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THIS PASSAGE, THROUGH verse 10, grows out of Chapter 4:14-16. We see in it, first, that the high priests of Israel were appointed for men in things pertaining to God, to offer both gifts, and sacrifices for sins. So with us: it is all through Christ. Second: An earthly high priest could bear gently, because of being himself compassed with infirmity, and so bound ... to offer both for himself and his own sins. Here contrast him with Christ--Whose sympathy arose not out of His infirmities--for He had none! (as see Chapter 7:28 and comment there), nor sins (see Ch. 9:14). Christ's sympathy grew out of His passing all along the path of suffering to "perfecting": and so being able to be "touched with the feeling of our infirmities"--though He had no infirmity! Read again and again Chapter 7:28: "The Law appointeth men high priests, having infirmity; but the word of the oath, which was after the Law, (appointeth) a Son, perfected forevermore!"
The argument is this: That the high priests of Israel were taken from among men, because they were appointed for men in things pertaining to God. The word "For," which opens the chapter, while it refers back to the priesthood of Christ (Ch. 4:14-16) both compares and contrasts Him with Aaronic high priests. There are, first in general, things pertaining to God which men must have attended to, but which men cannot themselves attend to. They must have a priest; and for us Christ is that Priest, because, although Son of God, He became man, and was appointed for men in things pertaining to God. (See this expression, in things pertaining to God, in Rom. 15:17; and in Heb. 2:17, and comment there. Cf. 1 Chron. 26:32, 2 Chron. 19:11.)
Even William Kelly says concerning Ch. 5:1-5, "The description of priesthood is general, but with Aaron in view, in order to bring in the wondrous contrast of Christ." Yes; that contrast is brought out in Hebrews, but not, we feel, in this passage, for verses 1-10 set forth the office, work, character, and attitude toward God of a priest, be it Aaron or Christ. It is a description, rather than a contrast, here.
Both gifts and sacrifices for sins: Note that "gifts" precedes "sacrifices," both here and in other places where this expression occurs (Chs. 8:3 and 9:9), because the chief and normal business of a priest was to receive the gifts and direct the worship of the people. Of course, we know that priesthood is based on sacrifice, and this will be emphasized: see Chapters 7:27; 10:11. But just as in Hebrews our Great High Priest leads the worship and songs of the saints, who have access by His blood, and through the veil, His flesh; and by His presence, unto God's very throne: so the high priest of Israel, in all except one day of the year, was "appointed for" Israel in things pertaining to God: "first-fruits," "thank-offerings," "gifts," and all manner of worship. On the one day excepted, the Great Day of Atonement, all the sins and iniquities of Israel were confessed by him. All sacrifices for sins throughout the year were under his direction.
It is blessed to reflect that Christ, having offered "one sacrifice for sins forever," is at God's right hand, ready to receive and welcome all gifts from the saints--of praises or of "doing good." See carefully Chapter 13:15, 16.
To sum up and continue:
- Priests are taken from among men.
- Priests are appointed for men. A prophet comes forth from God representing God to men. A priest goes in on man's behalf to God.
- The priest is occupied with things pertaining to God.
- The priest offers both gifts and sacrifices for sins.
- The priest must be one who can bear gently with the ignorant and erring. In the earthly priest's case, the reason is that he himself also is compassed with infirmity; and by reason thereof is bound, as for the people, so also for himself, to offer for sins (verses 2, 3). In Christ's case (see verses 7-10), being Himself sinless, He needed not to offer for Himself, yet learned obedience by the things which He suffered; thus having been made perfect, He became a High Priest that can be "touched with the feeling of our infirmities"; but having been "in all points tempted like as we are, sin apart," as we saw in Chapter 4:15. We repeat, He Himself had no infirmity!
- (Vs. 4): The priest must be called of God, even as was Aaron. It is an honor that no man taketh unto himself. Even Christ also, though He was a Son (vs. 8), with blessed humility glorified not Himself to be made a high priest, but He (glorified Him) that spake unto Him-that is, the Father!
Thou art My Son, this day have I begotten Thee: "The name here expresses the same relationship, but it is to the Messiah born on earth that this title is here applied. For Ps. 2, as establishing Him as King in Zion, announces the decree which proclaims His title: Thou art My Son; this day have I begotten Thee, is His relationship in time, with God. It depends, I doubt not, on His glorious nature; but this position for man was acquired by the miraculous birth of Jesus here below, and demonstrated as true and determined in its true import by His resurrection."--Darby's synopsis.
as He saith also in another place, Thou art a priest forever after the order of Melchizedek. Thus the Father spoke to Christ, according to Psalm 2:7; saluting Him thus, according to Psalm 110:4.
Who in the days of His flesh--This refers, of course, to our Lord's life on earth, from the time He "in like manner partook of blood and flesh," till the time the Father raised Him from the dead. After the resurrection, His consciousness looked back to these days of His flesh, as we remember His saying just before His ascension, "These are My words which I spake unto you, while I was yet with you" (Lk. 24-44). We know, of course, even from this same chapter in Luke, vss. 39-43, that He had, after His resurrection, flesh and bones--a real human body!
Having offered up prayers and supplications with strong crying and tears--Our Lord's life was one of prayer, as for example in a single Gospel, Luke, see Chapters 3:21; 5:16; 6:12; 9:18, 28, 29; 11:1; 22:39-46. But the two Greek words for prayer used here in Hebrews 5:7 are unusual: one, deesis, meaning supplication in great need; and the other, hiketrios, used only here in Scripture, meaning, entreating for aid.
Unto Him that was able to save Him out of death--Here we evidently have Gethsemane. And what was the conflict in Gethsemane? We have had to turn away from frightful misinterpretations of the scene there. Some have insisted that our blessed Lord in Gethsemane was having a struggle with Satan; and some that He prayed to be delivered from dying! Now I cannot see any persons present in Gethsemane other than Scripture presents--that is, the Son and the Father (and a helping angel, at the close: Lk. 22:43).
Nor did our Lord ask the Father to save Him from (apo) dying, but out of (ek) death, into which He was to come. We know from Psalm 16:10 that He stepped off, at the Cross, into death, with full faith!
"For Thou wilt not leave My soul to Sheol (Hades); Neither wilt Thou suffer Thy Holy One to see corruption. Thou wilt show Me the path of life."
Had He not prayed there on the Cross, "Let not the pit shut its mouth upon Me"? (Ps. 69:15 is Messianic--see vss. 9 and 21.) It is the Father (not Satan!) Who is presenting the "cup" to our Lord's lips in Gethsemane--not to drink at that moment, but that He may taste, in all the awfulness of it, what it will mean to drink it fully on the Cross. For the "cup" is the cup of infinite holy wrath against human sin, involving that forsaking concerning which our Lord cried with such anguish, "My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?" For from all eternity, in love inconceivable, there had been the fellowship of the Father and the Son upon the Father's bosom!
In Gethsemane the Father would have Him taste that cup, and choose it, while still in fellowship with the Father. Consequently there are those agonizing cries, "My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass away from Me: nevertheless, not as I will, but as Thou wilt." And as our Lord goes on (the sleeping disciples never helping His prayer), His sweat becomes as great drops of blood falling to the ground!
The Son of God, being Himself God, as the Creator and upholder of all things, had never had to obey! But as we read in Chapter 2:10, "It became Him, for Whom are all things, and through Whom are all things, in bringing many sons unto glory, to make the Captain of their salvation perfect through sufferings." Therefore we read that His entreaties in Gethsemane were "in an agony" (Lk. 22:44). But He gets the victory! He consents to the Father--to being forsaken by Him. (See the comment on Heb, 13:20, 21.)
So He said, when they came to arrest Him, and Peter's sword was drawn, "Put up the sword into the sheath: the cup which the Father hath given Me, shall I not drink it?"
There is no mention of Satan in that holy struggle. His time was not come. Over those of Adam's race who were sinners, Satan "had the might of death," as we have seen in Chapter 2:14. But Christ had not sinned! Neither was our sin yet laid upon Him. And it is frightful slander to say that our Lord prayed to be saved from dying! He had steadily chosen the path to the Cross: He began "to show unto His disciples, that He must go unto Jerusalem ... and be killed, and the third day be raised up" (Matt. 16:21). And read and re-read these verses:
"When the days were well-nigh come that He should be received up, He steadfastly set His face to go to Jerusalem" (Lk. 9:51). No! He expected to die, and He would not even pray for deliverance. In John 12:24ff He said, "Except a grain of wheat fall into the earth and die, it abideth by itself alone; but if it die, it beareth much fruit."
And in verse 27 He definitely states the question:
"Now is My soul troubled; and what shall I say? Father, save Me from this hour."
And His answer is, "But for this cause came I unto this hour Father, glorify Thy name."
Be ashamed, all who ever dreamed that our Lord was praying to be kept from dying, or of the fantastic thought that He was praying that Satan might not kill Him, so that He might die on the Cross! These things are far from this scene. Our Lord, Who had "emptied Himself," and had trodden the path of poverty, unselfishness, and nothingness in Himself, now was brought to death. He was tasting now in Gethsemane what it would mean on the Cross to be forsaken under wrath by God, with the awful load of our sin upon Him. And He would obtain from Him that was able to save Him out of death, the present assurance that He would do this. To what a degree of weakness, then, in His path of obedience in order to become our Saviour and Priest, was the Lord Jesus Christ reduced. As He says in Psalm 22:15, "Thou hast brought Me into the dust of death."
Never one of the human race that had stepped off with sin upon him, into physical death, heretofore, but had gone down to doom--no coming back! What our Lord prayed for was that upon His dying such Scriptures might be fulfilled as:
"Thou wilt not leave My soul to Sheol; Neither wilt Thou suffer Thy Holy One to see corruption. Thou wilt show Me the path of life: in Thy presence is fullness of joy; In Thy right hand there are pleasures forevermore" (Ps. 16:10, 11).
And having been heard for His godly fear--That is, He was not heard merely because He was the Son of God and spotless, but He was about to step into the place of guilty creaturehood: He was to be "crucified through weakness," ("For Him, death was death. Man's utter weakness, and God's just vengeance (against sin), and alone, without one sympathy, forsaken of those whom He had cherished, Messiah delivered to Gentiles and cast down, the judge washing his hands of condemning innocence; the priests interceding against the guiltless instead of for the guilty,--all dark, without one ray of light even from God."--Darby's Collected Writings.) and to live by "the power of God" (2 Cor. 13:4). Therefore His attitude is, "Thy will be done": this absolutely, finally. His "fear," therefore, was not dread of God, but that reverence to the utmost which belonged to the place of obedience into which He had stepped when He said, "Lo, I am come to do Thy will, O God."
Though being a Son, He learned from the things He suffered, obedience. As the Eternal Son, the Second Person of the Deity, One in the counsels of creation itself, the Executor thereof, He needed not to learn anything! But He must "learn obedience," even though a Son!
Therefore we read:
"He counted not the being on an equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a servant, being made in the likeness of men; and being found in fashion as a man, He humbled Himself, becoming obedient unto death, yea, the death of the Cross!" (Phil. 2:6-8).
We dwell upon this, our Lord's preparation for Calvary; otherwise the believer, urged by a weak conscience, will be seeking to substitute his own obedience, not realizing that One has already obeyed, "even unto death," as the passage quoted above concludes, "yea, the death of the Cross." Meditate much here. The Son learned obedience* by the things which He suffered. Reflection upon the relations of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, at Calvary, is an ever-flowing spring to the believer's heart: God the Father, holy and righteous, about to take the judgment-seat against human sin; Christ, the Son, Creator, Heir, about to become the Victim, the Bearer of the creature's sin, in, as it were, the creature's place (though ever God)! And all this "through the Eternal Spirit," through Whom all our Lord's ministry was carried out. (See Heb. 9:14.) One reflecting deeply upon this astonishing spectacle, is "lost in wonder, love, and praise"--and this is the Divine desire!
The "obedience" which our Lord learned by the things which He suffered was not legal obedience--that is, to the letter of the Law, which Israel had broken. Those who view Christ as having obeyed the Law, where man had failed and thus giving us His righteousness, miss the great motive of our Lord's obedience--to do the Father's will! And also that great, ever-present love, which chose to lay His life down for the sheep.
It is this constant choosing of the will of the Father that is called learning obedience.
True obedience on our part is an outflow of love, as was Christ's. We also, in the things that we suffer, learn obedience--submission, patience, trust. Nevertheless our obedience, be it what may, purchases nothing as to salvation--nothing whatever. In this path Christ is alone. We all know this, but it ever bears repeating! Let us remove at this point all thoughts of our obedience to God, or consecration to Him, now or in the future, as "meritorious." It is Christ in this passage Who is about to become the Cause of eternal salvation (vs. 9)--Christ, I say-not Christ's obedience plus our surrender, or even our faith as purchasing aught!
Then we come to the marvelous ninth verse: And having been made perfect--Of course, this was not moral perfection, which was His always, eternally, in every moment, every circumstance. He was perfect as a babe and as a child; but He "grew, and waxed strong, filled with wisdom." He was perfect sitting among the doctors in the temple at twelve years of age.
He did not assume at that time to teach, nor, indeed, until anointed with the Holy Spirit when He was thirty years of age. But when He was twelve, His simple but profound questions, and His understanding and answers to the questions of the doctors, amazed all that heard Him. And so does the verse following (Lk. 2:51) amaze us: "He went down with them, and came to Nazareth; and He was subject unto them" (His parents).
But it was most especially in the path of obedience, when He set His face to go to Jerusalem, that His "perfecting" came. As He sent word to Herod: "Go and say to that fox, Behold, I cast out demons and perform cures today and tomorrow, and the third day I am perfected." Christ's moral and spiritual perfection only emphasizes this word concerning the end of the prescribed path of humiliation and suffering culminating at the Cross.
On His drinking that cup, all consciousness of God as the Father was withdrawn. He was forsaken! What fearful three hours of darkness they were to Him--"from the sixth to the ninth hour," with the load of the world's sin, and the guilt thereof, transferred to His shoulders! Others had committed the sins. But when laid upon Him, the sins became His, with their guilt. While He cried on the Cross:
"They that hate Me without a cause are more than the hairs of My head" (conscious personal innocence), yet the next verse, 5, in that prophetic Psalm 69 reads:
"My sins are not hid from Thee."
He had accepted this fearful bestowment from God's hand--sins, ours, by commission; His now in atonement.
But faith remained: He cried, "My God, My God!" And hear Him say, as they were nailing Him on the cross, "Father, forgive them"; for He was not yet forsaken (as it seems to me) during the first three hours--the third to the sixth hours upon the Cross. He could still say "Father" to God.
Then came the darkness--corresponding to the outer darkness into which those go who die with sin upon them!
As an accursed thing, as One made sin, as One forsaken, drinking the cup of wrath, He could not speak the word, "Father," but only "My God," For Him to have the witness not only that He pleased the Father ("He that sent Me is with Me, for I
do always the things pleasing unto Him"), but the very witness that God was Father; to be reduced to that human consciousness which could only say, "My God," and, "I am a worm, and no man" (Ps. 22:6); there must have been, just as His spirit was departing, a sweet whisper from God, unto which His instant response was, "Father, into Thy hands I commend My Spirit." His blood had been shed. The human spirit leaves the body as the result of death (Lk. 8:55).
He had "borne our sins in His body on the tree." He laid His life down, but He could not cease to be God the Son. Nevertheless, He passed, in bearing sin, in putting it away, into a place where God could not "look upon" Him as "made sin," "become a curse."
How we do thank God for that faith which, even in Divine forsaking, still said, "My God"! our eternity depended wholly upon that sacrifice--wholly upon that!
His quenchless devotion to the Father's will and word reached its peak there. At the very end He remembered one more prophecy of Scripture, and cried, "I thirst!"
"After this Jesus, knowing that all things are now finished, that the Scripture might be accomplished, saith, I thirst. There was set there a vessel full of vinegar: SO they put a sponge full of the vinegar upon hyssop, and brought it to His mouth. When Jesus therefore had received the vinegar, He said, It is finished: and He bowed His head, and gave up His spirit" (John 19:28-30).
Had He not said in His great prayer, "I glorified Thee on the earth, having accomplished the work which Thou hast given Me to do"? (John 17-4).
Therefore we read, having been made perfect: tested in every path, tried by every circumstance, tempted with the offer of all earth's kingdoms; denied by one disciple, betrayed by another, forsaken of them all; what fault can we find? None! God found none! God raised Him up the third day--eternal testimony to the perfect obedience of His spotless Son!
And now, what is the result? Having been made perfect, He became unto all them that obey Him the Cause (Gr., aitios) of eternal salvation: Here two results--both most precious--are announced, flowing from our Lord's having been made perfect. First, He is the Cause of eternal salvation. The word "Cause" was used to denote that which constitutes all occasion of action, whether favorable or otherwise; that in which the reason and procuring power of anything resides. Note the same word in Luke 23:4, 14, 22. To translate the word "Author" is to look at Christ as an originator, whereas the salvation is of and from God--Christ and His work being the procuring cause of it. Further, note that it is to them that obey Him that He Himself is this procuring Cause. He is the
Lord Jesus Christ: Jesus is His personal name; Christ is His official title--God's Anointed; and He is LORD of all! Because of the suffering of death, "God highly exalted Him, and gave unto Him the name which is above every name" (Phil. 2:9). How wonderful to have a Cause of salvation, and that eternal, lying completely outside ourselves in Another!
See Chapter 6:20.
hard of interpretation--Difficulty of interpretation may lie in one of three directions: (1) in the teacher, not fully instructed, (2) in the subject, often in itself deep and difficult, or (3), in the hearers who are dull of hearing. In this case number 1 was not true--Paul had many things to say. Number 2, many Will affirm, was a fact, because of the "difficult" statements concerning Melchizedek. But Paul asserts that neither of these two was the trouble. It was the hearers, who by reason of the time ought to have been teachers, who through spiritual sloth and neglect had become dull of hearing.
Of the subject of Melchizedek, of the "order" of our Lord's priesthood (see Ch. 7 and comment there), Paul is full, and desirous to speak, but the many things to say were hard of interpretation seeing they were become dull of hearing. It is not said that the matters concerning Melchizedek were in themselves difficult to a spiritual, alert, Bible-absorbed Christian. But those to whom Paul was writing were become dull (sluggish) of hearing, not constitutionally, but dispositionally. Compare "By hearing ye shall hear," and, "Their ears are dull of hearing," of Matthew 13:14, 15 (lit., "With their ears heavily they have heard"). We must apply this: when God's Word is read or preached publicly, how many people crowd to the front seats, or cup their ears with their hands in eagerness? Or, how many hang back (if they come at all), clinging to the back seats, amused possibly with the least distraction?--a cat or dog getting into the building and walking across the platform!
For when by reason of the time ye ought to be teachers--The gospel had been first published to the Hebrews at Jerusalem at Pentecost, and spread by those who heard it everywhere. We are familiar with the list of some fourteen places mentioned in Acts 2:9-11, of those who heard in their own tongues "the mighty works of God." Over thirty years after Pentecost comes the writing of the Epistle to the Hebrews! They ought to be teachers, indeed! God counts the time since a man has heard the truth and believed it. He rightly expects progress in Divine things. Years, months, days, hours, yea, moments, are precious to professing Christians, since the Holy Ghost came down from Heaven to "enlighten" us, to "lead us into all truth," to empower us in things Divine, and to bring forth through us and in us that precious "fruit" for which the Husbandman (the Father) looks with yearning from those in Christ, the True Vine. Is there anyone reading these lines who ought to be a teacher who is still, after a long time, needing re-teaching in the rudiments of the first principles of the oracles of God?
This of course does not mean that all the saints are to have that special gift of teaching of Eph. 4:11. Yet it does set forth what God expects of those that bear the good news. "They ... that were scattered abroad" (and they were NOT the apostles) "went about preaching the Word" (Acts 8:4). If you have believed and know "the truth of the gospel", you ought to be a teacher, a witness. And some day the Lord will ask you about this.
And are become such as have need of milk, and not of solid food. Here are two sad, most solemn, and in the light of what comes in Chapter 6, terrible facts. First, these long-ago believers were milk-users--had need of milk, and not of solid food. Second, they had become such again! Reader, we are always becoming! Not one of us is where he was yesterday. If an unbeliever, you are further in unbelief today than yesterday. For:
"To sow an act is to reap a tendency,
To sow a tendency is to reap a habit;
To sow a habit is to reap a character,
To sow a character is to reap a destiny."
If a believer, you have either become "a bondservant of God," or, you may have become such as have need of milk, unable to bear, or undesirous of, the "strong meat" which belongs to the word of Christ Risen, and the saints risen with Him--and, to Christ leading the heavenly worship, and you one of the saints entering into that heavenly song, "giving thanks always for all things." Or, you have, as we shall see in Chapter 6:12, been "sluggish," not an imitator "of them who through faith and patience inherit the promises." God, by His blessed Spirit, is ever exhorting us to "follow on," to grow in the grace and acquaintanceship of our Lord Jesus Christ; to "abound in every grace," to be "filled unto all the fullness of God."
It is tragic beyond utterance that this great epistle of Hebrews is addressed to Hebrew believers who had become such as have need of milk--tragic that Paul had to talk to "babes"! It was indeed difficult to interpret to them the mighty and glorious Melchizedek priesthood, of which the Levitical system could be only a "shadow." "Babes"? Users of milk? Turning back to earthly priests and forms? When only a few brief years had passed since the Son of God walked on earth, Who had put away sin forever at the Cross, and sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high, a High Priest forever! Babes? in need of milk? when just now the holy apostles, who had walked and talked with this now Risen and Glorified Christ, had been speaking to them? Men, the apostles were, not babes! Filled with the energy of faith, not "sluggish," were they! Strong men, ready for martyrdom, "filled with all joy and peace in believing."
Brethren, I am filled with trouble at all this. Can it be possible that human hearts are capable of such shallowness, indifference, ingratitude, sluggishness, unbelief?
"Yes," they say, "Peter was here but now, full of eagerness, putting us in remembrance. But give us a little milk, warm milk, and let us sleep! Apollos we heard, mighty in the Scriptures! He stirred us at the moment, but give us just a little milk now, and we shall get to sleep! Paul we knew, whose presence made Christ real, whose eyes were always ready to weep. We often heard him, and now this letter comes from Italy, from him and those with him. Yes, we remember his holy influence, his deep, wonderful words. But we have settled down. We no longer like arousing words. Once, perhaps, we did; but we have certain 'standards' that are good enough for us now. Our creed is all written out and settled; we have only to say 'Yes' to it. We find a need, true, in our souls; but it is for milk, for the simple fundamentals of the gospel. Others may like Peter's, Paul's and John's talk of suffering with Christ, of being filled with the Spirit, of being not under Law but Grace, and of waiting for our Lord's return.
"But we believe there's a middle path. We do not believe in excitement about religious matters. Too, we have relatives and close friends among the Jews, who do not believe as we do that Jesus was the Messiah. But they are good citizens, and we wish to live in peace with them, to be tolerant! So give us a little more milk, and do not ask us to be roused up!"
For every one that partaketh of milk is without experience of the word of righteousness: for he is a babe. Now what mean these words? It is a tragic thing if we do not know. Without experience of the word of righteousness, does not mean merely inexperience in the fact of righteousness by faith, justification. But, as the apostle goes on to show, it is an ignorance, an inexperience, that results from the lack of use of the spiritual senses! It refers more particularly to walk--that walk of holiness and uprightness belonging to the children of God, which is the true path of every eager, obedient believer!
For he is a babe: Let me seek in a brief footnote to give some of the characteristics of these babes.
Babes: that is, those who have become babes. Every one delights in a true babe in Christ, eager, hungry, trustful, discovering a fresh world! But these became milk-users, babes. Have they marks? Oh, yes. To name a few:
- They are "tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine" (Eph. 4:14 ff), as a babe is carried about and handed from one to another.
- They "belong," as they say, to some particular denomination--which they call, like a baby his crib, "My church."
- They glory in men: "Dr. So-and-so's preaching." They do not know what the Church of God is, the one Body of Christ, and that "membership" is only in Christ. Paul had to minister to the Corinthians as unto babes in Christ, feeding them on milk only, not because he had not told them deeper things, but because they had turned aside to be carnal, saying, "I am of Paul," "I am of Apollos," "I of Cephas," and (condemned alike because they said "I," not "We") "I of Christ" (1 Cor. 12:13). So today: "I am of Wesley," "I am of Calvin." "Are you," says Paul, "not carnal, and walk as men?" Men choose to say, "I am a conservative," or, "a liberal," "a Republican," "a Democrat."
Such things are all abhorrent to the one Spirit Who has baptized us into the one Body of Christ! Furthermore, we are "members one of another," that is, of all saints, not of some little narrow denomination!
- Again, mark how much a babe must sleep. Do you realize the trouble of heart a preacher or teacher of the Word of God experiences when he stands up to declare the eternal truth which infinitely concerns his audience, and knows that they do not follow him? Babes must sleep a great deal; and so do these Christians!
Years and years ago I was preaching in a large church in the United States on the atonement. The subject was, "The Three Crosses," and God greatly enlarged and helped. Three rows from the front there sat a delightful gentleman for many years an elder in that church, very prominent in business, who had been vice-mayor of that large city. I noticed him in these meetings, settle himself to sleep every time! The moment the singing and announcements were over, to sleep he would go, with his knees braced against the seat ahead, and hunched down in his pew.
But one Lord's day morning, suddenly he opened his eyes, straightened in his seat, grasped the seat in front, and listened with great intentness, without moving. The minute the service was over he almost ran to the front, grasped my hand, and said,
"I never heard that before in all my life! I did not know that all my sins were laid on Christ and put away forever. This is most wonderful!"
"Yet," I said, "my dear Mr. H., it is the truth."
He said, "I see it's the truth, and I have been asleep all these years!"
From that moment that man's life was transformed, as everybody testified. No more sleeping for him! I presented to him a special copy of the New Testament, which he treasured. Coming to that city several years afterwards, I heard, "Mr. H. is very ill." I hastened to see him.
His wife said, "Slip up quietly: I think he is asleep. But he has that Testament you gave him, and reads it day and night."
I stepped quietly to the bedroom door, and there he was, lying asleep, yet with the peace of Heaven on his face, and with the Testament I had given him open! No more spiritual sleep for him, I repeat. Shortly after, he went to glory!
- Then there are spiritual babes who fuss over this and that, just as babies fuss. They are the quarrelers, the dividers, those who, like a petulant child, "want my own way."
- Finally and alas, there are vast thousands who once were wakened, perhaps in revival times, who once were drawn to the Word of God, who once were stirred by earnest prayer and teaching, who once had family prayer and thanksgiving. Today they are "church members," respectable, unspiritual, unfruitful, dull, uninterested in the study of Scripture, unfavorable toward revival or "special measures" which might arouse them.
Draw out a lamentation for those who become "babes"!
There is, however, this vital difference between natural life and spiritual life. In natural life, a babe needs to be carried about, needs to be fed with milk, and needs to be left often to sleep. Thus he will grow. Not so with spiritual life! The proper babe in Christ needs milk but for a little while, and needs to be told, and that soon, and fully, the stronger things: needs to be pointed to a glorified as well as a crucified Christ, the Great High Priest; and to Christ as coming again. He needs to be told that he cannot be carried, that he must press on, if he is to attain full growth. The regenerated will is involved in spiritual growth.
But solid food is for fullgrown men, even those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern good and evil: "Fullgrown men" here has no reference to six feet of height and two hundred pounds of weight. But, as Paul says, "In malice 170 be ye babes, but in mind be men" (Gr., of full age), those who, according to Hebrews 6:1, "press on unto perfection," or full growth. The whole thought here is of spiritual development. When you were born into your earthly family, your parents were eager to know whether all your senses were perfect--sight, hearing, smelling, feeling, taste. In the verse we have in hand, the spiritual senses are in view. Men of full age are those who have their senses exercised, and are able to take "solid food."
It is striking that all five bodily senses have their counterparts in the spiritual realm! (1) Taste: "If indeed ye have tasted that the Lord is gracious"; "O taste and see that the Lord is good." (2) Hearing: "Hear and your soul shall live"; "He that hath ears to hear, let him hear."
Lack of use of senses from lack of interest is described by our Lord in Matt. 13:13-15:
"Therefore speak I to them in parables; because seeing they see not, and hearing they hear not, neither do they understand. And unto them is fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah, which saith,
By hearing ye shall hear, and shall in no wise understand;
And seeing ye shall see, and in no wise perceive:
For this people's heart is waxed gross, And their ears are dull of hearing, And their eyes they have closed;
Lest haply they should perceive with their eyes,
And hear with their ears,
And understand with their heart,
And should turn again,
And I should heal them."
"Fatty degeneration of the heart," as the doctors call it, they have, due to too much fat in the whole body (from over indulgence in earth's foods and follies; and spiritual inactivity), and their ears are dull of hearing, and their eyes they have dozily closed! This lack of interest in Divine things which comes like a creeping paralysis upon those remaining inactive, when God is calling, is, in this passage, quoted by our Lord (Isa. 6:9-10) laid directly to the blame of the hearer.
(3) Sight: "Open Thou mine eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of Thy law." "Having the eyes of your heart enlightened." (4) Smell: the Holy Spirit said of Christ, "He shall be of quick scent in the fear of Jehovah" (Isa. 11:3, R.V., margin): and Paul wrote to the Philippians, "I am filled, having received ... the things from you, an odor of a sweet smell, a sacrifice acceptable, well-pleasing to God."
There is no sense so subtle and certain as that of scent. It is beautifully set forth as concerning God, in that Christ offered Himself up for a sweet smelling savor! His life, walk, and ministry were a constant fragrance of delight to the Father. Turning it about, Christ was and shall be, we repeat, "of quick scent in the fear of Jehovah," discerning the least inclination of His will.
There are also spiritual sins, which to the quickened spirit become foul and stenchful--unclean things of the world.
(5) Feeling: Of King Josiah, God said He sent the gracious message "because thy heart was tender." Toward one another we are told to be "tender-hearted." Again, we are cautioned against wounding the conscience which is weak (1 Cor. 8:12); while the awful word is spoken of some, that "being past feeling," they "gave themselves up to lasciviousness, to work all uncleanness with greediness" (Eph. 4:19). Like our Lord, we should be "able to be touched."
To discern good and evil: To discern good and evil, to refuse the evil and choose the good, describes a holy walk. Brother, brother, have you not discovered that this world, as regards your feet, is a labyrinth of snares? As regards your hearing, is full of false voices? Its wisdom is foolishness--its promises are empty and vain--its philosophy is a puffball. But the most of even professing Christians are steeped in the thought that this world has something, educationally, socially, even religiously, to benefit them. Paul cried, "We are not ignorant of his (Satan's) devices"! Over and over we are counseled, "Be not deceived." A fullgrown man will discern good and evil, with exercised senses. But alas, most professing Christians are described in the verses we have been looking at. They cannot discern--they are without experience in the word of righteousness; they are become dull of hearing--they need to be taught--they can take only milk!
Ere we close the chapter, it is imperative that we here see, acknowledge, and hold, the Bible doctrine of Christian perfection.
First, we remember that there was no such thing as being perfected under the Law (Heb. 7:19). David cried, "I have seen an end of all perfection ... Thy commandment is exceeding broad"! (Ps. 119:96). The Law, being holy and just, as well as good, must demand and keep demanding from the creature--not what the creature in a fallen state may be able to supply, but what God, in His infinite holiness and righteousness must require. Alas, if only the legalists all might see this! Does not Moses cry,
"Thou hast set our iniquities before Thee,
Our secret sins in the light of Thy countenance"? This was the very purpose of the Law. Sin was there all the time, but the Law made it known to the sinner. "The Law was given that the trespass (of it) might abound." And since, in man and in the flesh, there is no moral ability, therefore, there is no attainment of perfection, and those who in any sense whatever hold themselves under Law, remain infants, just where the Jews remain who were placed under Law by God: "So we also (writes Paul as a Jew), when we were minors (_nepioi) were held in bondage under the rudiments of the world" (Gal. 4:3). (See the same word _nepioi in 1 Cor. 3:1, babe; 13:11, child, five times; Eph. 4:14, children; Heb. 5:13, babe.)
Second, we read that for those in Christ, they being not under Moses' Law, but dead to it and discharged therefrom (Rom. 6:14; 7:4, 6, R.V.); and being indwelt by the Holy Spirit, there is the "law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus," which makes us "free from the law of sin and of death." This "freedom" does not mean that the flesh is changed (Rom. 8:2), for we are "waiting for ... the redemption of our body," groaning within ourselves until that day (Rom. 8:23); but it does mean that we may "by the Spirit ... put to death the doings of the body," and live by and be led by the Spirit of God (Rom. 8:13, 14). "But I say, Walk by the Spirit, and Ye shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh" (Gal. 5:16). Again, "They that are of Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with the passions and the lusts thereof." These are such as are described also in Galatians 5:25: "If we live by the Spirit, by the Spirit let us also walk."
Paul was one of the fullgrown (perfect) men Hebrews 5:14 speaks of, and such was Stephen, and all the apostles! Such are some saints today. For there is set before the believer constantly the command to "grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ." Nay more: there is commanded, as in Ephesians 4:13, 14; Colossians 3:14, a state of adulthood, arriving at a "fullgrown" man, being "no longer children (_nepioi), tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine."
When in 2 Corinthians 13:11 Paul says, "Finally, brethren ... be perfected," he uses the second word for perfecting, _katartidzo. It is illustrated beautifully in Matthew 21:16: "Out of the mouths of babes and sucklings Thou hast perfected praise." These two words, _katartidzo, meaning fundamentally to render fit, or sound, to put in order, make complete; and _teleios, which has reference to maturity, as a finished product--of full age, fullgrown, mature (as in Eph. 4:13; Phil. 3:15), are set before the believer. To full growth, completeness, maturity, both the Word of God and the indwelling Spirit urge us. The believer should be no more content to remain a babe, than a lad have no urge to become a man! To press on to full growth is the Divine command; to fail therein through neglect, unbelief, or earthly "religious" influence, fear of men, or yielding to the world, invites spiritual decline, and is the path to apostasy!
Alas, "perfection" and "perfecting" are words many Christians shy from, because they connect them with "perfection in the flesh," which of course does not exist. When believers understand that the great desire of God is that "Christ may be formed in them" and that "perfecting" is the operation of God: and that they are simply to present their bodies a living sacrifice, acceptable to God, that they may be "transformed by the renewing" of their mind, that they may prove "what is the good and acceptable and perfect will of God," all is changed! The only question is, Are they willing for this transformation? For, as Paul puts it (2 Cor. 3:18), "We all, with unveiled face beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are transformed into the same image from glory to glory, even as from the Lord the Spirit." (As the sainted Andrew Murray wrote: "It is only the full and perfect knowledge of what Christ is and does for us that can bring us to a full and perfect Christian life. The knowledge of Jesus Christ that we need for conversion does not suffice for growth, for progress, for sanctification, for maturity. Just as there are two dispensations, the Old Testament and the New, and the saints of the Old, with all their faith and fear of God, could not obtain the more perfect life of the New, so with the two stages in the Christian life of which the Epistle (Hebrews) speaks. Those who, through sloth, remain babes in Christ, and do not press on to maturity, are ever in danger of hardening their heart, of coming short and falling away. Only those who hold fast the beginning firm to the end, who give diligence to enter the rest, who press on unto Perfection, do in very deed inherit and enjoy the wonderful New Covenant blessings secured to us in Christ.")
Let us close our study of Hebrews 5 by searching out other Scriptures on "perfecting," (1) as to faith, (2) as to holiness, (3) as to love, (4) as to knowledge, especially of God's will:
- Paul writes, "Night and day praying exceedingly that we may see your face, and may perfect that which is lacking in your faith" (1 Thess. 3. 10). And he says to the Corinthians, "This we also pray for, even your perfecting." James also recognizes the perfecting of faith, saying, "Thou seest that faith wrought with his (Abraham's) works, and by works was faith made perfect; and the Scripture was fulfilled which saith, And Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned unto him for righteousness." How often our Lord lamented the "weak" or "little faith" of those who sought His help, even of the disciples! Do you and I expect to be perfected in faith, as God desires?
- Perfecting in holiness: "Having therefore these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all defilement of flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God" (II Cor. 7:1).
The preceding verses (2 Cor. 6:14-18) indicate separation from "unequal yokes" with unbelievers, from all fellowship with unrighteousness or darkness, having no concord (being in Christ) with Belial; remembering that a believer has no portion with an unbeliever, nor a temple of God (which every believer, being indwelt by the Spirit, is) with idols: remembering that separation unto Him which God expects of His people, saying:
"Come ye out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord,
And touch no unclean thing; and I will receive you,
And will be to you a Father, and ye shall be to Me sons and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty" (2 Cor. 6:17-18). "The Lord Almighty" corresponds to the name He revealed to Abraham in Genesis 17:1: "I am God Almighty; walk before Me, and be thou perfect." God furnishes the power for a separated life! "This is the will of God, even your sanctification" (1 Thess. 4:3).
- Perfecting in love: "Perfect love casteth out fear ... he that feareth is not made perfect in love" (1 John 4:18); "If we love one another, God abideth in us, and His love is perfected in us" (1 John 4:12). Here, on the negative side, is deliverance from the fear of judgment; and on the positive, a walk in love with one another. The pathway to love is entered in 1 John 4:16 (R.V., margin):
"We know and have believed the love which God hath in our case." Again, "Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us, and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins" (vs. 10); and, "We love, because He first loved us" (vs. 19); "Above all these things put on love, which is the bond of perfectness" (Col. 3:14); 1 Corinthians 13:1-13 and Chapter 14:1, "Follow after (pursue) love; yet desire earnestly spiritual gifts."
- In knowledge: "We ... do not cease to pray and make request for you, that ye may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding" (Col. 1:9).
"Epaphras ... saluteth you, always striving for you in his prayers, that ye may stand perfect and fully assured in all the will of God" (Col. 4:12).
The above are some of the passages of these blessed epistles which describe the heavenly calling and walk of the Church, the Assembly of God.
Let us "press on unto perfection," unto "full growth." "He Who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Jesus Christ" (Phil. 1:6). Rely on that! Let us beware that our Lord does not say of us as of Sardis, "I have found no works of thine perfected before My God" (Rev. 3:2). Let our ambition daily be that we, "dealing truly in love, may grow up in all things into Him, Who is the Head, even Christ"! (Eph. 4:15, R.V., margin.)
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Newell, William. "Commentary on Hebrews 5". Newell's Commentary on Romans, Hebrews and Revelation. https://www.studylight.org/
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