The Book of Hebrews - "Searchlights from the Word" by G. Campbell Morgan.
God, having ... spoken ... hath ... spoken.
Hebrews 1:1, 2
From the introductory sentences of this great writing, we have taken out the principal words. They need, of course, all the qualifying words by which they are surrounded in order to the full understanding of their meaning, but in themselves they reveal the fundamental truths with which the writing deals. The first fact is God. Without definition, or argument, or apology of any kind, the writer names God. The fact that the writing was for Hebrews shows that he accepted the Hebrew conception of God. All that had been revealed by the names and titles, the Law, the Prophets, and the history, was included. The second fact is that God does reveal Himself. He speaks to men; He makes known His will. These are the foundation truths of our religion. If we are not sure of these, we are sure of nothing. In the process of His dealings with men, He has proved Himself, by revealing Himself; and the nature of the revelation has proved it to be of God. Then the statement shows us the inter-relationship between the past and the present. He did speak in the past, particularly, progressively, in divers portions and manners, as men were prepared to receive. He has now spoken fully, finally, in His Son; and men will progressively apprehend the meaning of this final speech, but they will never exhaust it. Moreover, the interrelation is part of one whole. Having spoken as He did in the past, it was necessary and possible for Him to speak in His Son. It was necessary, for all that He had said was incomplete. It was possible, and apart from the first partial messages, the full and final message would have been incomprehensible. Thus we see the wisdom and perfection of the Divine Revelation.
Therefore we ought to give the more earnest heed to the things that were heard, lest haply we drift away.
The "therefore" of these words carries us back to the arguments of the previous chapter, and on to those of this chapter. The Hebrew people maintained, and rightly, that their whole religious and national economy had been ministered by angels. The writer agreed, but proceeded to show the superiority of the Son of God to the angels, and the consequently greater authority of the speech of the Son, to that of the word spoken by angels. That superiority being granted, it follows irresistibly that we should give the more earnest heed to what He has to say. The conclusion is so self-evident that we are almost inclined to wonder that there was any need for so solemn a warning. We shall find an answer to that wonder in the writer's description of the peril, and in the contrast which he makes between the word of angels and the message of the Son. Note this contrast first. The word spoken by angels was steadfast, and disobedience brought a just recompense. The word of angels was the word of law, stern, inflexible. The message of the Son is that which can be summarized in one word, "Salvation." It is the word of grace, compassionate, unfailing. That in itself is one reason why the foolish heart of men may fail to give earnest heed to it. Then again the peril is that of drifting. The figure is that of a boat, which caught by unseen currents, may be carried out of its course. This is so easy a thing to do. But it ought not to be. The message of Salvation, spoken by the Son, should make an even stronger appeal than that of law uttered by angels.
Wherefore, holy brethren, partakers of a heavenly calling, consider the Apostle and High Priest of our confession, even Jesus.
Again we have an appeal based upon what has already been written. Having dealt with the humiliation of the Son, and shown that it had not detracted from His superiority to the angels, but rather enhanced it, in that such humiliation was in order to the doing of His saving, priestly work, the writer urged his readers to consider Him. We may link this appeal with the previous one. The sure way in which to "give earnest heed" to the message of the Son, and to be saved from "drifting," is to consider Him. That consideration is to be of Him in two ways, as Apostle and High Priest. Along these lines we are led in what follows. Jesus is "the Apostle ... of our confession." That marks the Divine authority of His message. He is the Sent of God. His pre-eminence in this matter is shown by comparing Him with Moses and Joshua. Moses was faithful as a servant in the house, but Jesus as a Son over the house. Moses led the people out, but could not lead them in. Jesus leads out of bondage and into the promised possessions. Joshua led the people in, but could not give them rest. Jesus gives rest. Jesus is also "the High Priest of our confession," and that is very fully developed. The whole emphasis of this verse is upon the necessity for considering Him. The idea is that of careful contemplation, attentive thinking. How sadly we often fail here. The holy exercise demands time, method, diligence, and wherever it is practised we are saved from drifting.
A great High Priest, Who hath passed through the heavens.
With these words the writer began his more careful consideration of Jesus as the High Priest of our confession; and as he did so, he employed the word "great." To the Hebrew mind the phrase "High Priest" in itself expressed the highest form of priestly service; it was the ultimate word. This phrase is still further strengthened by the word "great." Jesus is not merely a priest; He is the High Priest, and in that He is great. His priestly work and position are characterized by the utmost finality. This greatness is here described in one way. He has "passed through the heavens." The statement is far stronger than it would be if it read "passed into the heavens." It helps us to think of Him as entering into the place of closest nearness to God in His priestly position. No lower heaven, however exalted, is the place of His work. Through all heavens He passed to that which in some sense is beyond the heavens, to the very place and being of God Himself. Moreover, the phrase is inclusive of His coming to us as well as to His going to God. He passed through the heavens to come to man, into closest identification; and having accomplished His purposes there, He passed through the heavens to go to God, into closest identification. The same thought is found in Paul's letter to the Ephesians: "Now this, He ascended, what is it but that He also descended into the lower parts of the earth? He that descended is the same also that ascended far ... that He might fill all things."
Thou art a priest for ever After the order of Melchizedek.
In considering the "High Priest of our confession," the writer had made clear His superiority to the Aaronic order. He now quoted this couplet from a psalm, and thus introduced the name Melchizedek, to which he presently returned. The really emphatic words of the couplet are "for ever." Aaron was called of God, and rendered his appointed service; but the period of that service was necessarily limited to his earthly lifetime, and he was succeeded by others. Our High Priest is the Son of God, and therefore there is no end to the period of His priesthood, and there can be no successors. While that is so, the quotation also suggests the nature of His priesthood. It is not merely that of dealing with sin; it is that also of sustaining life amid service and conflict. Melchizedek appears once on the page of Hebrew history, and the appearance is full of suggestiveness in the matter of what he did. Abram had been forth to war in the interest of righteousness. His service was wholly on behalf of others. He was victorious. The king of Sodom went out to meet him. Then Melchizedek appeared, and "brought forth bread and wine"; also he blessed Abram; also he received a "tenth of all." Thus he appeared, these things he did, and then he passed out of sight. There is no further reference to him until David in a Messianic psalm wrote this couplet. There is no other reference to him till this letter. Thus we see him at once king of righteousness and peace, and his priestly function is that of sustaining and blessing those who serve the Kingdom of righteousness and peace.
Not sluggish, but imitators of them who through faith and patience inherit the promises.
Having introduced the name of Melchizedek, and so also the idea of an order of priesthood higher than that of Aaron, before dealing with that subject more particularly the writer turned aside to exhort his hearers to diligence, and to warn them against the deadly peril of apostasy. In the course of this teaching, he thus put two attitudes toward all these great matters into contrast: the attitude of the sluggish, and that of imitators of those of faith and patience. Or we may say a contrast between "sluggishness" and "faith and patience." This calls us up again to "take heed," and to diligence in "considering." What, then, is sluggishness? The King James Version rendered the word "slothful," but that left the emphasis too much on the failure to act. The word "sluggish" employed by the Revisers emphasizes a condition, which results in slothfulness. The Greek word means lazy, stupid. It is a condition of soul into which we inevitably pass if we fail in the utmost diligence. Great as is the glory of our High Priest, unless we resolutely maintain our attitude of mental alertness, we shall lose the power to see, to realize, and so to profit by, His greatness. In order to this diligence, we need "faith in patience": that is, faith reinforced and kept operative by patience. Here the word translated patience means more than endurance. It is the word elsewhere rendered long-suffering. It is active rather than passive. The cure for sluggishness is ever the activity which persists in conforming the life and its habits to the faith which is professed.
He is able to save to the uttermost them that draw near unto God through Him.
This ability is based upon two things, His priesthood, and our availing ourselves of it. No other priest is equal to such complete saving of men. He, however, is only able to complete the work of saving, when men draw near to God through Him. There are very remarkable truths involved in this glorious declaration. Let us note two of them. First, the assumption of the statement is that it is only when men are near to God that the priesthood of Jesus is operative in all those continuous activities of intercession through which the saving of men can be carried out to its consummation. Not being perfect, not yet having attained, we may yet remain near to God, Who is the God of all patience. As that nearness is maintained, our High Priest is the Mediator through Whom all the resources of the Divine Wisdom, Strength, and Grace are communicated to us; that, growing up into Him in all things, our saving to the uttermost is completed. Departure from nearness to God separates us from the operation of our High Priest. That is a truth that we must never forget. Standing alone, it is liable to discourage us. But that brings us to the second truth, and that is that our nearness to God is through Him. It is through Him we draw near, and it is through Him we abide in nearness. Thus the two phases of His priestly work are in view. The first is atoning. Through that we draw near, and abide in nearness. The second is intercessory and perfecting. That operates as we are near to God through His atoning work.
He is the Mediator of a better covenant.
The outstanding word here is the word "covenant," for it includes everything which accrues to the believer through the priesthood of Jesus. The writer had employed it once before (7:22). Now he turned back to it, and from this point it constantly recurs to the end of the letter. It is well that we should recognize its real value. The Latin Vulgate invariably renders the word testamentum, and our Revisers always marginally suggest testament as an alternative rendering. This is suggestive, and indeed important. When we employ the word covenant, we think of a contract, into which two parties have entered, and which involves obligations and responsibilities on both sides; and all this is true in the use of the word in this connection. But the idea is not that of a covenant made after discussion, or by mutual concession and arrangement. A covenant is literally a testament, or disposition made by one, in the making of which the other is not consulted, but the benefits of which that other can only appropriate as he fulfils the terms laid down by the one. Our modern word Will exactly conveys the idea. The covenant between God and man which Christ Jesus has mediated is the disposition of God on behalf of man, the benefits of which man can only appropriate as he obeys the terms of that testament or disposition. To put the truth somewhat roughly, and perhaps, therefore, all the more forcefully - the better covenant is not one arrived at after bargaining with God. It is all of His grace.
Christ entered ... into heaven itself, now to appear before the face of God for us.
This is the fact which made possible the covenant. This was the supreme act of His priesthood, and it is continuous. In a former note we considered the statement that our great High Priest has "passed through the heavens" (4:14). Here it is said that He has entered into heaven. This is not a contradiction, but an interpretation. The heavens through which He passed are the created heavens. The Heaven which He entered is the uncreated abode of God Himself, the very Holiest of all. Thither He went "to appear before the face of God." The statement is apprehended in all its fullness of meaning when we put it into contrast with the greatest hour in the life and ministry of Moses. In an hour of supreme need and highest communion Moses asked to see the glory of God; that is, to behold His face. The answer was, "Thou canst not see My face"; but in grace he was given to see the back of God. The Son of God, in His glorified manhood, entered into Heaven to be manifested before the face of God! There, as man, God beheld Him, and He beheld God. And this was for us. In His humanity ours was represented, our sin covered by His completed atonement, our imperfections cancelled in His perfection, our weakness ended in His strength. Henceforth we are accepted in the Beloved, and all the wisdom and might and love of God are given to us through Him in the covenant which God makes with us.
Let us draw near.
In a previous note (7:25) we considered the fact that the intercessory work of our High Priest is only operative on behalf of those who draw near to God through Him. In these words we are called upon to avail ourselves of the privilege He has created of access to God. It is that possibility of approach and access which is the supreme and glorious fact resulting from the work of our Priest. The very nature of this appeal emphasizes this. The one thing we are called upon to do is to draw near. In God, and the eternal order, there is no reason why we should not do so. Everything which excluded men from God has been put away. The rending of the Temple veil at the death of Jesus was symbolic. That which, in its wholeness, had been the symbol of man's exclusion from God through sin, in its rent condition was the symbol of the open way to God. The life of Jesus in its final perfection was a perpetual message to men concerning their unfitness to enter the Divine Presence. Because He lived a life of unbroken fellowship with God, I know that I cannot do so; His fellowship resulted from His being well-pleasing to God. Nothing ever has separated between man and God, save sin. He was sinless, and so lived with God. But the death of Jesus has dealt with my sin, and so has made possible my return to God, my access to Him at all times and under all circumstances. Therefore the appeal to me is not a call to prepare myself, or to make a way for myself to God. It is simply to come, to draw near, to enter in. This I do only through my great High Priest, but this I may do through Him without faltering and without fear.
These all ... received not the promise.
These words are full of encouragement for us in hours when we are tempted to discouragement because the victories of faith seem as though they never would be won. After the wonderful passage in which the writer reminded his readers of the heroes and heroines who had lived and suffered and died in faith, he declared that all of them died without seeing the full victory toward which they had been looking. It is an interesting study to follow this word promise through the Letter. It can easily be done by the aid of a good concordance, for the A.V. and R.V. uniformly render the Greek word by this word "promise." Such an examination will show that the word is always used with reference to declarations of God as to what He will do. These promises of God were what men heard and believed, and such belief was the sustaining power in all their service and suffering. In the course of the Letter it is said that Abraham "obtained the promise" (6:15); that through the mediation of our High Priest we "may receive the promise" (9:15); that we need patience that we "may receive the promise" (10:36) ; that the patriarchs "died in faith, not having received the promises" (11:13); that Abraham "had gladly received the promises" (11:17); that Samuel and the prophets "obtained promises" (11:33); and now that "these all ... received not the promise." This grouping shows a distinction between the receiving the promise as a promise, and receiving the fulfilment. Faith has received the promise, and acts accordingly.
Therefore let us also ... run .. . looking unto Jesus.
Hebrews 12. 1, 2
These words catch up and apply all that had been said as to the service rendered in the past by those who had "received the promises," and had died, not having "received the promise." If they so endured with courage and cheerfulness, we also should be prepared to endure with patience, and run the race toward the glorious goal without wavering, however hopeless the enterprise may seem, when judged by the circumstances of the hour. The ultimate strength of this appeal, however, lies in the contrast which it suggests between these men of the past and ourselves. They had the promises; we have Jesus. They look for the City; we look off unto Jesus. This means that in Him we have a clearer revelation of the glory of the City, and of the travail through which alone it can be built. Through Him our understanding of what the tabernacling of God with men means, is more perfect. In Him the call is to yet profounder suffering and to greater patience. But He is Himself the File-leader of the Faithful; that is, in His own life and service He takes precedence of all others. And so He is supremely the Vindicator of faith in the promises of God, as the one principle which moves toward the fulfilment of those very promises. He also is waiting for the consummation, waiting till His enemies shall be made the footstool of His feet, but waiting in the perfect assurance of the final victory. Then we are called upon to rest in His assurance, to have fellowship with His sufferings, and so to hasten the coming of the Day of God.
Now the God of peace ... make you perfect.
Hebrews 13:20, 21
This is the ultimate prayer of the writer of this wonderful letter, on behalf of those for whom he had been setting forth the glories and perfections of God's speech, to men through the Son. The verb, to make perfect, here, is not the one employed usually in reference to the perfecting of the saints. It is one that suggests the bestowment of complete equipment, the making fit; and here, as so constantly, the reason for the fitness, the purpose of the equipment, is the doing of His will, which includes "every good thing" as a means of rendering service. It is to that end that God ever speaks to men. In times past He had spoken to the fathers through the prophets, and by His Word they had received the promises; and believing them, they had served their generation by the will of God. Now He speaks through the Son more completely, yea finally, and that still in order that in Him the message may prevail in making those who hear it fit for all life and service. In this connection, therefore, He refers to God as "the God of Peace." He is in Himself the God of Peace. It is only as men hear His word and live by it, that they can know peace. His final word to men came through His Son, Who is the Lord Jesus, the great Shepherd, Who gathers the sheep into the fold, and leads them in the way of peace. This He does through the blood of the eternal covenant, and by God's raising of Him from the dead. In Him the God of Peace perfectly equips all believing souls, so that each may confidently say:-
- I nothing lack if I am His,
And He is mine for ever.