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THE PRIESTHOOD OF CHRIST.
The purpose of the first part of this chapter (Hebrews 5:1-10) is to corroborate the position arrived at in the conclusion of Hebrews 4:1-16., viz. that we have in Christ a true High Priest sufficient for all our needs. This is done by analyzing the conception of a high priest, and observing that Christ in all respects fulfils it. And thus the full exposition of Christ's heavenly priesthood above that of Aaron is prepared for. But this full exposition is still not entered on till after an exhortation (beginning at Hebrews 5:11), longer and more earnest than any former one, called for by the slowness of the Hebrew Christians to apprehend the doctrine. It is at length taken up and carried out in Hebrews 7:1-28.
The intention of Hebrews 7:1-10 being as above explained, it is a mistake to suppose any contrast intended here between the Aaronic priesthood and that of Christ; e.g. to take Hebrews 7:1-3 as meaning, Human high priests can sympathize in virtue of their own infirmity,—otherwise Christ; or, Human high priests have need of atonement for themselves,—not so Christ. The main drift, on the contrary, is that all recognized essentials of high priesthood are found in Christ. These essentials are that, the high priest's office being to mediate between man and God,
(1) he should be of the same nature, and sympathetic with those in whose behalf he mediates; and
(2) that his credentials should be Divine, i.e. that God himself should have appointed him to his office.
For every high priest, from among men being taken, for men is constituted in the things pertaining to God, that he may offer both gifts and sacrifices for sins. Here ἐξ ἀνθρώπων λαμβανόμενος is not (as the rendering of the A.V. might suggest) a limitation of the subject of the sentence, confining it to merely human high priests; it belongs to the predicate, expressing what is true of every high priest. The phrase expresses both the necessary humanity of the high priest, and also his being set apart for his peculiar office—λαμβανόμενος ἐξ. The order, and consequent force, of the words in the Greek is retained in the translation given above. (For the expression, τὰ πρὸς τὸν Θεὸν, cf. Hebrews 2:17; Romans 15:17) The purpose for which the high priest is constituted in this relation is "that he may offer both gifts and sacrifices for sins"—a comprehensive designation of sacerdotal functions, the essential idea, expressed by ὑπὲρ ἁμαρτιῶν, being atonement (cf. Hebrews 2:17, Εἰς τὸ ἰλάσκεσθαι τὰς ἁμαρτίας τοῦ λαοῦ). The difference between the words δῶρον and θυσία is that the former, denoting properly any offering regarded as a gift, is especially applied in the LXX. to the minchah ("meat offering"); the latter (from θύω) denotes properly "a bloody sacrifice," and is generally so applied. The distinction, however, is not invariably observed, δῶρον being used in this Epistle (Hebrews 11:4) for Abel's sacrifice and (Hebrews 8:4) for all kinds of offerings, while θυσία in the LXX. denotes (Genesis 4:3) Cain's unbloody offering and (Le Hebrews 2:1) the minchah. But here, as also in Hebrews 8:3 and Hebrews 9:9, where both are named (δῶρα τε καὶ θυσίας), we may conclude a distinctive reference to be intended to the unbloody and bloody offerings of the Law (cf. Psalms 40:6, "Sacrifice and offering (θυσοίαν καὶ προσφορὰν, LXX) thou didst not desire;" Daniel 9:27, θυσία καὶ σπονδὴ: and also Jeremiah 17:26. To both ὑπὲρ ἁμαρτιῶν (depending, not on θυσίας, but on προσφέρῃ) applies, For, though blood-shedding (Hebrews 9:22) was essential for atonement, the unbloody minchah formed part of the ceremony of expiation, and this notably on the Day of Atonement, so specially referred to afterwards in the Epistle (see Numbers 29:7-11).
Who can have compassion on the ignorant and erring; for that he himself also is compassed with infirmity. It is not easy to find a satisfactory English equivalent for μετριοπαθεῖν, translated as above in the A.V; by Alford, "be compassionate towards;" in the margin of the A.V., "reasonably bear with;" by the recent Revisers, "bear gently with;" by Bengel, "moderate affici." The compound had its origin, doubtless, in the peripatetic school, denoting the right mean between passionateness and Stoic apathy, being the application of Aristotle's μεσότης to the sphere of the passions. Thus Diog. Laert. says of Aristotle, Εφη δε τον σοφον μη ειναι μεν απαθη μετριοπαθῆ δὲ. In this sense Philo uses μετριοπαθὴς to express Abraham's sober grief after the death of Sarah (2.37) and Jacob's patience under his afflictions (2.45). The verb, followed, as here, by a dative of persons, may be taken, therefore, to denote moderation of feeling towards the persons indicated, such moderation being especially opposed in the ease before us, where the persons are the ignorant and erring, to excess of severe or indignant feeling. Moderation, indeed, in this regard seems to have been the idea generally attached to the compound. Josephus also speaks of the emperors Vespasian and Titus as μετριοπαθησάντων in their attitude towards the Jews after long hostility ('Ant.,' 12.3 2). This, then, being the meaning of μετριοπαθεία, it is obvious how the capacity of it is essential to the idea of a high priest as being one who is resorted to as a mediator by a people laden with infirmities, to represent them and to plead for them. It is not of necessity implied that every high priest was personally νετριοπάθης: it is the ideal of his office that is spoken of. And, in the ease of human high priests, this ideal was fulfilled by their being themselves human, encompassed themselves with the infirmity of those for whom they mediated. Christ also, so far, evidently fulfils the condition. For, though he is afterwards distinguished (Hebrews 7:28) from priests having themselves infirmity, yet he had, in his human nature, experienced what it was: "He was crucified ἐξ ἀσθενείας" (2 Corinthians 13:4); "Himself took our infirmities (ἀσθενείας), and bare our sicknesses" (Matthew 8:17; Isaiah 53:4); the agony in the garden (whatever its mysterious import, of which more below)expressed personal experience of human ἀσθενεία. Alford denies that ἀσθενεία, in the sense supposed by him to be here intended, can be attributed to Christ, and hence that περίκειται ἀσθένειαις can apply to him (but see above on Hebrews 4:15, and below on Hebrews 4:3, Hebrews 4:7).
And by reason hereof he ought (or, is bound, ὀφείλει), as for the people, so also for himself, to offer for sins. This obligation is evident in the ease of the high priests of the Law. Consequently, their sin offering for themselves, in the first place, was a prominent part of the ceremonial of the Day of Atonement, which the writer may be supposed to have especially in view (Leviticus 16:1-34). But can we suppose any corresponding necessity in the case of Christ? The argument does not absolutely require that we should, since the obligation of the Levitical high priest may be adduced only in proof of his own experience of ἀσθενεία. Christ, though under no such obligation, might still fulfill the requisites of a high priest, expressed in the case of sinful high priests by the obligation to offer for themselves; and we may (as Ebrard says) leave it to the writer to show hew he does fulfill them. Whether, however, there was in Christ's own experience anything corresponding to the high priest's offering for himself will be considered under Hebrews 5:7, Hebrews 5:8.
And no man taketh this honor unto himself, but being called of God (the ὁ of Textus Receptus before καλούμενος—"he that is called," as in A.V.—has very slight authority), even as was Aaron. This verse expresses the second essential of a high priest, Divine appointment, for assurance of the efficacy of his mediation. Of course Aaron's successors derived their Divine commission from his original one (cf. Numbers 21:26; Numbers 26:10-14).
Hebrews 5:5, Hebrews 5:6
So also Christ glorified not himself to be made a High Priest. Here begins the proof that Christ fulfils the two requirements, that mentioned second in the previous statement being taken first in the proof—chiastically, as is usual in this Epistle. The expression, ἑαυτὸν ἐδόξασε, rather than τὴν τιμὴν ἔλαβε, may have reference to the glory wherewith Christ is crowned in his exalted position as Priest-King (cf. Hebrews 2:9). But he that said unto him, Thou art my Son, this day have I begotten thee. As he saith also in another place, Thou art a Priest forever after the order of Melchizedek. These two texts (Psalms 2:7; Psalms 110:4) must be taken together for the proof required. The first (commented on under Hebrews 1:5) shows the Loire's appointment of Christ to his kingly office as Son; the second shows that this kingly office carries with it, also by Divine appointment, an eternal priesthood. Christ's entry into this kingly priesthood is best conceived as inaugurated by his resurrection, after accomplishment of human obedience, whereby he fitted himself for priesthood. Before this he was the destined High Priest, but not the "perfected" High Priest, "ever living to make intercession for us." It is not during his life on earth, but after his exaltation, that he is spoken of as the High Priest of mankind. In his sufferings and death he was consecrated to his eternal office. This appears from Hebrews 5:9, Hebrews 5:10, and also from Psalms 110:1-7., quoted in this verse, where the priesthood after the order of Melchizedek and the exaltation to the right hand of God are regarded together. See also what was said under Hebrews 1:5, of the application to Christ of the other text quoted, "This day have I begotten thee." The Messianic reference and general drift of Psalms 110:1-7. has been considered under Hebrews 1:13. It was there seen to be more than a typical prophecy, David having in it a distinct view of One far greater than himself—of the Son to come, whom he calls his LORD. But even had it, like other Messianic psalms, a primary reference to some theocratic king, the remarkable import of Hebrews 1:4 would in itself point beyond one. For, though David organized and controlled the priesthood and the services of the sanctuary, though both he and Solomon took a prominent part in solemn acts of worship, yet neither they nor any other king assumed the priestly office, which, in its essential functions, was scrupulously confined to the sons of Aaron. The judgment on Uzziah (2 Chronicles 26:16-22) is a notable evidence of the importance attached to this principle. Yet the verse before us assigns a true priesthood to the future King. For Melchizedek, as he appears in Genesis, is evidently a true priest, though prior to the Aaronic priesthood, uniting in himself, according to the system of the patriarchal age, the royalty and the priesthood of his race: as a true priest, he blessed Abraham, and received tithes from him. But of him, historically and symbolically regarded, the consideration must be reserved for Hebrews 7:1-28., where the subject is taken up. Enough here to observe that in Psalms 110:1-7. a true and everlasting priesthood is assigned to the SON in union with his exalted royalty at the LORD's right hand, and this by Divine appointment, by the "voice" or "oracle" of the Load (Psalms 110:1), confirmed by the LORD's oath (Psalms 110:4).
Hebrews 5:7, Hebrews 5:8
Who in the days of his flesh, when he had offered up (rather, when he offered up) prayers and supplications to him that was able to save him from death, and was heard in that he feared; though he were a Son, yet learned he obedience by the things which he suffered. Here (according to the view taken above of the chiastic structure of the passage) we have the account of how Christ fulfilled the human requirements of a High Priest, referred to in Hebrews 5:2, Hebrews 5:3. This main intention of Hebrews 5:7, Hebrews 5:8 must be kept in mind for a proper understanding of them. Christ is in them regarded, not as executing his priestly office, but as being prepared and consecrated for it. His eternal priesthood is conceived as entered on after the human experience which is the subject of these verses (cf. καὶ τελειώθεις ἐγένετο (Hebrews 5:9), and what was said under Hebrews 5:5). With regard to the participial aorists, προσενέγκας αἰσακουσθείς, it is a misapprehension of their proper force to regard them as denoting a time previous to that of ἔμαθεν in Hebrews 5:8; as if the meaning were—having in Gethsemane "offered," etc., and "been heard," he afterwards "learnt obedience" on the cross. All they express is that in offering, etc., and being heard, he learned obedience. The idea of subsequent time does not come in till Hebrews 5:9; "and being perfected," after thus learning obedience, "he became," etc. Thus the only question with regard to time in Hebrews 5:7, Hebrews 5:8 is whether they have reference to the agony in the garden only, or both to the agony and the cress. That they refer mainly, if not exclusively, to the agony is evident from the expressions used, corresponding so closely with the Gospel history. The view presented is, as in the Gospels, of some intense inward struggle, outwardly manifested, and expressing itself in repeated prayers (observe the plural, δεήσεις καὶ ἱκετηρίας) aloud for deliverance. It is true that the Gospels, as we have them now, do not mention tears; but these too are quite in keeping with the bloody sweat specified by St. Luke, and Epiphanius states that the original copies of Luke 22:43, Luke 22:44 contained the verb ἔκλαυσε. Some interpreters would identify the κραυγή ἰσχυρά of Luke 22:7 with the "loud voice (φωνή μεγάλη)" from the cross. But there is nothing to suggest this; the "strong crying and tears" evidently denote the manner of the "prayers and supplications;" and the thrice-repeated prayer in the garden recorded by the evangelists may be well conceived to have been thus loudly uttered, so as to be heard by the three disciples, a stone's cast distant, before sleep overcame them. "In cruce clamasse dicitur; lachrymasse non dicitur. Utrum horum respicit locum Gethsemane" (Bengel). What, then, as seen in the light of these verses, was the meaning of the "prayer and supplications" in the garden of Gethsemane? The expression, τὸν δυνάμενον σώζειν αὐτὸν ἐκ θανάτου, corresponding with πάντα δυνατά σοι of Mark 14:36, confirms the view that the "cup" which he prayed might pass from him, was the death before him, and that the purport of his prayer was, not to be raised from death after undergoing it, but to be saved from undergoing it. Such is the ordinary meaning of σώζειν ἐκ θανάτου in reference to one still alive (cf. Psalms 33:19; James 5:20). It does not indeed positively follow that, because he prayed to One who was able in this sense to save him, his prayer was that he might be in this sense saved. It is, however, the natural inference. But, if so, two difficulties present themselves.
(1) How was such a prayer consistent with his distinct knowledge that death must be undergone, and his late strong rebuke to Peter for venturing to dissuade him from it?
(2) How can he be said to have been heard (εἰσακουσθείς), since he was not saved from death in the sense intended? To the first of these questions the answer is that the prayer expressed, not the deliberate desire of his Divine will, but only the inevitable shrinking of the human will from such an ordeal as was before him. As man, he experienced this shrinking to the full, and as man he craved deliverance, though with entire submission to the will of the Father. His human will did not oppose itself to the Divine will: it conformed itself in the end entirely to it; but this according to the necessary conditions of humanity, through the power of prayer. Had it not been so with him, his participation in human nature would have been incomplete; he would not have been such as to be "touched with a feeling of our infirmities, being in all things tempted like as we are;" nor would he have stood forth for ever as the great Example to mankind. St. John, who so deeply enters into and interprets the mind of Christ, records an utterance before the agony which anticipates its meaning (John 12:1-50): "The hour is come" (verse 23); and then (verse 27), "Now is my soul troubled; and what shall I say? Father, save me from this hour [cf. σώζειν ἐκ θανάτου]; but for this cause came I unto this hour. Father, glorify thy Name." The "hour" was that of the drinking of the cup. "Father, save me from this hour" was the human craving of the agony; but still, "Father, glorify thy Name" was the essence of the prayer; and perfect submission to the Divine will was the outcome of it, after this troubling of his human soul. The mystery surrounding the whole subject of the Divine and human in Christ remains still. What was said with regard to it about the temptation in the wilderness (Hebrews 4:15) is applicable also here. If it be further asked how it was that Christ, in his humanity, so shrank from the "cup" before him, seeing that mere men have been found to face death calmly in its most appalling forms, the answer may be found in the consideration of what this cup implied. It was more than physical death, more than physical pain, more than any sorrow that falls to the lot of man. Such expressions as Ἤρξατο λυπεῖσθαι καὶ ἀδημονεῖν … περίλυπος ἐστὶν ἡ ψυχή μου ἕως θανάτου (Matthew 26:37, Matthew 26:38); Ἤρξατο ἐκθαμβεῖσθαι καὶ ἀδημονεῖν (Mark 14:33); Γενόμενος ἐν ἀγωυίᾳ ἐκτενεστερον προσηύχετο (Luke 22:44); the bloody sweat, and the cry of "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?"—convey in themselves the impression of a mysterious ordeal, beyond what we can fathom, undergone by the atoning Savior in that "hour" of the "power of darkness." Of the second difficulty mentioned above, as to how Christ was "heard," not having been saved "from death" in the apparent sense of his prayer, the solution may be that the prayer, conditioned as it was by εἰ δυνατὸν, was most truly answered by the angel sent to strengthen him, and the power thenceforth given him to "endure the cross, despising the shame." "Mortem ex qua Pater cum liberare posset, ne moreretur, tamen subiit, voluntati Patris obediens: ab horrore plane liberatus est per exauditionem Exauditus est, non ut ne biberet calicem, sed ut jam sine ullo horrore biberet: unde etiam per angelum corroboratus est" (Bengel). The example to us thus becomes the more apparent. For we, too, praying legitimately for release from excessive trial, may have our prayer best answered by grace given to endure the trial, and by "a happy issue" out of it; as was the case with Christ. For his bitter passion was made the path to eternal glory; and thus in the Resurrection too his prayer was answered. The exact meaning of εἰσακουσθεὶς ἀπὸ τῆς εὐλαβείας is not easy to determine. It is taken by a large proportion of commentators to mean "deliverance from his fear;" εἰσακουσθεὶς ἀπὸ being supposed to be a constructio praegnans in the sense of "heard so as to be delivered," and εὐλαβεία to denote the dread experienced in Gethsemane. So the old Italian Versions, and Ambrose, "exauditus a metu;" so Bengel, "ab horrore liberatus per exauditlonem." This interpretation is upheld by Beza, Grotius, Tholuck, Hofmann, Ebrard, and many others; some of whom, less tenably (as Calvin, Hammond, Jackson), understand εὐλαβεία as meaning, not the fear felt, but the thing feted: "ab eo quod timebat" (Calvin). The objections to this view are
(1) the doubtfulness of the constructio praegnans (the instances adduced—ἐπήκουσέ μου εἰς πλατυσμόν, Psalms 118:5; ἐρραντισμένοι … ἀπὸ συνειδήσεας πονηρᾶς, Hebrews 10:22—are not parallel); and
(2) the sense assigned to εὐλαβεία, since εὐλαβεῖσθαι and its derivatives, when used to express fear, denote usually, not a shrinking, but a wary or cautious fear, and commonly carry with them (in this Epistle and St. Luke especially) the idea of piety. Thus in Hebrews 11:7, of Noah, εὐλαβηθεὶς κατεσκεύασε κιβωτὸν: Hebrews 12:28, μετ ̓ αἰδοῦς καὶ εὐλαβεαίς: and in Luke 2:25; Acts 2:5; Acts 8:2; Acts 22:12, εὐλαβής is synonymous with εὐσεβής. The rendering hence preferred by many, having the authority of Chrysostom, and among moderns of Lunemann, Bleek, Delitzsch, Alford, and others, is that of the Vulgate, "exauditus pro sua reverentia." So Vigilius, "propter timorem;" the A.V.," heard in that he feared," or, as in the margin, "heard for his piety;" and in the recent revision, "for his godly fear;" which is the A.V.'s rendering of εὐλαβεία in Hebrews 12:28. The objection to the use of ἀπὸ to express the cause of his being heard is met by reference to the frequent usage of St. Luke, whose language most resembles that of our Epistle. Thus: ἀπὸ τοῦ ὄχλου (Luke 19:3); ἀπὸ τῆς χαρᾶς (Luke 24:41 and Acts 12:14); ἀπὸ τοῦ ὕπνου (Acts 20:9); ἀπὸ τῆς δόξης (Acts 22:11). The phrase, thus understood, brings out the more markedly the thoroughly human conditions to which Christ was subjected. It was not in right of his sonship that he was heard. He won his hearing by his human piety; though he was SON, and as such knew that his Father heard him always (John 11:42), he learnt humanly his lesson of obedience. In the expression, καίπερ ὤν υἱὸς, Son is surely meant in the peculiar sense in which it has all along been applied to Christ, expressing mere than that his relation to God was that of any son to a father, and thus we perceive the full force of καίπερ. It is true that it was not till after the Resurrection that he attained his exalted position as SON (see under Hebrews 1:5 and Hebrews 5:5); but still he was all along the Son, in virtue of his origin as well as of his destiny. Cf. ἐλάλησεν ἡμῖν ἐν υἱῷ (Hebrews 1:9). Ὤν υἱὸς does not indeed, in itself, express that he was the Second Person of the Trinity (this application of the word υἱὸς being nowhere found in the Epistle); but it implies that, even in his state of humiliation, he was more than man; for there would be nothing very extraordinary, so as to justify καίπερ, in the case of an ordinary son learning obedience to his father through suffering. Recurring now to the question raised under verse 3, whether the high priest's obligation to offer in the first place for himself had any counterpart in the case of Christ, we may perceive such a counterpart in the agony, as above regarded. For, although for himself Christ needed no atonement, yet the "prayers and supplications" were offered in his own behalf, being due to his own entire participation in the conditions of humanity; the whole "agony and bloody sweat" were part of his own preparation and consecration for executing the office of a High Priest for others, and, like the Aaronic priest's offering for himself, they were the sign and evidence of his being one μετριοπαθεῖν δυνάμενος. Thus (χωρὶς ἀμαρτίας being all along understood) they answered truly to the preparatory part of Aaron's original consecration (Leviticus 8:14-9:15), or to the high priest's own offering, before his offering for the people and entering behind the veil, on the Day of Atonement (Le Luke 14:6). It may be (though not necessarily so) that the word προσενέγκας in verse 7, corresponding with προσφέρειν in verse 3, is intended to suggest this analogy.
Hebrews 5:9, Hebrews 5:10
And being made perfect, he became unto all them that obey him the Author of eternal salvation; called (or rather so addressed) of God a High Priest after the order of Melchizedek. Here τελειωθεὶς (translated "being made perfect") refers to the time of his resurrection, when the sufferings were over and the atonement complete (cf. Luke 13:32, τῇ τρίτῃ τελειοῦμαι). The word may be used in its general sense of perfected, i.e. "being made perfectly that which he was intended to become" (Delitzsch). In such sense St. Paul uses the word of himself, Οὐκ ὅτι ἤδη τετελείωμαι (Philippians 3:12). Or the specific sense of priestly consecration may be here, as well as in Hebrews 2:10 and Hebrews 7:28, intended. In Hebrews 7:28 the A.V. renders εἰς τὸν αἰῶνα τετελειωμένον by "consecrated for evermore." And this view is supported by passages in the LXX., where the word τελείωσις is used with special reference to the consecration of the high priest. Cf. ἔστι γὰρ τελείωσις αὔτη (Exodus 29:22); τοῦ κριοῦ τῆς τελειώσεως, ὅ ἐστιν Ἀαρών, (Hebrews 7:26, Hebrews 7:27, 31); τελειῶσαι τὰς χεῖρας αὐτῶν (verses 29, 33, 35); τῆς θυσίας τῆς τελειώσεως (verse 34) τὸν δεύτερον κριὸν τῆς τελειώσεως (Leviticus 8:22, Leviticus 8:29); ἀπὸ τοῦ κανοῦ τῆς τελειώσεως (Hebrews 7:26); τὸ ὁλοκαύτωμα τῆς τελειώσεως (Hebrews 7:28); ἕως ἡμέρα πληρωθῆ, ἡμέρα τελειώσεως ὑμῶν (verse 33); also Leviticus 21:10, where the high priest—ὁ ἱερεὺς ὁ μέγας ἀπὸ τῶν ἀδελφῶν αὐτοῦ—is described as τοῦ ἐπικεχυμένου ἐπὶ τῆν κεφαλὴν τοῦ ἐλαίου σοῦ Χριστοῦ καὶ τετελειωμένου ἐνδύσασθαι τὰ ἱμάτια. See also Gesenius on the Hebrew word מיאלֻּם. Hence, and in view of the drift of the passage before us, Jackson very decidedly regards τελειωθεὶς in Hebrews 7:9 as a verbum solenne, denoting specifically Christ's consecration to his eternal office of High Priest. So also Hammond and Whitby. Being thus perfected, or consecrated, he became, for ever afterwards, the Author, not of mere ceremonial cleansing or temporary remission of guilt, but of eternal salvation; potentially to all mankind (cf. ὑπὲρ παντὸς, Hebrews 2:9), and effectively to "all them that obey him;" being addressed, in tiffs his consummated position (the reference being to Psalms 110:1-7) as "High Priest for ever," etc. Here again we perceive that it is not till after the Resurrection that the prophetic ideal of the SON at God's right hand, and of the eternal High Priest, are regarded as fully realized. If it be objected that his high priesthood must have begun before the Resurrection for his death upon the cross to be a true atonement, it may be replied that his one oblation of himself upon the cross at once consummated his consecration and effected the atonement. Doubtless, as a true High Priest on earth, he thus "offered one sacrifice for sins for ever" (Hebrews 10:12); all that is meant above is that it was not till after the Resurrection that he entered on his eternal office of mediation in virtue of that one accomplished sacrifice.
This is the long admonitory digression (see under Hebrews 7:1) felt by the writer to be necessary before his exposition of κατὰ τὴν τάξιν Μελχιζεδέκ. He is entering on a new theme, higher and less level to the comprehension of his readers than any that has gone before. Even so far, we have seen how their Jewish prejudices had evoked admonitions, frequently interposed in the course of the argument. Much more so now, when it is to be shown how the priesthood of Christ not only fulfils the idea of, but also supersedes, that of the sons of Aaron, being of a different order from theirs. The region of thought to be entered now, being that of "the mystery of Christ," transcends more than any that has been so far entered the ordinary conceptions of traditional Judaism. Hence the writer's shrinking from entering all at once on the subject for fear of not being even understood; hence his earnest warnings to his readers as to the necessity of advancing to the state of full-grown Christians who can discern spiritual things.
Of whom (the most obvious antecedent being Melchizedek, but with regard to his typical significance, as referred to in Psalms 110:1-7) we have many things to say (the subject itself admits a lengthy exposition) and hard of interpretation, seeing ye are become (not, as in A.V., "ye are") dull of hearing. Their dullness is the reason of the λόγος being δυσερμήνευτος. It was not that the subject was in itself inexplicable, or that the writer was incompetent to explain it; his difficulty was in adapting the interpretation to the capacity of his readers: "Non scribentis, sed vestro vitio" (Bengel). It seems from γεγόνατε ("ye are become"), in this and the following verse, that the Hebrew Christians had even retrograded in spiritual perception. This is easily conceivable. As, through the teaching of St. Paul especially, the tie between Christianity and Judaism became more and more broken, there was likely to be a certain reaction among the Hebrew Christians, who, having gone to a certain extent with the tide of thought, became conscious how far it was carrying them. They would be inclined to cling the more fondly to their old associations from the fear of losing them altogether. Such retrogressions have been observable in other times of upheaval of old ideas.
For when, by reason of the time (i.e. the time that has elapsed since your conversion), ye ought to be teachers, ye have need that some one teach you (or, that one teach you which be) the first principles (literally, the elements of the beginning) of the oracles of God; and are become such as have need of milk, anti not of solid food. Τῆς ἀρχῆς in this verse seems best taken in union with τὰ στοιχεῖα, rather than with τῶν λογίων; the phrase, τὰ στοιχεῖα τῆς ἀρχῆς, meaning "the initiatory elements"—the A, B, C of Christian teaching. The word λογία ("oracles"), is used elsewhere for the revelations of the Old Testament, as Acts 7:38; Romans 3:2. Here its meaning can hardly be taken as confined to them, since the first principles of the gospel are being spoken of. Still, a word that includes them in its meaning may be purposely used by way of intimating that the elements intended are those of Judaism as well as Christianity, or of the latter only in its first emergence out of Judaism. And accordingly, Hebrews 6:1, Hebrews 6:2, where they are enumerated, are (as will be seen) so worded as to imply no more than this; nor are the first principles there mentioned beyond what an enlightened Jew might be expected to understand readily. Be it observed that the Hebrew Church need not be supposed to have actually lost sight of these first principles, so as to require a new indoctrination into them. There may be a vein of delicate irony in what is said, after the manner of St. Paul. All that is of necessity implied is that there had been such a failure in seeing what these principles led to as to suggest the necessity of their being learnt anew. The writer does not, in fact, as he goes on, require them to be learnt anew; for he bids his readers leave them behind, as though already known, and proceed from them to perfection, though still with some misgiving as to their capability for doing so. The figure of milk for babes and solid food for full-grown men, to illustrate the teaching suitable for neophytes and for advanced Christians, is found also in 1 Corinthians 3:1, 1 Corinthians 3:2; and that of νήπιος in 1 Corinthians 14:20; Galatians 4:19; Ephesians 4:14. This correspondence, though no proof of the Pauline authorship, is among the evidences of the Pauline character of the Epistle.
For every one that partaketh of milk is unskillful in the word of righteousness: for he is a babe. Reason for saying that they are such as have need of milk; for milk is the nourishment of infants, and he that is an infant in respect of spiritual growth is ἄπειρος λόγου δικαιοσύνης: not of necessity unacquainted with it altogether, but still not versed in it; he is but a tyro. "Word of righteousness" may be taken as a general term to denote what we might call religious lore; referring here especially to the gospel, which is eminently the revelation of the "righteousness of God" (Romans 1:17; cf. 2 Corinthians 3:9, ἡ διακονία τῆς δικαιοσύνης: and 2 Corinthians 11:15, διάκονοι δικαιοσύνης); but not excluding a more general conception. There is no need to suppose an exclusive reference to the more perfect doctrine in opposition to the elements, since, of the whole subject of religious knowledge, the νήπιος may be said to be ἄπειρος in the sense of being without the matured skill that experience gives. Hence, too, we are certainly not justified in finding in the phrase a specific allusion to the Pauline doctrine of justification by faith only, which is not suggested by the context or by what follows. Still less may we (with Delitzsch) so ignore the notable significance of δικαιοσύνη as to reduce the expression to a synonym for "rightly framed, that is sound and orthodox discourse."
But solid food is for them that are of full age (τελείων, equivalent to "perfect;" but in the sense of maturity of age or growth, in contrast with νήπιοι; as in 1 Corinthians 14:20; of. 1 Corinthians 2:6; Ephesians 4:13; Philippians 3:15), those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern good and evil. Here the comparison is carried out with peculiar aptness. Τὰ αἰσθητήρια in the illustration are the organs of sense. In the infant the digestive organs, in the first place, exercised in the beginning on milk, acquire through that exercise the power of assimilating more solid and more complex food, while at the same time its sensitive organs generally, also through exercise, become consciously discriminative of "good and evil" (cf. Isaiah 7:15, Isaiah 7:16, where "to know to refuse the evil and choose the good" denotes, as if proverbially, the age after early childhood). So, in the spiritual sphere, the mental faculties, exercised at first on simple truths, should acquire by practice the power of apprehending and distinguishing' between higher and more recondite ones. It was because the Hebrew Christians had failed thus to bring out their faculties that they were open to the charge of being still in a state of infancy.
Style high priesthood of Christ.
In these verses the author proceeds with his discussion of the priestly character and work of the Lord Jesus, as typified by the Aaronical priesthood.
I. WHAT A HIGH PRIEST IS. The office is a most honorable one; it is referred to in Hebrews 5:4 as "the honor." This will appear from a consideration of the high priest's functions and qualifications.
1. His functions. The most important of these are indicated in Hebrews 5:1.
(1) He acts for other men in things respecting their relations to God. The root-idea of the office is that, while access to God is denied to sinners on the ground of nature, he has been pleased to grant it in connection with special arrangements of grace.
(2) He offers sacrifices, both free-will offerings and sin offerings. As men are guilty, this is indispensable; and thus in common speech the terms "priest" and "sacrifice" are correlatives. There can ha no priest without a sacrifice.
2. His qualifications.
(1) He must be human (Hebrews 5:1)—a partaker of the nature that is to he redeemed.
(2) He must be humane (Hebrews 5:2)—capable of considerate sympathy with the people for whom he mediates. How sadly opposite in character to this have the world's priests almost always been! How dark are the thoughts suggested by the word "priestcraft"! Priests have been arrogant, cruel, tyrants over conscience, enemies of progress, patrons of ignorance and error. But the typical priest is a man of culture and refinement, who has abjured the motto, "Odi profanum vulgus et arceo," and who, realizing his own frailty, "can bear gently with the ignorant and erring."
(3) He must have a sacrifice (Hebrews 5:3)—"somewhat to offer." Without a sin offering priestly mediation would be impotent, and the holy and just God would remain inaccessible.
(4) He must be appointed by God. (Hebrews 5:4) It is for God to decide whether he will allow himself to be approached at all on behalf of the guilty, and it belongs to him also to select the person whose mediation will be acceptable to him.
II. THE REALITY OF CHRIST'S HIGH PRIESTHOOD. The apostle goes on to show—but arranging his thoughts for the most part in the reverse order—that the Lord Jesus possesses all the needful qualifications for the high priesthood, and that he actually discharges its duties (Hebrews 5:5-10).
1. He has the qualifications of a high priest.
(1) He was appointed by God. (Hebrews 5:5, Hebrews 5:6) The reference to Psalms 2:1-12. suggests his perfect fitness for the office, and the quotation from Psalms 110:1-7. is a proof of his ordination by the irrevocable oath of God.
(2) He is a man. (Psalms 110:7, 8) Although God said to him, "My Son," he had taken "the form of a servant," and "in the days of his flesh" bad" learned obedience."
(3) He is able to sympathize. (Psalms 110:7, 8) He passed through a course of the deepest affliction and the most dreadful temptation, that he might acquire the necessary experience for his work. He "suffered," not only at Nazareth and Capernaum, and during the whole period of his public ministry, but especially by means of the unparalleled agonies of Gethsemane and Golgotha.
(4) He offered himself as a sacrifice. (Psalms 110:7, 8) By his "obedience" Jesus effected complete reconciliation for sin. His trembling agony in the garden and the woe which he bore upon the tree are inexplicable on the principle that he was only a martyr, or on any other principle than that in some mysterious way he was thus bearing the wrath of God against sin.
2. He discharges the duties of a high priest. (Verse 9) The Savior's acquisition of all the qualifications "made him perfect," i.e. officially all-accomplished as the Priest of mankind. He has procured for us everlasting salvation, and he bestows it upon all who obey him by faith. He has expiated sin. He has rendered God propitious. He gives his people access. He prays to God for them. In short, he performs all the duties of a high priest, and his priesthood has superseded every other.
III. THE CONTRAST BETWEEN CHRIST'S PRIESTHOOD AND THE AARONICAL.
1. Being personally holy, Jesus needed not to offer any sacrifice for himself (Psalms 110:3).
2. He is both Priest and Victim (Psalms 110:7, 8).
3. His priesthood really procures salvation (verse 9), and not merely typically.
4. It is of a higher order than Aaron's, and was more fully represented by that of Melchizedek (verse 10); for it is
(1) intransferable and everlasting;
(2) a royal priesthood, Christ being King as well as Priest.
1. We, being guilty and sinful, can have intercourse with God only through Christ as our Priest.
2. We ought to cherish absolute confidence in his priestly power and sympathy.
3. Christian ministers are not "called of God" to be priests (Psalms 110:4), and must beware of importing sacerdotal conceptions into the idea which they entertain of their office; yet every pastor should, like the model high priest of ancient times, "bear gently with the ignorant and erring."
A sharp reproof for ignorance.
The apostle, having used the expression," after the order of Melchizedek," remembers that his readers will not be likely to understand it without careful explanation. So he pauses in his argument to chide them for their backwardness in religious knowledge.
I. THE TRUTHS OF REVELATION ARE PROFOUND AND FAR-REACHING. The story of God's love in redemption may, no doubt, be called with propriety "the simple gospel;" but, while it is so, it exhibits at the same time "the manifold wisdom of God." The Bible is not merely a book; it is a literature. It does not simply contain a message of mercy; it is the record of a long and gradually developing process of redeeming grace. It may be studied profoundly from many different standpoints, as e.g. those of history, of dogmatic theology, of morals, of ecclesiology, etc. The Bible deals, too, with all the deepest and most wonderful of themes, such as the human soul, the problem of sin, God, eternity, and immortality. So there is spiritual food in Holy Scripture, at once for the shallowest and the profoundest minds. Revelation supplies not only "milk" for "babes in Christ," i.e. the alphabet and rudiments of religious knowledge, but "solid food" for "full-grown men," i.e. materials for the more recondite study of Christianity as a great and harmonious system of Divine truth.
II. CHRISTIANS DIFFER IN THE DEGREE OF THEIR SPIRITUAL KNOWLEDGE. They differ because:
1. Some are "babes." Believers who are young in years, and those of maturer age who have newly come to the knowledge of the truth, require to be fed with the "milk" or simplest elements of religious instruction.
2. Some are "full-grown men," who can relish and digest the "solid food" of the Word. An advanced Christian who is a diligent student of Scripture will acquire so firm a grasp of truth as to become qualified to act the part of a "teacher" in the Church (verse 12). His proficiency in knowledge will sharpen his spiritual perceptions, so that he will learn readily to distinguish between "good and evil" in doctrine (verse 14).
3. Some are invalids. The apostle chides his Hebrew readers for having become such, as the result of their disregard of the laws of spiritual health. It was now many years since they had first believed, and by this time they should have been adults in Christian knowledge—quick of apprehension in relation to the higher reaches of truth. So far, however, from being able to assimilate the "solid food" of the Word, they had degenerated into spiritual weaklings and invalids. They heard the gospel indolently (verse 11). The "solid food" which they had once enjoyed now occasioned them the miseries of dyspepsia. They could digest nothing but gospel "milk." In our own time, too, there are many such invalids. What multitudes attend church through the years, and yet never get beyond the attainments of the sabbath school! How many otherwise intelligent men are quite ignorant of the organic structure of the Bible! How many betray an utter want of living interest in the doctrines and truths of the New Testament!
III. REASONS WHY THE RELIGIOUS KNOWLEDGE OF MANY CHRISTIANS IS SO DEFECTIVE. The Hebrews were "dull of hearing" because they had got divided in heart between Christianity and Judaism, and because they were beset with temptations to apostatize from a faith which had involved them in much trial. Now, our temptations are substantially similar. Our hearts are prone to try to serve both God and mammon; and we are tempted to avoid very intimate acquaintance with a religion faithfulness to which demands from us very serious sacrifices. In addition to these fundamental reasons others may be indicated, as follows:
1. The want of earnest Bible study. The hurry of the age acts on the side of spiritual ignorance. Other studies and pursuits are clamorous in their claims; those e.g. of business, politics, literature, philosophy, science, art. Thus many Christians do not read the Bible systematically, or with sufficient intellectual effort. The larger part of the Old Testament is, to their minds, a kind of desert of Sahara. Perhaps they interest themselves only in isolated texts, apart from the scope of the passage in which these occur.
2. Neglect of parental instruction. Every parent is bound to sow the seeds of Divine truth in the minds and hearts of his children. Where this duty becomes generally neglected the rising generation can only continue one of spiritual infants.
3. Irregularity in attendance upon God's house. (Hebrews 10:25) Church-going is not religion, but as it is a divinely appointed ordinance, a man need not expect to grow in grace and in Christian knowledge without it.
4. Unedifying preaching. The consecutive exposition of Scripture from the pulpit, when wisely and skillfully done, trains a people into "experience of the Word of righteousness." The congregation which receives no instruction of this kind may be expected to become "dull of hearing."
5. Misconception of what adequate religious knowledge is. Many good people judge that, having apprehended and embraced "the simple gospel," they have finished their spiritual education. They love a few pet texts which express "the rudiments of the first principles" (verse 12), and are content to leave the rest of the Bible alone. They count it a virtue to relish only "evangelistic preaching," and seem even proud of occupying always only the first form in the school of Christ. But the fruit of their neglect of the truth in its higher and deeper and broader aspects becomes apparent in the imperfection of their Christian character, and in their lack of progress towards perfection.
IV. THE IMPORTANCE OF AN INTIMATE KNOWLEDGE OF CHRISTIAN TRUTH,
1. Reverence to God requires it. He has not given any portion of his Word in vain. Intelligent Christians dishonor him when they do not "press on unto perfection" as students of the Bible in every department of its glorious design and drift and method.
2. Duty to our own souls requires it. If we would not become spiritual dwarfs, but "full-grown men," we must "search the Scriptures." If we would be truly happy and. prosperous, we must "meditate on God's law day and night."
3. Usefulness to others requires it. Believers who have become established in knowledge and grace are expected to serve the Lord Jesus as "teachers" (verse 12). A Christian, too, should be "ready always to give answer to every man that asketh him a reason concerning the hope that is in him."
HOMILIES BY W. JONES
An essential qualification for successful ministry.
"Who can have compassion on the ignorant," etc. According to our reading of the New Testament, the Christian ministry is not a priesthood except in the sense that, being Christians, ministers belong to that "holy priesthood," that "royal priesthood," of which every true Christian is g member. Yet there were certain qualifications of the Aaronic priesthood which are indispensable to the usefulness of the Christian ministry. One of these is mentioned in our text; its nature will appear as we proceed. The text suggests—
I. THAT SINS DIFFER IN THE DEGREE OF THEIR GUILT. In this respect several things have to be taken into account.
1. There are differences in the sins themselves. The wickedness of sins of presumption is far greater than that of sins of ignorance (cf. Numbers 15:27-31). Sins of rebellion are far removed from sins of error. The persons mentioned in our text are not those who have sinned "with a high hand," but "the ignorant and erring"—those who have sinned by reason of moral "infirmity," or who have wandered from the way of truth and duty because of their own spiritual negligence. Such sinners are by no means guiltless, but they are much less guilty than some others.
2. There are differences in the conditions and circumstances in which sins are committed. The force of the solicitation to sin, the strength of inherited tendency to certain forms of moral evil, the quality of the moral atmosphere surrounding the sinner,—these greatly differ amongst men; and this and other considerations -must be carefully weighed before the guilt of any sin can be fairly estimated. "Two persons may commit the same identical crime, yet the guilt may be inconceivably greater in the one case than the ether. The one may have had no instruction, no benefit from parental culture, no faithful admonitions, no holy example to direct and regulate, no warning to restrain, no encouragement to animate in the path. The other may have been surrounded by all the helps and inducements to right consideration—to holy fear, to correct conduct—and therefore his sin is marked with a far higher degree of aggravation than the sin of the other; and thus, in the sight of God, the judge on the bench often may be far more guilty than the criminal at the bar."
II. THE WISE AND GOOD MINISTER TO SOULS WILL PRACTICALLY RECOGNIZE THESE DIFFERENCES IN THE GUILT OF SINS. Only the Omniscient can perfectly discriminate in this respect, yet the text indicates a discrimination and consideration which every one who would minister helpfully to souls will endeavor to exercise.
1. He will not harshly condemn sinners. He is μετριοπαθής. On the one hand, he is not unfeeling; on the other, he is not carried away by his feelings, but he regulates and moderates his feelings; he has control over his passions.
2. He will endeavor to discriminate sins of ignorance and error from sins of a darker hue. He will deal thoughtfully with souls, not regarding all sinners as equally guilty or all sins as equally heinous. In so doing he will be following precedents of unquestionable authority. Our Lord and his apostles thus discriminated, and made merciful allowance for the ignorance and error of sinners (see Luke 23:1-56. Luke 23:34; Acts 3:17; 1 Timothy 1:13; 1 Peter 2:25).
3. He will treat the ignorant and the erring with gentleness. He will "have compassion on the ignorant," etc; margin, "reasonably bear with;" Revised Version, "who can bear gently with the ignorant and erring." How beautiful and sublime is our Savior's example in this respect! For his crucifiers he prayed, "Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do."
III. THE CONSCIOUSNESS OF HIS OWN MORAL INFIRMITY SHOULD INDUCE THE CHRISTIAN MINISTER TO DEAL THUS GENTLY WITH THE IGNORANT AND THE ERRING. "For that he himself also is compassed with infirmity."
1. His own moral infirmity qualifies him to understand the moral ignorances and errors of others. He has had to contend against sinful inclinations and Satanic temptations. He knows from his own experience how easily the soul is sometimes led astray, and he can enter into the moral wanderings and sorrowful returnings of others.
2. His own moral infirmity should lead him, to be patient and gentle with the ignorant and erring. He has himself required and received forbearance at the hands of both God and man. He will very probably need similar forbearance in time to come. How, then, can he be intolerant or harsh with others? Our own need of mercy and patience from others, and preeminently from God, should lead us to be merciful and patient with others. The chief lesson of our subject is applicable to all who would render spiritual services to their fellow-men. Let parents, and instructors of the young, and preachers of the gospel, and pastors of Churches, ever remember that if they would benefit the ignorant and erring they must be forbearing and gentle with them. Sternness and severity will repel and discourage, and probably aggravate moral infirmity into moral perversity. But patience and. charity will encourage worthy hopes in the breasts of those who have gone astray, and restore them to the path of truth and. duty, and inspire them to more earnest and patient efforts in Christian life and service. Be it ours, not to condemn the ignorant and erring, but to instruct and restore them.—W.J.
Hebrews 5:7, Hebrews 5:8
The suffering Savior.
"Who in the days of his flesh, when he had offered," etc. Our text suggests the following observations:—
I. IN THE DAYS OF HIS FLESH OUR LORD ENDURED SEVEREST SUFFERINGS. "The things which he suffered" induced the agonizing prayer, the "strong crying and tears." He bore the common sufferings of our humanity; e.g. hunger, thirst, weariness, etc. He suffered from the cruel ingratitude of men, from the base slanders of his enemies, and from the subtle and sinful solicitations of Satan. His sensitive and holy soul suffered keenly from his contact with so much of sin and sorrow and pain in this world. But the particular reference in the text is to his anguish in Gethsemane. How sore was his sorrow, how terrible his agony, upon that occasion! "He began to be greatly amazed and sore troubled: and he saith, My soul is exceedingly sorrowful, even unto death."
II. IN HIS SUFFERINGS OUR LORD SOUGHT RELIEF IN PRAYER, "He offered up prayers and supplications," etc. (Hebrews 5:7). Notice:
1. The Belong to whom he addressed his prayer. "Unto him that was able to save him from death," i.e. to the great Sovereign of both life and death; "the God in whose hand our breath is," who "giveth to all life and breath and all things,… in whom we live and move and have our being." Our Savior directed his prayer to his Father, saying, "O my Father," etc.
2. The object which he sought in his prayer. This is not mentioned here; but it is in the narrative of the conflict in Gethsemane. "O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass away from me." From what did the Savior recoil so shudderingly? Certainly neither from mere death, nor from "the dread of something after death." The pains of dissolution could not have affrighted him, and beyond death there was nothing to dismay or repel him. But death, with all the dread significance and terrible circumstances such as awaited him, he shrank from in intense spiritual pain. This has been forcibly expressed by Dr. Farrar: "It was something far deadlier than death. It was the burden and the mystery of the world's sin which lay heavy on his heart; it was the tasting, in the Divine humanity of a sinless life, the bitter cup which sin had poisoned; it was the bowing of Godhead to endure a stroke to which man's apostasy had lent such frightful possibilities. It was the sense, too, of how virulent, how frightful, must have been the force of evil in the universe of God which could render necessary so infinite a sacrifice. It was the endurance, by the perfectly guiltless, of the worst malice which human hatred could devise; it was to experience, in the bosom of perfect innocence and perfect love, all that was detestable in human ingratitude, all that was pestilent in human hypocrisy, all that was cruel in human rage. It was to brave the last triumph of Satanic spite and fury, uniting against his lonely head all the flaming arrows of Jewish falsity and heathen corruption—the concentrated wrath of the rich and respectable, the yelling fury of the blind and brutal mob. It was to feel that his own, to whom he came, loved darkness rather than light—that the race of the chosen people could be wholly absorbed in one insane repulsion against infinite goodness and purity and love. Through all this he passed in that hour which, with a recoil of sinless horror beyond our capacity to conceive, foretasted a worse bitterness than the worst bitterness of death." £ This was the cup which he prayed might pass away from him.
3. The intensity with which he urged his prayer. This is indicated
(1) by the fact that two words, which are nearly synonymous, are used to express his prayer. He "offered up prayers and supplications." The conjunction of synonymous words is "a mode of expressing intensity, which is very frequent in the sacred writings."
(2) By his "strong crying." The loud cries were the expression of agonized feeling and of earnest entreaty.
(3) By his "tears." Great natures weep, but not for trifles. Their tears indicate deep emotion. Our Lord's tears in Gethsemane welled up from a "soul exceeding sorrowful," and were significant of a painful fervency of supplication. "Being in an agony he prayed more earnestly," etc. (Luke 22:44).
III. IN ANSWER TO HIS PRAYER OUR LORD OBTAINED SUPPORT IN HIS SUFFERINGS.
1. The nature of the answer to his prayer, Not exemption from the cup, but victory over the dread of it, and support in drinking it. He was fortified for his future sufferings and trials, and sustained in them. "There appeared unto him an angel from heaven, strengthening him." His personal wishes were now lost in the perfect will of his Father. His dread anxieties are gone, and he is divinely calm. His trembling fears have departed, and he is sublimely courageous. Henceforth, even unto the bitter end, he is serene in sternest sufferings, patient under the most irritating provocations, a meek yet majestic Conqueror. Such was the Father's answer to his prayer. And every true prayer which is offered to God is answered by him, though not always by granting the specific requests (cf. 2 Corinthians 12:7-10).
2. The reason of the answer to his prayer. "And was heard in that he feared;" margin, "for his piety;" Revised Version, "Having been heard for his godly fear;" Alford, "Having been heard by reason of his reverent submission." His pious resignation to the holy will of his Father was the ground upon which his prayer was answered, and the victory was given unto him. "Nevertheless," said he, "not as I will, but as Thou wilt.... O my Father, if this cannot pass away, except I drink it, thy will be done." When we can thus say, "Thy will Be done," we have already an installment of the answer to our prayers, and the fullness of the blessing will not tarry.
IV. BY HIS SUFFERINGS HIS OBEDIENCE TO THE HOLY WILL OF HIS FATHER WAS PERFECTED. "Though he was a Son, yet learned he obedience by," etc. His obedience as a Son was always perfect. His obedience here spoken of is obedience in suffering. As his obedience became more difficult, involving more and more of self-renunciation, and pain ever increasing in severity, he still obeyed, He willed to endure the sharpest, sternest sufferings rather than fail even in the slightest degree in his practical loyalty to the perfect will of his Father. "He became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross." This obedience he learned, as he proceeded step by step along his painful path, until the lesson was finished and the obedience was consummated on the cress. All Christ's disciples need the discipline of suffering to perfect them in the practice of the Father's will (cf. Matthew 16:24).—W.J.
Salvation—its Author and its recipients.
"And being made perfect, he became the Author," etc. The subject of the writer in this part of his Epistle is the high priesthood of Jesus Christ. In treating this subject he dwells upon the sufferings of Christ in his priestly office, and a certain perfection which resulted from his sufferings. He was God's only and well-beloved Son, yet he was not exempt from suffering. "He learned obedience by the things which he suffered." We must not suppose that he was not perfectly acquainted with the nature of obedience, or that he did not fully recognize the duty of it, or that he was in any way indisposed to render it, before he suffered. The meaning is that though he was so highly exalted in his relationship to the Father, yet "he was subjected to learn experimentally what it is to obey in the midst of suffering." He learned the lesson perfectly. He "became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross." Our text leads us to consider three things.
I. THE PERFECTION WHICH CHRIST ATTAINED THROUGH SUFFERING. "And having been made perfect." Having assumed human nature, Christ was capable of suffering; and in that nature he did indeed suffer. His entire life upon earth was one of humiliation and sacrifice. Being sympathetic, the sufferings of men were a constant grief to him. Being holy, the sins of men constantly stung his soul with pain. At the last his sufferings deepened into awful intensity. In Gethsemane his sorrow and conflict almost brought down his human nature unto death. And on the cross his pain and woe were unutterable, and to us inconceivably severe. Of all sufferers Christ is the Sufferer. In all these sufferings he was obedient. He endured them voluntarily. Through his obedience in suffering he became perfect. The author of our salvation was made "perfect through sufferings" (Hebrews 2:10). This acquired perfection was not personal As God he is eternally perfect; as man he was perfect without suffering. The perfection of our text is relative. By suffering he Became perfect in his relation to us as our Savior, our Intercessor, our great High Priest. By suffering:
1. He made a perfect atonement for sin.
2. He became perfectly qualified to sympathize with and to succor his suffering people. (Cf. Hebrews 4:14-16)
3. He became a perfect example for his people in their sufferings.
4. He entered upon his perfect triumph and glory. (Cf. Hebrews 2:9; Hebrews 12:2; Philippians 2:5-11)
II. THE GREAT END BOTH OF CHRIST'S SUFFERING AND OF HIS PERFECTION ACQUIRED THROUGH HIS SUFFERING. This end was that he might Be the Author, or the great procuring cause, of a perfect salvation for men. "Being made perfect, he became the Author of eternal salvation." Here are three points.
1. The salvation. Forgiveness of sin, freedom from condemnation, deliverance from the sovereignty of sin, the awakening of a new ruling principle and power in man, conversion into a condition of holiness, peace and joy, entrance into heaven, blessed union with God.
2. The perpetuity of salvation. "Eternal salvation." No partial, incomplete, temporary Blessing; but "eternal salvation"—"the salvation which is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory." Does not this, at least, suggest that there is no falling back from the hand of Christ into the power of Satan? Doubtless man always can do so, inasmuch as he is morally free; but this "eternal salvation" establishes man's freedom, yet binds it to holiness, and leads him to cry, "I delight to do thy will, O my God." This Blessing shall continue when bonds and banks, estates and fortunes, coronets and crowns, shall have perished. Blessed Be the Lord for his "eternal salvation"!
3. The Author of salvation. Our salvation is owing to Jesus Christ. The ministry of providence, of religious ordinances, and of good men, may assist us in availing ourselves of this salvation; but they cannot save us; they are not "the cause of salvation." Our salvation originated in the infinite love of God. "God so loved the world," etc. Our salvation was effected by his Son, our Savior. He became man, taught, labored, suffered, lived, died, and ever lives to save us. He is our only Savior. The great end of his sufferings was our "eternal salvation."
III. THE RECIPIENTS OF THIS SALVATION. "Unto all them that obey him." This, of course, does not mean that we merit salvation by obeying the Savior. But those who have merely some doctrinal knowledge of Christ and his salvation, those who have only a dead. faith in him, a mere intellectual assent to the great facts of his history and teaching, are not partakers of his salvation. As he attained his mediatorial perfection and glory by complete and hearty obedience to his Father, so must man obey him if we would attain unto "eternal salvation." Salvation is found in obedience to him, because:
1. True and saving faith inspires the life and shapes the conduct. (Of. Acts 15:9; Romans 16:26; Galatians 5:6; James 2:17-26)
2. Christ saves men from their sins. He is a Prince to rule us, as well as a Savior to deliver us.
3. All who are being saved by Christ love him, and the loving heart delights to obey the loved One.
4. The disobedient cannot enter heaven. Heaven is a realm of perfect obedience to the supreme will, of loyal and loving devotion to God's service. Unless the spirit of hearty obedience be ours, we are out of sympathy with heaven.
1. Trust this perfect Savior.
2. Obey him. Copy his own obedience.—W.J.
"Of whom we have many things to say," etc. In treating of the analogy between the priesthood of Melchizedek and that of Christ, the writer was hindered by the spiritual obtuseness of his readers. "We have many things to say, and difficult of interpretation, seeing ye are become dull of hearing." The writer found it difficult to explain his subject to them, because they were so dull and slow in their apprehension. Notice—
I. SPIRITUAL OBTUSENESS IS SOMETIMES VERY GREAT. It was so in the case of the persons here addressed, as may be seen by contrasting what they might anti ought to have been and. what they were. They should, have been able to have taught others; they really needed teaching themselves, and that of the most elementary kind. "When ye ought to be teachers, ye have need again that some one teach you the rudiments of the first principles of the oracles of God." They required instructing again in "the beginnings of the beginning" of Christian doctrine. Moreover, when they should have been men in spiritual intelligence, they were only babes. "And are become such as have need of milk," etc. It is pitiful and painful to reflect upon the prevalence of spiritual obtuseness in our own age. How many Christians are perfectly content and self-satisfied having only the barest rudiments of Scripture truth! Some even pride themselves in holding "the truth," as though they had grasped and mastered all truth; and in their firm adherence to "the simple gospel," as though there were no profundities and sublimities in the gospel of Jesus Christ. We fear that the Bible is far more widely circulated than read, and far more extensively read than studied or understood.
II. SPIRITUAL OBTUSENESS IS SOMETIMES SINFUL. We say "sometimes;" for when this dullness of perception or difficulty of apprehension arises from original deficiency of faculty, or from the scarcity of opportunities for progress in acquaintance with Christian truth, no moral blame attaches to it. It is deplorable, but not censurable. To whom only little is given, of him only little will be required. But in the case before us the writer says, "For when by reason of the time ye ought to be teachers," etc. Let us look at the argument expressed or implied here.
1. Time and opportunities for progress had been given to them. "By reason of the time" since they became Christians they should have made sufficient advancement to have been able to have instructed others. Therefore the time must have been considerable.
2. There should have been a proportion between the opportunities afforded and the progress made. This is clearly implied in the text. It is also righteous and reasonable.
3. The existence of spiritual obtuseness notwithstanding opportunities of progress is morally wrong.
Such spiritual dullness is not a misfortune, but a sin. It is an evidence of opportunities of progress neglected, of responsibilities unacknowledged or unfulfilled, and, it may be, of sins indulged in. Purity of heart and the power of perceiving spiritual truth are closely related. Slowness of spiritual apprehension often arises from the corruption of the heart. The pure heart is quick and true in its perceptions. "Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God." "If any man willeth to do his will, he shall know of the teaching, whether it be of God." Worldliness of spirit also dims and diminishes the perceptive powers of the soul. If a man's eyes are ever fixed upon the earth, how can he see the brilliance and beauty of the starry heavens? If a man's affections are fixed upon the material and perishable things of this present world, he will gradually lose his power for perceiving the ethereal and perennial beauty of religious truth, or even for perceiving such truth at all.
III. SPIRITUAL OBTUSENESS INVOLVES SERIOUS LOSS.
1. Loss to the community. In cases like that mentioned in the text, the obtuse persons ought to be able to teach others, at least the elementary truths of Christianity. Parents should be able to instruct their children; the Christian should be able to help his friend who is seeking for life and truth, etc.
2. Loss to the individual. The man of dull spiritual apprehension loses the fuller and higher teaching. The full beauty of the landscape is not for the man of diseased or impaired physical vision. In like manner the beauty and sublimity of Divine truth and the serene splendors of holiness are invisible to those who are spiritually obtuse. Or, changing the figure, the food of moral manhood is not for them; they are unable to assimilate it, and must needs be limited to the dietary of babyhood. Several practical and profitable reflections arise from our subject.
1. The need of adaptation in Christian teaching. The sacred writings contain "milk for babes," "solid food for full-grown men," and food suited for all the intermediate stages of the Christian life. The wise teacher will endeavor to distribute to each the food suited to his condition.
2. The obligatoriness of progress in Christian discipleship. Infancy has its charms, but not as a permanent state. Infancy must pass on by orderly development into manhood. Continuous spiritual infancy is unnatural and sinful. A permanent milk diet in the spiritual life indicates a stationariness which is unhealthy and culpable (cf. Ephesians 4:11-15).
3. In the mature stage of Christian life there is the qualification for the exercise of discrimination in spiritual things. "Full-grown men by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern good and evil." Their spiritual faculties are trained and disciplined, and so they are able to distinguish between the true and false, the superior and the inferior, in Christian teaching. Alas, that the people who are least mature are generally the most forward in exercising this critical function!
4. We see why the ministry of the gospel is sometimes comparatively ineffectual. In some instances the smallness of its success is owing to the want of adaptation in the ministry itself; in others, to the sinful and almost insuperable spiritual obtuseness of the hearers thereof.—W.J.
HOMILIES BY C. NEW
Christ's Divine appointment to the high priesthood the fulfillment of one essential qualification for that position.
This begins the third great section of the Epistle. Section 1. (Hebrews 1:1-14. and 2) sets forth the Deity and humanity of the Lord Jesus; Christ's superiority to the angels through whose ministration the old dispensation was said to be established. Section it. (Hebrews 3:1-19. and 4) sets forth the surpassing greatness of our Lord as compared with Moses, the great leader of the old dispensation. Section 3. (Hebrews 5:1-14.-10) sets forth our Lord greater than Aaron, the representative of the purely religious element of the old dispensation. Christ infinitely greater than all these, and therefore the new covenant in him infinitely better than the old—that now is the writer's argument. The first ten verses of Hebrews 5:1-14. are an introduction to the third section. Before Christ's fulfillment of high priestly work is discussed, it is necessary to show that he does actually hold that position. Christ is really High Priest; the first proof of that is in the passage before us. Subject—Christ's Divine appointment to the high priesthood the fulfillment of one essential qualification for that position.
I. CONSIDER THE FACT OF MEDIATION BETWEEN GOD AND MAN. The high priest was "appointed for men in things pertaining to God, that he may offer both gifts and sacrifices for sins." "Gifts" equivalent to, those of God to men—reconciliation and benediction. "Sacrifices for sins" equivalent to, those of men to God; that is, he was charged to manage the concerns of his brethren with the Most High, holding an intermediate position. What was the necessity for such an intermediary?
1. It was a witness to the sinfulness of man. One tribe was set apart for the service of the tabernacle. Only one family of this might enter the sacred building, Aaron and his four sons; five persons in all out of the thousands of Israel, and these only permitted to undertake their duties after solemn rules of consecration. But of this family, only one might pass into the most holy place, and he but once in a year, and then only in a manner which must have impressed him deeply with the sanctity of the place. Nothing could more clearly show the distance at which sin had placed man from God.
2. The fact of mediation is a declaration that the broken intercourse between God and man can be renewed. In Eden God communed with man, but sin broke this communion. Sinful man could only say with Cain, "From thy face shall I be hid, and I shall be a fugitive and a vagabond." But when the doctrine of mediation was taught—and that must have been very early, for it underlies the idea of sacrifice—how great a door of hope was suddenly opened before them! The intervention of another might yet be, like Jacob's ladder, the means of communication between heaven and earth.
3. The fact of mediation is a testimony to the principle of substitution. This principle which underlies the New Testament system no less underlies the Old; it runs through the entire Word of God as the principle which keeps it together. Mediation is representation. The high priest represented the people before God. God treated with him on their behalf. What they could not do for themselves, he did.
II. THE NECESSITY THAT THE MEDIATOR SHOULD BE DIVINELY APPOINTED. The stress of the passage is on the word "appointed."
1. This is necessary to ensure the Divine acceptance of the Mediator. Man has no rights, no power, he is helpless and undone, entirely dependent on the mercy of the offended God. He, therefore, can have no assurance that his representative will be accepted apart from the Divine appointment of him; but that gives perfect assurance. He whom God has appointed to draw near to him on our behalf cannot draw near in vain.
2. This Divine appointment is necessary to show the good will of God to those for whom mediation is made. "If man appointed his own mediator it would only show his yearning after God, but when God appoints the mediator it shows God's yearning after him." Man could not devise the idea of one to present his case before God; the will would be wanting. Before there could be any movement towards heaven, God himself must work; there must be the upward drawing Before the upward tendency. God must always precede our desire for him. Tim desire for a mediator, the fact of a divinely appointed Mediator, prove that God is on our side.
3. This Divine appointment is necessary to secure the fulfillment of the mediatorial work, or, at least, for one assurance of this. We expect that "what is no one's work" will remain undone. A special appointment is necessary if we are to enjoy confidence. Now, for the removal of our doubts as to whether our wants really are made known to God, the sacrifice for our sin really presented, etc., there is the fact that one Person of the Divine Trinity has been set apart for this purpose. That being so, not in the least particular will the mediatorial duties be unfulfilled.
III. THE FULFILMENT OF THIS NECESSITY IN THE LORD JESUS CHRIST. "So also Christ," etc.
1. The Father hath appointed Christ to this work. Could our case be in better hands? He is no stranger to us. We have seen him, and walked with him, and lived with him in the Gospel history. Could we choose, with whom would we leave ourselves as with Jesus?
2. The Divine dignity of Christ adds yet greater worth to this appointment. "Thou art my Son." The Divine Son has free access to the Father, and. to his ear and heart. What he asks the Father desires; for he and his Father are one. For him to plead for us is for God to plead with himself for us. Moreover, as God he is omniscient and untiring and infinitely loving, so that none of our needs escape him.
3. The fact that Christ regards this position as one of glory adds still further worth to the Divine appointment. "Christ glorified not himself to be," etc. He counts it a glory to be our Mediator; then behold how he loves us! How certainly he will fulfill this work; for he is jealous of his glory!—C.N.
Christ's human experience the second qualification for high priestly work.
The second proof that Christ holds the high priestly position. In Hebrews 5:1, Hebrews 5:2 the double qualification for this is shown—a qualification Godward and rearward; he must be appointed by God, and able to sympathize with man. Both these are shown to be true of Christ, and that he is, therefore, officially "perfect" (Hebrews 5:9, Hebrews 5:10).
I. THE NECESSITY THAT THE HIGH PRIEST SHOULD HAVE PERSONAL ACQUAINTANCE WITH HUMAN EXPERIENCE. He "must be taken from among men."
1. Apart from this he could be no true representative of mankind. Human obedience to the Divine Law was required of men. Christ undertook, as their Representative, to meet all requirements; that made the Incarnation a necessity. Christ must keep the Law on the same footing on which Adam stood when he came from God's hand. So, likewise, bearing man's penalty, he must assume a nature which could be. That is, he must become man.
2. Apart from this he could not secure the confidence of the people. Christ need not pass through human experience in order to understand it; he understands it by his omniscience. But the infirmity of human faith can better confide in the sympathy of one who, it knows, has personally endured its trials.
II. THE FULFILMENT OF THIS QUALIFICATION IN THE LORD JESUS CHRIST. "Who in the days of his flesh," etc.
1. An illustration of Christ's deep experience of human suffering. The reference is, evidently, to Gethsemane. What could have affected the Savior then so intensely? Not the anticipation of physical anguish, for then he would have fallen lower than the martyrs; not the dread of rejection by the people, for he had already endured that with great calmness; not the fear of the act of death, for he spoke of that with joy: "If ye loved me ye would rejoice, because," etc. It could only have been because death would be to him what it could be to none other—the bearing of the world's sin, the experience of sin's doom. But why does the writer refer to this, but because it is the culminating point of our Lord's suffering? He leads them to look at Jesus when he has reached the deepest depth of suffering possible. However deep his people's darkness, Jesus has gone deeper still. He knows the lowest, therefore also the intermediate stages.
2. An illustration of the pain involved in submitting our will to God. "He learned obedience by the things which he suffered." Obedience is submission of the will to God. That was the burden of the prayer in Gethsemane. He laid his will absolutely at the Father's feet. Christ did not learn to be obedient. He came to do God's will; that was his meat and drink. He did always (from the first) those things which please the Father. He learned obedience—came to know what it means for the flesh to submit ever to the will of Heaven; what it is to obey God amidst human frailties, pains, temptations.
3. An illustration of Christ's dependence for fidelity on heavenly helps. He prayed to be saved (not "from") "out of death;" not that death might be averted—for his prayer "was heard"—but that he might be delivered out of it. Divine support was given, and a glorious resurrection. Christ, as man, had no inherent power by reason of his Deity for what, as man, he had to do and bear. He stood on man's footing. Perhaps nothing brings him closer to us than that for all he needed he had to cling to God in trustful supplication as we have, and receive delivering and sustaining grace because thereof as we do.
III. THE WORTH TO HIS PEOPLE OF CHRIST'S FULFILMENT OF THIS QUALIFICATION. He was thus "made perfect"—perfect as to his fullness for high priestly work. Then:
1. The perfection of Christ's priesthood makes every other priesthood needless. He is "a high priest after the order of Melchizedek;" not in the Aaronic order, not thus for Israel after the flesh, but "for all those who obey him," i.e. submit to him. Christ, High Priest for every sinner who yields himself to him; and for this he is perfect. Then what room for any other mediator?
2. The power of sympathy in a God who has himself suffered. For perfect repose we must have one of whose fellow-feeling we are assured by his experience of our own trials. If we only knew God in heaven, we might revere, obey, trust, love him; but we could not put our head on his bosom and weep there. But when we see that there is not a trial we experience whose counterpart we cannot find in his earthly life, we can rest in the Lord.
3. The humiliation and woe by which alone our salvation was secured. See how Christ shrank from Calvary, and yet how he advanced to it with unswerving willingness, and thus "became the Author," etc. That leaves on the mind two deep impressions:
(1) the baseness of making light of what was bought at such a cost; and
(2) the terror of that wrath which shall overtake the impenitent, since such was the experience of the Son of God when he stooped to the penalty of sin.—C.N.
Verse 11-Hebrews 6:3
The evil of inability to apprehend the deeper truths about Christ.
This begins a parenthesis continued to end of Hebrews 6:1-20. The writer has come to the chief illustration of his great theme—the pre-eminence of the Lord Jesus; but he has hardly entered on this section before he feels himself unable to give full utterance to what he sees of the Redeemer's greatness, because of the dullness of spiritual perception in his hearers. He fears their religious condition will prevent their following him as he tries to scale the more inaccessible heights, and he cannot restrain an utterance of sorrow, and a solemn warning of the connection between ignorance of these things and apostasy from the Son of God. The subject of the whole parenthesis, therefore, is—The danger of apostasy which lies concealed in the immature apprehension of Christian truth; but of the part, in these verses, the following is the subject—The evil of inability to apprehend the deeper truths about Christ.
I. THE TREASURES OF TRUTH WHICH ARE HIDDEN IN THE LORD JESUS. "Of whom we have many things to say," etc. Why should the writer preface this particular part of his subject with a reference to its difficulty, since no such reference is attached to the equally profound truths of previous chapters? There is no necessity to attach this reference only to what follows; it may look backward as well as forward. The apostle is in the midst of his theme—the greatness, the fullness, the preciousness of Christ, which he knows not how to utter—and is more likely to feel its difficulty there than at the beginning.
1. The treasures hidden in Christ are, of necessity, infinitely great, because he is the Revelation of the character and will of God. "In him dwelleth all the fullness of the Godhead bodily." He is the perfect expression of God's love to man. He is the Fountain of all good. He is the embodiment of what the Father desires us to have and be. He is the utterance of what God would say to man. When we think of Christ, therefore, we are but children standing on the shore of an ocean whose further side has never been seen nor reached, and whose depth no human line can fathom.
2. But, in as far as this is revealed through God's Word, it is intended to be understood. It will require an endless life to understand it perfectly. Growing knowledge resulting in growing gratitude, love, and devotion,—this, perpetuated without end, is the bright future before us. But, however much we cannot know in the present, Scripture contains a revelation of such fullness in the Savior as the wisest and best have not yet understood and appreciated; and what is revealed here and now, is obviously intended here and now to be apprehended. We cannot overrate the Savior's desire to reveal himself, the deep things of his heart, and the best glories of his nature to his beloved, nor the Father's will that, as far as on earth it can be received, that revelation should be theirs.
II. THE HINDRANCES TO OUR POSSESSION OF THESE TREASURES. "How is it that ye do not understand?" Why do we know so little about Christ? Why are the Scriptures to us to a great extent sealed? This passage reveals three reasons for this.
1. Spiritual feebleness. The Hebrews had lost their early religious vigor. "When by reason of the time [since ye became Christians] ye ought to be," etc. Their condition was one of retrogression. (See what they had been once: "Ye endured a great fight," etc) They had become vacillating, and ready to return to Judaism. A feeble and deteriorated piety was one reason for their dullness of hearing. That is natural. Christ's riches are spiritual, and. can only be understood by spiritual perception. Let spiritual power decline, and ability to understand Divine truth declines with it. "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom;" "The secret of the Lord is with them that feat-him."
2. Intellectual prejudice. They desired to return to Judaism; its ancient glories still fascinated them, and. they were predisposed to accept any teaching aimed to show the untruth of Christianity. That was enough to account for their being dull of hearing. Skepticism is made, more than by anything else, by unwillingness to receive the truth. The mind that allows its personal desires to decide what is truth must become increasingly incapable of discerning truth when it is placed before it. Nothing more surely blinds than prejudice.
3. Sinful inattention. "Every one that partakes of milk [i.e. not able to partake of the solid food of Divine truth] is without experience [i.e. has not made himself acquainted by observation and. study] of the Word of righteousness;… but solid food is for full-grown men, even those who," etc. That is, spiritual discernment, an apprehension of God's deep things, is the result of use. Inability to understand is the judgment on inattention. Scripture is a sealed, book to the heart that neglects it.
III. THE NECESSITY FOR THE REMOVAL OF THESE HINDRANCES OF SPIRITUAL MATURITY IS TO BE ATTAINED.
1. For Christ, as revealed in the Word, is spiritual nourishment. The truth about Christ is "milk" and "strong meat." Christ is the essence of Scripture, and he is "the Bread of life." What nourishing food is to the body, therefore, the Word of God is to the Divine life in man. On participation on it that life depends.
2. There is a distinction drawn here between those truths which merely sustain and those which increase life. What is the "milk"? Those first necessary principles recorded in Hebrews 6:1, Hebrews 6:2. There we have the essential life-giving points (not quite such a "simple gospel" as some think!). The doctrines of repentance, faith, the Holy Spirit, Christian service, the resurrection, and the judgment,—these are the "milk." What is the "strong meat"? The deeper, fuller truths about Christ set froth here—his character, work, relation, grace, Son of God and Son of man, our Prophet, Priest, and King, with the height and depth, and length, and breadth of meaning all this involves.
3. Christian maturity depends on the partaking of truth in these higher forms. They ought to be "babes" no longer, but "strong men;" and how? "Let us cease to speak of the first," etc. The method by which this Epistle seeks to arouse a lukewarm and enfeebled Church to higher things is the presentation of these higher truths concerning the surpassing glory of the Son of God. "Grow in grace, and in the knowledge," etc.—C.N.
HOMILIES BY J.S. BRIGHT
The character and office of the Aaronic high priest foreshadows the higher glory of Jesus Christ.
As there had been given some counsels to pray for Divine help because our Lord is the Divine High Priest, the thought advances to show the true idea of a high priest under the Mosaic Law, that over against him may appear in his glory the character of him who was one after the order of Melchizedek. The ancient priest was taken from among men to minister in spiritual things, as others are appointed to manage temporal matters; and therefore Paul declares that the ruler is a minister of God to us for good. It was the office of the priest to present sacrifices for sins of ignorance, and those faults which arise from the weakness and inclinations of our nature. They were not offered for such daring and flagrant transgressions as were committed by David and Manasseh, who by faith and penitence sought and obtained pardon outside the ritual of the Jewish Law, and from the free and sovereign mercy of God. The sacrifices for ordinary faults were presented especially on the Day of Atonement, when the people bowed in penitence, and the errors of the past year were forgiven. The high priest himself needed the advantage of the atonement which was vouchsafed through the sacrifices which he offered for himself. To perform his office with success he must be, since he was beset with infirmity, tender-hearted without being indulgent to evil, and firm without being severe and unfeeling. He had to deal with men's souls in states of anxiety, and, knowing his own frailties, must be merciful towards others. Eli charged Hannah with intemperance when she was praying with fervor for a gift which God only could bestow, and thoughtlessly added affliction to affliction; but on her appeal he relented, and said," Go in peace, and the God of Israel grant thee the petition thou hast asked of him" (1 Samuel 1:14-17). The appointment of the priest is a proof of the merciful interest of Jehovah in the spiritual condition of men, and his willingness to invite them to enter into blessed relations with himself.—B.
These verses show us the honor of the priesthood. Aaron was divinely called (Exodus 28:1), and was endowed with gifts and qualifications for the office. It was an honor to approach unto God in the sacred uses of his ministry; "for blessed is the man whom thou choosest and causest to approach unto thee." He transacted the most important affairs for the people, and made reconciliation for them on the Day of Atonement. He revealed and interpreted the Divine will by Urim and Thummim, and his lips kept knowledge. He represented the people to Jehovah, and carried the names of the children of Israel on his breast and shoulders. He was set apart by the sacredness of his office from many of the cares and changes of human life, and was to lead life of special consecration to the service of God. Our Lord undertook the work of priest in a more glorious manner than was suggested by the most holy and distinguished minister of the ancient Law. All the aspects of honor and gracious service are exalted in him to an unimaginable degree. He is at the right hand of the Father. He officiates for all nations, people, and tongues. He treats the successive generations of believers with constant love, and imparts Divine help in worship. He is the final and most glorious revelation of God to man. He exalts and enriches the life of his followers by the tenderness and sympathy of his nature, and inspires them with resolution to come boldly to the throne of grace.—B.
I. THERE IS HERE AN AFFECTING OUTLINE OF THE SACRIFICIAL SORROWS OF OUR LORD. Like the ancient psalmists, he bows in solemn and agonizing prayer, with profuse weeping, that the cup which was presented to him in Gethsemane might be removed from him. It was a bitter and brimming cup of indescribable distress. Scripture gives us the outward signs of the sorrow, and leaves the awful cause in solemn silence. This must have been from his standing in our place as Surety and Substitute. He was heard; and an angel from heaven appeared to strengthen him.
II. THERE IS THE CONTRAST BETWEEN HIS DIGNITY AS THE SON AND THE PROOF OF HIS OBEDIENCE. If we would understand the glory of his sonship, it is necessary to turn to the first chapter of the Epistle; yet he submitted, and learned, not by painful failure and unsuccessful attempts to obey his Father, but passed through the whole circle of teaching, working, enduring contradiction, until he could say, "I have glorified thee on the earth: I have finished the work thou Rarest me to do."
III. THE DIVINE PERFECTION AND ISSUES OF HIS OBEDIENCE. He passed through his Divine consecration, and received the approving voice of his Father, who raised him from the dead. From him can now flow eternal salvation, which begins here in redemption from guilt, the restraint of sin, the indwelling of the Spirit, freedom from the penal stroke of death, and the blessedness of eternal life. All this is connected with obedience on the part of believers, who, while they trust in his sacrifice, yield their life to his authority as the King of Zion. He was "called of God." The appointment is valid and unchangeable, and foreshadowed by the ministry and office of Melchizedek.—B.
Dullness of spiritual perception.
I. THERE IS A REPROOF FOR THESE RELIEVERS BECAUSE THEY CANNOT HEAR, AND THEREFORE CANNOT TEACH, THE TRUTHS OF THE GOSPEL. They had become, through slackness and yielding both to the attractions of the temple-worship and the opposition of their countrymen, unable to hear the weighty truths connected with Melchizedek, the illustrious type of Christ. To be dull of hearing the sweet sounds of joyous nature in spring, or to catch imperfectly the strains of sacred music, would be a loss; but how more serious is the loss of being unable to receive inspired communications respecting Jesus Christ, who is the Alpha and Omega of our faith and hope! The painful result was that they could not teach others, and "give a reason for the hope that was in them with meekness and fear" They must, therefore, go back to the Christian alphabet and learn their letters afresh, and begin again their course of discipleship. They needed some one who was advanced in the knowledge of the Savior; but he need not be an apostle, a prophet, or an evangelist. Considering how much the diffusion of the gospel at that time depended upon the living voice, their inability to teach was a loss to themselves and many others.
II. THEY ARE REPROVED FOR THE NON-IMPROVEMENT OF LONG-CONTINUED PRIVILEGES. When for the "time," which word signifies a considerable period, during which they had had many who were pastors, and spoke the Word of God. They had had public worship, in which Christ was set forth evidently crucified before them. They had often been invited to the Lord's Supper, and. had been reminded of his matchless fidelity to their interests, even when his holy soul encountered billows of distress, and deep called unto deep, and the awful sorrows of the cross darkened and crushed him. Miracles had been wrought; prophecies interpreted by their glorious fulfillment; and prayer and praise had diffused a hallowed influence. Notwithstanding the richness of the soil, the regularity of the rains, and the bright shining of the sun, the vineyard produced grapes which were small, acid, and unacceptable. And all these advantages, which were crowned by the willingness and love of the Divine Spirit to encourage and bless them, they were "dull of hearing and could not teach."
III. THE REPROOF AFFIRMS THE SERIOUS PERSONAL DISADVANTAGES OF NEGLECT. They are described as babes which need simple nourishment and must be fed with milk, which signifies the rudimentary truths of the gospel. As babes they are unskillful, and cannot speak the Word of righteousness with distinct and powerful utterance; for he who would speak with power must do so from a full mind and a large experience. Such as these believers, who had so unprofitably used the time which had elapsed from their conversion, are only fit for the elementary truths of the gospel, and are consequently unacquainted with the vast and unsearchable treasures of strength laid up in Christ for the comfort and joy of his disciples. The perfect and full-grown men who use their senses and spiritual powers aright are privileged to "eat of fat things full of marrow, and. drink wine on the lees well refined." The stronger they are, the more they can enjoy of the rich and solid comforts and supports of Divine grace; and are thereby fitted for the arduous work of professing the gospel, vindicating its claims, and illustrating its power.—B.
HOMILIES BY D. YOUNG
The qualifications and functions of the true priest.
I. HE IS TAKES FROM AMONG MEN. It is not an angelic ministry. The true humanity of Jesus must ever be emphasized. A perfect man is needed to be the true priest, but he must be a man. And the reason of this is found in the kind of work he has to do. Especially in that part of it which concerns the sin offering. He has to act for those who, begirt with infirmity, are continually showing their ignorance, and continually wandering into forbidden paths. He should have imagination enough to enter measurably into the extent of their sin.
II. HE IS TAKEN FROM AMONGST MEN BY DIVINE APPOINTMENT. As to sacrifices, God gave through Moses general instructions, enough to secure the people from a blundering and slovenly presentation. And with respect to the priest, he might have pointed out certain qualifications and left the people to select. But that there might be no dispute as to fitness, he chose the man himself. And then the succession to the office went on as easy a process as any—that of natural descent. God only can choose, consecrate, and qualify the true priest.
III. HE IS AN OFFERER OF GIFTS AND SACRIFICES FOR SIN. He is the habitual channel through which man recognizes his double duty to God. Man has to present gifts to God; expressions of thanksgiving and signs of service; tokens that the harvest which man gathers is the result of Divine bounty as well as of human effort. And inasmuch as these gifts, material things, were not usable by God directly, they had to go to the use of his priests, away for ever from the common use of men. Then along with the gifts had to be sacrifices for sin, the recognition of how imperfect the very best gift must be. To make the gift without the sin offering was presumption; it argued a conceited satisfaction with what one had. done. Nor must the sin offering be without the gift, on pretence that nothing could be given worthy of God's acceptance. That would have been adding sin to sin. We must give our best re God through Christ, however poor that best may be.—Y.
Here we have Gethsemane, apart from external circumstances—the treachery of Judas, the apathy, ignorance, and drowsiness of the disciples. The one thing of supreme importance is set before us, even the struggle and suffering in the heart of Jesus himself. Note—
I. THE ELEMENTS OF THE SUFFERING.
1. The possession of a suffering nature. This struggle happened in the days of his flesh. It was nothing wonderful that he should shrink from physical pain, especially when he knew it was to be such pain as of the scourging and the cross.
2. The possession of a sinless nature. To find a sinless human being shrinking with peculiar horror from death, accords with the great theological dictum that death is the result of sin. The right of Jesus could not be less than to pass from this world as Enoch did, by translation into glory. Death is the thing from which he shrinks. And full of life as Jesus was, life of the whole being, spiritual life most of all, how should he not shrink from death?
II. INTENSITY OF THE SUFFERING. This is shown by the urgency of the supplications. Jesus had had his times of intercession, his times for sweet remembrance of his disciples, and of a sinning, sorrowing world; but now here is a prayer out of keen personal agony—agony with an overpowering effect on the very thoughts and intents of the heart. Here in Gethsemane is the field of the Lord's supreme temptation. He who had raised others from the dead, it was not for him to submit to death without clear proof that such was the will of his Father. We have to submit. We look on death as a constant possibility; in us there are no resources for warding it off or recovering us from its captivity, as there were in Jesus. Hence the considerations which would press on him, "Can it be right that I should die? Shall I let myself sink into the hands of this approaching band, and finally into the grasp of Pilate, to become passive and yielding in everything save spiritual integrity?" What wonder was it that in such a struggle of the heart he should sweat as it were great drops of blood!
III. SUCCESSFUL ENDURANCE OF THE SUFFERING. Jesus goes into this struggle of Gethsemane with one great practical truth in his heart, viz. that his Father's will was the supreme determining guide of his course. To adopt a subsequent metaphor of the Epistle, this was the anchor within the veil. That will, his guide hitherto, had led him to Gethsemane, had led him into the very midst of plots and treacheries, into a thick circle of the wicked, each with his own special interest, and yet all wonderfully combined in bringing Jesus to the cross. This great truth, that he was in the midst of these things by God's will, kept Jesus as on the rock in the great hour of his temptation. There was more to be done for God's glory and the world's good through death, than through mere continuance of life. A dying Jesus is infinitely more than a translated Enoch.
IV. RESULT OF THE SUFFERING. His obedience becomes the measure of obedience to others; and also their inspiration—the thing that prompts ever to ask inquiringly, earnestly, with singleness of heart, as to what the will of God is. To the right-hearted. God ever gives an infallible intimation; and. before such ever stands also the figure of their perfected Leader. By the will of God he went to the cross, yielded to death; and then came the ascension, the passing within the veil, the entrance on the functions of the true High Priest. And so he became the cause of eternal salvation—eternal as distinguished from temporal. To Lazarus he had once been the cause of temporal salvation; but Lazarus would die again, and needed, through faith and obedience, eternal salvation. That is the salvation which transcends death. Death may get mixed up with the process, may for a time even conceal, or at least dim, the reality; but in due course death is left behind, and eternal salvation shines forth in all its Divine glory.—Y.
Hebrews 5:11, Hebrews 5:12
A special hindrance to Christian truth.
We have here—
I. A LARGE TOPIC. Much had to be said in the times of old concerning the scope of the priesthood. Many instructions had to be given as to various offerings and various seasons. And. not one of them was without some reference to the higher and abiding priesthood of Jesus. As the writer of the Epistle thought of all the tabernacle furniture of the holy of holies—ark, mercy-seat, lamps, table of shewbread, altar of burnt offering, priestly garments, ephod, breastplate, Urim and Thummim—and. considered how all these things shadowed forth some office, some relation, of Jesus, what wonder that he should try to stir up the languid intellect of his readers by announcing how much had to be said! Multum in parvo, it is true, but still multum. And we have to rejoice that as much has to be said, so in the New Testament much is said. No time is spent over useless knowledge and. speculation, things conjectural, things to please; everything is bent to setting forth the large needs of man and the comprehensive fullness of Christ.
II. A SPECIAL DIFFICULTY IN DEALING WITH THE TOPIC. Those who are addressed will not give proper attention. We are reminded of the words of Jesus, "He that hath ears … let him hear." Progress in the apprehension of Christian truth, true progress in theology, depends on our own disposition. Great attainments in human sciences are not for all, or even for many. They demand a certain degree of intellectual power, a certain amount of leisure, and perhaps other facilities; so that it is quite certain all men cannot be learned any more than all can be rich. But God has made progress in Christian truth to depend on the state of the heart. He has ordered things so that those who are babes in this world's knowledge may be as giants in the knowledge of God in Christ Jesus. Spiritual things are spiritually discerned; and if God has given his Holy Spirit that we may be led into all the truth, and if nevertheless we stumble among misapprehensions, then assuredly we are to blame, and especially will blame fall upon us when the element of time is brought into consideration. Here were people who had had gospel truth a long time before them, and yet knew little more than the alphabet. Still learners when they ought to be teachers? What worse reproach could there be—seeing how much spiritual ignorance there is in the world, and how much error, and how many there are busy in misleading men? Nor must we omit to notice how this gentle yet searching rebuke of the writer here shows his own advanced attainments. He is writing of things which he well understands, and knows what he means. His topics are not mere trifles. They are very practical, and point forward into the developments and occupations of the future.—Y.
The powers of the full-grown Christian.
Here is the close analogy between the natural life and the spiritual.
I. THE PROGRESS OF THE NATURAL LIFE. At birth the babe finds food provided for it, without effort, without thought—food exactly suited to its infantile state, and which it makes use of by a kind of instinct. Nothing is expected from it save that which it is certain to do by a law of its nature. But this season, when nothing is expected from it, is only a season of preparing for the day when much will be expected. Nature will not always provide food in this caw, simple fashion. Milk has to make the way for solid food, and, what is even more important, food to be chosen by us. Whenever we are fit to choose, God leaves us to choose, not between the pleasant and the unpleasant, not between that which appeals most powerfully to the taste, and that which is plainer, simpler fare; but, as the writer here emphatically puts it, between the good and the bad. That is the great matter to decide in the choice of food—Is it good or bad? Will it minister to growth, health, energy of function, fullness of life, length of days? God leaves us to settle this. He gives us, without our choice, a suitable food up to the time when our perceptions are sufficiently trained to choose for ourselves. Then he leaves us to freedom and responsibility.
II. THE SIMILAR PROGRESS OF THE SPIRITUAL LIFE. There is the new creature in Christ Jesus, born again, beginning in feebleness, alive to new and heavenly things, and yet hardly knowing for a while what that life is. Needing to be treated with great long-suffering and consideration because of infirmity (1 Corinthians 3:2). But, as in the natural man, there should be growth, development of spiritual perception and grasp, so that the spiritual man may come to discern the difference between the true and the false, the fleshly and the spiritual, the abiding and the temporary, the earthly and the heavenly. Jesus Christ is the Bread of life. Recollect his own words, all important in the present connection: "Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, ye have no life in you. Whoso eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, hath eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day. For my flesh is meat indeed, and my blood is drink indeed." How many, spiritually considered, are monstrosities to what they ought to be! The natural man, nourished by proper food, full of life, growing and connecting itself with a thousand things around, while the new creature in Christ Jesus within is but a starved and pining babe. There may, perhaps, be much talk of living a life of faith on the Son of God, but no reality.—Y.
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Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Hebrews 5". The Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the First Week of Advent