conception. If we look at it from the other side of it, what a gain! In the old times man supplied the victim; in the new times, God. In the old days the sinner found the sacrificial lamb; in the new days the God against whom man had sinned found “the Lamb of God.” This was the greatest gain that ever theology made, and so complete was it that man dare not afterwards offer his little pitiful sacrifices. God had sent a sacrifice, and it was impossible after that to be offering rams and lambs and bulls. When a man has been sacrificed, when for sinning man the only begotten Son, the beloved of God, has been sacrificed, when He has died, man sees at once that all other sacrifices now are dust and ashes. After the Son of God had been given, what could come? After this great High Priest had sacrificed His own life, after this Son of man had entered into the “Holy of Holies” and sacrificed Himself, the knife must be sheathed for ever, and the altar become cold. “There remaineth now no more sacrifice for sin.” Doth God require any sacrifice before He can forgive? There is the life of Christ, and there is the death of Christ. That throws light upon the old Jewish history. He is perfect manhood filled with Divineness, who laid down His own will in order that the will of God might be all in all. From what direction shall we gather the light in which we are to view the death of Christ? Shall the light be borrowed from Paganism, Judaism, and the old world, or developed from the whole life and spirit of Christ Himself? The Atonement is the reconcilement in a man of the Divine and the human so perfectly, that men following its laws are necessarily redeemed? In them the hostility between heaven and earth has ceased; the will of God has been perfectly done; and therefore all the ends at which religion has ever aimed have been attained, and the supreme victory won at last—the victory of the Spirit over the flesh, of duty over pleasure, of the will of God over the weak wishes and desires of man.—George Dawson, M.A.
ILLUSTRATIONS TO CHAPTER 8
Hebrews 8:11. From the Least to the Greatest.—Why this order, “from the least to the greatest”? We might have expected the gospel to come into the world as the sun begins to shine, first tipping with gold the summits of the loftiest hills, and thence finding its way down to the depths of the valleys. No, it is “from the least to the greatest,” as if that were the natural way for Christianity to work. And so it is—it is God’s way. He chooses the weak things of the world to confound the mighty, and “out of the mouths of babes and sucklings perfects His praise.” And this, by the way, affords an answer to an objection which may be made to our Sabbath-school operations abroad. It may be said, What good can your little work do there? This is the old objection—“Master, we have here five barley loaves, and two small fishes; but what are they among so many?” Yes, what are they in man’s hands? We know what they were in the hands of our Lord. “From the least even to the greatest,” that is the history of Christianity. It is the little grain of mustard seed dropped into the ground, which indeed is the least of seeds, but afterwards becomes a tree affording shelter for the birds of the air: it is like the pebble from the brook, which once felled the Philistine giant; it is like the stone cut from the mountain, which destroyed the great image, and filled the whole earth.
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Hebrews 8". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 25 / Ordinary 30