Bible Commentaries
Hebrews 5

Burkitt's Expository Notes with Practical Observations on the NTBurkitt's Expository Notes

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Verse 1

Observe here, The apostle describes an high priest serveral ways.

1. By his original, He is taken from amongst men: that is, of the same nature with themselves, otherwise, he had not been capable of those compassionate impressions which are required to the due discharge of his office. This Christ's participation of our nature was necessary to the discharge of his office as High Priest, and a manifest evidence that he will be tender and compassionate towards, then whose nature he sustains and bears.

2. He is described by the general nature of his office, he is ordained for men in things pertaining to God; that is, he was to act and negotiate, for the good of sinful men, in things wherein they have to do more immediately with Almighty God; particularly to offer gifts, oblations, and sacrifices for their sins.

Where note, That it was the entrance of sin that made the office of the priesthood necessary: Had it not been for sin, everyone might have gone to God in his own person, but now God will not be immediately treated with by any, but through the interposition of a Mediator; and he having first made an atonement for sin.

3. The high priest is here described by the exercise of his office, and the special discharge of his duty, which is to offer both gifts and sacrifices for sins, that is, to give satisfaction and make atonement for sins.

Here note, That the light of nature dictates to us, that something ought to be offered unto God, in acknowledgement of his supreme dominion; and because men are guilty of sin, and God essentially just, sacrifices must be offered, and a priest ordained to offer those sacrifices for the averting of his wrath and procuring of his favour: But by what sacrifices God will be atoned, and by whom, and in what manner they must be offered, not the law of nature, but the light of Scripture, divine revelation, must teach us: Every high priest taken from among men, is ordained for men; that is, instituted and appointed of God, for the service of men in things pertaining to God.

Verse 2

Our apostle proceeds in giving the character of the high priest which God required under the law; he must have compassion for men, for sinful men, being compassed with sinful infirmities himself.

Observe here, 1. A great and necessary qualification of endowment of an high priest he was, and is one able to have compassion; that is, able with all meekness and gentleness, with all patience and forbearance, to bear the infirmities, sins, and provocations of men, even as a nurse bears with the weakness and frowardness of a poor infant.

Observe, 2. The peculiar object of his compassionate care and regard; namely those of his compassionate care and regard; namely, those that are ignorant, and do wander out of the way; in these two words does the apostle comprise all sorts of sinners whatsoever, with all sorts and kinds of sin.

Observe, 3. A special reason rendered why the high priest was thus compassionate, because he himself is compassed with infirmities; his own condition will mind him of his duty in this matter, being beset on every hand with infirmities of his own.

Learn hence, 1. That it is a mighty privilege to us, that our Lord Jesus Christ, our Great High Priest, was encompassed with the sinless infirmities of our nature.

2. That no sort of sinners are excluded from an interest in the care and love of our compassionate High Priest; such as are ignorant, and such as are out of the way, he has compassion upon both; none are excluded, but those who by unbelief do exclude themselves, and cause the blood of the reconciling sacrifices to cry against them.

Verse 3

That is, by reason of which infirmities he ought, both by God's command, and also from the reason and nature of the thing, as for the people, so also for himself, to offer sacrifices for sins.

Note here, That this is a description of the high priest under the law, not of our Lord Jesus Christ our Great High Priest under the gospel, because Christ had actually no sin of his own to offer for, being holy, harmless, and undefiled, separate from sinners. This expression therefore of offering for his own sins, belongs to the weakness and imperfection of the legal high priest.

Learn hence, That it was a part of the darkness and bondage of the church under the Old Testament, that their high priests had need to offer sacrifices for themselves, and their own sins. This they did in the vies of the people. They first took care to offer for their own sins, and then for the sins of others; whosoever dealeth with God about the sins of others, ought to look well, in the first place, unto his own: it is a great evidence of hypocrisy for men to be severe towards the sins of others, and careless about their own sins.

Learn, 2. That such was the absolute holiness and spotless innocency of the Lord Jesus Christ our Great High Priest, that what he offered was not for himself, but for his people. Atonement for sinners was made by him who had no sin of his own to atone for.

Verse 4

The foregoing verses declare the personal qualifications of the High Priest; here we have his call and commission to theis office and function: The former made him meet for it, the latter gave him right unto it. No man taketh this honour that is, the honour of priesthood to himself, but only he that is called of God, as was Aaron, and his posterity.

Note here, 1. That it is and act of sovereignty in God, to call whom he pleases to his work and service.

2. That as it is an act of sovereignty in God, so is it a special dignity and honour to us to be duly called to, as well as qualified for his work and service.

Learn, 3. That the highest excellency, and utmost necessity of any work or service to be here done for God, will, by no means, warrant our undertaking of it, and engaging in it, without a lawful call unto it.

Learn, 4. That the more excellent any work of God is, the more express ought to be our calling to it. No man taketh this honour upon him, but he that is called of God: It were well if our lay preachers considered this.

Observe next, How the apostle applies all this to Christ: So also Christ our great High Priest, glorified not himself to be made an High Priest, uncalled, but he dignified him who said unto him, Thou art my Son; and thou art a Priest forever; without succession, after the order, similitude, and manner of Melchizedek.

Learn hence, That the office of the high priesthood over the church of God, was an honour and glory to Jesus Christ; it was so to his human nature, even as it was united to his divine nature. Christ glorified not himself to be made an High Priest, implying that it was a glory and honour, though not assumed, but conferred: and that as Aaron was called of God, so was Christ, but in a more excellent and glorious manner.

By this we understand the intolerable pride, and bold presumption for many in these times, who take upon them to officiate in matters of religion, though neither qualified for, nor called to this work: if ever any man or angel, then surely Christ might have taken this honour to himself, yet he did not uncalled. Verily, this will be the eternal condemnation of all such usurpers, who, without any commission from God or man, undertake what they do not understand.

Verse 7

Observe here, 1. A special act of Christ's priesthood or priestly office. He offered up.

2. The subject-matter of his offering, supplications and prayers.

3. The intense manner of his offering, with strong cries and tears.

4. The person to whom he offered unto god, who was able to save him from death.

5. The time of his offering in the days of his flesh; that is, in the time of this mortal life, when clothed with our frail nature.

6. The issue and success of all this, he was heard in that he feared.

Learn hence, 1. That the holy Jesus did not only take upon him our human nature, but the infirmities of our nature also. Christ had in this world a time of infirmities as well as ourselves.. True, his infirmities were sinless, but sorrowful and grievous, which exposed him to all sorts of temptations and sufferings.

Learn, 2. That the Lord Jesus Christ, our great High Priest, offered up most ardent prayers and supplications to Almighty God, in the days of his flesh, upon its own and our behalf. The text mentions prayers and supplications, with strong cries.

Learn, 3. That Christ shed tears as well as blood for a lost world: He offered up strong cries and tears: by this he showed the truth of his humanity, and that he did not accept only the human nature, but did also assume human affections.

Learn, 4. That Christ's prayers were always heard, either in kind or in equivalency: He was not specifically heard as to the passing of the cup from him, when he prayed in the garden; but he was equivalently heard as to the support of his spirit, and as to supplies of strength, to enable him to drink the bitter cup with silence and submission; he was heard in that he feared, by being delivered, not from death, but out of death, as his followers must expect to be delivered.

Verse 8

Observe here, 1. Christ's eminent dignity; he was a Son, that is, the Son of God, and God himself; the word was God, John 1:1. And as the word was made flesh, so he was mearer to God than any other person; he was a Son a sinless son, yet a suffering Son; and he learned obedience, by the things which he suffered.

Observe, 2. As Christ's eminent dignity, so his exemplary obedience; he learned obedience; not by personal speculation, but by real experience; he experimentally understood what obedience was.

Note here, That there are two ways of learning obedience.

1. By the comprehension of the mind. 2. By the experience of sense.

Christ as God was perfect in knowledge, nothing could be added to him, but when he became man, then he came to understand and learn by sufferings, which was a new method and way of knowing. And the obedience which Christ learned, was free and voluntary, universal and complete, sincere and pure, persevering and constant. Christ learned this lesson of obedience, not barely to know it, but to do it; to learn to obey, is to obey by the things which he suffered; he did perfectly learn, and experimentally understand, what obedience was.

Blessed Jesus! As didst thou, so may we learn practical obedience by the things which we suffer.

Verse 9

Observe here, 1. A choice and singular blessing and benefit spoken of, and that is, eternal salvation; which implies not only deliverance from hell, and redemption from eternal misery, but the obtaining of eternal life had happiness.

Observe, 2. The author of this great blessing and benefit to mankind, namely, Jesus Christ our great High Priest, who, by making atonement for us, and reconciling us to God, is said to be the author of eternal salvation to mankind.

Observe, 3. The way and means whereby he became the author of our salvation, and that was by being mad perfect; the original word is an allusion to one that runs in a race, where he that wins receives the crown. Thus Christ having finished his course of sufferings, and received the reward of them, by being raised from the dead, and exalted to the right hand of God, he is said to be made perfect.

Observe, 4. The qualification of the persons who are made partakers of this great benefit, or the condition upon which it is offered and tendered, and that is obedience, He became the author of eternal salvation to them that obey him.

Question, 1. How does Christ become the author of eternal salvation?

Answer, As a rule and pattern, as a prince and propitiation, and as an advocate and patron: By the purity of his doctrine, as a rule: by the piety of his example, as a pattern; by the merit of his obedience and sufferings, as a propitiation: and by his prevailing intercession, as our Advocate now in heaven.

Where note, That the virtue of his intercession in heaven is founded on his satisfaction here on earth, in shedding of his blood for us.

Question, 2. What obedience does the gospel require as a condition, and is pleased to accept as a qualificaton, in those who hope for eternal salvation?

Answer, Negatively, Not a bare external profession of obedience, though accompanied with prophesying and working miracles, but an hearty and universal conforming to the precepts of the gospel in sincerity and uprightness; allowing our selves in the neglect of no known duty, nor in the practice of any known sin.

Question, 3. But is fallen man under a possibility now of performing this obedience?

Answer, We are no more sufficient of ourselves, and by any power of our own, to perform the conditions of the gospel, than we are able to answer the demands of the law.

But the face of God is offered to us, and stands ready to assist us to perform the condition which the gospel requires.

Consequently, what the grace of God stands ready to enable us to do, if we be not wanting to ourselves, that may properly be said to be possible to us, and in some sense in our power to perform.

Question, 4. But is not making our obedience the condition of our salvaton prejudicial to the freeness of God's grace, and the law of faith?

Answer, In no wise; seeing it is acknowledged, that faith is the root of all true holiness and evangelical obedience; that we stand continually in need of assistance of God's grace, to enable us to perform that obedience which the gospel requires, and is pleased to accept; and that God confers eternal life upon us, not for the merit of our obedience, but only for the sake of Christ.

The sum of all is this, That it is indispensibly necessary for a man to be a good man, that he may get to heaven; and that it is the greatest presumption in the world for any man to hope to attain salvation without obedience, and an holy life. For though our obedience cannot merit heaven; yet it does qualify and fit us for heaven; though it doth not make us worthy, yet doth it make us meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light. And whosoever finds fault with this doctrine, finds fault with the gospel itself.

Verse 10

These words may be looked upon as an evidence and testimony, that the Lord Jesus Christ was, and is the author of eternal salvation to all them that obey him, because he is a Priest after the order of Melchizedek; that is, because his priesthood is eternal.

Note here, 1. That God was pleased to put a signal honour upon the person and office of Melchizedek, that in him there should be an early and excellent representation made of the person and priesthood of Jesus Christ. Melchizedek was an illustrious type of Christ ; he was the first personal type of Christ that ever was in the world; after him there were many others, and he was the only type of the person of Christ that ever was in the World. Others were types of Christ in the execution of his office, but none but Melchizedek were ever type of his person for being introduced without father, without mother, without beginning of days, nor end of life, he was made like to the Son of God, of whom it is said, Who can declare his generation? And farther, Melchizedek was a type of Christ in those two great offices of a King and a Priest, which none but he ever was.

Note, 2. That the priesthood of Christ was not after the order of Aaron, which was to expire, and not to last long, but after the order of Melchizedek, which was to continue and last forever: Thou art a Priest forever after the order of Melchizedek. The priesthood of Christ is an eternal priesthood, He never liveth to make intercession for us.

Verse 11

That is, of which priesthood of Christ, as compared with Melchizedek, we have much to say, which is not easy to make intelligible by words, to those that are ignorant and dull of understanding.

Learn hence, 1. That all Scripture truths are not equally easy to be understood, but require a peculiar diligence in our attendance upon them, that they may be understood.

Learn, 2. That it is the incapacity of hearers, through dullness and slothfulness, and want of preparatory knowledge, which makes Scripture teaching no more and no better understood. All our miscarriages under the Word, are to be resolved into our own sloth, negligence, and depraved affections; We have many things to say, but ye are dull of hearing.

Verse 12

As if the apostle had said, "When, for the time that you have professed the Christian faith, you ought to have been able to be teachers of it to others, you had need yourselves to be instructed in the first rudiments of the Christian religion, and are become such as have need of milk, the food of babes, and not of strong meat, the food of men."

Learn hence, 1. That the time when, and how long we enjoy the dispensation of the gospel, is a circumstance which must, in particular, be accounted for; whereas for the time, all have time, but all have not time alike. The day of the gospel is not of the same light to all nations, churches, and persons.

Learn, 2. That it is reasonably expected by God that persons should thrive and grow in knowledge and holiness, proportionably to their time and means; and not doing so, is charged upon them as a great aggravation of their guilt: For the time ye ought to have been teachers; that is, of ability sufficent for the teaching of others. They had not learned of their teachers, when the apostle had reason to hope they had been able to teach their learners. Many, after long teaching, are ignorant, and ought to be taught again the same things which they long ago heard.

Learn, 3. That the holy Scriptures are to be looked upon, consulted with, and submitted to, as the oracles of God; they are sometimes called the living, sometimes the lively oracles of God; because they are the oracles of the living God, and also life-giving oracles to them that obey them.

Learn, 4. That there are, in the Scripture, truths suitable to the spiritual instruction and edification of all sorts of persons; there is in it both milk and strong meat, plain doctrines, and first principles necessary for all, and truths of a deeper search that are profitable to some. "In the Scripture, said one, there are shallows and there are depths; fords where the lambs may wade, and depths where the elephants may swim."

Verse 13

Our apostle here speaks of the difference of doctrines under the metaphor of meats: From whence we may gather,

1. That the Word of God, in the dispensation of it, is food provided for the souls of men.

2. That the Word, as food, will not profit the soul until it be eaten, and digested: It is not food prepared, but food received, that nourishes. When manna was gathered and eaten, it nourished the Israelites: But when gathered and laid by, it putrified and bred worms.

Lord! What pains do some take to gather manna, to hear the Word, but alas! it lies by them, and is of no use.

Learn, 3. That as the gospel is the word of righteousness, so God requires and expects that all those who live under the dispensation of the gospel should be skillful in the word of righteousness. The gospel is a word of righteousness; it is so declaratively, as the severity of God against sin is hereby more fully revealed, and as the righteousness which God requireth, approveth, and accepteth for our justification, is therein declared; and the righteousness which God requireth in us, and expecteth from us, is hereby discovered also; and as it is the great instrument of working holiness in us, and making us inherently righteous, so it is the word of righteousness efficiently as well as declaratively; our justification is wrought in us thereby, John 17:17.

Learn, 4. That the spiritual senses of believers, well exercised in the word of righteousness, are the best and most undeceiving helps in judging of what is good or evil, what is true or false, that is proposed to them: Such, by reason of use, have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil.

Bibliographical Information
Burkitt, William. "Commentary on Hebrews 5". Burkitt's Expository Notes with Practical Observations on the NT. 1700-1703.