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CONCLUDING SUMMARY OF THE ARGUMENT WITH RESPECT TO CHRIST'S ETERNAL PRIESTHOOD.
For the Law, having a shadow of the good things to come, and not the very image of the things, can never with the same sacrifices year by year, which they offer continually, make the comers thereunto perfect. The Law is said here to exhibit a shadow (σκιὰν) of the good things to come (τῶν μελλόντων ἀγαθῶν), viz. of the "good things" of which Christ is come as "High Priest" (Hebrews 9:11), belonging to the μέλλων αἰών (Hebrews 6:5), μέλλουσα οἰκουμένη (Hebrews 2:5), which is still, in its full realization, future to us, though already inaugurated by Christ, and though we have already tasted the powers of it (Hebrews 6:5). Similarly (Hebrews 8:5) the priests under the Law are said to have served a copy and shadow of the heavenly things; i.e. of the heavenly realities to be revealed in the "coming age." To "shadow" is opposed "very image" (εἰκόνα), which means, not a representation apart from the things, but (as emphasized by αὐτὴν) the actual presentment of the things themselves; which were, in fact, archetypal and prior to the shadows of the Law, though their manifestation was reserved to the future age. Such is the sense of εἰκὼν in Colossians 3:10, κατ εἰκόνα τοῦ κτίσαντος αὐτόν: and Romans 8:29, συμμόρφους τῆς εἰκόνος τοῦ υἱοῦ. (Cf. Colossians 1:15, where Christ is called εἰκὼν τοῦ Θεοῦ τοῦ ἀοράτου: cf. also Colossians 2:17, where σκιὰ is opposed to σῶμα—shadow to body) In the latter part of the verse, "they," who "offer," are the priests of the Law; "the comers thereunto" (οἱ προσερχομένοι) are the people who resort to the rites. "Make perfect" (τελειῶσαι) means full accomplishment for them of what is aimed at; in this case, remission of sin, and acceptance after complete atonement. The verb τελειοῦν, though variously applied, signifies always full completion of the purpose in view (cf. Hebrews 7:19, οὐδεν γὰρ ἐτελείωσεν ὁ νόμος). (For its application to Christ himself, see under Hebrews 2:10; Hebrews 5:9)
Hebrews 10:2, Hebrews 10:3
For then (i.e. had it been so able) would they (the sacrifices) not have ceased to be offered, because that the worshippers, having been once purged, should have had no more conscience of sins? But (on the contrary) in those sacrifices there is a remembrance made of sins year by year. The very annual repetition of the same expiatory rites on the Day of Atonement expressed in itself the idea, not of the putting away (ἀθέτησις, Hebrews 9:26) or oblivion, (Hebrews 10:17) of sin, but a recalling to mind of its continual presence. In the following verse the reason of this is found in the nature of the sacrifices themselves; it being impossible for the blood of irrational animals to cleanse moral guilt: it could only avail for the "passing over" (πάρεσιν, Romans 3:25) of sins, as symbolizing an effectual atonement to come in the spiritual sphere of things.
For it is not possible that the blood of bulls and of goats (specified as being the offerings of the Day of Atonement) should take away sins. The principle of the insufficiency of animal sacrifices having been thus expressed, confirmation of it is now further adduced from the Old Testament itself, together with a prophetic anticipation of the great self-oblation which was to take their place.
Wherefore, when he cometh into the world, he saith, Sacrifice and offering thou wouldest not, but a body didst thou prepare me: In whole burnt offering and offerings for sin thou hadst no pleasure: Then said I, Lo, I am come (in the volume (i.e. roll) of the book it is written of me) to do thy will, O God. The quotation is from Psalms 40:6, Psalms 40:7, Psalms 40:8. It is entitled "a psalm of David," nor is there anything in the psalm itself incompatible with his authorship. The question of authorship is, however, unimportant; all that is required for the purpose of the quotation being that it should have been the utterance of an inspired psalmist. The primary import of the passage quoted is that the psalmist, after deliverance from great affliction, for which he gives thanks, expresses his desire to act on the lesson learnt in his trouble by giving himself entirely to God's service. And the service in which God delights he declares to be, not sacrifices of slain beasts, but the doing of his will, the ears being opened to his Worst, and his Law being within the heart. Now, bearing in mind what was said under Hebrews 1:5, of the principle on which words used in the Old Testament with a primary human reference are applied in the New Testament directly to Christ, we shall have no difficulty in understanding such application here. The psalmist, it may be allowed, spoke in his own person, and as expressing his own feelings and desires; but, writing under inspiration, he aspired to an ideal beyond his own attainment, the true ideal for humanity, to be realized only in Christ. The ideal is such perfect self-oblation of the human will to God's as to supersede and render needless the existing sacrifices, which are acknowledged to be, in their own nature, valueless. That the psalmist did not really contemplate the fulfillment of this ideal in himself is evident from the penitential confessions of the latter verses of the psalm. It is but the yearning of inspired humanity for what was really needed for reconciliation with God, such yearning being in itself a prophecy. Hence what was thus spoken in the Spirit is adduced as expressing the mind and work of him who fulfilled all those prophetic yearnings, and effected, as Man and for man, what the holy men of old longed to do but could not. The expression, "when he cometh into the world," reminds us of Hebrews 1:6. The word εἰσερχόμενος, here used, is connected in thought with the ἤκω ("I am come") in the quotation. Idle are the inquiries of some commentators as to the precise time, either before or after the Incarnation, at which our Lord is to be conceived as so speaking. Enough to say that his purpose in coming into the world is in these significant words expressed. It is noteworthy, in regard to the attribution of this utterance to him, how frequently he is recorded to have spoken of having come into the world for the accomplishment of a purpose "Venio, vel potius, veni, symbolum quasi Domini Jesu fuit" (Bengel). The psalm is quoted from the LXX., with slight variation, not worth considering, as it does not affect the sense of the passage. But the variation of the LXX. from the Hebrew text requires notice.
(1) Instead of "a body didst thou prepare for me (σῶμα κατηρτίσω μοι)" of the LXX. and the quotation from it, the Hebrew has "mine ears hast thou opened;" literally, "ears hast thou dug for me," meaning probably, "formed the cavity of my ears through which thy Word may penetrate," equivalent to "given me ears to hear," with reference, of course, to spiritual auscultation. If to the Hebrew verb הרַךָ be assigned here the sense of piercing, rather than hollowing out, implying an entrance affected through the ears already formed, the general sense remains the same. In either case the word κατηρτίσω may be accounted for, as being a free rendering, intended to give the meaning of the figure. But the substitution of "body" for "ears" is not so easily accounted for. One conjecture is that some transcriber of the Alexandrian translation of the Hebrew had inadvertently joined the last letter of the preceding word, ἠθελησας, to the following word, ωτια, and that the ΤΙ of ΣΩΤΙΑ was then changed into the Μ of ΣΩΜΑ, so as to make sense of the word thus formed. But this is only conjecture. That some copies of the LXX. had ὠτία appears from the fact that the Vulgate, translated from the LXX., reads aures perfecisti mihi, and that some manuscripts of the LXX. still have ὠτία, or ὧτᾳ. Thus there can be little doubt that σῶμα was a wrong rendering of the Hebrew, however originating, which the writer of the Epistle found in the copies of the LXX. which he used. For that he himself altered the word to suit his purpose, and that the alteration got into copies of the LXX. from the Epistle, is highly improbable, considering the general accuracy of his quotations, and his purpose of proving his positions from the sacred documents to which his readers could refer. As to the unimportance of any such variations from the original Hebrew in the quotations of the Epistle from the LXX., as long as the argument is not affected, see what is said under Hebrews 1:7 with respect to the quotation from Psalms 104:1-35. In this case the variation certainly does not affect the argument. For though the word σῶμα is certainly taken up again in Psalms 104:10 as applicable to Christ, yet the argument of the passage by no means rests on this word, but on θέλημα. This is indeed a passage (as was observed under Hebrews 9:14) notable for the very fact that the essence of the atonement is in it represented as consisting, not so much in its physical accompaniments as in its being a spiritual act of perfect self-oblation.
(2) The more probable meaning of the phrase translated in the LXX. and the quotation, "it is written of me γεγράπται περὶ ἐμοῦ)" is in the Hebrew," it is prescribed unto me," i.e. "laid on me as a duty;" this being also the sense in which the same words occur in 2 Kings 22:13, "Great is the wrath of the Lord... because our fathers have not hearkened unto the words of this book, to do according unto all that which is prescribed to us;" where the LXX. translates, τὰ γεγραμμένα καθ ἡμῶν. The most obvious reference of the Hebrew psalm is to the Book of the Law generally, in which the duty of fulfilling the Divine will is enjoined, rather than to any prophecy, applied by the writer to himself individually. If so, it is not necessary to inquire what prophecy about himself David might have had in view; whether e.g. Genesis 49:10; Numbers 24:17; or Deuteronomy 17:14, et seq. But the phrase, περὶ ἐμοῦ, does certainly rather suggest a prophecy, and such suggestion is peculiarly appropriate in the application to Christ. Well, then, if here again there is some variation from the original Hebrew text, it is still such as to leave the general argument intact.
Saying above that Sacrifices and offerings and whole burnt offerings and offerings for sin thou wouldest not, neither hadst pleasure therein (such as are offered according to the Law); then hath he said, Lo, I come to do thy will; i.e. he has made this second assertion while making the first also. The purpose of thus putting it is to show the connection between the two assertions; that fulfillment of God's will is spoken of as a substitute for sacrifices, whose inutility in themselves had been declared. Yes; he taketh away the first, that he may establish the second. In the which will (the Divine will, willing our redemption through Christ, and perfectly fulfilled by him) we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. For the sense to be attached to the verb ἁγιάζω see under Hebrews 2:11. It is not our progressive sanctification by the Holy Ghost that is intended, but the hallowing effected for us once for all, as denoted by the perfect participle ἡγιασμένοι. The remainder of this concluding summary (Heb 2:11 -19) serves to weave together the various threads of the foregoing argument and emphasize the result.
And every priest indeed standeth daffy ministering and offering oftentimes the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins: but he, having offered one sacrifice for sins for ever, sat down on the right hand of God; from henceforth expecting till his enemies be made the footstool of his feet. Thus with the one perfectly accomplished and for ever availing sacrifice is brought into connection, as its result, the fulfillment in Christ for man of the ideal of Psalms 8:6 (which was set forth in Hebrews 2:5-10; see the remarks there made), and also of the Son's exaltation to the right hand of God, declared in Psalms 110:1-7. (referred to in Hebrews 1:13, and brought fully into view in Hebrews 8:1, after the chapter about Melchizedek). Be it observed that the priesthood "after the order of Melchizedek" in itself implied this exaltation, which was in fact inferred from it. For the priesthood after this order, having been shown to be eternal and unchangeable, was further seen, from Psalms 110:1-7., to be conjoined to the eternal royalty at God's right hand.
For by one offering he hath perfected forever them that are sanctified. The tense of the participle ἁγιαζομένους, instead of as verse ἡγιασμένους, in 10, does not involve a different sense of the verb, viz. the ordinary one associated with the word "sanctify." When it was necessary to express by the word itself the accomplishment of sanctification in the sense intended, the perfect participle was used; here the subjects of the same sanctification are denoted, the accomplishment being expressed by τετελείωκε (cf. οἱ ἁγιαζομένοι, Hebrews 2:11). The meaning of τετελείωκε ("hath perfected") may be taken as ruled by τοὺς ἁγιαζομένους: hath perfected them as ἁγίοι, done all that was required for their being such, without any need of any further offering (cf. supra, Hebrews 10:1).
And the Holy Ghost also testifieth to us: for after that he hath said, This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, saith the Lord; I will put my laws into their hearts, and in their minds will I write them; (then saith he), And their sins and iniquities will I remember no more. Now where remission of these is, there is no more offering for sin. The apodosis to "after that he hath said," not distinctly marked in the Greek or in the A.V., is denoted in the above rendering by "then saith he" before Hebrews 10:17. Another view is that it begins earlier in the sentence, being introduced by "saith the Lord," which occurs in the quotation from Jeremiah. But this is improbable, since
(1) words in the quotation itself could not well be intended to be understood as the quoter's own;
(2) the quotation down to verse 17 is continuous, whereas the citation of verse 17 is in the original passage of Jeremiah separated from the preceding one;
(3) the logical conclusion intended to be drawn requires verse 17 to be the apodosis. For the writer's purpose in referring once more to Jeremiah's prediction of the" new covenant" is to show from it the completeness and finality of Christ's atonement; and this, he argues, follows from this characteristic of the "new covenant" being added to the previous description of it—"Their sins and iniquities will I remember no more."
Hebrews 10:19-39. HORTATORY PORTION OF THE EPISTLE.
The great doctrine of Christ's eternal priesthood having been led up to, established by argument, and at length fully expounded, it remains only to press the practical result of a belief in it in alternate tones of encouragement and of warning.
We have seen that, even in the earlier chapters, hortatory passages were frequently interposed, showing the purpose all along in the writer's mind. In the central and deepest part of the argument (Hebrews 7:1-10:19) there were none, close and uninterrupted attention to the course of thought being then demanded. But now, the argument being completed, the previous exhortations are taken up again, and enforced in consequently fuller and deeper tones. The connection of thought between these final admonitions and those previously interposed is evident when we compare the very expressions in Hebrews 10:19-23 with those in Hebrews 4:14-16, and the warnings of Hebrews 10:26, etc., with those of Hebrews 6:4, etc. Thus appears, as in other ways also, the carefully arranged plan of the Epistle, different in this respect from the undoubted Epistles of St. Paul, in which the thoughts generally follow each other without great regard to artistic arrangement. This, however, is in itself by no means conclusive against St. Paul's authorship, since there would be likely to be just this difference between a set treatise composed for a purpose, and a letter written currente calamo by the same author. It does, however, mark a different class of composition, and is suggestive, as far as it goes, of a different writer.
Having therefore, brethren, boldness to enter (literally, for the entrance) into the holiest (literally, the holies, i.e. the holy place, as τὰ ἅγια is translated in Hebrews 9:25, but meaning, there as here, the holy of holies) by the blood of Jesus, which (entrance) he consecrated (or, dedicated, as the same verb ἐγκαινίζω is translated, Hebrews 9:18, with reference to the Mosaic tabernacle) for us, a new and living way, through the veil, that is to say, his flesh; and having a great Priest (ἱερέα μέγαν, not ἀρχιερέα, high priest; but a priest of higher order than any earthly priest; cf. Hebrews 5:14, ἀρχιερέα μέγαν) over the house of God. The epithet πρόσφατον ("new") applied to the "way" dedicated for us by Christ, though meaning originally, according to its etymology, "newly slain," is commonly used to express "recent" only. And so here. It is a new way in relation to the old one of the high priest through the veil—a way untrodden by man till opened and dedicated by "the great Priest." The epithet ζῶσα ("living") applied to the way distinguishes it, as a spiritual mode of approach, from the old one. "Opponitur exanimo. Per prosopopoeiam vita adscribitur viae, ex ipsa vita Christi, qui est Via" (Bengel; see John 14:6). But what is the meaning of the veil (καταπέτασμα, the word always used of the veil in the tabernacle or temple) being said to be "his flesh "? The idea cannot be simply that he passed through the human nature assumed at his incarnation to the heavenly throne; for the intended counterpart to the high priest's passing through the veil must have been after the completed sacrifice. It is rather that, at the moment of death, when, after saying, "It is finished," he "gave up the ghost," the human flesh (which had through all the ages been as a veil hiding "the unseen" from man, and behind which Christ himself had "tabernacled" during his human life) was, as it were, rent asunder and the new way opened. And that this was so was signified by the rending in twain of the veil of the temple from the top to the bottom, mentioned by St. Matthew (Matthew 26:51), at the very moment of the death upon the cross. This incident may have suggested to the writer the expression used. "Quum primum Christus per momentum mortis transierat, praesto fuit mera virtus et vita. Τῆς σαρκὸς αὐτοῦ, carnem suam, quae item scissa est, ut velum" (Bengel). "The house of God" in verse 21 is a resumption of the thought of Hebrews 3:1-7, where Christ was shown to be greater than Moses, as being the SON over the house of God, having (be it observed) been called ἀρχιερέα in Hebrews 3:1. (For the comprehensive meaning of the expression, not limited either to the Mosaic dispensation or the visible Church, see what was said under Hebrews 3:4) On the now firmly grounded doctrinal bases of
(1) open access through Christ to the mercy-seat,
(2) his ever-availing intercession, are built the exhortations
(1) to confidence,
(2) to persistence in faith and corresponding conduct.
Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience, and our body washed with pure water. "Let us draw near" (προσερχώμεθα) is a liturgical phrase, denoting the approach of the people, after ceremonial atonement, to the earthly sanctuary (cf. Hebrews 10:1, τοὺς προσερχομένους). We may now draw near to the very heavenly mercy-seat, without any sense of a bar to our doing so on the ground of consciousness of sin. In Christ we are to see accomplished all that is needed for atonement. But there are conditions also required in ourselves, expressed first by the "true heart," and the "fullness of faith," and then by the clauses that fellow. These clauses, like προσερχώμεθα have a liturgical basis—that of the blood-sprinkling (e.g. of the people with the blood of the covenant under Mount Sinai, Hebrews 9:19, and of the priests on their consecration, Leviticus 8:23) and of the ablutions before sacrificial service (Le Hebrews 8:6; 16:4, 24; Exo 30:1-38 :39). Hence these two participial clauses are not to be separated from each other, and seem best to be both taken in connection with the preceding προσερχώμεθα. "Having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience" means our having the inward consciousness of debarring sin removed through the blood of Christ; the "full assurance of faith" in the completed atonement, and the "true heart," being presupposed. The conjoined clause, καὶ λελουμένοι, etc., is capable also of being figuratively interpreted, in the sense that "our sinful bodies" have been "made clean," so as to be offered through life acceptably as "a living sacrifice," as well as "our souls washed through his most precious blood." And this may be taken as implied. But the terms body and water after hearts and blood certainly suggest a direct reference to baptism. And such definite allusion is in keeping with references elsewhere to the beginning of the Christian life (see Acts 2:38; Acts 22:16; Romans 6:3, Romans 6:4; 1 Corinthians 12:13; Galatians 3:27; Colossians 2:12; 1 Peter 3:21). The passage last referred to is apposite to that before us in that with an undoubted mention of baptism is conjoined "the answer of a good conscience toward God."
Let us hold fast the confession (ὁμολογίαν, see Hebrews 3:1, and ref; also Hebrews 4:14) of our hope without wavering (ἀκλινῆ, agreeing with "confession"); for he is faithful that promised: and let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works; not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another; and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching. The readers, having been exhorted to confidence towards God, are further warned against remissness in confession before men, or in their duties within the Church towards each other. They had once, at their baptism, "confessed the good confession" (τὴν καλὴν ὁμολογίαν, 1 Timothy 6:12). Let not the recurrence of Jewish prejudices, or either influence or persecution from their Jewish compatriots, or any delay of the Parousia, induce them to waver in maintaining it. Some among them did, it could not be denied, show signs of such wavering, notably in their remiss attendance at Christian worship; let the faithful give heed to keeping faith alive in themselves and others, and especially through the means of the regular Church assemblies. That by τὴν ἐπισυναγωγὴν ἑαυτῶν is meant definitely the actual assembling together of Christians for reading, exhortation, and worship, we hold confidently with the majority of commentators and with Chrysostom. The word ἐπισυναγωγὴ occurs in the New Testament only here and 2 Thessalonians 2:1, where it denotes the gathering together at the Parousia. In 2 Macc. 2:7, where alone it occurs in the LXX., it expresses the actual assembling of people together, as does the verb ἑπισυνάγω, both in the LXX. and the New Testament. Hence, and in regard to the context as well as the etymology of the word, we may reject the less definite meaning, by some here assigned to it, of Christian communion (conjugatio fidelium), and the explanation of Bengel: "Sensus est, non modo debetis synagogam frequentare, ut Judaei, quod libentius facitis, sed etiam episynagogam, ut Christiani. Neque tamen innuitur praecise aggregatio ad unum locum, aut aggregatio ad unam fidem; sed, medio sensu, congregatio mutua per amorem et communicatio publica et privata officiorum Christianorum." The seen approach of the second advent (τὴν ἡμέραν: cf. 1 Corinthians 3:13) is adduced as an additional argument against remissness. The word βλέπετε seems to imply more than the general belief in its imminence, founded on the language of Christ. It would seem as if the signs of the times were interpreted as denoting its approach (el. 1 John 2:18). And it may be that they were rightly so interpreted in reference to the primary fulfillment of our Savior's words, though to that only, as the event proved. The blending together in the discourses of Matthew 24:1-51; Mark 13:1-37; Luke 17:1-37; Luke 21:1-38., of the times of the fall of Jerusalem and of the final day, would naturally lead Christians to regard the signs of the first event as denoting the other also. And indeed the imminence of the first, of which the signs were really apparent, was in itself a peculiar reason why the Hebrew Christians should stick resolutely to Christianity, for its own sake and apart from Judaism. Else might their whole hold on Christ be loosened in the temple's fall Thus, though the writer might share in the mistaken view then prevalent of the imminence of the final day, his warning, founded on the supposed signs of it, hits well the peculiar needs of his readers.
Solemn warning as to the fearful consequences of apostasy.
Hebrews 10:26, Hebrews 10:27
For if we sin willfully after that we have received the knowledge of the truth, there remaineth no more a sacrifice for sins, but a certain fearful looking for (ἐκδοξὴ, used here only; but ἐκδέξομαι is frequent in the New Testament in sense of "expect;" e.g. supra, Hebrews 10:13. Hence there seems no good ground for disputing, with Afford, the usual rendering, "expectation") of judgment, and fiery indignation (πυρός ζῆλος), which shall devour the adversaries. The warning passage thus begun closely resembles the former interposed one, Hebrews 6:4-9. Both have been similarly misapplied (see notes on Hebrews 6:4-9); but both have the same real meaning, which is further confirmed by comparing them together. The purport of both is the hopelessness of a state of apostasy from the faith after full knowledge and full enjoyment of privilege; both are led up to by cautions against remissness, of which the final issue might be such apostasy; both are followed by the expression of a confident hope, founded on past faithfulness, that no such apostasy will really follow. The state contemplated is here expressed by ἐκουσίως ἁμαρτανόντων, a phrase which in itself might at first sight seem to support one of the erroneous views of the drift of the passage, viz. that all willful sin after baptism or grace received is unpardonable. But it is first to be observed that the participle ἁμαρτανόντων is not aorist, but present, expressing a persistent habit; also that the whole context is sufficient to denote the kind of sin intended. For
(1) the preceding verses have pointed to laxity of allegiance to Christ, which might have further consequences;
(2) the illustration of what is meant, adduced in verse 28 from the Mosaic Law, is (as will appear under that verse) a case of entire apostasy—a sin not to be atoned for by any sacrifice, but visited by "cutting off;"
(3) the description in verse 29 of the sin intended implies total repudiation of Christ. Observe, on ἀκουσίως σίως, the contrast to ἁμαρτάνειν (Le Hebrews 4:2, 27; 5:15, al), expressive of sins of ignorance or infirmity. Not such sins, but deliberate sin with a high hand, is here intended; and further, for the reasons above given, one of this nature so heinous as to be beyond the reach of sacrifice. From all such considerations it appears that ἐκουσίως ἁμαρτανόντων here expresses the same idea as παραπεσόντας (Hebrews 6:6) and ἀποστῆναι ἀπὸ Θεοῦ ζῶντος (Hebrews 3:12), viz. final obdurate defection from the faith. Further, the previous conditions for the possibility of arriving at such a hopeless state, set forth more at length in Hebrews 6:4, Hebrews 6:5 of Hebrews 6:1-20., are here shortly expressed by μετὰ τὸ μαβεῖν τὴν ἐπίγνωσιν τῆς ἀληθείας, which is to be interpreted in the light of the other passage (see note thereon). The consequences of such falling away are differently stated in the two passages. In Hebrews 6:1-20, it was the impossibility of renewal unto repentance; here it is the absence of any further atoning sacrifice; and this in keeping with what has been now proved of the sacrifice of Christ having superseded all others and been "once for all." The drift is that, if this is deliberately rejected after full knowledge of it, no ether is left to have recourse to. Then the immediate mention of "judgment" is in keeping also with the conclusion of Hebrews 9:1-28. (see note on Hebrews 9:27), and is immediately suggested here by τὴν ἡμέραν of Hebrews 9:25. The fire in which that day is to be revealed is a prominent figure both in the Old Testament and the New; regarded as both an assaying and a consuming fire (cf. especially 1 Corinthians 3:13-16). The expression, πυρὸς ζῆλος ("zeal, or indignation, of fire"), not only expresses the vehemence of the flame, but also implies the idea of the fire itself being instinct with the Divine wrath or jealousy (as ζῆλος, equivalent to האָגְקִ, is usually translated when attributed to God), of which it is the symbol (cf. Psalms 79:5, Ἐκκαυθήσεται ὡς πῦρ ὁ ζῆλος μου: Ezekiel 38:19, Ὁ ζῆλος μου ἐν πυρὶ τῆς ὀργῆς μου: Zephaniah 1:18, Ἐν πυρὶ ζῆλου αὐτοῦ: and infra, Hebrews 12:29, "Our God is a consuming fire"). (For ἐσθίειν μέλλοντος τοὺς ὑπεναντίους, cf. Isaiah 26:11, Ζῆλος λήψεται λαὸν ἀπαίδευτον καὶ νῦν πῦρ τοὺς ὑπεναντίους ἔδεται).
One that hath despised (rather, set at naught) Moses' Law dieth without mercy under (i.e. at the word of) two or three witnesses. The reference is to Deuteronomy 17:2-7, as shown by the mention of the "two or three witnesses" (Deuteronomy 17:6). The sin there spoken of is that of one who "hath wrought wickedness in the sight of the LORD, in transgressing his covenant, and hath gone and served other gods, and worshipped them, either the sun, or the moon, or any of the host of heaven." The significance of this in its bearing on the meaning of ἁμαρτανόντων in verse 26 has been already noted.
Hebrews 10:29, Hebrews 10:30
Of how much sorer punishment, suppose ye, shall he be thought worthy, who hath trodden underfoot the Son of God, and hath counted the blood of the covenant, wherewith he was sanctified, an unholy thing, and hath done despite unto the Spirit of grace? It has been already remarked how these very strong expressions (answering to those in Hebrews 6:6) further denote the kind of sin. intended by ἁμαρτανόντων in Hebrews 10:26. Three characteristics of it are given:
(1) contumelious repudiation of Christ;
(2) vilification of his atonement;
(3) despite to the Holy Spirit that has been given and enjoyed.
Citations from the Old Testament follow, according to the general plan of the Epistle, to show that there is a terrible as well as a gracious side of the revelation of the God of Israel, and especially (as intimated by the second quotation) that his own people may be the objects of his vengeance. For we know him that said, Vengeance belongeth unto me, I will recompense, saith the Lord. And again, The Lord shall judge his people. Both citations are from Deuteronomy 32:35, Deuteronomy 32:36, the second being introduced also into Psalms 135:14. The first is remarkable as a combination of the texts of the Hebrew and the LXX., neither being exactly followed. The Hebrew has (A.V), "To me belongeth vengeance and recompense;" the LXX., Ἐν ἡμέρα ἐκδικήσεως ἀνταποδώσω. And in the same form as in the text the passage is cited Romans 12:19. It may be, in this and some other cases of variation from the LXX., that a text different from ours was used by the New Testament writers. The difference here is quite immaterial with regard to the drift of the quotation.
It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God. David, when the option was given him, preferred falling into the hand of the LORD to falling into the hand of man (2 Samuel 24:14), trusting in the greatness of his mercies. But the case contemplated here is that of its being "too late to cry for mercy, when it is the time of justice." Fearful (the writer would say) is the thought of being exposed, without possibility of escape or of atonement, to the wrath of the Eternal Righteousness. The inspired author of this Epistle had evidently an awful sense of the Divine wrath against sin, and of man's liability to it without atonement. He felt deeply the contradiction between humanity as it is and its ideal of perfection; and hence the wrath attributed to God in Holy Writ would appear to him as inseparable from a just conception of Divine holiness. For the more ardent the love in the human heart of moral good, by so much the keener is the indignation against moral evil, and the sense of the righteousness of retribution. The existence of such evil at all in the good God's universe is indeed a mystery; but, as long as it is there, we cannot but conceive the face of the holy God as set utterly against it; and so any revelation to us of the Divine nature would be imperfect did it not include the idea which is humanly expressed by such terms as "zeal," "jealousy," "wrath," "vengeance." Hence came the long-felt need of some atonement, to reconcile sinful man to the eternal holiness. This need was expressed of old by the institution of sacrifice, which, however—as is so clearly perceived in this Epistle—could never itself be really efficacious in the spiritual sphere of things. In the atonement of Christ (if rightly apprehended) is found at last a true satisfaction of this spiritual need. But, man's concurrence being still required, the idea of Divine wrath remains notwithstanding, as operative against such as, in deliberate perversity of free-will, after full knowledge, refuse to be thus reconciled. Hence the awful anticipations of future judgment on some, contained in this Epistle. The nature and duration of the doom to come, on such as remain subject to it, are in these passages left in obscurity. They speak only of φοβερά τις ἐκδοχὴ, an undefined expectation of something terrible. It may be observed, however, that, whatever be the force of other Scriptures in which the fire of that day is described as eternal and unquenchable, here at least the figure of a zeal of fire to devour the adversaries seems in itself to suggest rather utter destruction than perpetual pain.
As at Hebrews 6:9, the tones of solemn warning, founded on a real sense of the possibility of apostasy in some, are now relieved by a better hope. In Hebrews 6:9, et seq., the writer expressed his own confidence in his readers on the ground of their conduct in the past; here he reminds them of their conduct by way of confirming their own steadfastness, and this with judgment as well as delicacy; for, as Theodoret remarks on this passage, "nothing so excites to zeal as the remembrance of one's own right doings."
But call to mind the former days, in which, after ye were enlightened, ye endured a great fight of afflictions; rather, conflict of sufferings. On φωτισθέντες ("enlightened"), cf. Hebrews 6:4, and what was said there as to the meaning of the word. Here certainly the context seems naturally to suggest a definite reference to baptism, as marking the date of the commencement of exposure to persecution. But if so, not, of course, so as to exclude the idea of inward spiritual enlightenment. "Hie primus erat ingressus ad Christianismum; baptismus apud idoneos salutare medium. Existimo haec instituta divina etiam in theoria non tanti aestimari quanti decebat. Apud ipsum baptismum Christi sancta ejus humanitas magnifice illuminata fuit" (Bengel).
Partly, being made a gazing-stock both by reproaches and afflictions; and partly, having become partakers with them that were so used. On θεατριζομένοι (translated "made a gazing-stock"), cf. 1 Corinthians 4:9, Θέατρον ἐγενήθημεν τῷ κόσμῳ καὶ ὀγγέλοις καὶ ἀνθρώποις. The figure is drawn from the Roman amphitheatres, where persons doomed to death were exposed to the gaze and the contumely of crowds; and the expression may not be wholly figurative, but denote the actual treatment of Christians, as expressed by the common cry, "Christianos ad leones!" The phrase, τῶν οὕτω ἀναστρεφομένων, (translated "them that were so used"), might be more correctly rendered (as ἀναστρέφεσθαι is elsewhere), "them that so had their conversation," i.e. manner of life. For the word is not used in a passive sense, but as equivalent to versari; cf. Matthew 17:22; 2 Corinthians 1:12; Ephesians 2:3; Hebrews 13:18; also Galatians 1:13; Ephesians 4:22, etc. (ἀναστροφὴ). The Vulgate has taliter conversantium; Wickliffe, "men living so;" Tyndale and Cranmer, "them who so passed their time." But the A.V. may give the meaning with sufficient correctness, the main thought being probably the experience of the persons referred to rather than their demeanor under it.
For ye had compassion on those who were in bonds, and took joyfully the spoiling of your goods, knowing that ye have for yourselves a better possession, and an abiding one. For τοῖς δεσμίοις, the Receptus has τοῖς δεσμοῖς μου, which the A.V., so as to avoid the impropriety of expressing sympathy with the bonds themselves, renders "me in my bonds." Even apart from manuscript authority, δεσμίοις is evidently to be preferred, both as suiting the verb συνεπαθήσατε and as being more likely to have been altered to the common Pauline expression, δεσμοῖς μου, than vice versa, especially on the supposition of the writer being St. Paul himself. Thus no evidence as to the authorship of the Epistle is hence deducible. The allusion is to persecutions of Christians, under which the Hebrews addressed had been plundered, and had succored others who were prisoners for the faith, as is intimated also in Hebrews 6:10. More than one such persecution might be in the writer's view, including, perhaps, that after the stoning of Stephen (Acts 8:1; Acts 11:19); that instituted by Herod Agrippa, under which James the elder suffered (Acts 12:1-25); that which led to the martyrdom of James the Just (Josephus, 'Ant.,' 20.9. 1) and others.
Hebrews 10:35, Hebrews 10:36
Cast not away therefore your confidence, which hath great recompense of reward. For ye have need of patience (or, endurance), that, having done the will of God, ye may receive the promise; or, doing the will of God, ye may receive, etc. The aorist participle ποιήσαντες does not of necessity express priority to the receiving (cf. Hebrews 6:15, μακροθυμήσας ἐπέτυχε). The meaning is that by endurance in doing the will they would receive. The full and final enjoyment of what is promised is still future and conditioned by perseverance. Observe the difference between the words κομίζεσθαι, here used, and ἐποτυγχάνειν, used in Hebrews 6:15. The former (occ. Hebrews 11:19, Hebrews 11:39; also 2 Corinthians 5:10; Ephesians 6:8; Colossians 3:25; and 1 Peter 1:9) means the actual reception of what is denoted, equivalent to sibi acquirere; the latter (etc. Hebrews 6:15; Hebrews 11:33; also Romans 11:7; James 4:2) means only "to attain to," without involving full possession. It is not said of Abraham (Hebrews 6:15) that he ἐκομίσατο, only that he ἐπέτυχε. So also of all the faithful of old described in the following chapter (Hebrews 11:39). And even to believing Christians, as this verse shows, the κομίζεσθαι is still future and contingent.
Hebrews 10:37, Hebrews 10:38
For yet a little (rather, very little) while, and he that cometh will come, and will not tarry. But the just shall live by faith: and if he draw back, my soul hath no pleasure in him. In these verses, after the manner of the Epistle, what is being urged is supported by an Old Testament quotation (Habakkuk 2:3, Habakkuk 2:4), its drift being
(1) the certainty, notwithstanding delay, of the fulfillment of the Divine promise;
(2) the necessity meanwhile of continuance in faith and perseverance. The quotation serves also as a step of transition (this, too, after the Epistle's manner) to the disquisition on faith, which forms the subject of the following chapter. For the prophet speaks of faith as what the righteous one is to live by until the Lord come. It was faith—a fuller faith—that the Hebrew Christians wanted to preserve them from the faltering of which they showed some signs; and the requirement of faith was no new thing—it had been the essential principle of all true religious life from the beginning, and thus is led up to the review which follows of the Old Testament history, showing that this had always been so. The quotation, as usual, is from the LXX., which, in this case as in some others, differs from the Hebrew. But here, as in Hebrews 10:29, supra, the LXX. is not exactly followed. The writer cites freely, so as to apply the essential meaning of the passage to his purpose. The Prophet Habakkuk (writing probably during the long evil days of Manasseh) had in his immediate view the trials of faith peculiar to his own time—violence and iniquity in Israel, and imminence of judgment at the hands of Chaldean conquerors, under which he had cried, "O Lord, how long?" But he stands upon his watch and sits upon his tower, to look out what the LORD will say to him in answer to his difficulties. And the LORD answered him, and said, "Write the vision, and make it plain upon the tables, that he may run that readeth it. For the vision is yet for an appointed time, but at the end it shall speak, and not lie [rather, 'but it hasteth to the end, and doth not lie']: though it tarry, wait for it; because it will surely come, and not tarry [or, 'be behindhand']. Behold, his soul that is lifted up is not upright in him [or, 'behold, his soul is lifted up, it is not upright in him']; but the just shall live by his faith." The drift of this Divine answer, which inspired the song of joyful confidence with which the Book of Habakkuk so beautifully concludes, is, as aforesaid, that, in spite of all appearances, the prophetic vision will ere long be realized; God's promises to the righteous will certainly be fulfilled; and that faith meanwhile must be their sustaining principle. The variations of the LXX. from the Hebrew are:
(1) Ἐρχόμενος ἥξει, instead of "It (i.e. the vision) shall come;"
(2) Ἐὰν ὑποστείληται οὐκ εὐδοκεῖ ἡ ψυχή μου ἐν αὐτῷ, instead of "Behold, his soul," etc;
(3) Ὁ δὲ δικαιός μου ἐκ πίστεως ζήσεται
(A), or δὲ Ὁ δίκαιος ἐκ πίστεως μου ζήσεται
(B), instead of "The just shall live by his faith." The variations in the Epistle from the LXX. are:
(1) Ἔτι μικρὸν ὅσον ὅσον (etc. Isaiah 26:20), interpolated at the beginning of the quotation;
(2) Ὁ ἐρχόμενος for ἐρχόμενος, so as to denote more distinctly the Messiah who was to come (cf. Matthew 10:3; John 6:14); here, of course, with a view to his second advent;
(3) the reversal of the order of the two concluding clauses, ἐὰν ὑποστείληται, and ὁ δὲ δίκαιος:
(4) in the Textus Receptus the omission of μου after either δίκαιος or πίστεως (as the same text is cited by St. Paul, Romans 1:17 and Galatians 3:11). There is, however, good authority for reading it here after δίκαιος (equivalent to "my Righteous One"). None of these variations from the LXX. affect the meaning of the passage, being only such as to point more clearly the intended application. One of the variations of the LXX. from the Hebrew (ἐὰν ὑποστείληται, etc) does alter the meaning of that particular clause, though not the general purport of the whole passage. The adoption here of the LXX. reading, and still more the fact that the following verse depends upon this reading, is among the strong evidences of the Epistle having been originally written, not in Hebrew, but in Greek.
But we are not of them who draw back unto perdition; but of them that believe unto the saving of the soul; literally, not of the drawing back unto … but of faith unto, etc. Thus, once more before proceeding to the subject now before him, the writer is careful to disclaim any real expectation of defection in his readers, and with delicacy he includes himself with them by his use of the nominative plural.
Close of the argument.
This concluding passage presents little more than a re-statement of some points which have been already marked in the discussion which occupies the three preceding chapters. The kernel-thought of the paragraph is expressed in Hebrews 10:9 : "He taketh away the first" (the Jewish sacrifices), "that he may establish the second" (redemption by the sacrifice of himself).
I. THE INHERENT WORTHLESSNESS OF THE LEVITICAL SACRIFICES, (Hebrews 10:1-4) Although these availed to remove ceremonial uncleanness, and were the appointed types of the offering of Christ, they were literally useless in relation to the highest ends of sacrifice. The apostle notes three points.
1. The Levitical offerings were inadequate even as representations of the true Sacrifice. (Hebrews 10:1) The entire Jewish ceremonial-tabernacle, priest, victim—was "a shadow" of the coming blessings of the gospel dispensation. But it was "not the very image of the things;" it presented only a rude and incomplete sketch of the great facts and doctrines of Christianity. Take one point as an example. The victims under the Law were dragged unwillingly to the altar;—how inaccurate this feature as compared with the loving obedience and the voluntary self-sacrifice of the Lord Jesus!
2. They were of no use whatever for the removal of guilt. The necessity constantly to repeat them showed this (Hebrews 10:1, Hebrews 10:2). And so did the nature of the sacrifices themselves. Our reason readily assents to the declaration (Hebrews 10:4) that the blood of beasts can never expiate the sins of men. Brute nature is incapable of spiritual suffering. Animal sacrifices could not adequately reflect God's hatred of sin. They could not vindicate his justice, or recompense his Law. Such blood has no virtue to pacify the conscience, or to purify the soul.
3. Their influence went to perpetuate the remembrance of sins. (Hebrews 10:3) The divinely appointed repetition of the Levitical sacrifices showed that God could not accept them as a real atonement, and therefore could not forget the offences of the worshippers. It was intended also to press home upon the consciences of the people the thought of the accumulated arrears of unexpiated sin.
II. THE INHERENT VALUE OF THE SATISFACTION OF CHRIST. (Hebrews 10:5-18) Throughout these verses two passages are cited from the Old Testament, to illustrate the contrast between the legal offerings and the atonement of the Lord Jesus. The infinite merit of his sacrifice is conspicuous, whatever the aspect in which it is viewed.
1. Christ's satisfaction has shown that obedience is the true sacrifice. (Hebrews 10:5-9) To illustrate this point the writer quotes from a Messianic psalm (Psalms 40:6-8). God "delights not in the blood of bullocks, or of lambs, or of he-goats." The legal sacrifices were useful only as types of the sacrifice of Christ, and his blood is the symbol of his own perfect obedience as our Substitute. His sacrifice of himself was the offering of an obedient will. He was "obedient unto death." The" cars" which God had pierced for him (Psalms 40:6) were ever swift to hear the Divine commands, and the "body" which he had prepared for him (Hebrews 10:5) readily submitted itself to the Divine will. In coming to the world, and in dying for man's redemption, Jesus was "doing the will" of his Father. His voluntary "obedience unto death" has swept away for ever the Levitical sin offerings, and his people can now serve God acceptably only by sprinkling themselves with his blood, and then "presenting their bodies a living sacrifice."
2. Christ's satisfaction has accomplished the removal of guilt. (Hebrews 10:10-14) His people are "sanctified," i.e. cleansed from guilt, "through the offering of his body once for all." The Aaronical priests always stood at their work; they never sat down in the tabernacle. Indeed, no seats were provided for them there. Their constant standing was suggestive of the fact that the ever-repeated sacrifices were of no avail for the pardon of transgression. But our high Priest, after his one offering of himself as a sacrificial Victim, sat down in the most honorable place of the heavenly holy of holies, and still continues to sit there. His very attitude shows that he has fully accomplished the end contemplated by his sacrifice. His completed atonement, besides being the purchase of his mediatorial royalty and the pledge of his final victory over his enemies, has also "perfected" his people "forever" as regards their justification.
3. Christ's satisfaction takes away the remembrance of sin. (Hebrews 10:15-18) The Prophet Jeremiah, in his oracle about the new covenant, had predicted this (Jeremiah 31:34). After the sacrifice of Calvary, there would be no more need for the annual expiatory rite on the Day of Atonement—a ceremony which, in fact, had only served to bring sins to remembrance. Now that the great redemption has been accomplished, the iniquities of the believer are really swept away and put an end to. God blots them out. He casts them behind his back. He makes them as though they had never been. And this obliteration evinces the absolute perfection of the atonement, and certifies the abolition of the Hebrew sacrifices.
The great admonition.
Having completed his elaborate argument, and concluded the doctrinal part of the treatise, the author warmly exhorts the Hebrews to maintain their Christian steadfastness. The appeal contained in these verses collects into a focus of intense light and heat the main teaching of this weighty book. The paragraph before us may be regarded as the center of gravity of the Epistle. It is also the key-note of the impressive representations and the loving counsels which occupy the remaining pages.
I. THE BELIEVER'S PRIVILEGES. (Hebrews 10:19-21) The word "therefore" introduces a brief summary of what precedes in the long section devoted to the priesthood of Christ (Hebrews 4:14-10:18). The grand substantive blessing of the gospel is that of access to God; and this has been secured in connection with:
1. An accepted Sacrifice. (Hebrews 10:19) Hebrews 10:1-18 treats of this. Jesus has gone into heaven with his own blood, and- has been allowed to sprinkle it upon the mercy-seat. His blood has expiated the sins which debarred men from standing in the Divine presence. Washed in it, the penitent sinner may draw near to God with confidence.
2. An opened sanctuary. (Hebrews 10:19, Hebrews 10:20) Hebrews 9:1-28. discusses this branch of the subject. Christians are admitted into a far nobler holy of holies than that from which ancient Israel were excluded. "A new and living way" to the Father has been opened up by Jesus; and it shall always be "new," because, in fact, the "living" Savior is himself the Way. The breaking of his body upon the cross was like the rending of "the veil," for it opened up the mercy-seat to man.
3. A glorious Intercessor. (Hebrews 9:21) Hebrews 7:1-28. treats of the might and majesty of this "great Priest." Through the merit of Christ's blood the believer takes his place immediately in front of the throne; and then, through the mediation of the Savior, who stands by his side, he is graciously maintained in this position.
"Holiness on the bead,
Light and perfections on the breast,
Harmonious bells below, raising the dead
To lead them unto life and rest:
Thus are true Aarons drest.
"Christ is my only Head,
My alone only Heart and Breast,
My only Music, striking me ev'n dead;
That to the old man I may rest.
And lie in him new drest."
II. THE DUTIES WHICH REST UPON THOSE PRIVILEGES. (Hebrews 7:22-25) These are three in number, each being introduced with the words," Let us." They deal with our conduct towards God, towards the world, and towards the Church. Observance of them calls into exercise respectively the three great graces of the Pauline theology, the duties being those of faith toward God, hope exhibited before the world, and love to our fellow-believers.
1. The duty of Divine worship. (Hebrews 7:22) Worship is the movement of the soul towards God. To "draw near" includes every form which it is possible for acceptable religious service to assume. The apostle, taking for granted that his readers appreciate the inestimable value of communion with God, indicates briefly the qualifications and features of acceptable worship.
(1) Sincerity. "With a true heart." Our devotion must not be feigned. We must not be hypocrites, or formalists, or sacramentarians. We "must worship in spirit and in truth."
(2) Confidence. "In fullness of faith." Our faith in the way of access must be entire and absolute. The apostle does not speak here of assurance of one's own personal salvation. What he insists upon is, that true faith cannot admit of any doubt as to its object—that object being the atonement of Christ, and his priestly work within the opened sanctuary of heaven.
(3) A pacified conscience. "Having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience." When the Aaronical priests were installed their garments were sprinkled with blood, in token of their acceptance as ministers of the sanctuary; so the blood of Christ, while it satisfies Divine justice, satisfies also the conscience to which it is applied, delivers the soul from the sting of sin, and qualifies for the service of God.
(4) A purified heart. "And our body washed with pure water." A brazen vessel, called the laver, which was used for the ablutions of the priests, stood in the outer court between the altar and the door of the tabernacle. So, hard by the entrance of life, stands the baptismal font; and the beginning of the Christian career is for the soul to be washed in the laver of regeneration. It is the "pure in heart" who "shall see God."
2. The duty of public confession. (Hebrews 7:23) It is not enough that we cherish deep religious convictions, and that we maintain a constant commerce with God in acts of secret prayer. We must acknowledge our Christian hope before men—with our lips and by our lives, and in the observance of the public ordinances of grace. We must not he ashamed to manifest profound spiritual earnestness, even in the presence of a persecuting world. To confess our hope will strengthen it. To refuse to acknowledge Christ is to deny him. And our confession ought to be a consistent "Yea." We are unfaithful if we allow it to sway to and fro, even although it should expose us to obloquy and danger. Seeing that our hope is grounded upon the sure promises of our Father God, why should not our acknowledgment of the truth he always explicit and consistent?
3. The duty of Christian fellowship. (Hebrews 7:24, Hebrews 7:25) Brotherly love should prevail among believers as brethren in Christ. Especially should those who are connected with the same congregation cherish a kindly and affectionate interest in one another Our Church-membership is not maintained merely for one's own personal edification. We should "consider one another" in the spirit of brotherly love, and so that we may be mutually helpful to each other in the Divine life. We are to take kindly thought of each other's excellences and defects, needs and dangers, trials and temptations, and to minister aid to one another accordingly. And in so far as we realize the bonds of love and sympathy which unite us to our Christian brethren, will we prize such opportunities of intercourse with them as the meetings of the Church afford. One great purpose of our "assembling of ourselves together" is to provide occasions for Christian conference and mutual exhortation. It was peculiarly necessary just now that the Hebrew believers should incite one another "unto love and good works," for "the day" of the destruction of Jerusalem and the final collapse of the Levitical system was fast "drawing nigh." That event is now past, but another and more tremendous "day of the Lord" is still to come. We ought as Christians to "consider" and "exhort" one another in view of "that great and notable day" on which Christ shall come to be our Judge, and to describe with his scepter the eternal boundaries of being and destiny.
The guilt and doom of apostasy.
This is a terrible passage even to read. It is fitted to fill with alarm the hearts of those who refuse to "draw near" to God, or confess his Name, or hold communion with his people. It is introduced here, like the similar warning in Hebrews 6:4-8, as a motive to Christian steadfastness.
I. THE GUILT OF APOSTASY. This tremendous sin is described:
1. Generally. (Verse 26) The context shows that to "sin willfully" refers neither to any isolated act of apostasy, nor to any other peculiarly heinous transgression, but to the specific sin of finally abandoning Christianity. The question here is not about the destiny of the millions of heathendom, who have never heard the gospel. The Bible does not encourage curiosity regarding them. The sin spoken of is that of the man who had "received the knowledge of the truth," and who has rejected the gospel after having perceived its beauty, realized its suitableness, and in some degree experienced its power.
2. More particularly. (Verse 29) Saving knowledge centers in the revelation of the three Persons of the Godhead, who are seen in the gospel working together to accomplish our redemption. So the apostate is described by his conduct towards each.
(1) Towards the Father. He "hath trodden underfoot the Son of God." We can know and approach the Father only through the Son; and, therefore, "whosoever denieth the Son, the same hath not the Father" (1 John 2:23).
(2) Towards the Savior. The apostate tramples upon him, and "counts his blood an unholy thing." The blood of Jesus must be either on the heart or under the heel. But the apostate persistently despises the new covenant. He treats its Divine Mediator as if he were a malefactor. He treads underfoot the precious cleansing blood, as if it were worthless and unclean.
(3) Towards the Spirit. He "hath done despite unto the Spirit of grace." To act thus is to deny to the Holy Ghost the reverence and adoration which are his due. It is obstinately and maliciously to reject him. It is to treat him with contempt, and thereby "grieve" him away for ever from the soul. Persistently to despise the Spirit of God is to commit the unpardonable sin.
II. THE DOOM OF APOSTASY. An awful punishment shall descend upon those who sin away their souls, after rejoicing for a season in the light and love of Christ. The fearful penalty of their guilt is represented here in different aspects.
1. Negatively. (Verse 26) "There remaineth no more a sacrifice for sins." Those Hebrews, in professing Christianity, had renounced the Levitical sacrifices. But, should they now reject the propitiation of Christ—the only possible means by which God's justice can be satisfied and man's guilt cancelled—what would such rejection entail? It would follow, first of all, that the guilt of their ordinary sins against the Divine Law would remain unpardoned, and that even on that ground they must certainly perish.
2. Positively. (Verse 27) It would also follow that the guilt of their special sin of apostasy would bring upon them a heavier penalty than that which shall overtake the other "adversaries" of God. This tremendous sin may fill the soul even here with a horror of great darkness. It may destroy happiness by causing scorpion stings of conscience. It may cover the horizon of life with vague anticipations of a terrible eternity. And, whether such anticipations be present or not, there remains the devouring "fierceness of fire" itself. Not elemental fire, indeed; but spiritual loss, final reprobation, eternal despair. The apostate shall be shut out forever from the presence of God, and such exclusion is itself the hell of hell.
3. Comparatively. (Verses 28, 29) Under the Mosaic Law any Jew who lapsed into idolatry was to be stoned to death, for "transgressing God's covenant;" and this stern doom was admitted to be just (Deuteronomy 17:2-7). But, asks the apostle, are not apostates from Christianity guilty of a vastly greater sin? and shall they not receive a much more dreadful punishment. He rears the matter to the judgment and conscience of his readers. To reject the gospel is a more heinous crime than to set at naught the Law. To tread underfoot, the eternal Son of God involves more aggravated guilt than to turn away from Moses, who was a merely human messenger. So if the sentence of death for rejecting the old covenant was a righteous arrangement, it is evident that the Divine justice must demand a retribution still more awful for the more terrible sin of apostasy from the new covenant.
III. AN ASSERTION OF THE MAJESTY OF GOD'S JUSTICE. (Verses 30, 31) "We know him." The gospel itself has revealed to us his infinite power, his inflexible justice, his spotless holiness, his absolute faithfulness. We know that he has said, "Vengeance belongeth unto me," and "The Lord shall judge his people" (Deuteronomy 32:35, Deuteronomy 32:36). We know his prerogative as the Governor of the universe. We know that the principle of retribution belongs to his moral nature. And we know that he defends and. saves his people by punishing their enemies. Our nineteenth century, no less than the first century, stands greatly in need of faithful teaching on the subject of retribution, both as a principle of moral law and as a doctrine of Christianity. For:
1. The spirit of the time tempts everywhere to a life of self-indulgence, rather than to the Christian life of self-denial. And habits of self-pleasing tend to bring a man to the edge of the inclined plane which slopes towards the abyss of apostasy. "He that soweth unto his own flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption."
2. The spirit of the time tempts even true believers to misconceive the nature of the Christian life. Many speak as if after their conversion they should have no experience whatever of spiritual unrest. They forget that it is not "the primrose way" that leads to glory; and that, while the new life begins with an Eden and ends with heaven, "the great tribulation" comes between. The passage before us, in warning of the apostate's sin and doom, reminds us of the difficulties of the Christian life.
3. The spirit of the time labors to thrust into the background the doctrine of retributive justice. But this great principle is found everywhere: in nature, in providence, in history, in systems of civil government, in the human mind and conscience, in the spiritual experience of believers, and in the inspired Word of God. The justice of the Almighty is asserted here, as elsewhere in the New Testament, with peculiar emphasis. Those religious teachers, therefore, incur a terrible responsibility who try to persuade their fellow-sinners that it is by no means such "a fearful thing" after all "to fall into the hands of the living God." The Lord Jesus Christ has not sent any such message. Rather, he has solemnly warned us to "fear him" (Luke 12:5). And, if men do not fear the living God, whom will they fear?
Persuasives to steadfastness.
The latter part of this chapter, beginning with Hebrews 10:26, is written in the same strain as Hebrews 6:4-20. In both passages a strong denunciatory warning is followed by a tender exhortation, expressive of the writer's fond hope that the Hebrew Christians will "stand fast in the Lord." The pathetic appeal contained in the verses before us is based upon three grounds, belonging respectively to the past, the future, and the present.
I. As APPEAL TO CHRISTIAN EXPERIENCE. (Verses 32-35) The apostle would have his readers remember their first love, in the (lays when they became "light in the Lord." They had at that time endured persecution bravely. After the death of Stephen (Acts 8:1), in the time of Herod Agrippa (Acts 12:1-19), at Thessalonica (1 Thessalonians 2:14), at Rome (Romans 12:12, Romans 12:14), and elsewhere, the Hebrew believers had encountered the fierce opposition of their unbelieving countrymen and of the Roman authorities. Their calamities had been such as to make them a public spectacle. They had suffered:
1. In their character, which was assailed with malignant scorn.
2. In their persons, for they were subjected to bodily torture.
3. In their property. They were unjustly deprived of their possessions. Yet they bore the loss cheerfully, being persuaded that their true and permanent treasure was in heaven.
4. By reason of their practical sympathy with one another. They had brought to their persecuted and imprisoned brethren both sympathetic condolence and practical help. Now, the apostle reminds the Hebrews of these courageous endurances, in order to stimulate them still to sustain their Christian valor. They had not allowed their early conflicts to dim their spiritual joy. They had run well hitherto; what should hinder them now from persevering to the end? Why allow all their past toils and trials to count for nothing?
II. AN APPEAL TO CHRISTIAN HOPE. (Verses 35-37) This hope is presented in a twofold aspect.
1. The hope of the promised reward. (Verses 35, 36) There is a Christian doctrine of recompense. All the apostles speak of it in their Epistles under one form or another. No Christian, of course, can claim any reward of legal right. It is the gracious gift of the God of grace. But every steadfast believer obtains it even here on earth; for holiness is its own immediate recompense. And he shall receive it in eternal reversion hereafter; for his shall be the inconceivable peace and purity, and the inexhaustible joy and glory, of heaven.
2. The hope of Christ's second coming. (Verse 37) The apostle here employs as the vehicle of his thoughts the words given to Habakkuk by which a former generation of Hebrews had been encouraged to wait for the humiliation of their Chaldean oppressors (Hebrews 2:3). But the scope of the passage requires that we refer the "coming" here spoken of to our Lord's second advent. As compared with the endless ages of eternity, during which his people are to enjoy the "great recompense of reward," the interval which must elapse before his personal return to the world may well be described as "a very little while." The apostles always exhibit the second coming of Christ as an impending event, for which the believer is to yearn and to make ready. Death is only a parenthesis. Our duty is not so much to prepare to die, as to cherish "the blessed hope." From the watch-tower of prayer let us look out for the signs of his appearing; and thus we shall forget our trials, and maintain our steadfastness.
"Beyond the smiling and the weeping,
Beyond the waking and the sleeping,
Beyond the sowing and the reaping,
Love, rest, and home!
Lord, tarry not, but come I"
III. AN APPEAL TO CHRISTIAN PRINCIPLE. (Verses 38, 39) The apostle, in concluding with an expression of confidence in his readers, continues to borrow the words of Habakkuk (Habakkuk 2:4). He thus reminds them that under every dispensation faith has been the instrument of salvation. This great saying, "The just shall live by faith," has become historical. In the time of Habakkuk it marked off the worship of Jehovah from heathenism; in the apostolic age (Romans 1:17; Galatians 3:11) it distinguished the pure gospel from legalism; at the Reformation it served to divide scriptural Christianity from Romanism. These six words were to Martin Luther the golden text of the Bible. They sounded within his soul, first, as he sat in his quiet cell at Wittenberg; a second time during his illness at Bologna; and again at Rome, when he was climbing up Pilate's staircase upon his knees. It was in connection with Luther's perception of the meaning of this text that the great idea of the Reformation began to possess his soul. What, then, is the force of this saying of Habakkuk? Clearly it is not to be restricted to the first act of faith; the statement refers to the entire life of the believer. Although justified by faith at the beginning, his justification is continued by means of his perseverance in living faith to the end of his earthly course. The whole list of godly achievements referred to in Hebrews 11:1-40. illustrates how faith is the foundation of a life of holy obedience and of spiritual triumph. The apostle, therefore, reminds his readers that they must persistently "do the will of God" if they would keep themselves from backsliding unto perdition. Only a life of continued faith will secure "the saving of the soul." Union to Christ, justification, participation in Christ's life, peace of conscience, sanctification, the certainty of final redemption from all evil,—these, and every other Christian experience, are the effect of sustained and habitual faith. It is faith alone which brings us to the Fountain of life, and keeps us there.
HOMILIES BY W. JONES
The imperfect sacrifices and the perfect Sacrifice.
"Wherefore when he cometh into the world," etc.
I. THE IMPERFECT SACRIFICES. The imperfection of the legal sacrifices has been exhibited already with considerable fullness. In the preceding verses of this chapter it is pointed out that they were mere shadows of the true Sacrifice; they could not cleanse the offerers, or take away their sins. Another aspect of this imperfection is brought into view in our text. These sacrifices are spoken of as unacceptable to God. "Sacrifice and offering thou wouldest not... sacrifices and offerings and whole burnt offerings and sacrifices for sins thou wouldest not, neither hadst pleasure therein; the which are offered according to the Law." How are we to understand this? Were not these sacrifices and offerings instituted by him? When the Divine intention in them was realized, and they were offered in the true spirit, they were, undoubtedly, acceptable to him. When the sin offering was the manifestation of the offerer's penitence for sin and desire for forgiveness; when the burnt offering symbolized the self-consecration of the offerer to God, and the meat offering was the spontaneous tribute of a thankful heart to the Giver of all good, then they were well pleasing to God. But when they were offered as though the offering of them were meritorious on the part of the offerers, or as substitutes for personal obedience and service, they were not acceptable unto God. This is the aspect in which they are introduced in our text—the offering of sacrifices as contrasted with the rendering of willing obedience to the will of God. He has explicitly and repeatedly declared in the Scriptures that such sacrifices he will not accept. The principle is applicable still. God will not accept our professions, praises, prayers, or gifts as substitutes for faith, love, obedience, and self-consecration.
II. THE PERFECT SACRIFICE. "Wherefore when he cometh into the world, he saith," etc. The perfection of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ is here seen in several particulars.
1. It originated with God the Father. "Sacrifice and offering thou wouldest not, but a body didst thou prepare for me He taketh away the first, that he may establish the second." Not only the sacrifice of the Christ, but his whole mission, was the outworking of the counsel and plan of God. The Savior himself was the great Gift of the heavenly Father to our lost world. All our blessings flow from the throne of God.
2. It expresses the most perfect obedience.
(1) Obedience in the highest spirit. With perfect voluntariness our Lord did the will of God the Father. Freely he entered upon and fulfilled his great redemptive mission. "Then said I, Lo, I am come to do thy will, O God." More forcibly is this aspect of Christ's work expressed in the psalm from which our text is quoted: "I delight to do thy will, O my God; yea, thy Law is within my heart." "Jesus saith, My meat is to do the will of him that sent me, and to finish his work." "I came down from heaven, not to do mine own will, but the will of him that sent me." He found deepest and purest joy in doing the holy will of God. His own will, his entire being, was in beautiful and blessed accord with the will of his Father. His obedience was not in word and action only, but in thought, feeling, and volition. In the sight of God the obedience of a moral being is never true except it be voluntary.
(2) Obedience in the fullest extent. Our Lord "fulfilled all righteousness." But did his obedience include suffering and sacrifice? Our text returns a decisive reply. "A body didst thou prepare for me. I am come to do thy will, O God. In which wilt we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all." The will of the Father included the suffering and death of the Son as a sacrifice for the sins of the world. On this point the testimony of the sacred Scriptures is clear and conclusive. "The Son of man came to give his life a Ransom for many" (Matthew 20:28; see also Matthew 26:39, Matthew 26:42; Luke 24:26, Luke 24:27, Luke 24:44-47). He was "obedient even unto death, yea, the death of the cross." But even here it was not the intensity of the sufferings which made the sacrifice acceptable unto God, but the piety of the spirit in which they were endured. The sacrifice was perfect because it was offered in the fulfillment of the will of the Father." "It is monstrous to suppose," said Dr. Robert Vaughan, "that the Deity could be pleased with mere suffering. It is the spiritual essence in the atonement that makes it to be what it is to us. It may be accepted as certain, that in the gift of the Son of God we have the brightest manifestation of the love of the Father; and that in the willing humiliation and grief of the Redeemer we have the tenderest revelation of pity towards the evil and unthankful, and at the same time the noblest act of worship ever rendered to the good and the holy. In this sense it is truly by the sorrows, the death, the cross of Christ, that we have salvation. It has been his will to become thus acquainted with grief, and to die—to die the death of the cross—that we might be saved." The perfection of the Savior's sacrifice was in the voluntary and entire surrender of himself to God.
3. It accomplishes its Divine design. "In the which will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all." Ebrard interprets sanctification here as involving "both justification and sanctification." But the use of the perfect participle, "we have been sanctified," "expresses not our subjective sanctification, but our objective reception into true relationship to God, and into the actual fellowship of the members of the people of God as 'the saints' (Hebrews 6:10)" (Lange). By his one great offering of himself our Lord has provided all that man needs for the forgiveness of his sins, for his acceptance with God, and for the purifying and perfecting of his being. Christ's work is finished and perfect. To it nothing can be added; in it no improvement can be made. Man's great business in relation to it is to accept of it, and become perfected (Hebrews 10:14) through it.—W.J.
Hebrews 10:12, Hebrews 10:13
The sacrifice and sovereignty of Christ.
"But this Man, after he had offered one sacrifice," etc.
I. THE SACRIFICE OFFERED BY CHRIST.
1. Self-sacrifice. The Jewish priests offered goats, lambs, etc. But Jesus Christ "gave himself." The whole of his life upon earth was a sacrifice. The sufferings of the closing scenes were sacrificial. His death was sacrificial. In all he acted with entire spontaneity (John 10:17, John 10:18). All was the outcome of the infinite love wherewith he loved us. It is of the very nature of love to sacrifice self for the beloved. No sacrifice is so Divine as that of self. "Greater love hath no man than this," etc. (John 15:13).
2. Self-sacrifice for sin. The death of Jesus was neither
(1) a mere martyrdom; nor
(2) an offering to pacify the wrath of God; but
(3) it was a "sacrifice for sins." "He appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself." "Christ also suffered for sins once, the righteous for the unrighteous," etc.
3. Self-sacrifice for sin of perpetual efficacy. "He offered one sacrifice for sins for ever." Christ's sacrifice was offered once for all It needs no repetition. It is completely efficacious for all sins of all men for ever (cf. Hebrews 9:25-28). It seems to us that to speak of "offering Christ upon the altar" in the Lord's Supper is utterly unscriptural, and a reflection on the sufficiency of the "one sacrifice for sins forever" which our Lord offered.
II. THE POSITION OCCUPIED BY CHRIST. "Sat down on the right hand of God." This position is suggestive of:
1. Rest. The sitting down is opposed to the standing of the preceding verse. Christ's sacrificial work is completed. The sufferings of his earthly life are over forever. The toil and conflict are all past. He has finished the work that was given him to do (cf. Hebrews 1:3).
2. Honor. "The right hand" is the position of honor. He is "crowned with glory and honor" (Hebrews 2:9; cf. Philippians 2:6-11). The glory of redemption is his.
3. His exaltation is a guarantee that all who are one with hire in sacrifice shall be one with him in sovereignty. There is a cross for each of his disciples; there is also a crown for every one who faithfully bears that cross (cf. Matthew 16:24; John 12:26; Romans 8:17; Revelation 3:21).
III. THE EXPECTATION ENTERTAINED BY CHRIST. "From henceforth expecting till his enemies be made the footstool of his feet." The foes of our Lord are rebellious angels and rebellious men. All persons and all things which are opposed to his character and sovereignty are his enemies. Ignorance, the darkness of the mind, is opposed to him as "the Light" and "the Truth." Tyranny is opposed to him as the great Emancipator. He proclaimed the universal brotherhood of men. Sin is opposed to him as the Savior and the Sovereign of men. Death is opposed to him as the Life and the Lifegiver. All these he will completely and for ever vanquish. "He must reign till he hath put all his enemies under his feet." Let us endeavor to realize the certainty of this.
1. History points to it. During nearly nineteen centuries the spirit and the principles of Christ have been advancing and gaining strength in the world. Tyrannical despotisms passing away; free governments spreading; slavery losing its place and power; liberty and the recognition of human brotherhood constantly growing; cruelties and oppressions ever decreasing; Christian charities and generosities ever increasing; the night of ignorance receding; the day of intelligence advancing and brightening. The past is prophetic of the complete triumph of Christ.
2. The spirit of the age points to it. There is much of evil in the age; but there are also many good and hope-inspiring things. The age is one of broadening freedom, earnest inquiry, growing intelligence, and many and ever-increasing charities. All these are in harmony with Christianity, results of Christianity; and as men advance in them they will be the more fitted and disposed to embrace Christianity.
3. God's Word assures it. (See Psalms 2:8; Psalms 72:8-17; Daniel 7:13, Daniel 7:14).
4. Christ is waiting for it. "From henceforth expecting"—implying his undoubted assurance of it. He cannot be disappointed.—W.J.
Complete forgiveness through the perfect Sacrifice.
"Now where remission of these is, there is no more offering for sin." Our text authorizes three observations.
I. THAT THE SAVIOR'S SACRIFICE FOR SIN WAS PERFECT. This is implied in the text. It is stated more than once in the preceding argument. To prove it was one of the great objects of the doctrinal portion of this letter. It has already come under our notice in several of our homilies (see on Hebrews 7:26-28; Hebrews 9:11, Hebrews 9:12; Hebrews 9:13, Hebrews 9:14; Hebrews 10:5-10).
II. THAT THE FORGIVENESS OF SIN THROUGH THE SAVIOR'S SACRIFICE IS COMPLETE. This completeness is exhibited by the writer:
1. By comparing it with the partial putting away of sins obtained through the legal sacrifices. "Sacrifices which can never take away sins" (Hebrews 10:11). The word employed here signifies "to take clean away (cf. Acts 27:20), i.e. to put off like the garment which clings to the person, or the ring on the finger; as, for instance, the besetting sin of Hebrews 12:1, or the besetting infirmity of Hebrews 12:3. The sacred writer does not mean to say that sins were not forgiven to sacrificial worshippers under the Law; but that the legal sacrifices had no inward spiritual power to give peace to the conscience, or any assured sense of pardon, purity to the heart, or any really new beginning of spiritual life (Hebrews 9:9). With these in their subject-matter and their inadequacy, ever similar and oft-repeated sacrifices, he contrasts (Hebrews 12:12) the "one sacrifice for sins of Jesus Christ, which is no other than himself" (Delitzsch). And Alford, "The (legal) sacrifice might bring sense of partial forgiveness; but it could never denude the offerer of sinfulness—strip off and take away his guilt." But through the sacrifice of the Christ sin is really taken away. He who heartily believes in him is reconciled unto God, receives absolute and full forgiveness of sins, and is inspired by a new and holy affection, even supreme love to God. And this affection is the mightiest antagonist of sin. He who is inspired by it is not overcome of evil, but overcomes evil with good.
2. By the expressions which are used to set it forth. "Their sins and their iniquities will I remember no more" (see our remarks on Hebrews 8:12). Here is the greatest encouragement to sinners to seek forgiveness from God. "There is forgiveness with thee, that thou mayest be feared. With the Lord there is mercy, and with him is plenteous redemption." "Let the wicked forsake his way," etc. (Isaiah 55:7).
III. THAT THE SAVIOR'S SACRIFICE WILL NEVER BE REPEATED. "Now where remission of these is, there is no more offering for sin." Being perfect in itself and in its efficacy, his sacrifice needs no repetition (see remarks on this in our homilies on Hebrews 7:26-28; Hebrews 9:27, Hebrews 9:28; Hebrews 10:5-10). Learn the folly of looking for other and more effective means of salvation. The grandest and most convincing proof of the love that God hath to us has been given in the sacrifice of Christ. No greater sacrifice, no more constraining influence, is possible. Let us accept the perfect Sacrifice, and the all-sufficient Savior.—W.J.
The Christian's access to the Holy place.
"Having therefore, brethren, boldness to enter into," etc. Here the sacred writer enters upon the last great division of the Epistle. Having closed the argumentative portion, he opens the hortatory and admonitory part of his work. Our text is an exhortation to avail ourselves of the great privilege of access to the presence of God through the blood of Jesus. We have—
I. A DECLARATION or CHRISTIAN PRIVILEGE.
1. What the privilege is in itself. It is twofold.
(1) The right of approach unto the presence of God. We may "enter into the holy place." There is a reference here to the entrance of the high priest into the holy of holies under the Mosaic economy. The holy place in the text is the Divine sanctuary, "the place of God's essential presence." We have the privilege of access into his presence. We have this at present in prayer. Even now in prayer, and spiritually, we may "reach the inmost recesses of the Divine sanctuary, the very heart of God." And we may do this without the intervention of' any human priesthood, or the presentation of any material sacrifice. Hereafter we may enter into his presence in person. Already our Lord is there. And he prayed for his disciples, "Father, I will that where I am, they also may be with me." Admission into the manifested presence of God is the exalted privilege awaiting every true Christian in the future. "We shall see him even as he is." "I will behold thy face in righteousness," etc. "In thy presence is fullness of joy," etc.
(2) Confidence in approaching the presence of God. We have "boldness to enter into the holy place." This boldness is not rashness, or irreverence, or unreverence. It is rather a holy freedom of access to God because of our assurance that we shall be graciously received by him. See this in the exercise of prayer. We may freely express our wants and wishes to our heavenly Father; for, being our Father, he will not resent our filial confidence, but will welcome us the more because of it.
2. How the privilege has been obtained for us. "By the blood of Jesus." It is by the sacrifice of Christ that we have the right of access to the presence of God. And it is by the infinite love of God manifested in that sacrifice that we have confidence in availing ourselves of this right. In a word, this great privilege has been obtained for us through the mediation of our Lord and Savior. This is here represented as a way: "By the way which he dedicated for us, a new and living way," etc. The description is instructive.
(1) The characteristics of the way. It is a new way; i.e. newly made, recent, or newly opened. Truly and beautifully Stier says, "No believer under the Old Testament dared or could, though under a dispensation of preparatory grace, approach God so freely and openly, so fearlessly and joyfully, so closely and intimately, as we now, who come to the Father by the blood of Jesus, his Son." It is a living way. "The way into the sanctuary of the Old Testament was simply a lifeless pavement trodden by the high priest, and by him alone; the way opened by Jesus Christ is one that really leads and carries all who enter it into the heavenly rest, being, in fact, the reconciliation of mankind with God, once and for ever effected by him through his ascension to the Father—'a living way,' because one with the living person and abiding work of Jesus Christ" (Delitzsch). "Jesus saith, I am the Way," etc. (cf. John 14:1-6).
(2) The inauguration of this way. "Which he dedicated for us, through the veil, that is to say, his flesh." There is a comparison between the flesh of our Savior and the veil which separated the most holy from the holy place. "While he was with us here below," says Delitzsch, "the weak, limit-bound, and mortal flesh, which he had assumed for our sakes, hung like a curtain between him and the Divine sanctuary into which he would enter; and in order to such entrance, this curtain had to be withdrawn by death, even as the high priest had to draw aside the temple veil in order to make his entry to the holy of holies." In his death our Lord put off the weak, mortal flesh; and at his death "the veil of the temple was rent in twain from the top to the bottom," laying open the holy of holies. Dying, our Lord laid aside those conditions of body which could not be taken into heaven itself, and removed the barriers which kept us from God (cf. Corinthians 1:21, 22).
(3) The encouragement to tread this way. "And having a great Priest over the house of God." The description is suggestive. "A great Priest." One who is both Priest and King; "a royal Priest and priestly King." He is "over the house of God," i.e. the Church; the one great communion of saints both in heaven and upon earth; the Church triumphant above and the Church militant below. Here is encouragement to tread the new and living way. Our great Priest has trod the way before us. He has entered the heavenly sanctuary, and abides in the glorious and blessed Presence. He is there on our behalf; as our Representative, as our Forerunner, and as an attraction to draw his people thither also.
II. AN EXHORTATION TO AVAIL OURSELVES OF THIS PRIVILEGE, "Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith," etc. Consider how we are to avail ourselves of this privilege.
1. With perfect sincerity. "With a tree heart." A heart free from hypocrisy and from self-deception. "God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth."
2. With assured confidence. "In full assurance of faith." Not questioning our right of access, or the certainty of our gracious acceptance, through Christ. Not with divided confidence, but "in fullness of faith" in Christ. The full undivided faith is required, as Ebrard says, "not a faith such as the readers of the Epistle to the Hebrews had, who to the questions, 'Is Jesus the Messiah? Is he the Son of God?' replied in the affirmative indeed with head and mouth, but yet were not satisfied with the sacrifice of Christ, but thought it necessary still to lean on the crutches of the Levitical sacrifices, and on these crutches would limp into heaven." We fear that there is much of this divided faith at present, or at least a great lack of "fullness of faith" in the Savior. The faith of some is divided between the Christ and the Church, or some human priesthood; others, between the Christ and the sanctions of reason or philosophy; and others, between the Christ and what they conceive to be their own personal merits. If we would draw near to God acceptably, we must do so "in full assurance of faith" in our great Priest as the only and all-sufficient Mediator.
3. With purity of heart and life. "Having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience, and our body washed with pure water." There is a reference here to the Levitical purifications (cf. Exodus 29:21; Le Exodus 8:30; Exodus 16:4, Exodus 16:24; Hebrews 9:13, Hebrews 9:14, Hebrews 9:21, Hebrews 9:22; 1 Peter 1:2). And in the last clause of the text there is probably a reference to Christian baptism, which is symbolic of spiritual cleansing (cf. Acts 22:16). The idea seems to be that to approach God acceptably we must be morally pure in heart and in action. But "who can say, I have made my heart clean, I am pure from my sin?" And so we draw near to God at present trusting in the Christ for pardon and for purity. Through him we are justified before God by faith, and have daily cleansing for daily impurities. And hereafter we shall draw near to his blessed presence "having washed our robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb," and shall appear before him as members of "a glorious Church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing, but holy and without blemish."
1. How great are our privileges of present access to God in prayer, and hope of future approach to him in person!
2. How solemn are our obligations to avail ourselves of our privileges, and to walk worthily of them!—W.J.
"Let us hold fast the profession of our faith," etc.
I. THE EXHORTATION TO CHRISTIAN FIDELITY. "Let us hold fast the confession of our hope, that it waver not."
1. The object of our hope. That in Christ we have at present forgiveness of our sins, the right of approach unto God, sanctifying influences, etc. That through Christ we shall attain unto the future and perfect rest—the sabbath-keeping which remains for the people of God. Or in brief, that Jesus is the Christ of God, and that in him we have salvation in its beginnings here and now, and shall have it in perfection hereafter.
2. The compression of our hope.
(1) The confession made. The Christian baptism of these Hebrew Christians was a confession of their faith in Christ. When the hope is clear and assured, it "cannot remain dumb; it must speak, and give a reason of its own existence. It utters itself in a frank confession, which we are to hold fast." This confession is obligatory upon believers in Christ Jesus (cf. Matthew 10:32, Matthew 10:33; Luke 12:8, Luke 12:9; Romans 10:9, Romans 10:10; 1 John 4:15).
(2) The confession maintained. "Let us hold fast the confession of our hope, that it waver not." It is implied that there was a danger of their relinquishing it. They were in danger by reason of persecution (cf. John 9:22); and by reason of the ritualistic and other attractions of Judaism, and the simplicity and spirituality of Christianity. And a clear, consistent, and steadfast confession of our Christian hope is imperiled today by not a few influences. There is danger from Satanic solicitation, from worldly suggestion and example, and from the inclinations and disinclinations of our lower nature. Visible and material interests would draw us away from the claims of the invisible and spiritual. Having so much to do with seen and temporal things, there is danger lest we relax the firmness of our grasp on the unseen and eternal verities. There is danger, too, of attempting to base our hope upon Christ and something else, rather than upon Christ and Christ alone. "Let us hold fast the confession," etc. Let there be no uncertainty, no timidity, no wavering, in our acknowledgment of Jesus Christ as our Savior and Lord.
(a) Our own true interests enforce the exhortation of the text.
(b) The great company of the glorified call upon us to "hold fast the confession of our hope," etc. (cf. Hebrews 6:11, Hebrews 6:12).
(c) God himself summons us to fidelity and perseverance. "Be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee the crown of life." "Hold fast that which thou hast, that no one take thy crown."
II. THE ENCOURAGEMENT TO CHRISTIAN FIDELITY. "For he is faithful that promised." Many are the promises which God has made to his people. Promises to the penitent, the tempted, the afflicted, the mourner, the weak, the perplexed, etc. Now, all these promises are perfectly reliable. Of this we have many guarantees; e.g.:
1. His infinite intelligence. "When he promises anything, he sees everything which may hinder, and everything which may promote the execution of it, so that he cannot discover anything afterwards that may move him to take up after-thoughts: he hath more wisdom than to promise anything which he knows he cannot accomplish."
2. His almighty power. He is able to perform all and everything that he has promised. "Trust ye in the Lord for ever; for in the Lord Jehovah is everlasting strength."
3. His perfect faithfulness. "It is impossible for God to lie" (Hebrews 6:18; Titus 1:2). "God is not a man, that he should lie," etc. (Numbers 23:19; 1 Samuel 15:29). "With him can be no variation, neither shadow that is cast by turning" (James 1:17). "How many soever be the promises of God, in Jesus Christ is the yea," etc. (2 Corinthians 1:20). The fidelity of God to his glorious promises should ensure our fidelity in the confession of our hope in the Lord Jesus Christ.—W.J.
The duty and design of mutual consideration.
"And let us consider one another to provoke unto love," etc. An interesting connection of our text with the preceding verses of this paragraph is pointed out by Delitzsch. "How beautifully is the exhortation here disposed in conformity with the Pauline triad of Christian graces (1 Corinthians 13:13; 1 Thessalonians 1:3; 1 Thessalonians 5:8; Colossians 1:4, Colossians 1:5)! First, the injunction to approach in the full assurance of faith; then that to hold fast the confession of our hope; and now a third, to godly rivalry in the manifestation of Christian love."
I. THE DUTY OF MUTUAL CONSIDERATION. "Let us consider one another." This exhortation does not warrant any impertinent interference in the concerns of others, or sanction the conduct of busybodies and gossips. It calls upon us to cherish a mutual regard, and to exercise a kind consideration one for another. We should consider the wants, weaknesses, temptations, trials, successes, failures, and varying experiences of each other. With a brother in his shortcomings and sins we should be patient and forbearing, slow to condemn, but quick to raise and restore. "Brethren, even if a man be overtaken in any trespass," etc. (Galatians 6:1, Galatians 6:2). With each other we should sympathize in our respective joys and sorrows. Our religious duties, motives, aims, trials, joys, and hopes are very similar in their character; therefore "let us consider one another," sympathize with one another, and strengthen one another.
II. THE DESIGN OF MUTUAL CONSIDERATION. "To provoke unto love and good works." "To provoke" is here used in a good sense—to excite, or to call into activity for a worthy purpose. "Consider one another" in order to produce in each other a generous rivalry in love and good works. Mark the importance of these two things.
1. Love. It is the supreme grace of Christian character (1 Corinthians 13:13). It is the most Christ-like. It is the most God-like. "God is love." It is that which most truly represents our Savior to the world. It is that which is most extolled in the sacred Scriptures. The Bible abounds in exhortations to love one another and to love God (Leviticus 19:18, Leviticus 19:34; Deuteronomy 6:5; Deuteronomy 10:19; Matthew 22:36-40; Joh 15:12; 1 Corinthians 13:1-13; Colossians 3:14; 1 Timothy 1:5; 1 Peter 4:8; 1 John 3:11-24; 1 John 4:7-21). On earth and in time love exalts and imparts an attractive luster and beauty to the character. And it qualifies for the glories of heaven and eternity.
2. Good works; beautiful actions. Love is the fountain of all beautiful deeds. Our works are beautiful in proportion as love is our motive and inspiration in them. That which is done selfishly, grudgingly, or in the spirit of a hireling, has no goodness or beauty. Love is the purest and mightest inspiration. No difficulties deter love; no dangers appall it; no toils are too arduous or prolonged to be accomplished by it. The venturing and enduring power of love is wonderful. And, thank God! illustrations of it are not scarce. See it in the unwearying vigil and the unfailing ministry of the mother, night and day, day and night, by the couch where her sick child lies; or the wife by the bed of her afflicted husband, etc. Love delights in self-sacrificing service for the beloved. "Provoke unto love and good works." To teach a class well in the Sunday or the Ragged school; to visit the neglected, the sick, and the dying; to comfort some troubled heart or cheer some depressed spirit; to perform common duties with diligence and fidelity, or irksome duties with cheerfulness; to bear physical pain or social trial patiently; to suffer long by reason of the faults of others, and still be kind to them;—these are "good works," beautiful works. It is to love and good works that we are to provoke one another, and for this purpose we have to kindly consider each other. Put no obstacle in the path of any true worker, but cheer him, strengthen him. Perhaps the best way to stimulate others to love and good works is to set a good example in respect of these things. Learn here the most effective method of preventing strife and securing unity amongst Christian brethren. Kindly mutual consideration, love, and good works preclude disagreement, and unite hearts in sacred and blessed fellowship.—W.J.
Warning against the neglect of social worship.
"Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the custom of some is; but exhorting one another." This exhortation is not a positive command, but arises out of the nature of things, and the need of man as a spiritual being. Social worship does not become obligatory because it is commanded in the Scriptures; but we are exhorted not to neglect it because it is needful for us. The obligation springs not from the exhortation, but from the necessities of our being. Let us consider—
I. MAN'S NEED OF SOCIAL WORSHIP.
1. Man needs worship. A god is a necessity of man's being. He must have something to worship, even if it be only a fetish. This arises from the presence and influence of the religious and devotional elements and faculties in human nature. As these are refined and educated, so man is able to receive pure and exalted ideas of God. One of the bitterest of human wails is, "Ye have taken away my gods, and the priest; and what have I more?" The loss of even a false god is deemed ruinous by those who confided in it. The cry of the man whose religious nature has been enlightened by Divine revelation is, "My heart and my flesh crieth out for the living God." The body needs the exercise of manual labor, or of athletics, or gymnastics, or it becomes weak and incapable. The mind must be employed in the acquisition of truth, in reflection upon truth and life, or its powers must be called forth in some other way, or it will sink into a condition of feebleness and decay. And the principle is equally applicable to the religions soul. If its powers be not employed in the worship of the Divine Being and in the effort to live usefully and holily, those powers will perish; the eyes of the soul will become blind, its ears deaf, its aspirations extinct. Man needs worship for the life and growth of his own religious nature.
2. Man needs social worship. He is a social being. His heart craves friendship. In sorrow and joy, in labor and rest, we long for companionship and sympathy. We are formed for fellowship and for mutual help. Hence, social worship is a necessity of our being. This need was divinely recognized in Judaism, and provision was made for it in the temple, in the great religious festivals, etc. Our Lord recognized this need in various ways (Matthew 18:17-20; Luke 4:16). So also did the apostles. Even in the darkest seasons in the history of the Church of God, devout souls have felt this need and have sought satisfaction for it. "Then they that feared the Lord spake often one to another," etc. (cf. Malachi 3:13-17).
3. Social worship is often very beneficial and blessed. Our Lord has promised that the unanimous prayers of such worshippers shall be answered, and that he himself will meet with them (Matthew 18:19, Matthew 18:20). In such assemblies of believers devotion and holy feeling pass from heart to heart until all hearts are aglow. Mutual prayer strengthens the weak disciple. One man is cast down and almost faithless, but his faith is invigorated and his soul encouraged by the influence of another who is believing and hopeful. Nor is worship the only engagement of these assemblies. Our text speaks of mutual exhortation. "Exhorting one another." Brotherly counsel and encouragement and admonition are profitable to strengthen faith, incite to diligence, guard against declension, and promote the progress of the soul.
II. MAN'S NEGLECT OF SOCIAL WORSHIP. "Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the custom of some is." Notice:
1. The causes of this neglect. As our Epistle does not speak of the neglect of worship by the irreligious, but of the desertion of the Christian assemblies by those who themselves were avowedly Christians, we shall confine our attention to the causes of the neglect of social worship by those who manifest some respect for religion.
(1) The necessity of social worship is not recognized, or inadequately recognized. The neglecter says, "There is no need for my frequent attendance at church; I can read the Bible or a sermon by my own fireside; and as for worship, we have that in the family." But reading a sermon is not attendance upon the divinely instituted preaching of the gospel. And family worship is not enough for man as a social being. Religion itself is social. As we need friends beyond our own domestic relations, so we need in religious exercises a wider circle than the home one.
(2) Absorption in temporal and worldly affairs is another cause of the neglect of the Christian assemblies. The interests and occupations of this world and time fill the whole being; spiritual and eternal interests are disregarded; the soul and its needs are neglected; thus men are unjust to their own higher nature.
(3) Decline in the spiritual life is another cause of this neglect.
2. The danger of this neglect. They whose custom it was to forsake the assemblies of Christians were not yet apostates from the Christian faith and confession. But the admonition and exhortation of the text suggest that they were in danger of apostasy. And the awful warnings which immediately follow more plainly indicate the dread peril. He who neglects the Christian assemblies is likely ere long to forsake the Christian Church and renounce the Christian faith, and ]:e may even go on to tread underfoot the Son of God, and do despite unto the Spirit of grace.—W.J.
The darkest sin and the most dreadful doom.
"For if we sin willfully after that we have received," etc. These solemn words set before us—
I. A SIN OF THE GREATEST ENORMITY. TO obtain a correct view of the dark sin which is here depicted, let us notice:
1. The spiritual experience which preceded the sin. Two clauses of our text set forth a personal experience of genuine religion. "After that we have received the knowledge of the truth." The word which is translated "knowledge"—ἐπίγνωσις—as Delitzsch points out, cannot mean an unreal or false knowledge, but a genuine and intelligent apprehension of the truth. "The sacred writer, therefore, clearly intimates by the very choice of the word that it is not a mere outward and historical knowledge of which he is here speaking, but an inward, quickening, believing apprehension of revealed truth (Hebrews 6:4-8)." "The blood … wherewith he was sanctified." In the case supposed the man "had advanced so far in the reality of the spiritual life, that this blood had been really applied to his heart by faith, and its hallowing and purifying, effects were visible in his life (Alford).
2. The character of the sin itself. The sin is apostasy from Christianity, after having personally experienced its power and preciousness. But see how it is here sketched.
(1) Contemptuous rejection of the Divine Redeemer. "Hath trodden underfoot the Son of God." The expression does not simply mean to cast a thing away as useless, which is afterwards carelessly trampled on by men (Matthew 5:13); but a deliberate, scornful, bitter treading down of a thing. So terribly wicked is the rejection of the Son of God which our text sets forth.
(2) Profanation of the sacrificial blood of the Savior. "Hath counted the blood of the covenant, wherewith he was sanctified, an unholy thing." The blood of sacrifices offered under the Law was regarded as sacred, and as having cleansing power (Leviticus 16:19). How much more really and more intensely holy must the blood of Christ be (Hebrews 9:13, Hebrews 9:14)! To regard this blood as common, or as the blood of an ordinary man, was not only a degradation of the most sacred thing, but also an admission that Jesus was deservedly put to death; for if his was the common blood of a mere man, he was a blasphemer, and according to the Jewish Law deserved death.
(3) Insultation of the Holy Spirit. "And hath done despite unto the Spirit of grace;" or, "insulted the Spirit of grace." The expression designates the Holy Spirit as the Source of grace, and leads us to think of him as a living and loving Person. "To contemn or do despite to this Holy Spirit is to blaspheme the whole work of grace of which one has once been the subject, and to exhibit it as a deception and a lie. It is profanely to contradict the very truth of God, and draw down a vengeance which cannot fail" (Delitzsch).
3. The aggravations of the sire. The preceding experience of the blessings of Christianity sorely aggravates so bitter an apostasy from it. But the sin is further aggravated by the willfulness, deliberateness, and continuousness with which it is committed. "The sin here spoken of is not a momentary or short-lived aberration, from which the infirm but sincere believer is speedily recalled by the convictions of the Spirit, but one willfully persisted in." "If we sin willfully." Moreover, it is not an act or acts of willful sin committed once, or more than once, and then repented of, which is here set forth; but a continuous condition of sin. The use of the present participle—ἁμαρτανόντων—"indicates perseverance and continuance in apostasy." It is not a case of ordinary religious backsliding or declension from Christ; for then there would be some hope of repentance and encouragement to repent (Jeremiah 3:14; Hosea 14:4). It is a case of willful, deliberate, contemptuous, persistent rejection of Christ and of Christianity, after having known his truth and experienced his grace.
II. A PUNISHMENT OF THE MOST TERRIBLE SEVERITY.
1. The utter loss of the hope of spiritual reformation. "There remaineth no more a sacrifice for sins." The sacrifices of Judaism to which, in the case supposed, the apostate returns have no power to take away sins. The efficacy of the sacrifice of the Savior has not been exhausted by him, but he has deliberately and scornfully rejected it, so that for him it has no longer any atoning or saving power. And no other exists for him, or will be provided for him. When a man willfully, contemptuously, and persistently rejects the only sacrifice through which salvation may be attained, what hope can there be for him of forgiveness and spiritual renewal?
2. The dreadful anticipation of an awful judgment. "There remaineth a certain fearful expectation of judgment." The apostate looks forward with dismay, and even with terror at times, to the approaching judgment and the righteous retributions which will follow. His punishment is already begun in his alarming anticipations of the dread penalties awaiting him hereafter.
3. The infliction of a punishment worse than death. "A fierceness of fire which shall devour the adversaries. A man that hath set at naught Moses' Law dieth without compassion," etc. If an Israelite apostatized from Jehovah to idolatry, when "two witnesses or three witnesses" testified against him, he was to be stoned to death (Deuteronomy 17:2-7). If one sought to seduce another to idolatry, the person so tempted was to take the lead in stoning the tempter to death, even though the tempter was the nearest and dearest relative, or a friend beloved as his own soul (Deuteronomy 13:1-11). But for the apostate from Christ there is a "much sorer punishment" than the death of the body by stoning. The severity of the punishment will be in proportion to the clearness of the light and the richness of the grace and the preciousness of the privileges rejected by the apostate. "The wrath of God burns as hotly as his love, and strikes no less surely than justly." Yet it seems to us that nothing in the punishment of the apostate can be darker or more terrible than this, that for him "there remaineth no more a sacrifice for sins." "Wherefore let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall."—W.J.
Falling into the fronds of God—a contrast.
"It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God." "Let me fall now into the hand of the Lord" (1 Chronicles 21:13). State briefly what led to this utterance of David. The taking of the census, etc. Wherein was the sin of numbering the people? Not in the mere act; for Israel had been numbered thrice before by the command of the Lord. But David took this census
(1) without Divine authority or sanction;
(2) from motives of pride and ostentation.
Perhaps he was contemplating schemes of foreign conquest. Certainly the motive was a sinful one, and therefore the act was sinful. God was displeased thereby, and he determined to punish the king and his people for this and previous sins, e.g. the rebellions in which the people had joined. He, however, sent Gad the seer unto David to give him the choice of one out of three punishments (1 Chronicles 21:11-14). With becoming humility and piety, the king left the judgment in the hand of God. He prayed that he might "not fall into the hand of man," and his people be destroyed three months before their foes; but whether the punishment should be "three years' famine, or three days the sword of the Lord, even the pestilence, in the land," he left to the decision of the merciful God. "David said unto Gad," etc. (1 Chronicles 21:13). After these words the text from our Epistle has a strange sound: "It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God." The sacred writer has been treating of a sin of extraordinary wickedness—apostasy from Christ; and apostasy characterized, not by ignorance, but by despite of the clearest knowledge; not by weakness, but by willfulness; not by transitoriness, but by persistence. It is of the punishment of such an apostate that it is said, "It is a fearful thing," etc. "The hands of God are his almighty operations, whether in love or wrath." He is "the living God" because he is self-existent; his existence is independent, absolute, eternal. So "the hands of the living God" present the ideas of his almightiness and eternity. How fearful to fall into the punitive hands of such a Being! Man may be angry with me, but his power is limited, and he dies, and then he can injure me no longer; but it is a fearful thing to fall into the avenging hands of him whose power is unlimited and whose existence is endless—the hands of the almighty and ever-living God, Contrast these two fallings into the hands of God.
I. THE ONE FALLS VOLUNTARILY INTO GOD'S HANDS; THE OTHER, COMPULSORILY. David deliberately and freely elected to leave himself in the hands of the Lord; that was his choice. But the willfully and persistently wicked wilt fall into his hands as the guilty culprit falls into the hands of the officers of the law. The strong hand of Divine justice will seize the hardened rebel against God, and from that grip there will be no escape. Of our own free will let us now fall into his almighty and loving hands.
II. THE ONE FALLS INTO HIS HANDS IN HUMBLE PENITENCE; THE OTHER, IN HARDENED IMPENITENCE. David was sincerely and deeply repentant of his sin (1 Chronicles 21:8, 1 Chronicles 21:17). But in the case supposed in our Epistle the sinner willfully and defiantly persists in known and terrible sin, and is arrested by the Omnipotent hands as a daring rebel. And we have sinned and deserved God's wrath. How shall we meet him? in penitence, or in presumption? "He is wise in heart, and mighty in strength," etc. (Job 9:4). "Kiss the Son, lest he be angry," etc. (Psalms 2:12).
III. THE ONE FALLS INTO HIS HANDS FIRMLY TRUSTING IN HIS MERCY; THE OTHER, DEEPLY DREADING HIS WRATH. "David said … for very great are his mercies." He could and did confide in the love of God even in his judgments. But when the desperately wicked fall into God's hands it will be in abject terror (cf. Hebrews 10:27). Again let us imitate David, and trust God's mercy, not man's. "If you are accused, it is better to trust him for justice than to trust men; if you are guilty, it is better to trust him for mercy than to trust men; if you are miserable, it is better to trust him for deliverance than men."
IV. THE ONE FALLS INTO HIS CHASTISING HAND; THE OTHER, INTO HIS AVENGING HAND. David and his people were to be punished, but the punishment was paternal chastisement for their profit. They were to suffer that they might be saved as a nation. But very different is the punishment of the willful and persistent sinner (see Hebrews 10:26, Hebrews 10:27, Hebrews 10:30, Hebrews 10:31). What is our relation to God? Penitence, or persistence in sin? Humble trust, or abject terror? We must fall into his hands somehow. How shall it be? "Hast thou an arm like God?" Let it be thus—
"A guilty, weak, and helpless worm,
On thy kind arms I fall;
Be thou my Strength and Righteousness,
My Savior, and my All."
The recollection of past sufferings an encouragement to present steadfastness.
"But call to remembrance the former days," etc. Our subject divides itself into two main branches.
I. SUFFERINGS ENDURED FOR THE MAINTENANCE OF THE FAITH IN THE PAST.
1. These sufferings were of various kinds.
(1) Sufferings in their own persons.
(a) Infliction of physical pain. "Being made a gazing-stock by afflictions." The afflictions, or tribulations, arose from active and bitter persecutions. And these were inflicted (as the word translated "gazing-stock," or spectacle, clearly indicates) in the theatre before the assembled multitude, that to the physical pain might be added the sense of shame.
(b) Subjection to undeserved reproaches. "Being made a gazing-stock by reproaches." They were publicly assailed by the scornful jeers of their persecutors. The people of God have frequently borne the bitterest anguish by reason of the malignant and contemptuous utterances of their adversaries (cf. Psalms 41:5-9; Psalms 42:3, Psalms 42:10).
(c) Spoliation of their worldly possessions. "Ye took joyfully the spoiling of your goods." Ebrard suggests that by this "we are to understand what we find still at this day taking place in the sphere of the Jewish mission. When a Jew shows himself determined to become a Christian, he is disinherited by his relations, his share in the property is withheld from him, his credit and every source of gain withdrawn; he falls into a state of complete destitution."
(2) Sufferings in sympathy with other sufferers. "Becoming partakers with them that were so used. For ye had compassion on them that were in bonds." In a truly Christian spirit they sympathized with others who were in tribulation; they wept with those who wept; they made common cause with their persecuted brethren.
2. Their sufferings were of great severity. They "endured a great conflict of sufferings." The severity of the sufferings of the early Christians is witnessed to by very many portions of the New Testament (Acts 5:17-42; Acts 6:9-15; Acts 7:54-60; Acts 8:1-4; Acts 9:1, Acts 9:2; Acts 12:1-5; Acts 14:19; Acts 16:19-24; Acts 21:27-32; Acts 22:24, Acts 22:9.Acts 22:5; 1 Corinthians 4:9-13; 2 Corinthians 4:8-11; 2Co 11:23-27; 1 Peter 4:12-19; Revelation 2:9, Revelation 2:10).
3. Their sufferings were because of their Christianity. "After ye were illuminated, ye endured," etc. This enlightenment is that which led them to embrace Christianity and trust in Christ (cf. Hebrews 6:4). They endured persecutions for his Name's sake.
4. Their sufferings were patiently endured. "Ye endured"—the word used by the sacred writer indicates endurance "without losing heart or hope." They "took joyfully the spoiling of their possessions." Like the apostles they "rejoiced that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for his Name." One thing which sustained them in this noble endurance of cruel persecutions was their assurance that they possessed precious and imperishable treasures. "Knowing that ye have for yourselves a better possession and an abiding one." They bad treasure in heaven beyond the reach of their mightiest and most malignant enemies. Three things concerning this possession are worthy of brief notice.
(1) Its certainty. They knew that it existed, and existed for them; for they had the earnest of it in their hearts.
(2) Its superiority. It is "better" than any earthly possessions.
(3) Its perpetuity. "An enduring substance." Heavenly possessions are inalienable and imperishable. The knowledge that they had these sustained them under the loss of earthly possessions and sore tribulations. If any are called to suffer in the cause of Jesus Christ in these days, let them think of these noble endurers of far severer afflictions, and gather courage and patience from their example.
II. SUFFERING RECALLED FOR THE MAINTENANCE OF FAITH IN THE PRESENT. "Call to remembrance the former days, in which," etc. It is implied that they were suffering in the time then present because of their faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, and would probably have to suffer for some time (cf. Hebrews 12:3-13). They are exhorted to call to mind the tribulations which they had already borne victoriously to inspire them in the endurance of present and future afflictions, and to preserve them from apostasy. This was not to be an occasional exercise, but a constant habit. Hence the sacred writer uses the present tense, the force of which is thus given by Alford, "Call ever to remembrance the former days." But how would this recollection of past trials and victories assist them in their present conflicts?
1. All the fruit of their former sufferings would be lost if they did not continue faithful. "To begin in faith, but not to endure, leads to useless sacrifices, vain hopes, and fruitless sufferings." These Hebrew Christians had already borne far too much in the cause of Christ for them to abandon that cause now because they were called to bear more tribulation. They were like capitalists who had invested so much in this enterprise, that they had only to call to mind the amount of their investments to save them from giving up their interest in it because other calls were made upon them.
2. All the help afforded them in former sufferings was available unto them still. The God who had helped them in the past would not forsake them in future trials; for he is ever the same—the same in wisdom, in power, in faithfulness, in goodness. Thus, the recollection of former deliverances should be an inspiration in present trials and for future difficulties. "All the historic triumphs of the Divine arm stimulate us in the present battle." "Because thou hast been my Help, therefore in the shadow of thy wings will I rejoice." Thus David frequently reasoned (cf. 1 Samuel 17:32-37). And thus should we encourage ourselves in God, especially in seasons of suffering or of sorrow, of temptation or tribulation.—W.J.
Christian fidelity and its reward.
"Cast not away therefore your confidence, which hath," etc. We have in our text—
I. A GREAT REWARD PROMISED. "Great recompense of reward.... Ye might receive the premise." By "the promise" is meant here, not the promise itself, but the blessings promised; not the word of promise, for this they had already, but the good things which that word assured unto them. By the recompense of reward and the promised blessings we understand one and the same thing; i.e. "the promise of the eternal inheritance" (Hebrews 9:15), "the better and enduring substance" (Hebrews 10:34). It is the promise of eternal life in Jesus Christ. The life is characterized by
"A perpetuity of bliss is bliss." This life is promised to every believer in our Lord and Savior. "Whosoever believeth on him shall have eternal life." This life the Christian believer has now in its imperfect and early stages; he will have it hereafter in its fullness and perfection. "Your life is hid with Christ in God. When Christ, who is our Life," etc. (Colossians 3:3).
II. A GREAT DUTY MENTIONED. To do the will of God. This must precede the reception of the promised blessings. "Having done the will of God, ye may receive the promise." If we combine the interpretation of several expositors, we obtain what we regard as the true interpretation of "the will of God" here. Thus M. Stuart: "To do the will of God here, is to obey the requirement, to believe and trust in Christ" (cf. John 6:40). Ebrard: "By the will of God, in this context, is to be understood his will that we should confess Christ's Name before men." And Delitzsch: "The will of God is … our steadfast perseverance in faith and hope." It seems to us that the doing the will of God includes each and all of these things—faith in Christ, confession of Christ, and continuance in Christ. Moreover, the Christian accepts the will of God as the authoritative and supreme rule of his life. This will is sovereign, gracious, and universally binding. Let us endeavor to do it willingly, patiently, and cheerfully; for in so doing it our duty will become our freedom, dignity, and delight. We must do this will if we would receive the recompense of reward. "Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven."
III. A GREAT NEED EXPERIENCED. "Cast not away therefore your confidence.... For ye have need of patience," or endurance. The confidence which is not to be cast away and the endurance which we need are, not identical, closely related. The confidence is perhaps (as Ebrard suggests) the root, and patience the fruit, the endurance growing out of the confidence. The confidence is the joyous assurance "of faith and hope, and boldness in confessing Christ." We must not cast this away, as a dismayed soldier casts away his weapons; for we shall need it in the conflicts which yet await us. And the patience is "that unshaken, unyielding, patient endurance under the pressure of trial and persecution, that steadfastness of faith, apprehending present blessings, and of hope, with heaven-directed eye anticipating the glorious future, which obtains what it waits for." Now we need both these things, the confidence and the patience, the boldness and the endurance; for:
1. Our spiritual battles are not all fought yet. We still have foes to encounter; therefore we shall need our confidence and courage, our faith and hope.
2. Our various trials are not all passed through yet. We shall have to meet with losses and sorrows, to suffer afflictions, to be beset with difficulties, to bear disappointments; hence we "have need of patience."
3. Our possession of the promised inheritance is not attained yet. Perfect purity and peace, progress and blessedness, are not ours as yet. There are times when the recompense of reward seems long delayed, and our spiritual advancement towards it seems slow; and we have need of patience to wait and hope, and to work while we wait.
IV. A GREAT ENCOURAGEMENT PRESENTED. "For yet a very little while, and he that cometh shall come, and will not tarry." The end of our trials is very near. The inheritance of the promised blessing will speedily be ours. "The recompense of the reward comes as certainly as the Lord himself, who is already on the way." "Be patient therefore, brethren,… for the coming of the Lord is at hand?
"Stand up! stand up for Jesus!
The strife will not be long;
This day the noise of battle,
The next the victor's song."
Life by faith.
"Now the just shall live by faith." In this place our text means that by persevering faith the righteous man would be saved fully and to the end. He who continued in the exercise of faith would be kept safely amidst all dangers and all temptations to apostasy, and inherit the recompense of reward, But we propose to
regard the text as the statement of a general truth of the Christian life, as St. Paul uses it in Romans 1:17; Galatians 3:11. Thus viewed, it presents to our notice—
I. THE CHARACTER SPECIFIED. This is marked by two leading features.
1. Righteousness. "The just," or righteous. The righteousness of the Christian is
(1) in character. He possesses the forgiveness of sins, and is accepted by God through Jesus Christ. The apostle of the Gentiles sets forth this righteousness: "That I may gain Christ, and be found in him, not having a righteousness of mine own," etc. (Philippians 3:9). The righteousness of the Christian is
(2) in conduct. "He that doeth righteousness, is righteous" (1 John 3:7, 1 John 3:10).
2. Religiousness. The Revised Version gives our text thus: "But my righteous one shall live by faith." This we regard as the correct text. It sets before us one who is godly as well as just, whose righteousness is joined with reverence, and is exalted by the union. A man cannot be righteous towards God without being religious. Unless we worship and love and obey him, we do him injustice. In the Christian character piety and principle, righteousness and reverence, must go hand in band.
II. THE LIFE MENTIONED. We are not acquainted with a satisfactory definition of life. The things of deepest significance and greatest importance defy our powers of definition. So we cannot set forth adequately in a sentence the life spoken of in the text. It is far more than physical and intellectual existence and activity. "Knowledge, truth, love, beauty, goodness, faith, alone can give vitality to the mechanism of existence." The life of true personal religion is that which our text speaks of. It is the life of supreme love to God, the life of Christ in man. "Christ," says Canon Liddon, "is the quickening Spirit of Christian humanity; he lives in Christians; he thinks in Christians; he acts through Christians and with Christians; he is indissolubly associated with every movement of the Christian's deepest life. 'I live,' exclaims the apostle; 'yet not I, but Christ liveth in me.' This felt presence of Christ it is which gives both its form and its force to the sincere Christian life. That life is a loyal homage of the intellect, of the heart, and of the will, to a Divine King, with whom will, heart, and intellect are in close and constant communion, and from whom there flows forth, through the Spirit and the sacraments, that supply of light, of love, and of resolve which enriches and ennobles the Christian soul."
III. THE MEANS OF THIS LIFE. "Shall live by faith." Brief consideration of two points is essential.
1. The nature of this faith. It is far more than the assent of the reason, or apprehension by the reason. It is a moral rather than an intellectual act. "With the heart man believeth unto righteousness." "When the soul in very truth responds to the message of God, the complete responsive act of faith is threefold. This act proceeds simultaneously from the intelligence, from the heart, and from the will of the believer. His intelligence recognizes the unseen object as a fact. His heart embraces the object thus present to his understanding; his heart opens instinctively and unhesitatingly to receive a ray of heavenly light. And his will too resigns itself to the truth before it; it places the soul at the disposal of the object which thus rivets its eye and conquers its affections." £
2. The Object of this faith. Our Lord Jesus Christ himself is the grand Object of the faith of the Christian. We accept him in the three great relationships which he sustains to his true disciples. As our Prophet we exercise faith in him. He claimed to be "the Truth." On all questions of morality and religion, of sin and salvation, of life and death, we bow to him as our infallible Teacher, and unhesitatingly accept his Word. We believe in him as our Priest. He has made full atonement for sins; he is our perfect Representative with the Father; he is our tender, compassionate Savior. To him the heart turns in its sins for forgiveness, in its sorrows for consolation. We loyally accept him also as our King. He is the Sovereign of our will and the Lord of our life. We believe in him as our moral Master, whose authority is supreme. Thus Christ is the Object of the Christian's faith. "By faith the soul is to be moving ever towards Christ, resting ever upon Christ, living ever in Christ. Christ is to be the end, the support, the very atmosphere of its life." He who thus believes in him shall have eternal life (John 3:10; Ephesians 2:8).—W.J.
HOMILIES BY D. YOUNG
The Law, its service and its limits.
I. THE AIM OF GOD. To make men perfect. All God's revelations and the powers belonging to them have this for their end, to take imperfect men (men in whom there are all sorts of imperfections, physical, intellectual, spiritual, men who have mixed with their nature a corrupt and debasing clement) and make them perfect. And this is to be done according to a Divine standard of perfection, not a human one. Indeed, that human excellence should attain a Divine standard is as necessary for the satisfaction of man as it is for the glory of God. All that is instrumental and ministerial about human life is to be measured as it serves towards the perfecting of the individual man in true godliness and Christian character. And we must ever remember this in the midst of all the infirmities and lapses of our present life. We are, indeed, strangely blind to the marvelous possibilities that lie hid in every human being. We often have to say of men that their purposes are broken off, but forget all the time that God's purposes for men may all be fulfilled if only they are willing to be co-workers together with him.
II. THE SERVICE OF THE LAW. The Law, taken in its most comprehensive sense, including commandments as to conduct on the out hand, and ceremonies on the other, was of immediate service in two ways. It made men dissatisfied with their present selves, and intensely anxious to be better. If it did not give a standard of life positively, it was something that it gave one negatively. One of the great merits of Psalms 119:1-176. is in showing what the Law could do by way of stirring up spiritual aspirations, and filling men with a sublime discontent. For what the writer of this psalm expresses, thousands must have felt. Like Paul, they wanted to do good, yet evil was present with them. And always, to many, the Law must have been indeed a shadow of good things to come, a proof that there was abiding substance which would one day be manifested.
III. THE LIMITS OF THE LAW. The Law was good as indicating where perfection lay; but there was in it nothing dynamic, nothing to advance men one stage nearer perfection. Indeed, the Law, apart from its proper sequel in Christ, would have done harm rather than good, inasmuch as it would have driven men to despair. Perfection would have been seen across an impassable abyss. It has always been a curse of fallen human nature that what God gives for one purpose man uses for another. In the course of ages the Jew had reduced a Law meant to rouse the heart, a Law that in the very essence of it was spiritual, to a mere collection of external ceremonies. The Law was reckoned as something that could be obeyed with the hands and lips. And because men had lost the main part of the Law, the Law itself must have fallen into disrepute with many. Outwardly they saw a profession of religion; inwardly they saw a sordid and uncharitable life. And even the gospel may be misused as much as the Law. There may be an outward semblance of connection with Christ, while he has no power over the heart. Men did come to the Law seeking perfection; all Pharisees were not bad men at heart; their consciences were misled by traditional teaching as to the importance of ceremonies. In their own strength they did their very best to obey. What is wanted is that we should really come to Christ, that our hearts should be brought fully under the regenerating power of his Spirit. Then shall we know something of steady and joyous approach 'to perfection; for while perfection itself may only come by slow degrees, yet Christ surely means us to have the satisfaction of knowing constantly that we are in the right way.—Y.
Reminding men of sins.
I. THE NEED OF SUCH A REMINDER. Men need to be impressed with the fact that sin is sin, something special, something done in defiance of God's Law. If we do hurt to a fellow-man, even if he condone and excuse, that does not put things as they were before. God would have us to consider what a serious and terrible thing it is that we should do wrong at all. Then also we need to be reminded because of our liability to forget. Life is one long sin, made up of daily omissions and commissions in what are called little things. We see well enough as each day is passing over our heads what wrong words we have spoken, what evil thoughts we have had in our hearts; some days we feel deeply enough the sin of the day; but soon the impression is gone. The total of life's sin, however, still remains, and it is above all things needful that we should not forget it. Then most important of all, perhaps, is it that we should be reminded how much of the trouble and misery of life comes from our ignorance. Sins of ignorance were specially provided for in the Mosaic economy. A man can hardly be blamed for what he does in ignorance, and certainly he is in a very different position from one who lets lust and pride lead him against truth and light. But the evil done in ignorance is evil none the less, and men need to be wakened up to consider how much truth and righteousness they are still ignorant of. The past is not done with because it is past. The future has its roots in the past, and this yearly reminder of sin among God's people of old should teach us to desire reminders of the sin of life, not merely at particular seasons, but as often as possible.
II. WE HAVE OUR REMINDERS OF SIN. Bodily reminders in the shape of disease and weakness consequent on evil courses of life. Reminders in the feelings of the heart consequent on disappointment and failure from selfish courses of action. Especially the Christian, the devout Christian, has his reminders at the Lord's Supper. Jesus himself spoke of this institution as an ἀνάμνησις. It was to remind his people of himself, but this very reminding included many things beside. Jesus must be remembered with certain surroundings, and no sinner can remember him rightly without remembering his sins at the same time.—Y.
I. WHY THE APPROACH IS TO BE MADE. There needed the statement of no reason here; the necessity of approach is assumed. The great thing required was to substitute a new ground and a new mode of approach for a ground and a mode which had become useless, nay, even harmful. The Israelite had always acknowledged that he must approach Deity in some way or other. If God had not appointed a certain way of access in the Levitical ordinances, the Israelite would have taken his own way. Indeed, it is lamentably plain that too much he did take his own way. He had to be turned from the golden calf by the sharpest of chastisements, and many a century elapsed before image-worship and debasing rites lost their hold upon him. Moses and the prophets, say all the representatives of Jehovah under the first covenant, had quite as hard work to turn away their fellow-countrymen from image-worship as the writer of this Epistle afterwards had to turn them away from types to antitypes, from shadow to substance, and from a temporary discipline to its abiding result in the Christ. The approach to God may be looked at as either a need or a duty, and whichever aspect be considered, it is evident that a loving, foreseeing God will provide the way. He provides the right way to the right end. Let us try to imagine him leaving Israel to its own devices when it escaped from Egypt. The people would still have built altars, slain sacrifices, and appointed priests. What God does is to deliver the conscience from the tyranny of every idolatry and bring it under reasonable government and guidance. He frees human religious customs from cruelty, lust, superstition, and makes them typical and instructive. And now we come to the means of a full approach to God in Christ, is it not plain that all this is to supply a corresponding need and give scope for a corresponding duty? Jesus tells us there is a true Vine; so there is a true altar, a true sacrifice, a true Priest. The image-worshipper, whose darkened heart is filled with falsehoods about the nature and the service of God, is yet faithful to what he thinks to be right. Shall we be less faithful, who have opportunities for such service and such blessing.
II. THE GROUND OF APPROACH. The spirit of man has to find its entrance into the holy place, and has to give its reason for confidence in expecting admission—a reason which every man must apply to his own understanding, so as to make his approach as practical, as persevering, as possible. It is not expected of us, who have no experience of the details of Mosaic sacrificial institutions, to appreciate all the details here. We have not to he won away from sacrifices of beasts and dependence on an earthly priest. But, nevertheless, we must apprehend that the only ground of satisfactory approach to God is in Christ. There is no way to reach harmony with that great Being in whom is light and no darkness at all, and who cannot be tempted with evil, save through Christ. In Christ there is hope for the sinner, something to draw him, something to lift him above useless resolutions and vain struggles. Jesus Christ is the Way. "You have come to Mount Zion," says the writer in Hebrews 12:1-29. To the real Zion, which is part of the city of the living God. But we are brought there that we may be safely and permanently introduced into the true holy of holies, and into that communion with the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, which gives purity and blessedness.
III. THE MODE OF APPROACH. The whole man must be united in a true approach to God. It is now that we have to approach, and there can be no separation between the inward and the outward man. The heart must be right and the body must be right. Mere bodily approach could never have profited at any time, save to the extent that it freed the worshipper from the penalties of complete disobedience. But still bodily approach has its place. With the body we have to serve God; and cleanliness is not only a wholesome and a comfortable thing—it is also sacred. People have sometimes been exposed to ridicule by quoting the common saying, "Cleanliness is next to godliness," as being from the Scriptures. They are not so far wrong, for that is what this passage virtually says. Then with a true heart, and a vigorous, prosperous faith bearing us onwards, we shall make a real and secure progress towards possession of the mysteries of godliness.—Y.
The Christian's steadfast acknowledgment of his hope.
I. THE EXISTENCE OF ACTUAL ACKNOWLEDGMENT IS ASSUMED. The writer is addressing those who are avowedly Christians. Jesus has already been acknowledged as Apostle and High Priest (Hebrews 3:1), and already an exhortation has been given to hold fast the acknowledgment of him. In the first age of Christianity, the breaking away from Judaism or from Gentile idolatry could not, of course, be concealed. It never was meant to be paraded or obtruded; but, in the very nature of things, light rising in the midst of darkness must manifest itself. Saul's conversion was soon known in Damascus. The Nicodemus-attitude, however excusable at first, cannot long be maintained. It must advance to acknowledgment or subside into spiritual indifference. Many there must have been who, like Timothy, had made a good confession before many witnesses; therein, as Paul hinted, following the example of Jesus before Pilate (1 Timothy 6:12, 1 Timothy 6:13).
II. THE SPECIAL FORM OF THE ACKNOWLEDGMENT HERE REFERRED TO. It is the acknowledgment of a hope. These Jewish Christians have made all their expectation of the future to depend on Christ. Hope is the natural and proper feeling of the human breast; men hope for that which it is within the limit of human ability to attain. And when Christ, by his death and resurrection, and by the gift of his Spirit, has enlarged that limit, then the hope is enlarged and elevated also. Christ meant that a spiritual and lofty hope should brighten the arduous lives of his servants; and evidently his first apostles had such a hope as they contemplated the possibilities of their own lives. In referring to the Christian hope here, the writer is but continuing the strain running through the previous part of the Epistle (Hebrews 3:6; Hebrews 6:11, Hebrews 6:18; Hebrews 7:19). If we do not get hope into our hearts from our connection with Christ, then that connection is a delusion.
III. THE ACKNOWLEDGMENT WILL BE OF NO USE UNLESS IT IS HELD FAST. We must avow, without the slightest hesitation or vacillation, the confidence and expectation we have from our connection with Christ. And we can only make the avowal if the feeling is real, deep, and based on a proper understanding of what it is that Christ promises. Christ is not bound to justify all our hopes, but only such as the obedient and spiritually minded ought to entertain, Note the strong words which the writer uses in insisting on the need of holding fast this acknowledgment. This shows what temptation there would be to fall away from it.
IV. THE GROUND GIVEN FOR HOLDING FAST. "He is faithful that promised." The word of one who has done such things as Jesus, and manifested such a character, is the very best ground we can have. The faithfulness of Jesus is known in all those points whereby, in the present world, it can be tested. When he speaks of the treasures of a future which we cannot yet test, our wisdom is to hold fast to him, and not listen to the confused utterances of men, or the too often rebellious promptings of our own hearts.—Y.
Hebrews 10:24, Hebrews 10:25
Mutuality in the Christian life.
The exhortation in Hebrews 10:23 is one for individual Christians, looking towards their Savior in direct connection with him and towards their own future. But so soon as ever we feel sure that we are keeping right with respect to Christ, we must make that rightness subservient to the strengthening, the comfort, and the usefulness of our fellow-Christians. We must both help them and look for help to them. Mutual help for common needs is eminently a Christian principle.
I. WE HAVE TO CONSIDER ONE ANOTHER, i.e. we must look well into the character, the habits, the position, the abilities, the needs of all whom we have sufficient opportunity to estimate. We must get an honest and adequate view. We must not expect too much from them, neither must we let them off with too little. This knowledge is to be gained by real consideration, not by hearsay, not hastily, not casually. We must get below the surface. Such a consideration as this may have many results.
II. THE SPECIAL AIM HERE TO BE KEPT IN VIEW. "To provoke unto love and to good works." There is a large meaning in this expression. First of all it means that when we look at the needs of others, especially of fellow-Christians, when we look into those needs, seeing how deep, how abiding, how discomposing they are, we shall be stirred up to a very passion of love for the needy and a consequent doing of good works for their relief. And, moreover, when the consideration is what it ought to be, there will be wisdom, proportion, true economy, adjustment of means to ends, in the good works. But also those whom we consider must be stirred up to have love in their own hearts and good works in their hands.
III. A PECULIAR PERIL. That of living in isolation. Living the Christian life in isolation. People will not act so in the needs, duties, and pleasures of common life. They will gather together in twos or threes, or any number that may be necessary. But their religion they keep to themselves. They do not understand how much they can be helped by mutual edification. Not that the writer supposes this tendency can be universal. He expressly points out that it is the habit of some. Such do not understand their obligations and their needs; their latent ability to comfort others on the one hand, or their latent weakness, their certain need of comfort, on the other.
IV. THE MEANS OF THIS MUTUAL EDIFICATION. "Exhorting one another." Real exhortation is to be made by virtue of the Holy Spirit working in him who exhorts. It must not have its sole origin in experiences and energies of the natural man. An exhortation which shall be truly a good work must come from a spiritual man. He only discerns the reality of spiritual truth; he only can communicate it with the requisite force.
V. A SPECIAL MOTIVE. The day of the Lord's coming is approaching. This day, as we know from ample evidence, was believed to be very near by the primitive Christians. They did right in so believing, for their Lord wanted them to be ever ready. And in any case the practical equivalent of that day is not far off from each Christian in his earthly life. His opportunity to show love and do good works will soon be over.—Y.
Falling into the hands of the living God.
I. As ILLUSTRATED IN HISTORY. The whole passage, Hebrews 10:26-31, is a very serious one to read, insisting as it does on the reality of Divine retribution upon those guilty of neglect and disobedience. It was evidently necessary, however, to deal with this point and thus make the comparison between the old and the new covenant complete. How will God deal with those who willfully neglect the ample and gracious provisions of the new covenant? The first element in the answer is given by inquiring how he dealt with despisers of the old covenant—despisers of Moses as Jehovah's deputy and messenger. A great deal hangs on the word willfully. Jehovah has always been long-suffering with ignorance and thoughtlessness. But when men rise like Korah, Dathan, and Abiram, with the purposes of rebellion and self-assertion strong in their heart, knowing what they are doing, and doing it deliberately and defiantly, then God has to be equally assertive of his rightful authority and the rightful authority of whomsoever he makes his representative. The Jew did not question that it was a right thing that the despiser of Moses' Law should die without fail under two or three witnesses. Of course we must guard against arguing back from great catastrophes to great sins. What we are bound to do is to recognize the plain asserted connection between some great sins and the consequences that followed. And in every case, to every individual, the consequences are real; only in some cases the consequences have been made terribly conspicuous by way of warning.
II. AS CONTRASTED WITH THE IMPOTENCE OF OTHER HANDS INTO WHICH WE MAY FALL. Jehovah, the living God, is here contrasted with lifeless idols. Jehovah, the God who makes unfailing, righteous, potent judgments, as contrasted with idolatrous priests who have no power except by working on the superstitious fears of men. Attachment to Mosaic institutions had hardened into something little better than idolatry. The living God had become a mere name, the center of a mechanical ritual. Men stood in terror of their own traditional delusions. Or they stood in terror of one another like those parents of the blind man, who feared they would be put out of the synagogue if they acknowledged Jesus as the Christ. It is right that men should be afraid, but how often are they afraid of the wrong things! To fall into the hands of men must have a dreadful look at first, but when the position is fully estimated it is a mere trifle. The really fearful thing is to fall into the hands of the living God. He is something very different from an empty superstition or a living man.
III. AS CONNECTED WITH THE IMMENSE SIN OF WILFULLY REJECTING JESUS. The writer allows us to be under no mistake as to what he means. Whosoever can truly say that he does not trample underfoot the Son of God, does not reckon the blood of the covenant an unholy thing, does not do despite to the Spirit of grace,—such a one is free. In the first days of breaking away from Judaism, when all the malevolence and bitterness of the worst sort of Jews came into play, there would be more occasion of warning of this sort than now. And even with regard to such men there is another side to be considered. Paul was once bitter and malevolent enough, but he put in the plea that what he did he did ignorantly, in unbelief. God only can judge the heart of a man enough to say how far his rejection is really deliberate, in the face of light and knowledge.—Y.
The right estimate of temporal possession.
I. THE RIGHT ESTIMATE ITSELF. This is a mean between extremes. To despise worldly possessions, to speak of them as if they were to be trampled underfoot as always worthless, is not a Christian state of mind. The worldly man overvalues and the ascetic undervalues. The Christian, taught by his Master, learns to use the world as not abusing. It is not well in ordinary circumstances to make comparisons; a wise and devout man will use everything for God according to its nature and its scope. But there may come a time when the man has to make his election between the temporal and the eternal, between what the world has to give and what Christ has to give. Then it will be seen where the affections are. A treasure is rot a treasure in itself; it is a treasure relatively to its possessor. Where the heart is, there the treasure is. One may see the pearl of great price where another sees a trifle, as it were a mere nothing. No one estimates temporal possessions rightly unless he is willing to sacrifice them for eternal interests. There is only one answer to the question, "What shall it profit a man, if he gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?" A man will surrender all his wealth to keep his life. How much more, then, should he be willing to surrender his wealth to keep his spiritual hope, his vital connection with the boundless spiritual wealth resident in Christ? This is not a question for the few rich men only; it is for every one who has possessions to lose. They may not have to be given up outright; they may not be in danger of loss through persecution; but they may have to be risked through adopting truly Christian principles of life.
II. THOSE WHO ARE TO GAIN THE RIGHT ESTIMATE. In making the estimate, everything depends on the life and character of him who has to make it. The estimate is made, if one may say so, in an unconscious kind of way. It is a personal, practical decision, not a mere speculative one with little or no influence on the life. The decision is made, and some of the consequences of it attained, before the critical character of those consequences is discerned. In great moments of life we may have to decide on the spur of the moment; and the only man who can decide rightly is the spiritual man—he whose inner eye is open to see things as they really are. The pearl of great price is to be seen intuitively or not at all. There must be a firm resolution fixed in the heart to gain and to keep this pearl at whatever cost. Once we have got into right relations with Christ, comparisons between his claims and the claims of other beings are not hard to make. In making comparisons between one temporal possession and another, the character of those who make the comparison may or may not be a matter of importance. But in distinguishing between the temporal and the eternal, character is everything. We must have the Spirit of Christ working in us most energetically if we would be lifted above all danger of sacrificing the eternal to the temporal.—Y.
Something to do and something to wait for.
I. SOMETHING IN THE PAST. "Having done the will of God." The writer did not hereby mean that his readers had done all the will of God; he simply recognized the fact that they had complied with the will of God in Christ Jesus as far as that will had been made known in distinct words and could be complied with in distinct acts. Jesus had been proclaimed to them as the Christ; they had accepted him as such fully and practically; they had welcomed him as the Fulfiller of the Law and the prophets. They had received his Holy Spirit. They had renounced all faith in Judaism as necessary to acceptable service of God. Their position might be expressed thus: "We have done the will of God as far as it has been made known to us; if there be anything more for us to do on earth let us know, and we will do it." Now, the question for us is—Have we got as far as these people? They were standing on the fact that what they knew of God's will they had done. Have we done what we know of God's will? Or, to go further back still—Have we knowledge of what it is that God wills us to do? We all have to wait, but what is our standing-place as we wait? That will make all the difference. Have we done the whole of what can be done any day? "Wow is the accepted time, now is the day of salvation." The five wise virgins trimmed their lamps and filled their oil-vessels, and then they could wait with composure and confidence. Long as Christ's coming seems to the truly faithful, it will come all too soon for some.
II. SOMETHING IS THE PRESENT. The spirit of patient waiting. It must have been very hard to wait among persecutors and unjust spoliators. The second coming of the Master seemed the only effectual way of deliverance. But this second coming was a thing to be waited for, until it came in the fullness of time. God has to think of all individuals and all generations. God has to make all things work together for good to every man. We have to wait for others, as others have had to wait for us. The principle is laid down at the end of Hebrews 11:1-40. Meanwhile waiting is not altogether waiting. Something is given by the way. Even as Jesus had ineffable joys and satisfactions in the days of his flesh, there are like experiences for us. Patience is only truly patience when it is combined with hope, and true hops built on faith must be a gladness to the heart.
III. SOMETHING IN THE FUTURE. Something perfectly definite and certain; We know not how long we may have to wait, but at the end of the waiting there is something worth waiting for. Long did Israel wait in Egyptian bondage, but liberty came at last. Long did Israel wander in a comparatively little tract of land, but the settled life of Canaan came at last. Many generations lived and died with nothing save gracious prophecies to solace them, but the Christ came at last. And so Christ will come again without sin unto salvation.—Y.
Hebrews 10:39, Hebrews 10:39
The just man, his character and safety.
I. THE CHARACTER OF THE JUST MAN. It was inevitable, in an Epistle to Jewish Christians, that there should be some reference to that Pharisaic righteousness which consisted in a conformity to certain ritual regulations. There was the man just after the Pharisee fashion, because of his scrupulosity in ceremonial observances; and there was the man just in the sight of God, because he believed in God and showed his faith by his works. These Jewish Christians were righteous men because they were believers. They had been brought fully to comprehend that while God cared nothing for a round of ceremonies, he valued in the highest a spirit of trust in him—a spirit able to break away from the common reliance of men upon seen things, and to live as seeing him that is invisible. This is the only sort of righteousness that changes the whole of character; for if a man really trusts God, then men will be able to trust him and get real advantage out of him.
II. THE SAFETY OF THE JUST MAN. The just man shall live. By his faith he becomes just in the sight of God, and that faith, continuing and strengthening, preserves him. What can a round of ceremonies do for a man? The moment they lose their typical character, the moment they cease to be symbolic of spiritual realities, that same moment they bring the heart more than ever in bondage to the senses. The path of safety has always been the path entered on in response to the voice from on high. To the eye of sense it may have seemed a needless path, or a foolish path, or a perilous path. There may have been many to criticize and abuse. The only stay of the heart has been the deep conviction that the way was God's way, and that in the end it would approve itself such. This truth, that the way of faith in God is the way of safety, is amply illustrated in the following chapter. Whatever the believer may lose, he keeps the chief treasure.
III. THE ENDURANCE OF THE JUST MAN. There must be perseverance in the way of faith. There must be a readiness to wait on God's time. Therefore it is that we are warned on trying to enter the life of faith. Can we go on believing even though our present life be full of adversity? Our faith must continue against the persuasions of worldly success and through the pains of all suffering to the flesh. It is to the prophet Habakkuk the writer refers in reminding us how the just by faith lives; and that just man of the prophet keeps his faith even though the fig tree do net blossom, nor fruit be in the vines; though the labor of the olive fail, and the fields yield no meat; though the flock is cut off from the fold, and there is no herd in the stalls.—Y.
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Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Hebrews 10". The Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Christ the King / Proper 29 / Ordinary 34