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WHEREFORE--GOD'S WORD is INSPIRED! So we do well to weigh every term He uses. This "wherefore" is like, for example, the "therefore" of Romans 5:12. It means that what has already been written in Hebrews calls us to consider Christ as God (Ch. 1); and as Man (Ch. 2); especially in His willingness "to be made in all things like unto His brethren" (2:17).
Holy brethren--The apostles addressed the Jews generally as "brethren" (Acts 2:29; 13:38); as indeed, Paul and Barnabas were addressed by the Jews (before they understood the message of grace: Acts 1:15). But this address, holy brethren, in this verse, is not a reference to brethren by race, but to those believing on Christ--which is very far different! They are "brethren" in the sense of Hebrews 2:11, 17; and they are "holy brethren" not because of their holy walk (though they may have had a good walk), but because they were in Christ--"sanctified in Christ Jesus."
Partakers of a heavenly calling--Here are indeed great words! words which connect this epistle with the prayer our Lord made in John 17 (vss. 14, 16, 21-24), and with His coming for His heavenly saints as He promised in John 14:2, 3; and shown by Paul in 1 Corinthians 15:50-57; Ephesians 1:3; 2:5, 6; 5:30, 32; 1 Thessalonians 4:16, 17. "Calling" here, as always in the epistles, has reference not to an invitation to go to Heaven, but to a present heavenly state, and manner of being. For Christians, according to Colossians 1:12, have already by Christ's work, been made "meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light," and their citizenship is in Heaven (Philippians 3:20). The Hebrews naturally had an earthly calling.
The fearful plight of "Israel after the flesh" is brought to mind by the fact that saved Hebrews no longer partake even of the earthly calling of Israel! Language almost fails us here! It is deeply impressive that this epistle is addressed not to "Jews" or "Israel," but to Hebrews.
In unfathomable grace, God presented His Son as "born King of the Jews," partaking of "blood and flesh." National Israel, led on by blind priests and Pharisees, despised and rejected their only true Messiah. They poured out His life-blood, and thus "Israel after the flesh" forever lost their Messiah. For God had said "the life of the flesh was all one with the blood thereof." Christ poured out His soul (Lev. 17:11) unto death, laying down His life. He was not coming back into the blood-and-flesh life. When he was raised from the dead, it was in "newness of life"; life out of death; resurrection life; of which "Israel after the flesh" knew nothing.
Therefore, at that time, Israel was lost; and as it was then, when they said, "Crucify Him!"--so it is today.
When a Hebrew is "enlightened" and saved now, it is as a common sinner. God has declared "There is no distinction between Jew and Greek"; for all sinned. There are no "Hebrew-Christians"; they are just pardoned sinners.
For the fact that God has today an elect "Remnant" of Israel whom He will by and by save by Sovereign mercy and grace, just as He does Gentiles now, brings no hope to the present national "Israel after the flesh." Today they build their synagogues and have their "religious" teachings. Tomorrow, after the Church is raptured, they will have their temple in Jerusalem, and there again begin their sacrifices--though in utter unbelief! Concerning that temple God has said:
"What manner of house will ye build unto Me? He that killeth an ox is as he that slayeth a man; he that sacrificeth a lamb, as he that breaketh a dog's neck; he that offereth an oblation as he that offereth swine's blood: he that burneth frankincense, as he that blesseth an idol" (Isa. 66:1, 3).
It will be in this temple, soon to be built by the Jews, that Paul writes, "The man of sin, the son of perdition ... sitteth in the temple of God, setting himself forth as God" (2 Thess. 2:3, 4). This is the Antichrist, the "abomination of desolation" referred to by our Lord (Matt. 24:15; John 5:43).
The Jews today are carrying on their synagogue ceremonies in darkness, having slain their Messiah, Who has been raised from the dead and seated at the right hand of the Majesty on high; and is over the true "house of God," which does not at all contain the "fleshly" nation of the Jews!
Of mercy, this Jewish nation knows nothing yet, nationally. And when the fearful "Tribulation" arises to its height and they are about to be "cut off from being a nation" (Ps. 83:4) at Armageddon, and there is poured upon the Remnant the "spirit of grace and supplication" and they look, by Divine illumination, "unto Him Whom they have pierced" (Zech. 12:10), there will be "a very great mourning!" That Remnant will see what they have done and what God has done in opening a door of faith to the Gentiles. They will see, by the "mercy" shown toward us, Gentiles, that they must be cast upon the same sovereign mercy (Rom. 11:30-32). "For God hath shut up all unto disobedience, that He might have mercy upon all!" Let both Jew and Gentile ponder that!
To them (Israel) was given an earthly land, with earthly blessings wonderful indeed, with Jehovah's dwelling in their midst, in His temple in Jerusalem! But their sin drove Jehovah from that temple. It was destroyed, the city taken, the people placed under Gentile rule. And, though they rebuilt their temple, and, at the time of this epistle worshiped there, they were under the Romans, so that, although never to be nationally forsaken of God, they were not yet nationally forgiven! But these individual believing Hebrews, addressed in Hebrews 3:1, had been transferred from an earthly to a heavenly calling and destiny, an entirely different "calling," ending their fleshly hopes; called to a rejected Saviour--and lo! a priesthood announced on high, at God's right hand: for those who believed and left all earthly hopes--who were willing to be "without the camp" (of earthly religious things) and to be the earth-rejected but Heaven-received worshipers "within the veil" above! On earth they would be persecuted, despised. In Heaven they were received, welcomed, invited to "the throne of Grace," of which, alas, the Jewish nation knew nothing!
Remove from your mind the idea of any difference before God between these Hebrews and anyone else who comes to God by Jesus Christ. For (we say it over and over), although God had given these Hebrews a "religion," the book of Hebrews sees God taking it all away! The Hebrews were indeed to learn lessons from their former history, and God will exercise great gentleness and grace now toward them. But Aaron disappears; yea, Moses disappears; yea, the Law is "disannulled--the priesthood being changed"; the scene is changed from earth to Heaven! And these Hebrew believers are saluted as "partakers of a heavenly calling." In this "calling" there are no Hebrew or Jewish things, which distinctions belong wholly to earth! (Col. 2:16, 17; Heb. 8:5).
It will be found difficult to view a Hebrew believer as "having nothing"; and most difficult to the Hebrew believer himself! (Let us Gentiles reflect that with God there are no "Episcopalians," "Presbyterians," "Methodists," "Baptists." It was the writer's great privilege in the Moody Church in Chicago to teach a Bible class in which one night at my request they all wrote down the "churches" they came from, and the "denominations" or "sects" they represented. There proved to be over two hundred churches, or assemblies; for Chicago is a large city. But they called themselves by forty-one different denominational names! Yet with God they were simply believers. We are not "fighting denominations, having the gospel to preach! We allude to those things only to illustrate how difficult it is to hold only heavenly things, as partakers of a heavenly calling. It is so easy to say, "I am of Paul; and I of Apollos!")
Union with Christ, resurrection, heavenly position, this was the "heavenly calling." They are no longer Hebrews, no longer Gentiles, for they are "new creatures in Christ." New creatures are no more Hebrews than new Englishmen or new Chinese. Creation is creation, not change! (1 Cor. 7:19; Gal. 6:15).
There is but one heavenly calling revealed. Those to whom Ch. 3:1 was addressed were "partakers" of it. They were in a Risen, heavenly Christ. It matters not whether or not they fully realized these glorious facts, or whether or not they enjoyed them. The word kaleo, "I call," and its noun, klesis, calling, are used in the N.T. over 50 times, as, Rom. 1:1, 7; 8:28, 30; 1 Cor. 1:2, 9, 24; Jude 1; Rev. 17:14.
The "calling" of God is a sovereign act, which determined the position and privileges of these believers:
- It is the description both of the order of life and being into which God has created a creature, and also of that order of life befitting such creation. Angels, for example, were created into the angelic state and mode of being. Certain of them "kept not their first principality but left their proper habitation" (Jude 6).
- of them who are "saints" by calling, Rom. 8:30 says that they were foreordained before this calling.
- Scripture also asserts that these were "called with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace, which was given us in Christ Jesus before times of ages" (2 Tim. 1:9, literally).
- It is written of the Corinthians, who at that time were "babes in Christ," that they were "sanctified in Christ Jesus, called saints"; and that God, "Who is faithful," would also "confirm them unto the end," that they might be "unreprovable in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ" (1 Cor. 1:2, 8).
- While the saints are exhorted to "walk worthily of the calling wherewith they were called" (Eph. 4:1; 2 Thess. 1:11, 12) yet note, they did not obtain the "calling" by excellent behavior, nor lose it by failure, but enjoyed it in a faithful walk. Note also the same in 2 Peter 1:5-11: the great exhortation to diligence on our part, by such diligence making "our calling and election sure" (which is the great exhortation in Hebrews, is it not?), God guarding us against stumbling, and guaranteeing assurance of an "entrance richly supplied ... into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ."
- See also 2 Pet. 3:17, 18: It was not the intention of God, in revealing to us a marvellous "calling" into which He had foreordained us, to have us become negligent. Peter exhorts us to "grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ" (not grow "in grace," as Often wrongly quoted, but grow in the grace and experimental favor and acquaintanceship of our Lord Jesus Christ Himself).
- Finally, those believers who have been most quietly certain of their own heavenly calling have most constantly given God praise for their own election! For they know Whom they have trusted! In view of the unutterable Grace that had formed such purposes toward their unworthy selves they are filled with rapturous thanksgiving!
The writer of Hebrews, indeed, here defines their heavenly calling, (as is done in Ephesians). But he does assert that they, being partakers of a heavenly calling, are through with earthly things, not having here on earth even an abiding city! They are to be approached as those who once had such a city, and temple, and sacrifices, but are now without them, without any earthly religion whatever. And they are called to come boldly to the throne of grace in Heaven, by the blood of Jesus; having Him as Great High Priest! In short, the object of Hebrews is to call to a heavenly worship, people who now have a heavenly calling!
Of course to think that the apostle in thus lovingly exhorting the Hebrew believers, is admitting any "special character" of theirs, would be to deny other Scriptures. Unless we keep in mind the great facts revealed in Paul's epistles, we shall not, in our study of Hebrews, be ready at its great exhortation in Chapter 13, to go forth to our rejected Lord "without the camp" (which is not only Judaism, but all human "religion" as such), "bearing His reproach." (The Hebrews had had a Divinely given religion, Judiasinos, which we translate "Judaism" (Gal. 1:13, 14); which Paul, as a Jew, also calls "our religion" (threskeia, Acts 26:5).) We all know, if we are honest with ourselves, that to glory in a despised, rejected, crucified Christ is not the message Christendom honors or will bear with. "Without the camp" below; "within the veil" above: what does the world know of that?
The very name "Christians"--whence came it? From the world, not from God! It was a taunt. In Antioch of Syria, a city with a reputation for cynicism and human "Smartness," the disciples "were called Christians first" (Acts 11:26). "Christian"--a remarkable word! A Hebrew idea (Messiah, Anointed), expressed in Greek (Christos) with a Latin ending anos: thus worldwide! See also 1 Pet. 4:16: "If any man suffer as a Christian, let him not be ashamed; but let him glorify God in this name." We might translate "Christians" "Christ-ones"; compare "Jesus-men," as true believers were mockingly called by unbelieving Chinese. It is the world's name, not God's. God's name for His saints with respect to His truth, is "believers." "Believers were the more added to the Lord, multitudes both of men and women" (Acts 5:14). The characteristic of believers is bowing to God's Word, believing it just as it stands.
How many of God's saints do you know who habitually think of themselves as simply believers? There has been a mighty work at Calvary; they have a Risen Lord and a heavenly calling which they, as believers, entered. The world, in its Satan-ruled ignorance, calls them "Christians," Christ-ones, as over against the Jews. The "Christian religion" has supplanted, in that they call "Christendom," the Jews' religion! But saints are simply "believers."
No, there was no "other gospel" for Hebrews. The Lord told Ananias that Saul was to bear His name "before the Gentiles, and kings, and the children of Israel." (Acts 9:15). Peter says Paul wrote "Scriptures" unto the Jews who were of the Diaspora, the "Dispersion" (1 Pet. 1:1). See also 2 Peter 3:1, 15-16: "Our beloved brother Paul ... wrote unto you; as also in all his epistles, speaking in them of those things; wherein are some things hard to be understood, which the ignorant and unsteadfast wrest, as they do also the other Scriptures, unto their own destruction."
Doubtless, having had a Divinely given religion, they were, as are all having a "religion," slow to apprehend the break, the end of all "religion" at the Cross, with the end of alt Levitical things, of all earthly things; and their place "without the camp," and the present worship "within the veil" in Heaven. Furthermore, Paul is not "the apostle to the circumcision" (Gal. 2:8, 9). Even James, writing to "The Twelve Tribes which were of the Dispersion," describes "pure religion and undefiled before our God and Father" to be visiting the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and keeping oneself unspotted from the world (Jas. 1:27). How about this, Jew? Romanist? Denominationalist? Reformed theologian? Any place left for the Mosaic economy? Furthermore, religionist: have you been visiting the fatherless and widows? Are you "unspotted from the world"?
Consider the Apostle and High Priest of our confession, Jesus--While the word "our" here is directed to Hebrew believers, it includes all believers, all partakers of a "heavenly calling."
Each of the four Gospels ends the account of the despising and rejection and crucifixion by national Israel of that Messiah Whom God had sent to them--for it is evident that He was first sent, not to the Gentiles, but to the Jews. He said, (Matt. 15:24): "I was not sent but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel." In the sending forth of the twelve, He charged them, "Go not into any way of the Gentiles, and enter not into any city of the Samaritans: but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel" (Matt. 10:5). In the words of John, "They that were His own received Him not" (1: 11).
Remember Matthew 21:43: "The kingdom of God shall be taken away from you, and shall be given to a nation bringing forth the fruits thereof." This coming "nation" is not the Church, nor Gentiles, but that nation described in Isaiah 66:7-9, to be "brought forth at once": that is, the national Israel, which, though "a very small Remnant" (Isa. 1:9; 10:20-22; 11:11, 16; 37:31, 32; 46:3 marg.; Dan. 12:1), "shall look unto Him Whom they have pierced."
That day has not yet come, and although God does, in this epistle, explain to these Hebrews their past history, we find Christ as set forth here, not belonging to the Hebrews as such, but on the contrary, to Heaven itself! with a heavenly life, and carrying on a worship altogether heavenly!
Therefore when we read, Consider the Apostle and High Priest of our confession--we must not think in Jewish terms. And High Priest--For fifteen centuries, from Moses to Christ, God taught the Hebrew nation to depend on their high priest, upon his work, and upon his year by year acceptability to God. This was especially true on the Great Day of Atonement, once a year, when, in the wilderness, the nation would gather round the tabernacle, waiting, while the high priest went in with the blood of the slain goat, to see him reappear. Their hopes (before their idolatry and apostasy) were based on this: that the high priest would come out from the Holy of Holies, place his hands upon the head of the live goat, and confess over its head all the iniquities and sins of the nation, and send it away into an uninhabited land, never to be found. (For the slain goat, and that "sent away," together are the type of shed blood bringing man into God's presence, and also dismissing forever their sins.) Read Leviticus 16 again--unless you remember well all facts of the Great Day of Atonement.
Of course, most of my readers will be Gentiles, and concerning the priestly work of Christ there has been a lamentable lack of teaching. Would that all of us, Hebrew or Gentile believers, were alike fully instructed in the Old Testament setting forth of the office and ministry of the high priest. For these men, types as they were, become in their ministry a wonderful help to appreciate this book of Hebrews, which deals with that Great High Priest, "Who ever liveth to make intercession for us."
It was Divinely intended that the result of the reading of the book of Hebrews would be that these Hebrews should (a) abandon all reliance on the old Covenant, or Levitical things; and (b) know that the New Covenant with the house of Judah and Israel lies in the future--is not yet made--so that they shall not attach their hopes to it.
(c) That they should know that Christ was "another Priest ... not after the order of Aaron"--but of an order Israel had never known, even that of Melchizedek, who preceded Abraham, the patriarch, therefore indescribably greater than Abraham; and that Christ was after Melchizedek's order of never-ending priesthood, established by Divine oath.
(d) And know that the only worship God is now accepting is heavenly and unseen, not connected at all with earthly things, whether buildings, forms, or ordinances.
(e) And that inasmuch as Christ, rejected by the world and particularly by human "religion," suffered "without the gate," fulfilling the type of the body of the sin-offering; we whose hopes are in Heaven, should "go forth unto Him without the camp" of human religion "bearing His reproach."
(f) That such believers should know their sins forgiven forever!
Of our confession--The word "confession," (Gr. homologia) is used six times in the New Testament, three of which are in Hebrews. It is unfortunately, in this text, in the King James Version, rendered "profession." (Its use in 1 Timothy 6:12, 13, shows how inadequate this translation is.) Christ before Pilate did not make a "profession," but confessed: "Pilate said unto Him, 'Art Thou a king, then?' Jesus answered, 'Thou sayest that I am--a king!" See John 18:37. Our Lord's "Thou sayest" was the most emphatic "YES!" The Apostle and High Priest of our confession, then, is One Whom you have confessed, One with Whom your relationship is personal, as connected with His Lordship: as Paul says: "If thou shalt confess with thy mouth Jesus as Lord." See verbal form in Matthew 10:32; Luke 12:8, etc.
"Consider the Apostle and High Priest of our confession, Jesus." In this verse every word needs comment! "Consider the Apostle." When we note Whom we are to "consider," and what He is here, we are convicted of neglect at once! The word "consider" means to fix the mind with all attention. Here, as we see, it is upon the person of our Lord. We are asked to fix our attention on Jesus in the double character of Apostle and High Priest. We may say that perhaps Christians have "considered" these two characters of our Lord less than any others!
Now an "apostle" was one sent. Here our Lord is called "the Apostle of our confession." Who sent Him forth? The Father, certainly!--as He so constantly told the Jews, to whom He was sent first (Matt. 15:24); and then to all (1 John 4:10, 14). Were there other "apostles?" Certainly--but Christ sent them forth. And people who heard them were to believe on Christ, and confess not any earthly apostle, but Christ Himself!--"the Saviour of the world." In our confession, we are constantly to remember that He is the Apostle sent forth to us from the Father, and that He is to be confessed by us constantly before the world. What could be meant by the words "our confession?" First, it acknowledges Jesus as Son of God, Creator, Upholder; second, the reality of His humanity; third, the infinite efficacy of His atoning work; fourth, the marvelous union which enables Him to call believers "brethren"; fifth, the new and eternal priestly "order" of Melchizedek--as we shall see in Hebrews Seven.
In short, the book of Hebrews is given to "our confession" of Him, "Who was faithful to Him that appointed Him."
Jesus--HOW wonderful that God had known Him in His conception by this precious, personal name, Jesus! (Matt. 1:21; Lk. 1:31). Therefore let us not fear, but have this name, "Jesus," ever in our hearts, as we go through Hebrews. We saw Him in Chapter 1 as Son, Heir, Creator, high above even heavenly creatures; and then in Chapter 2 we saw Him just as truly Man! "He is not ashamed to call us brethren"! So let us hold fast that tender name, Jesus! We shall find Him in Chapter 6 called Christ. Let us remember what is written in Chapter 13: "Jesus Christ, the same yesterday, and today, and unto the ages" (13:8).
Who was faithful to Him that appointed Him, as also was Moses in all His (God's) house: This faithfulness to the God Who appointed Him "the Apostle and High Priest of our confession," should be the subject of our most attentive consideration. While not developed fully here as later in the book, God's appointing Jesus our High Priest in Heaven must claim our first attention. You may have noticed that the Gospel of John, taking for granted our Lord's rejection by Israel (John 1:11 previously quoted), proceeds to develop His Deity, and the fact that anyone believing may have life in His Name; and gives again and again our Lord's word as to whence He came: "Him Whom the Father sanctified and sent into the world"; "He that honoreth not the Son, honoreth not the Father that sent Him"; "I seek not Mine own will, but the will of Him that sent Me"; Whom He sent, Him ye believe not"; "My teaching is not mine but His that sent Me"; "I am not come of Myself, but He that sent Me is true"; and many other like statements. (It will profit you greatly to mark throughout John this appointment by God of Jesus to be "The Saviour of the world.")
This earnest word, "Consider Him," must apply, first, to His appointment by God; and second, to His faithfulness to Him that appointed Him. Even in Gethsemane His prayer was, "My Father, if this (cup) cannot pass away, except I drink it, Thy will be done" (Matt. 26:42). Faithful unto death was He!
For He hath been counted worthy of more glory than Moses, by so much as he that built the house hath more honor than the house: Jehovah testified to Miriam and Aaron, who claimed revelations from God equally with Moses, "My servant Moses is faithful in all My house: with him will I speak" (Num. 12:7, 8). When we consider the "ten thousand things of God's Law" with which Moses had to deal, we see a little of the vast administration of what God calls His "house." Even the little household affairs of bits of dust like us need faithful servants. Such a servant in God's house was Moses! And he indeed was honored of God, and had glory, and shall have it. He and Elijah appeared "in glory" on the Mount of Transfiguration. Yet Moses was not, and no creature could be, the builder of God's house. His offices, and the glory due him, even to his being "king in Jeshurun," were all from God.
Westcott well says, "The point of comparison lies in the fact that Moses and Christ were both engaged, not, as other Divine messengers, with a part, but with the whole of the Divine economy. The prophets dealt severally with this or that aspect of truth; the kings with another region of life; the priests with another. But Moses and Christ dealt with the whole house of God."
For every house is builded by some one; but He that built all things is God: We have seen that God has a "house" in human affairs, with which "house" all that faithfully confess Christ's name are connected. This is to be borne in mind by every Christian. The Builder of the house, therefore, is God. As Paul says of the present saints, "Ye are God's building" (1 Cor. 3:9). And Peter: "Ye also, as living stones, are built up a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God through Jesus Christ" (1 Pet. 2:5). And Paul directs Timothy: "That thou mayest know how men ought to behave themselves in the house of God, which is the Church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth" (1 Tim. 3:15).
And Moses indeed was faithful in all His house as a ministering-servant--What a great testimony, this! God loves to record the devotion to His will exhibited by His servant* Moses, as we have seen. The following note on Greek terms for various orders of servants, from Vine's Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words is excellent:
"Diakonos views a servant in relation to big work; doulos, a bondservant, slave, views him in relationship to his master.
"As to synonymous terms, leitourgos denotes one who performs public duties; misthios and misthotos, a hired servant; oiketes, a household servant; huperetes, a subordinate official waiting on his superior ... therapon, one whose service is that of freedom and dignity."
It is this last word, therapon, that God uses to describe Moses in Ch. 3:5: his service was "that of freedom and dignity."
We have rendered therapon "ministering-servant." (See Num. 12:7, 8.)
But notice that concerning Moses, the preposition is "in"; not "over"--as we read concerning Christ. Moreover, Moses was in God's house as a ministering-servant, not as a son. (You cannot perhaps better see the spirit in which Moses wrought than in the last chapter of Exodus. He had built the tabernacle, according to the pattern shown him in the mount. And then follow the words, "Thou shalt," twenty times in the first fifteen verses, and then: "Thus did Moses: according to all that Jehovah commanded him, so did he" (Ex. 40:16). "As Jehovah commanded Moses" is written eight times in this chapter, 22 times in the account of the work, Chapters 35-40 of Exodus!)
We must pause and trace more fully the subject of "God's house" in Scripture. What this expression means will be perhaps best seen in God's command to Moses in the wilderness: "Speak unto the children of Israel ... and let them make Me a sanctuary, that I may dwell among them." Never had God dwelt among men before. He had visited, even walked with and talked with such men as Enoch, Noah, and Abraham; but there had been never a hint of God's coming to live among them! We become familiar with marvelous heavenly truth, yet many never really consider deeply the meaning thereof. Did not God have Heaven and the Heaven of heavens? Did He not say through Isaiah, "I dwell in the high and holy place"? That God should desire to dwell with men, we do not fully consider, perhaps do not really believe.
God dwelt first in the midst of Israel in the wilderness, in the tabernacle; second, afterwards, in the temple of Solomon, until the idolatry and sin of that nation drove Him away (Ezek. 8:24). Third after the seventy years captivity, the glory having departed, and the ark having been lost at the burning of the temple by Nebuchadnezzar, He dwelt in the similar, restored temple, where, although the glory did not return, and there was no ark, yet God said, "Build the house; and I will take pleasure in it, and I will be glorified ... For I am with you, saith Jehovah of hosts" (Hag. 1:8; 2:4. See also Mal. 3:10.) Fourth, however obscure God's manifestation there, yet the temple in the days of the Maccabees (second century before Christ) is called "the sanctuary" (Dan. 11:31). Fifth, after many years again of man's unfaithfulness, even to their allowing Herod the Edomite to enlarge the temple, so that the carnal Jews boasted, "Forty and six years was this temple in building," Christ came to it, and in astonishing grace, still called it, "My Father's house"! This at the beginning of His ministry! While at the end of His ministry, at the second cleansing of the temple, again driving out the profiteers, He still said, "Is it not written, My house shall be called a house of prayer for all nations?"
The week of His crucifixion, He announced to the apostate nation, "Behold, your house is left unto you desolate"! (Matt. 23:38). And Matthew 24 begins, "And Jesus went out from the temple." All this was two days before the Passover.
Thus ended for the time the dwelling of God with national Israel.
Sixth, the real "temple" where God dwelt when Christ was here, was the temple of Christ's body--His own Person (John 2:21). "He spake of the temple of His body." And John 14:10: "The Father abiding in Me doeth His works." The deluded, priestridden nation crucified Him, and lo, on the day of Pentecost, came the Holy Ghost to the upper room, to dwell within the believers in that distinct-from-Israel form of the "House of God," the Assembly of the Living God--the Church! Note that our Lord had looked forward to this in Matthew 16:18, prophesying that He would build it. And He had prophesied that the Comforter would "come unto you ... abide with you ... shall be in you." In the book of Acts from Pentecost on, and in the epistles, this blessed abiding Presence is before us. And today as then, the Assembly of God, administered by the double-indwelling of the Holy Ghost in the individual believer and in the Assembly, is "the house of God."
Again, at the prophetic end of the Church's history in Laodicea, our Lord, on the outside, says "Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if any man hear My voice and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with Me." Then comes the judgment of the Apocalypse, (the Church having been raptured at the end of Revelation 3). And finally comes the Last Judgment, and the New Creation--with what announcement?
"Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He shall dwell with them, and they shall be His people (note plural, R.V.) and God Himself shall be with them, and be their God" (Rev. 21:3).
There is no accounting for God's desiring to dwell with men, except His love!
For a testimony of those things which were afterward to be spoken. What "things" are these? We know that Moses was himself a type of Christ (Deut. 18:15, 18). We also know that the things that happened to Israel "happened unto them by way of example; and were written for our admonition" (1 Cor. 10:11)! But we must see that the "things spoken" which the Mosaic economy witnessed to in its offerings, feasts, and prophetic features, looked forward not only to the time of Christ, but further on, to the time of Christ's second coming, Israel's redemption, "the good things to come."
But Christ as a son, over His house; Whose house are we, if we hold fast our boldness and the glorying of our hope firm unto the end. This "house," as we have seen, is constantly called in Scripture "the house of God," but over this house of God is Christ, viewed not only as the Head of the Body, the Church, but also as Himself actively building.
If we hold fast--The aversion which many have to Hebrews arises from the "ifs"--that is, from the warnings. And many say, "These warnings are not for us, because this epistle was written to the Hebrews, not to us Gentiles; they were 'under Law'; we are not."
But Chapters 3 and 4 do not touch the question of being under the Law, but the question of personal attitude toward God and His Word! (The word "law" does not occur in Chapters 3 and 4: but the words "His Voice," (3:15); "a promise," (4:1); "the word of God," (4:12); "the Holy Spirit saith," (3:7); are found.)
Our boldness and the glorying of our hope--That hope which belongs to our salvation in Christ was to be held fast ... firm unto the end, by these Hebrew believers. The danger was that of turning back to that Judaism, that religion, which their friends, relatives, and prominent Hebrew ecclesiastics held, and which, originally given of God, was now superseded by the Son of God--a Priest not even of Aaron's "order," and not of, or on earth!
*"Boldness" (lit., all-spokenness--a spirit of utter, confident openness), is taken from two Greek words pan, meaning all; and hrema, meaning speech. We have a similar meaning in our term, "speak out." The Apostle John uses it over and over: "If our heart condemn us not, we have boldness (same Gr. word) toward God." "Herein is love made perfect, that we may have boldness in the day of judgment; because as He is, so are we in this world." "This is the boldness which we have toward Him, that, if we ask anything according to His will, He heareth us." "Abide in Him, that, if He shall be manifested, we may have boldness and not be ashamed before Him at his coming" (1 John 2:28; 3:21; 4:17; 5:14). The verb is also illustrated in Eph. 6:20; 1 Thess. 2:2; Acts 13:46; 14:3, 18:26 and other places. It means to speak out all the heart, without fear or reserve.
If Hebrew believers, who had had a God-given religion, were not to glory, except in a heavenly hope, and "go forth unto Jesus without the camp" (of human religion), how much more Gentiles, to whom God had never given either the ten commandments or any "religion" whatever!*
The exact truth of such a passage as Psalm 147:19-20 must be received and home in mind. Let us read it:
"He showeth His word unto Jacob, His statutes and His ordinances unto Israel. He hath not dealt so with any nation; And as for His ordinances, they have not known them. Praise ye Jehovah."
Not to the Egyptians, the mightiest nation of that day, did God reveal Himself. He testified, by Moses; and upon Egypt's proud rebellion He sent plagues and brought His people out.
Not to Babylon, the great royal empire: He testified to Nebuchadnezzar and to Belshazzar, but did not reveal Himself nor His ordinances.
Not to Persia, which replaced Babylon: Cyrus and Darius acknowledged Jehovah's direction, but they did not have the ordinances.
Not to Greece, brilliant-minded, courageous: God did not make known Himself or His ordinances to Greece.
Nor to all-conquering Rome: they were as ignorant of God as the others. Pilate crucified Christ, and Nero martyred Paul and Peter:--which was but the beginning, as read church history.
Psalm 147 also reads in verses 12 and 13, "Praise Jehovah, O Jerusalem; Praise thy God, O Zion. For He hath strengthened the bars of thy gates; He hath blessed thy children within thee."
Then note again the verses with which we begin. Paul indeed writes concerning Israel in Romans 9:4, 5:
"Whose is the adoption, and the glory, and the covenants, and the giving of the Law and the religious-service of God, and the promises; whose are the fathers, and of whom is Christ as concerning the flesh, Who is over all, God blessed forever. Amen."
It is good that the apostle immediately explained, "They are not all Israel, that are of Israel: ... That is, it is not the children of the flesh that are children of God; but the children of the promise are reckoned for a seed" (Vss. 6, 8).
And why? We know why. Not only did this nation Israel rebel against Jehovah's Law and ordinances but they rejected and horribly slew their Messiah; and their house is left to them "desolate."
Nevertheless, here is this great epistle, directed--to whom? To Hebrews. No, not to Judah nor Israel, nor to the nation as such. But the title is, to Hebrews; and in Chapter 3:1 we see what Hebrews; those who in Divine sovereignty
had been enlightened as to Christ, and had confessed His name in salvation.
Alas, how few Gentile "professing Christians" do we know who really constitute God's House, glorying only in Christ, worshiping only by the Spirit!--the true "circumcision", whose citizenship is in Heaven; whence also they wait for a Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ": who "have no confidence in the flesh" (Phil. 3:3, 20), or in earthly things, whether creeds, "standards," denominational "programs," "church work," or great buildings! These things become a deadly snare, so that many no longer hold fast their "boldness" toward God, or the "glorying of their hope" in a heavenly Christ--and especially in His speedy coming! (See 1 Thess. 4:13-18.)
Remember that in the last chapter of The Revelation, our Lord three times repeated,
"Behold I come quickly!" Meanwhile, Paul says, "Set your mind on the things that are above, not on the things that are upon the earth. For ye died and your life is hid with Christ in God. When Christ, (Who is) our life, shall be manifested, then shall ye also be manifested with Him in glory" (Col. 3:2, 3). How closely these Scriptures connect themselves with the exhortations in Hebrews!
There are those who have true faith, represented by the good ground in the parable of the Sower: "These are such as in an honest and good heart, having heard the Word, hold it fast, and bring forth fruit with patience." But our Lord in the same Parable said concerning the rocky ground hearers, "These have no root, who for awhile believe, and in time of temptation fall away." These warnings of Hebrews are not given to create uncertainty, but to avoid presumption and carelessness. At the Last Supper, when He had announced that one of them would betray Him, each of the true disciples said, "Is it I, Lord?" Note that it was our Lord Himself Who had caused this question. So here in Hebrews.
Notice that the Israelites had not what is here called "boldness toward God." This was the very opposite of that which they knew under Law, with the veil unrent. Only the priests of the tribe of Levi were permitted to come even past the first veil; and the high priest alone, once a year only, came past the second, into God's immediate presence. Behaving was the consciousness toward God under Law; believing-freedom, unreserve, "boldness," came only through Christ's work. Now the believer comes into the presence of God, gladly resting in Christ's blood, with which (blood) Christ "entered into the holy place--into Heaven itself, now to appear before the face of God for us." There was nothing for sinners to hide but sin; and sin had been put away by the blood of Christ; which was now trusted in! Satan's continual effort is to obscure the work of Christ, and bring sins to remembrance; and thus "put (us) in fear by ... terror," as Peter says (1 Pet. 3:6).
Under the Old Covenant no one had nor could have, the consciousness that his sin was forever and entirely put away. But God has provided us a "better hope, through which we draw nigh unto God"! Indeed, the exhortation to "hold fast our boldness and the glorying in our hope," of Chapter 3:6, runs right through the book of Hebrews: "Having then a Great High Priest, who hath passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession" (4:14). "Be not sluggish, but imitators of them who through faith and patience inherit the promises" (6:12). "Having therefore, brethren, boldness to enter into the holy place by the blood of Jesus" (10:19), and then the great exhortation (vs. 23): "Let us hold fast the confession of our hope that it waver not; for He is faithful that promised."
in Chapter 3:6 (and also vs. 14), we find expressed by God a definite condition of blessing--nay, of salvation itself: which we must study with great care.
It will not do to wave away, with the ultra-Calvinist, honest considerations of these "if" conditions upon the ground that they are inconsistent with God's sovereign election. Reader, God is not here speaking of His sovereign election. And it is sheer evasion not to receive the truth as here spoken because "God has His elect to whom conditions do not apply." That is God's business, and He will speak of it when He pleases. He does not please to speak of election in the verses we are considering.
Nor will it do, with the Arminians, to base God's operations upon the actions and choices of the human will--and to ignore His Sovereignty.It is our duty to find, if we are able, what God says here, and the exact meaning thereof.
Even as the Holy Spirit saith, Today if ye shall hear His voice, harden not your hearts--TODAY! Mark its repetition five times over: verses 7, 13, 15; and twice in Chapter 4:7. Speak it over, and then write it: Today! Today! Today! Today! Today! and let the conscience and heart feel its full effect. How infinitely solemn it is! As Paul says to the Corinthians: "We entreat also that ye receive not the grace of God in vain (for He saith, At an acceptable time I hearkened unto thee, And in a day of salvation did I succor thee: Behold, now is the acceptable time; behold, now is the day of Salvation)" (2 Cor. 6:1-2).
It is the Holy Spirit that saith "Today." Our Lord wept over Jerusalem, saying, "O that thou hadst known in this day, even thou, the things which belong unto peace! but now are they hid from thine eyes ... because thou knewest not the time of thy visitation!" (Lk. 19:42, 44). Note that present tense, "Saith." These third and fourth chapters of Hebrews are no mere historical narration, but an exhortation to those who in Chapter 3:1 are said to be "partakers of a heavenly calling"--partakers of the presence of and speaking by the Holy Spirit in the Word!
We may note seven mentions of the Holy Spirit in Hebrews: (1) "Gifts (distributions) of the Holy Spirit" (2:4); (2) "As the Holy Spirit saith" (3:7); (3) "Made partakers of the Holy Spirit" (6:4); (4) "The Holy Spirit this signifying" (9:8); (5) "Through the eternal Spirit offered Himself" (9:14); (6) "The Holy Spirit also beareth witness" (10:15); (7) "Done despite unto the Spirit of grace" (10:29). The careful believer will notice that those operations of the Holy Spirit which are involved in our conviction of sin, new birth, sealing and witness to sonship, His guidance; and "the sanctification of the Spirit" (2 Thess. 2:13) and "renewing" (Tit. 3:5) are not once referred to in the seven passages quoted above! Speaking with the utmost reverence, we must say, "God ... hath spoken to us in a Son," in Hebrews. There are in the New Testament accurate and intimate accounts of the Spirit's coming and operations, as Rom. 8, Gal. 4:4-6, 1 Cor. 12-14, John 14-16; but not so in Hebrews, though He is present, jealously present, for it is His unwearied desire to "take the things of Christ and show them unto us."
But even sanctification, in Hebrews, is not seen as the work of the Spirit, but as that separation unto God effected by the death of Christ. (For example, 10:10; 10:14; 13:12.) Ch. 12:14 is seen not to be an exception--in view of Ch. 10:29, where sanctification to God, though "tasted," entered upon, was finally refused rather than "followed after."
Now, as we have said, these Hebrews had had a past history with God. Therefore both they and we must learn, as God applies the lesson of that history, what the Holy Spirit is now saying.
The words the Holy Spirit here quotes, Today if ye shall hear His voice, harden not your hearts, as in the provocation--were spoken nearly a thousand years before Hebrews was written, to David (Ps. 95:7, ff). But God makes them live, not in Hebrew believers' ears only, but in our hearts, your heart and mine, if we are true believers, and wise. Does anyone deny the possibility of a Gentile's hardening his heart and closing his ears? Then, let every one pay attention to what the Holy Spirit here SAITH, Today if ye shall hear His voice, harden not your hearts. Daily, hourly, to all His saints God speaks, by His Spirit.
"This word 'Today' is the expression of the patient activity of God's grace toward Israel even unto the end. The people were unbelieving; they have hardened their hearts; they have done so, and will, alas! do so to the end, until judgment come in the Person of the Messiah-Jehovah, Whom they have despised. But until then God loves to reiterate. 'Today if ye will hear My voice.' It may be that only a few will hearken; it may be that the nation is judicially hardened, in order to admit the Gentiles; but the word 'Today' still resounds for every one among them who had ears to hear, until the Lord shall appear in judgment ... For the Remnant who had believed, it was an especial warning not to walk in the ways of the hardened people who had refused to hearken--not to turn back to them, as Israel did in the wilderness.
"As long as the 'Today' of the call of grace should continue. they were to exhort one another, lest unbelief should glide into their hearts through the subtlety of sin."--J.N. Darby, Synopsis, pp. 261-2.
Where your fathers tried Me by proving Me--At Massah and Meribah, "The people murmured against Moses, and said, Wherefore hast Thou brought us up out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and our cattle with thirst? ... And he called the name of the place Massah (margin, that is, Tempting, or Proving), and Meribah (that is, Chiding, or Strife), because of the striving of the children of Israel, and because they tempted Jehovah, saying, Is Jehovah among us, or not?" (Ex. 17:3, 7). Yet God had brought them out from Pharaoh's bondage, through the Red Sea, and was giving them manna from Heaven daily for their needs! To "try" God by "proving" Him is to say, deep in the heart, "I am going to do such and such things, which He has forbidden and threatened against, and see whether anything will overtake me!" Thus a lad might say, "Father has forbidden the very thing I want to do, and says he will whip me if I disobey. But I do not believe he will punish me: I'll do what he forbade, and see if he will." So he disobeys, and such disobedience is "trying by proving."
And saw My works forty years: In Moses's great discourse in Deuteronomy, we read, "It is eleven days' journey from Horeb by the way of Mount Seir unto Kadesh-Barnea." But we read "And it came to pass in the fortieth year, in the eleventh month, on the first day of the month, that Moses spake unto the children of Israel, according unto all that Jehovah had given him in commandment unto them." Forty years to make an eleven days' journey! Why? The awful, presumptuous wickedness is described in our verse in Hebrews 3: Your fathers tried Me by proving Me. God had commanded Israel to go into the land of Canaan. Forgetting all His goodness and the displays of the resistless might of His power, they listened at Kadesh-Barnea to the cowardly report of the unfaithful spies, with the marvelous fruit of Canaan before their eyes at the time. Read Numbers 13 and 14--astonishing! (Note in vss. 8-12 (1) The state of heart Israel was in. (2) God's gracious voice, which if heard, would bring blessing. (3) Their attitude: hardening their hearts, by "proving" God wilfully, and thus "trying" Him. (The word "try" or "tempt," of their presumption toward God, is the same word used concerning Satan's tempting man to do evil). (4) The arousing of God's settled wrath, causing His oath to exclude them from that "rest" into which He would have led them. (5) The possibility of a like "evil heart of unbelief" today. (6) The sign of it, falling away from a Living God, whether to a life of sin, or to a life of "religion" which walks in forms, merely, shutting out God's fellowship.)
Paul, Peter, and Jude all warn us against the sin of testing God's judgments: (1 Cor. 10:5, 10; 2 Pet. 2:4, 7; Jude 5, 7). Hear Jude's solemn words: "Now I desire to put you in remembrance, though ye know all things once for all, that the Lord, having saved a people out of the land of Egypt, afterward destroyed them that believed not." Our Lord said, "Remember Lot's wife." Meditate on some of the terrible words used in the texts above, of God's judgments on the Israelites who believed not: "overthrown," "destroyed," "bodies (Gr., limbs) strewn down along [Vincent's translation] in the wilderness."
This generation does not believe in a God of judgment! And the lack of assurance of eternal salvation in Christendom today springs naturally from lack of preaching the truth about Divine judgment at the Cross! But we beg of you to remember that it is written of God that He "spared not His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all." Behold Christ, the sinless One--forsaken, spared not, when our iniquities were laid on Him! There we see what sin deserves and must surely have, at the hands of a holy God!
Wherefore I was displeased with this generation, And said, they do always err in their heart: But they did not know My ways; So I sware in My wrath, They shall not enter into My rest.
Verses 8, 9, 10, and 11 speak directly to these Hebrew believers it is the story of the trial of God by their fathers, and their displeasing Him and erring in their heart, ignorant of His ways: with the result that He sware they should not enter into His rest. What that means, we shall consider. But remember here the reasons God gives. People, alas, accustomed from old days to hand over searching passages "to the Jews," say, "That does not apply to us." Dear friend, "As face answers to face in water, so the heart of man to man." Profit by God's loving warning to these Hebrew believers! Ah, the possibilities of sin and rebellion in any human heart! Men say, "I have my personal opinion." "He that trusteth in his own heart is a fool," God says.
God pays no attention to what you have in your head of so-called "education." His eyes are upon the heart. Our Lord removed its cover: and lo, we read: "From within, out of the heart of men, evil thoughts proceed, fornications, thefts, murders, adulteries, wickedness, deceit, lasciviousness, an evil eye, railing, covetings, pride, foolishness: all these evil things proceed from within, and defile the man" (Mk. 7:21-23).
And the Holy Spirit said through the prophet of old, "The heart is deceitful above all things, and it is exceedingly corrupt: who can know it? I, Jehovah, search the mind, I try the heart" (Jer. 17:9, 10). Note that God speaks here of all human hearts--not those of Jews only. Remember 1 Corinthians 10:5, 6, 12, written to Gentile believers: "With most of them (Israel in the wilderness, as here in Hebrews) God was not well pleased: for they were overthrown in the wilderness. Now in these things they became figures (or types, R.V., margin), of us to the intent we should not lust after evil things, as they ... Wherefore let him that thinketh he standeth, take heed lest he fall."
All this said to Gentile believers!--1 Corinthians 10:6.
To return to verses 10-11, God said of the Israelites, They do always err in their heart: But they did not know My ways; As I sware in My wrath, they shall not enter into My rest. They erred in their hearts, not their heads. You remember Psalm 103: "He made known His ways unto Moses, His doings unto the children of Israel." Why did He make known His ways to Moses? Hearken to Moses' prayer (Ex. 33:13), pleading alone with God at Sinai after the calf-worship: "Now therefore, I pray Thee, if I have found favor in Thy sight, show me Thy ways, that I may know Thee"! (See also Ps. 25:4; 86:11; and Hos. 14:9.) Consequently, God made known His ways unto Moses. But unto the children of Israel* He made known only "His doings." Now it is of our personal friends that we say, "I know his or her ways." A person's "ways" arise from and express his personality. It is one's delight to be acquainted with the "ways" of our friends, of those we love; to understand their feelings toward us, and to be able in general to predict what their opinions, actions, or reactions, will be. But how many among Israel cried to God when Moses did, to know HIS "ways"--to be acquainted with HIM?
Israel had been in the midst of Egypt--a most idolatrous people. And they had never given up the idols of Mesopotamia. Remember Stephen's terrible charge: "But God turned and gave them up to serve the host of heaven; as it is written in the book of the prophets, Did Ye offer unto Me slain beasts and sacrifices Forty years in the wilderness, O house of Israel? And ye took up the tabernacle of Moloch, And the star of the god Rephan, The figures which ye made to worship them: And I will carry you away beyond Babylon" (Acts 7:42, 43).
In view of the fearful idolatry of both Israel and Judah in the past (2 Chron. 33, 2 Ki. 17:9-18), we tremble to read (Matt. 12:43-45) that seven demons of idolatry worse than the former will come into them when they (except the Remnant) shall worship the Antichrist, knowing and triumphing in the fact that he is from a lost world (Isa. 28:14, 15). And the ... prince that shall come (the Antichrist) ... shall make a firm covenant with the many for one week" (heptad, seven, i.e., 7 Years--Dan. 9:26, 27).
Jehovah had come on Sinai and delivered to Israel a religious system; and after they had completed the tabernacle He asked them to make, He Himself abode in the Holy of Holies--screened, indeed, from their curious sight by the veil. His presence, nevertheless, was there. The vast multitude of Israelites were content to have the Levitical system: but did they ever inquire concerning the Person Who dwelt among them? They became accustomed to calling themselves (as they do today), "The Chosen People." But become personally an hungered for His fellowship--they did not.
Most professing Christians today are quite content to belong to some association of Christians, and be known by its name, and to hold a credal form which relates the doings of God and Christ. But do they know His ways? Do they desire a personal relationship and walk with their God? Are they eager to know the ways of the blessed Spirit Whom God has sent to take charge of things till our Lord's return? Judge if a godly preacher,
filled with the Spirit and urging to a life of devotion to God, comes among you: how large a hearing will he have?
Judge honestly, and do not forget! Let none of Baal's lying prophets tell you that "things are going well," when, God having revealed Himself as Love and in the sacrifice of His dear Son, professing Christians are content to remain ignorant of His ways!
You ask, "What do you mean by knowing God's ways?" Well, listen to His friend Abraham, pleading for Lot in Sodom: "That be far from Thee, to do after this manner, to slay the righteous with the wicked, that so the righteous should be as the wicked."
Or Moses, on Sinai, when God said, "Let Me alone ... that I may consume them: and I will make of thee a great nation." And Moses' answer: "Wherefore should the Egyptians speak, saying, For evil did He bring them forth?" And at Paran: Jehovah said unto Moses, "I will smite them with the Pestilence, and disinherit them, and will make of thee a nation greater and mightier than they. And Moses said unto Jehovah, Then the Egyptians will hear it ... and they will tell it to the inhabitants of this land ... The nations which have heard the fame of Thee will speak, saying ... Jehovah was not able to bring this people into the land which He sware unto them." How often was it recorded of God, "I have pardoned according to thy word"--Moses' word! Elijah and Elisha also walked in such fellowship with God that they would say, and expect God to do! So was Joseph in Egypt, Joshua at Gibeon, Samuel the prophet--indeed all the prophets--and David.
Jonah desired Nineveh, Israel's, rising enemy, to be destroyed. You know his story. When God repented of the judgment of that city and did it not, Jonah cried, "I pray Thee, O Jehovah, was not this my saying, when I was yet in my country? Therefore I hasted to flee unto Tarshish; for I knew that Thou art a gracious God, and merciful, slow to anger, and abundant in loving kindness, and repentest Thee of the evil." Jonah knew God's ways so well that he feared to preach in Nineveh lest it repent: for Israel feared Assyria, and its capital, Nineveh.The wicked say to God, "We desire not the knowledge of Thy ways" (job 21:14). The angel said to Daniel, "The people that know their God shall be strong, and do exploits." Since not knowing God's ways is shown as the vital lack in Israel of old, and assured their failing to enter God's rest, let us ask, How shall we know the ways of God? Mark it well: do as Moses did. Ask, and seek to have His ways shown to you. Or, with David, plead Psalm 27:11, and the like. We must know our God and His ways. Otherwise, we shall be mere "professing" Christians.
Take heed, brethren, lest haply there shall be in any one of you an evil heart of unbelief, in falling away from the living God:
It is "the Living God" by whom these Hebrew believers were warned that "falling away" from Him was a danger. This must be noted and remembered.
- It was the Living God, the Father, who gave His Son. It was the Living God, the Son, who bore our sins, and returned to the Father's right hand. It was the Living God, the Holy Spirit, who came at Pentecost and is here now, to indwell every believer, to be the conscious Leader and Power in every spiritual activity! "It seemed good to the Holy Ghost and to us" (Acts 1:28) were the words of the apostles in those days when they were dealing with God, conscious of His presence and power!
- Note, these Hebrews were not warned of any danger of falling away from "religion." just so, today, people are "Methodists," "Baptists," "Presbyterians," and so regard themselves. They never think of "falling away" from a religious Profession any more than the Roman Catholics. But as to the Living God--having to do with Him daily, hourly, yea, moment by moment--they may have never thought of that, either!
- Now think of a God who knows our every thought, and who has loved us all along the way--who gave His Son in His love for us, Who finds those who professed His name and confessed His Son, so indifferent to His constant overtures of love, as to fall away from the Living God! Note this does not say, or mean, fall into sin, merely: but to fall away from a Person, "the Living God!" Have you ever had any one whom you valued and loved fall into utter neglect of you? Nothing wounds so deeply.
- Note that it is an EVIL heart of unbelief, that falls away from the Living God. As we have noted in Mark 9:24, the man desiring the Lord's blessing cried, "I believe; help Thou mine unbelief!" We may have much consciousness of, and struggle with, unbelief, but could our hearts be described as evil hearts of unbelief--that is, hearts willfully inclined to a state of unbelief and rejection of the fellowship of the "Living God"?
- Now this awful state was national Israel's. They heard God's voice, but they hardened their heart against hearing, knowing, and obeying, this "living" and loving God!
- For this reason, we believe God does not set forth in the book of Hebrews, the doctrines of Christianity (for this had already been done by Paul and the other apostles, both by preaching and epistles), but it is God's person and His Way that are in question here. People are afraid of the ifs of Hebrews--foolishly thinking that it is the conduct of professing Christians that endangers them. No! It is their attitude toward "The Living God"!
- Over against that "hardening through deceitfulness of sin" of Chapter 3:13 is set forth in Hebrews, the blessed person of a Great High Priest, in Heaven, perfected down here through sufferings, filled with every knowledge of our need of unmeasured sympathy and eternal constancy; infinitely ready to see us through all difficulties, trials and temptations. Ah, if we could all learn to keep considering Him! God wants us in Heaven. He is not willing that any should perish. Thus viewed as the great and constant picture of God's tender love, Christ in His high-priestly ministry in Heaven, based on His all-atoning work on Calvary, draws the heart toward God and away from the hardness that a "religion," a sense of "duty," may beget.
- For it must be constantly remembered that the Hebrews had a God-given religion, that they had a religious history of which they were proud, and in which they were confident. Now to bring "the Living God" into an already "religious" though ceremonial scene--how shall we describe it? Ah, we do not need to describe it! For the history of this exact thing is written in the four Gospels. "The Father, abiding in Me is doing His works." "I and the Father are one." "He that hath seen Me hath seen the Father." "The Word was God." And what did man's "religion" do? Behold the marks in Christ's hands and feet and side!
Therefore, hardening, in the sense the book of Hebrews uses it, is against God, "The Living God"--His presence, His holiness, His control of sinful man's will.
The hardening was against a Person--even "The Living God." No one is a compelled victim to such hardening!
This is no earnest heart-struggle with unbelief, such as the father of the demoniac boy had (Mk. 9:24): "Straightway the father of the child cried out, and said, "I believe; help Thou mine unbelief!" He bowed to the Lord's word, and put as it were his believing foot forward, though tremblingly! His was not an evil heart of unbelief. That spoken of in Hebrews 3:12 is a heart that abides in unbelief because it desires to retain its evil! "And this is the judgment, that the light is come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the light; for their works were evil" (John 3:19).
And what is the result? Falling away from the Living God. Little by little, day by day, from God, Whose presence and power had been known, they "fall away." Satan once "walked up and down in the midst of the stones of fire" of God's presence (Ezek. 28:14), but chose sin, and fell "as lightning from Heaven" (Lk. 10:18). Slowly, but not less surely, do these fall! Our Lord describes them in Luke 8:13: "Those on the rock are they who, when they have heard, receive the word with joy; and these have no root, who for awhile believe, and in time of temptation fall away." How awful!
That generation of Israelites spoken of in Hebrews 3:12 "tried God by proving him," and their carcasses fell in the wilderness "forty years." They did not desire to deal with the LIVING GOD. Forms and ceremonies they might endure, though never enjoy. The gods (demons) they had served in Egypt were represented by inanimate idols: "Neither is there any breath in their mouths." (Probably it is given, that is, allowed of God, to the terrible trinity of evil at the close of this age (Satan, Antichrist, and his false prophet) to give breath to the image of Rev. 13:15, as a final, inescapable, "strong delusion" (2 Thess. 2:11), that the unbelieving world in that day may believe the devil's lie (John 5:43).)
All through Scripture, from Deuteronomy to The Revelation (28 times, seven, multiplied by the earth number, four), is found this blessed but awful name THE LIVING GOD. Perhaps the thing above all others that makes the book of Hebrews so solemn is that in it we are dealing with a Living God. It is no matter here of "creed" or "church connection," but of reality. Four times in this great epistle these words, the Living God, are used concerning Him: twice in connection with those finally lost (3:12; 10:31), twice in connection with the saints (9:14; 12:22), as we shall see.
The fearful thing is that, with a soul falling away from the living God, there is the certainty of a future meeting with a disobeyed--yea, despised God, "the judge of all"! A human bit of dust with no help, with no Intercessor, and a nature eternally alienated from all that God is! If you say that you believe in "eternal security," thank God if you have it! But you have solemn need of all the warnings God is giving in Hebrews. Remember the words, "Elect ... according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in sanctification of the Spirit, unto obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ: Grace to you and peace be multiplied" (1 Pet. 1:1, 2).
But exhort one another day by day, so long as it is called Today; lest anyone of you be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin: Here is set before us a Christian service quite uncommon--unless in times of real revival. (Jonathan Edwards described the great revival at Northampton as follows: "There were remarkable tokens of God's presence in almost every house ... Our public assemblies were then beautiful. The congregation was alive in God's service--every one earnestly intent upon the public worship; every hearer eager to drink in the words of the minister as they came from his mouth ... The assembly in general were from time to time in tears, while the Word was preached; some weeping in sorrow and distress, others with joy and love, others with pity and concern for neighbors ... We have kept from year to year days of public confessing and prayer to God, to acknowledge our backsliding and humble ourselves for our sins, and to seek of God forgiveness and reformation.")
The duty of exhorting one another is, alas, neglected by most of us. We judge, and criticize others, but do not faithfully exhort and rebuke. Some professing Christians never mention to others the things of the Lord, though eternity lies right ahead! Instead, we should have our fellow Christians upon our hearts constantly, in solicitous love, so that we would have tender boldness to "exhort" them if we saw them going astray or tempted to turn aside. Instead of criticizing one another, we should care for one another: "Brethren, even if a man be overtaken in any trespass, ye who are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness; looking to thyself, lest thou also be tempted" (Gal. 6:1). Read also Leviticus 19:17 in the Revised Version "Thou shalt surely rebuke thy neighbor, and not bear sin because of him." This shows that failure directly to exhort a brother is a guilt-bringing neglect on our part.
We know from Chapter 13:22 that Hebrews is an epistle, and the whole epistle is an "exhortation." But the writer could not himself be present day by day with each of them, so that this most solemn duty of caring for one another is laid upon each and every one of them. Believers are of course supposed to be assembling as believers: Chapter 10:25: "Not forsaking our own assembling together." But in both that verse and the one preceding, there is the exhortation to "consider one another," and "keep exhorting one another." Assemblies of believers find their patterns, for example, in the assemblies at Jerusalem (Acts 2:42, 46, 47), and at Troas (Acts 20:7), and at Ephesus (Acts 20:17,25). Gatherings indeed of joy they were-but of holy fear, for God the Holy Spirit was there, and Christ Himself was constantly recognized--the Center of all. Therefore this solemn, blessed duty and privilege of exhorting one another was laid upon them all. They were to care for each other, as the members of one body as, for example, one hand cares for the other (I Cor. 12:12, 13, 27).
Alas, it is often the consciousness of our own weakness and failures that makes us fail to exhort others. We say, Did not Jesus warn us against casting out motes from others' eyes while having a beam in our own? Certainly. But He went further: He said, "Cast out first the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother's eye" (Matt. 7:5). The duty toward the brother remains!
Lest any one of you be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin--Three great questions are before us here: (1) What is sin? (2) How does sin deceive? (3) How does the deceitfulness of sin harden?
Concerning sin, note these things: Sin brings guilt, sin defiles, sin enslaves.
Sin's guilt: God created us and sustains our being. He is the absolute sovereign of this creation. Independency is not only the act of a traitor, but God being a holy God, it is the choice of evil--a choice of all that God's holiness infinitely abhors, and His government forbids. Therefore the least sin brings guilt on the sinner, on account which God Must settle according to Himself and the infinite demands of His own throne. Even conceive the act or thought of lawlessness to be a single act, and not to become a habit (which is impossible)--the guilt, the liability to Divine punishment would be the same: just as one proven treachery to his country in time of war by a traitor, condemns him to judgment.
Sin defiles. While guilt is the result of lawlessness toward God's throne, and courts judgment, defilement is that state abhorrent to God's holy nature, into which sin brings the creature: "Thou art of purer eyes than to behold evil" (Hab. 1:13). To one first studying carefully God's use in His Word of the terms "clean" and "unclean," and the teachings on impurity, defilement, and the necessity for cleansing, there comes astonishment! Leprosy was Jehovah's type of sin's defilement. Lepers had to be cleansed, not cured. This offended men (2 Ki. 5:11) who dreamed of "recovering" the leper instead of cleansing. But cleansing from sin's defilement is just as impossible to the sinner as pardoning his own sin's guilt!
Sin enslaves, as we have said before. Man dreams of delivering himself from sin's slavery by an act of his will. But Jesus said, "If the Son shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed" (John 8:36). Reflect, then, reader, on the three-fold fact that man can neither pardon, cleanse, nor deliver himself. For you are surrounded by a world deceived by Satan, its prince, into believing man can do all three--by good works! Damning delusion!
1. What is sin? (a) "Sin is lawlessness" (anomia). This is a state of refusal to be controlled by God. The Authorized Version here (1 John 3:4), "Sin is transgression of the Law," is inadequate and misleading. The Greek word anomia means lawlessness. Transgression of the Law would be parabasis nomou, an action, but anomia, lawlessness, is a state. Again, the translation is misleading, because it puts all the race under the Ten Commandments, which were given to Israel only (Ps. 147:19, 20; Mal. 4:4; Rom. 9:4): and for life on earth. "Do not commit adultery, steal, kill ... covet" do not pertain to life in heaven! The translation is inadequate--utterly so! For when God said, "Sin is anomia--lawlessness," He spake of the creature's inner refusal to Divine control. Sin is that departure from the Creator which follows a will of its own. So it was with Satan (Ezek. 28). The end of such a course is seen in Isaiah 14:12 ff., in the Antichrist's (figured by the king of Babylon) saying, "I will be like the Most High" (Isa. 14:14).
* The Ten Commandments, "holy, just and good," were fitted to the life of an earthly nation. Paul could get on with them till he came to the tenth--"Thou shalt not covet" (lit., desire). This slew him; or rather, indwelling sin, obtaining this means, "beguiled" him. "Through the commandment," as he says, "sin became exceedingly sinful." This was God's object: "The Law was given that the trespass might abound." Mr. Darby well says:
"Sin is equivalent to the spirit of self-will and unrestrainedness, whether man's will or not. When there was Law, its acts were actual transgressions; but without this, sin was there, though there were no such actual transgressions till Law entered ... There can be no transgressions when there is no law. What is there to transgress? But self-will and lust, lawlessness, there may be. It is the state of fallen man: only the Law made it 'exceedingly sinful.'"
When Adam willed to eat the fruit, he departed from God into what is called sin.
(b) "Whatsoever is not of faith is sin."
(c) "The thought of foolishness is sin."
(d) "All unrighteousness is sin."
Sin is an entity, a power! It is a thing, having energy!
2. How does sin "deceive"? Sin deceives in many ways. It has every advantage. (a) It has "pleasures." It invites with charms, false glamor. (b) Sin is a great promiser--of all earthly successes. It blinds the eyes, stifles the conscience, hardens the heart, and says all shall be well. Its prophets keep promising sinners liberty--"promising them liberty, while they themselves are bondservants of corruption" (2 Peter 2:19--a solemn chapter, which please read). Most of the People you meet are hardened and blinded by some form of sin--terrible thought! (c) The creature is most forgetful of unpleasant warnings. (d) The creature has self-confidence--unlimited! "I can quit" (some habit) is in his heart, and how often in his mouth! But our Lord warned, "Everyone that committeth sin is the bondservant of sin" (John 8:34).
3. How does the deceitfulness of sin harden? (a) Because of delayed judgment. "Because sentence against an evil work is not executed speedily, therefore the heart of the sons of men is fully set in them to do evil" (Eccl. 8:11). God's long suffering is therefore despised. Thousands around about the sinner keep sinning and are not immediately stricken: thus comes false peace! (b) Sin deceives by appearing harmless, promising good or enjoyment; by the fact that its victims think, "Others are doing it"; by taking advantage of ignorance of the Word of God: so that the victim listens to the voice of false teachers, who say, "You are all right if you are sincere!" Millions are thus being sincerely lost, like those who sailed sincerely on the Lusitania, and sailed to their death. Sin looks so fair--before it is committed! And after one has committed it, it so deceives and hardens that at the worst, like Adam and Eve, we try to shield ourselves from the consequences of our nakedness till GOD comes upon the scene. (c) Conscience unheeded is Slowly stupefied--finally "seared as with a hot iron." Unless God sends immediate poignant conviction, it is more easy to sin the second time than the first. At last comes the fearful state described to Moses by Jehovah:
"Lest there should be among you man, or woman, or family, or tribe, whose heart turneth away this day from Jehovah our God, to go to serve the gods of those nations; lest there should be among you a root that beareth gall and wormwood; and it come to pass, when he heareth the words of this curse, that he bless himself in his heart, saying, I shall have peace, though I walk in the stubbornness of my heart, to destroy the moist with the dry" (Deut. 29:18, 19).
No wonder we read after this last state, "Then the anger of Jehovah, and His jealousy will smoke against that man, and all the curse that is written in this book shall lie upon him"! (vs. 20).
For we are become partakers of Christ, if we hold fast the beginning of our confidence firm unto the end: For these Hebrew believers, what was the "beginning of their confidence"? Without doubt, their first faith in Christ, accompanied by the "confidence" that faith begot. This word "confidence" (Gr., hupostasis) is used five times, always by Paul. In its use in 2 Corinthians 11:17, it is accompanied by boasting: "confidence of boasting." That is, Paul, hearing the good report of the Corinthian believers, was filled with confidence in his boasting of their faith. The Hebrew believers could not have been believers unless there had been such a revelation of Christ and His work to their hearts that a state of joyful confidence had been entered into! This "confidence" was to be held fast. That argued satanic, worldly, and "religious" opposition, certainly. But the redeeming Saviour was not to be abandoned, but "confidence" in Him held firm to the end. The "end" was when they should enter upon their life above. Meanwhile, "faith" would be a "confidence" (Ch. 11:1, this same word hupostasis) of the "things hoped for."Thus they would become partakers of Christ. The translation of this word "partakers" (metochoi) must be governed by its use. In Luke 5:7 it is merely "partners." In Hebrews 3:1, "partakers of a heavenly calling," it indicates the "calling" of all true believers in this dispensation; and again in Chapter 12:8, "chastening, whereof all (sons) have been made partakers." But on the other hand, in Chapter 6:4, certain were made "partakers (metochoi) of the Holy Spirit," who afterwards fell away and were lost. There was, as we shall find, a presence and an operation of the Holy Spirit short of final sealing and salvation. Certainly Hebrews 1:9 finds our blessed Lord at His glorious second coming accompanied by "partakers" (metochoi), or "fellows." But the path to that day is no careless one, as Chapter 3:14, and, indeed, most of both Chapters 3 and 4 solemnly warn. "I suppose it has been true of us all that there was a time when we shrank from all Scriptures that spoke of conditions. Well can many of us remember when we looked with fear and trembling upon this chapter, or at the sixth chapter, or the closing portion of the tenth chapter."--Ridout, Lectures on The Hebrews, p. 61 (an excellent book) Loizeaux, N. Y.
For who, when they heard, did provoke? nay, did not all they that came out of Egypt by Moses? As to Israel, "Even so then at this present time also there is a remnant according to the election of grace" (Rom. 11:5). But they are received by grace alone, as sinners only! As to this word, "TODAY," let Israel be our warning! Israel came to Kadesh-Barnea, and being permitted (let Deuteronomy 1:22 interpret Numbers 13:1) to send spies into the good land God's word had vouchsafed them, they hearkened to the evil report of the ten unbelieving spies: "It is a good land ... but the giants are there, and cities walled up to heaven." No attention was given to the testimony of Joshua and Caleb: "The land is an exceeding good land ... Rebel not against Jehovah, neither fear ye the people of the land ... Jehovah is with us: fear them not." Nay! "All the congregation bade stone them with stones"! "'Let us make us a captain,' said they, 'and let us return into Egypt.'" (Num. 14:4-10). This was "the provocation" of our text. Then the glory of Jehovah appeared; and but for the intercession of Moses they would have been smitten with pestilence and disinherited, and Moses alone would have taken their place. (Read again, we beg you, Num. 13 and 14, and Deut. 1.)
And with whom was He displeased forty years? was it not with them that sinned, whose bodies fell in the wilderness?--The question arises concerning the "forty years" in the wilderness, in this verse in Hebrews 3, and 1 Corinthians 10:1-5: Were all these with whom He was displeased eternally lost? Were any of the Israelites whose carcasses fell in the wilderness saved? The same question arises concerning professing believers today. Are those like the Corinthians (1 Cor. 11:30-32) who fail to judge their own lives, to be accounted rejected by God? In this latter case, No! For God here says, "When we are judged (by sickness or death), we are chastened of the Lord, that we may not be condemned with the world." (Note verse 32.) God's grace prevailed even in the case in Corinth of the man who had his own father's wife (1 Cor. 5, 2 Cor. 2:5-11). Salvation is by God's grace always!
These Hebrews, as we have said, belonged to a nation concerning which God says,
"He showeth His word unto Jacob, His statutes and His ordinances unto Israel. He hath not dealt so with any nation; And as for His ordinances, they have not known them" (Ps. 147:19-20).
They were "near unto Him" (Ps. 148:14; Deut. 4:7), as compared with the Gentiles, who were "far off" (Eph. 2:12, 13, 17). But who shall say how many of that nation had or had not personal faith in the God Who had given His statutes and ordinances unto Israel? We may speak of three points here:
First, in reading Scripture, we must constantly use spiritual discernment. Our verse speaks of them that sinned. Paul says, "All sinned"; but there (Rom. 3:23), he is opening up to sinners the glorious news of justification through Christ's blood. But "sinned" in Hebrews 3:17 has no reference to man's general state; but to conscious, willful rebellion, persisted in.
Second, the Israelites were perpetually conscious of what their leader, Moses, expresses in the great 90th Psalm entitled: "A Prayer of Moses the man of God": "Thou hast set our iniquities before Thee, our secret sins in the light of Thy countenance." Being under the Law, the more sincere they were, the greater their consciousness of failure. See Paul's own experience under the Law even after his salvation, Romans 7:7-24.
Anyone desirous of finding God's way of grace can see what the Law will do, the ministration of death and condemnation (2 Cor. 3:7, 9). Study the 90th psalm further: Moses' prayer: "Return, O Jehovah, how long? and let it repent Thee concerning Thy servants." And His words, "Make us glad according to the days wherein Thou hast afflicted us, And the years wherein we have seen evil" (vss. 13, 15).
Moses had been constituted "mediator" for Israel (Gal. 3:19), and had been identified with them by God. They were all sharing the afflictions and the wilderness wanderings, and seeing the "evil." He says further, "For we are consumed in Thine anger, and in Thy wrath are we troubled ... All our days are passed away in Thy wrath: We bring our years to an end as a sigh" (vss. 7-9).
We learn, therefore, if we are willing to learn, that not under an admixture of Law and Grace can there be real Divine perfecting. (For Moses' heart was right with God; but Christ had not yet died, putting sin out of God's sight!)
Third, the word "sinned" of Hebrews 3:17 has a peculiar and terrible meaning. There are acts of willfullness and rebellion, the effects of which will go on forever. Sweet is the message, "If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness" (1 John 1:9). But John in the same epistle declares, "There is a sin unto death: not concerning this do I say that he should make request" (1 John 5:16).
Moses and Aaron at Kadesh (Num. 20:9, 11, 12, 24) acted in such unbelief (Moses using his own rod instead of Aaron's) that both he and Aaron were shut out of the land, despite Moses' pleadings. Thus also David, concerning the child of his sin, was forgiven, as he celebrates in Psalm 32; but the governmental judgment remained, and the child died (2 Sam. 12).
Owen, the great Puritan commentator, well says: "There is a repentance and humiliation that may free the soul from eternal ruin, and yet not remove a temporal judgment threatened against it. Such was the repentance of David upon his adultery. The Lord put away the guilt of his sin, and told him that he should not die penally, but would not be entreated to spare the life of the child, nor David in those other sore afflictions which afterward befell him on the same account. And thus it might be with some, yea, with many of those Israelites. God might give them repentance to make way for the pardon and forgiveness of their persons; nevertheless, He would so far take vengeance on their inventions as to cause their carcass's to fall in the wilderness.
"But yet this must be acknowledged, that their punishment was a great representation of the future judgment, wherein ungodly believers shall be cast off forever, for, as they fell visibly under the wrath and displeasure of God, and their carcasses were cast out in the wilderness as a loathsome abomination, so their judgment overtook them under this formal consideration, that they were excluded out of the rest of God. And these things together gave an excellent resemblance of the judgment to come, when sinners shall perish eternally under the wrath of God and be forever excluded out of His rest."--com. on Hebrews.
Read Moses' supplication for these wilderness rebels, and God's immeasurably gracious answer: "Pardon, I pray Thee, the iniquity of this people according unto the greatness of Thy loving kindness, and according as Thou hast forgiven this people, from Egypt even until now." "And Jehovah said, I have pardoned, according to thy word" (Num. 14:19, 20).
"So in Exodus: when God threatened to destroy all the people, He recalled His threat when Moses pleaded His promises, and sent His angel to guide them, but declared, Nevertheless in the day when I visit I will visit their sin upon them. And Jehovah plagued the people, because they made the calf, which Aaron made. (Ex. 32:34, 35). But their falling in the wilderness had nothing to do with the saving of their souls: Moses and Aaron died in the wilderness too, and we know they were saints of Jehovah."--J.N. Darby.
Here we see the Divine purpose of eternal mercy towards anyone that should desire it of Him; the while His governmental glory demanded that they should not reach God's "rest"--which to them was the promised Canaan (Deut. 12:9; 25:19). For whatever we find revealed further upon God's "rest" in Hebrews, it is evident that, first of all, for Israel, it was their getting into the land that Jehovah had promised to their fathers. This "rest" must not be confused with their eternal salvation. Moses, indeed, yes, and Miriam and Aaron, as we have said, all failed to enter the promised "rest". Yet Moses was with the Lord on the Mount of transfiguration! We dare not say, therefore, that Caleb and Joshua were the only ones in whom saving faith dwelt! They were the only ones that entered the land and attained unto the "rest" (so far as it was then attained).
Jude indeed says, "The Lord, having saved a people out of the land of Egypt, afterward destroyed them that believed not." And he associates them with the fallen angels that "kept not their own principality" (Gen. 6), and are "kept in everlasting bonds under darkness unto the judgment of the great day"; and with Sodom and Gomorrah, which are "set forth as an example, suffering the punishment of eternal fire" (Jude 5-7). But who would dare to assert of believers today that only those Christians who were fully surrendered to the Lord and were filled with the Holy Spirit, were to be saved? There are in Hebrews a number of profoundly difficult questions--this one as to the destiny of those who fell in the wilderness, being one of the most serious of them!
God hates the self-imagined "charity" which refuses to believe His words concerning His wrath, yea, His eternal wrath, upon the finally impenitent; and it is frightful how ready people are to follow this deathful teaching! To believe the letter of all of God's words concerning "the eternal fire prepared for the devil and His angels," of which our Lord spoke (Matt. 25:41); into which the wicked will be sent forever; and yet, on the other hand, to follow with equal fidelity His revelations of sovereign grace toward those whom we would naturally deem should be condemned, is a work of faith which only those can do who in their measure can say with Paul, We have "obtained mercy of the Lord to be faithful."
The great lesson for us today--what is it? Compare our state with that of the believers of the early church. it is true that many Christians are wilderness Christians and will be so to the end--as to this experience of the rest of faith? This is a most solemn question!
Victory in the Risen Christ, the infilling of the Spirit, power for service, unselfish love toward everybody, especially toward all Christians--if this is your yearning desire, if you thirst after these things, thank God!
And to whom sware He that they should not enter into His rest but to them that were disobedient? The question at once arises, How could God expect man to rest in a creation which had already been judged on account of man's sin, a creation in which God no longer rested? The answer is, as it seems to me, simple. It was none of man's business, none of Israel's business in the wilderness, to inquire about the permanence or otherwise of the first creation. Their business was to exercise faith in and obedience to the merciful Jehovah-God who had not only brought them out of Egypt's bondage by blood redemption, and brought them through the Red Sea, swallowing up their enemies, but had sustained them right up to the border of Canaan, defending them, despite their murmurings, from Amalek and from all their enemies.
Their business, I repeat, was to go forward gladly in faith. Caleb and Joshua did this, and entered Canaan. Others entered not into God's rest. They were disobedient (vs. 19): They were not able to enter in because of unbelief. "TODAY" for them, is over. The ten evil spies, leaders in unbelief and rebellion, died of the plague, and the people were told they must go back into the wilderness, where their dead bodies should fall. Presumption, the next day, was not faith. They were not able to enter in. To multitudes of those whose bodies fell in the wilderness, the solemn words of A.B. Simpson apply:
"They came to the gates of Canaan,
But they never entered in.
They came to the land of promise,
But they perished in their sin.
And so we are ever coming
To the place where two ways part:
One leads to the land of promise,
And one to a hardened heart".
"Unbelief" is an attitude of the heart, not of the mind. So we read an "evil heart of unbelief" (3:12). And in Chapter 3:19, "unbelief" lies at the root--is the cause of that "disobedience" which brings on Divine judgment. Unbelief is not inability to understand, but unwillingness to trust, for trusting God puts the creature into God's hands. It is the will, not the intelligence, that is involved. The unbeliever chooses to remain in his own hands. Also, the unsurrendered unspiritual believer will suffer great loss--though he may be saved. He would like eternal bliss, of course. But God hath made Jesus both Lord and Christ--whereas the unbeliever chooses to remain lord of his own life.
It is not for lack of evidence that unbelief exists. Every heart beat, every breath, tells man he is nothing but a creature--utterly insufficient in himself for a moment's existence. And his conscience says there is a God; and the creation under his feet and above him witness it. But "an evil heart of unbelief" says, I want to live for myself, which is the essence of evil, of sin.
There is a character of "unbelief," an essential character, not always emphasized: that is, the attitude of neglect or forgetfulness of God, a treating of the ever-present gracious One as if He did not exist; a forgetfulness of past blessing that is inexplicably fathomless. The attitude of the disciples in Mark 8:1-4 will illustrate. Some little time before (Mk. 6), Christ had fed the five thousand with five loaves and two fishes, and they had been rewarded with a basketful of fragments apiece. But when a great multitude came together again, and had nothing to eat, and the Lord said, "I have compassion on the multitude, because they ... have nothing to eat," His disciples answered Him, "Whence shall one be able to fill these men with bread here in a desert place?" (Mk. 8:4).
Exactly the same circumstances; precisely the same need; and the Lord of glory taking them into partnership with His infinite power: For "He asked them, How many loaves have ye? And they said, Seven." But utter blindness on their part.
"He took the seven loaves, and having given thanks, He brake ... and they set them before the multitude. And they had a few small fishes: and having blessed them, He commanded to set these also before them." And four thousand men were filled, and seven baskets of fragments taken up. No wonder our Lord "sighed deeply in His spirit," and asked the searching questions, "Have ye (the disciples) your heart hardened? Having eyes see ye not? and having ears, hear ye not? and do ye not remember?"--"Do ye not yet understand?"
God is present now with you, believer, wherever and whoever you are. Are you able, are you willing, to reckon on His presence and His help? This is faith. Unbelief sees nothing, learns nothing, gets nothing, is not able to enter in.
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Newell, William. "Commentary on Hebrews 3". Newell's Commentary on Romans, Hebrews and Revelation. https://www.studylight.org/
the Fifth Week after Easter