R. Govett on Heb. 5, 6
This post presents another chapter of Robert Govett’s book, “Entrance into the Kingdom, or Reward According to Works,” [Charles J. Thynne, London 1922. https://archive.org/details/entranceintoking00gove. CHAPTER 4, pp. 69-104.]
THE TWO OATHS Heb. V, 11; VI.
In an earlier portion of the epistle to the Hebrews, Paul had recommended Jesus to our notice as the high priest, no less than the apostle of our profession. He broke off from this topic to treat of Jesus’ office as compared with Moses’, and of the superior rest into which he is leading the partakers of the better calling. At iv, 14, he again resumes the subject of Jesus’ high priesthood, in order to manifest its superiority to that of Aaron; presenting it in three different points of view.
1. He unfolds the general nature of priesthood.
2. The priest should be of sympathetic nature.
3. He ought not to be self-appointed.
In treating of these things as discovered in our Lord, he offers the three subjects in an inverted order.
3. Jesus was appointed by God; as is proved by two of the psalms.
2. He is of a sympathizing character.
1. He is entitled by God “High Priest after the order of Melchisedec.”
Hereupon the apostle digresses into the long parenthesis which we now propose to consider. He reverts not again to the subject of Jesus’ priesthood, till he has brought round the matter to the high priesthood of Melchisedec again.
It is evident, therefore, that much turns upon our rightly viewing that portion of Old Testament history.
11. “Concerning whom (Melchisedec) we have many things to say, and difficult of explanation, seeing ye are become dull of hearing.”
The apostle felt a difficulty in bringing before them this topic, as it involved deeper knowledge of the preceding truths of God, than they were at present in possession of. Yet the obstacles lay more in the unpreparedness of the persons, than in the intrinsic difficulties of the subject itself. Difficulty should rather rouse interest, than settle us down into sloth. The greater the impediments to enter into a truth, the greater our joy and admiration of it when mastered. What patience does the natural philosopher discover in investigating the objects and laws of natural science! What eager audiences does the narrator of discoveries in astronomy, phrenology, and chemistry find? Is it only in the things of God that his people are slow to put forth effort? and unwilling to believe that anything more can be learned from his word than has already been known by them?
That which gave the apostle his chief pain in addressing them was, that they had “become dull of hearing.” Once they were all alive to listen; greeted each added truth with joy, as a new lump of golden ore. Now that zeal had passed . Their attention flagged; with listlessness they regarded the word of God; as that which could no longer afford them anything new or interesting.
12. “For when in consideration of the time, ye ought to be teachers, ye have again need that one should teach you the first principles (‘the elements of the beginning of the oracles,’ literally), of the oracles of God: and are become such as have need of milk and not of solid food. 13. For every one that partaketh of milk is unskillful in the word of righteousness: for he is a babe. 14. But solid food belongs to adults; who have by reason of use their senses exercised to distinguish good and evil.”
Not ordination, but knowledge and love of gospel truths was of old the great moral qualification for teaching. It was expected that Christians should grow in knowledge as they advanced in years, and be able to impart to others the truths they had learned. All might not be able to speak in public; but all, after they had long learned, ought to be fit to communicate truth in private. But instead of being able to impart truth to others, the Hebrew Christians needed themselves to be instructed afresh, in principles which lay at the root of the Christian faith. They required to have impressed on them truths relating to their own acceptance before God.
The Scriptures of the Old and New Covenants are “the oracles of God.” The heathen had some oracles, which were consulted by the kings and nobles adjacent to them, at considerable expense. Their answers were often so ambiguous, as to be capable of two opposite meanings; or else they were so dark, as to be incapable of being understood. Not so our “oracles.” They relate God’s views of the past; they teach present duty; they disclose the future with surprising clearness.
The first truths of Christianity Paul calls by the name of milk. Considered in relation to the time during which they had professed Christ, they were adults; but they were still unable to digest anything stronger than milk. With adult age should come the food of adults. But it was not so with them.
Again the rebuke is administered, that it was not so at first. “I remember the time when it was otherwise; and you sought for and fed upon the deeper truths of Christ.
How melancholy to find the adult that once lived on solids, returning again to the weak liquids suited to infancy! “But this was in fulfilment of that word — “He that hath, to him shall be given, and he shall have abundantly; but he that hath not, from him shall he taken even that which he seemeth to have.” Neglected truths slip from both the heart and the memory.
What a rebuke does this passage administer to the Christians of our day! They are ever dwelling only on the first principles of the gospel. The question of their own salvation is the only theme almost that seems to keep up its interest. Most will have it so. “We only want just to get to heaven, that is enough for us!”
But against those who are lingering ever about these first elements of repentance and faith, a wide field of beauty and instruction is ever closed. They are “unskillful in the word of righteousness.” But what is meant by that phrase — “the word of righteousness?” I take it to signify, “the Old Testament,” in opposition to “the principles of the doctrine of Christ” which are mentioned soon after. The Old Testament or its conditions of salvation are called, “the law of righteousness”: Rom. ix, 31. Righteousness was its demand, the justice of God was the attribute it was intended mainly to disclose. In opposition thereto the gospel utterances are called “the word of his grace”: Acts xx, 32; “the word of reconciliation”: 2 Cor. v, 19; “the word of this salvation”: Acts xiii, 26. The Holy Ghost is called “the Spirit of grace,” Heb. x, 29, and the throne which God now occupies is called “the throne of grace”: Heb. iv, 16.
John the Baptist, too, as coming in the Old Testament spirit is said by our Lord to have come “in the way of righteousness”: Matt, xxi, 32. For John came “in the spirit and power of Elias,” standing aloof from sinners after the example of that prophet of the old covenant. See also in further proof, Psa. cxix, 123, 138, 172; Prov. viii, 8, 20.
The meaning then of the sentiment will be, that those in the lukewarm state here supposed, are ignorant of the meaning of the Old Testament as typifying Christ and the things to come. This idea is fully in harmony with what precedes. It is when the apostle was about to expound how Old Testament history typically represented the glory of Christ, that he utters the rebuke before us. It is quite evident, that he who scarcely comprehends and receives the main offices of Christ as set forth in the plain words of the New Testament, will not perceive him as presented under the veil of type in the Old.
Herein again then, the infirmity of our present Christianity is seen. The first and literal sense of either volume is milk; the second or more hidden sense is solid food. It demands more faith in the hearer as well as more knowledge in the teacher. To take an instance. The history of Rebecca brought to Isaac contains lessons to the saints on the importance of prayer and taking counsel of God in all things, specially in the matter of marriage. These truths lie on the surface. But another far deeper and New Testament series of truths is discovered therein, when we see it a history typical of the church brought to Christ by the Holy Spirit. It is chiefly in its typical aspect that the Old Testament affects us. The history of Abraham’s wives and sons (Gal. iv.) would apply to us in the apostle’s argument only when taken spiritually.
It greatly confirms the view above given to notice where the rebuke of the apostle comes in. He had treated of two of the qualifications of the high priest, ere he begins his reproof. But he has to speak of the appointment of Christ as Priest “after the order of Melchisedec.” But Melchisedec was an Old Testament person, and the application of his history to the elucidation of Messiah’s position required “interpretation.” That is, it requires us to receive it as typical. His names, the circumstances under which Abraham met him, the words he spoke, the title of God which he employs, all are typical; that is, prophetic of “the age to come.”
To Abraham Melchisedec is presented, and he recognizes him as God’s Priest (Gen. xiv.) ere he is justified, (Gen. xv), and before the main promise of millennial glory is given (Gen. xxii). But to us the antitype of Melchisedec is offered; and it is by the reception of him, that we are justified and made partakers of the glory to come. Hence the case of Abraham is introduced at the close of the parenthesis occasioned by the slowness of the Hebrew Christians, and the apostle returns once more to the case of Melchisedec.
The priesthood of Jesus has two phases, the Aaronic and the Melchisedec; both of them all-important for the understanding of the epistle before us. Not to under- stand the typical bearing of Melchisedec’s history on us, is dullness of perception worthy of rebuke. This, therefore, the apostle administers. For it supposes the loss of the hope of our calling, as invited to the kingdom. When Jesus appears as the kingly Priest or Melchisedec, our hope is come.
But Jesus’ present priesthood is after the Aaronic pattern. In the Mosaic economy, the high priest was separated from the king. The Aaronic priest was engaged about sacrifices, the cleansing of the unclean, the forgiveness of sins. To reject Jesus as the Aaronic Priest then is utter perdition. Such refusers lie under the just wrath of God, for trespasses without number. Hence this fearful position is chiefly depicted, after the Saviour’s priesthood, temple, and sacrifice, as answering to the Aaronic pattern, have been duly developed. Jesus is seen as the Melchisedec Priest in chap. vii. But his Aaronic priesthood forms the subject of chaps, viii-x. We may be saved, though we are ignorant of, or deny, the Melchisedec priesthood of Jesus, and his priestly kingdom to come; as multitudes of Christians do now. But to refuse him as the Aaronic priest, shuts out from salvation.
These two phases of the Lord’s priesthood answer to the two rests of the former chapter. To desert Christ as the sacrificial priest, is to leave our present rest in the righteousness of God. To be ignorant of Christ as the high priest, is to be ignorant of the future rest, or careless about the coming kingdom. The sacrificial priesthood is invisible, exercised in the temple not of this creation, and is received only by the men of faith. The kingly priesthood is to take effect when Jesus appears, when heaven is opened, and both heaven and earth are centred in him.
The history of the Old Testament considered as a typical history of the church and of Christ, is all but closed to us. Any who should attempt to draw aside the veil, however scripturally, would be in danger of being denounced as “fanciful.” Even inspired Paul, when he gives us a glimpse of this mode of drawing instruction from the older Scriptures, in the history of Abraham’s two wives and sons, has not escaped the unbelieving remarks of some. This temper results from low views of Holy Writ. Christians do not fully believe what they allow, when they confess that Scripture is divinely inspired. They would bind down the meaning of each passage to signify strictly just so much as the writer could discern when he penned it. But this is foolish. The Spirit of God saw far beyond that. He dictated the words to convey his own hidden and far-reaching meaning.
Would we then desire that every one should press his views of the typical meaning of Scripture, giving, like Origen, a loose rein to his fancy? Far, far, be the thought! God has his meaning in his types, which it becomes to us discover in them; not to impose our ideas upon them. And in order to see our way clearly on this difficult path, we need “senses exercised to discern good and evil.”
It was when philosophy, strong in vain ideas of its own powers, set itself to allegorize, that truths wore thrust out from the sight of the professing church, which have scarcely in our day been recovered.
As adults in years of profession, the Hebrew Christians should have sought and relished solid food. They should have had also the vigorous senses of adults, capable of discerning the good and evil tendencies of practices and doctrines. They were quite unaware, how near they had come to an entire defection from the Christian faith. If advancing in knowledge and grace, they would have at once perceived how perilous the position of those who have become careless both of knowledge and of practice. For the two things, as the apostle implies, go together. Where appetite is healthful, there is energy to work, and the senses are alert and vigorous. But when the appetite declines, and the once busy workman sits sluggish and listless disease has begun or will begin, and the end of such disorder may be death.
Chap, vi, 1. “Wherefore leaving the principles of the doctrine of the Christ, let us go on to perfection; not laying again the foundation of repentance from dead works, and of faith towards God, of the baptisms of instruction and of laying on of hands of resurrection of the dead, and of eternal judgment. And this will we do, if God permit.”
The connection with the foregoing seems to be — “Since it is disgraceful for adults in age to be living on the food of infants, go onward to the food suited to your age.” They ought already to be fully established in those truths which were taught at first to catechumens; and to leave them as things already sufficiently acquired. That which was taught to those young in the faith was, the first principles of the doctrine of Messiah. What these are, he afterwards proceeds to state.
There are in the Scripture two classes of doctrine; one which lies upon the surface, suited to persons just brought to Christ; and one lying below the letter, or the typical and prophetic one. It is to the deeper doctrine, which he calls “perfection,” that the apostle invites them onward. Adult doctrine belongs to adults. So Paul assured the Corinthians he had wisdom which he could speak among the “perfect,” that is, the adults, or full-grown in the faith: though he was then obliged to administer to them milk only.
What a rebuke is given in the sentiments before us to the Christianity of our day! Not a few, even of ministers, seem to think that there are but two or three doctrines in the Bible. So that the preacher’s main duty consists in serving up these in different forms and with various sauces, to deceive the palate! Hence, amongst many on whom Christianity has but a slight hold, there is more or less of disgust. “We want something new! We are ever hearing over and over again the same things.” Yet, on the other hand, many are as unwilling to hear new truths as others are unwilling to hear the old. “Teach us what we know,” seems to be the silent aspiration and desire of many congregations and churches. Hence the religious publications which have the most extensive circulation, are those which keep to “simple truths.” “These things are enough to carry us to heaven; and what would you have more?” A great deal more! This ever-repeated brooding over the first elements of the gospel keeps Christians always children. They understand not the peculiarities of the dispensation in which God has set them, and their conduct, in many respects, shows anything but the peculiarities designed to be manifested by Christianity.
No! this dwelling always on first principles, is not the doctrine of the Spirit of God. No! “Let us go on lo perfection.” We are no more to be content with our attainments in the knowledge of Christianity, than in our attainments in grace. Honour, duty, interest, the call of God, must prevent our standing still.
“Not laying again the foundation of repentance from dead works.” While, however, the necessity of perfection in doctrine in order to form the “perfect” or adult Christians is enforced, be it far from us to deny the necessity and beauty of first truths. No: they are “the foundation”; and, therefore, of primary importance; though the builder is not for ever to be engaged on that part of the edifice.
Paul next specifies the fundamental truths of the gospel.
1. “Repentance from dead works.” That was the cry of John the Baptist, the herald of the Christ. “Repent ye, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!” There was indeed in Israel much observance of the law; they kept the external ordinances of Moses with diligence. But their souls were dead to God: and the works that they wrought in their unregenerate state, were “dead works” from which ‘they needed to repent, and to be cleansed, as much as the Gentiles from their idolatries and open profligacy: Heb. ix, 14. But Christians who have attained to the act of repentance, should not be for ever needing the preaching of the doctrine.
2. “And of faith towards God.” This is another aspect of what is demanded of men in turning to God. To the Jew and to the Gentile it was necessary to prove that their deeds were evil, and incapable of saving them. Then came the pouring in of balm into their wounded and troubled conscience: the exhibition of the righteousness of Christ, as that whereby peace might be obtained. This also, in its germ, was taught by John. He directed Israel to “believe on him that should come after him, that is, on Christ Jesus.” Behold, then, the first pair of connected truths.
3, 4. “Of the baptisms of instruction, and of laying on of hands.”
Our translators, in the version they have adopted, have wrested the words from their order; because they could not perceive the meaning of them, as they stood. But the present rendering gives a satisfactory sense. It is also given by the Vulgate. There were two baptisms: the baptism of water, and that of the Holy Ghost. John preached them both, at the very commencement of the gospel. “I indeed baptize you in water but one mightier than I cometh, the latchet of whose shoes I am not worthy to unloose; he shall baptize you in the Holy Ghost and in fire”: Luke iii, 16
And again, “Go ye therefore and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.” Here we have “the baptism of instruction”; for teaching was to precede it.
The other baptism is that of the Holy Ghost; which was ordinarily communicated by the laying on of the hands of apostles. Philip, after preaching at Samaria concerning Christ and his future kingdom, baptized in water those who believed. But, in order that the converts should obtain the baptism of the Holy Ghost, it was necessary for two of the apostles to come down and lay hands on those already baptized: Acts viii. Similarly, we find baptism in the Spirit conferred by Paul upon those already baptized in water. “When they (the twelve disciples of John Baptist at Ephesus) heard this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. And when Paul had laid his hands upon them, the Holy Ghost came on them, and they spake with tongues and prophesied”: Acts xix, 5, 6. The second baptism communicated supernatural gifts.
In some places, the two baptisms are brought into close juxtaposition. Thus Paul tells the Ephesians that there was, “one Lord, one faith, one baptism [in water] one God and Father of all who is above all, and through all, and in you all. But unto each of us is given the grace according to the measure of the gift of the Christ [baptism of the Spirit]. Wherefore he saith, ‘When he ascended up on high, he led captivity captive, and gave gifts unto men. (. . . .) And he gave some apostles, and some prophets, &c.,”: Eph. iv, 5-11. Similarly, Mark xvi, 16-18.
The few who will permit us to speak of the miraculous gifts of old as intended for believers now, call the subject one of “the deep things of God.” But the apostle thought not so. Far from its being among the doctrines for the perfect in Christ, it is one of the first principles of the Christian faith! What marvel that we halt, and are blind without it?
This is the second pair of closely related doctrines.
5. 6. Of the resurrection of the dead, and of eternal judgment. The resurrection of the dead generally was not taught clearly under the Old Testament. “The ungodly shall not arise in the judgment, nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous”: Psa. i, 5. But the New Testament teaches, as one of its first principles, the resurrection of all, whether righteous or unrighteous. “All that are in the graves shall hear his voice and shall come forth, they that have done good unto the resurrection of life, and they that have done evil unto the resurrection of damnation”: John V, 28, 29.
So Paul preaches to Felix, “that there shall be a resurrection of the dead, both of the just and the unjust”: Acts xxiv, 15.
The judgment which ensues upon resurrection is to be “eternal.” This also is a doctrine first clearly discovered by the gospel. The old Testament threatens nations and individuals with temporal visitation and judgment. But the eternity of the decision when the two great moral classes of mankind arise, was not then set forth. But John the Baptist was at length commissioned to preach it.” He shall burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.” The sentence of each, be it observed, takes place, not at death, but at the resurrection.
The words, “And this we will do, if God permit,” contain a difficulty. What will the apostle do? And what need of the limitation — “if God permit?”
There seems a reference to the first exhortation. “Therefore leaving the principles.” To which answer those words — “Not laying again the foundation.” To the second part of the admonition, “let us go on unto perfection ” — corresponds, “And this will we do.” The “not laying again the foundation” refers especially to the teacher’s part; as “leaving the principles,” supposes chiefly the hearer’s. “Let us go on unto perfection,” includes both parties; for, if the hearers are not fit for deeper truths, the teaching is unsuitable. “I will teach you the profounder lessons — do you, on your part, attend.” By the apostle’s limitation — “if God permit” — I understand him to refer, mentally, to his proposed personal visit, when he hoped to inculcate these more hidden principles: xiii, 19, 23.
4. “For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened and tasted of the heavenly gift, and became partakers of the Holy Spirit and tasted the good Word of God, and powers of the coming age, if they fall away, to renew them again unto repentance, as they crucify to themselves the Son of God afresh, and put him to open shame.”
Let us first speak of the blessings which the passage supposes to be enjoyed by the Christian. They may be divided into two classes — proceeding from the sources previously named: either (1) instruction, or (2) the laying on of hands. The enlightening, and tasting the good word of God, are due to the preaching of the doctrine of Christ. The same word is used of this result: Eph. iii, 9 (Greek). The enlightening refers then, as I believe, to the primary instruction concerning repentance and faith, or the danger of the sinner by nature, and his acceptance in Christ. The “tasting the good word of God,” has reference to the hopes of the millennial joy. The expression is used when millennial times are described. “behold the days come, saith the Lord, that I will perform that good thing (or word) which I have promised unto the house of Israel and unto the house of Judah. In those days, and at that time, will I cause the branch of righteousness to grow up unto David, and he shall execute judgment and righteousness in the land” (earth). “In those days shall Judah be saved, and Jerusalem shall dwell safely”: Jer. xxxiii, 14, 15. It is used in a similar sense of the days of Joshua and Solomon, and of the rest which God gave to them; as also of the restoration from Babylon: Josh, xxi, 45; xxiii, 14; 1 Kings viii, 56; Jer. xxix, 10; Ps. xxxiv, 8, xlv, 1. It stands opposed, especially in Joshua, to the Lord’s threats for breach of his commands, and runs parallel with the blessing and the curse of which Moses speaks.
The three other particulars relate to the miraculous gifts of the Holy Spirit, imparted to the converts, after “the baptism of instruction,” by means of the “laying on of hands.” But why should they be three times described? Each time a new and important aspect of them as affecting the soul, is brought forward. They are first named, as a “tasting of the heavenly gift.” That word (Zdopea) is always used, so far as I can perceive, of the supernatural bestowments of early Christianity: Acts ii, 38; viii, 20; x, 45, &c. They probably take this designation first, in reference to the first “rest,” or to the believer’s repose on the righteousness of Christ. The gifts were attached of old to righteousness by faith, as God’s seal set thereon: Gal, iii; Rom. v, 15-17. There were also appealed to by Peter as the proof of the truth of Christianity, before the unbelieving rulers of Israel: Acts v, 32.
2. It is next called a “becoming partaker of the Holy Spirit.” The word employed seems designed, as well as the general meaning of the expression, to lead back our minds to an early quotation in the epistle, where Jesus is said to have been anointed with the oil of gladness above ” his fellows.” Now as the head was anointed, so were the members to be. As the Spirit was given to Jesus without measure, so to believers was it granted, “according to the measure of the gift of Messiah.” What does “Messiah” or “the Christ” mean? “The anointed.” What does “Christian” mean? A partaker in the anointing. How inspiring the thought then, of being thus sealed as a member of the Messiah, justified in his righteousness, partaker in his Spirit!
3. But there is yet a third view of them. They were “powers of the coming age.” This expression gives the aspect of the supernatural endowments in relation to the millennial glory. And thus it is appropriately connected with that view of apostolic instruction, which disclosed the kingdom to come, Paul couples together the “tasting the good word of God, and the powers of the coming age.” They were the pledges and earnests of millennial glory; they marked out to the eyes of men the heirs presumptive of the promise; and led Christians, by the prediction of “things to come,” to expect the kingdom of Christ as their especial hope.
Now when any abandoned faith in Christ, after having received these supernatural gifts, he must, in order to make good his case, blaspheme the Spirit whose gifts he had received, as a deceptive and evil Spirit. He must “do despite unto the Spirit of grace,” not only by quenching his gifts, but also by that blasphemy of Him, which is declared to be unpardonable.
These things then marked the usual standing of a believer in apostolic days. As the warning is addressed to private believers no less than to ministers of the word, so it describes the position enjoyed alike by each of these classes. That Paul is speaking of believers, is evident. He is endeavouring to preserve true Christians from apostasy to Judaism, not to keep souls newly awakened from falling back to the world. To those merely awakened, and not yet believers, neither the baptism of water nor of the Holy Ghost were administered. Of those just awakened the apostle would not say, that if they fell back to their slumbers, it was impossible that they could be saved. No! there is no escape from the difficulties of the passage, by the theory that persons not really believers are intended. Paul is representing, in awful terms, the peril of finally falling away from inward grace already received.
As there is a partial falling back, involving loss of the millennial kingdom; so a total apostasy, involving eternal perdition, is possible.
But how could he speak thus, consistently with the doctrine of the final perseverance of the saints? It is not necessary to solve this difficulty, ere we believe the obvious meaning of the words. Still I would suggest a thought calculated to diminish, if not remove it. The supposed falling away is not only perfectly possible, but certain, if the man be left to himself. Yet the truth is, that it has never, and never will be, actually realized in fact. A thousand things are possible, nay, and really tend to exist, which yet never become facts. It is perfectly possible, that an earthquake might shake down all the houses in the city of Norwich, leaving only that one standing in which I am writing; but no one supposes that it will be. A physician may say truly to his patient, “Neglect to take the medicine I have ordered, at the appointed times, and nothing will save you.” Yet he knows full well, that such is the patient’s eager desire to live, that he will not fail to take his prescription. The consequence of neglect then never comes to pass. The warning given suffices to prevent it.
“If they shall jail away.” Not every kind of transgression after faith is here supposed. Nothing less than an entire and malicious rejection of Christianity for infidelity, Judaism, or some false religion, is intended. It is quite parallel with the passage: Heb. x, 26-29. “For if we sin wilfully after that we have received the knowledge of the truth, there remaineth no more sacrifice for sins, but a certain fearful looking for of judgment and fiery indignation which shall devour the adversaries. He that despised Hoses’ law died without mercy under two or three witnesses. Of how much sorer punishment, suppose ye, shall he be thought worthy, who trod under foot the Son of God, and counted the blood of the covenant wherewith he was sanctified an unholy thing, and insulted the spirit of grace?”
The “sinning wilfully” intends the voluntary abandonment of Christianity, as distinguished from giving up the confession of Christ under terror of death. Here then lay the mistake of the Novatians, in refusing to receive again into the church those Christians who had fallen through fear, or experience of the torture. The case contemplated by the apostle is an unenforced, persevering, and malicious abandonment of Christ. It is a spontaneous sin, answering to the “falling away” of the chapter now under investigation. The “enlightening” of the one chapter answers to having “received the knowledge of the truth,” of the other. It is supposed too, that the apostates in question are guilty of the blasphemy against the Holy Ghost, which the Saviour has declared unpardonable. They “insult the Spirit of grace.”
They also “crucify to themselves the Son of God afresh and put him to open shame.” The first crucifixion was with God’s permission and ordaining. This second crucifixion is against his counsel and expressed determination. God hath for ever justified him whom men condemned. For the first crucifiers Jesus pleaded, that they knew not what they were doing. The apostate supposed by the apostle is enlightened, and yet perseveres in his wickedness. He crucifies Christ “to himself” — that is, as far as he can. This is a view of the crime as resting within his own soul. He would slay him again, if he could. He puts him to open shame. This is the aspect of the crime without. He leads his enemies to pour forth their blasphemies anew, as if it were quite clear, that Jesus was an impostor, and his religion a crafty fable.
It is to be observed also, that much of the force of the passage turns upon the use of the present participle. It is not said, that by an act of sin presently repented of, they “crucified Christ anew”; but that they continue impenitently to crucify him to the close. “They crucify the Son of God afresh.”
Of such it is said, “it is impossible to renew them again” unto repentance. This must be evident. The impossibility is viewed from the side of the Christian teacher. He has no new truths wherewith to affect such souls. The views they have received are exhaustive of the grand motives presented by Christianity. They have known the faith as it discovers present pardon and peace. They have also perceived the future glories of the coming kingdom of God. What new motive then shall be brought to bear on such obdurate spirits? What proofs of the truth of the faith can be given, which they have not already received? They knew Christ’s doctrines. They had the supernatural gifts which “sealed them.”
But not only is it impossible for mortal to renew them again to repentance, but He who alone could, will not. Here lies the full impossibility of the case.
Let us now glance at the connexion of this passage with the former verses. “For it is impossible.” The apostle, in the preceding part, had warned the Hebrew believers of their want of senses exercised to see the tendencies of things. With increasing light and warmth, we become increasingly alive to the danger of conduct whose consequences we once saw not. With decreasing knowledge and love comes insensibility to the peril of final apostasy. To this their danger, therefore, Paul would awaken them — “Go not back in knowledge, for the feeble in knowledge are ever liable to be led astray, and those who are growing cold are tending to that hopeless apostasy which I now depict to you.”
7. “For land which drinketh the rain that cometh oft upon it, and bringeth forth herbage useful for them on whose account it is also cultivated, partaketh of blessing from God. 8. But, if it bear thorns and briers it is rejected, and nigh unto cursing, whose end is to be burned.”
The same piece of land, under the same favourable circumstances, is proposed as an illustration of the just wrath of God upon offenders of so aggravated a cast. The soil in question is supposed to be subjected to a twofold beneficial agency; the one, from God; the other, from man. The rain coming oft upon it, is God’s. That answers to the believer’s tasting of “the heavenly gift” of the Holy Spirit. But beside that it is “also” tilled by man. That answers to instruction by human teachers.
This supplies the key to the former view of the standing of the Christian. (1) The earthly agency, or the tillage, answers to the “enlightening” of the conscience by the preaching of God’s way of justification. It includes also the farther development of the mind of God by opening “the good word of God” in regard to his kingdom, and glory to those who already believe. (2) The heavenly benefit, or the rain, answers to the other privileges enjoyed by the Christian.
After these agencies of heaven and of earth conspiring to benefit the land, an answerable result of good is expected. The farmer cannot consent to labour in vain. Neither does God permit man to account himself free from responsibility for spiritual privileges and means.
There are then two alternatives as the destiny of the land. The one is favourable. In may reward its cultivators with useful crops of grain or herbs. In that case it is approved of men, and blessed of God. So is it with the Christian, who repays in good works the earthly and heavenly care expended on him. But there is another and evil issue. What, if after all the rain from heaven, and the ploughing, manuring and sowing of earth, it renders back to its occupants thorns only, and briers? What, if for the twofold benefit it returns only a twofold harvest of evil? Then man condemns it. It is rejected. Its cultivation is given up as useless. It is “nigh unto cursing” from God. “Cursed is the ground for thy sake”; “thorns also and thistles shall it bring forth unto thee”: Gen. iii, 17, 18.
Its “end is to be burned.” The land is set on fire. Its thorns and thistles afford fuel for the flame, and its burning shows man’s judgment of its uselessness. Thus, too, it is a type of the doom of the apostate.
What can be done more for land on which every effort of the cultivator has been expended? The exhaustion of every remedy in vain, justly entails destruction as the result.
May we not presume from this, that some of the Hebrew church had occasioned much trouble and grief to their pastors and elders? Is not this hinted in the land that bore to its cultivators only thistles and, briers? And does not the rejection of such land answer to the exclusion of them from the Church of Christ?
If now so much is expected from inanimate nature, as the result of means, what may not be demanded from rational and responsible man? That believers are intended under both alternatives is confirmed by the description of the land. In each case it has “drank in” the heavenly rain, whether of doctrine or of gift.
This illustration then embraces two extremes; the case of the apostate, whose end is eternal death, and that of the patient and fruitful believer, who is at length counted worthy of the abundant entrance into the kingdom. But all consideration of the evil issue ends here. From this point the true believers or partakers of the first and present rest in Christ are urged on to the attainment of the second.
Thus the two opposites are before us: the movement backward to perdition, or onward to the blessing and glory of God. It is very observable, that no example is given from Scripture of the falling away to perdition; while, of the second, an example is supplied, and exhortation is founded thereon.
9. “But we are persuaded concerning you beloved, the better (alternative) and (that which) adjoins salvation, though we thus speak. 10. For God is not unrighteous to forget your work, and the love which ye showed to his name, in that ye ministered, and are ministering to the saints.”
In spite of the apostle’s fearful picture of the consequences of apostasy, he could comfort them, by assuring them that he believed they were not of that class. They did not answer, as he trusted, to the evil alternative of the barren soil; for he knew of the good fruit they had already rendered. They were the good land, nigh to the blessing; not the ungrateful ground near to cursing. He judged by their good works, as the proof of such tendency. While then good works are not in any degree the ground of our pardon or acceptance, they are the proof of our nearness to enter on the reward of the kingdom, and of a blessed issue to the present life. Do Christian ministers insist enough on the necessity of good works? “This is a faithful saying, and these things I wish thee to affirm constantly, that they which have believed in God might be careful to maintain good works”: Tit. iii, 8.
“For God is not unjust.” A remarkable expression. It shews that the saints, in regard to recompense, are put under the administration of the Divine equity. Reward will be measured in the kingdom by the rule of justice — “according to works.” Jesus receives the chief sovereignty of the kingdom as the supremely worthy: Phil, ii; Rev. v. So in order to our entering the kingdom, we must be “accounted worthy”: 2 Thess. i, 5-11. “The just judge,'” says Paul, shall give me the crown in the day of Christ. By men, and even by the saints who receive them, our good works may be forgotten, as Mordecai’s good deed was by Ahasuerus, and Joseph’s by the chief butler. But it is not so with God. Far be it from him that he should remember our provocations, and not also those works of obedience, which bring glory to his name!
As the bad land yielded a twofold crop of evil, they, as the good land, had yielded, and still did yield, a twofold crop of good. They returned love to God, and service to the saints, as the requital of the earthly and heavenly culture.
Observe the nature of the good works commended. They were not simple acts of philanthropy, but works of love to the saints, springing from the love of God. These give evidence of our being heirs and children of the kingdom. To one of these good works — the spreading a feast for the poor who cannot repay — a remembrance and reward in the kingdom is definitely promised: Luke xiv, 14. Nor shall the simple cup of cold water, given to a disciple because he belongs to Christ, fail of its reward: Matt, x, 42.
The terror of the picture drawn by the apostle had its use, in keeping the saints from conduct which would certainly, if pursued, end in their destruction. Nevertheless, he consoles them by the cheering hope, that that awful fate would not be theirs. If a child were obliged to be left in the presence of arsenic, it would be well to say to it — “Eat that arsenic and you will die.” While yet, if the child were frightened at being left in the room with it, we might add — ‘Be not afraid, you will not eat it, and it will not hurt you.’
II. “But we desire, that each of you should manifest the same diligence to the end, with a view to the full assurance of hope. 12. That ye become not slothful, but imitators of those, who through faith and patience inherit the promises.”
But if Paul were so hopeful of them, wherefore his rebuke? Because, while the labour of love was still performed by many, some were slothful. They neither sought to do works acceptable to God, nor to grow in knowledge. Each, he hoped, would show the same diligence as the most zealous among them. Their diligence also was to be constant, “diligence to the end.” And the exhortation is enforced on each individual. It is singly that we shall give account to Christ. “Each shall bear his own burthen.”
This diligence had two ends in view, an immediate and a more distant one. Diligence was to be exhibited, as a means to the attainment of a fully assured hope of the glory of God. The more self-denying, patient, and diligent we are in the service of our Lord, the stronger is the confidence with which we regard ourselves as the children of God; and the better reason have we to look for the joyful entrance into the kingdom: 2 Pet. i. It is, then, the doctrine of the passage before us, that confidence of millennial glory is to be attained by perseverance in a holy and beneficent life. Assurance grows brighter with increasing obedience.
The assurance spoken of is not the assurance of faith, but the assurance of hope. Faith rests on the general assertions of God. These are made to certain characters. But that we have fulfilled those descriptions of the inheritors of reward is a matter of hope: which hope may, and does, grow brighter in proportion to obedience.
The distinction between the two kinds of assurance may be seen by comparing this passage with the other which speaks of Abraham’s assurance of faith. “Being not weak in faith, he considered not his own body now dead, when he was about an hundred years old, neither yet the deadness of Sarah’s womb; he staggered not at the promise of God through unbelief, but was strong in faith giving glory to God, and being fully assured, that what he had promised, he was able also to perform”: Rom. iv, 19-21. Here the promise respected solely God^s power, and Abraham’s belief was the full assurance of faith. But that we shall be accounted worthy of the coming kingdom, is a matter of hope.
They are moreover admonished, that they should not become slothful. Again they are gently reminded, that they did once run well. So strong was their confidence once, that they bore with perfect calmness, nay with joy, their being stripped of earthly goods. They were well assured that they had a better property on high. As then it was disgraceful to fall back, they are urged to return to their former works. How necessary is this appeal to Christians still! We ever need to be warned, not to become “weary in well doing.” The temptations around tend to cool Christian zeal. And some believers seem even to value themselves thereupon, and pity those youthful Christians, who are running in the ardour of their first love, as inexperienced younglings, who by degrees will sink to their temperature of frigidity and experience. But Christ rebukes such cold-hearted ones: and assures us, that the lukewarm are nigh to being spued out of his mouth.
They were to be “imitators of the inheritors of the promises.” This introduces the example of Abraham, and prepares for a return to the history of Melchisedec. Abraham, and those resembling him, are inheritors of the promises. That is, they have the full and recognized title to them. God has enrolled their names for the coming glory: though they are not yet in possession of it.
This possession of an interest in the promises made to Abraham was to be regarded, not as a matter of sovereignty, but as a thing to be sought and attained, “through faith and patience.” The apostle proceeds to show, that thus Abraham attained his part in them; and as he is the father and model of God’s dealings towards believers, it is an exhibition how we are to make sure our interest therein.
13. “For when God made promise to Abraham, since he could not swear by any greater, he sware by himself, saying,
14. ‘Surely blessing I will bless thee, and multiplying I will multiply thee.’ 15. And so, after having patiently waited, he obtained the promise.”
The connexion with the former part seems to be as follows — “When I desire you to seek to inherit the promises, I assure you, that they are indeed an inheritance. For they rest upon oath, and that the oath of God. The oath, too, of which I speak, was given as the reward of Abraham’s perseverance in faith and good works.” The apostle desired, that they, by diligence on their part, should attain to the assurance of hope. But there may be full confidence in things of the world, which, as it rests on unstable and untrusty persons, is disappointed. The Holy Ghost, therefore, designs to prove the certainty of the possession, as far as God is concerned.
The occasion to which the apostle refers, is worthy of all consideration. God made this oath to Abraham (Gen. xxii, 17) after his offering up his son Isaac. It was the last covenant which Jehovah made with Abraham.
In chap. xv, Abraham is declared to be justified on the simple ground of faith. The Most High promised him a single heir, and a seed numerous as the stars. Abraham believed, against the promptings of the flesh, and of unbelief. It is Abraham’s passive obedience herein, which is the basis of the apostle’s argument in Romans iv. God next demanded of his servant active obedience to the command of circumcision. That was immediately rendered. He was tried, afterwards, by the promise of a son of Sarah. In that he believed passively, and it was fulfilled. But the last and sorest trial of his faith, was the demand that he should offer Isaac, the son of the promise, upon a distant mountain. On his submission to this, the oath of God was granted. “Faith and patience ” had had their perfect work. Hereupon the Most High testifies his approval of his obedience by his angel. “Now I know that thou fearest God, seeing thou hast not withheld thy son, thine only son from me.” But the angel utters his voice the second time. “By myself have I sworn saith the Lord, for because thou hast done this thing and hast not withheld thy son, thine only son, that in blessing I will bless thee, and in multiplying I will multiply thy seed, as the stars of heaven, and as the sand which is upon the sea shore; and thy seed shall possess the gate of his enemies: and in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed; because thou hast obeyed my voice.” Here, therefore, the unchangeable covenant of God stands attached to Abraham’s obedience.
Abraham was justified by faith only; but after justification, God looked for the fruits of obedience. His servant’s faith is tried for fifty years: and at the close of that period, the Holy One affixes his oath of promise to his last act of obedience. This, then, is exactly in the strain of the previous exhortations of the apostle. “Be imitators, ye sons of Abraham by faith, of his noble example. You have begun your career, like Abraham your father, justified by faith. But from you, as from him, God looks for obedience, ere he pledges himself by oath to you, as he did to him, that you shall be of the inheritors of the kingdom of his seed, which is Christ. It you persevere, like Abraham, up to the last surrender he requires, you shall have, both in your own soul, and on God’s part the full assurance of being included in that oath which opens the door of millennial blessing.”
For the covenant by oath refers to the day of the kingdom of Christ. As the former oath of exclusion was levelled against the disobedient; this of admission introduces the obedient. The words of the covenant of Gen. xxii, evidently will be fulfilled in the millennial day. 1. The day of Abraham’s own full blessing will be when he rises from the dead, and “sits down” with “Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of God.” For that he looked. Then will God fully approve himself as the God of Abraham, according to Jesus’ words to the Sadducees. Then will Abraham’s double seed be seen: his seed like the stars, in the bright glory of those in heaven, clothed unchangeably in their bodies of resurrection: and his seed like the sea sand, the earthly posterity in possession of Canaan. Then will his seed possess the gate of their enemies. We, Abraham’s spiritual seed, shall then be victors over the spirits and principalities of darkness on high, against whom now we wrestle. They will then for ever be cast down from on high. Then, too, the Gentiles smitten before Israel, will become their servants; and Esau, or Edom, the especial enemy of Israel, will be “for a possession.” Then, in Christ, the individual “seed” of the promise, all nations will be blessed: and grace will flow down, through the two-fold seed of Abraham’s faith and Abraham’s flesh, to the inhabitants of earth.
Now as the oath of exclusion applies to us, so much more does the oath of promise and admission on obedience.
While the example of rejected Israel stands as a beacon to warn us against loss, so does the example of Abraham stand to encourage us.
But the apostle draws our attention to the form of the oath. God sware “by himself.” The reason was, that he had none greater to sware by. An oath is the calling in of some superior, as witness and avenger, in case of the breach of the conditions. But God could call on no superior. Behold, then, the immutable guarantee of the promises to Abraham! Even a man’s covenant may not be altered, but by agreement of both parties; much less an oath. How unchangeable a basis of security then is the oath of God!
The oath covenants blessing to Abraham. “Blessing I will bless thee.” Abraham, then, was the good land, that yielded useful herbs: and the issue was, blessing from God. We find also two stations from which blessing flows to Abraham: an earthly and a heavenly. (1) Abraham is blessed on earth by Melchisedec — “And he blessed him, and said. Blessed be Abraham of the Most High God, possessor of heaven and earth.” (2) Also the heaven opens, and the angel from on high promises blessing. When Abraham is blessed on earth, he is victorious over his foes of earth: but when he is blessed from heaven, he has the type of resurrection, in the rising up of his son Isaac from off the altar: Heb. xi, 19.
The oath embraces Abraham and his seed; and Abraham and his seed as children of obedience. Isaac was no less obedient to the heavenly mandate than his father. Herein then was given a type of Abraham and his obedient seed blessed in resurrection. Both are included in the oath. “Blessing I will bless thee.” “Thy seed shall possess the gate of his enemies.”
“And so after he had patiently endured, he obtained the promise.” But how is that? Does not this epistle, a little further on, assert of Abraham and others, that they “all died in faith, not having received the promises”; xi, 13, 39. Yes, but the reconciliation is not difficult. Two different words are used in the two cases. Here the apostle means, that Abraham received the bare word of the promise. He denies his having yet received the thing signified, or the accomplishment of the promise, in the later passages.
He had indeed patiently to endure in faith. From the time of God’s first calling him up to the time of the oath, was a space of fifty years! His case then is just the reverse of Israel’s. Abraham and Abraham’s sons after the flesh were both tempted or tried by God. Abraham was called to leave Ur, as his children were called to leave Egypt. Both obeyed: but that was not the end of their trial. Abraham was tempted in the chapter just noticed. And at Sinai Moses says, “God is come to prove (or tempt) you”: Ex. xxi, 20; Deut. viii, 2. But “by faith Abraham when he was tempted, offered up Isaac”: Heb. xi, 17. Isaac when proved in the desert, by unbelief tempted God. An opposite issue attended conduct so opposite. Abraham inherited the promise under oath, Israel under oath is shut out of the promise. Even thus the believer’s conversion is not the end, but only the beginning of his trial by God. If he tempt God and provoke him in place of obeying, he is nigh to being shut out of the kingdom.
Here then are our two examples. We must either, after coming to Christ, be living as obedient Abraham, or as disobedient Israel. After reaching a certain extent of obedience or of provocation, we fall under either one or the other of the two oaths of God. God must ever be true to himself. His word is living still, and applies to us as truly as to Israel or to Abraham. Faith sets us on the course: but patient perseverance in well doing is the way to the goal.
16. “For men indeed sware by the greater, and the oath is unto them an end of all contradiction, with a view to confirmation. 17. Wherein God wishing more abundantly to manifest to the heirs of the promise the immutability of his purpose, interposed by an oath. 18. In order that by two immutable facts wherein it was impossible for God to lie, we might have strong consolation who have fled for refuge, to lay hold on the hope set before us.”
The apostle refers to the customs of men. The oath, whether of declaration or of promise, is the last guarantee that can be given. A man is pledged by his word. Many, however, scruple not to break it. But if dependence can be placed on any, it is when he has called on God to witness to his words, and to avenge the breach of them, if he should break them. So when Jacob obtains the sale of Esau’s birthright, he is not content with Esau’s promise, he adds, “Swear to me this day, and he sware unto him”: Gen. XXV, 33.
But does not this passage prove the lawfulness of oaths to a Christian? Many have thought so; but surely, it does not. The Holy Spirit here is simply stating the customs of men in general, a custom which was acknowledged and sanctified by God’s commands under the Law.
But the command of the Law of Moses stands repealed by Jesus to Christians. “I say unto you, swear not at all.” And much less can the customs of men be a law for believers. On the contrary, it is the condemnation of Christians to “walk as men”: 1 Cor. iii, 3.
But may we not swear, if God himself does? No: not if he forbids it. Besides, God’s oaths were all of them sworn in previous dispensations; there is no instance of an oath sworn by the Most High since the coming of his Son.
Since then men lean for security on an oath, as the very strongest tie whereby they can bind their fellows, God, in his mercy, condescended to stay the feeble, fluctuating faith of his people, by that security. The promise then becomes absolute; dependent on no condition of man’s fulfilling. And Almighty power stands up to accomplish the promise of eternal truth. Well then might Abraham fall asleep in peace on such a pillow as that! The Lord of life shall raise the dead! His changeless counsel shall one day have its conspicuous performance. Could Bathsheba repose with confidence on David’s oath to her son Solomon, and plead it in full assurance before him, though another was then claiming to reign? Could Jacob die with comfort when Joseph had sworn to carry “up his bones out of Egypt?” How much greater may be our confidence, that the last and greatest enemy of Messiah shall be overthrown! and that the Lord will make us victorious by his own victory in resurrection!
The argument next turns upon the promise then made under oath to Abraham and his seed. The seed are “the heirs of the promise.” This oath and promise, it is assumed, are like the former oath, as yet in force, and applying to us. Are we then “the heirs of the promise? “Yes, as far as our standing in Christ goes. But the apostle has proved, both here, and in the previous case, that our obedience is required, in order to our entering into the promise. The promise to Abraham now in question, is the limited one of millennial glory. Eternal life is infinitely beyond the desert of the obedience of any mere man. The attainment of that is solely of gift. But it has pleased God to appoint a thousand years as the time of recompense for our deeds. “The promise” to Abraham in Gen. xxii, refers to the same period, as “the rest” held out to our hopes in chapters iii and iv. “The immutability of his counsel,” relates to his determination to bring in the kingdom of his Son triumphant over the kingdoms of the earth. From age to age, and from dispensation to dispensation, this one great counsel of God has been kept in view. It has taken different forms, according to the wisdom of God, but the purpose has remained unchanged throughout.
In order to comfort the saints, God “interposed by an oath,” An oath is a sort of mediator between parties at variance, to end doubts and strifes. God then set his oath as a sort of mediator between himself and his purpose, that all doubt or dispute as to the certainty of the performance of it might be at an end.
To this oath given to Abraham those inspired by the Holy Ghost turn, as soon as the gospel begins to appear in the horizon. “To perform the mercy promised to our fathers, and to remember his holy covenant, the oath which he sware to our father Abraham, that he would grant unto us, that we being delivered out of the hand of our enemies might serve him without fear, in holiness and righteousness before him all the days of our life”: Luke i, 72-75. But these words view the promise to Abraham only as it applies to the Jews, or the earthly people.
God then has sustained his promise by two immoveable “facts.” And what are they? (1) The promise or covenant; and (2) the oath. The promise of blessing and multiplying Abraham and his seed had been given long before Gen. xxii, under the form of a covenant or promise: Gen. xii, 2; xiii, 16; xv, 5. That was one fact. The oath is the other. And these two “facts” or covenants are of different kinds. The covenant by word was conditional, and received by faith. The second or oath, was unconditional, and had respect to Abraham’s inheritance and to God’s good pleasure in his works and patience. But Abraham’s life, as the father of the faithful, is a pattern for us also, as exhibiting the ordered dealings of God with the children of faith.
Now God cannot break bis word, much less his oath. But the Holy One desired his people to have the most secure foundation for their hopes, under the troubles to which their faith called them. And this is needed amid the difficulties and seeming impossibilities of its performance, especially since the performance of it has tarried so long.
For God calls his people not only to faith, but to patient waiting for the promise. But what are difficulties to him, on whose will all power attends? The raising of the dead is as nothing to him. Herein lies our hope. Here is the fulfilment of the promise.
But who are “the heirs of the promise?” “We, who have fled for refuge to lay hold on the hope set before us.” Those only are heirs of the promise who, as having Abraham’s faith have given up all hope of righteousness in themselves; and perceiving themselves deserving of the wrath of God, have left the vain shelter of their own deeds. In the word “fled for refuge,” there would seem to be an allusion to several of the histories of Scripture.
1. Noah’s ark was a refuge, and the family of Noah fled into it with the hope of escaping the flood, and with the promise of God’s covenant as their hope.
2. Again, in the history of Abraham, there is an account of a fleeing for refuge. The mountain was pointed out to Lot, as the place to which he was to direct his flight, when long-deserved vengeance at length lighted on Sodom.
3. But the cities of refuge seem to me to be more in the eye of the apostle. To one of these the manslayer, who had unintentionally killed any one, was directed to flee. His life was insecure in every place but that.
The avenger of blood might pursue and kill him without sin, anywhere but there. This has ever been regarded as a beautiful type of the gospel. But there is one circumstance which binds the figure very closely to the main subject of which the apostle is treating. Before the manslayer, when once he had entered into the city of refuge, was set a hope of returning back in peace to his home. It was made dependent on the death of the high priest: Num. xxxv, 25; Josh. XX, 6. And it is with the priesthood of Jesus, as offering present refuge and future hope, that the Holy Ghost is now engaged.
Christ, as the priest after Aaron’s type, is now in the temple above; having offered the sacrifice of atonement, on which our present acceptance and rest before God, depend. Here then is present refuge in Christ’s present priesthood. For though Christ be a priest after Melchisedec’s order, yet his priesthood, as at present exercised, is after the Aaronic pattern, as the epistle goes on to show. For Melchisedec, as far as we know, had no temple; nor did he offer sacrifice. But it is on the priesthood of the Saviour, “after the order of Melchisedec” — the kingly and priestly offices combined on earth — that our hope for the future depends. The present rest in God is due to the present priesthood of the Lord: our future rest, to the future type of his functions.
4. Perhaps also there is a reference to that refuge at the horns of the altar, to which some malefactors betook themselves. Thus, in Solomon’s day, Adonijah and Joab fled to the temple, and laid hold on the horns of the altar. To Adonijah it served as a refuge; and Solomon gave him a hope of life: 1 Kings i. But Joab, though he took refuge there, was there slain as the murderer. Perhaps in this we have an image of the doom of the wilful apostate.
19. “Which (hope) we have as an anchor of the soul both sure and steadfast, and entering into that within the vail. 20. Whither Jesus as the forerunner entered for us, having become a high priest for ever after the order of Melchisedec.”
The hope set before us is the first resurrection, or “the glory of God” in his kingdom. This hope, as above the world, and springing from a source not affected by its changes, steadies the soul. As the anchor often prevents shipwreck, so does this hope retained, keep us from being overwhelmed by the storms of life. It enters within the vail, for thither has the risen Jesus entered. To Abraham was given the oath of God on the Mount of earth, but the reality of resurrection has been fulfilled in Christ, in the holiest of the heavenly places. Our hope then is far more advanced towards completion, than when Abraham’s faith rested on God’s word in his day. We have now a sure pledge of the fulfilment. The High Priest of Aaron’s line entered only into the holy places made with hands, and only in the strength of natural life. But Jesus has entered into the heaven itself ” for us.” He is our forerunner, gone before to prepare a place. We are both on the same road; but he has arrived first, to get ready mansions in the Father’s house for us.
Come then what may, the oath of God must be fulfilled and his kingdom appear! The anchor of the ships of earth may break, or its cable give way, or the fluke lose its hold. But our anchor is ” sure,” and will not break; it is “steadfast,” and will not lose its hold of the rock to which it is grappled. Other anchors are cast downward, and lay hold on the regions below. But ours is on high, fixed in the heavens, fastened to the very throne of God.
The high priest of old entered into the holiest to make atonement, but not to abide there himself, much less to make preparation for the entrance of others to the presence of God.
What lessons then does this portion of Scripture inculcate?
1. Cultivate deeper knowledge of Scripture and of Christ. There may indeed be knowledge without correspondent practice: but there will not be right practice without correspondent knowledge.
2. Be careful to maintain good works. They arc the signs of being a child of the kingdom. They are a token of your being nigh to the blessing promised to the good land.
Believer, would you have the full assurance that the promises of millennial glory are yours? Be diligent! As with advancing knowledge and increasing grace are conjoined confident expectation of the blessing, and the assurance of hope; so, with declining grace come ignorance, indifference even to the first principles of the gospel, and the peril of final apostasy. The Lord give his people more of Abraham’s faith and patience; yea, grant them to tread in the footsteps of Jesus! While works do not save us, they are yet ever telling on our account, ever looking forward to the day of recompense. May we seek to be rich in them!