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THE HIGH PRIESTHOOD OF CHRIST FULFILS THE SYMBOLISM OF THE AARONIC, AND IS ALONE AN ETERNAL REALITY.
Christ's heavenly priesthood, shown above to be of a higher order than that of Aaron, destined to supersede it, is in this section of the Epistle (as intimated in the concluding verses of Hebrews 7:1-58.7.28) set forth in full as the reality foreshadowed by it. The two priesthoods are compared with respect to
(1) their spheres,
(2) their functions,
(3) their effects; and, in the course of the exposition, the two covenants (διαθήκαι) to which they respectively belong are explained and contrasted.
Now the chief matter in (or, in regard to) the things which are being said is (or, to sum up what we are saying). The word κεφάλαιον in itself may mean either "summary" or "chief point." It is not "the sum of what we have spoken," as in A.V. "Caput, id est praecipuum …. dum haec omnia de archisacerdote nostro dicimus, caput totius sermonis, ordine ita postulante, commemorandum venit. Conf. ἐπὶ, Hebrews 8:6; Hebrews 9:10, Hebrews 9:15, Hebrews 9:17; Hebrews 10:28" (Bengel). We have such a High Priest (i.e. such as has been described; cf. Hebrews 7:26), who sat down on the right hand of the throne of the Majesty (or, of Majesty) in the heavens (cf. Hebrews 1:3, and what was there said).
A minister of the sanctuary (τῶν ἁγίων, neuter, as in Hebrews 9:12, equivalent to "the holy places;" cf. Hebrews 9:8; Hebrews 10:19), and of the true tabernacle, which the Lord pitched, and not man. The sphere of Christ's priestly ministration (λειτουργὸς λειτουργεῖν, λειτουργία, being the recognized words in the LXX. and Josephus for denoting sacerdotal functions,—hence Liturgy) is thus in the first place pointed to as being a heavenly one, symbolized only by the earthly sanctuary. But what is the true tabernacle, in which Christ ministers? Are we to suppose that an actual prototype of the earthly tabernacle is regarded as existing locally beyond the sky? No; it is only implied that there are, in the suprasensuous sphere, facts and relations which are symbolized and made level to our comprehension by local imagery. Still, there may be conceived as present to the writer's mind an ideal picture of a heavenly temple, such as was seen in vision by prophets, and served to aid their conception of realities beyond their ken. Thus in Psalms 29:1-19.29.11., where the thunderstorm is described, the LORD is conceived, in the introductory and concluding verses, as enthroned above it in his heavenly temple, sitting there a King for ever, and worshipped by the "sons of God." Thus in 1 Kings 22:19 Michaiah sees in vision "the Loud sitting on his throne, and all the host of heaven standing by him, on his right hand and on his left." In Isaiah 6:1-23.6.13. this throne is seen as the distinct counterpart of the mercy-seat in the earthly temple, with the winged forms above it, and the "house" filled with the smoke of incense, and live coals upon the altar. Ezekiel's still more remarkable visions (Hebrews 1:1-58.1.14., Hebrews 1:10., Hebrews 1:11) are in like manner enlargements of the idea of the Shechinah in the holy of holies (cf. also Psalms 11:4; Micah 1:2; Heb 2:1-18 :20). Then the visions of St. John in the Revelation have the same basis; there is still seen a glorious counterpart above of the temple below; though now with new accessories, expressive of accomplished redemption. But that St. John's visions are meant only as imagery representing the incomprehensible is evident throughout, and especially from the ideal description of the holy city in Revelation 21:1-66.21.27., in which Revelation 21:22 is peculiarly significant: "And I saw no temple therein: for the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are the temple of it." In the same way is to be understood the "true tabernacle." If, as we may suppose, the writer had before his mind the prophetic visions of such a heavenly temple, he entertains them only as imaging spiritual facts and relations in the regions of eternity. "Which the Lord pitched," etc., may have reference to Isaiah 42:5, Ὁ ποιήσας τὸν οὐρανὸν καὶ πήξας αὐτὸν, LXX.
Hebrews 8:3, Hebrews 8:4
For every high priest is appointed to offer gifts and sacrifices: wherefore it is of necessity that this one also have somewhat to offer. For (rather, nay; the reading μὲν οὗν being better supported than the Textus Receptus μὲν γὰρ) if he were on earth, he would not even be a priest, seeing there are those who offer the gifts according to the Law. These verses are in proof of the assertion of Hebrews 8:2, viz. that Christ has his ministry in the heavenly tabernacle. He has been shown to be a High Priest: therefore he must make some offering, this being the very purpose of a high priest's office (cf. Hebrews 5:1). But where? Not certainly in the earthly tabernacle, this being served already, and exclusively served, by the sons of Aaron. Therefore it must be in the heavenly sphere symbolized by the earthly tabernacle. And then, in Hebrews 8:5, that there is a heavenly reality, of which the earthly tabernacle is but a shadow, is shown by what was said of the latter when it was made. (What Christ offers in the heavenly sphere is surely his own atoning sacrifice. Some commentators have found a difficulty in this conception on the ground that this his sacrifice had been completed once for all before his ascension. True; but he is regarded as carrying its efficacy with him to the mercy-seat above, and so for ever offering it; even as it is continually commemorated and pleaded in the Eucharist by the Church below. And thus, be it observed, the symbolism of the Day of Atonement is accurately fulfilled. For the high priest did not sacrifice within the tabernacle; he only carried to the holy of holies the blood, representing the atoning efficacy of the sacrifice made outside before his entrance)
Who (i.e. being such as do so; οἵτινες) serve a copy and shadow of the heavenly things (ὑπόδειγμα here, as in Hebrews 9:23, means" representation," in the way of copy, not of pattern. "Shadow" (σκιὰ) is opposed in Hebrews 10:1-58.10.39. I to εἰκὼν, which denotes the reality, and in Colossians 2:17 to σῶμα), even as Moses is admonished of God when about to make the tabernacle (literally, to complete; but net in the sense of finishing a thing begun, but of carrying out a design to entire completion); for, See, saith he, that thou make all things according to the pattern that was showed thee in the mount. For the sense of κεχρημάτισται, according to Hellenistic usage, cf. Matthew 2:22, "Being warned of God in a dream (χρηματισθεὶς δὲ κατ ὄναρ)." The reference here is to Exodus 25:40; the words which "the LORD spake unto Moses." Rabbinical writers, holding the view of an actual heavenly tabernacle, the prototype of the earthly one, have concluded from the passage in Exodus that Moses had a vision of it, or that a visible representation of it was exhibited to him on the mount. All that is necessarily implied is that he was divinely admonished to make the tabernacle after the fashion conveyed, in whatever way, to his apprehension when on the mount, so that it might be a true representation of some heavenly reality (cf. Acts 7:44).
But now (νυνὶ in its usual logical, not temporal, sense; cf. Hebrews 11:16; also Hebrews 2:8; Hebrews 9:26; Hebrews 12:26) hath he obtained a more excellent ministry, by how much also he is the Mediator of a better covenant, which (ἥτις, equivalent to quippequae, as usual) hath been established upon better promises. Here the idea of the new διαθήκη, introduced first in the way of anticipation at Hebrews 7:22, is brought to the front, to be carried out in what follows. There the proved superior greatness of the predicted priest was made the measure of the superior excellence of the covenant of which he has become Surety; here the superior excellence of the new covenant, which is now to be shown from prophecy, is made /he measure of that of Christ's priestly ministry, which has just been proved to be of necessity in the sphere of heavenly realities of which the Mosaic ritual was but a copy and shadow. The word here used is not ἔγγυος ("surety"), as in Hebrews 7:22, but μεσίτης ("mediator"); on which it is to be observed that the mediator of the old covenant was not Aaron, but Moses (see Galatians 3:19): it was he that intervened between God and the congregation in the establishment of the covenant; and thus, in this respect also, the priesthood of the new covenant transcends the old one, in that (as was shown also in the earlier part of the Epistle) the type of Moses, as well as of Aaron, is fulfilled in it. The word νενομοθέτηται ("established" in A.V; "enacted" in the recent R.V) expresses the promulgation of a law—appositely in the first place to the Law of Moses, which constituted the conditions of the old covenant; but also to the description of the new covenant, which follows from Jeremiah, according to which the law remains, but to be written on the heart. The gospel is elsewhere regarded under the idea of law, though not a law of bondage, but of liberty—a law, not of the letter, but of the Spirit (see Romans 3:27; Romans 8:2; Romans 9:31; James 1:25). The "better promises" are such as the passage from Jeremiah, quoted below, notably represents. Other passages might be referred to (such as Ezekiel 36:25, etc; Ezekiel 37:24, etc), of similar significance, though not with the same marked mention of a new covenant to supersede the old one. This memorable passage (Jeremiah 31:31-24.31.35) occurs in a distinct section of Jeremiah's prophecies (Jeremiah 30:1-24.30.24; Jeremiah 31:1-24.31.40), delivered after the commencement of the Captivity, and directed to be written in a book. The subject of the whole section is the restoration of Israel, its ultimate Messianic reference being patent to all who acknowledge any such at all in prophecy. In evidence of this there is not only the passage before us, pointing to an entirely new covenant with Israel, and the ideal tone of the whole prophecy, but also, in particular, the view of all the scattered tribes, not Judah only—the whole ideal Israel—being gathered together from all countries to Zion, and of David himself to rule over them as king. The national and local framework, which the picture has in common with other prophetic visions of the coming days, is of course no difficulty to those familiar with the style of the prophetic books.
For if that first covenant had been faultless, then should no place have been sought for a second. "For" introduces this sentence as a reason for what has been already said; i.e. for a better covenant having been spoken of. The expression might be objected to by Hebrew readers as implying imperfection in the original Divine covenant. "Nay," says the writer, "it was imperfect, it was not faultless; for prophecy itself declares this." Should it be further objected that in the prophecy it is not the old covenant itself that is found fault with, but the people for not observing it, the answer would be that the remedy for their non-observance being the substitution of a new one that would answer its purpose better, some imperfection in the old one is implied. This is indeed the very point of this verse. If it be asked, further, how faultiness in the old covenant is compatible with the view of its Divine origin, the answer is abundantly supplied in St. Paul's Epistles. His position constantly is that the Mosaic Law, though in itself "holy, just, and true," and adequate to its purpose, was still imperfect as a means of justification. It was but a temporary dispensation, with a purpose of its own, intervening between the original promise to Abraham and the fulfillment of that promise in Christ. Thus it is no derogation to itself or to its Author to charge it with "weakness and unprofitableness" for a purpose it was never meant to answer.
For finding fault with them (i.e. the people), he saith (or, as some take it, finding fault, he saith to them), Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, that I will accomplish upon the house of Israel and the house of Judah a new covenant: not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day when I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt; because they continued not in my covenant, and I regarded them not, saith the Lord. For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, saith the Lord; I will put my laws into their mind, and write them in their hearts, and I will be to them a God, and they shall be to me a people: and they shall not teach every man his neighbor, and every man his brother, saying, Know the Lord: for all shall know me, from the least to the greatest. For I will be merciful to their unrighteousness, and their sins and their iniquities will I remember no more. The passage is quoted from the LXX., with a few verbal differences which do not affect the meaning. In Hebrews 8:9 our A.V. renders the original in Jeremiah "although I was an Husband unto them," instead of "and I regarded them not (κἀγὼ ἠμέλησα αὐτῶν)." The LXX., followed in the text, gives the more probable meaning. On the whole passage be it observed:
1. "Behold, the days come," like "in that day," is a usual prophetic phrase for denoting the age of the Messiah.
2. The failure of the old covenant is attributed in the first place to the people's not continuing in it, and then, as a consequence, to the LORD's withdrawal of his protection. The evidence of such withdrawal immediately before the prophet's view may be supposed to have been the Babylonian captivity.
3. The distinguishing characteristics of the new covenant are
(1) God's laws, not imposed as an external code, but put into the mind and written on the heart;
(2) the general knowledge of the Load by small as welt as great, without the former need of continual admonition; and
(3) as the originating and inspiring cause of all, the forgiveness on the Loan's part of past sins.
It is important to perceive that this last characteristic of the new covenant, though coming last in order, is given as the reason for the other two; for this is a first principle of the gospel. The sense of forgiveness through Christ, of acceptance in the Beloved, is ever set forth as the inspiring principle of the obedience of Christians. "We love him, because he first loved us." And hence flow the two results denoted in the prophecy.
(1) "I will put my laws," etc; i.e. there will ensue, through the inspiring Spirit, from the sense of forgiveness in Christ, a hearty service of love and loyalty; no mere mechanical observance of an external code. Then,
(2) "And they shall not teach," etc; i.e. those who thus, led by the Spirit, give themselves to such hearty service, will acquire, further, an immediate, and as it were instinctive, "knowledge of the Lord," not confined to "the wise" or "the scribe," but the personal privilege of even the "little ones" of Christ (cf. Matthew 11:25, "I thank thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them unto babes;" also John 6:45, "It is written in the prophets, And they shall be all taught of God;" also 1 Thessalonians 4:9, "But as touching brotherly love, ye need not that I write unto you; for ye yourselves are taught of God to love one another;" also 1 John 2:20, "But ye have an unction from the Holy One, and ye know all things"). It is not to be inferred (as has been) from this last result that a distinct order of ministry is no essential constituent of the Christian Church for admonition of others. The fact that such a ministry was constituted from the first in all the Churches, and was in active operation when apostles wrote as above, is in itself sufficient disproof of such a view. All that is implied is that all faithful believers, small as well as great (using, of course, the means of grace and edification provided for them in the Church), should themselves have inward illumination and personal communion with God. This is indeed a peculiar glory of the Christian religion. The poorest and the simplest believer may have spiritual perceptions and spiritual experience of his own, surpassing those of his appointed guides, and remaining his own though priests and teachers be unfaithful. "I am small and despised", "yet do not I forget thy precepts." "I have more understanding than all my teachers; for thy testimonies are my meditation." Observe, lastly, the ideality of the whole view given of the effects of the new covenant. It presents to us the purpose, the potentiality, of the new dispensation, rather than results to be fully realized in this world; though still actually realized so far as the "glorious light of the gospel" illuminates the Church, and is allowed to "shine into" the human heart. This remark applies to all Messianic prophecy.
In that he saith, A new covenant, he hath made the first old. But that which is becoming old and waxeth aged is nigh unto vanishing away. "He hath made the first old" (πεπαλαίωκε) refers to the time of Jeremiah's prophecy, not of the writing of the Epistle. The very mention of a new covenant had even then antiquated the other. It thenceforth survived only under the category of old as opposed to new; and further marked with the growing decrepitude which is the precursor of dissolution. This further idea is expressed by the present participle παλαιούμενον (elsewhere applied to garments that are wearing out; cf. Psalms 102:27; Hebrews 1:11; Isaiah 1:9; Isaiah 51:6; Luke 12:33), and also by γηράσκον, a figure taken from the advance of old age in men. When the Epistle was written, it would not have been spoken of as "waxing old," but as defunct. The temple, indeed, was still standing, with the old ritual going on; but it had become but as the stately shrine of a lifeless thing. As to the view of the antiquation having begun even in the prophetic age, we observe that the prophets themselves show a consciousness of this, in that their growing tendency is to depreciate rather than exalt the ceremonial Law, and to put mercy above sacrifice. In fact, the Old Testament itself, especially in its later parts, is replete with the principles of the new covenant, anticipated in part, though not to be fully revealed till Christ appeared. And so, when he did appear, the old dispensation had already become obsolete, and the new one prepared for; to be rejected in Israel by those only who, "in the reading of the Old Testament," had "the veil upon their heart."
The chief point.
This passage does not present a recapitulation of the topics already considered; it emphasizes, as the crowning topic in connection with our Lord's priesthood, the fact that he has been "made higher than the heavens."
I. THE HEAVENLY MAJESTY OF OUR HIGH PRIEST. (Hebrews 8:1) He dwells now in heaven, his native home. He occupies there the loftiest place; for he shares the sore-reign authority and the universal dominion of the absolute God. Aaron exercised his priesthood in an earthly sanctuary made by men's hands; Christ officiates as our High Priest in the eternal uncreated heavens. Aaron, when he entered the holy of holies once a year on the great Jewish fast-day, merely stood for a short time before the symbolic throne—his attitude one of lowly service; but Christ has "sat down" at the right hand of the Eternal—his attitude that of royal government. It is noticeable that in this treatise the doctrine of the resurrection of Jesus does not receive the prominence which is given to it in almost every Epistle of Paul. Indeed, it is only once mentioned (Hebrews 13:20). But doubtless the reason of this is to be found in the unique design of the treatise. This book alone, of all the books of Scripture, expounds the doctrine of the priesthood of Christ; and it brings into the foreground, accordingly, only those acts which he performed as the Antitype of Aaron—his sacrifice of himself in the outer court of this world, and his passing within the blue veil of heaven to sprinkle his blood upon the mercy-seat. So the writer dwells only upon the death and the ascension of the Savior.
II. HIS HEAVENLY MINISTRY. (Hebrews 8:2-58.8.6) The ministry of the Redeemer is not incompatible with his majesty; for he performs it as the Plenipotentiary of the Godhead, and in virtue of his session at "the right hand of the throne." The heavenly sanctuary in which Christ officiates is here contrasted with the Hebrew sanctuary. We are reminded that the Mosaic tabernacle and its ritual were nothing more than an adumbration of the realities of the true tabernacle. They were only a shadowy prophecy of the priestly ministry of the Lord Jesus. The very furniture of the sacred tent had a symbolic meaning; and every article was formed after a Divine "pattern" (Hebrews 8:5)—the snuffers and incense-spoons as well as the magnificent lamp-stand. But how different the scene of Christ's continual intercession from the Jewish tabernacle or temple! Having offered himself as a Sacrifice upon the altar of burnt offering which had been set up on Calvary, he had to appear within the sanctuary of God with his atoning blood. Not being, however, a high priest after the order of Aaron, he could not go for this purpose into the temple at Jerusalem; so, if he was to continue to be "a Priest at all' (Hebrews 8:4), it behooved him to seek another temple. Jesus accordingly ascended to heaven, "the true tabernacle;' and he carries on his ministry there in "the sanctuary," i.e. in the holy of holies which belongs to that true tabernacle (Hebrews 8:2). The Levitical high priests were but typical mediators, who performed typical services in connection with a typical sanctuary. Jesus is the anti-typical High Priest, who has offered a real sacrifice for sin, and who makes prevailing intercession for his people within the true archetypal tabernacle. His ministry, therefore, is "more excellent" than Aaron's.
1. For the materialist. The Mosaic tabernacle was a "copy" of the celestial sanctuary; but are not all nature and all earthly relations just an adumbration of the unseen?
"What if earth
Be but the shadow of heaven, and things therein
Each to other like, more than on earth is thought?"
2. For the sacerdotalist. Jesus is the one mediating Priest of the New Testament Church; and even he is no longer a sacrificing Priest. He bled and died in the outer court; and he mediates in "the sanctuary" now by intercession.
3. For the formalist. How great the guilt of the man who, while professing to be a Christian, does not make the priesthood of Christ a main theme of his thoughts, and the joy of his heart!
4. For the Christian believer. The saint should more and more rejoice in Jesus as his Priest, and constantly re-commit his soul into his hands, to be introduced to God by him.
5. For the gospel minister. While the teaching of the pulpit ought to range, as far as possible, over the wide sweep of thought which is embraced in the orbit of the Bible, the doctrine of the mediation of our glorified Redeemer must be its "chief point"—the key-stone of all its utterances, whether evangelical or ethical.
The new covenant.
Here we have another of the broad contrasts which everywhere meet us in this treatise. In those Epistles which are undoubtedly Paul's, the process of reasoning resembles the movement of a file of soldiers; but in this to the Hebrews, the movement resembles rather that of soldiers in rank. The writer introduces his contrast between the covenants with the remark (Hebrews 8:6) that our Lord's heavenly ministry as greatly excels that of Aaron as the new covenant which he administers is superior to the old.
I. THE OLD COVENANT WAS IMPERFECT. "That first covenant" (Hebrews 8:7) does not refer to the covenant of works, which was made with Adam in Eden; but to the Mosaic dispensation of the economy of grace. This covenant had been solemnly inaugurated and accepted by the Jews at the foot of Mount Sinai (Exodus 24:4-2.24.8); and it had been repeatedly renewed in later times (Joshua 24:24, Joshua 24:25; 2 Chronicles 15:12; 2Ki 11:17; 2 Chronicles 29:1-14.29.36; Nehemiah 9:1-16.9.38., Nehemiah 9:10). It was not "faultless;" that is, it was imperfect as a dispensation of grace. The Mosaic institutions were only preparatory to those of gospel times. They were legal rather than evangelical, and sensuous rather than spiritual. They were suited to the nonage of the Church; and "Israel was a child" when God "took him by the hand to lead him forth out of the land of Egypt" (Hebrews 8:9; Hosea 11:1-28.11.4). So Judaism taught spiritual truth only in faint outline. Its method was that of spectacular representation. The Law was "our tutor to bring us unto Christ" (Galatians 3:24).
II. A PROPHECY OF THE NEW COVENANT. In order to prove from the Jewish Scriptures the imperfection of the "first" covenant, and to describe the "better promises" of the "new" and final covenant, the writer quotes a most striking passage from the Book of Jeremiah (Jeremiah 31:31-24.31.34). This oracle was given when the Jews of Judah were on the brink of the Babylonish captivity, to comfort their desolate hearts with the cheering hope of Messianic times. The chosen people had not "continued" in God's covenant; and, because they had broken it, he had "regarded them not" (verse 9), but allowed first Israel, and afterwards Judah, to be carried into exile. But Jeremiah is commissioned to announce that, notwithstanding all, God in his wonderful mercy "will make a new covenant" (verse 8), with the whole Hebrew nation. The twelve tribes shall again become one rod in his hand. And all Gentiles, who by faith belong to the true Israel, shall share the blessing.
III. CHARACTERISTICS OF THE NEW COVENANT. What are the "better promises"? Jeremiah's oracle mentions three.
1. The Law written on the heart. (Verse 10) The child is controlled by positive external precept; the man by moral and spiritual principle. During the pupilage of the Church, the Divine laws were written "in tables of stone;" but, now that the Church has come to manhood, they are inscribed "in tables that are hearts of flesh" (2 Corinthians 3:3). The ascendancy of ritualism in any Christian Church means, therefore, a return to the" childish things" of the old covenant—a going back to the swaddling-clothes of religious babyhood.
2. The universal knowledge of God. (Verse 11) During the Jewish dispensation, the average Jew had only an exceedingly dim apprehension of religious truth, whether about God or the way to him, or about holiness or immortality. But, under the new covenant, spiritual truth shall become the longer the more clearly perceived, and the more widely diffused. For now the Holy Spirit is the great Teacher of the Church; and he does not impart esoteric instruction to some special caste, but teaches every believer "from the least to the greatest." What, then, is modern ritualism, but a return to the dim vision of the old economy? It is the use of candies—sometimes literally—in broad daylight.
3. The full forgiveness of sins. (Verse 12) This "promise," although introduced last, precedes the other two in actual bestowment. Sin must be pardoned and cleansed away before the Law can be written on the heart, or the mind flooded with spiritual light. None of the Levitical sacrifices could expiate moral guilt; but on the basis of Christ's atonement God now imparts that forgiveness which is the precedent condition of moral renewal and of a holy life (Psalms 130:4).
CONCLUSION. God said at Sinai, in setting up the "first" covenant, "Thou shalt not" (Exodus 20:3-2.20.17); but now, in ordering the new covenant, his words are, "I will" (verses 10-12). And what does this change of language imply? "I will" really points to the effusion and diffusion of the Holy Spirit. He was poured out on the day of Pentecost, the anniversary of the giving of the Law from Mount Sinai. It is his presence within the New Testament Church that makes the new covenant so vastly superior to the old. We should ask ourselves whether our souls individually are sharing the blessings of the gospel dispensation. We must remember also that the "better promises" imply on our part definite duties and great responsibilities, And, as regards the world, we must be persuaded that only the general acceptance of the new covenant will extirpate by the roots the enormous evils which still afflict society.
HOMILIES BY W. JONES
Three better things.
"But now hath he obtained a more excellent ministry's etc. In these words the writer states in brief what he at once proceeds to illustrate and establish at considerable length, from this point on to Hebrews 10:18. We may perhaps with advantage take a general glance at these three better things, leaving their particular examination until summoned to it by the development of the Epistle.
I. THE BETTER MINISTRY. "But now hath he obtained a more excellent ministry" than the high priests of the Jewish Church. The proposition of the text is that our Lord's ministry is as much better than theirs as the new covenant is better than the old, and the new covenant is better than the old because it has been enacted upon better promises. His ministry is that of our great High Priest, or, in the word used in the text, our Mediator. Let us mention a few particulars in which this ministry of his is more excellent than that of the Jewish high priests.
1. Because it is exercised in a higher sphere. They ministered in the material tabernacle and temple, and for a brief season once a year were permitted to enter the holy of holies where God manifested his presence by a symbol; but these were only copies and shadows of the heavenly realities. Our Savior is a Minister of the heavenly" sanctuary, and of the true tabernacle, which the Lord pitched, not man." He "appears before the face of God for us."
2. Because it extends to greater numbers. The ministry of the Jewish high priests was exercised for the Jews only. It was limited to their own race, and to the proselytes to their religion. But the ministry of Jesus Christ is for all mankind. He "tasted death for every man." He is the "Mediator between God and men" of every nationality, and every race, and every age, etc.
3. Because it is enduring. The ministry of individual Jewish high priests ended at their death, if not before; and that ministry as an institution waxed old and vanished away. But the ministry of our great High Priest is of perpetual vitality and efficacy. His mediation will never be superseded, never lose its attractiveness and glory, until man is fitted to approach God without a mediator.
4. Because it secures richer results. These results, or some of them at least, are referred to in the "better promises." The results of the ministry of the Aaronic priesthood, like its functions, were to a great extent symbolic and shadowy rather than essential and real. But through the ministry of the Christ we obtain real benefits and essential blessings: e.g. reconciliation with God, forgiveness, etc.
II. THE BETTER COVENANT. "He is the Mediator of a better covenant." But what are we to understand by the word "covenant"? As used in human relations it denotes a compact or agreement between two or more parties, who are equal, each of whom has the right to propose alterations in the terms of the compact, and to accept or reject such terms. In this sense there can be no covenant between God and man; for there is no equality between the parties, and man cannot reject any requirement of God without committing sin. Perhaps it is for this reason that the word which strictly signifies covenant is not used in the New Testament. But as applied to God and man the "covenant" denotes his method of revealing himself to men, and his will concerning their salvation, his arrangement of agencies and means and conditions by which they may be saved. "The word 'covenant' becomes appropriate in view of the solemn assent and consent with which man accepts God's proposal, involved in his scheme or plan. In this context the 'old covenant' is the scheme revealed to Israel under Moses; the 'new' is the gospel scheme involving the gift and work of both the Son and the Spirit of God." The old covenant was good, as our text implies. It originated in the grace of God. It involved on his part condescension towards man. It was designed and fitted to benefit and bless and save man. It promised life and blessing to those who complied with its terms; and its promises were true. But the new covenant is very much better than the old. This will appear when we come to notice the "better promises." At present we mention only two aspects of its superiority.
1. It presents a more spiritual revelation of the character and will of God. Under the old covenant nearly everything was expressed by means of material forms and symbols—nearly everything appealed to the senses. Its laws, its ritual, its promised blessings, pertained largely to the visible, the sensuous, and the temporal. It was a revelation suited to the childhood and youth of our race. But the new covenant gives us a more spiritual manifestation of the Divine mind and will; it is a revelation for the manhood of our race. It proclaims the spirituality of God and of his worship. It writes the Divine law upon men's hearts. It promises spiritual blessings.
2. It is a fuller expression of the grace of God. (Cf. John 1:14-43.1.18; Romans 3:24; Romans 5:21; Romans 6:14) The next division of our subject will show us that there is more of Divine grace manifested in the new than in the old covenant.
III. THE BETTER PROMISES. "A better covenant, which hath been enacted upon better promises." The promises which the writer has chiefly in view are those mentioned in Hebrews 10:10-58.10.12. Let us mention some of these better promises of the new covenant.
1. It proffers strength to comply with its own conditions. The old covenant promised blessings to the obedient; the new promises blessings to enable us to render obedience. The Holy Spirit is promised to incline our hearts to the good, to strengthen us for duty, etc.
2. Justification for the sinner on condition of faith in Jesus Christ. (Cf. Romans 3:20-45.3.26; Romans 10:5-45.10.10; Galatians 3:10-48.3.14)
3. Sanctification of the believer by the Holy Spirit. (Cf. John 14:16-43.14.18, John 14:26; John 15:26; John 16:7-43.16.15; Romans 15:13, Romans 15:16; 2 Corinthians 3:18) 4. Glorification of his people forever in the future state. (Cf. Romans 8:17, Romans 8:18, Romans 8:30; 2 Corinthians 4:17; 2 Timothy 2:10; 1 Peter 5:10) Verily, these are better promises than those of the old covenant. And the covenant to which they belong is far better than the old one. By so much, also, is our Lord's ministry better than that of the Aaronic high priests. Let us give earnest heed to secure our personal interest in this new and "better covenant."—W.J.
Law and love in the new covenant.
"For this is the covenant that I will make," etc. The paragraph from which our text is taken is a quotation from Jeremiah 31:31-24.31.34. It is said that the Lord "will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah;" but this is spoken, not of Israel according to the flesh, but of the spiritual Israel—the spiritual seed of Abraham (cf. Romans 2:28, Romans 2:29; Romans 9:6-45.9.8; Galatians 3:7-48.3.9). Notice—
I. THE REVELATION OF LAW IN THE NEW COVENANT. One of the great distinctions between the two covenants arises from the materiality of the old one and the spirituality of the new one. In nothing is this more manifest than in the matter of Law. Law is present in both of them. But in the old it was engraved upon tables of stone; in the new it is written upon the hearts of men. Under the old the people were led "by the hand," guided by visible symbols; under the new they are led by the heart, guided by spiritual influences. Our text sets forth certain aspects of Law in the new covenant.
1. Law present in the mind. "I will put my laws into their mind." It, the former dispensation Law was spoken to the outward ear, it was made visible to the bodily eye; and so given, it was often soon neglected and forgotten. But in the present dispensation, to those who have by faith entered into covenant relation with God, Law is given as a possession of their spiritual nature. It is not external to them, but is present within their minds as a rule of action and as a theme for meditation.
2. Law treasured in the heart. "And on their heart also will I write them." When a thing is highly esteemed by us, or when a cause has awakened our deep interest, we say with propriety that it lies near our heart. With greater emphasis and deeper significance do we say the same of one whom we love. So in the new covenant Law holds a high place; it is prized and loved. It is loved as being good in itself. "The Law is holy, and the commandment holy, and righteous, and good." It is loved, also, as being the expression of our Father's will. There were instances under the old covenant in which the Law was loved and delighted in, but they were rare exceptions to the general rule. Under the new covenant the Law of the Lord will be increasingly prized and loved and obeyed.
3. Law embodied in the life. "Out of the heart are the issues of life." Writing the Law upon the heart is a pictorial way of expressing the inspiration of a disposition to obey Law. God will give his people courage to profess his laws, "and power to put them in practice; the whole habit and frame of their souls shall be a table and transcript of the Law of God." The Law which they love in their heart they will express in their lives. This is the highest revelation of Law. It is most effective in relation to the individual; it is most clear in relation to others, and most influential also. This revelation is the work of the Holy Spirit. It is he who illumines the mind, inspires the heart, etc.
II. THE EXPRESSION OF LOVE IN THE NEW COVENANT. "And I will be to them a God, and they shall be to me a people." We do not mean to imply that the giving of the Law unto the minds and hearts of God's people was not an expression of his love; for such in truth it was. But here is a brighter manifestation of his love. Notice:
1. God's relation to the Christian. "I will be to them a God." He will be to them all that they could desire and expect to find in their God. He gives himself as the chief blessing of the new covenant. He will be to his people "as great, as wise, as powerful, as good as he is in himself." We have all things in him (1 Corinthians 3:21-46.3.23). We have his wisdom for our direction, his power for our protection, his love for our spiritual satisfaction and joy, his Spirit for our instruction, consolation, and sanctification, his heaven for our abiding and blessed home. A whole library dealing with these words could not fully express the number and preciousness of the blessings which are comprehended in them—" I will be to them a God."
2. The Christian's relation to God. "And they shall be to me a people," This is set forth as our privilege; and a great one it is. But the privilege has its obligations. If by faith in Jesus Christ we have entered into this covenant relation with God, we have the right to expect its blessings from him, and we axe solemnly bound to fulfill its duties to him. Our duty to which the covenant binds us includes
(1) supreme affection to God;
(2) reverent worship of him;
(3) hearty consecration to his service;
(4) cheerful compliance with his will
May we be enabled both to perform the duties and to enjoy the privileges of this gracious covenant.—W.J.
Hebrews 8:11, Hebrews 8:12
Knowledge and mercy in the new covenant.
"And they shall not teach every man his neighbor," etc.
I. MAN'S KNOWLEDGE, OF GOD UNDER THE NEW COVENANT. "And they shall not teach every man his fellow-citizen, and every man his brother, saying, Know the Lord," etc. We have here:
1. The highest subject of knowledge. "The Lord: all shall know me?" This is life eternal, that they should know thee the only true God," etc. This knowledge is:
(1) Sublimest in its character. There is no knowledge so exalted as this. Knowledge of astronomy is a high attainment; but it is not to be compared with knowledge of him who made the stars and all worlds, and who sustains them and presides over them.
(2) Widest in its extent. He is infinite, and can never be fully known by man: "The knowledge of God and of Christ," says Dr. Harris, "is the sum of all science; this is the only knowledge that can incorporate and mingle with our being; and all other knowledge is real only so far as it is symbolical of this."
(3) Mightiest in its moral influence. It transforms the character of those who possess it (cf. 2 Corinthians 3:18).
2. The purest source of knowledge. The obligation of men under the old covenant to impart to each other the knowledge of God is implied in the text. This obligation is not abolished under the new covenant; but there is less need for such private instruction because of the frequent public services of qualified ministers of the gospel. Moreover, the text undoubtedly refers to the communication of knowledge by the Holy Spirit. "The agency of the Holy Ghost is assumed under this covenant as 'the Spirit of truth,' the supreme and most vital Teacher of this true knowledge of God. For the covenant, taken in the large sense of a system of agencies, is definitely and certainly the gospel age as distinguished from the Mosaic; and of this gospel age or dispensation, the gift of the Holy Ghost, to teach, impress, and enforce the true knowledge of God, is the center and the soul, even as Jesus is the center and soul of the Christian economy considered as 'the Propitiation for our sins,' and our great High Priest before the throne of God. The results as given here come of his teaching and of no other" (H. Cowles, D.D). This knowledge does not spring from mere human conjecture, or imagination, or investigation, or ratiocination; but from spiritual revelation. "All thy children shall be taught of the Lord." "Ye have an anointing from the Holy One, and ye know all things" (1 John 2:20, 1 John 2:27).
3. The clear apprehension of knowledge. Proceeding from so crystalline a source, the stream will be clear. If our mind and heart be free from prejudice, then the instruction concerning God which we receive from the Word and the Spirit will be clear and correct; what we know of him we shall know truly.
4. The wide diffusion of knowledge. "All shall know me, from the least to the greatest of them." Primarily the "all" refers to the "people" (Hebrews 8:10) of God: all of them shall know him. But eventually there shall be a universal diffusion of the knowledge of God. This the sacred Scriptures distinctly affirm (Matthew 24:14; Matthew 28:19; Luke 24:47; Revelation 14:6).
II. GOD'S MERCY TO MAN UNDER THE NEW COVENANT. "For I will be merciful to their unrighteousness, and their sins," etc. Under the new covenant God manifests his rich grace in the way in which he forgives sin. We have here:
1. The source of forgiveness. "I will be merciful." Forgiveness does not spring from man's repentance, but from God's mercy. Repentance is a condition of forgiveness, but the grace of God is its source. Apart from his grace repentance is impossible unto us. "By grace are ye saved," etc. (cf. Ephesians 2:7-49.2.10).
2. The fullness of forgiveness. He pardons "their iniquities and their sins." He cleanses "from all unrighteousness." "The blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin." None are too numerous, none too aggravated, etc. (cf. Isaiah 1:18; Isaiah 4:1-23.6.7).
3. The irrevocableness of forgiveness. "Their sins will I remember no more." Strictly speaking, the Infinite Mind cannot forget anything. But God forgives so completely that the sins are as it were buried in deep oblivion. His forgiveness is irrevocable. This inspiring truth is repeatedly and impressively expressed in the Bible (Psalms 103:12; Isaiah 38:17; Isaiah 43:25; Isaiah 44:22; Micah 7:19). This rich, abounding mercy is the reason of man's fuller, clear knowledge of God. There was mercy in the old covenant, but in that it was not pre-eminent as in the new one. The chief feature of that was Law; the chief feature of this is grace. Forgiveness leads to gratitude and love to the Forgiver; and love leads to the clearer, wider knowledge of him. If you would know God truly, intimately, deeply, you must love him.—W.J.
Decaying and departing.
"Now that which decayeth and waxeth old," etc. In these words the writer states a general principle of which the old covenant was an illustration. That covenant was relatively old, because a new one had been introduced; it was also absolutely old, and had not "in itself the strength to exist much longer." When anything arrives at that condition its end is not far off—it "is nigh unto vanishing away." Let us indicate a few of the applications of this principle. It is applicable to—
I. FORMS OF RELIGIOUS ORGANIZATION. In our text it is thus applied to the Mosaic economy. Many of our present religious forms—forms of Church government and forms of worship—are of human origin. If they are vital and suit the circum- stances and conditions of this age, let them be maintained; but if they do not, and cannot be made to do so, by all means let them go. In fact, a living Church will certainly put off its dead forms by the natural expression of its life. The late A.J. Scott says wisely and beautifully, "True reverence for antiquity seeks a Church presenting the clearest image of eternity in the midst of the mutations of time. This she is to do by the inward vigor of the essential principles of her life, dropping off forms no longer useful, as the oak has done the leaves of last summer. The live oak abides the same by its vitality, while it changes form and dimensions by growth: the mass of squared timber has lost its power of assimilation, its command of resources; death enables it to remain unchanged in form, till death brings decay that changes form and substance. What is dead is changed from without; what lives changes from within." And Dr. Huntington forcibly says, "When religious forms have first been devised, a certain freshness of conviction has gone into them that has made them vital. But presently the life has refused to stand and stagnate in these cisterns, and so ebbed away and sought out new channels. The mistake has been that the forms have insisted on standing, after the life within was gone; and accordingly their figure has been that of wooden vessels shrunk and dried in the sun." Now, where the vitality has gone, let the form go also; for, as Carlyle says, "the old never dies till all the soul of good that was in it has got itself transfused into the practical new." Let the dead forms pass away—
"For who would keep an ancient form?
Through which the spirit breathes no more?"
II. FORMS OF RELIGIOUS BELIEF. Much that is said above on religious organizations is equally applicable to religious creeds. As Mr. J.A. Froude puts it, "While the essence of religion remains the same, the mode in which it is expressed changes and has changed—changes as living languages change and become dead, as institutions change, as forms of government change, as opinions on all things in heaven and earth change, as half the theories held at this time among ourselves will probably change—that is, the outward and mortal part of them." The living faith of the Church may need restatement. The language in which man's apprehension of the great verities of the gospel was expressed in past ages may become stiff, cold, unexpressive, and obsolete as regards the apprehension of those verities in this age. Then let it go. And reverently in the living language of today, let the living faith of today be expressed. The living faith—that is the great thing. "A living doctrine never need advertise for a body, nor go carefully about to invent one, any more than a young oak needs to advertise for a trunk and branches. God giveth it a body as it hath pleased him. Get the faith, and it will shape a form of its own."
III. HUMAN LIFE IN THIS WORLD. If life be so far prolonged, the time comes when the human form becomes old and waxeth aged and is nigh unto vanishing away. "The days of our years are threescore years and ten," etc. (Psalms 90:10). When the earthly house of our tabernacle is worn out we know that it will soon be dissolved. The departing vitality tells us that the body itself will soon vanish away. Its decrepitude heralds its disappearance. This is a reason:
1. Why the aged should live in readiness for their departure hence.
2. Why the aged should be treated with considerate kindness.
Their age has a claim upon our respect, unless its character forbids respect, and then it should elicit our pity. Their feebleness makes its silent and touching appeal to us for support. And they will soon be beyond our sight and our services. By the help of God let us seek so to live that, when the time of our departure draws near, we may be ready to leave this world, having finished our work, and to enter upon the, to us, unknown future, having committed ourselves to the keeping of the "great God, and our Savior Jesus Christ."—W.J.
HOMILIES BY C. NEW
Heaven the place where this great High Priest ministers.
Does the writer mean, "This is the summing up," or "This is the chief point"? We accept the latter, and that we have here no recapitulation, but an advance, the point to which he has been coming from the first. Christ, High Priest; Christ, High Priest greater than Aaron. So far we have come. Subject—Heaven the place where this great High Priest ministers. From this comes the truth to which he has been looking from the beginning, that in heaven, as the true holy of holies, is fulfilled what was exhibited in type in the tabernacle.
I. THE ASSURANCE THAT CHRIST IS FULFILLING HIS HIGH PRIESTLY WORK IN HEAVEN. "We have a High Priest," etc. Jesus in heaven, acting as our Representative, is the crowning point of what the writer has to say about our Lord. Is not that the crowning point of all that can be said about him? Can we ever know the full blessedness of Jesus till, in our habitual thought of him, he who lived on earth, and died, and rose, is ever seen and felt to be living for us in the heavenly places?
1. The declarations of Scripture give us this assurance. That is intimated in the use made here of Psalms 110:1-19.110.7., the whole of Hebrews 7:1-58.7.28. being based on it—the Messiah was to be a Priest at God's right hand. The same word gives us the same assurance; but whereas to the Jew it was prediction, to us it is fulfillment. "He was received up into heaven," declare evangelists and apostles.
2. The discharge of his priestly functions necessitates this. "But [not 'now'] if he were on earth he would not be a priest at all," etc. He could not discharge his priestly duties on earth; the Law would forbid it of one not of the tribe of Levi. If, then, he is Priest, and called to what is priestly, and this cannot be on earth, it must be in heaven, for there is no other place where he could legally minister. But we Christians get the assurance that Christ in heaven is acting as High Priest, in what we find he has actually done and is ever doing. He sends his people what he promised when he should be there. Those gifts and communications come to them from heaven which they know could not come but for his mediatorial work.
3. The fulfillment of sacred types demands this. (Hebrews 7:5) A very important statement, for it occurs no less than five times in the Pentateuch—proof that the Jewish ritual was but a shadow of certain Divine realities. The ministry of the priests, therefore, must have its celestial counterpart. The high priest, after the sacrifice on the Day of Atonement, entered within the veil to present the atoning blood before the mercy-seat. That is the type; then the fulfillment must be in Christ. In the Book of Revelation the Christian sees this fulfilled in a series of visions: Christ redeeming the world, subduing his foes, completing his Church, and all this through his exaltation to the heavenly throne.
II. THE EXALTED POSITION IN HEAVEN IN WHICH THIS HIGH PRIESTLY WORK IS BEING FULFILLED. The Hebrews regarded the high priestly ministry with awe. How the majestic contrast drawn here must have arrested their attention, and surprised them by its claim: "We have such," etc.!
1. It implies our Lord's equality with the Father. On the supreme throne only Jehovah can sit; he who sits with him as his co-equal must, with him, be one God. He who ascended is he also who descended. The Incarnation was the condescension of God himself. Get high thoughts of Jesus, for it will exalt our hope, and make our salvation more sure to our mind, and reveal fresh depths in the Divine mercy.
2. This also implies his fearlessness in the presence of the Father. The Jewish priest stood and trembled and adored within the veil. Jesus sat down on the throne. Why should he fear? we might ask. Because he went there as man's Representative. The Lord laid on him the iniquity of us all, he bowed his head in death under the awful burden, he then ascended into heaven, and sat down on the Father's throne. Then how certainly he had put away sin by the offering of himself!
3. This further implies his possession of the favor of the Father. He sat there—why? Because God said unto him, "Sit thou at my right," etc. The Father's delight must indeed be fixed on him he asks to share his throne. But it is as our Mediator he is exalted thus. Of his own right, by his own Deity, that throne was his; the invitation to ascend it was made to him as our Representative. That gives utmost encouragement to us. The welcome given to Jesus is really a welcome to all prayers for his people.
III. THE EFFECT WHICH THE EXALTATION OF CHRIST AS HIGH PRIEST SHOULD HAVE UPON OUR HEARTS.
1. It should lead us to inquire whether we are among God's Israel. "We"—whom does that include? The high priest entered the holiest of all for every Israelite; every Israelite could say, "He is there for me." Christ, in like manner, appears in heaven for the true [not the typical] Israel, the true seed of Abraham, they who are of faith. Faith admits into God's Israel, and for all these Christ is High Priest. Then, are we of these?
2. It should make us feet the sufficiency of his mediation. We can need no other priest if we have Jesus, and no other sacrifice. What can a man on earth add to that which in him we have in heaven itself!
3. It should assure us of the supply of every necessity. Jesus, who has the Father's ear, is at the Father's right hand; and there for us. Then we have nothing to fear.—C.N.
Christ in heaven, the Mediator of the new covenant.
The argument of Hebrews 7:1-58.7.28. has a further object than the mere proving our Lord's superiority to Aaron. The priesthood being altered and centered in him, most important facts bearing on the spiritual position of the Hebrews grow out of it. The priesthood was the center of the dispensation; they stood and fell together. A new priesthood means a new and better dispensation. That is the purport of Heb 8:10 -18, where this idea is worked out by the writer in three particulars.
(1) is in Hebrews 8:1-58.8.5. If the priesthood is raised to heaven, then heaven is the true tabernacle and the old is abolished.
(2) is that in these verses; subject—Christ in heaven, the Meditator of the new covenant. We have a Mediator in heaven; but for what ends does he mediate? Not those which the former priesthood had in view, for since they were appointed for them, they may be assumed to have been sufficient for them. It must, then, be for some higher end, for purposes not possible under Aaron. The writer turns, as usual, to their Scriptures, and points them to the declaration in the Book of Jeremiah, "Behold, the days come," etc. A new and better covenant was promised six hundred years before. Behold in Christ the possibility of the fulfillment of that prediction; through him exalted are to be bestowed the larger blessings promised in the latter days. Moreover, the fact of another covenant promised proves the imperfection and temporary character of what then was. At the moment of writing, the old covenant was trembling to its fall. That generation had not passed till the venerable symbols of the old covenant had disappeared from the earth like the mist of the morning.
I. GOD HAS MADE A NEW COVENANT WITH MEN. A covenant is an agreement. God has undertaken, agreed, covenanted to give certain blessings to men. He is a God in covenant with the race. A testament is a will, a promise to be fulfilled after death. It is a covenant, with the additional idea that it can only be fulfilled after the death of him who makes it. In the Gospels and Epistles (though not so in Old Testament) these two words are used interchangeably as the translation of one word. The two "testaments" are God's two covenants, which can only be fulfilled through the events of Calvary.
1. The history of the Divine covenant. The "new" covenant was only new in a certain sense; in reality it was the old—the original covenant on which the Jewish was temporarily grafted. God's covenant was one from beginning to end. First made in Eden, we see it gradually expanding and working out, till in the Apocalypse we have its perfect consummation in a redeemed world. The covenant with Abraham was a separate and special covenant with regard to his seed alone, and in time to be absorbed in the older covenant of world-wide aspect.
2. What was the purpose of the Abrahamic covenant? Owing to the corrupt state of the world, it was necessary that a nation should be singled out, and prepared to receive the Messiah and his gospel—a nation through which the truth should spread world-wide. Hence the covenant with Israel—a covenant of Law; wonderful blessings promised on obedience. This tended to humiliation, was constantly broken and renewed, and thus carried to the heart of the people the sinfulness of sin, man's inability to deliver himself, and. his need of redemption through another. When that was accomplished it was no more needed, and was abolished, and only the original covenant remained.
II. THE PERFECTION OF THE NEW COVENANT IS SEEN IN ITS CONTRAST TO THE OLD. The prophecy of Jeremiah quoted here contains three particulars of such a contrast.
1. A conscience pacified by perfect forgiveness. The twelfth verse begins with "for," and contains the ground of the preceding. Forgiveness first. In the Jewish economy the expiation of sin was imperfect and temporary, and quite unfit to perfect the conscience of the worshipper. The sacrifices provided a kind of legal pardon by which the nation was kept in special relation to Jehovah, but they could not put away moral guilt; "it was not possible that the blood," etc. But the new covenant made ample provision for all that was needed—a forgiveness free ("merciful"), comprehensive ("iniquities and sins"), irreversible ("remember no more"), a forgiveness that meant the annihilation of the record from the very memory of Heaven.
2. A mind enlightened by direct communion with God. "I will be to them," etc. The Jewish ritual made the people dependent on the priests for their knowledge of Jehovah; they might not enter the tabernacle, nor approach the symbol of the Divine presence; for the mass of Israel clouds and darkness were round about God. But through the new covenant we all have "access by one Spirit unto the Father."
3. A heart willingly consecrated to the Divine service. "My laws in their mind and heart." Even under Judaism some were able to say," Oh how I love thy Law!" but it was not so with the average Jew. To him the Law was irksome and restraining. He might conform to it outwardly, but it was by the compulsion of fear, or a slavish sense of duty; his obedience did not carry his heart with it. But under the new covenant there is a new nature in harmony with the Divine will, a disposition inclining us to obedience. "Lord, what wilt thou have me to do?"
III. BY THE INTRODUCTION OF A NEW AND PERFECT COVENANT, THE OLD IS DISANNULLED. "In that he saith, A new," etc. The practical lesson for today in this is—You are living under the new covenant; see to it that you possess its blessings.
1. Remember the high character of these blessings covenanted to us. Doubtful, shadowy, partial forgiveness; the intervention of the priest for personal knowledge of God; right-doing not so much from willingness as fear;—that was the old covenant. Are not many Christians rather living under this than under the new?
2. Remember the universal possibility of these blessings. The old covenant was restrictive, national, hereditary, and belonged to Abraham's seed only. But under the new covenant exclusiveness has vanished. God is in covenant with the race. His promises are to "every creature." The rainbow of this covenant spans the world.
3. Remember the certain permanence of these blessings secured by the mediation of Christ. As Aaron was the mediator of the old, Christ is of the new covenant; that is, its blessings are bestowed through him. We can only receive them from his pierced hands, and as the result of his priestly work. But he is ever presenting his pleading blood before the throne on his people's behalf, therefore they shall continue for ever. Christ's continuance is the pledge of their continuance; "an everlasting covenant, ordered in," etc.—C.N.
HOMILIES BY J.S. BRIGHT
Here we have
The substance of the argument, and illustrations hitherto adduced.
It was the aim of the writer to show from prophecy, and the nature of the priesthood, and sacrifices of the Mosaic Law, the unrivalled and peculiar glory of Jesus Christ, and in these few verses the truths of the preceding arguments are recapitulated. It hints at the desirableness of reviewing the course of exposition, and the advantage, well known to all teachers, of the value and necessity of repeating important truths, that the things which have been uttered may not be misunderstood or forgotten. In this summary we have—
I. THE EXCLUSIVE GLORY OF CHRIST IN HIS ENTHRONEMENT. He is seated "as a Priest upon his throne," which declares a decisive contrast to the brief and anxious standing of the high priest of old, who once a year, with anxiety and trembling, appeared in the holy of holies and performed the service of sprinkling the blood before the mercy-seat on the Day of Atonement. He prepared, as the Jews say, for this work with considerable solicitude, and returned to his own house at sunset in peace, and rejoiced that the solemn service had been legally performed. Our Lord is seated on the throne of an infinite majesty, and rejoices in the contrast between his past sorrows and his present glory. It was a blessed change for Moses to leave the tending of his flock and going after the lost and wandering sheep amid the solitudes of Sinai, and afterwards to commune with the "Father of lights," and catch the transient splendor which honored him as a servant and betokened the Divine joy of his soul in the service of Jehovah. Our Redeemer has risen to a glory so exalted that John, when in Patmos, sank overpowered before the vision of his extraordinary resplendence. John had seen him a sufferer upon the cross; but then he saw him when all outery against him had forever ceased. There was no crown of thorns upon his brow, and death had been swallowed up in victory. Now he receives the due and predicted reward of his work, and is made glad with the light of his Father's countenance. All things are put under him for his body's sake, which is the Church. On his head are many crowns, and he sits in the ineffable light and glory of the eternal throne.
II. THE SUPERIOR PLACE IN WHICH HIS MINISTRY IS CARRIED ON. This is in the true tabernacle, and is, therefore, universally superior to that reared in the wilderness, which was made of wood, brass, gold, silver, goat's hair, scarlet and fine-twined linen. This sacred tent was material, and the work of men's hands. It needed an annual purification because sinful men worshipped in it, and sinful priests served at its altar. Though it was inferior to the sphere in which Christ ministers, it had a sacred meaning and typical significance, because it was made after a Divine pattern. The voice of God to Moses was, "See that thou make all things according to the pattern showed to thee in the mount." It assumes that all merely human ideas and human additions were to be excluded from his fabric. The thoughts of God were to be expressed, and he was to be all in all. Moses was faithful to the Divine charge, and when Jehovah looked upon the tabernacle he blessed it, as he approved and blessed his own creation at the beginning. It was a shadow and outline of heavenly realities. Whether Moses was permitted to look into heaven itself, or to gaze upon some sensuous representation which impressed itself in all its details upon his exact and capacious memory, we cannot determine. There are some points of resemblance which deserve attention. In heaven there are answering realities to the types of the earthly sanctuary. In both there is the Divine presence, and God is seated on a throne of grace. In both there is honor conferred upon the Law. It was customary, observes Ewald, for Egyptian priests to place their choicest treasures in the sacred chest in the temple, and God placed his Law in the ark of the covenant. His Law is ever precious in his sight. In both there was the solemn truth of sacrifice and atonement, for on earth there was the bleeding victim, and in heaven "the Lamb as it had been slain." Worshippers approach through sacrifice; all adoration rises to God, and all blessings proceed from him through priestly service. It is the true tabernacle in which things in heaven and things in earth are reconciled through Christ. In a later part of the Epistle there is an impressive illustration of the all-encompassing extent of this spiritual building. "Ye are come unto Mount Zion, and unto the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to an innumerable company of angels, and to the general assembly and Church of the Firstborn, which are written in heaven, and to God the Judge of all, and to... Jesus the Mediator of the new covenant, and to the blood of sprinkling, that speaketh better things than that of Abel" (Hebrews 12:22-58.12.24).
III. THE DIVINE PRE-EMINENCE OF HIS SACRIFICE AND MINISTRY. He must have something to offer; but as a Priest he has the glory of offering to God every tear of penitence, every act of consecrating life to the Divine wilt in conversion, every prayer and thanksgiving, every noble surrender of wealth, labor, and life to the honor and service of his Father.
IV. NOTE THE COHERENCE AND HARMONY OF THESE DIVINE ARRANGEMENTS. God has exalted his dear Son and given him a Name above every name. Before him the names of patriarchs, lawgivers, captains, kings, psalmists, and prophets must yield as the stars are swallowed in the light of the morning. There is a profound suitability and reason in his exaltation. Then follows the suitability of the sphere of his ministry. The narrow dimensions and material quality of the old tabernacle were fitted for Aaron and his descendants; but the dignity of the Redeemer requires a loftier and more spacious temple, in which he shall exercise the office of a Priest over the whole Church of the living God. The former priests offered animal sacrifices and material gifts; but he presents the spiritual oblations of his redeemed followers.—B.
The reasons assigned for the introduction of the new covenant.
These consist of the suitability of the Lord Jesus to be engaged in the administration of a higher and nobler covenant than that which was established with Israel at Sinai. The more excellent ministry and the more excellent covenant go together. There were promises attached to the observance of the Mosaic which related to temporal blessings, such as harvests, vintages, and the peace and quiet of the land. The better covenant is founded upon better promises, and requires a mediator whose character corresponds to the higher institution of Divine grace. The next reason is the unsatisfactory result of the former covenant. It was good in itself, and was, as everything which cometh from the Father of lights, suitable as a preparatory institution, while the Church was under tutors and governors. Under this dispensation there was frequent idolatry, desecration of the temple, injustice, and prevalent corruption. Jeremiah lived to see the carrying away to Babylon, which proved the Divine displeasure against people whose history began with a sublime act of redemption from the bondage and miseries of Egypt; which act should have been an abiding cause of grateful and persevering obedience to him who by signs and wonders had released them from subjection to a cruel power, and exalted them to the dignity of a nation which "was born in a day." While Jeremiah saw the sin and punishment of his people, he found in the promise of a new and better covenant the consolation which sustained his soul, and provided encouragement for many others. The new covenant contains four blessings of the highest value.
I. THE INSCRIPTION OF THE LAW OR GOD IN THE HEART. It is a remark of Ewald's that in Egyptian temples there were arks, or sacred chests, into which the priests put everything they deemed of the highest value. Jehovah had nothing more precious than his Law, which, being the expression of his righteous will, and for the good of Israel, was placed in the ark of the covenant. While the Law was in the sacred place the people forgot its claims, worshipped false gods, and were guilty of many transgressions. The new covenant places the Law in the heart, and thus life becomes a scene of obedience, a cause of sincerity in worship, and by its constant presence preserves believers from offending God, and produces the fruits of righteousness. Paul said, "With the mind I serve the Law of God; and the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death."
II. The next privilege it secures is THE SACRED RELATION WHICH SUBSISTS BETWEEN GOD AND HIS COVENANTED PEOPLE. This suggests the thought of king and subjects. He, as the King, is the glory of the true Israel. He can defend them from assault, can supply all their needs "according to his riches in glory by Christ Jesus." The various images of his connection with his people are all summed up in this term, in which he undertakes to be the God of his redeemed ones. If the ancient subjects of Jehovah could say, "The Lord is our Judge, the Lord is our Lawgiver, the Lord is our King; he will save us," much more joyfully may Christians exult in him who is their covenant God. Those who enter into covenant become his people by spiritual civilization, and differ from the barbarous, unorganized tribes of the earth. As his subjects, they reveal the character of the government under which they live, serve the high purposes of God, and are a peculiar people, zealous of good works. Their citizenship is in heaven, and they belong to the kingdom of God.
III. There is THE ENJOYMENT OF ESSENTIAL AND SPIRITUAL KNOWLEDGE. It cannot be supposed that the followers of Christ will ever be raised above the need of ministerial help and instruction in the things of God, since the first great gift bestowed upon the Church included apostles, prophets, pastors, and teachers. It is therefore presumable that this suggests the fact that all who belong to the New Testament Church will not require remonstrance and persuasion to acknowledge the fundamental truths of true religion. During the Law, there were many occasions on which righteous men had to say to their countrymen, "Know the Lord." It appears from a passage in the Epistle to the Galatians (Galatians 4:8) to mark the transition from idolatry to the worship of the true God. "Howbeit then, when ye knew not God, ye did service to them which by nature are no gods." There may be a designed allusion to the people in the desert, where, in addition to the tabernacle, there was the tabernacle of Moloch, and the star of the god Remphan. The new covenant secures the loyal adhesion of every believer to this fundamental truth, upon which, by prayer, reading, and attendance upon an enlightened ministry, the soul is nourished to larger strength, brighter knowledge, and loftier degrees of holiness.
IV. There is THE ENJOYMENT OF FORGIVENESS. It was not possible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sin. The blood of the new covenant, shed for many for the remission of sins, cleanses from all stains, and produces Divine peace. Looking at forgiveness in the light of the Word of God, it is an invaluable blessing. It releases us from evil thoughts, and excuses which appeared in the words of Adam and Eve, and makes the spirit to be "without guile." It disarms the power of temptation. It introduces those who are forgiven into the safe and joyful state of justification, with all the blessings which are inseparably connected therewith. It engages the presence and gracious action of the Spirit of God, who enriches the soul with fruits of righteousness, and creates, by his presence and power, an earnest of the life to come. The two covenants cannot stand together to distract the attention of mankind, and create uncertainty about the method of salvation. As the Jews did not pass over into the blessedness of the new covenant, God removed the temple, the altar, and the priesthood by an act of righteous judgment, which began at "the house of God;" and in the occupation of Jerusalem by an alien power, and the suspension of sacrifices for eighteen centuries, he has told the world that the old covenant is vanished away.—B.
HOMILIES BY D. YOUNG
The Minister of the true tabernacle, his position and his office.
I. His POSITION.
1. It is in the heavens. He has passed through the veil into the heavens. He is no longer a localized priest, near to some and far away from others, but is in heaven, which is near to all of us. This bringing of heaven in contact with every human being is set forth by the teaching of the natural world. No one man has come in contact With more than a very tiny piece, comparatively, of the world in which he lives; but once in twenty-four hours every man in the world sees the sun, which is the great visible representative of heavenly resource and blessing.
2. In the most glorious position a mediator can occupy. He is at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens. This throne is the heavenly counterpart to the ark of the covenant in the earthly tabernacle.
3. In this position the High Priest Jesus is seated. Seated, for he is there permanently. Incessant are the needs of that human race for whom he acts. Seated also to indicate sonship, heirship, and Divine dignity.
II. HIS OFFICE. The high priest is a liturgical minister, He does holy offices in connection with a holy structure, on behalf of the people. The word "true" here is doubtless to be taken in connection with the holy things as well as with the tabernacle itself. Jesus is Minister of the true holy things in the true tabernacle. This word "true" is a most comprehensive one, as showing the inward compared with the outward, the essence compared with the form, the abiding compared with the changing, type as compared with antitype, ends that are spiritual and invisible, as compared with means that are material and visible. Notice the frequency of this word ἀληθινῆς in the Blew Testament. We read of the true riches, the true light, the true worshippers, the true bread, the true vine, the true God, the true witness. The priesthood of Jesus is a new and perfect thing, and indicates a new and perfect system. If a number of types are related together, then the bringing in of the antitype to one of them means the bringing in of all the other antitypes. God has a glorious place of abode in the invisible world, a true holy of holies, where Jesus has gone, where Jesus remains; and to that holy of holies all true worshippers shall, in due time, be gathered.—Y.
The high priest—for what appointed.
I. THE STATEMENT AS TO HIGH PRIESTLY FUNCTION IN GENERAL. All high priests, whether they be Aaronic priests or Jesus himself, are appointed to offer gifts and sacrifices. Thus the classification is made of offerings for God. There are gifts, the expressions of thankfulness and devotion, which may be offered, which ought to be offered, but which can only have value as they come spontaneously and of free-will. To give them only in response to a Divine commandment would be to alter their character altogether. Their very name indicates this, as being not simply things given, but δῶρα, things given freely. Then there are also sacrifices, the purpose of which is more particularly defined in Hebrews 8:1, where they are mentioned as sacrifices for sin. And all this volume of gratitude and penitence, instead of being scattered about in individual manifestations, left to each one's own time and place and manner, was reduced to order, and made a national proceeding. As to gifts, a man was free to settle in his own mind whether he would give or not; but if he gave, he must give in a particular way.
II. THE SPECIAL APPLICATION TO JESUS. How can he now discharge a priestly office in respect of gifts and sacrifices? With respect to sacrifices the answer is given plainly, not only in this Epistle, but in all apostolic teaching. A reference to Hebrews 9:14 may be enough to illustrate this. Jesus, the true High Priest, offered up himself as the true Sacrifice. But what about the gifts? These, be it remembered, we still have to provide. A sacrifice for sin we cannot provide, but it is provided for us. Gifts, however, we are bound to bestow—gifts, more in quantity than ever, and better in quality, seeing that our obligations are added to by Christ's provision of a sacrifice for sins. And we lay these gifts on God's altar when most of all we serve the needy. As it is true that he who gives to the poor lends to the Lord, so he who gives to the needy because of their need, hoping for nothing again, makes an offering to the Lord. It is by the Spirit of Jesus Christ that we are led into that sort of gratitude which is acceptable to God. The gifts which are most acceptable for God to receive are those which indicate our appreciation of his spiritual mercies. It is a poor business if we have not received more from God than the things which he bestows equally on the good and the evil, the just and the unjust. Our best gifts are those which promote the cause of Christ, which are offered with a distinct intention towards the progress of that cause.—Y.
A verse of comparisons.
A more excellent ministry—a better covenant—better promises. How all this illustrates the way of God! Whatever he appoints and plans is good, and good just because it is exactly proportioned to good ends. But these ends have to be measured by the power of men to fall in with them. Man, with his limited prospect, reckons to be an end what God reckons as only the means to a greater end. God made to Israel promises of a land of inheritance on earth, just that they might thereby be prepared in time to see that there was something much better. Higher demands were made, a completer obedience was possible, and the conditions existed for fulfilling richer promises. And of this new state of things Jesus, as the Mediator, is the central Figure; it is his presence and his power that make the new state of things possible. The better covenant is only better because it can become a reality, and Jesus it is who makes the reality. The old covenant, as we clearly see, was a broken covenant. God brought his people into the land of promise; but, after all, this could not be called the keeping of his promise. His promise was made upon conditions to be supplied by the people to whom the promise was made. They did not supply these conditions, consequently the promise could not be fulfilled. And now, instead of Moses, the mere proclaimer of law, there comes Jesus to complete law, to expand promises into their spiritual fullness, and, at the same time, act as a Mediator in really receiving these promises for men. If God's laws are to be written upon our hearts, it can only be by the work of Jesus. If we are to be persuaded into a living interest in God's promises, and to care for the things he wants us to care for, it must be by the work of Jesus. He only can inspire us individually with an inclination to set our names to the new covenant. He only can show us the inward realities of which outward shows are but the parabolic expression. Real mediation, how rich it is in results! It is not like the wire along which electricity travels, a mere medium of communication. It is a medium of life and growth. Jesus Christ is the real Mediator in living, abiding, unbreakable, necessary communion with God, and in the same sort of communion with man. The old covenant did nothing more than reveal man's utter deplorable weakness in himself. The new covenant reveals man's strength in Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ can make all things new; he can make the good better; he can bring living realities instead of living, tantalizing forms; he can make man stand erect in the strength of his renewed nature, disposed to enter into covenant with God, and able to keep the terms of the covenant he has made.—Y.
The advent of the new and the doom of the old.
I. WE MUST LOOK AT THE CHARACTER OF THE NEW. Mere novelty by itself counts for nothing. Man's new things are too often brought in, not because they are needed, but from mere restlessness, love of change, and self-glorification. The right principle of change is necessity, superseding the old because it has done its work. That is the principle, we may be sure, on which God acts. Thus we must not too readily assume that the introduction of the new is the doom of the old; that is, using the word "old" in the sense of long-established. New philosophies, new schemes of the universe, rise up threatening the long-established gospel; but in time the philosophies become old, unsatisfying, and vanish away, while the gospel remains, still welcome, still powerful.
II. GOD'S WISDOM IN DOING THINGS AT THE RIGHT TIME. God's new things always come in at the fullness of time. The first covenant had done its work, but those who upheld the forms of it were the last to see this. Nay, more; just in proportion as the inward reality vanished did they cling with tenacity to the outward form. If it had depended on the rulers of Jerusalem to say when the new covenant was needed, it would have been a long time in coming. Man by himself cannot be trusted to say when the season of decrepitude for any institution has come. God takes the laws of necessary change into his own hands, and makes it evident to those who have eyes to see that his new things have not come without necessity. The new state of things needs to be experienced as a reality, and then it approves itself as an improvement on the old; it becomes plain that the old was not an end in itself, but only a stage toward the attainment of the new. Whatsoever new thing is true and manifestly serviceable must make its way; and it is well for its own sake that the way should be made through difficulties and discouragements. They are wise who can see in time the difference between a mere novelty and a novelty that has conquest and resistless growth in it. The bringing in of the new wine-skins is the doom of the old ones.—Y.
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Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Hebrews 8". The Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week of Advent