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Verse-by-Verse Bible Commentary
New American Standard Version
Bible Study Resources
Nave's Topical Bible - Despondency; Lameness; Perseverance; Straight; Thompson Chain Reference - Paths, Right; Right; Torrey's Topical Textbook - Feet, the;
Verse Hebrews 12:13. Make straight paths for your feet — That is, Take the straight path that is before you, do not go in crooked or rough ways, where are stones, briers, and thorns, by which you will be inevitably lamed, and so totally prevented from proceeding in the way; whereas, if you go in the even, proper path, though you have been wounded by getting into a wrong way, that which was wounded will be healed by moderate, equal exercise, all impediments being removed. The application of all this to a correct, holy deportment in religious life, is both natural and easy.
Clarke, Adam. "Commentary on Hebrews 12:13". "The Adam Clarke Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/acc/hebrews-12.html. 1832.
Endurance without bitterness (12:12-17)
Christians must not allow life’s trials to discourage them, but meet their difficulties with boldness and confidence (12-13). One way to help prevent people from turning away from Christ is to develop holiness among believers and to deal with those who show signs of bitterness. Such people can quickly have a bad influence on others (14-15). The story of Esau illustrates the hopelessness of the person who deliberately rejects God’s promised inheritance for the sake of some temporary gain (16-17).
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Flemming, Donald C. "Commentary on Hebrews 12:13". "Fleming's Bridgeway Bible Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/bbc/hebrews-12.html. 2005.
And make straight paths for your feet - Margin, “even.” The word used here means properly straight, in the sense of upright, erect; Acts 14:10; but it is used here in the sense of straight horizontally, that is, level, plain, smooth. The meaning is, that they were to remove all obstacles out of the way, so that they need not stumble and fail. There is probably an allusion here to Proverbs 4:25-27. “Let thine eyes look right on, and let thine eyelids look straight before thee. Ponder the path of thy feet, and let all thy ways be established. Turn not to the right hand nor to the left; remove thy foot from evil.” The idea is, that by every proper means they were to make the way to heaven as plain and easy as possible. They were to allow no obstructions in the path over which the lame and feeble might fall.
Lest that which is lame be turned out of the way - A lame man needs a smooth path to walk in. The idea is here, that everything which would prevent those in the church who were in any danger of falling - the feeble, the unestablished, the weak - from walking in the path to heaven, or which might be an occasion to them of falling, should be removed. Or it may mean, that in a road that was not level, those who were lame would be in danger of spraining, distorting, or wrenching a lame limb; and the counsel is, that whatever would have a tendency to this should be removed. Divested of the figure, the passage means, that everything should be removed which would hinder anyone from walking in the path to life.
But let it rather be healed - As in the case of lameness, pains should be taken to heal it rather than to suffer it to be increased by careless exposure to a new sprain or fracture, so it should be in our religious and moral character. Whatever is defective we should endeavor to restore to soundness, rather than to suffer the defect to be increased. Whatever is feeble in our faith or hope; whatever evil tendency there is in our hearts, we should endeavor to strengthen and amend, lest it should become worse, and we should entirely fall.
Barnes, Albert. "Commentary on Hebrews 12:13". "Barnes' Notes on the Whole Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/bnb/hebrews-12.html. 1870.
13.And make straight paths, etc. He has been hitherto teaching us to lean on God’s consolations, so that we may be bold and strenuous in doing what is right, as his help is our only support; he now adds to this another thing, even that we ought to walk prudently and to keep to a straight course; for indiscreet ardor is no less an evil than inactivity and softness. At the same time this straightness of the way which he recommends, is preserved when a man’s mind is superior to every fear, and regards only what God approves; for fear is ever very ingenious in finding out byways. As then we seek circuitous courses, when entangled by sinful fear; so on the other hand every one who has prepared himself to endure evils, goes on in a straight way wheresoever the Lord calls him, and turns not either to the right hand or to the left. In short, he prescribes to us this rule for our conduct, — that we are to guide our steps according to God’s will, so that neither fear nor the allurements of the world, nor any other things, may draw us away from it. (253)
Hence be adds, Lest that which is lame be turned out of the way, or, lest halting should go astray; that is, lest by halting ye should at length depart far from the way. He calls it halting, when men’s minds fluctuate, and they devote not themselves sincerely to God. So spoke Elijah to the doubleminded who blended their own superstitions with God’s worship, “How long halt ye between two opinions?” (1 Kings 18:21.) And it is a befitting way of speaking, for it is a worse thing to go astray than to halt. Nor they who begin to halt do not immediately turn from the right way, but by degrees depart from it more and more, until having been led into a diverse path so they remain entangled in the midst of Satan’s labyrinth. Hence the apostle warns us to strive for the removal of this halting in due time; for if we give way to it, it will at length turn us far away from God.
The words may indeed be rendered, “Lest halting should grow worse,” or turn aside; but the meaning would remain the same; for what the Apostle intimates is, that those who keep not a straight course, but gradually though carelessly turn here and there, become eventually wholly alienated from God. (254)
(253) Having spoken of strength, he now tells them how to use that strength. Be strong, and take a right course; go along the straight way of duty. See Appendix T 2. — Ed.
(254) This interpretation is given by Grotius, Macknight and Stuart; but Beza, Doddridge and Scott, take the view given in our version regarding the lame or weak person as intended by
Calvin, John. "Commentary on Hebrews 12:13". "Calvin's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/cal/hebrews-12.html. 1840-57.
Shall we turn now to Hebrews, chapter 12.
Wherefore, seeing we are also compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses ( Hebrews 12:1 ),
What this does not mean is that the Old Testament saints, which are spoken of in chapter 11, are sitting there in heaven watching the activities on the earth. It doesn't mean that they are just watching us to see how we are going to react and respond and we've got this big gallery up here of Old Testament saints. It does mean that their life of faith and accomplishments through faith are a witness to us of what faith can do when we exercise faith in our own lives. Their lives bear witness to us of the value of walking with God. And seeing that their lives are such a witness to us,
let us run with patience the race that is set before us, as we look unto Jesus ( Hebrews 12:1-2 )
So their lives become an example to us of the life of faith, but we look from them to the greatest example of all, and that is of Jesus Christ. We're encompassed with this great cloud of witnesses. They bear witness to us of the value of living for God, living a life of faith and commitment to God.
Life here is likened unto a race, as it is many places in the New Testament. Paul said, "I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith" ( 2 Timothy 4:7 ). The racecourse, I've completed it. He said, "They which run in a race run all, only one receives the prize. So run, that ye may obtain." Give all you've got to this race, go all out.
Seeing we're encompassed about with this great a cloud of witnesses, let us run with patience the race that is set before us as we look unto Jesus.
The word look in the Greek is an interesting word. There are several Greek words translated "to look". One is to glance, one is to study, and one is to look and to contemplate. This particular Greek word is used only here in the New Testament. It isn't used anywhere else in the New Testament. The word means literally to stare with sort of awe and admiration. Just to stare at Jesus as we see the fullness of God's glory manifested in Him. He is the author and the finisher of our faith.
God has given to every man a measure of faith. The faith that I have in my heart is a gift of God. Paul said, "By Grace are you saved through faith, and that not of yourself; it's a gift of God. Not of works lest any man should boast" ( Ephesians 2:8 ). Our salvation, the faith by which I believe, is God's gift. In 1 Corinthians 12:0 Paul lists faith as one of the gifts of the Spirit.
Jesus is the author of our faith. He is the one who has planted faith in our hearts. He also is the finisher. "He which has begun a good work in you shall continue to perform it" ( Philippians 1:6 ). I am persuaded that God will perfect that which concerns us. So, having begun He continues His work in our lives. He's the author, the finisher, the beginning, the end. He said, "I am the Alpha and the Omega; the beginning and the end." That is true of creation, but that is also true of God's new creation in us. He is the author of it. He is the finisher of it. He is the author and the finisher of our faith.
Looking unto him the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross ( Hebrews 12:2 ),
Jesus is our example as we run the race. There are going to be hardships along the way. God doesn't promise us an easy life. "In this world," Jesus said, "you will have tribulation, but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world" ( John 16:33 ).
After He described the characteristics of the Christian in the Sermon on the Mount, then He said, "Blessed are ye when men shall revile you and persecute you, and say all manner of evil against you falsely" ( Matthew 5:11 ). Who? The peacemakers, the merciful, the good people.
Life isn't going to be easy, because you are an alien in this world. When you walk with Jesus Christ you are out of step with the world. The world doesn't like that. You are a threat to them; you cause them to feel guilty. They don't like feeling guilty. They like to go ahead and just be filthy and dirty without having to be concerned with the fact that I am dirty. They are offended because you don't like their filthy stories. It sort of cuts them when you say, "Oh, that is filthy," instead of laughing hilariously. They don't like that. Their response is that of striking out, of persecuting. "Blessed are ye when men shall revile you." Christ is our example and look what they did to Him. "But who for the joy that was set before Him . . . "
In running the race, the prize of winning is the incentive, the glory that comes to the victor, the joy of victory. In Christ's case, it was the joy of being able to bring to us victory over sin, freedom from sin, forgiveness of sin, the joy of being able to redeem us from our lost condition. "Who for the joy that was set before Him," and with Christ also the joy of just doing the will of God. For He said, "I delight to do thy will, O God" ( Psalms 40:8 ). The joy of knowing I'm doing what God wants me to do. Do you have that joy in your life? Do you know you are doing what God wants you to do? There is tremendous joy in that, just knowing I'm doing what God wants me to do. My life is in harmony with the eternal plan of God. For the joy that was set before Him, He endured the cross.
I think that sometimes we are prone to think that the cross was just sort of a duty that Jesus accepted. And that He just sort of thought, "Just part of life." No, He despised the shame of the thing. He endured it,
despising the shame ( Hebrews 12:2 ),
In fact, it was loathsome to Him.
You remember, in the garden He was praying that God if possible would take an alternate course. "Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; nevertheless, not what I will, but Thy will be done" ( Matthew 26:39 ). If man can be saved by being religious, by being good, by being sincere, by being anything; let this cup pass from Me. But, Jesus drank the cup. He endured the cross, though He despised the shame.
And is now sat down at the right hand of the throne of God ( Hebrews 12:2 ).
Having triumphed, He now sits there in the eternal glory.
For consider him that endured such contradiction of sinners against himself ( Hebrews 12:3 ),
"The contradiction of sinners." Here is a man whose life was marked by love, by goodness, by good deeds. One time when they took up stones to kill Him, He said, "Hey, I've done a lot of good things. I've healed the blind. I've caused the lame to walk. I've restored life to the dead. For which one of these things are you going to stone Me now? ( John 10:32 ). "Hey we're not stoning you for . . . but because You, being a man, are constantly saying You're the Son of God." He went around doing good, and yet, the most evil deed ever was perpetrated against Him when they crucified Him on the cross. Here a man who did nothing but good is the victim of one of the foulest deeds. Here a man who proclaimed and taught love as the supreme value of life, and then demonstrated that love, being killed in the most hateful way, receiving the venom of man. Such contradiction of sinners against Himself.
In other words, as we run this race and we face the difficulties, sometimes we are prone to get weary, the obstacles, the hurdles, as we're doing this cross-country run. And we're prone to get weary in life of persecution, because I've been good, taking it on the other cheek because I won't strike back. Consider Him, the contradiction against sinners that He experienced.
lest you be wearied in your mind. For which one of you have [actually] resisted unto blood, as you were striving against sin ( Hebrews 12:3-4 ).
Here was Jesus striving against sin and He resisted unto the shedding of His blood. But you don't have it that bad. None of us have been martyred for our faith in Jesus Christ. We may receive some verbal abuse, and it is possible that some of you have actually experienced physical abuse. It could be that you have family that don't understand and you've experience physical abuse, but so little compared to what Jesus endured.
Now he changes the subject and deals with the subject now of God's correcting procedures with His children. Our Father is a loving Father and He loves us so much that He corrects us when we do wrong. Now, I want you to notice that God's work in our lives is not that of punishment. And I think that in dealing with our children and in their mistakes, they understand that we are not punishing them, but we're seeking to correct them. God's dealing with us is dealing with us for correction, and correction is for our good and for our benefit.
I think that so often we picture God in the wrong posture. And I think that this is probably a reversion, many times, back to Sunday school. That the Sunday school teacher to keep us in line sort of warns us about God. If you're bad, God is watching you. God doesn't like you to be bad. (Well, He doesn't like us to be bad, but He likes us. He doesn't like our badness, but He likes us.) Like my little grandson, I shared with you, he came home and said, "Daddy, is God watching me?" He said, "Why do you ask that?" "Sunday school teacher told me." "Why did your Sunday School teacher tell you?" "Because I was bad. But is it true? Is God watching me?" Chuck said, "Yup, it's true, William. God is watching you, because He loves you so much He can't take His eyes off of you."
It is true God does watch us, not as a policeman to put the handcuffs on us the moment we do something wrong, throw us into jail. Watching us as a loving Father so concerned with His child He just can't take His eyes off you.
Have you ever had that kind of an experience? I know my little grandkids, they come over and I just watch them constantly. I just can't take my eyes off of them. Everything they do is just so cute. It's amazing, even their naughty little spells. My wife and I will turn to each other and say, "Isn't that cute? Look at that! They're having a brainstorm." Man, things for which we really whacked our own kids. They're cute now with our grandkids. Boy, we spoil them something horrible. God spoils us something awful too, but He loves us. But He loves us enough that He does correct us when necessary.
And you have forgotten the exhortation which speaks to you as unto children, My son, despise thou not the chastening of the Lord, nor faint when you art rebuked of him: For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receives. And if you endure chastening, God is dealing you as with sons; for what son is he whom the father chasteneth not? But if you be without chastisement, whereof all are partakers, then you are actually a bastard, and not son ( Hebrews 12:5-8 ).
Don't despise the chastening of the Lord. It's proof that God loves you. It's proof that you're a son.
Now if you can do evil and get by with it, then be very concerned. If you've been cheating over a long period of time and you've been getting by with it, you've been living in a false relationship for a long time and you're getting by with it, you'd better be careful. That is a good indication that you're not a son. You're in a dangerous place. If you can sin with impunity, without getting God. But you know, the neat thing about God is that He loves us so much, He is going to make sure we get caught. And that is sometimes a cause of great consternation in the mind of the Christian, because everybody on the job may be cheating a little bit on their time card. And so, because everybody is doing it I am tempted to cheat on my time card. Wham! I get zapped right like that. "But they all did it. None of them got caught." No, they're not sons. God won't let you get by with it, because you're a son. God is going to see that you get caught. "That is not fair!" Well, it really is. God will not let you get by with sin. God will not let you get by with evil, because you're His son. And though everybody else may get by, not you. So when you get caught just rejoice and say, "Oh man, He doesn't let me get by with evil," and it's proof that you're His son. If we endure chastening, God deals with us as sons. If you are without chastisement, then you're not a son.
Furthermore we have had fathers of our flesh which corrected us, and we gave them reverence: shall we not much rather be in subjection to the Father of spirits, and live? For they verily for a few days chastened us after their own pleasure; but he for our profit, that we might be partakers of his holiness ( Hebrews 12:9-10 ).
Our parents corrected for their pleasure. In other words, to make it easier on them many times. We had rules in our house that were just making things easier on my parents. A lot of the correction was for their convenience, or a lot of the rules were for their convenience. They weren't necessarily thinking of my good always. They were thinking of their own convenience many times. How many times I heard that story, "Now, Son, this hurts me worse than it hurts you." Somehow I never believed that until I became a father, then I understood. When God corrects us, it's always for our profit, for our benefit.
Now if we reverenced our earthly fathers, who trained us and brought us up in the right path, how much more should we respect our heavenly Father who for our profit corrects us?
Now no chastening for the present seems to be joyous ( Hebrews 12:11 ),
And I'm sure we can all say "amen" to that. When you're going through a chastening process it's never a real joy. How many of you really enjoyed the spankings that you got? It was to me . . . you know, I'd always go into that "nobody loves me" mood. I'd be in the dark bedroom, because Dad would take me into the bedroom. The family would be out there playing in the other room and all. You could hear all the noise out there, but you'd be in the dark bedroom, and Dad would talk to me, and then he would spank me. Of course, I would yell so that he would go easier, make him think he was really getting through. Then he'd walk out and close the door and it would be dark. I'd lie there on the bed and I'd cry; wish I were dead. They'd be sorry then that they spanked me if they came in and I was dead. Then I'd think of my little brother how he would be crying if I were dead and I'd cry more. Now, if any of you are psychologists you can have a lot of fun with that, I suppose. But you lie there for a while and you go through the whole little routine, and then it's all over. "Sounds like they are really having fun, what am I doing in here? Go out and see what is going on. Why are they laughing?"
And so you go out and join in with the family again, and I can join in again. You see, I've been punished. Now, before I really couldn't join in because I was guilty. Boy, at dinnertime I didn't want to ask for the second piece. I really wanted that second piece of pie, but I was guilty. I wasn't going to ask for that. I couldn't really be a part of the family because I was so guilty and Dad said, "After dinner, Son, we're going to go into the bedroom." Man, it's hard to eat, hard to swallow. You know you got it. But once you've been corrected, punished, you become a family member again; no more guilt. It's all over.
But during the chastening process it isn't pleasant. It isn't joyous, but what is great is the fruit, or the result of it. The relief of the guilt. Oh, how beautiful that is. When it is all over and you feel the sense of guilt is gone. Yes, I had disobeyed my dad. I did what he told me not to do. I got caught and now I've been punished and I'm no longer guilty. I'm now again a member of the family and I can go out and play Monopoly with them, and I can join in and participate. During the chastening process itself not so joyous,
but grievous: nevertheless [the fruit of it], the after effects of it the peaceable fruit of righteousness unto them that are exercised thereby ( Hebrews 12:11 ).
If I will accept this as God's correction. I've been wrong and God now is correcting me. Not easy, not an easy thing to take, but I'm His son and He loves me and He's not going to let me get by with it. And after He has corrected me, that peaceable fruit of righteousness, that peace that I feel within as now fellowship with God is fully restored.
Wherefore lift up the hands that hang down ( Hebrews 12:12 ),
We get sort of beat when going through a chastening process. We are not so apt to be lifting our hands in praises to the Lord, but God is really dealing heavy with us. We sort of have our problems rejoicing and praising God. But lift up your holy hands which are hanging down,
the feeble knees ( Hebrews 12:12 );
Return to that place of worship, return to that place of full fellowship.
And make straight paths for your feet [or even paths], lest that which is lame be turned out of the way; but let it rather be healed. Follow peace with all men, and holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord ( Hebrews 12:12-14 ):
Interesting, isn't it? Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God. Follow peace with all men and holiness. We have a tendency to put down holiness because of what people have done with holiness--making holiness a way of dress, making holiness a thing of outward appearance. So we have what are known as the holiness groups, the Pentecostal holiness, Pilgrim holiness and other holiness groups. And to them the interpretation of holiness is often the women not wearing any makeup, not wearing any gold jewelry, and a matter of the way you dress. And we have properly revolted against that interpretation of holiness. Holiness is a thing of the heart, not of dress. You can go through all the outward appearances of holiness according to their standards of holiness, and they do have their public standards of holiness. You can deny yourself all of those things that they say are not holy, but within your heart you can still be just as filthy and impure as anybody else. True holiness is a thing of the heart.
Jesus said, "It isn't what goes into a man's mouth that defiles a man; it's comes out of his mouth. Because out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks." Holiness is not and cannot be manifested in a person's dress. It's in a person's heart, that desire for God and walking with God. And, really, I think that holiness comes from the consciousness of the presence of God. When I am aware that in Him I live and move and have my being, that I walk in His presence continually, that has more affect upon the way I respond and everything else than anything else I know. And it isn't the outward observances of a bunch of rules.
Boy, you ought to have read the list of things that were the do nots for me as I was a little kid growing up in a holiness church. I mean, about the only thing that they left for us teenagers was necking, going out and parking. I mean you couldn't go to shows. You couldn't go dancing. You couldn't do anything. Fortunately they never put a prohibition on that, so we were left something. And here we thought we were all these righteous little prudes, you know, because we didn't do all of these negative, horrible, awfully, worldly, sinful things.
Jesus really laid it on the Pharisees because their whole concept of holiness was outward. It was in rules and regulations, in outward conformities to certain laws. But there were such inconsistencies there and Jesus pointed out the inconsistencies. But they didn't like that. He said, "You strain at a gnat but you swallow a camel."
Now, it was a common sight to see a Pharisee on the street corner putting his finger down his mouth trying to regurgitate, because as he was walking along a gnat happened to fly in his mouth and got caught in his throat, and I got to get the thing out, because it hadn't been bled yet. And you can't eat meat that isn't bled. It's against the law. So you'd see them straining, trying to get rid of a gnat.
He said, "Man, the outside of the platter is so clean, but inside it is filthy. You're like the whited sepulchers." And they would paint the tombstones with this whitewash. And so you're all white outside, but the inside you're full of dead men's bones. You're like these sepulchres; the outward righteousness; standards of holiness.
But yet, because of that we should not neglect the fact that there is a true holiness that each of us should aspire to. Living a holy life, living a pure life, living a life that would be pleasing to God. Without holiness no man shall see God. That should concern each of us.
Looking diligently lest any man fail of the grace of God ( Hebrews 12:15 );
There has to be real care taken that we do not presume upon God's grace. It is not a cloak to cover our lasciviousness. It is something there for our benefit and our good, that we will rely and trust totally in Jesus Christ rather than trusting in our own works. It is there to bring us to God, because my works can never bring me to God. But it is not there just to cover over any kind of lying and stealing and cheating and all that I might want to do, saying, "Well, God's grace covers." We actually then fail of the grace of God. We don't understand the grace of God.
lest any root of bitterness springing up trouble you, and thereby many be defiled ( Hebrews 12:15 );
Bitterness is something we have to really guard against. What a destroyer it can be of ourselves. Oh, what problems a bitter attitude can create physically to you. The chemicals that are produced by your glands when your heart and mind are filled with bitterness, destructive chemicals tearing your body, and what it does to others.
Lest there be any fornicator, or profane person, as Esau, who for one morsel of meat sold his birthright ( Hebrews 12:16 ).
He came in. He had been out in the fields. He was hungry. He was famished. Here his dainty brother Jacob had been fixing up some delicious tidbits. He said, "Awe, give me some of that. Smells great!" Jacob said, "Well, trade it for your birthright." "Hey man, I'm going to die of hunger. What good is my birthright? Sure." He didn't care about his birthright. Sold his birthright for a mess of potage.
For you know how that afterward, when he would have inherited the blessing, he was rejected: for he found no place of repentance ( Hebrews 12:17 ),
The reason for his rejection, he found no place for repentance.
Now beware, an unrepentant heart, set in my ways; I won't change.
even though he sought it with tears ( Hebrews 12:17 ).
Now don't make a mistake here thinking that he could not repent. That he was trying to repent, but couldn't. No, all he sought with tears was the blessing. When Jacob received the blessing and Esau finally came in with the venison for his old man, and he said, "Hey, Dad, I fixed the barbequed venison just like you like." And he said, "Then who was it that was here earlier? I've already given the blessing." He said, "No, Dad, I'm Esau your son." "Well," he said, "it must have been Jacob then, but I blessed him." He said, "Oh, but bless me." And he started to cry. He wanted the blessings of the father. And he sought the blessings with tears. And he said, "I can't. I've already given everything to your brother." And so, though he sought the blessings with tears, there was still no repentance, no place of repentance in his heart. All he wanted was the blessings, the benefits.
There are a lot people like that, and we are told to beware lest we be like Esau who really disregarded the birthright, didn't care about it. And thus, lost the blessing. Some of you don't really care about being a Christian, but you want the blessing of Christianity. "I want to live in a Christian nation. I don't want to live in a pagan nation, but me a Christian, no way, man. Live in Russia, no way, man. I want the blessings of freedom that Christianity brings wherever it goes." But there is no place of repentance.
Now the contrast. He is writing to Hebrews who had been under the law, who were now come to a new covenant through Jesus Christ, and thus, a new relationship with God in the new covenant. He speaks again in contrasting now the old covenant of the law. And he said,
For you are not come unto the mount that might be touched, that burned with fire, nor unto the blackness, and darkness, of the tempest, and the sound of a trumpet, and the voice of words; which voice they heard entreated that the word should not be spoken to them any more: (For they could not endure that which was commanded, And if so much as a beast touch the mountain, it shall be stoned, or thrust through with a spear: And so awesome was the sight, that Moses said, I exceedingly fear and quake:) ( Hebrews 12:18-21 ).
Let's go back for a moment to Exodus, chapter 19, and read the account of Mount Sinai where God gave the law to Moses. Let's start reading with verse Hebrews 12:14 . "And Moses went down from the mount unto the people, and he sanctified the people, and they washed their clothes. And he said unto the people, 'Be ready for in the third day: do not come to your wives.' And it came to pass on the third day in the morning, that there was thunder and lightning, and a thick cloud upon the mount, and the voice of a trumpet exceeding loud, so that all the people that were in the camp trembled. And Moses brought forth the people out of the camp to meet God; and they stood at the nether part of the mount. And Mount Sinai was altogether on a smoke, because the Lord descended upon it in fire: and the smoke thereof ascended as the smoke of a furnace, and the whole mountain quaked greatly. And when the voice of the trumpet sounded long, and waxed louder and louder, Moses spake, and God answered him by a voice. And the Lord came down upon Mount Sinai, on the top of the mount: and the Lord called Moses up to the top of the mount; and Moses went up. And the Lord said unto Moses, 'Go down, charge the people, lest they break through unto the Lord and gaze, and many of them perish. And let the priests also come near,'" and so foRuth ( Exodus 19:14-22 ). And here is this awesome scene, and then in the next chapter God gave the law to Moses.
He said, "You haven't come to this awesome scene of Mount Sinai. The mountain that couldn't be touched with hands. People dared not come close. The mountain that was covered with the smoke and the fire and the thunders, and the darkness, the tempest, the trumpet sound. So awesome was the sight that Moses himself quaked."
But you've come [to a different mount] to mount Zion, and unto the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, unto an innumerable company of angels, unto the general assembly and church of the firstborn, which are written in heaven, and to God the Judge of all, and to the spirits of just men made perfect, and to Jesus the mediator of the new covenant, and to the blood of sprinkling, that speaks of better things than that of Abel ( Hebrews 12:22-24 ).
Haven't come to Mount Sinai, which, if you came to it, you'd be thrust through or stoned. But we've come into another mount, to Mount Zion, unto the city of the living God, this heavenly Jerusalem, the myriads of angels, the church of the firstborn, born again unto God, the spirits of just men made perfect, to Jesus. So,
See that you refuse not him that speaks ( Hebrews 12:25 ).
"Now God who at sundry times and in divers manners spoke to us through the prophets hath spoken to us through His own dear Son," coming back now to the first chapter, the introduction to the book. The book of Hebrews is the message of God to man through His Son. The better covenant that God established through the Son, the better way, the better sacrifice. So be careful that you not refuse Him that speaks, that is, Jesus Christ and the revelation of God given to us through Him.
for if they escaped not who refused him that spake on earth [that is, Moses], much more shall not we escape, if we turn away from him that speaks from heaven ( Hebrews 12:25 ):
So Jesus came down to speak to us the words of God, to reveal to man the truth of God, to speak to us the truth of God. So be careful that you don't refuse that word of Jesus Christ. For they that despised Moses' law, rejected it, were stoned if they had two or three witnesses against them. How much more shall we not escape, if we turn from the word of Jesus Christ spoken to us, this heavenly messenger.
Whose voice then shook the earth: but now he has promised, saying, Yet once more I shake not the earth only, but also the heavens ( Hebrews 12:26 ).
There is going to be a tremendous cataclysmic catastrophe that is going to befall the universe. The Bible speaks about it in several places. The Bible says that the heavens are going to be rolled back like a scroll and the earth is going to stagger to and fro like a drunken man. Be moved out of its orbit. It speaks of a meteorite shower falling to the earth, a tremendous shaking not only of the earth but of the heavens too.
And this word, Yet once more, signifies the removing of those things that are shaken, as of things that are made, and those things which cannot be shaken may remain ( Hebrews 12:27 ).
So God's going to shake the earth once more. He shook it when He spoke from Mount Sinai, but once more. He said, "I'm not going to shake just the earth, I'm going to shake the heavens too until everything that can be shaken will be removed and only that which cannot be shaken shall remain."
Peter, in talking about this great cataclysm that is coming, talks about the heavens being on fire, melting with a fervent heat, the elements dissolving. Seeing then, he said, talking of the material universe, that all these things are to be dissolved, what manner of persons ought we to be? Everything that can be shaken is going to be shaken; that is the material world. Only those things which cannot be shaken will remain; that is the spiritual things. You have only one life, and it will soon be over and only the things that you do for Christ are going to last. Everything else is going to be destroyed. The whole material universe is going to go up one day. It's going to be wiped out.
Now if you put all of your value in material things, when this material universe goes or when you go, when death comes, you're going to be totally wiped out, because your entire value system was based on the material world around you.
If your value system is placed in the spiritual world, then that can't be shaken. That will last forever. That cannot be dissolved when the elements are all dissolved with a fervent heat. "What manner of persons ought we to be?" Peter asked. We should be spiritual. We should put our value in spiritual things. We should be walking after the Spirit. We should be living after the Spirit, and that is essentially what the Bible encourages us all the way through, telling us that the life of the Spirit is superior to the life of the flesh. And that, basically, is the message that the world hates. They don't want to hear that. They're all caught up in their little material gods, their material possessions. Their whole value system is in that. And to say that is all going to get wiped out, that's all going to be destroyed, that is a threat to them. They don't want to hear that, but it's true. God said, "I'm going to shake once again the earth and the heavens," and that signifies that anything that can be shaken is going to be removed, and only that which cannot be shaken shall remain.
Wherefore we receiving a kingdom which cannot be moved [our heavenly kingdom], let us have grace, whereby we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear: For our God is a consuming fire ( Hebrews 12:28-29 ).
Very interesting! We are told in Isaiah that when God destroyed the large Assyrian army that had come against the southern kingdom of Judah, in one night an angel of the Lord went out to the Assyrian army and wiped out 185,000 troops; one night, destroyed the army, one angel. In the morning when the Israelites got up, looked out to see the enemy that had been camped around them, there was nothing but these dead corpses, 185,000. And it said a fear gripped the hearts of the sinners in Zion. Those that were in the city who were sinners, man, they really got scared. They saw what the fire of God could do. They said, "Who among us can dwell in the midst of this devouring fire?" ( Isaiah 33:14 ). They got panicked when they saw what God's fire can do. Our God is a consuming fire.
Well, that all depends. Fire is an interesting phenomena of nature. One thing you can say about fire is that it is everywhere. There is what they call aeromocasis. Long word, but it means the slow burning fire of nature. Take a piece of metal and lay it outside here, and in just a short little while that bare metal you'll see little bronze specks on it. What are those little brown specks? Oxidation, the slow burning fire of nature, as nature starts to deteriorate that piece of metal, starts to eat it away. Slow burning fire of nature, destroying, eating away.
No sooner did we drive the last nail into this building the thing started slowly eroding--aeromocasis. We've got to keep this thing up. We've got to keep painting. We've got to keep . . . we've got a process of continual renewal of this thing, because of aeromocasis, the slow burning fire of nature that is gradually devouring everything.
Fire--an interesting substance, because it can consume. But fire is also used to transform into permanency. If you put the alloy into the fire and heat it, it becomes steel; hardened and tempered by the fire. So fire is interesting. It can transmit something into permanency while consuming others. It all depends on the material that it is working with.
The sinners in Zion said, "Who can escape the fire of God?" The answer is no one can escape the fire of God. It is everywhere. You can't escape it. The question is, what is it doing to you? And it all depends on what you are. If you are a child of God, the fire of God is transmitting and transforming you into permanency. If you're not, it's a consuming fire that will one day totally consume you.
Copyright © 2014, Calvary Chapel of Costa Mesa, Ca.
Smith, Charles Ward. "Commentary on Hebrews 12:13". "Smith's Bible Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/csc/hebrews-12.html. 2014.
And make straight paths for your feet, lest that which is lame be turned out of the way; but let it rather be healed.
Paul continues the metaphor from the last verse, teaching that every Christian should go in the same direction. At the same time, he presents a graphic picture of concern for the weak. Many Hebrew Christians are on the verge of leaving Christianity and turning back to Judaism. This metaphor is taken from the teaching of Solomon when he says, "Ponder the path of thy feet, and let all thy ways be established. Turn not to the right hand nor to the left: remove thy foot from evil" (Proverbs 4:26-27). The word "path" (trochia) refers to "a track of a wheel (or) a rut" (Thayer 631). The rut causes the wheels of every traveler to go in the same direction; it keeps the wheel from going off course to left or to the right. The point is that the wheel or the feet can go in only one direction when staying in the rut. Everyone is to follow the same path in Christianity. Paul teaches that Christians who are on the verge of leaving Jesus and returning to Judaism have gone to the left or the right. They have gotten out of the rut and are headed the wrong direction; therefore, they must be built up spiritually and be put back on the proper path. Then they can be on the straight path of righteousness. Jesus teaches the same message when He says:
Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat: Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it (Matthew 7:13-14).
To overcome apostasy and to persevere faithfully, every Christian must remove all obstacles that might hinder him from running the straight line of the Christian race. When a Christian wavers, he should not feel dejected as though he has no way to return; instead, he is to remember that God is his Father and will bring him back to "be partakers of his holiness" (see verses 5-10). If a wavering Christian will return to Jesus and get back into the "rut" of following God’s instructions, he will be "healed" (iaomai); that is, he will be "free from errors and sins" (Thayer 296). Then he will be led to eternal salvation through his steadfastness.
Contending for the Faith reproduced by permission of Contending for the Faith Publications, 4216 Abigale Drive, Yukon, OK 73099. All other rights reserved.
Editor Charles Baily, "Commentary on Hebrews 12:13". "Contending for the Faith". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/ctf/hebrews-12.html. 1993-2022.
B. Demonstrating Necessary Endurance 12:1-13
The writer followed up his scriptural exposition with another final exhortation (chs. 12-13). This is a pattern he followed consistently throughout this epistle. He first called on his readers to persevere faithfully so they would not lose any of their reward. This section is chiastic.
A A call to run with endurance (Hebrews 12:1-3)
B Explanation of the role of suffering (Hebrews 12:4-11)
A’ A call to renew commitment to endure (Hebrews 12:12-13)
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Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on Hebrews 12:13". "Dr. Constable's Expository Notes". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/dcc/hebrews-12.html. 2012.
3. The need for greater strength 12:12-13
The writer next urged his readers to take specific action that would facilitate their continuance in the faith.
This word of exhortation, as well as the others, reveals that the original readers were spiritually weak. Consequently, the writer urged them to build up their strength so they could work effectively and walk without stumbling (cf. Proverbs 4:25-27). The Greek word ektrepo, translated "be put out of joint" (Hebrews 12:13), has the technical medical sense of a foot turning and becoming dislocated. [Note: Ellingworth, p. 659.] This power comes as we draw upon our resources for strength, namely, the Word of God and the grace of God (Hebrews 4:12-16). The readers also needed to level the path of discipleship they trod by removing impediments to their progress. This might involve, for example, avoiding contact with people and materials that encourage departure from God’s will. Then the lame among them (i.e., the very weak) might recover as they proceeded to walk. The writer probably intended this exhortation to include laying aside sin (Hebrews 12:1) and compromising associations with apostates who might throw unneeded barriers such as false teaching in the Christians’ path.
This encouragement completes the thought of Hebrews 12:1-13. The writer began with an exhortation, expounded the value of discipline, and ended with another exhortation.
"A depth of pastoral concern is evident throughout this section. The writer understood that faith can be eroded by constant exposure to harsh circumstances." [Note: Lane, Hebrews 9-13, p. 428.]
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Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on Hebrews 12:13". "Dr. Constable's Expository Notes". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/dcc/hebrews-12.html. 2012.
THE RACE AND THE GOAL ( Hebrews 12:1-2 )
12:1-2 Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses enveloping us, let us strip off every weight and let us rid ourselves of the sin which so persistently surrounds us, and let us run with steadfast endurance the course that is marked out for us and, as we do so, let us keep our gaze fixed on Jesus who, in order to win the joy that was set before him, steadfastly endured the Cross, thinking nothing of its shame, and has now taken his seat at the right hand or the throne of God.
This is one of the great, moving passages of the New Testament; and in it the writer has given us a well-nigh perfect summary of the Christian life.
(i) In the Christian life we have a goal. The Christian is not an unconcerned stroller along the byways of life; he is a wayfarer on the high road. He is not a tourist, who returns each night to the place from which he starts; he is a pilgrim who is for ever on the way. The goal is nothing less than the likeness of Christ. The Christian life is going somewhere, and it would be well if, at each day's ending, we were to ask ourselves: "Am I any farther on?"
(ii) In the Christian life we have an inspiration. We have the thought of the unseen cloud of witnesses: and they are witnesses in a double sense. For they have witnessed their confession to Christ and they are now witnesses of our performance. The Christian is like a runner in some crowded stadium. As he presses on. the crowd looks down; and the crowd looking down are those who have already won the crown.
Longinus, in his great work On The Sublime, has a recipe for greatness in literary endeavour. "It is a good thing." he writes, "to form the question in our souls, How would Homer perhaps have said this? How would Plato or Demosthenes have lifted it up to sublimity? How would Thucydides have put it in his history? For when the faces of these people come before us in our emulation they will, as it were, illumine our road and will lift us up to those standards of perfection which we have imagined in our minds. It would be still better if we were to suggest this to our minds. 'What would this that I have said sound like to Homer, if he were standing by, or to Demosthenes, or how would they have reacted to it?' In truth it is a supreme test to imagine such a judgment court and theatre for our own private productions, and, in imagination, to submit an account of our writings to such heroes as judges."
An actor would act with double intensity if he knew that some famous dramatic master was sitting in the stalls watching him. An athlete would strive with double effort if he knew that a stadium of famous Olympic athletes was watching him. It is of the very essence of the Christian life that it is lived in the gaze of the heroes of the faith who lived, suffered and died in their day and generation. How can a man avoid the struggle for greatness with an audience like that looking down upon him?
(iii) In the Christian life we have a handicap. If we are encircled by the greatness of the past. We are also encircled by the handicap of our own sin. No man would seek to climb Mount Everest with a pantechnicon of lumber weighing him down. If we would travel far, we must travel light. There is in life an essential duty of discarding things. There may be habits, pleasures, self-indulgences, associations which hold us back. We must shed them as the athlete sheds his track suit when he goes to the starting-mark; and often we will need the help of Christ to enable us to do so.
(iv) In the Christian life we have a means. That means is steadfast endurance. The word is hupomone ( G5281) which does not mean the patience which sits down and accepts things but the patience which masters them. It is not some romantic thing which lends us wings to fly over the difficulties and the hard places. It is a determination, unhurrying and yet undelaying, which goes steadily on and refuses to be deflected. Obstacles do not daunt it and discouragements do not take its hope away. It is the steadfast endurance which carries on until in the end it gets there.
(v) In the Christian life we have an example. That example is Jesus himself. For the goal that was set before him, he endured all things; to win it meant the way of the Cross. The writer to the Hebrews has a flash of insight--despising the shame, he says. Jesus was sensitive; never had any person so sensitive a heart. A cross was a humiliating thing. It was for criminals, for those whom society regarded as the dregs of humanity--and yet he accepted it. St. Philip of Neri bids us "to despise the world, to despise ourselves, and to despise--the fact that we are despised" (spernere mundum, spernere te ipsum, spernere te sperni). If Jesus could endure like that, so must we.
(vi) In the Christian life we have a presence, the presence of Jesus. He is at once the goal of our journey and the companion of our way; at once the one whom we go to meet and the one with whom we travel. The wonder of the Christian life is that we press on surrounded by the saints, oblivious to everything but the glory of the goal and forever in the company of him who has already made the journey and reached the goal, and who waits to welcome us when we reach the end.
THE STANDARD OF COMPARISON ( Hebrews 12:3-4 )
12:3-4 Consider him who steadfastly endured such opposition at the hands of sinners, and compare your lives with his, so that you may not faint and grow weary in your souls. You have not yet had to resist to the point of blood in your struggle against sin.
The writer to the Hebrews uses two very vivid words when he speaks of fainting and growing weary. They are the words which Aristotle uses of an athlete who flings himself on the ground in collapse after he has surged past the winning post of the race. So Hebrews is in effect saying: "Don't give up too soon; don't collapse until the winning post is passed.
To urge them to that he uses two arguments.
(i) For them the struggle of Christianity has not yet become a mortal struggle. When he speaks of resisting to the point of blood, he uses the very phrase of the Maccabaean leaders when they called on their troops to fight to the death. When the writer to the Hebrews says that his people have not yet resisted to the point of blood, as Moffatt puts it, "he is not blaming them, he is shaming them." When they think of what the heroes of the past went through to make their faith possible, surely they cannot drift into lethargy or flinch from conflict.
(ii) He pleads with them to compare what they have to suffer with what Jesus suffered. He gave up the glory which was his; he came into all the narrowness of the life of humanity; he faced the hostility of men; in the end he had to die upon a cross. So the writer to the Hebrews in effect demands: "How can you compare what you have to go through with what he went through? He did all that for you--what are you going to do for him?"
These two verses stress the essential costliness of Christian faith. It cost the lives of the martyrs; it cost the life of him who was the Son of God. A thing which cost so much cannot be lightly discarded. A heritage like that is not something that a man can hand down tarnished. These two verses make the demand that comes to every Christian: "Show yourself worthy of the sacrifice that men and God have made for you."
THE DISCIPLINE OF GOD ( Hebrews 12:5-11 )
12:5-11 Have you forgotten the appeal, an appeal which reasons with you as sons?
"My son, do not treat lightly the discipline which the Lord sends; Never lose heart when you are put to the test by him; For the Lord disciplines the man whom he loves, and scourges every son whom he receives."
It is for the sake of discipline that you must endure. It is because he is treating us as sons that God sends these things upon us. What son is there whom his father does not discipline? If you are left without discipline--that discipline which everyone must share--then you are bastards and not sons. Surely it is true that we have human fathers who discipline us, and we pay heed to them. Surely we are still more bound to submit to the Father of the spirits of men, for that is the only way in which we can find real life. It was only for a short time that our human fathers disciplined us, and they did it as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our highest good and he does so to make us fit to share his own holiness. No discipline seems to be a thing of joy when we are actually undergoing it but afterwards it yields a fruit which is all to our highest welfare--the fruit of a righteous life--to those who are trained by it.
The writer to the Hebrews sets out still another reason why men should cheerfully bear affliction when it comes to them. He has urged them to bear it because the great saints of the past have borne it. He has urged them to bear it because anything they may have to bear is a little thing compared with what Jesus Christ had to bear. Now he says that they must bear hardship because it is sent as a discipline from God and no life can have any value apart from discipline.
A father always disciplines his child. It would not be a mark of love to let a son do what he likes and have nothing but an easy way; it would show that the father regarded the son as no better than an illegitimate child to whom he felt neither love nor responsibility. We submit to an earthly father's discipline which is imposed only for a short time, until we reach years of maturity, and which at best always contains an element of arbitrariness. The earthly father is he to whom we owe our bodily life; how much more should we submit to the discipline of God to whom we owe our immortal spirits and who, in his wisdom, seeks for nothing but our highest good.
There is a curious passage in Xenophon's Cyropaedia. There is an argument about whether the man who makes men laugh or makes them weep is of most use in the world. Aglaitidas says: "He that makes his friends laugh seems to me to do them much less service than he who makes them weep; and if you will look at it rightly, you, too, will find that I speak the truth. At any rate, fathers develop self-control in their sons by making them weep and teachers impress good lessons on their pupils in the same way, and laws, too, turn the citizens to justice by making them weep. But could you say that those who make us laugh either do good to our bodies or make our minds any more fitted for the management of our private business or the affairs of state?" It was the view of Aglaitidas that it was the man who exerted discipline who really did good to his fellow-men.
There is no doubt that this passage would come to those who heard it for the first time with a double impact, for all the world knew of that amazing thing the patria potestas, the father's power. A Roman father had by law absolute power over his family. If his son should marry, the father continued to have absolute power both over him and any grandchildren there might be. It began at the beginning. A Roman father could keep or discard his newborn child as he liked. He could bind or scourge his son; he could sell him into slavery; and he even had the right to execute him. True, when a father was about to take serious steps against a member of his family, he usually called a council of all its adult male members, but he did not need to. True, later on public opinion would not permit the execution of a son by a father, but it happened as late as the time of Augustus. Sallust, the Roman historian, tells us of an incident during the Catiline conspiracy. Catiline rebelled against Rome and amongst those who went out to join his forces was Aulus Fulvius, the son of a Roman senator. He was arrested and brought back, and his own father tried him and judged him and ordered him to be put to death. In regard to the patria potestas a Roman son never came of age. He might have engaged on a state career; he might be holding the highest magistracies; he might be held in honour by the whole country; all that did not matter; he was directly and completely under his father's power so long as his father survived. If ever a people knew what parental discipline was the Romans did; and when the writer to the Hebrews talked about the way in which an earthly father disciplined his son, his hearers well knew what he was talking about.
So, then, the writer insists that we must look on all the hardships of life as the discipline of God and as sent to work, not for our harm but for our ultimate and highest good. To prove his point he makes a quotation from Proverbs 3:11-12. There are many ways in which a man may look at the discipline which God sends him. .
(i) He may resignedly accept it. That is what the Stoics did. They held that nothing in this world happens outside the will of God; therefore, they argued, there is nothing to do but to accept it. To do anything else is simply to batter one's head against the walls of the universe. That is possibly the acceptance of supreme wisdom; but none the less it is the acceptance not of a father's love but of a father's power. It is not a willing but a defeated acceptance.
(ii) A man may accept discipline with the grim sense of getting it over as soon as possible. A certain famous Roman said: "I will let nothing interrupt my life." If a man accepts discipline like that he regards it as an infliction to be struggled through with defiance and certainly not with gratitude.
(iii) A man may accept discipline with the self-pity which leads in the end to collapse. Some people, when they are caught up in some difficult situation, give the impression that they are the only people in the world whom life ever hurt. They are lost in their self-pity.
(iv) A man may accept discipline as a punishment which he resents. It is strange that at this time the Romans saw in national and personal disasters nothing but the vengeance of the gods. Lucan wrote: "Happy were Rome indeed, and blessed citizens would she have, if the gods were as much concerned with caring for men as they are with exacting vengeance from them." Tacitus held that the disasters of the nation were proof that not men's safety but men's punishment was the interest of the gods. There are still people who regard God as vindictive. When something happens to them or to those whom they love their question is: "What did I do to deserve this?" And the question is asked in such a tone as to make it clear that they regard the whole matter as an unjust punishment from God. It never dawns upon them to ask: "What is God trying to teach me and to do with me through this experience?"
(v) So we come to the last attitude. A man may accept discipline as coming from a loving father. Jerome said a paradoxical but true thing: "The greatest anger of all is when God is no longer angry with us when we sin." He meant that the supreme punishment is when God lets us alone as unteachable. The Christian knows that "a father's hand will never cause his child a needless tear" and that everything can be utilised to make him a wiser and a better man. As Robert Browning wrote in Rabbi ben Ezra:
"Then welcome each rebuff
That turns earth's smoothness rough,
Each sting that bids nor sit nor stand but go!
Be our joy three-parts pain!
Strive and hold cheap the strain;
Learn, nor account the pang; dare, never grudge the throe!
For thence--a paradox
Which comforts while it mocks--
Shall life succeed in that it seems to fail;
What I aspired to be,
And was not, comforts me.
A brute I might have been, but would not sink i' the scale."
We shall cease from self-pity, from resentment and from rebellious complaint if we remember that there is no discipline of God which does not take its source in love and is not aimed at good.
DUTIES, AIMS AND DANGERS ( Hebrews 12:12-17 )
12:12-17 So, then, lift up the slack hands. Strengthen the weak knees. And make straight the paths of your feet so that the bones of the lame may not be completely dislocated but rather may be cured. Make peace your aim--and do it all together--and aim at that holiness without which no one can see the Lord. Watch that no one misses the grace of God. Watch that no pernicious influence grows up to involve you in troubles. And watch that the main body of your people are not soiled by any such thing. Watch that no one falls into sexual impurity or turns to an unhallowed life, as Esau did, Esau who, for a single meal, gave away his birthright. For you are well aware of how when he afterwards wanted to claim the blessing he ought to have inherited, he was rejected--for he had no opportunity to change his mind--although he sought that blessing with tears.
With this passage the writer to the Hebrews comes to the problems of everyday Christian life and living. He knew that sometimes it is given to a man to mount up with wings as an eagle; he knew that sometimes a man is enabled to run and not be weary in the pursuit of some great moment of endeavour; but he also knew that of all things it is hardest to walk every day and not to faint. Here he is thinking of the daily struggle of the Christian way.
(i) He begins by reminding them of their duties. In every congregation and in every Christian society there are those who are weaker and more likely to go astray and to abandon the struggle. It is the duty of those who are stronger to put fresh vigour into listless hands and fresh strength into failing feet. The phrase used for stack hands is the same as is used to describe the children of Israel in the days when they wished to abandon the rigours of the journey across the wilderness and to return to the ease and the fleshpots of Egypt.
The Odes of Solomon (6: 14ff.) have a description of the work of those who are true servants and ministers:
"They have assuaged the dry lips,
And the will that fainted they have raised up...
And limbs that had fallen
They have straightened and set up."
One of life's greatest glories is to be an encourager of the man who is near to despair and a strengthener of the man whose strength is failing. To help these people we have to make their ways straight. A Christian has a double duty; he has a duty to God and a duty to his fellow men. The Testimony of Simeon (5: 2, 3) has an illuminating description of the duty of the good man. "Make your heart good in the sight of the Lord; and make your ways straight in the sight of men; so you will find favour in the sight of the Lord and of men."
To God a man must present a clean heart; to men he must present an upright life. To show a man the right way to walk, by personal example to keep him on the right road, to remove from the path something that would make him stumble, to make the journey easier for faltering and lagging feet, is a Christian duty. A man must offer his heart to God and his service and example to his fellow-men.
(ii) The writer to the Hebrews turns to the aims which must ever be before the Christian.
(a) He must aim at peace. In Hebrew thought and language peace was no negative thing; it was intensely positive. It was not simply freedom from trouble; it was two things.
First, it was everything which makes for a man's highest good. As the Hebrews saw it, that highest good was to be found in obedience to God. Proverbs says: "My son, forget not my law; but let thine heart keep my commandments: for length of days and long life and peace shall they add unto thee." The Christian must aim at that complete obedience to God in which life finds its highest happiness, its greatest good, its perfect consummation, its peace. Second, peace meant right relationships between man and man. It meant a state when hatred was banished and each man sought nothing but his neighbour's good. Hebrews says: "Seek to live together as Christian men ought to live, in the real unity which comes from living in Christ."
The peace to be sought is that coming from obedience to God's will, which raises a man's life to its highest realization and enables him to live in and to produce right relationships between his fellow-men.
One thing remains to be noted--that kind of peace is to be pursued. It requires an effort; it is not something which just happens. It is the product of mental and spiritual toil and sweat. Rudyard Kipling wrote:
"Our England is a garden, and such gardens are not made
By singing:--'Oh, how beautiful!' and sitting in the shade,
While better men than we go out and start their working-lives
At grubbing weeds from gravel-paths with broken dinner-knives."
The gifts of God are given, but they are not given away; they have to be won, for they can be received only on God's conditions--and the supreme condition is obedience to himself
(b) He must aim at holiness (hagiasmos, G38) . Hagiasmos has in it the same root as the adjective hagios, which is usually translated holy. The root meaning is always difference and separation. Although he lives in the world, the man who is hagios ( G40) must always in one sense be different from it and separate from it. His standards are not the world's standards, nor his conduct the world's conduct. His aim is not to stand well with men but to stand well with God. Hagiasmos ( G38) , as Westcott finely put it, is "the preparation for the presence of God." The life of the Christian is dominated by the constant memory that its greatest aim is to enter into the presence of God.
(iii) The writer to the Hebrews goes on to point the dangers which threaten the Christian life:
(a) There is the danger of missing the grace of God. The word he uses might be paraphrased failing to keep up with the grace of God. The early Greek commentator Theophylact interprets this in terms of a journey of a band of travellers who every now and again check up, "Has anyone fallen out? Has anyone been left behind while the others have pressed on?" In Micah there is a vivid text ( Micah 4:6), "I will assemble the lame." Moffatt translates it: "I will collect the stragglers." It is easy to straggle away, to linger behind, to drift instead of to march, and so to miss the grace of God. There is no opportunity in this life which cannot be missed. The grace of God brings to us the opportunity to make ourselves and to make life what they are meant to be. A man may, in his lethargy, his thoughtlessness, his unawareness, his procrastination, miss the chances which grace brings to him. Against that we must ever be upon the watch.
(b) There is the danger of what the Revised Standard Version calls "a root bearing poisonous and bitter fruit." The phrase comes from Deuteronomy 29:18; and there it describes the man who goes after strange gods and encourages others to do so, and who thereby becomes a pernicious influence on the life of the community. The writer to the Hebrews is warning against those who are a corrupting influence. There are always those who think the Christian standards unnecessarily strict and punctitious; there are always those who do not see why they should not accept the world's standards of life and conduct. This was specially so in the early Church. It was a little island of Christianity surrounded by a sea of paganism; its members were, at the most, only one generation away from heathenism. It was easy to relapse into the old standards. This is a warning against the infection of the world, sometimes deliberately, sometimes unconsciously, spread within the Christian society.
(c) There is the danger of failing into immorality or relapsing into an unhallowed life. The word used for unhallowed is bebelos ( G952) . It has an illuminating background. It was used for ground that was profane in contradistinction to ground that was consecrated The ancient world had its religions into which only the initiated could come. Bebelos ( G952) was used for the person who was uninitiated and uninterested in contradistinction to the man who was devout. It was applied to such men as Antiochus Epiphanes who was pledged to wipe out all true religion; it was applied to Jews who had become apostates and had forsaken God. Westcott sums up this word by saying that it describes the man whose mind recognizes nothing higher than earth, for whom there is nothing sacred, who has no reverence for the unseen. An unhallowed life is a life without any awareness of or interest in God. In its thoughts, aims, pleasures, it is completely earthbound. We have to have a care lest we drift into a frame of mind and heart which has no horizon beyond this world, for that way inevitably lie the failure of chastity and the loss of honour.
To sum it all up, the writer to the Hebrews cites the example of Esau. He really puts two stories together-- Genesis 25:28-34 and Genesis 27:1-39. In the first Esau came in from the field ravenously hungry and sold his birthright to Jacob for a share of the food which he was preparing. The second story tells how Jacob subtly robbed Esau of his birthright by impersonating him when Isaac was old and blind and so gaining the blessing which belonged to Esau as the elder of the two sons. It was when Esau sought the blessing that Jacob had shrewdly obtained and learned he could not get it that he lifted up his voice and wept ( Genesis 27:38).
There is more to this than lies upon the surface. In Hebrew legend and in rabbinic elaboration Esau had come to be looked upon as the entirely sensual man, the man who put the needs of his body first. Hebrew legend says that while Jacob and Esau--they were twins--were still in their mother's womb, Jacob said to Esau: "My brother, there are two worlds before us, this world and the world to come. In this world men eat and drink and traffic and marry and bring up sons and daughters; but all this does not take place in the world to come. If you like, take this world and I will take the other." And Esau was well content to take this world, because he did not believe that there was any other. On that very day when Jacob's subterfuge gained him Isaac's blessing, legend said that Esau already had committed five sins--"he had worshipped with strange worship, he had shed innocent blood, he had pursued a betrothed damsel, he had denied the life of the world to come, and he had despised his birthright."
Hebrew interpretation saw Esau as the sensual man, the man who saw no pleasures beyond the crude pleasures of this world. Any man like that sells his birthright; for a man throws away his inheritance when he throws away eternity.
The writer to the Hebrews says, according to the King James Version, that Esau found no place for repentance. The Greek for repentance is metanoia ( G3341) , which literally means a change of mind. It is better to say that it was now impossible for Esau to change his mind. It is not that he was barred from the forgiveness of God. It is just the grim fact that there are certain choices which cannot be unmade and certain consequences which not even God can take away. To take a very simple example--if a young man loses his purity or a girl her virginity, nothing can ever bring it back. The choice has been made and it stands. God can and will forgive but he cannot turn back the clock.
We do well to remember that there is a certain finality in life. If, like Esau, we take the way of this world and make bodily things our final good, if we choose the pleasures of time in preference to the joys of eternity, God can and will still forgive but something has happened that can never be undone. There are certain things in which a man cannot change his mind but must abide for ever by the choice that he has made.
THE TERROR OF THE OLD AND THE GLORY OF THE NEW ( Hebrews 12:18-24 )
12:18-24 It is not to something that can be touched that you have come, to a flaming fire, to mist and gloom and stormblast, and to the blare of a trumpet, and to a voice which spoke such words that those who heard it begged that not another word should be further spoken unto them, for they could not bear the command: "If even a beast touches the mountain, it shall be stoned." So terrifying was the apparition that Moses said: "I am in utter fear and trembling." But you have come to Mount Sion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, to ten thousands of angels gathered in glad assembly, to the assembly of the honoured ones whose names are in the registers of heaven, to that God who is judge of all, to the spirits of just men who have come to that goal for which they were created, and to Jesus, the mediator of the new covenant, to the sprinkled blood which has a message greater than the blood of Abel.
This passage is a contrast between the old and the new. It is a contrast between the giving of the law on Mount Sinai and the new covenant of which Jesus is the mediator. Down to Hebrews 12:21 it has echo after echo of the story of the giving of the law on Mount Sinai. Deuteronomy 4:11 describes that first law-giving: "And you came near and stood at the foot of the mountain; while the mountain burned with fire to the heart of heaven, wrapped in darkness, cloud and gloom. And the Lord spoke to you out of the midst of the fire." Exodus 19:12-13 tells of the unapproachability of that awful mountain: "And you shall set bounds for the people round about, saying, 'Take heed that you do not go up into the mountain, or touch the border of it: whoever touches the mountain shall be put to death: no hand shall touch him, but he shall be stoned, or shot; whether beast or man, he shall not live: When the trumpet sounds a long blast they shall come up to the mountain.'" Deuteronomy 5:23-27 tells how the people were so afraid to hear the voice of God for themselves that they asked Moses to go and to bring God's message to them. "If we hear the voice of the Lord our God any more, we shall die." Deuteronomy 9:19 tells of the terror of Moses, but the writer to the Hebrews has transferred these words to the giving of the law, although in the original story they were spoken by Moses when he came down from the mountain and found the people worshipping the golden calf. The whole passage down to Hebrews 12:21 is a pattern of reminiscences from the story of the giving of the law at Mount Sinai. All the terrifying things have been gathered together to stress the awfulness of that scene.
In the giving of the law at Mount Sinai three things are stressed. (i) The sheer majesty of God. The story stresses the shattering might of God and in it there is no love at all. (ii) The absolute unapproachability of God. So far from the way being open to God, he who tries to approach him meets death. (iii) The sheer terror of God. Here is nothing but an awe-stricken fear which is afraid to look and even to listen.
Then at Hebrews 12:22 comes the difference. The first section deals with all that man can expect under the old covenant, a God of lonely majesty, complete separation from man, and prostrating fear. But to the Christian there has come the new covenant and a new relationship with God.
Hebrews makes a kind of list of the new glories that await the Christian.
(i) The new Jerusalem awaits him. This world with all its impermanence, its fears, its mysteries, its separations goes and life for the Christian is made new.
(ii) The angels await him in joyful assembly. The word used for joyful assembly is paneguris ( G3831) which is the word for a joyful national assembly in honour of the gods. To the Greek it described a joyful holy day when all men rejoiced. For the Christian, the joy of heaven is such that it makes even the angels break into rejoicing.
(iii) There await him God's elected people. The writer to the Hebrews uses two words to describe them. He says literally that they are the first-born. Now the characteristic of the first-born son is that the inheritance and the honour are his. He says that they are those whose names are written in the registers of heaven. In ancient days kings kept a register of their faithful citizens. So there await the Christian all those whom God has honoured and all those whom God has reckoned amongst his faithful citizens.
(iv) There awaits him God the Judge. The writer to the Hebrews never forgot that, at the end, the Christian must stand the scrutiny of God. The glory is there; but the awe and the fear of God still remain. The New Testament is never in the slightest danger of sentimentalising the idea of God.
(v) There await him the spirits of all good men who have achieved their goal. Once they encircled him in the unseen cloud; now he will be one of them. He himself goes to join those whose names are on God's honour roll.
(vi) Finally the writer to the Hebrews says that it was Jesus who initiated this new covenant and made this new relationship with God possible. It was he, the perfect priest and the perfect sacrifice, who made the unapproachable approachable and he did this at the cost of his blood. So the section ends with a curious contrast between the blood of Abel and the blood of Jesus. When Abel was slain, his blood upon the ground called for vengeance ( Genesis 4:10); but when Jesus was slain, his blood opened up the way of reconciliation. His sacrifice made it possible for man to be friends with God.
Once men were under the terror of the law; the relationship between them and God was one of unbridgeable distance and shuddering fear. But after Jesus came and lived and died, the God who was far distant was brought near and the way opened to his presence.
THE GREATER OBLIGATION ( Hebrews 12:25-29 )
12:25-29 See that you do not refuse to listen to his voice; for if they who refused to listen to the one who brought the oracles of God upon earth did not escape, how much more shall we not escape if we turn away from him who speaks from Heaven? Then his voice shook the earth but now the voice of the promise is: "Still once more I will shake not only the earth but heaven also." That phrase "still once more" signifies the removal of the things that are shaken, because they are merely created things, in order that the things which cannot be shaken may remain. Therefore let us give thanks because we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, a kingdom in which we must worship God acceptably, with reverence and with fear, for our God, too, is a consuming fire.
Here the water begins with a contrast which is also a warning. Moses brought to earth the oracles of God. The word that he uses (chrematizein, G5537) implies that Moses was only the transmitter of these oracles, the mouthpiece through which God spoke; and yet the man who broke these commandments did not escape punishment. On the other hand there is Jesus. The word used of him (lalein, G2980) implies the direct speech of God. He was not merely the transmitter of God's voice, he was God's voice. If that be so, how much more will the man who refuses to obey him find punishment? If a man merits condemnation for neglecting the imperfect message of the law, how much more does he merit it for neglecting the perfect message of the gospel? Because the gospel is the full revelation of God, there is laid on the man who hears it a double and a terrible responsibility; and his condemnation must be all the more if he neglects it.
Hebrews goes on to draw out another thought. When the law was given, the earth was shaken. "And Mount Sinai was wrapped in smoke, because the Lord descended upon it in fire; and the smoke of it went up like the smoke of a kiln, and the whole mountain quaked greatly" ( Exodus 19:18). "Tremble, O earth at the presence of the Lord" ( Psalms 114:7). "The earth quaked, the heavens poured down rain at the presence of God" ( Psalms 68:8). "The crash of thy thunder was in the whirlwind; thy lightnings lighted up the world; the earth trembled and shook" ( Psalms 77:18).
The writer to the Hebrews finds another reference to the shaking of the earth in Haggai 2:6. There the Greek version of the Old Testament says: "Once again, in a little while, (the Hebrew says, "very soon") I will shake the heavens and the earth and the sea and the dry land." The writer to the Hebrews takes this to be an announcement of the day when this earth shall pass away and the new age will begin. In that day everything that can be shaken will be destroyed; the only things to remain will be the things which can never be shaken; and chief among them is our relationship with God.
All things may pass away; the world as we know it may be uprooted; life as we experience it may come to an end; but one thing stands eternally sure--the relationship of the Christian to God.
If that be so there is a great obligation laid upon us. We must worship God with reverence and serve him with fear; for nothing must be allowed to disturb that relationship which will be our salvation when the world passes away. So the writer to the Hebrews finishes with one of those threatening quotations which he so often flings like a thunderbolt at his readers. It is a quotation from Deuteronomy 4:24. Moses is telling the people that they must never break their agreement with God and relapse into idolatry. For he is a jealous God. They must worship him alone or they will find him a consuming fire. It is as if the writer to the Hebrews was saying: "There is a choice before you. Remain steadfastly true to God, and in the day when the universe is shaken into destruction your relationship with him will stand safe and secure. Be false to him and that very God who might have been your salvation will be to you a consuming fire of destruction." It is a grim thought; but in it there is the eternal truth that, if a man is true to God, he gains everything and, if he is untrue to God, he loses everything. In time and in eternity nothing really matters save loyalty to God.
-Barclay's Daily Study Bible (NT)
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Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Barclay, William. "Commentary on Hebrews 12:13". "William Barclay's Daily Study Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/dsb/hebrews-12.html. 1956-1959.
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Gann, Windell. "Commentary on Hebrews 12:13". Gann's Commentary on the Bible. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/gbc/hebrews-12.html. 2021.
And make straight paths for your feet,.... By "feet" are meant the walk and conversation of the saints, both in the church, and in the world, Song of Solomon 7:1 and there are paths made ready for these feet to walk in; as the good old paths of truth, of the word and worship of God, of faith and holiness: and to make these paths "straight", is to make the word of God the rule of walking; to avoid carefully joining anything with it as a rule; to attend constantly on the ordinances of Christ; to go on evenly in a way of believing on him; to walk in some measure worthy of the calling wherewith we are called, and by way of example to others.
Lest that which is lame be turned out of the way; a lame member, as the Syriac version, a lame member of the body of Christ, the church; or a lame person, as the Arabic version, a weak believer; one that is ready to halt, either through the corruption of nature, or through the weakness of grace, or through want of light and judgment, and through instability and inconstancy; lest such an one should, through the irregular walk and conversation of others, be stumbled and offended, and go out of the way, and leave the paths of righteousness and truth. God takes care of, and has a regard to such, and he would have others also, Micah 4:6. The Ethiopic version reads, "that your halting may be healed, and not offended": that you yourselves may not halt and stumble.
But let it rather be healed; the fallen believer be restored, the weak brother be confirmed, the halting professor be strengthened, and everyone be built up and established upon the most holy faith, and in the pure ways of the Gospel.
The New John Gill's Exposition of the Entire Bible Modernised and adapted for the computer by Larry Pierce of Online Bible. All Rights Reserved, Larry Pierce, Winterbourne, Ontario.
A printed copy of this work can be ordered from: The Baptist Standard Bearer, 1 Iron Oaks Dr, Paris, AR, 72855
Gill, John. "Commentary on Hebrews 12:13". "Gill's Exposition of the Entire Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/geb/hebrews-12.html. 1999.
|The Benefit of Afflictions; The Use of Afflictions; Cautions against Apostasy.||A. D. 62.|
4 Ye have not yet resisted unto blood, striving against sin. 5 And ye have forgotten the exhortation which speaketh unto you as unto children, My son, despise not thou the chastening of the Lord, nor faint when thou art rebuked of him: 6 For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth. 7 If ye endure chastening, God dealeth with you as with sons; for what son is he whom the father chasteneth not? 8 But if ye be without chastisement, whereof all are partakers, then are ye bastards, and not sons. 9 Furthermore we have had fathers of our flesh which corrected us, and we gave them reverence: shall we not much rather be in subjection unto the Father of spirits, and live? 10 For they verily for a few days chastened us after their own pleasure; but he for our profit, that we might be partakers of his holiness. 11 Now no chastening for the present seemeth to be joyous, but grievous: nevertheless afterward it yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness unto them which are exercised thereby. 12 Wherefore lift up the hands which hang down, and the feeble knees; 13 And make straight paths for your feet, lest that which is lame be turned out of the way; but let it rather be healed. 14 Follow peace with all men, and holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord: 15 Looking diligently lest any man fail of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up trouble you, and thereby many be defiled; 16 Lest there be any fornicator, or profane person, as Esau, who for one morsel of meat sold his birthright. 17 For ye know how that afterward, when he would have inherited the blessing, he was rejected: for he found no place of repentance, though he sought it carefully with tears.
Here the apostle presses the exhortation to patience and perseverance by an argument taken from the gentle measure and gracious nature of those sufferings which the believing Hebrews endured in their Christian course.
I. From the gentle and moderate degree and measure of their sufferings: You have not yet resisted unto blood, striving against sin,Hebrews 12:4; Hebrews 12:4. Observe,
1. He owns that they had suffered much, they had been striving to an agony against sin. Here, (1.) The cause of the conflict was sin, and to be engaged against sin is to fight in a good cause, for sin is the worst enemy both to God and man. Our spiritual warfare is both honourable and necessary; for we are only defending ourselves against that which would destroy us, if it should get the victory over us; we fight for ourselves, for our lives, and therefore ought to be patient and resolute. (2.) Every Christian is enlisted under Christ's banner, to strive against sin, against sinful doctrines, sinful practices, and sinful habits and customs, both in himself and in others.
2. He puts them in mind that they might have suffered more, that they had not suffered as much as others; for they had not yet resisted unto blood, they had not been called to martyrdom as yet, though they knew not how soon they might be. Learn here, (1.) Our Lord Jesus, the captain of our salvation, does not call his people out to the hardest trials at first, but wisely trains them up by less sufferings to be prepared for greater. He will not put new wine into weak vessels, he is the gentle shepherd, who will not overdrive the young ones of the flock. (2.) It becomes Christians to take notice of the gentleness of Christ in accommodating their trial to their strength. They should not magnify their afflictions, but should take notice of the mercy that is mixed with them, and should pity those who are called to the fiery trials to resist to blood; not to shed the blood of their enemies, but to seal their testimony with their own blood. (3.) Christians should be ashamed to faint under less trials, when they see others bear up under greater, and do not know how soon they may meet with greater themselves. If we have run with the footmen and they have wearied us, how shall we contend with horses? If we be wearied in a land of peace, what shall we do in the swellings of Jordan? Jeremiah 12:5.
II. He argues from the peculiar and gracious nature of those sufferings that befall the people of God. Though their enemies and persecutors may be the instruments of inflicting such sufferings on them, yet they are divine chastisements; their heavenly Father has his hand in all, and his wise end to serve by all; of this he has given them due notice, and they should not forget it, Hebrews 12:5; Hebrews 12:5. Observe,
1. Those afflictions which may be truly persecution as far as men are concerned in them are fatherly rebukes and chastisements as far as God is concerned in them. Persecution for religion is sometimes a correction and rebuke for the sins of professors of religion. Men persecute them because they are religious; God chastises them because they are not more so: men persecute them because they will not give up their profession; God chastises them because they have not lived up to their profession.
2. God has directed his people how they ought to behave themselves under all their afflictions; they must avoid the extremes that many run into. (1.) They must not despise the chastening of the Lord; they must not make light of afflictions, and be stupid and insensible under them, for they are the hand and rod of God, and his rebukes for sin. Those who make light of affliction make light of God and make light of sin. (2.) They must not faint when they are rebuked; they must not despond and sink under their trial, nor fret and repine, but bear up with faith and patience. (3.) If they run into either of these extremes, it is a sign they have forgotten their heavenly Father's advice and exhortation, which he has given them in true and tender affection.
3. Afflictions, rightly endured, though they may be the fruits of God's displeasure, are yet proofs of his paternal love to his people and care for them (Hebrews 12:6; Hebrews 12:7): Whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth. Observe, (1.) The best of God's children need chastisement. They have their faults and follies, which need to be corrected. (2.) Though God may let others alone in their sins, he will correct sin in his own children; they are of his family, and shall not escape his rebukes when they want them. (3.) In this he acts as becomes a father, and treats them like children; no wise and good father will wink at faults in his own children as he would in others; his relation and his affections oblige him to take more notice of the faults of his own children than those of others. (4.) To be suffered to go on in sin without a rebuke is a sad sign of alienation from God; such are bastards, not sons. They may call him Father, because born in the pale of the church; but they are the spurious offspring of another father, not of God, Hebrews 12:7; Hebrews 12:8.
4. Those that are impatient under the discipline of their heavenly Father behave worse towards him than they would do towards earthly parents, Hebrews 12:9; Hebrews 12:10. Here, (1.) The apostle commends a dutiful and submissive behaviour in children towards their earthly parents We gave them reverence, even when they corrected us. It is the duty of children to give the reverence of obedience to the just commands of their parents, and the reverence of submission to their correction when they have been disobedient. Parents have not only authority, but a charge from God, to give their children correction when it is due, and he has commanded children to take such correction well: to be stubborn and discontented under due correction is a double fault; for the correction supposes there has been a fault already committed against the parent's commanding power, and superadds a further fault against his chastening power. Hence, (2.) He recommends humble and submissive behavior towards our heavenly Father, when under his correction; and this he does by an argument from the less to the greater. [1.] Our earthly fathers are but the fathers of our flesh, but God is the Father of our spirits. Our fathers on earth were instrumental in the production of our bodies, which are but flesh, a mean, mortal, vile thing, formed out of the dust of the earth, as the bodies of the beasts are; and yet as they are curiously wrought, and made parts of our persons, a proper tabernacle for the soul to dwell in and an organ for it to act by, we owe reverence and affection to those who were instrumental in their procreation; but then we must own much more to him who is the Father of our spirits. Our souls are not of a material substance, not of the most refined sort; they are not ex traduce--by traduction; to affirm it is bad philosophy, and worse divinity: they are the immediate offspring of God, who, after he had formed the body of man out of the earth, breathed into him a vital spirit, and so he became a living soul. [2.] Our earthly parents chastened us for their own pleasure. Sometimes they did it to gratify their passion rather than to reform our manners. This is a weakness the fathers of our flesh are subject to, and this they should carefully watch against; for hereby they dishonour that parental authority which God has put upon them and very much hinder the efficacy of their chastisements. But the Father of our spirits never grieves willingly, nor afflicts the children of men, much less his own children. It is always for our profit; and the advantage he intends us thereby is no less than our being partakers of his holiness; it is to correct and cure those sinful disorders which make us unlike to God, and to improve and to increase those graces which are the image of God in us, that we may be and act more like our heavenly Father. God loves his children so that he would have them to be as like himself as can be, and for this end he chastises them when they need it. [3.] The fathers of our flesh corrected us for a few days, in our state of childhood, when minors; and, though we were in that weak and peevish state, we owed them reverence, and when we came to maturity we loved and honoured them the more for it. Our whole life here is a state of childhood, minority, and imperfection, and therefore we must submit to the discipline of such a state; when we come to a state of perfection we shall be fully reconciled to all the measures of God's discipline over us now. [4.] God's correction is no condemnation. His children may at first fear lest affliction should come upon that dreadful errand, and we cry, Do not condemn me, but show me wherefore thou contendest with me,Job 10:2. But this is so far from being the design of God to his own people that he therefore chastens them now that they may not be condemned with the world,1 Corinthians 11:32. He does it to prevent the death and destruction of their souls, that they may live to God, and be like God, and for ever with him.
5. The children of God, under their afflictions, ought not to judge of his dealings with them by present sense, but by reason, and faith, and experience: No chastening for the present seemeth to be joyous, but grievous; nevertheless afterwards it yieldeth the peaceable fruits of righteousness,Hebrews 12:11; Hebrews 12:11. Here observe,
(1.) The judgment of sense in this case--Afflictions are not grateful to the sense, but grievous; the flesh will feel them, and be grieved by them, and groan under them.
(2.) The judgment of faith, which corrects that of sense, and declares that a sanctified affliction produces the fruits of righteousness; these fruits are peaceable, and tend to the quieting and comforting of the soul. Affliction produces peace, by producing more righteousness; for the fruit of righteousness is peace. And if the pain of the body contribute thus to the peace of the mind, and short present affliction produce blessed fruits of a long continuance, they have no reason to fret or faint under it; but their great concern is that the chastening they are under may be endured by them with patience, and improved to a greater degree of holiness. [1.] That their affliction may be endured with patience, which is the main drift of the apostle's discourse on this subject; and he again returns to exhort them that for the reason before mentioned they should lift up the hands that hang down and the feeble knees,Hebrews 12:12; Hebrews 12:12. A burden of affliction is apt to make the Christian's hands hang down, and his knees grow feeble, to dispirit him and discourage him; but this he must strive against, and that for two reasons:-- First, That he may the better run his spiritual race and course. Faith, and patience, and holy courage and resolution, will make him walk more steadily, keep a straighter path, prevent wavering and wandering. Secondly, That he may encourage and not dispirit others that are in the same way with him. There are many that are in the way to heaven who yet walk but weakly and lamely in it. Such are apt to discourage one another, and hinder one another; but it is their duty to take courage, and act by faith, and so help one another forward in the way to heaven. [2.] That their affliction may be improved to a greater degree of holiness. Since this is God's design, it ought to be the design and concern of his children, that with renewed strength and patience they may follow peace with all men, and holiness,Hebrews 12:14; Hebrews 12:14. If the children of God grow impatient under affliction, they will neither walk so quietly and peaceably towards men, nor so piously towards God, as they should do; but faith and patience will enable them to follow peace and holiness too, as a man follows his calling, constantly, diligently, and with pleasure. Observe, First, It is the duty of Christians, even when in a suffering state, to follow peace with all men, yea, even with those who may be instrumental in their sufferings. This is a hard lesson, and a high attainment, but it is what Christ has called his people to. Sufferings are apt to sour the spirit and sharpen the passions; but the children of God must follow peace with all men. Secondly, Peace and holiness are connected together; there can be no true peace without holiness. There may be prudence and discreet forbearance, and a show of friendship and good-will to all; but this true Christian peaceableness is never found separate from holiness. We must not, under pretence of living peaceably with all men, leave the ways of holiness, but cultivate peace in a way of holiness. Thirdly, Without holiness no man shall see the Lord. The vision of God our Saviour in heaven is reserved as the reward of holiness, and the stress of our salvation is laid upon our holiness, though a placid peaceable disposition contributes much to our meetness for heaven.
6. Where afflictions and sufferings for the sake of Christ are not considered by men as the chastisement of their heavenly Father, and improved as such, they will be a dangerous snare and temptation to apostasy, which every Christian should most carefully watch against (Hebrews 12:15; Hebrews 12:16): Looking diligently lest any man fail of the grace of God, c.
(1.) Here the apostle enters a serious caveat against apostasy, and backs it with an awful example.
[1.] He enters a serious caveat against apostasy, Hebrews 12:15; Hebrews 12:15. Here you may observe, First, The nature of apostasy: it is failing of the grace of God; it is to become bankrupts in religion, for want of a good foundation, and suitable care and diligence; it is failing of the grace of God, coming short of a principle of true grace in the soul, notwithstanding the means of grace and a profession of religion, and so coming short of the love and favour of God here and hereafter. Secondly, The consequences of apostasy: where persons fail of having the true grace of God, a root of bitterness will spring up, corruption will prevail and break forth. A root of bitterness, a bitter root, producing bitter fruits to themselves and others. It produces to themselves corrupt principles, which lead to apostasy and are greatly strengthened and radicated by apostasy--damnable errors (to the corrupting of the doctrine and worship of the Christian church) and corrupt practices. Apostates generally grow worse and worse, and fall into the grossest wickedness, which usually ends either in downright atheism or in despair. It also produces bitter fruits to others, to the churches to which these men belonged; by their corrupt principles and practices many are troubled, the peace of the church is broken, the peace of men's minds is disturbed, and many are defiled, tainted with those bad principles, and drawn into defiling practices; so that the churches suffer both in their purity and peace. But the apostates themselves will be the greatest sufferers at last.
[2.] The apostle backs the caution with an awful example, and that is, that of Esau, who though born within the pale of the church, and having the birthright as the eldest son, and so entitled to the privilege of being prophet, priest, and king, in his family, was so profane as to despise these sacred privileges, and to sell his birthright for a morsel of meat. Where observe, First, Esau's sin. He profanely despised and sold the birthright, and all the advantages attending it. So do apostates, who to avoid persecution, and enjoy sensual ease and pleasure, though they bore the character of the children of God, and had a visible right to the blessing and inheritance, give up all pretensions thereto. Secondly, Esau's punishment, which was suitable to his sin. His conscience was convinced of his sin and folly, when it was too late: He would afterwards have inherited the blessing, c. His punishment lay in two things: 1. He was condemned by his own conscience he now saw that the blessing he had made so light of was worth the having, worth the seeking, though with much carefulness and many tears. 2. He was rejected of God: He found no place of repentance in God or in his father; the blessing was given to another, even to him to whom he sold it for a mess of pottage. Esau, in his great wickedness, had made the bargain, and God in his righteous judgment, ratified and confirmed it, and would not suffer Isaac to reverse it.
(2.) We may hence learn, [1.] That apostasy from Christ is the fruit of preferring the gratification of the flesh to the blessing of God and the heavenly inheritance. [2.] Sinners will not always have such mean thoughts of the divine blessing and inheritance as now they have. The time is coming when they will think no pains too great, no cares no tears too much, to obtain the lost blessing. [3.] When the day of grace is over (as sometimes it may be in this life), they will find no place for repentance: they cannot repent aright of their sin; and God will not repent of the sentence he has passed upon them for their sin. And therefore, as the design of all, Christians should never give up their title, and hope of their Father's blessing and inheritance, and expose themselves to his irrevocable wrath and curse, by deserting their holy religion, to avoid suffering, which, though this may be persecution as far as wicked men are concerned in it, is only a rod of correction and chastisement in the hand of their heavenly Father, to bring them near to himself in conformity and communion. This is the force of the apostle's arguing from the nature of the sufferings of the people of God even when they suffer for righteousness' sake; and the reasoning is very strong.
These files are public domain and are a derivative of an electronic edition that is available on the Christian Classics Ethereal Library Website.
Henry, Matthew. "Complete Commentary on Hebrews 12:13". "Henry's Complete Commentary on the Whole Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/mhm/hebrews-12.html. 1706.
The apostle now resumes his great theme, Christ called a Priest of God for ever after the order of Melchisedec. He alludes, in the beginning of our chapter, to the historical facts of Genesis. We must bear in mind that Melchisedec was a man like any other. There, is no ground, in my judgment, for the thought of anything mysterious in the facts as to his person. The manner in which scripture introduces him is such as to furnish a very striking type of Christ. There is no necessity for considering anything else, but that the Spirit of God, forecasting the future, was pleased to conceal the line of Melchisedec's parentage, or descendants if any, of their birth or death. He is suddenly ushered upon the scene. He has not been of by the reader before; he is never heard of again in history. Thus the only time when he comes into notice he is acting in the double capacity here spoken of: King of righteousness as to his name, King of Salem as to his place, blessing Abraham on his return from the victory over the kings of the Gentiles in the name of the Most High God, and blessing the Most High God the possessor of heaven earth in the name of Abraham.
The apostle does not dwell on the detailed application of His Melchisedec priesthood, as to the object and character of its exercise. He does not draw attention here to the account, that there was only blessing from man to God, and from God to man. He does not reason from the singular circumstance that there was no incense, any more than sacrifice. He alludes to several facts, but leaves them. The point to which he directs the reader is the evident and surpassing dignity of the case the unity too of the Priest and the priesthood; and this for an obvious reason.
The time for the proper exercise of the Melchisedec priesthood of Christ is not yet arrived. The millennial day will see this. The battle which Abraham fought, the first recorded one in scripture, is the type of the last battle of this age. It is the conflict which introduces the reign of peace founded on righteousness, when God will manifest Himself as the Most High God, possessor of heaven and earth. This is, as is well known, the special characteristic of the millennium. Heaven and earth have not been united, nor have they been in fact possessed for the blessing of man by the power of God, since sin severed between the earth and that which is above it, and the prince of the power of the air perverted all, so that what should have been, according to God's nature and counsels, the source of every blessing, became rather the point from which the guilty conscience of man cannot but look for judgment. Heaven, therefore, by man's own conviction, must be arrayed in justice against earth because of sin, But the day is coming when Israel shall be no more rebellious, and the nations shall be no longer deceived, and Satan shall be dethroned from his bad eminence, and all idols shall flee apace, and God shall be left the undisputed and evidently Most High, the possessor of heaven and earth. In that day it will be the joy of Him who is the true Melchisedec, to bring out not the mere signs, but the reality of all that can be the stay and comfort of man, and all that sustains and cheers, the patent proof of the beneficent might of God, when "no good thing will he withhold from them that walk uprightly."
But meanwhile, confessedly, the Spirit of God directs attention, not to the exercise, but to the order of the Melchisedec Priest. If we have to wait for the exercise at a future day, the order is as true and plain now as it ever can be. Indeed, at no time will its order be more apparent than at present; for I think there can be little doubt to any unbiassed Christian who enters with intelligence into the Old Testament prophecies, that there is yet to be an earthly sanctuary, and, consequently, earthly priests and sacrifices for Israel in their own land; that the sons of Zadok, as Ezekiel lets us know, will perpetuate the line at the time when the Lord shall be owned to be there, in the person of the true David their King, blessing His people long distressed but now joyful on earth. But this time is not yet come. There is nothing to divert the heart from Christ, the great High Priest in the heavens. No doubt all will be good and right in its due season then. Meanwhile Christianity gives the utmost force to every type and truth of God. The undivided place of Christ is more fully witnessed now, when there are no others to occupy the thought or to distract the heart from Him as seen by faith in glory on high.
Hence the apostle applies the type distinctly now, as far as the "order" of the priesthood goes. We hear first of Melchisedec (King of righteousness), next of Salem or peace; without father, without mother, without genealogy. Unlike others in Genesis, neither parents are recorded, nor is there any hint of descent from him. In short, there is. no mention of family or ancestors, "having neither beginning of days, nor end of life" neither is recorded in scripture; "but made like unto the Son of God, abideth a priest continually."
The next point proved is the indisputable superiority of the Melchisedec priesthood to that of Aaron, of which the Jews naturally boasted. After all, the telling fact was before them that, whoever wrote the epistle to the Hebrews, it was not a Christian who wrote the book of Genesis, but Moses; and Moses bears witness to the homage which Abram rendered to Melchisedec by the payment of tithes. On the other hand, the priests, Aaron's family, among the sons of Levi, "have a commandment to take tithes of the people according to the law, that is of their brethren, though they come out of the loins of Abraham." Thus Melchisedec, "whose descent is not of Aaron nor of Levi," like Jesus, "received tithes of Abraham, and blessed him that had the promises!" "And without all contradiction the less is blessed of the better." No argument could be more distinct or conclusive. The other descendants of Abraham honoured the house of Aaron as Levitical priests; but Abraham himself, and so Levi himself, and of course Aaron, in his loins honoured Melchisedec. Thus another and a higher priesthood was incontestably acknowledged by the father of the faithful. "And, as I may so say, Levi also, who receiveth tithes, paid tithes in Abraham. For he was yet in the loins of his father, when Melchisedec met him."
This leads to another point; for the change of the priesthood imports a change of the law. "If therefore perfection were by the Levitical priesthood, (for under it the people received the law,) what further need was there that another priest should rise after the order of Melchisedec, and not be called after the order of Aaron?" This change was clearly taught in the book of Psalms. It was not only that there had been at the beginning such a priest, but that fact became the form of a glorious anticipation which the Holy Ghost holds out for the latter day. Psalms 110:1-7, which, as all the Jews owned, spoke., throughout its greater part at least, of the Messiah and His times, shows us Jehovah Himself by an oath, which is afterwards reasoned on signifying that another priest should arise after a different order from that of Aaron. "The priesthood being changed, there is made of necessity a change also of the law. For he of whom these things are spoken pertaineth to another tribe, of which no man gave attendance at the altar. For it is evident that our Lord sprang out of Juda; of which tribe Moses spake nothing concerning priesthood. And it is yet far more evident: for that after the similitude of Melchisedec there ariseth another priest." Thus the Pentateuch and the Psalms bore their double testimony to a Priest superior to the Aaronic.
Further, that this Priest was to be a living one, in some most singular manner to be an undying Priest, was made evident beyond question, because in that Psalm it is said, "He testifieth, Thou art a priest for ever after the order of Melchisedec." This was also a grand point of distinction. Where could they find such a Priest? where one competent to take up that word "for ever"? Such was the Priest of whom God spoke. "For," says he, "there is verily a disannulling of the commandment going before for the weakness and unprofitableness thereof (for the law made nothing perfect)." He uses in the most skilful manner the change of the priest, in order to bring along with it a change of the law, the whole Levitical system passing away "but [there is] the bringing in of a better hope." Such is the true sense of the passage. "For the law made nothing perfect" is a parenthesis. By that hope, then, "we draw nigh unto God."
But again the solemn notice of Jehovah's oath is enlarged on. "Inasmuch as not without an oath he was made priest: (for those priests were made without an oath" no oath ushers in the sons of Aaron "but he with an oath by him that said as to him, The Lord sware and will not repent, Thou art a priest for ever after the order of Melchisedec:) by so much was Jesus made a surety of a better covenant."
And, finally, he sums up the superiority of Christ in this, that "they truly were many priests, because they were not suffered to continue by reason of death: but he, because of his continuing for ever, hath the priesthood intransmissible." There was but one such Priest.
In every point of view, therefore, the superiority of the Melchisedec priest was demonstrated over the line of Aaron. The fulfilment of the Melchisedec Order is found in Christ, and in Him alone. The Jews themselves acknowledge that Psalms 110:1-7 must be fulfilled in Christ, in His quality of Messiah. Nothing but stupid, obstinate, unbelieving prejudice, after the appearance of the Lord Jesus, could have suggested any other application of the Psalm. Before Jesus came, there was no question of it among the Jews. So little was it a question, that our Lord could appeal to its acknowledged meaning, and press the difficulty His person created for unbelief. By their own confession the application of that Psalm was to the Messiah, and the very point that Jesus urged upon the Jews of His day was this how, if He were David's Son, as they agreed, could He be his Lord, as the Psalmist David confesses? This shows that, beyond question, among the Jews of that day, Psalms 110:1-7 was understood to refer to the Christ alone. But if so, He was the Priest after the order of Melchisedec, as well as seated at Jehovah's right hand a cardinal truth of Christianity, the import of which the Jews did not receive in their conception of the Messiah. Hence throughout this epistle the utmost stress is laid on His being exalted in heaven Yet there was no excuse for a difficulty on this score. Their own Psalm, in its grand prophetic sweep, and looking back on the law, pointed to the place in which Christ is now seated above; and where it is of necessity He should be, in order to give Christianity its heavenly character.
The doctrine follows: "Wherefore he is able also to save them to the uttermost." He does not mean by this the worst of sinners, but saving believers to the uttermost, bringing through every difficulty those "that come unto God by him." A priest is always in connection with the people of God, never as such with those that are outside, but a positive known relation with God "seeing he ever liveth to make intercession for them. For such an high priest became us, who is holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners, and made higher than the heavens." This statement is so much the more remarkable, because in the beginning of this epistle he had pointed out what became God. It 'became Him that Christ should suffer. It became us to have a Priest, "holy, harmless, undefiled, made higher than the heavens."
What infinite thoughts are those that God's word gives; as glorifying for Himself as elevating for our souls! Yet who beforehand would have anticipated either? It became God that Christ should go down to the uttermost; it became us that He should be exalted to the highest. And why? Because Christians are a heavenly people, and none but a heavenly Priest would suit them. It became God to give Him to die; for such was our estate by sin that nothing short of His atoning death could deliver us; but, having delivered us, God would make us to be heavenly. None but a heavenly Priest would suffice for the counsels He has in hand. "Who needeth not daily," therefore says He, "as those high priests, to offer up sacrifice, first for his own sins, and then for the people's." He always keeps up the evidence of the utter inferiority of the Jewish priest, as well as of the accompanying state of things, to that of Christianity. "For this he did once, when he offered up himself. For the law maketh men priests which have infirmity; but the word of the oath which was since the law, a Son perfected (or consecrated) for ever." This was the very difficulty that the Jew pleaded; but now, in point of fact, it was only what the Psalm of Messiah insisted on, the law itself bearing witness of a priest superior to any under the law. Holy Scripture then demanded that a man should sit down at the right hand of God. It was accomplished in Christ, exalted as the great Melchisedec in heaven. If they were Abraham's children, and not his seed only, surely they would honour Him.
Hence, in Hebrews 8:1-13, the apostle draws his conclusion. "Now of the things that are being spoken of this is a summary: We have such an high priest, who is set down on [the] right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens; a minister of the holies, and of the true tabernacle, which the Lord pitched, and not man." InHebrews 1:1-14; Hebrews 1:1-14 it is written, that "having by himself made purification of our sins, he sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high." The point there is personal glory. No other seat was suitable to such a One. He sat down there as of His own right and title, but nevertheless making a part of His divine glory to be witnessed in, as indeed His person was necessary to make His blood efficacious to the purging of our sins. But in chapter 8. He sits there not merely as the proof of the perfectness with which He has purged our sins by Himself alone, but as the Priest; and accordingly it is not merely said "on high," but "in the heavens." Such is the emphasis. Accordingly observe the change of expression. He has been proved to be a divine person, and the true royal priest of whom not Aaron only but Melchisedec was the type. Hence the right hand of the throne is introduced, but, besides, "of the Majesty in the heavens." So that, let the Jews say what they might, there was only found what answered to their own scriptures, and what proved the incontestable superiority of the great Priest whom Melchisedec shadowed out, and of whom it was now for the Christian justly to boast. He is "minister of the holies and of the true tabernacle, which the Lord pitched, and not of man." Now the tone becomes bolder with them, and shows clearly that the Jew had but an empty form, a foreshadow of value once, but now superseded by the true antitype in the heavens.
Here, too, he begins to introduce what a. priest does, that is, the exercise of his functions. "For every high priest is constituted to offer gifts and sacrifices: wherefore it is of necessity that this man have somewhat also to offer. For if he were on earth, he should not even be a priest, seeing that there are priests that offer gifts according to the law: who serve the representation and shadow of heavenly things, as Moses was oracularly told when about to make the tabernacle: for, See, saith he, that thou make all things according to the pattern that was shown to thee in the mountain. But now hath he obtained a more excellent ministry, by how much also he is the mediator of a better covenant." Thus, before he enters on the subject of the sacrifices at length, he takes notice of the covenants, and thence he draws a conclusion from the well-known prophecy in Jeremiah, where God declares that the days were coming when He would make a new covenant. What is the inference from that? He presses the fact of a new principle, as well as an institution established on better promises, upon the Jews. For why should there be a new covenant, unless because the first was faulty or ineffectual! What was the necessity for a new covenant if the old one would do as well? According, to the Jews it was quite impossible, if God had once established a covenant, He could ever change; but the apostle replies that their own prophet is against their theory. Jeremiah positively declares that God will make a new covenant. He argues that the word "new" puts the other out of date, and this to make room for a better. A new covenant shows that the other must have thereby become old, and therefore is decaying and ready to vanish away.
All this is a gradual undermining the wall until the whole structure is overthrown. He is labouring for this, and with divine skill accomplishes it, by the testimonies of their own law and prophets. He does not require to add more to the person and facts of Christ than the Old Testament furnishes, to prove the certainty of Christianity and all its characteristic truths with which he occupies himself in this epistle. I say not absolutely all its great truths. Were it a question of the mystery of Christ the Head, and of the church His body, this would not be proved from the Old Testament, which does not reveal it at all. It was hid in God from ages and generations. There are types that suit the mystery when it is revealed, but of themselves they never could make it known, though illustrating particular parts when it is. But whether we look at the heavenly supremacy of Christ over the universe, which is the highest part of the mystery, or at the church associated with Him as His body, composed of both Jew and Gentile, where all distinction is gone, no wit of man ever did or could possibly draw this beforehand from the Old Testament. Indeed, not being revealed of old, according to the apostle, it is altogether a mistake to go to the Old Testament for that truth.
Hence in Hebrews we never find the body of Christ as such referred to. We have the church, but even when the expression "church" occurs, it is the church altogether vaguely, as inHebrews 2:12; Hebrews 2:12, or viewed in the units that compose it not at all in its unity. It is the assembly composed of certain individuals that make it up, regarded either as brethren, as in the second chapter ("In the midst of the church will I sing praise unto thee"), or as the church of the first-born ones, as in Hebrews 12:1-29, persons who drew their title from Christ the first-born Heir. There we have those that compose the church, in allusion to Christ, contrasted with the position of Israel as a nation, because of the nearness which they possess by the grace of Christ known on high.
It may be observed, too, that the Holy Ghost appears but little in this epistle. Not of course that one denies that He has His own proper place, for all is perfect as to each person of the Trinity and all else, but never to this end. For a similar reason we never find life treated in the epistle, nor righteousness. It is not a question of justification here. We hear of sanctification often, but even what is thus spoken of throughout is rather in connection with separation to God and the work of Christ, than the continuous energy of the Holy Ghost, except, as far as I remember, in one practical passage "Follow peace with all men, and holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord." In other cases the epistle to the Hebrews speaks of sanctification by God's call, and Christ's blood. I refer to the fact just to exemplify on the one hand the true bearing of the epistle, and what I believe will be discovered in it, and on the other hand to guard against the mistake of importing into it, or trying to extract from it, what is not there.
Hebrews 9:1-28 brings us into the types of the Levitical ritual, priesthood and sacrifice. Before developing these, the apostle refers to the tabernacle itself in which these sacrifices were offered. "There was a tabernacle made; the first, wherein was the candlestick, and the table, and the showbread; which is called holy. And after the second veil, the tabernacle which is called holy of holies; which had the golden censer, and the ark of the covenant overlaid round about with gold." Carefully observe that it is the tabernacle, never the temple. The latter is not referred to, because it represents the millennial glory; the former is, because it finds its proper fulfilment in that which is made good in the Christian scheme now. This supposes the people of God not actually settled in the land, but still pilgrims and strangers on the earth; and the epistle to the Hebrews, we have already seen, looks emphatically and exclusively at the people of God as not yet passed out of the wilderness; never as brought into the land, though it might be on the verge; just entering, but not actually entered. There remains, therefore, a sabbath-keeping for the people of God. Thither they are to be brought, and there are means for the road to keep us moving onward. But meanwhile we have not yet entered on the rest of God. It remains. Such is a main point, not ofHebrews 4:1-16; Hebrews 4:1-16 only, but of the epistle. It was the more urgent to insist on it, because the Jews, like others, would like to have been settled in rest here and now. This is natural and pleasant to the flesh, no doubt; but it is precisely what opposes the whole object of God in Christianity, since Christ went on high till He come again, and therefore the path of faith to which the children of God are called.
Accordingly, then, as suiting this pilgrim-path of the Christian, the tabernacle is referred to, and not the temple. And this is the more remarkable, because his language is essentially of the actual state of what was going on in the temple; but he always calls it the tabernacle. In truth, the substratum was the same, and therefore it was not only quite lawful so to call it, but if he had not, the design would have been marred. But this shows the main object of the Spirit of God in directing us for the type that applies to the believer now to an unsettled pilgrim-condition, not to Israel established in the land of promise.
To what, then, is the allusion to the sanctuary applied? To mark that as yet the veil was unrent. "Into the second [goes] the high priest alone once every year, not without blood, which he offered for himself, and for the errors of the people: the Holy Ghost this signifying, that the way of the holies was not yet made manifest, while as yet the first tabernacle was standing: which is a figure for the present time according to which are offered both gifts and sacrifices that could not, as pertaining to the conscience, make him that did the religious service perfect; which stood only in meats and drinks, and divers washings, and carnal ordinances, imposed on them until the time of reformation." With all this Christianity is contrasted. "But Christ being come a high priest of good things to come, by the better and more perfect tabernacle, not made with hands, that is, not of this creation, nor by blood of goats and calves, but by his own blood entered in once into the holies, having obtained eternal redemption." Here the words "for us" had better be left out. They really mar the sense, because they draw attention not to the truth in itself so much as its application to us, which is not the point in Hebrews 9:1-28, but rather ofHebrews 10:1-39; Hebrews 10:1-39. Here it is the grand truth itself in its own character. What is the value, the import., of the sacrifice of Christ viewed according to God, and as bearing on His ways? This is the fact. Christ has gone into the presence of God," having obtained eternal redemption." For whom it may be is another thing, of which he will speak by-and-by. Meanwhile we are told that He has obtained (not a temporary, but) "eternal redemption." It is that which infinitely exceeds the deliverance out of Egypt, or any ceremonial atonement ever wrought by a high priest for Israel. Christ has obtained redemption, and this is witnessed by the token of the veil rent from top to bottom. The unrent veil bore evidence on its front that man could not yet draw near into the holiest that he had no access into the presence of God. This is of the deepest importance. It did not matter whether it was a priest or an Israelite. A priest, as such, could no more draw near into the presence of God in the holiest than any of the common people. Christianity is stamped by this, that, in virtue of the blood of Christ, once for all for every believer the way is made manifest into the holiest of all. The veil is rent: the believer can draw near, as is shown in the next chapter; but meanwhile it is merely pointed out that there is no veil now, eternal redemption being obtained.
Thus does the apostle reason on it: "For if the blood of bulls and goats, and the ashes of an heifer sprinkling the unclean, sanctifieth to the purifying of the flesh" (which the Jew would not contest): "how much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without spot to God, purge your conscience from dead works to do religious service to the living God? And for this cause he is mediator of the new covenant, that by means of death, for redemption of the transgressions under the first covenant, the called might receive the promise of the eternal inheritance." Thus the power of what Christ had wrought was now brought in for future ends; it was not merely retrospective, but above all in present efficacy while the Jews refuse Christ.
The allusion in the last clause to the eternal inheritance (for everything is eternal in the Hebrews, standing in decided contrast with Jewish things which were but for a season) leads the Holy Spirit to take up the other meaning of the same word, which was and is rightly enough translated covenant. At first sight every one may have been surprised, especially those that read the New Testament in the language in which God wrote it, at the double meaning of the word which is here translated "covenant." It ( διαθήκη ) means "testament" as well as "covenant." In point of fact the English translators did not know what to make of the matter; for they give sometimes one, sometimes the other, without any apparent reason for it, except to vary the phrase. In my judgment it is correct to translate it both ways, never arbitrarily, but according to context. There is nothing capricious about the usage. There are certain surroundings which indicate to the competent eye when the word "covenant" is right and when the word "testament" is better.
It may then be stated summarily, in few words, unless I am greatly mistaken, that the word should always be translated "covenant" in every part of the New Testament, except in these two verses; namely, Hebrews 9:16-17. If, therefore, when you find the word "testament" anywhere else in the authorized version, you turn it into "covenant" in my opinion you will not do amiss. If in these two verses we bear in mind that it really means "testament," growing out of the previous mention of the "inheritance," I am persuaded that you will have better understanding of the argument. In short, the word in itself may mean either; but this is no proof that it may indifferently or without adequate reason be translated both ways. The fact is, that love of uniformity may mislead some, as love of variety misled our English translators too often. It is hard to keep clear of both. Every one can understand, when once we find that the word means almost always covenant," how great the temptation is to translate it so in but two other occurrences, especially as before and after it means "covenant" in the same passage. But why should it be "testament" in these two verses alone, and "covenant" in all other places? The answer is, that the language is peculiar and precise in these same two verses, requiring not a covenant but a testament, and therefore the sense of testament here is the preferable one, and not covenant. The reasons will be given in a moment.
First of all, as has been hinted, that which suggests "testament" is the end of verse 15 "They which are called might receive the promise of eternal inheritance." How is it that anybody ordinarily gets an inheritance? By a testament, to be sure, as every one knows. Such has been the usual form in all countries not savage, and in all ages. No figure therefore would be more natural than that, if God intended certain persons called to have an inheritance, there should be a testament about the matter. Accordingly advantage is taken of an unquestionable meaning of the word for this added illustration, which is based on the death of Christ, "Where a testament is, there must also of necessity be the death of the testator." That the word ( διαθέμενος ) in this connection means "testator" appears to me beyond just question. I am not aware that it is, nor do I believe that it could be, ever used in such a sense as "covenanting victim," for which some contend. It often means one who arranged or disposed of property, or anything else, such as a treaty or covenant.
Let us next apply the word "covenant" here, and you will soon see the insuperable difficulties into which you are plunged. If you say," For where a covenant is, there must also of necessity be the death of the covenanter" the person. Now is it an axiom, that a covenant-maker must die to give it force? It is quite evident, on the contrary, that this is not only not the truth which all recognize when stated, but altogether inconsistent with the Bible, with all books, and with all experience. In all the covenants of scripture the man that makes it has never to die for any such end. Indeed both should die; for it usually consists of two parties who are thus bound, and therefore, were the maxim true, both ought to die, which is an evident absurdity.
The consequence is, that many have tried (and I remember making efforts of that kind myself, until convinced that it could not succeed) to give ὁ διαθέμονος , in the English Bible rightly rendered "the testator," the force of the covenanting victim. But the answer to this is, that there is not a single writer in the language, not sacred only but profane, who employs it in such a sense. Those therefore that so translate our two verses have invented a meaning for the phrase, instead of accepting its legitimate sense as attested by all the monuments of the Greek tongue; whereas the moment that we give it the meaning assigned here rightly by the better translators, that is, the sense of "testator" and "testament," all runs with perfect smoothness, and with striking aptitude.
He is showing us the efficacy of Christ's death. He demonstrates its vicarious nature and value from the sacrifices so familiar to all then, and to the Jew particularly, in connection with the covenant that required them Now his rapid mind seizes, under the Spirit's guidance, the other well-known sense of the word, namely, as a testamentary disposition, and shows the necessity of Christ's death to bring it into force. It is true that victims were sometimes slain in ratifying a covenant, and thus were the seal of that covenant; but, first, they were not essential; and, secondly and chiefly, ὁ διαθέμενος , the covenanter or contracting party had in no case to die in order to make the contract valid. On the other hand it is notoriously true, that in no case can a testament come into execution without the testator's death a figure that every man at once discerns. There must be the death of him who so disposes of his property in order that the heir should take it under his testament. Which of these two most commends itself as the unforced meaning of the passage it is for the reader to judge. And observe that it is assumed to be so common and obvious a maxim that it could not be questioned. "For where a testament is, there must also of necessity be the death of the testator." The addition of this last clause as a necessary condition confirms the sense assigned. Had he merely referred to the covenant ( i.e. the sense of the word which had been used before), what would be the aim of the "also?" It is just what he had been speaking of throughout, if covenant were still meant. Apply it to Christ's death as the testator, and nothing can be plainer or more forcible. The death of Christ, both in the sense of a victim sacrificed, and of a testator, though a double figure, is evident to all, and tends to the self-same point. "For a testament is of force after men are dead (or, in case of dead men, ἐπὶ νεκροῖς ): since it is never of force when the testator liveth."
But now, returning from this striking instance of Paul's habit of going off at a word ( διαθήκη ), let us resume the regular course of the apostle's argument. "Whereupon neither the first [covenant] was dedicated without blood. For when Moses had spoken every precept to all the people according to the law, he took the blood of calves and goats, with water, and scarlet wool, and hyssop, and sprinkled both the book itself, and all the people, saying, "This [is] the blood of the covenant which God hath enjoined unto you. And he sprinkled likewise with blood both the tabernacle, and all the vessels of the ministry. And almost all things are according to the law purged with blood; and without shedding, of blood is no remission. It was therefore necessary that the representations of things in the heavens should be purified with these; but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these. For Christ is not entered into holies made with hands, figures of the true; but into heaven itself, now to appear before the face of God for us."
Thus distinctly have we set before us the general doctrine of the chapter, that Christ has suffered but once, and has been offered but once; that the offering cannot be severed from the suffering. If He is to be often offered, He must also often suffer. The truth on the contrary is, that there was but one offering and but one suffering of Christ, once for all; in witness of the perfection of which He is gone into the presence of God, there to appear for us. Thus it will be observed, at the end of all the moral and experimental dealings with the first man (manifested in Israel), we come to a deeply momentous point, as in God's ways, so in the apostle's reasoning. Up to this time man was the object of those ways; it was simply, and rightly of course, a probation. Man was tried by all sorts of tests from time to time God knew perfectly well, and even declared here and there, the end from the beginning; but He would make it manifest to every conscience, that all He got from man in these His varied dealings was sin. Then comes a total change: God takes up the matter Himself, acting in view of man's sin; but in Jesus, in the very Messiah for whom the Jews were waiting, he has put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself, and has accomplished this mighty work, as admirably befitting the goodness of God, as it alone descends low enough to reach the vilest man, and yet deliver him with a salvation which only the more humbles man and glorifies God. For now God came out, so to speak, in His own power and grace, and, in the person of Christ on the cross, put away sin abolished it from before His face, and set the believer absolutely free from it as regards judgment.
"But now once in the consummation of the ages," this is the meaning of "the end of the world;" it is the consummation of those dispensations for bringing out what man was. Man's worst sin culminated in the death of Christ who knew no sin; but in that very death He put away sin. Christ, therefore, goes into heaven, and will come again apart from sin. He has nothing more to do with sin; He will judge man who rejects Himself and slights sin. as He will appear to the salvation of His own people. "And as it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment: so Christ was once offered to bear the sins of many; and unto them that look for him shall he appear the second time without sin unto salvation."
It is perfectly true that, if we think of Christ, He was here below absolutely without sin; but He who was without sin in His person, and all His life, had everything to do with sin on the cross, when God made Him to be sin for us. The atonement was at least as real as our sin; and God Himself dealt with Christ as laying sin upon Him, and treating Him, the Great Substitute, as sin before Himself, that at one blow it might be all put away from before His face. This He has done, and done with. Now accordingly, by virtue of His death which rent the veil, God and man stand face to face. What, then, is man's actual estate? "As it is appointed unto men once to die," wages of sin, though not all, "but after this the judgment," or the full wages of sin, "so Christ was once offered to bear the sins of many;" this He has finished; "and unto them that look for Him shall He appear the second time without sin unto salvation." He will have nothing more to do with sin. He has so absolutely swept it away for those who believe on Him, that when He comes again, them will be no question of judgment, as far as they are concerned, but only of salvation, in the sense of their being cleared from the last relic or result of sin, even for the body. Indeed it is only the body that is here spoken of. As far as the soul is concerned, Christ would not go up to heaven until sin was abrogated before God. Christ is doing nothing there to take away sin; nor when He comes again will He touch the question of sin, because it is a finished work. Christ Himself could not add to the perfectness of that sacrifice by which He has put away sin. Consequently, when He comes again to them that look for Him, it is simply to bring them into all the eternal results of that great salvation.
In Hebrews 10:1-39 he applies the matter to the present state of the believer. He had shown the work of Christ and His coming again in glory. What comes in between the two? Christianity. And here we learn the direct application. The Christian stands between the cross and the glory of the Lord Jesus. He rests confidingly on the cross, that only valid moral basis before God; at the same time he is waiting for the glory that is to be revealed. "For the law having a shadow of good things to come, and not the very image of the things, can never with those sacrifices which they offered year by year continually make the comers thereunto perfect. For then would they not have ceased to be offered? because that the worshippers once purged should have had no more conscience of sins." No Jew could or ought to pretend to such purgation as its result.
I should like to ask whether (or how far) all the believers here assembled can take this as their place with simplicity. You, as a Christian, ought to have the calm settled consciousness that God, looking on you, discerns not one spot or stain, but only the blood of Jesus Christ His Son that cleanses from all sin. You ought to have the consciousness that there is no judgment for you with God by-and-by, however truly He, as a Father, judges you now on earth. How can such a consciousness as this be the portion of the Christian? Because the Holy Ghost bears this witness, and nothing less, to the perfectness of the work of Christ. If God's word be true, and to this the Spirit adheres, the blood of Christ has thus perfectly washed away the sins of the believer. I mean his sins now; not sin as a principle, but in fact, though it be only for faith. "The worshippers once purged should have had no more conscience of sins." It is not implied that they may not sin, or that they have no consciousness of their failure, either past or present. "Conscience of sins" means a dread of God's judging one because of his sins. For this, knowing His grace in the work of Christ for them, they do not look; on the contrary, they rest in the assurance of the perfection with which their sins are effaced by the precious blood of Christ.
This epistle insists on the blood of Christ, making all to turn on that efficacious work for us. It was not so of old, when the Israelite brought his goat or calf. "In those sacrifices," referring to the law to which some Hebrew Christians were in danger of going back, "there is a remembrance made again of sins every year. For it is not possible that the blood of bulls and of goats should take away sins." Therefore all such recurring sacrifices only call sins to remembrance; but what the blood of Christ has done is so completely to blot them out, that God Himself says, "I will remember them no more.
Accordingly he now turns to set forth the contrast between the weakness and the unavailingness of the Jewish sacrifices, which, in point of fact, only and always brought up sins again, instead of putting them away as does the sacrifice of Christ. In the most admirable manner he proves that this was what God was all along waiting for. First of all, "Sacrifice and offering thou wouldest not, but a body hast thou prepared me: in burnt offerings and sacrifices for sin thou hast had no pleasure. Then said I, Lo, I come (in the volume of the book it is written of me) to do thy will, O God." There we find these two facts. First, in God's counsels it was always before Him to have One more than man though a man to deal with this greatest of all transactions. There was but One that could do God's will in that which concerned man's deepest wants. Who was this One? Jesus alone. As for the first Adam and all his race, their portion was only death and judgment, because he was a sinner. But here is One who proffers Himself to come, and does come. "In the volume of the book it is written of me" a book which none ever saw but God and His Son. There it was written, "Lo, I come to do thy will, O God." Redemption was the first thought of God a counsel of His previous to the dealings with man which made the necessity of redemption felt. God meant to have His will done, and thereby a people for Himself capable of enjoying His presence and His nature, where no question of sin or fall could ever enter.
First, He makes a scene where sin enters at once. Because His people had no heart for His promises, He imposed a system of law and ordinances that was unjudged in them, which provoked the sin. and made it still more manifest and heinous. Then comes forth the wondrous counsel that was settled before either the sin of man, or the promises to the fathers, or the law which subsequently put man to the test. And this blessed person, single-handed but according to the will of God, accomplishes that will in offering Himself on the cross.
So it is said here, "Lo, I come to do thy will, O God. He taketh away the first" (that is, the law), "that he may establish the second" (that is, God's will, often unintelligently confounded by men with the law, which is here set in the most manifest contradistinction). Next the apostle, with increasing boldness, comes to the proof from the Old Testament that the legal institution as a whole was to be set aside. "He taketh away the first." Was this Paul's doctrine? There it was in the Psalms. They could not deny it to be written in the fortieth psalm. "Sacrifice and offering thou wouldest not, but a body hast thou prepared me: in burnt offerings and sacrifices for sin thou hast had no pleasure. Then said I, Lo, I come (in the volume of the book it is written of me) to do, thy will, O God." All he does is to interpret that will, and to apply it to what was wrought on the cross. "By the which will" (not man's, which is sin, but God's) "we are sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all."
This leads to a further contrast with the action of the Aaronic priest. "Every priest standeth daily ministering and offering oftentimes the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins: but this man, after he had offered one sacrifice for sins, for ever sat down on the right hand of God." Jesus sits down in perpetuity. This is the meaning of the phrase, not that He will sit there throughout all eternity. Εἰς τὸ διηνεκές does not express eternity (which would be εἰς τὸν αἰῶνα , or some such form of words) but "for continuance." He sits there continually, in contrast with the Jewish priest, who was always rising up in order to do fresh work, because there was fresh sin; for their sacrifices never could absolutely put away sin. The fact was plain that the priest was always doing and doing, his work being never done; whereas now there is manifested, in the glorious facts of Christianity, a Priest sat down at God's right hand, a Priest that has taken His place there expressly because our sins are blotted out by His sacrifice If there was any place for the priest, one might have supposed, to be active in his functions, it would be in the presence of God, unless the sins were completely gone. But they are completely gone; and therefore at God's right-hand sits down He who is its witness.
How could this be disputed by one who simply believed Psalms 110:1-7? For there is seen not only the proof that the Messiah is the One whom God pronounced by an oath "a priest for ever after the order of Melchisedec," but the glorious seat He has taken at the right-hand of God is now worked into this magnificent pleading. Christianity turns everything to account. The Jew never understood his law until the light of Christ on the cross and in glory shone upon it. So here the Psalms acquire a meaning self-evidently true, the moment Christ is brought in, who is the truth, and nothing less. Accordingly we have the third use of the seat Christ has taken. In the first chapter we saw the seat of personal glory connected with atonement; in the eighth chapter it is the witness of His priesthood, and where it is. Here it is the proof of the perpetual efficacy of the sacrifice of Christ. We shall find another use before we have done, which I hope to notice in its place.
But the Holy Ghost's testimony is not forgotten. As it was God's will and the work of Christ, so the Holy Ghost is He who witnesses to the perfectness of it. It is also founded on one of their own prophets. "This is the covenant," says he, "that I will make with them after those days, saith the Lord, I will put my laws into their hearts, and in their minds will I write them; and their sins and iniquities will I remember no more. Now where remission of these is, there is no more offering for sin."
Then we hear of the practical use of all. "Having therefore, brethren, boldness to enter into the holies by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way, which he hath consecrated for us through the veil, that is to say, his flesh; and having an high priest over the house of God; let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience, and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the profession of our hope [for so it should be] without wavering (for he is faithful that promised); and let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works: not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching." But the higher the privilege, the greater the danger of either despising or perverting it.
In Hebrews 6:1-20, we saw that the Spirit of God brings in a most solemn warning for those who turn their back on the power and presence of the Holy Ghost, as bearing witness of Christianity. Here the apostle warns those that turn their back on Christ's one sacrifice. It is evident that in these we have the two main parts of Christianity. The foundation is sacrifice; the Power is of the Holy Ghost. The truth is, that the Holy Ghost is come down for the purpose of bearing His witness; and he that deserts this for Judaism, or anything else, is an apostate and lost man. And is he better or safer that slights the sacrifice of the Son of God, and goes back either to earthly sacrifices or to lusts of flesh, giving a loose rein to sin, which is expressly what the Son of God shed His blood to put away? He who, having professed to value the blessing of God abandons it, and rushes here below into the sins of the flesh knowingly and deliberately, is evidently no Christian at all. Accordingly it is shown that such an one becomes an adversary of the Lord, and God will deal with him as such. As in chapter 6 he declares that he is persuaded better things of them, than that they would abandon the Holy Ghost; so here he expected better things than that they would thus dishonour the sacrifice of Christ In that case, he says, God was not unrighteous to forget their work and labour of love; in this case, he lets them know that he had not forgotten the way in which they had suffered for Christ. There it was more particularly the activity of faith; here it is the suffering of faith.
This leads into the life of faith, which was a great stumbling-block to some of these Christian Jews. They could not understand how it was they should come into greater trouble than before. They had never known so great and frequent and constant trial. It seemed as if everything went against them. They had looked for advance and triumph and peace and prosperity everywhere; on the contrary, they had come into reproach and shame, partly in their own persons, partly as becoming the companions of others who so suffered. But the apostle takes all this difficulty by the horns, as good as telling them, that their having suffered all this was simply because it is the right road. These two things, the cross on earth and glory on high, are correlative. As they are companions, so do they test a walk with God; one is faith, the other is suffering. This, he maintains, has always been so; it is no novelty he is preaching. Accordingly the epistle to the Hebrews, while it does put the believer in association with Christ, does not, for all this, dissociate him from whatever is good in the saints of God in every age. Hence the apostle takes care to keep up the real link with the past witnesses for God in faith and suffering, not in ordinances.
In the beginning ofHebrews 11:1-40; Hebrews 11:1-40 we are told what faith is. It is "the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen." It is no definition of what it is to believe, but a description of the qualities of faith. "For by it the elders obtained a good report." How could any believers put a slight upon it? "Through faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God;" a simple but a most sublime truth, and one that man never really found out that we are entirely dependent on faith for after all. The wise men of the present day are fast giving up the truth of creation. They do not believe that God called all things into being. The greater number of them may use the word "creation," but it must never be assumed that they mean what they say. It is wise and necessary to examine closely what they mean. Never was there a time when men used terms with a more equivocal design than at the present moment. Hence they apply some terms to the work of God in nature similar to what they apply to His work in grace. The favourite thought is "development;" and so they hold a development or genesis of matter, not a creation: matter continually progressing, in various forms, until at last it has progressed into these wise men of our day. This is precisely what modern research amounts to. It is the setting aside of God, and the setting up of man; it is the precursor of the apostasy that is coming, which again will issue in man taking the place of God, and becoming the object of worship, instead of the true Creator. Nor is it that redemption only is denied, but creation also; so that there is very great importance in maintaining the rights and the truth of God in creation.
Therefore it is well to stand clear of all men's schemes and thoughts, ever rising up more and more presumptuously, because they mainly consist of some slight in one way or another on the word of God. A simple word of scripture settles a thousand questions. What the wise men of antiquity, the Platos and Aristotles, never knew what the modern sages blunder about, without the slightest reason, after all the word of God has made the possession of every child of His. "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth."
There is no indulgence of human curiosity. We do not know the steps of His work, until we come to the preparation of an abode for man. Nothing can be more admirable than this reserve of God. We are not told the details of what preceded the great week when God made the man and the woman. I am not going to enter into any statement of facts as to this now, but there is no truth in its own place more important than that with which the apostle commences in this chapter, namely, that "through faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God." It is not only that we believe it, but we understand it thereby. There is nothing more simple; at the same time it is just one of those questions that God has answered, and this so as to settle the mind perfectly, and fill the heart with praise. Man never did nor could settle it without the word of God. There is nothing here below so difficult for the natural mind; and for the simple reason that man can never rise above that which is caused. The reason is obvious because he is caused himself. Therefore is it that men so naturally slip into, or rest on, second causes. He is only one of a series of existing objects, and consequently never can rise above that in his own nature. He may infer that there must be; but he never can say that there is. Reason is ever drawing conclusions; God is, and reveals what is. I may, of course, see what is before my eyes, and. may so far have sensible evidence of what exists now; but it is only God who can tell me that He in the beginning caused to be that which now is. God alone who spake it into being can pronounce upon it. This is just what the believer receives, feeds on, and lives accordingly.
Through faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God." It is possible that the word "worlds," which is a Hebraistic word, belonging to the Alexandrian Jews particularly, may embrace dispensations; but undoubtedly the material world is included in it. It may mean the worlds governed by dispensations; but still that the idea of the whole universe is in it cannot be fairly contested by competent minds. "The worlds were framed by the word of God, so that things which are seen" which would not be the case if it was only a dispensation "were not made of things which do appear."
Having laid this as the first application of faith, the next question is when man fell, how was he to approach God? The answer is, by sacrifice. This then is brought before us. "By faith Abel offered a more excellent sacrifice than Cain."
The third point is how to walk with God, and this again is by faith. Thus in every case it is faith. It owns the creation; it recognizes sacrifice as the only righteous means of being accepted with God the only means of approaching Him worthily. Faith, again, is the only principle of walk with God; as it is, again, the only means of realizing the judgment of God coming on all around us.
Here, it is plain, we have the chief lineaments of revealed truth. That is to say, God is owned in His glory, as Creator of all by His word. Then, consequent on the fall, comes the ground of the believer's acceptance; then his walk with God, and deliverance from His judgment of the whole scene, in the midst of which we actually are. Faith brings God into everything. (Verses 1-7.)
But then comes far more definite instruction, and, beginning with Abraham, the details of faith. The father of the faithful was the one first called out by promise. At first it was (ver. 8) but the promise of a land; but when in the land he received the promise of a better country, that is, a heavenly, which raised his eyes to the city on high, in express contrast with the earthly land. When he dwelt in Mesopotamia, he had a promise to bring him into Canaan; and when he got there, he had a promise of what was higher to lead his heart above. At the end of his course there was a still heavier tax on him. Would he give up the one that was the type of the true Seed, the progenitor, and the channel of the promised blessing, yea, of the Blesser? He knew that in Isaac his seed was to be called. Would he give up Isaac? A most searching and practical question, the very unseen hinge in God Himself on which not Christianity only, but all blessing, turns for heaven and earth, at least as far as the fallen creation is concerned. For what did the Jews wait in hope? For Christ, on whom the promises depend. And of what did Christianity speak? Of Christ who was given up to death, who is risen and gone above, in whom we find all the blessing promised, and after a better sort. Thus it is evident that the introduction of the last trial of Abraham was of all possible moment to every one that stood in the place of a son of Abraham. The severest and final trial of Abraham's faith was giving up the son, in whom all the promises were infolded, to receive him back on a resurrection ground in figure. It was, parabolically, like that of Christ himself. The Jews would not have Him living. The Christians gained Him in a far more excellent way after the pattern of resurrection, as Abraham at the close received Isaac as it were from the dead.
Then we have the other patriarchs introduced, yet chiefly as regards earthly hopes, but not apart from resurrection, and its connection with the people of God here below. On these things I need not now dwell farther than to characterize all, from Abraham inclusively, as the patience of faith. (Verses 8-22.)
Then, having finished this part of the subject, the apostle turns to another characteristic in believers the mighty power of faith which knows how to draw on God, and breaks through all difficulties. It is not merely that which goes on quietly waiting for the accomplishment of the counsels of God. This it was of all consequence to have stated first. And for this simple reason: no place is given herein to man's importance. Had the energetic activity of faith been first noticed, it would have made more of man; but when the heart had been disciplined in quiet endurance, and lowly expectancy from God, then he could be clothed with the energy of the Spirit. Both are true; and Moses is the type of the latter, as Abraham of the former. Accordingly we find everything about Moses. as well as done by him, extraordinary. His deliverance was strange; still more his decision and its results. He goes out, deliberately and knowingly, just at the time of life when a man is most sensitive to the value of a grand sphere of influence, as well as exercise of his powers, wherein, too, he could have ordinarily exerted all in favour of his people. Not so Moses. He acted in faith, not policy. He made nothing of himself, because he knew they were God's people. Accordingly he became just the more the vessel of divine power to the glory of God. He chose "rather to suffer affliction with the people of God than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season; esteeming the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures of Egypt: for he had respect unto the recompence of the reward." And what then? "By faith he forsook Egypt, not fearing the wrath of the king." This was in the ways of God the necessary moral consequence of his self-abnegation.
"Through faith he instituted the passover, and the sprinkling of blood, lest he that destroyed the firstborn should touch them. By faith they passed through the Red sea as by dry land: which the Egyptians assaying to do were drowned." These two last verses bear witness to the grace of God in redemption. In the blood of the Lamb, sprinkled on the door-posts of Israel, we see the type of God's judgment of their sins; next, in the passage of the Red sea, the exhibition of His power, which, in the most conspicuous way, saved them, and destroyed for ever their enemies. But whether the one or the other, all was by faith.
But mark another striking and instructive feature of this chapter. No attention is paid here to the march through the wilderness, any more than to the establishment in the land, still less to the kingdom. We have just the fact of their passing through the Red sea, and no more; as we have the fall of Jericho, and no more. The intention here was not to dwell either on the scene in which their waiting was put to the test, the wilderness, or on anything that could insinuate the settled position of Israel in the land. As to the pathway through the wilderness, it had been disposed of inHebrews 4:1-16; Hebrews 4:1-16. The grounds why Canaan could not consistently be made prominent in this epistle as a present thing, but only as a hope, we have already seen.
This deeply interesting chapter closes with the reason why those who had thus not only lived but died in faith did not get the promise: "God having provided some better thing for us, that they without us should not be made perfect." What was this "better thing"? Can there be a doubt that Christianity is meant? that good portion which shall not be taken away from those who cleave to the Crucified, who is now exalted in heaven? One can well understand that the apostle would leave his readers to gather thus generally what it must have been. God then has provided some better thing for us. He has brought in redemption in present accomplishment, and at the same time He has given scope for a brighter hope, founded on His mighty work on the cross, measured by Christ's glory as its present answer at the right hand of God. Hence He crowns the noble army of witnesses with Christ Himself. "Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, laying aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, let us run with patience the race that is set before us, looking off unto Jesus the captain and completer of faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God."
This is a different way of looking at His session there. In all the other passages of the epistle the meaning of the word is, that He took His seat, or simply sat down there. It is the fact that there He sat down; but in this place it will be observed that His taking His seat there is the reward of the life of faith. As the result of enduring the cross, having despised the shame, the word for sitting down here has a remarkably beautiful shade of meaning different from what is given in all the other occurrences. Its force implies that it is not merely what He did once, but what He is also doing still. Attention is drawn to the permanence of His position at the right hand of God. Of course it is true that Jesus took His seat there, but more is conveyed in the true form of the text ( κεκάθικεν ) here.
This, however, only by the way. Beyond question the Lord is regarded as the completer of the whole walk of faith in its deepest and, morally, most glorious form. Instead of having one person illustrating one thing, another person another, the Lord Jesus sums up the perfection of all trial in His own pathway, not as Saviour only, but in the point of view of bearing witness in His ways for God here below. Who ever walked in faith as He? For indeed He was a man as really as any other, though infinitely above man.
From this practical lessons of great value are drawn. For consider him that endured such contradiction of sinners against himself, lest ye be wearied and faint in your minds. Ye have not yet resisted unto blood, striving against sin. And ye have forgotten the exhortation which speaketh unto you as unto children." Thus the first part of the chapter shows us simply what God holds out to the new man; but the epistle to the Hebrews never looks at the Christian simply in the new man, but rather as a concrete person. From the beginning to the end of it the Christian in Hebrews is not thus dealt with apart from the old nature, as we may see him regarded in the ordinary epistles of Paul, where the old and the new man are most carefully separated. It is not the case in the epistles of James and Peter, with which so far the epistle to the Hebrews agrees. The reason I take to be, that the apostle meets the Jewish believer where he is, as much as possible giving credit for what was really true in the Old Testament saints, and so in the Jewish mind. Now it is evident that in the Old Testament the distinction was not made between flesh and spirit in the way in which we have it brought out in the general doctrine of Christianity.
The apostle is dealing with the saints as to their walk; and as he had shown how Christ alone had purged the sins of the believer, and how He is on high, as the Priest in the presence of God, to intercede for them in their weakness and dangers; so now, when he is come to the question of the walk of faith, Christ is the leader of that, walk. Accordingly, this is an appeal to the hearts. which cleave to Christ the rejected King, and Holy Sufferer, who is now in glory above. He necessarily completes all as the pattern for the Christian. But then there are impediments as well as sin, by which the enemy would keep us from the race set before us; whilst God carries on His discipline in our favour. And the apostle shows that we need not only a perfect pattern in the walk of faith, but chastenings by the way. This, he says, must be from a father who loves his true and faulty children: others enjoy no such care. First of all, it is love that calls us to the path that Christ trod; next, it is love that chastens us. Christ never needed this, but we do. He reasons that, while our parents only chastise us the best way they can (for after all their judgment might not be perfect), the Father of spirits never fails. He has but one settled purpose of goodness about us; He watches and judges for our good, and nothing but our good. He has set His mind upon making us, patterns of His holiness. It is what He carries on now. Fully does He allow, as connected with this, that the chastening seems not joyous but grievous. We begin with His love, and shall end in it without end. He only removes obstructions, and maintains our communion with Himself; surely this ought to settle every question for the believer. If we know His perfect love and the wisdom of it, we have the best answer to silence every murmuring thought or wish of the heart.
There is nothing more serious than to set grace against holiness. Nowhere does the apostle give the smallest occasion for such a thought. So here he tells them to "follow peace with all men, and holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord: looking diligently lest any man lack the grace of God." It is not a question of the law, which a Jew might naturally conceive to be the standard of the will of God now as of old for Israel. How easily we even forget that we are not Jews but Christians! Reason can appreciate not grace but law; and so people are apt, when things go wrong, to bring in the law. It is quite legitimate to employ it in an à fortiori way, as the apostle does in Ephesians 6:1-24. For assuredly if Jewish children honoured their father and mother on legal grounds, much more ought Christian children on grounds of grace.
Another great call was, to beware "lest any root of bitterness springing up trouble you, and thereby many be defiled; lest there be any fornicator, or profane person, as Esau, who for one morsel of meat sold his birthright." Thus you see, either corrupt passion on the one hand or profanity on the other, are unsparingly condemned by the grace of God. If the law could show little mercy in such a case, the grace of God views all sin as intolerable.
This leads him, from speaking of Esau's case, to add as a known fact, that afterward, when he desired to have inherited the blessing he was rejected (for he found no place of repentance), though he sought it carefully with tears. That is, he sought carefully with tears the blessing given to Jacob; but there was no room left for repentance, simply in the sense of change of mind; for, I suppose, the word here has that sense, which sometimes, no doubt, it has. In its ordinary usage, it has a much deeper force. Every change of mind is far from being repentance, which doctrinally means that special and profound revolution in the soul when we take God's part against ourselves, judging our past ways, yea, what we are in His sight. This Esau never sought; and there never was one who did seek and failed to find it. Esau would have liked well to have got or regained the blessing; but this was given of God otherwise, and he had forfeited it himself. Arranged all beforehand, neither Isaac's partiality nor Jacob's deceit was able to divert the channel. His purpose utterly failed to secure the blessing for his profane but favourite son. He saw his error at last, and put his seal on God's original appointment of the matter.
And here we are favoured with a magnificent picture of Christianity in contrast with Judaism. We are not come to Sinai, the mountain that burned with fire, nor unto blackness, and darkness, and tempest, and a voice more terrible than that of the elements. To what then are we come? To mount Zion. And what is its distinctive character as here introduced? If we examine the historical facts as found in the Old Testament story, what is it rises up before all eyes as to Zion? When does it first appear? After the people had been tried and found wanting; after the priests had wrought, if possible, greater corruption; after the king of Israel's choice had reduced them to the lowest degradation. 'It was therefore a crisis after the most painful accumulation of evils that weighed on the heart of Israel. But if people and priest and king were proved thus vain, God was there, and His grace could not fail. Their abject ruin placed them just in the circumstances that suited the God of all grace. At that very moment therefore the tide begins to turn. God brings forward His choice, David, when the miserable end of Saul and Jonathan saw the Philistines triumphant, and Israel disheartened as they had scarce been beyond that moment. The hill of Zion up to this time had been the constant menace of the enemy against the people of the Lord; but in due time, when David reigned, it was wrested out of the hands of the Jebusites, and became the stronghold of Jerusalem, the city of the king. Thenceforward how it figures in the Psalms and prophets! This then is the monument for such as we are. Let blinded Jews turn their sightless eyeballs to the mountain of Sinai. Let men who can see only look there, and what will be found? Condemnation, darkness, death. But what at Zion? The mighty intervention of God in grace yea, more than that, forgiveness, deliverance, victory, glory, for the people of God.
For not merely did David receive from Jehovah that throne, but never were the people of God lifted out of such a state of distress and desolation, and placed on such a height of firm and stable triumph as under that one man's reign. He had beyond all mere men known sorrow and rejection in Israel; yet he himself not only mounted the throne of Jehovah, but raised up His people to. such power and prosperity as, was never reached again. For although outwardly, no doubt, the prosperity lasted in the time of Solomon, it was mainly the fruit of David's suffering, and power, and glory. God honoured the son for the father's sake. It remained for a brief season; but even then it soon began to show rents down. to the foundations, which became apparent too, too quickly in Solomon's son. With Zion then the apostle justly begins. Where is the mountain that could stand out so well against Sinai? What mountain in the Old Testament so much speaks of grace, of God's merciful interference for His people when all was lost?
Rightly then we begin with Zion, and thence may we trace the path of glory up to God Himself, and down to the kingdom here below. Impossible to rise higher than the Highest, whence therefore the apostle descends, to consequences. Indeed we may say that the whole epistle to the Hebrews is just this: we start from the foundation of grace up to God Himself in the heavens; and thence springs the certainty that the stream of grace is not exhausted, and that undoubtedly it will issue in unceasing blessing by-and-by for the earth, and for the people of Israel above all, in the day of Jehovah.
Accordingly we have a remarkable line of blessing pursued for our instruction here. "Ye are come unto mount Zion," which was the highest Old Testament point of grace on earth. Others doubtless could speak of their Ararat, their Olympus, their Etna; but which boasted of the true God that loved His people in the way that Zion could? But would a Jew infer hence that it was only the city of David he was speaking of? Let him learn his error. "And unto the city of the living God, (not of dying David,) the heavenly Jerusalem" (not the earthly capital of Palestine). This I take to be a general description of the scene of glory for which Abraham looked. He could know nothing of the mystery of the church, Christ's body, nor of her bridal hopes; but he did look for what is called here the "heavenly Jerusalem," that city "whose maker and builder is God." In this phrase there is no allusion whatever to the church; nor indeed anywhere in the Hebrews is there any reference to its distinctive portion in union with its Head. When it says that Abraham looked for the city, it means a blessed and ordered scene of glory on high, which eclipsed the Holy Land before his eyes. This, however, does not mean the church, but rather the future seat of general heavenly bliss for the glorified saints.
Then he adds: "And to myriads of angels, the general assembly" for such is the true way to divide the verse "and to the church of the firstborn," etc. This proves that the city of the heavenly Jerusalem does not mean the church, because here they are certainly distinguished from each other, which therefore completely settles all the argument that is often founded on Abraham's looking for a heavenly city. It was not the church, I repeat, but what God prepares above for those who love Him. True, the apostle John uses this very city as the figure of the bride. But this essential difference separates between the city for which Abraham looked and the bride so symbolised in the Apocalypse. When the apostle Paul, speaks of "the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem," he means the scene of future heavenly blessedness; whereas when John speaks of the new Jerusalem descending out of heaven from God, he means, not where but what we are to be. The difference is very great. The epistle sets before us the seat of glory prepared on high; the Revelation speaks of the bride represented as a glorious golden city with figures beyond nature. The one is what may be called the objective glory; the other is the subjective condition of those that compose the bride, the Lamb's wife.
Having brought its to see the "church of the firstborn which are written in heaven," the apostle next can only speak of "God the Judge of all." He describes Him thus in His judicial character. The reason appears to be, because he is going to tell us of the Old Testament saints. They had known God in His providence and dealings on the earth, though looking for a Messiah and His day. Hence, therefore, he now introduces us "to the spirits of just men made perfect." These evidently are the elders of olden times. None but the Old Testament saints, as a class, can all be in the separate state: not the church, or New Testament saints, for we shall not all sleep; nor the millennial saints, for none of them will die. The reference is therefore plain and sure.
Then we hear of "Jesus, the mediator of the new covenant" the pledge of Israel's full and changeless blessing. Lastly, he points "to the blood of sprinkling, that speaketh better than Abel:" the assurance that the earth shall be delivered from its long sorrow and slavery.
Thus the chain of blessedness is complete. He has shown its the symbolic mount Of grace in Zion, contrasted with Sinai the mountain of law. If the one figured the imposed measure of man's responsibility, which can only but most justly condemn him, in the other we behold the mountain of God's grace after all was lost. Then follows the heavenly glory, to which grace naturally leads; then the natural inhabitants of the heavenly land, namely, the angels "and to myriads of angels, the general assembly." Then he shows us others higher than these, by a divine call "and to the church of the firstborn, which are written in heaven." They do not belong to heaven like the angels; but God had an eternal purpose, which brought them by an extraordinary favour there. And then, in the centre of all, we have God Himself. But having looked up to Him who is above all, he speaks of the highest group next to God in His judicial character, namely, the Old Testament saints. Then he descends to a new or fresh covenant (not καινῆς , as elsewhere, but νέας ), the recently inaugurated covenant for the two houses of the ancient people. Although the blood on which that covenant was founded may be now long shed, when the covenant comes into force for them will it not be as fresh as the day the precious Victim died and shed His blood? The reference here I cannot but regard as exclusively to the two houses of Israel. And as thus were shown the people immutably blessed (for salt shall not be wanting to that covenant) in the scene that will soon come, we finally hear of the earth itself joyful in the curse removed for ever. It is "the blood that speaketh better than Abel." For the martyred saint's blood the earth cried to God for vengeance; but Christ's blood proclaims mercy from God, and the millennial day will be the glorious witness of its depth, and extent, and stability, before the universe.
The rest of the chapter brings in, accordingly, the closing scene, when the Lord comes to shake everything, and establish that blessed day. But although it will be the shaking of all things, not of earth only but also heaven, yet, marvellous to say, such confidence of heart does grace give, that this, which may be regarded as the most awful threat, turns into a blessed promise. Think of the shaking of heaven and earth being a promise! Nothing but absolute establishment of heart in God's grace could have gazed on a destroyed universe, and yet call it a "promise." But it is the language for us to learn and speak, as we are called to rest on God and not on the creature.
The last chapter (Hebrews 13:1-25) follows this up with some practical exhortations as to brotherly love continuing; then as to kindness to strangers, or hospitality; finally, as to pity for those in bonds. "Be mindful of those in bonds, as bound with them; and of those which suffer adversity." Again he insists upon the honour and purity of the marriage tie, and the abhorrence that God has for those that despise and corrupt it, and the sure judgment which will come upon them. He presses a conversation without covetousness, and a spirit of content, founded on our confidence in the Lord's care.
At the same time he exhorts the believers as to their chiefs, that is, those who guided them spiritually. It is I likely that the Hebrew believers were somewhat unruly. And their relation to their leaders he puts forward in various forms. First, they were to remember those that once ruled them. Those were now gone from the scene of their trials and labours, of "whom, considering the issue of their conversation, imitate the faith."
This naturally leads the apostle to bring before them One that never ends "Jesus Christ [is] the same yesterday, and today, and for ever." Why should His saints be carried away with questions about meats and drinks? He is the same unchangingly and evermore, as He has ever been. "Be not carried about with divers and strange doctrines. For it is a good thing that the heart be established in grace." See how this word, this thought, always predominates in the epistle. Why turn back to "meats, which have not profited them that have been occupied therein?"
Had they been taunted with having no altar, possessing nothing so holy and so glorious in its associations? It was only owing to the blindness of Israel. For, says he, "we have an altar," yea, more than that, an altar, "whereof they have no right to eat which serve the tabernacle." You that go after the tabernacle (as he persists in calling it, even though now the temple) have no title to our altar, with its exhaustless supplies. To us Christ is all.
But this becomes the occasion of a remarkable allusion, on which I must for a moment dwell. He draws attention to the well-known rites of the atonement day; at any rate, if not of that day exclusively, wherever there was a beast the body of which was burnt without the camp, and the blood carried within the veil. Do you not discern in this striking combination the distinctive features of Christianity? Alas! it is not the dulness of Jewish prejudice only, but exactly what is denied by every system of which men boast in Christendom. For these very features did Judaism despise the gospel. But let not the Gentile boast, no less unbelieving no less arrogant, against true Christianity. Christendom precisely takes the middle ground of Judaism between these two extremes. The mean looks and sounds well, but is utterly false for the Christian. The two extremes, offensive to every lover of the viâ media of religious rationalism, must be combined in Christianity and the Christian man, if he is to maintain it unimpaired and pure. The first is, that in spirit the Christian is now brought by redemption, without spot or guilt, into the presence of God. If you believe in Christ at all, such is your portion nothing less. If I know what Christ's redemption has accomplished for all who believe, I must know that God has given me this. He honours the work of Christ, according to His estimate of its efficacy, as it is only according to His counsels about us for Christ's glory. Of this we saw somewhat inHebrews 10:1-39; Hebrews 10:1-39. And what is the effect of it? As a Christian I am now free, by God's will, to go in peace and assurance of His love into the holiest of all yes, now. I speak, of course, of our entrance there only in spirit.
As to the outer man also, we must learn to what we are called now. The apostle argues that, just as the blood of the beast was brought into the holiest of all, while the body of the same animal was taken outside the camp and burnt, so this too must be made good in our portion. If I have an indisputable present title of access into the holiest of all, I must not shrink from the place of ashes outside the camp. He that possesses the one must not eschew the other. In these consists our double present association by faith, while on the earth. The apostle earnestly insists on them both. We belong to the holiest of all, and we act upon it, if we iet rightly, when we worship God; nay, when we draw near to God in prayer at all times. Brought nigh to God by the blood of Jesus, we have perfect access, so that there is nothing between God and us; for Christ suffered once to bring us to God, as He intercedes that we may have communion. with Him in this place of nearness. Our being brought to God supposes, and is founded on the fact, that our sins are gone perfectly by His one offering; otherwise no madness is greater than indulging such a thought. If it be not the truth, it would be the height of presumption indeed. But far from this, it is the simple fact Of the gospel. "He suffered once for sins, the just for the unjust," says another apostle, "that he might bring us" not to pardon, nor to peace, nor to heaven, but "to God." Compare alsoEphesians 2:1-22; Ephesians 2:1-22. We are brought, then, washed from our sins, to God, and, according to this epistle, into the holiest of all, where He displays Himself. The real presumption, therefore, is to pretend to be a Christian, and yet to doubt the primary fundamental truth of Christianity as to this.
But the bodies of those beasts were burnt without the camp: my place, so far as I in the body am concerned, is one of shame and suffering in this world.
Are those two things true of you? If you have and prize one alone, you have only got the half of Christianity yea, of its foundations. Are they both true of you? Then you may bless God that He has so blessed you, and given you to know as true of yourself that which, if not so known, effectually prevents one from having the full joy and bearing the due witness as an unworldly and simple-hearted servant of Christ here below. It is true, He does not always call at once into the place of reproach and suffering. He first brings us into the joy and nearness of His presence. He satisfies us with the perfectness with which Christ has washed us from our sins in His blood, and has made us kings and priests to His God and Father. But having done this, He points us to the place of Christ without the camp. "Let us go forth therefore unto him without the. camp, bearing his reproach." This was the very thing that these Jewish Christians were shrinking, from, if not rebelling against. They had not made up their minds to suffer: to be despised was odious in their eyes. Nor is it pleasant to nature. But the apostle lets them know that if they understood their true blessing, this was the very part of it that was inseparably bound up with their present nearness to God, as set forth typically by the central and most important rite of the Jewish system. This is the meaning of the blood carried within, and of the body burnt without.
Let us then seek to combine these two things perfect nearness to God, and the place of utter scorn in the presence of man. Christendom prefers the middle course; it will have neither the conscious nearness, to God, nor the place of Christ's reproach among men. All the effort of Christendom is first to deny the one, and then to escape from the other. I ask my brethren here if they are looking to God strenuously, earnestly, for themselves and for their children, not to allow but to oppose as their adversary every thing that tends to weaken either of these truths, which are our highest privilege and our truest glory as Christians here below. What a surprise to the Hebrew believers to find such truths as these so strikingly shown out in type even in the Jewish system!
But the apostle goes farther, as indeed was due to truth. These characteristics he proves to be really found in Christ Himself. He is evidently gone into the holiest of all in His own person. But how? What had immediately preceded this, The cross. Thus the cross and heavenly glory must go together. The gracious Lord gives and designs that we should take His own place both in heaven and here. "Let us go forth therefore unto him without the camp." This is just the closing practical word of the epistle to the Hebrews. God was going openly to set aside the Jewish system, as it had already been judged morally in the cross of Christ. When the Messiah was crucified, Judaism was in principle a dead thing: if it was in any sense kept up, it was no more than a decent time before its burial. But now God sends His final summons, founded on their own ritual, to His people who were hankering after the dead, instead of seeing the Living One on He as it were repeats, "Let the dead bury the dead." The Romans will do the last sad offices. But as for you who believe in Jesus, wait not for the Romans; let Judaism be nothing but a corpse, which does not concern you. "Let us go forth therefore unto him without the camp, bearing his reproach."
This was a final call; and how gracious! If God had reserved the epistle to the Hebrews until after He sent forth His armies and burned up their city, destroying their polity root and branch, it might have been retorted that the Christians valued the Jewish ritual as loner as it was available, and only gave it up when earthly temple and sacrifice and priest were gone. But God took care to summon His children outside to abandon the whole system before it was destroyed. They were to leave the dead to bury their dead; and they did so. But Christendom has wholly failed to profit by the call, and is doomed to perish by a judgment yet more solemn and wide-spread than that which swept away the ancient temple.
Another point follows, connected with what we have had before us, and demanding our attention. Instead of pining after that which is about to be destroyed, or repining at the call to go out to the place of Christ's shame on earth, Christianity, which replaces Judaism now, may well cause us to offer "the sacrifice of praise to God continually." There are two kinds of sacrifice to which we are now called. "By him therefore let us offer the sacrifice of praise to God continually, that is, the fruit of our lips, confessing his name. But to do good and to communicate forget not: for with such sacrifices God is well pleased." That may have a higher character, these a lower; but even the highest is never to supersede or make us forgetful of the lowest.
Then comes a second exhortation as to their guides, or leading men among the brethren. (Compare Acts 15:22.) Obey your leaders, and submit yourselves; for they watch for your souls, as those that shall give account." There is no sanction here, of course, of the vulgar and outrageous error that pastors give an account of the souls of their flock. It is an idea that superstition hatched, for the purpose of spuriously exalting a clerical order. The meaning is, that spiritual guides shall give an account of their own behaviour in watching over other souls; for it is a work that calls for much jealousy over self, patience with others, painstaking labour, lowliness of mind, and that hearty love which can bear all, endure all, believe all. There is then the solemn admonition of the account they are to render by-and-by. They watch as those that shall give an account. Now is the time for self-denying labour, and endurance in grace; by-and-by the account must be given to the Lord that appointed them. And the apostle would that their work of watching might be done with joy, and not groaning for this would be unprofitable for the saints.
But even the apostle felt his own need of the prayers of the faithful, not because he had gone wrong, but because he was conscious of no hindrance to his work from a had conscience. "Pray for us: for we trust we have a good conscience; in all things willing to live honestly. But I beseech you the rather to do this, that I may be restored to you the sooner."
Then he commends the saints to God. "Now the God of peace, that brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great Shepherd of the sheep, in virtue of the blood of the everlasting covenant, perfect you in every good work to do his will, working in you that which is well-pleasing in his sight "through Jesus Christ; to whom be glory for the ages of the ages."
Finally, he beseeches his brethren to hear the word of exhortation. Such is pre-eminently the bearing of this epistle to those who had no such frequent opportunities of profiting by his teaching as the Gentile churches. We can understand, therefore, both the delicacy that thus entreated them, and the meaning of the added words, "for also in few words I have written to you." Nor does it seem so natural for any as the great apostle to inform them of his child and fellow-labourer: "Know that the brother Timothy is set at liberty; with whom, if he come pretty soon, I will see you. Salute all your leaders, and all the saints. They from Italy salute you. Grace be with you all. Amen."
Thus the apostle closes this most striking and precious epistle, brimful to overflowing with that which had an especial and very touching interest to a Jew, but nevertheless needed as certainly by us, and as rich in instruction for us in this day as for those at any time that has passed away. For let me say this as a parting word, and I say it advisedly, because of circumstances that might well be before our hearts, no deliverance, however enjoyed, no place of death to law, world, or sin, no privilege of union with Christ, will enable a soul to dispense with the truths contained in this epistle to the Hebrews. We are still walking here below; we are in the place therefore where infirmity is felt, where Satan tempts, where we may fail through unwatchfulness. The greater part of the affections of the Christian are drawn out toward our Saviour by all this scene of sin and sorrow through which we are passing on to heaven. If we formed our Christian character practically on such epistles as those to the Ephesians and Colossians alone, depend on it there may not be the hard lines of the law, but there will be very far from the fervent affections which become him who feels the grace of Christ. Be assured it is of the deepest possible moment to cherish the activity of Christ's present love and care for us, the activity of that priesthood which is the subject of this epistle. Holding fast the permanence of the blotting out of our guilt, may we nevertheless and besides own the need of such an One as Christ to intercede for us, and deal in grace with all our feebleness or faults. The Lord forbid that anything should enfeeble our sense of the value and necessity of such daily grace, There may be that which calls for confusion of face in us, but there is unceasing ground also for thanksgiving and praise, however much we have to humble ourselves in the sight of God.
London: W. H. Broom, Paternoster Row.
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Kelly, William. "Commentary on Hebrews 12:13". Kelly Commentary on Books of the Bible. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/wkc/hebrews-12.html. 1860-1890.
the Week of Proper 14 / Ordinary 19