The grand distinction between the legal economy and Christianity was set forth luminously in Heb. 9, with the facts which made the contrast clear, and above all His person, work, and place who closed the one and introduced the other. In the first half of Heb. 10 we have the truth triumphantly applied to the conscience in order to our enjoying the presence of God where Christ is gone.
"For the law, having a shadow of the coming good things, not the image itself of the things, with the same sacrifices which year by year they offer in perpetuity, can never perfect those that approach: else would they not have ceased being offered, because that those who serve, having been once purified, would have no more conscience of sins? But in them [is] a recalling to mind of sins year by year; for [it is] impossible that blood of bulls and goats should take away sins (verses 1-4).
The law had a shadow, and but a shadow, of the coming good things, not the very image. There is even contrast in what is most characteristic. The law made nothing perfect. The work of Christ as now made known perfects the believer, not of course in his state or conduct, but in his standing before God. It was never so under the law. People or individuals, all they got was temporary relief. Finality they had none. They had to offer the same sacrifices: the greatest year by year, the lesser as need arose from day to day, they had to offer without a break. It was only provisional, at best a witness of good to come. But now in Christ and His work the best is come. The Second man is the Last Adam. None shall rival, still less supersede, Him; and the efficacy of His work is in keeping with the perfection of His person. The constant repetition of the old sacrifices tells the tale of their intrinsic shortcomings. Christ's own sacrifice bespeaks its everlasting worth. Of old, sins if renewed as they were demanded a fresh offering. Where remission of sins is, there is no more offering for sin; and this is only and precisely true, now that Christ has been once offered. He obtained eternal redemption: for it the believer does not, like Israel, await the day of His appearing. While He is still on high, the Holy Spirit is sent down and he that believes the gospel, purified in his conscience before Him, beholds Him on the right hand of God. No need for Him to offer Himself again; else must He often suffer. But this were an insult alike to Christ and to God, to the Spirit intolerable. Where faith is, God sees not the believer's sins but the blood which blots them out for ever. There is no renewal, because he has been once purified and has no more any conscience of sins.
But men in Christendom have so receded from the gospel of salvation to a mingled system of half-law and half-gospel, that we rarely hear this truth proclaimed, or this privilege enjoyed. Even saints on either hand wonder at the sound. Right well they know when awakened that the Spirit wrought by the word and laid their sins heavily on their conscience; and they cried to God in distress of soul, and called on the Lord - surely not in vain. Still their experience has been very like the saints of old, seeking fresh recourse to His blood on every fresh occasion of need. To use the truth before us, they have still a conscience of sins. They believe in Christ, but do not apprehend the efficacy of His work. Of old it could not be otherwise, for it was not yet accomplished. Even the most evangelical of prophets, as he is called, was not given to say more than "My salvation is near to come, and my righteousness to be revealed."
Now in the gospel, God's salvation is come, His righteousness is revealed (Rom_1:17); and believers receive the end of their faith, salvation of souls; not yet of bodies, but of souls by a work divinely perfect, which perfects those that approach. How could it be less? God Himself could not add to the perfecting virtue of Christ's blood. By Christ "all that believe are justified from all things" from which none could be in the law of Moses (Act_13:29). It will be known better, enjoyed fully, by the saints in heaven; but God will never estimate it more highly on our account than He declares already to is; and faith now rests on His word. Without Christ's blood it were impenitent and obdurate presumption to pretend to "no more conscience of sins." But it puts shame on His work for one who believes on Him to doubt that God beholds him washed in the blood that purifies from every sin. The only true title to believe that any sins are cancelled ought to assure one that all are gone.
How sad it is that those in Christendom who have least pity for the poor guilty Jews are themselves in their faith more Jewish than Christian! Let them test themselves by this capital truth of the gospel. Do they draw near as worshippers once purified having no more conscience of sins? Is this the ground they take in private and in public, in their prayers and in their praises? Do they believe that their guilt is quite gone and for ever by Christ's sacrifice? Read how the inspiring Spirit lays bare the total failure of the Levitical sacrifices, "In them is a recalling to mind of sins year by year"; and the reason is no less evident, "for it is not possible that blood of bulls and goats should take away sins." Christ's work is God's intervention to do away with the believer's guilt. This He has done once and for ever. Every wrong deed, word, or feeling calls for humiliation on the Christian's part, as other scriptures show; but no scripture enfeebles the efficacy of Christ's sacrifice for him that believes. To doubt it is a sin which exposes to other and all sins; as it may end in total ruin and prove that the doubter never was born of God.
Intrinsic and everlasting value there was not nor could be in those creature sacrifices, which, far from purging guilt effectually, testified by their necessary repetition that the sins were still there and ever coming into remembrance before God. But He had in His purpose a sacrifice of nobler name and richer blood than they yea, in the midst of the Levitical system He had expressed His dissatisfaction with what fell so short of His own nature and of His people's need. All really depended on One to come, not the first man but the Second. Both are plainly taught in the next citation.
"Wherefore, when he entereth into the world, he saith, Sacrifice and offering thou wouldest not, but a body didst thou prepare for me; in whole burnt-offerings and [sacrifices] for sin thou tookest no pleasure. Then said I, Lo, I am come, in heading (or chapter) of a book it is written of me, to do thy will, O God" (verses 5-7).
It was His not only to make known but to effectuate the will of God. That which had been set out previously was suited to man's estate then, partial, earthly, and temporary. From the first God had held out the sure prospect of what was divine and enduring, yet in man and alone perfect for man. This unbelief never saw, because man's will is always opposed to God, dreads His judgment, believes not His grace, and seeks self-satisfaction. But faith looked to Christ and, in the sense of sin and ruin, found rest nowhere else. And when He enters into the world, His eye is single, His whole body full of light, according to Psalm 40. He speaks truth, whatever the cost to Himself; and it cost Him everything. He recognises that His work, itself the most stupendous of sacrifices, must take the place of those that God had provisionally instituted; more than accomplishing each of them, but superseding them all, because perfection only now was found in it. Peace- (or thank-) offerings did not meet God's will any more than oblations or meal offerings: instead of either He prepared a body for His Son, the Messiah. This exactly suits the revealed facts of the Incarnation. He was to come by the woman, more fully man thus than Adam, but conceived of the Holy Spirit, as was neither Adam nor any other: so truly did God fit a body for the Son, that even in human nature He alone should be the Holy One of God. Nor otherwise would it have suited the Son, either as the constant object of the Father's delight all through the days of His flesh, as the adequate vessel of the Holy Spirit's power in service, or as the sin-offering at last. How different from us, who even when born of God are anointed only as under the efficacy of His blood! His body was the temple of God without blood.
Dr. Randolph, unless memory fail me, in his elaborate examination of quotations from the O.T. in the N.T. gives up the attempt to account for the chance in the LXX. from the Hebrew form of the last clause in verse 5; and so does the late Dean Alford "leave the difficulty an unsolved one." There is no sufficient reason to suppose a misreading gave rise to that Greek version, with Abp. Ussher (vii. 517) followed by Ernesti, Michaelis, Semler, etc., down to Bleek in our day. That the Epistle to the Hebrews adopts it, not as the literal rendering but as the substantial sense, is of deep instruction and interest; and this has commended itself to the most reverent and competent readers to the present time. The allusion is neither to Exo_21:6, nor to Isa_1:5: Psa_40:6 (7) is distinct from both, though all three centre in Messiah.
For (1) the Holy Spirit in the Psalm refers to the assumption of human nature in a condition wholly different from fallen man, even from His virgin mother. Of this the figure of "ears digged" not merely opened or bored, is the striking expression. Other ears were deaf through sin; His only God dug for Him, as He only ever heard and obeyed, living thus "not by bread alone but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God." "A body didst thou prepare for me" well answered to that, and gives the meaning which all might not so easily draw from the Hebrew phrase. (2) Then comes the application of the prophet who speaks of the Messiah morning by morning wakened to hear. "The Lord Jehovah hath opened mine ear." It is not alone holy humanity given Him at the outset, but His habit of daily dependence as "the Servant." (3) The type in the law completes the case; for this conveys that at the end of faithful service, when He might have gone out free, He (in love to His master, His wife, and His children) submits to have His ear "bored" through with an awl, as the sign of serving for ever. It is His death for the glory of God, and the life and blessing of all that believe. Thus consistency marks all, while each is distinct; and our text refers to the divine preparation of a body for Messiah, suited for His worthy work.
"In whole burnt-offerings and [sacrifices] for sin thou tookest no pleasure." The last words are still the energetic rendering of the Septuagint, not an exact reflection of the Hebrew, Thou didst not ask. Men easily satisfied themselves and trusted that God was satisfied with offerings of free will when they prospered, and no flagrant evil required sacrifices for sin. But God ever looked on for His will to be done - what is quite impossible to the first man fallen as he is, and far above him even when unfallen. For this appeared the One who was alike Son of God and Son of man according to what was written in a roll familiar to the Father and the Son. It was a purpose indeed before man or the world existed, the fruit of which will abide in the new heaven and new earth, when time melts into eternity for weal and woe.
"Then said I, Lo, I am come (in heading of a book it is written of me) to do thy will, O God" (verse 7).
Such was the place Christ took here below. Adam surrounded by all that was very good, failed utterly even when tried by the slenderest test. The race had not even the wish nor yet the notion. Self-will characterised all nations, most strongly (perhaps it is that we know them best) Greeks and Latins. All sinned, these boldly: nothing more preposterous in the eyes of either than to give up one's own will to do only God's. And what can we say of English, French, Germans, etc., since Christ marked out that sole path of perfectness for man here below? Ah, the Second man is also the Last Adam. Not that many, many thousands have not followed His steps in faith and love by Him who strengthened and directed them but how feebly and afar off, even those nearest? For, as was the glory of His person, such was His devotedness,, whatever the trial. Though He was Son, yet learned He obedience (previously and absolutely new to Him as truly divine) by the things which He suffered. Being in the form of God He counted it not a thing to be grasped to be on equality with God, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bondman, made in the likeness of men; and being found in fashion as a man, He humbled Himself, becoming obedient unto death, yea, death of the cross. Others had done miracles, to His own He promised works greater than even He had done, because He went to the Father; but what man ever obeyed as He? Who, even as a saint, could say like Him that he had never done his own will? He, and He only, was entitled to say, "Lo, I am come to do thy will, O God."
As the person was most glorious, and the body fitted as only God could fit by a miracle of holy character and power, we shall find that the end was worthy of that wondrous path, whereon the Spirit of God descended as a dove and came upon Him, and the Father's voice out of the heavens at length saw meet to break His hitherto ineffable silence with the words, "This is my beloved Son, in whom I found my good pleasure." Freely He had come to glorify His Father; but when He is come, He keeps the position of man unswervingly to do the will of God.
Attention is drawn to the wondrous fact in the unseen realm, disclosed of old,, now set before us with emphasis, where the Son proffers Himself at all cost to effect, for God's glory and for man's blessing, what was wholly beyond the creature. Thus only could purpose and obedience meet in Him who deigned to take manhood, save the fallen by the sacrifice of Himself, and glorify God in all respects. "Saying above, sacrifice and offering and whole burnt-offering and sacrifice for sin thou wouldest not, neither tookest pleasure in (such as are offered according to law), then hath he said, Lo, I am come to do thy will. He taketh away the first that he may establish the second; by which will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. And every priest standeth day by day ministering and offering often the same sacrifices, such as can never take away sins. But he, when he offered one sacrifice for sins, sat down continuously at God's right hand, henceforth waiting till his enemies be set as a footstool of his feet. For by one offering hath he perfected continuously the sanctified" (verses 8-14).
Even in the O.T. enough was said to intimate the divine estimate of the sacrificial system. It kept up the wholesome acknowledgment of man's need and guilt. The remembrance of sins never actually effaced the witness of God ready to accept it, but in creature offerings altogether inadequate. It pointed to One who, in the body prepared for Him alone, could and would do the will of God, not an angel but man though infinitely more. Law was wholly unavailing to glorify God on the one hand, and to deliver man on the other. Only the Son of God could do both; and He on this account becoming not only man, the woman's Seed, but in grace obedient up to death (which had otherwise no claim whatever on Him), a sacrificial death for sin not His own in the least decree but ours solely; and this after a life of unswerving faithfulness and absolute devotion to His Father's will and glory in a world of sin, sorrow, suffering, and death.
Verse 8 sums up the result in a few pregnant words: "He taketh away the first, that he may establish the second." The sacrifice of Christ was alike the consummation and the close of the Levitical economy. It was no longer requirement of man, but God's will done perfectly; so that He could in virtue of it bless weak, failing, guilty man, if he believed, according to all the love of His heart. For this He had waited - O how long! God's will was now done. How different from the will of man in pride or vanity, in violence or corruption, as the race had done since Adam! This wrought curse and ruin; that, blessing without measure or end, and worthily. For, having done the will of God in a life of goodness, He suffered notably throughout life but above all in His death, as from man for God, so from God for man at last crowning all, when for us made sin that we who believe might become God's righteousness in Him. Between the Father and the Son it was settled ere man or time began; in due time, when all was moral wreck and man had failed under all circumstances, after every trial on God's part among the chosen people as outside them, He became man to do it, and He did it at all cost to perfection, glorifying God withal in that sacrifice of Himself which was to abolish sin for ever.
The highest angel is but a servant; the Son became one. This very fact implies His personal glory as true God. For the archangel could neither empty himself of the glory God gave without sinning against the God who gave him his position; nor did he need to humble himself in becoming a servant, for this he was and could be nothing else. But a divine person could and did. As written elsewhere, He emptied Himself, having taken a bondman's form, being come in likeness of men; and, being found in fashion as a man, He humbled Himself, becoming obedient up to death, yea death of the cross. To the Christian the religion of signs is for ever gone. Grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.
Thus did He establish God's will, "by (ἐν)which will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus once for all" (verse 10). Once God set apart Israel to Himself after a fleshly sort, which involved. in it nothing spiritual, though the figure of the mortification of the flesh. Christians, whether Jews or Gentiles previously, have been and are set apart through that body offered up once for all; and it is in virtue of God's will by means of Jesus offered up that we are thus sanctified. Men as such have 'been, and been proved, utterly sinful. Later in the Epistle (Heb_12:14) we are exhorted to practical holiness, the holiness apart from which none shall see the Lord. But here it is a divine operation already accomplished in the Christian, the effect of which abides; for it is once for all, like that offering which supersedes all others and can never be repeated. God rests in all its completeness and perfection, and sanctifies us accordingly as a settled permanent state. Theology does not accept or confess this great boon, any more than the Spirit's sanctification of every saint in a new life given as in 1Pe_1:2; both distinct from, and the grand basis of, that holiness in practice which ought to be progressive, and on which the Lord insists as here in Heb_12:14.
But there is yet more, which calls for a further contrast with Judaism. "And every priest standeth day by day ministering, and offering often the same sacrifices, such as can never take away sins: - but he, when he offered one sacrifice for sins, continuously sat down at God's right hand, henceforth waiting till his enemies be set as a footstool of his feet. For by one offering hath he perfected continuously the sanctified" (verses 11-14). The immeasurable superiority of Christ's sacrifice is here demonstrated in the clearest way. The Jewish priest "standeth," being necessarily called to constant readiness of service day by day, and offering often the same sacrifices, because they were intrinsically ineffectual and needed habitual repetition. Not so the Saviour: His one sacrifice for sins is so efficacious that He took His seat in perpetuity at God's right hand. "It is finished." The will of God as to this is done. Christ offered up Himself, God has accepted it, the believer is perfectly blessed thereby. It is once for all, and attested by His unbroken sitting at God's right hand, whence He will rise by-and-by to execute judgment when God gives the word to deal with His enemies. There meanwhile He sits, having done and suffered all for His friends, once His foes but now believing in Him. And the reason assigned for His continuous seat there is full of blessing for us: "For by one offering hath he perfected continuously the sanctified."*
* It is singular that any believer should fail to see that τοὺς ἁγιαζομένους here must be "the sanctified" as a class apart from time, because the same persons are in ver. 10 declared to be already ἡγιασμένοι. For this means that they were now sanctified, and therefore not a process going on. Both could not be true if ἁγιαζομένους were taken in its temporal usage. But they are both true without doubt all the same where the abstract force of the present is seen, as every scholar ought to know.
It is not enough then to assure the Christian that he has been sanctified or set apart by Christ's effectual offering once for all, though this surely is immense in itself. By the same one offering has He perfected in perpetuity the sanctified. But εἰς τὸ διηνεκὲς is not the same as ἅπαξ or ἐφάπαξ, as M. Stuart says. "Once" or "once for all" might have been joined with προσενέγκας θυσίαν, but not "in perpetuity" which demands to go with ἐκάθισεν, "sat down." There the sense fully applies; whereas by the loose rendering "for ever," followed by a comma as in the Auth. and Rev. versions, the true force is lost, and help given to the falsehood of a mass going on for ever, though this would require προσφέρων to make it accurate. Perfected Himself as risen and glorified, He has perfected those set apart to God. Both the perfecting here and the sanctification in verse 10 are completed actions, the effect of which does not pass away. They err who teach that either is a process going on. Both are blessed effects of Christ's offering, to which nothing can be added for their end. Nor is this at all weakened, as some argue, from the form of "the sanctified" in verse 14; because this expresses the class in an abstract way, not at all as to time: if it did, it would contradict the form of the statement in verse 10, which does express time, and declares that we enjoy the settled result of God's having thus set us apart. Such a contradiction is not, and could not be, in the inspired word. Our bodies of course await the glorious change at Christ's coming again. Meanwhile we ourselves, our souls, are perfected without a break through the work Christ has done for us. The Father and the Son could do no more for our sins than is already accomplished in the sacrifice of Jesus, and revealed to our faith in the written word. There is growth, there ought to be advance, and there may be declension, in holiness; but this is not the question here, which treats of the Christian standing through Christ's offering. And this admits of no degrees. It is always perfect for every believer. But practical holiness is quite another thing, but imperfect even in the most pious, and ought to progress. This is not the question or sense in the context.
We have had the will of God as the source of our salvation, and the Saviour's work as the efficacious means. There now follows the no less indispensable witness of the Holy Spirit as the unfailing power of bringing our souls into the possession and knowledge of the blessing. Thus each person of the Godhead has His appropriate place, and all contribute to this end as worthy of God as it is needed by man.
"And the Holy Spirit also beareth witness to us; for after he hath said, This [is] the covenant which I will covenant with them after those days, saith Jehovah. Giving my laws, on their hearts and on their mind I will write them: and their sins and their lawlessnesses I will remember no more. Now where remission of these is, [there is] no more an offering for sin" (verses 15-18).
The dignity of Him who testifies is an essential part of the boon conferred on the Christian. None less than a divine person was in accordance with the purpose of God or the accomplisher of His work, His own Son, for whom, with whatever imperfect light, all saints had waited from the first. Now that His will was done by Christ to the glory of the Father, a competent and suited witness was requisite; and this was no other than the Holy Spirit who ever cave energy, to what God took in hand. Nor was it less imperative if we were to receive and to enjoy that certainty of acceptance with God which is essential to Christian communion, worship, and walk. Faith had ever been the condition of all that pleased God in men now that Christ is in heaven it has a pre-eminent value. "We walk by faith, not by sight." But faith is only another way of expressing divine certainty in us. It receives on His word what He reveals. And He who came to glorify God by His death on earth is now glorified by and in God in heaven to make heavenly those who behold Him there.
It is interesting also to observe how carefully Scripture avoids the error of assuming that the new covenant expresses our standing. The blood of it is shed; the spiritual blessedness of it is ours who believe. But its strict and full import awaits the house of Israel and the house of Judah at a future day, as we saw in Heb. 8. Then all its terms will be verified.; not only what the heart needs and the mind, with full pardon its principle, though the Jews have not yet bowed to the Messiah. But as His work is done and accepted, so the Spirit attests the full remission of sins in His name: God will remember them no more for those that believe. And where this remission is, there is no more an offering for sin. Such is Christianity in contrast with Judaism. It is founded on Christ's sacrifice, which has so completely taken away the sins of believers that no offering for them remains.
"Having therefore, brethren, boldness for entering into the holies by the blood of Jesus, a recent and living way which he dedicated for us through the veil, that is, his flesh; and [having] a great priest over the house of God, let us approach with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from a wicked conscience, and our body washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the confession of the hope unwavering for he is faithful that promised; and let us consider one another for provoking unto love and good works; not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, even as [is] customary for some, but encouraging, and so much the more as ye see the day drawing near" (verses 19-25).
But Christ's work avails much more. It gives present entrance into the holies. What took away our sins rent the veil; and those who believe are invited and free of the innermost sanctuary even now. Boldness to enter there on any pretension of our love or holiness, of new nature or even divine ordinance, would be mere and shameless presumption. Here it is calmly claimed for Christians, who are exhorted in the strongest terms to approach by faith to God's presence without a doubt or a cloud, now that their sins are gone. Boldness to enter there is due to the blood of Jesus. Only unbelief hinders. It is a new and living way which He dedicated for us through the veil, that is, His flesh. We honour Him by using it in the fullest confidence that it pleases God.
Nor this only: we have a great Priest over the house of God. His is the title. He is Son over God's house, which even Moses was not but only a servant in it: and His house are we if we hold fast our boldness instead of doubting or giving it up. In heaven itself Christ now appears before the face of God for us, who through His sacrifice have no more conscience of sins, as He there is the proof that we are perfected unbrokenly. He is above to maintain us, spite of our weakness and exposure here, according to the cleansing of His blood and the nearness it confers on those who believe.
Hence we are told to "approach with a true heart in full assurance of faith." Never could we deserve such a privilege. His glory and His work alone entitle us, but they do so completely; and we honour Him and appreciate the grace of God by approaching not with fear or hesitation but with a true heart in full assurance of faith. God Himself has wrought by His Son and in the Spirit, that we might be fully blessed even here and enjoy already this access to Himself in the sanctuary. What an indignity tradition puts on every person of the Godhead alike, on the grace and truth which came by Jesus Christ, when it drags souls back to the dread and distance of Judaism! For there is no humility so genuine as that which is the fruit of faith, sees itself so unworthy as to deserve only condemnation, and bows in everlasting gratitude to God and the Lamb, whom the Holy Spirit teaches us to be worth all our thoughts and affections, our worship and service.
The figures employed are drawn from Levitical institutions, but express a settled condition which far transcends what could be then: "having our hearts sprinkled from a wicked conscience, and our body washed with pure water." The sons of Aaron outwardly were washed and sprinkled for priestly service. Elsewhere we find provision for failure, as in John 13 and 1Jn_2:1; here we have only the fundamental ground which abides, as is indeed expressed by "washed" or bathed, in Joh_13:10. This it was the more necessary to insist on, as in an epistle for those who had been Jews ever used to failure and provision for it, to whom the new and living way was unknown with its eternal and fullest blessings. And now souls in Christendom need to be weaned from those Jewish elements to which they have been so long in bondage. Even Christians generally need the truth of the gospel to deliver them from human thoughts and ways. When they are established in grace, other wants claim their place, where there is much to learn.
Again the word is, "Let us hold fast the confession of the hope unwavering," that is, firm and stedfast, not through our strength or courage, but "for faithful is he that promised." Power of continuance is in looking to and for Christ. In the A.V. of verse 23 "faith" is a strange if not unaccountable mistake. "Hope" is here right as "faith" in verse 22. Promise connects with the future, and hence calls for hope.
Then comes the call to "consider one another to provoke unto love and good works." When set right before God as to the present and the future, we are in a condition and are exhorted to seek the good one of another. And, in order to promote the affection and deeds worthy of Christians, it is important to hear the caution, "not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is customary for some, but encouraging." For this is well, rather than an objurgatory tone which provokes neither to love nor to good works. Our gathering together is of great moment: none can neglect it without snare and loss. And we need mutual cheer in the midst of difficulties, sorrows, and dangers. Isolation may be a resource in special circumstances; but it is never to be desired like fellowship as the rule.
As responsibility is here in view, it is "the day" or appearing of the Lord that follows, when our fidelity or the lack of it will be manifested. Conscience should be the more in exercise, because of the grace wherein we stand; but flesh would take advantage of grace for carelessness. The assembly has its serious place and claim according to God's word, as well as the soul. Difficulties increase, as the day approaches; but His word is authoritative for such as fear Him, and never misleads where the eye is single. The Holy Spirit effects this by directing us to Christ. Then Scripture tells on the heart as well as on the conscience; the new man answers to the word of the Lord, and lives in obedience.
There follows a most solemn warning, as much in keeping with the one perfect sacrifice of Christ, as that given in Heb. 6 is with the displayed power of the Holy Spirit in honour of His person. To abandon Him or His work is fatal; and such is the question in both warnings, not personal failure or practical inconsistency within or without, however grievous and inexcusable, but apostasy from the power of the Spirit to forms, or from the only efficacious work of the Saviour to indulge in sin wilfully and habitually. Either is to prove oneself the enemy of God's grace and truth, though the two paths may diverge ever so widely. But faith, and the faith, are alike abjured, whether for religious vanities or for reckless unholiness. It is man in both, fallen man preferred, God and His Son rejected, however seemingly far apart as the poles. Both paths of ruin, not without votaries in apostolic days, are at the present crowded and ever increasingly.
"For if we are sinning wilfully after we received the full knowledge of the truth, there remaineth no more a sacrifice for sins, but t certain fearful expectation of judgment and fierceness of fire about to devour the adversaries. If one set at nought Moses' law, he dieth without compassion on [evidence of] two or three witnesses: of how much worse punishment, think ye, shall he be thought deserving that trod down the Son of God, and counted common the blood of the covenant wherewith he was sanctified, and insulted the Spirit of grace? For we know him that said, To me [belongeth] vengeance, I will requite, saith Jehovah; and again, Jehovah will judge his people. A fearful thine, [it is] to fall into a living God's hands" (verses 26-31).
It is a serious consideration to read "forsaking the assembling of ourselves together as the custom of some is in such proximity to apostasy. But so it is. The habit is not only unworthy of Christians but perilous. It is to neglect, if not to despise, one of the greatest means of edification and comfort. It is indifference to the fellowship of saints. It is independence and slight of His presence who not only loves us but is pleased to be in our midst for blessing ever fresh and growing. Are these privileges of little account in opened eyes and to ears that hear? Then weigh what follows in the light of "the day drawing near," when motives as well as ways will be laid bare. Little as the beginning seems to some, it is the beginning of a great and possibly fatal evil. "For if we are sinning willingly after we received the full knowledge of the truth, there remaineth no more a sacrifice for sins." Giving up any assemblage which has the Lord's sanction for ease, or private reasons which are not imperative duty, may embolden many if not all to give up, and so end in callous contempt and fleshly self-indulgence.
It might seem incredible, did we not know as a fact, how many unestablished young get worried by the enemy when they find themselves so far below the standard of Christ, and particularly when through unwatchfulness they have found themselves guilty of sin, But their state is wholly in contrast with the apostate boldness described in this chapter as well as in Heb. 6. There is nothing really in common. The apostate is as self-complacent as haughty toward Christ, and hates the truth the more because he once professed it. The tried and shaken believer condemns himself unsparingly and desires above all things fidelity to Christ. Confidence in His grace through a fuller sense of His work in judgment of sinful flesh (Rom_8:1-4), not remission of sins only, is the great remedy so little appreciated generally, as well as His advocacy in case of special failure (1Jn_2:1-2).
The reader should observe that "sinning" in verse 26 is the present participle and does not relate to an act or acts of evil (as in the last text referred to), but to the habitual or continuous habit of the person. And this is strongly pointed out in a Greek Scholiast which Matthaei quotes. It supposes souls not born of God; which is in no way inconsistent with "we" or with having received objective knowledge, however accurate, full, or certain. On the contrary, both here and in 2Pe_2:20, this is expressly allowed to be Within the range of flesh's capacity: the lesson which is lost for all that assume like Alford, that this can only be by those who are real possessors of life or spiritual grace.
In the face of such reasoning it is a plain and instructive fact that not a word in any of those scriptures implies that they ever were begotten of God. They were mere professors of Christ, never children of God. Thus they might have had the highest external privileges of the Spirit and powers of the age to come (cf. Mat_7:21-23), which only aggravated their defection from the Lord, but in no way intimated, as Delitzsch fancied, "a living believing knowledge of it [the truth] which laid hold of a man and fused him into union with itself." It is a gross error that thus verse 29 becomes unintelligible. Those who speak so only prove how far they themselves were from a sound intelligence of Scripture as to God or man. Another form of misunderstanding appeared of old in the Novatian controversy from misuse of baptism, for which the curious reader may consult of the Greeks Chrysostom and of the Latins Augustine, as well as later writers, or the still lower because more human school of Theodore of Mopsuestia.
It is clear that, abandoning Christ, they must forfeit sacrifice for sins, His only, being effectual and writing death even on what had pointed to His. There remained therefore for such as renounced Him "a certain expectation of judgment and fierceness (or, heat) of fire about to devour the adversaries," into which apostates necessarily pass. And this is confirmed from God's dealings in the past, allowing for the vast superiority of gospel over law. If one set at nought Moses' law and dies apart from compassionate feelings, in case of two or three witnesses, how much worse punishment, think ye, shall he deserve that trampled down the Son of God, and counted common the blood of the covenant wherewith he was sanctified, and insulted the Spirit of grace? One cannot conceive thoughts or words more energetic, and a doom implied more awful. And so it must be: for a blessing spurned, after being received on the fullest proof and the surest attestation, becomes the measure of the guilt of abjuring it. As in verse 26 we saw the eagerness of some to infer the defectibility of grace and the denial of eternal life, so here we have to face the straits of pious men trembling for the truth sacred and dear to their hearts, and conceiving strange evasions, instead of trusting absolutely God's word. Thus Dr. John Lightfoot, followed by Guyse, etc., argues that Christ was sanctified by blood! (verse 29) as others refer the sanctification in question to the covenant! Here again the contending parties overlook that the Epistle to the Hebrews contemplates, as does 1 Corinthians, Christian profession; which ought to be real by divine grace, but may be only external and thus admits of a "sanctification" not necessarily inward but positional only.
The citation of Deu_32:35 ought to strike those who question the apostle's hand; because it differs from both the Hebrew original and the Sept. version, and is identical with Rom_12:19.
There evidently had been ground for the extreme warning given us in Heb. 6 also; and of course the danger of apostasy is always real among those who name the Lord's name. Only those who become partakers of divine nature by grace surmount the difficulties and overcome the world through faith. Yet here as before the actually bright side is not forgotten, but enlarged on for the comfort of those who held fast.
"But call to remembrance the earlier days in which, when enlightened, ye endured much conflict of sufferings, partly being made a spectacle by both reproaches and afflictions, and partly also having become partakers with those thus conversant. For ye both sympathised with those in bonds, and accepted with joy the plundering, of your goods, knowing that ye have for yourselves a better substance and abiding. Cast not away therefore your confidence, since it (or, the which) hath great recompense. For of endurance ye have need, that, having done the will of God, ye may receive the promise. For yet a very little while he that cometh will be come and will not delay. But my righteous one shall live by faith; and if he shrink back, my soul hath no pleasure in him. But we have no shrinking back unto perdition, but faith unto soul-winning" (verses 32-39).
Relaxation is ever a danger for soldiers when on service, as Christians always are here below; and those who had been Jews were exposed to it as much at least as Gentile brethren, which we may see for these last in 1 Cor. 4 and 15. The Hebrew believers had begun well; they are here urged to continue enduring the fierce conflict of the enemy. All the old English versions save that of Rheims (1552) narrow their sympathy according to the Text. Rec. to the bonds of him who, now wrote. but the better reading seems to be "the prisoners" i.e. those of the Lord in general. To some of feeble faith this is. no small trial; to others the plunder of their property. These saints had shone in both respects. "In heaven" appears to be a copyist's addition, as is "in" (ἐν) just before. Still the great guard is against casting away their confidence or boldness of soul, the root within of outward suffering as of service. Patient endurance is needed as ever, of which the love of Christ is the spring, glory with Him the hope alone, the road, where the will of God is for us to do as it was done by Him perfectly. The recompense assured is inseparable from His advent; which here as elsewhere is kept immediately before the Christian.
The application of Habakkuk's words is modified in accordance with our hope by the same divine Spirit who inspired the prophet. "For the vision is for a time, and it shall shoot forth at the end, and not in vain: though he should tarry, wait for him; for he will surely be come and will not delay." So runs Hab_2:3 in the Sept. Christ's first coming and work give occasion for the beautiful and true modification in our paraphrase, while the prophecy abides in all its undiminished force for those who received Him, and others like them up to the end. For the Christian the known person of Christ shines; He is all. Death is in no sense our hope, but the coming of the Bridegroom, not the mere fulfilment of the vision. If we depart to be with Him meanwhile, it is far better than remaining here absent from the Lord. Present, or absent, we are still waiting as He is, who will surely come and not tarry. Times and seasons have to do with "the day of the Lord," when execution of divine judgment, comes on the world, not on the dead yet but the quick. "The coming or presence or the Lord," as the hope of the heavenly saints, is altogether independent of the revelation of earthly events, as it is before their accomplishment; and therefore is that hope precisely the same for us now as for those in apostolic times, allowing time for its full revelation by the apostle Paul.
Christendom fell away, though never so much as in the last century and half, into the dream of the church triumphant, not suffering, and of a world-wide victory for the gospel during the Lord's absence. All distinctive truth and heavenly hope are surrendered by an error as stupendous for principle as for practice. For it levels the N.T. to the footing of the O.T., and obscures, where it does not destroy, the characteristic force of both. The result for thoughtful minds, we say not for believers, is an enormous impulse given, both to superstition which in its blindness seeks to amalgamate Judaism and Christianity, and to rationalism which has no faith in the word of God, and no divinely given perception of Christ; who is little to both. Scripture, it is plain, speaks of the gospel of the reign, Christ's reign, which goes out before the end of this age comes, never of the reign of the gospel, the delusion of the worldly-minded.
But the language of the prophet in the verse (4) that follows is also turned to suited and serious use: "If he should draw back, my soul hath no pleasure in him; but the just one shall live by faith in (of) me." It is plain that in this Epistle the order is adapted to the object in hand, which is not to enforce justification by faith as in Rom_1:17, nor to set aside the interpolation of the law in opposition to grace as in Gal_3:11, but to insist on faith as the power of life, and this too practically, as in all else; of which the chapter that follows is the weighty, full and interesting illustration.
If the true reading here is, as it appears to be on adequate authority, "my just (or righteous) one," it is excellent sense" as testifying God's appreciation of the one who walked in faith and righteousness, the godly principle of power. In contrast is his soul which is lifted up," instead of dependent on God and His word. Like Cain, there was no uprightness in him, but evil works and hatred, the end of which is drawing back to perdition nothing more offensive to God. The notion for which Delitzsch rather improperly contended, that "thy righteous one" is the necessary subject of the sorrowful supposition that here follows, is quite unfounded, as ought to have been plain from verse 39 which encourages every believer. Never does the Holy Spirit lead such a one to a doubt; but many a professor does draw back to his ruin.
Thus, if it was natural for Jewish saints when dispirited to look back at their old association of visible splendour, the danger of abandoning all God had now wrought in Christ and given to faith is solemnly applied; and they are called not to cast away their confidence and its great recompense. True, they needed endurance. But let them remember that the end of everlasting joy is at hand; for He that cometh (and it is yet a very little while) will come and will not delay. What blessed grounds to persevere in faith! They had long walked in Christ's path: a few trials more might be theirs. All above is glorious, and He is coming quickly. Is the saying of the soul even a small thing? And what of joy and blessedness and glory does not follow?