William Kelly Major Works Commentary
Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us,Hebrews Chapter 12
The distinctly hortative part of the Epistle now follows, though we have had exhortation interspersed almost from the first. But henceforth it greatly predominates with weighty words of instruction also in both the closing chapters. The object throughout is to deepen the faith of those used to religious objects of sight, to establish souls in the unseen and heavenly through the word and Spirit of God, and to unfold Christ's glory in person, work, and offices. He is here accordingly introduced not as the object of faith as before, but as the Leader, fulness, and crown of all who from the first trod the path of faith here below.
"Wherefore let us also, having so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, lay aside every weight and the readily besetting sin, and run with endurance the race set before us, looking off unto Jesus the leader and perfecter of faith; who for the joy lying before him endured crucifixion, despising shame, and is set down at right hand of the throne of God. For consider him that hath endured such contradiction by the sinners against himself, that ye be not wearied, fainting in your souls" (verses 1-3).
The witnesses who lie all around are those described and summarised in the chapters before, not spectators of us as some have unintelligently imagined, but men that obtained testimony from God in virtue of faith. Now and then, here and there, mainly of the chosen people, but carefully shown to have lived and suffered in faith before Abraham, they form a grand cloud, each characterised by some proved fidelity to God's will, a few by more than one, none by more than "the friend of God." But what was he, variously tried and faithful, compared with "Jesus," as this Epistle often and with divine intent calls our Lord? In His path, in His testimony, for this is what is here in question, the light shone full and unrefracted. Its unwavering equality marks its unity of perfection. Yet never had been, never can there be again, such depths and such comprehensiveness of trial, apart from that which it was His alone to bear, in His suffering once for sins. to effect everlasting redemption.
Hence the saints are urged, laying aside as a settled thing every weight and the sin that so besets and entangles them, to run with endurance the race lying before them, looking with full view on Jesus, the leader and perfecter of faith. To be sanctified through the offering of His body is a divine act of grace with an abiding effect (Hebrews 10:10). Reconciliation to God and justification, as in the Epistle to the Romans and elsewhere, are not a gradual process, like growth or practical holiness. But even in practice we are called on, not to be getting rid of every weight that encumbers and the sin that besets in continuous detail, but to have done with such and all as a fixed principle and an accomplished act. There are habits and superfluities that hinder the Christian, anxious thoughts and cares that oppress and distract the spirit. To run well in such circumstances is as impracticable as if the sin broke out which demands self-judgment and humiliation. Parley is fatal, delay dangerous. Both weights and sin therefore are to be put off absolutely. It is in vain to trust our moral power. We must look away, from every one and every thing without or within, to Him who is as mighty to deliver as He graciously waits on our need. Power is not in the first man but in the Second; and even here, surely we may say, that God is thereby as in all things glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom is the glory and the might for the ages of the ages, Amen.
But it is not without importance to understand that our Lord is here presented, not as the objective channel of the grace we ever need, but as the unrivalled leader and completer of faith in the whole extent of its course. "Our" faith misleads, especially with "author and finisher," as if the Holy Spirit were here setting Him forth as beginning faith in our souls and carrying it on to the end, its source and sustainer. Not so: He is viewed as leader and perfecter in the race of faith in its entirety. In that race let us run. It cannot be without endurance any more than faith right through. But "through" or "by means of" endurance is here inadequate. The apostle uses the preposition also to express condition, as in Romans 2:27. "With" in this case is right. In a world departed from God the believer's course lies through persecution, detraction, and hatred; and thus he must make his way with endurance or patience.
Herein our Lord was proved to the uttermost: "Who for the joy lying before him endured crucifixion, despising shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God." Compare Matt. 11 at the end, and John 13:31-32; Joh 13:14; Joh 13:17, as testimony of the joy in His view; but love, yea the Father's glory, was His motive, however the future joy cheered Him along the way. Even for us it is the same thing in principle; and the new nature, in the knowledge of God and His Son, renders us capable of it. Reward, however glorious, is never the motive; yet is it most animating in the face of danger and trial.
"Crucifixion is here used to express the character of what the Lord endured, as we cannot say "cross" in English without an article, though we can speak of "shame" in being despised. The answer to it is His seat at the right hand of the throne of God. The suffering and the glorious issue are alike His only. No one sits there but Himself who vindicated the glory of God compromised utterly by man. Now is man in His person set on an immutable foundation by the death of the cross. God is glorified in Him, as He glorified Him in Himself, and this immediately, without waiting for the day when the world-kingdom of Him and His Christ shall come. The Son of man is set down at the right hand of God's throne. He has carried manhood into that glory whence He came down in love to do the will of God, accomplished redemption, and gone back again in God's righteousness which we are made in Him.
Therefore the word is, "consider him that hath endured such gainsaying, or contradiction, by the sinners against himself, that ye be not wearied, fainting in your souls." To flag is a great danger, and never excusable; for there He sits to cheer and bless who once endured such gainsaying as none other did or could. They were sinners against themselves undoubtedly, as read the Sinaitic and the Clermont MSS., etc. But the far more solemn fact is that they were "the sinners against himself," who endured all in love to win them to God. Who ever met with a people (His people!) so rebellious? Disciples so fearful and cowardly? Betrayed by one, denied by another, deserted by all the most trusted! It was not only that sinners contradicted, or that saints fled, but God Himself forsook, as it must be if sin was to be judged fully. O, how little have the saints to weary them in comparison! and why faint in their souls who see Him on high, their sacrifice and priest, life, righteousness, and glory?
From persecution causing saints to suffer the transition is easy to the needed discipline of our God as the Father of spirits.
"Not yet did ye resist unto blood, contending against sin; and ye have quite forgotten the exhortation such as discourseth with you as with sons, My son, despise not Jehovah's chastening, nor faint when convicted by him; for whom Jehovah* loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth. For† chastening ye endure: God is dealing with you as sons. For what son [is]‡ he whom a father chasteneth not? But if ye are without chastening, of which all have been made partakers, then ye are bastards and not sons" (verses 4-8).
* "Lord" here means Jehovah, and therefore excludes the article in Greek.
† εἰς A D K L P and some 50 cursives (the Vat. B. and Rescript of Paris, C, failing); εἰ has but some cursives, Euthal-Cod. and Theophylact, all the ancient Vv, and Ff. being adverse.
‡ In A P, etc., ἐóôὶν is not expressed.
There is danger of relaxation and shirking the consequences of fidelity to the Lord and the truth. It was very far otherwise with Him, who, when He had finished His work of living testimony, Himself the substance of it necessarily alike from His glory and His love in humiliation, gave Himself up as willing captive and victim, that the will of God might be done in every way to His glory. But the saints were not yet resisting unto blood, whatever had been the case with some in early days of whom we hear in the Acts of the Apostles. And they had utterly forgotten the, fatherly exhortation such as speaks to us in the Proverbs, as to sons expressly. It has a two-fold character that we should neither despise the divine chastening, nor faint when so dealt with. He never causes a needless tear; He acts towards us in perfect love. Can we not trust Him? Contending against sin in an evil world entails suffering, and in the same suffering without chastisement. But they may and do sometimes coalesce; and in every case we wrong Him who watches over us in love, if we either slight His hand or repine under it. How often His action which calls us to suffer is to guard us from what would grieve the Holy Spirit of God, rather than because we have sinned! And it is happy for us when it is so. He who was employed to write to these Christian Hebrews knew it in his own experience better than any other, though many in their measure have proved how true it is still. So in the Gospel of John our Lord speaks of His Father purging every branch of the Vine that bears fruit, in order that it might bear more fruit. We need to believe His word that we may interpret His dealings aright.
The commonly received text which substitutes the conditional "if" (εἰ) for the preposition "for" (εἰς) is an unquestionable mistake, resting on few and late witnesses opposed to weight and antiquity, and due apparently to a presumed simplifying of the clause. Tischendorf who had wavered returned to the true reading, as do all critics who adhere to diplomatic evidence, unless a motive for chance were probable. Here the motive wrought the other way in the modern copies; for it seemed to balance the seventh verse better with the eighth. Whereas in fact the ancient reading preserves the application of the O.T. citation simply and with far more directness and energy. Erasmus led the way wrongly, following a Greek MS. of not much value, and others followed the Dutch scholar. The Vulgate too had the mistranslation of in disciplina," which should of course have been the accusative as in its Fulgentian copy. The Velesian forgery made the Greek to match the error. The sense is, Not for harm but for good, for chastening ye endure. It is the unfailing portion and token of God's family here below. Therefore the challenge follows, What son is there whom a father chastens not? To be without such dealing, of which all have become partakers, would rather warrant the inference of being spurious, not legitimate sons.
How blessed for the believer that as grace saved, so it abides; not in the least to hinder the moral government of God, but to bind up inseparably His holy watchful oversight and discipline of our souls with His unfailing love! Easily might we all, as many a one through unbelief does, misunderstand His ways in chastening us, as if they indicated nothing but His displeasure and our own danger of course still; and the more, because of having tasted in a small measure that He is gracious. But such a doubt really wrongs both His love and His truth, and loses sight, of the relationship He has established between Himself and us, and of His faithfulness if we have to mourn any faithlessness to Him. It is utterly a mistake that, where life is, a bright sense of His unchanging grace, even in scourging every son whom He receives, enfeebles our practical devotedness to His will. On the contrary, His word calls on every child of His to cherish confidence in His grace, as our standing before Him (Romans 5:2; Hebrews 12:28; 1 Peter 5:12), that we may the more deeply judge ourselves, our inconsistencies, and our failures. So even the irreverent and careless Corinthian saints were told that we are chastened by the Lord, that we should not be condemned with the world; as all unbelievers must be, for their works are only evil, and faith in God null.
The general principle and the necessity for present chastening, have been shown which every Jew would but recognise as a familiar truth from that great repository of divine wisdom applied to the life on earth, the Book of Proverbs, so characterised throughout by the O.T. title of relationship. Certainly this is not enfeebled but deepened by the more intimate name in which God has now revealed Himself by and in His Son. Here, however, all as to this is intentionally general. It was through the Gospel and Epistles of John that the Holy Spirit brought out the Father In relation, and the divine nature in all the fulness of God.
Now we have a development, closely connected with and following up what has been already considered. "Further, we used to have fathers of our flesh as chasteners, and to pay reverence: shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live? For they for a few days chastened as seemed good to them; but he for profit in order to the partaking of his holiness. Now no chastening for the present seemeth to be of joy but of grief; but afterward it yieldeth peaceful fruit of righteousness to those that have been exercised thereby" (verses 9-11).
These words appeal to what nature itself teaches to be inherent in the relationship of father and son. We could not but know in our own experience, when the folly bound up with the heart of a child had to meet a father's discipline. Yet did we stand in awe of them. Thus has God constituted man. Shall we not then be much more in subjection to the Father of spirits and live? For this is a grand aim of the Epistle; not only faith in the person, work, and offices of Christ, but living by faith, instead of drawing back: so Heb. 10 urges, and Heb. 11 illustrates, crowned by the beginning of Heb. 12. The superior dignity of the Father of our spirits over the fathers of our flesh is evident; but not more so than the unfailing character of His training, and the worthy end no less sure. Many an earthly father vacillates, some are manifestly unwise and unworthy, none absolutely and in all things reliable; yet we used to pay them, respect during the "few days" of their authoritative training, whatever might be the failures now and then through the infirmities of the flesh. For they could not rise above what "seemed good to them"; and they might be and were mistaken sometimes. Not so the Father of spirits, God alone wise, who is good and does good, acting unerringly for our advantage in order to our partaking of His holiness.
This is a high standard undoubtedly; but it could not be other if He undertakes the charge of us, as He does. Even with His ancient people His word was, Be ye holy, for I am holy; and so the apostle of the circumcision cites and urges on the elect of the dispersion. The same truth our Lord Himself impressed on the disciples when He compared Himself to a vine, the true Vine, His Father to the Husbandman, and them to the branches. Every branch bearing fruit, said He, My Father purgeth, that it may bear more fruit. Here it is the discipline God carries on in every son He receives to Himself. The child-training may seem, while it goes on, not joyous but grievous; but the end is as sure here, and not merely in an after-state, as the loving wisdom that directs it for profit. What can there be comparable (we being what we are, and the world so perilous and unimprovable and ensnaring) to our partaking in His holiness? What a practical privilege!
It may be noticed that Hellenistic literature, in none of its copious and varied remains, uses this word ἅãéόôåò. Yet is it the simplest derivative that expresses quality from ἅãéïò, holy. It occurs in the apocryphal second book of Macc. 15: 2, but is not correctly rendered in the Vulgate, followed by Wiclif and his follower, and the Douay, etc. For "with holiness" qualifies "him who beholds all things," rather than the day forehonoured by Him. Some may not be aware that Alford, Lachmann, Tischendorf, Tregelles, Westcott and Hort adopt it in the text of 2 Corinthians 1:12, where others have ἁðëόôçôι, a word easily confounded with it by a hasty eye. It is adopted without even a marginal question by the Revisers.
Verse 11 closes this part of the subject with the effect of chastening in another form, which is still more nearly akin to John 15. Afterward chastening yields peaceful fruit of righteousness to those that have been exercised by it. God effects the profit in such as have submitted to the trial: it is lost so far as we slight the trial or doubt His love in sending it.
The apostle resumes his exhortation after the episode of divine discipline which had occupied the previous verses, wholesome for any but especially for such as confessed the Lord Jesus from among the Jews. Christianity deepens that personal training which Job opens to us from early days and on the broadest ground; as the Book of Proverbs, which is here applied, carried it home with minute care and sententious wisdom in Israel, where Jehovah's name was known. But the figure is now enlarged, from running the race to the straight paths for the walk, specially desirable for the weak in the way; and we know from Rom. 14, 15 whence these came, and wherein weakness consisted of collision with Gentile brethren who boasted of strength.
"Wherefore lift up the exhausted hands and the enfeebled knees; and make straight paths for your feet, that what is lame be not turned out of the way but rather be healed. Pursue peace with all, and holiness without which no one shall see the Lord; watching, lest any one lack the grace of God, lest any root of bitterness springing up trouble [you] and through it many* be defiled; lest [there be] any fornicator or profane person as Esau, who for one meal sold his birthright. For ye know that, even when afterwards wishing to inherit the blessing, he was rejected (for he found no place for repentance) though he sought it earnestly with tears" (verses 12-17).
* A few very ancient witnesses give "the" many: so in Mark 6:2; Mark 9:26.
We see here the all-importance of faith for the walk, as Heb. 11 had illustrated from of old, and the Epistle throughout had urged as the spring of power and hinge of blessing for the Christian. It is failure in this respect that exposes to all feebleness; and confidence in God and the word of His grace is. what kindles the spark into a steady flame. To sight the Jews were peculiarly prone from their system and the thought it. nourished disposed them to look for immediate effects and displayed power. As Greeks seek wisdom or philosophy, Jews ask for signs; and this was apt to affect unconsciously the baptised; for disappointed expectations which had no warrant from the truth left them jaded, weary, and weak. Hence the call to restore the exhausted hands and enfeebled knees; and to make straight paths for their feet, that what was lame should not turn aside but rather be healed. The joy of present love and of future glory are set before us with the strongest assurance; the needed sorrow in our experience is turned into blessing by the way; and our chastening shown to be the fruit of divine love for profit, that we might be partakers of His holiness who loves us. For so we read here of that which we are apt to regard only in the light of requirement. Such is the object and end of His discipline for profit of the best kind.
But if His love be lost sight of, the hands hang down and the knees are paralysed. Faith has no energy save in the confidence of His grace. So it is everywhere as a matter of teaching from Romans to Hebrews, and from Hebrews to the Revelation. It was always true; it is clear as light since Christ came. He Himself is the unflagging witness of it in sufferings beyond all comparison. And none can forget it without immediate loss.
Further, the word is "pursue" (which is stronger than "follow") "peace with all and the holiness without which none shall see the Lord" (verse 14). Having peace with God through our Lord Jesus, we are exhorted to seek it diligently in practice, where there are so many sources of disagreement; and this not only with one another but with all. God Himself is the God of peace; and His children are to reflect His character. But there is a still more imperative warning attached to the exhortation to "holiness," "without (or, apart from) which none shall see the Lord." Here it is ἁãéáóìόò, not merely the quality in its abstract form, but in its action or its result as applied to us; and so found throughout the N.T. (Romans 6:19; Rom 6:22; 1 Corinthians 1:30; 1 Thessalonians 4:3-4; 1Th 4:7; 2 Thessalonians 2:13; 1 Timothy 2:15; and 1 Peter 1:2). There is nothing to alarm the most timid in this, more than in all the scriptures which insist on conformity to God's will in all that are His (Romans 2:7-11; 1 Cor. 9, 10, 1 Corinthians 9:27; Galatians 5:19-20, Galatians 6:7-8; Ephesians 5:5-7; Titus 2:12, Titus 3:8; 1 Peter 1:14, 1 Peter 2:3; 2 Peter 1, 2, 3; 1 John 2, 3; Jude; Revelation 21:8, Revelation 22:15).
This is only strengthened by what follows: "Looking to it lest any one lack (or, fall short of) the grace of God." Without the heart's resting on His grace and consequently on Christ and His work, all is vain; because all is man, and fallen man, presuming otherwise to seek acceptance with God. In such a condition there never can be an adequate sense of sin any more than of holiness. Grace, the grace of God, enables the soul to judge itself unsparingly, and to delight in the unsullied nature of God. because it gives in Christ the life which suits God perfectly, and the propitiation which blots out our sins. This indeed is love, not ours (though we do love) but His in its blessed fulness. It is sovereign grace; of which souls fall short, who dare to approach God in virtue of their own doings or of acts done for them by mortal man, to both of which Israel had recourse, perhaps as much as the heathen.
If self-righteousness be excluded, and outward rites be in lieu of Christ, more evidently hateful to God is "any root of 'bitterness" which springing up should trouble, and thereby the many or mass be defiled. For such is the effect of evil, as is shown in 1 Cor. 5 and Gal. 5 under the figure of leaven, as here by a root of bitterness. It might take a variety of forms; and here we have specified carnal impurity and profanity, both intolerable where God is and is known. Of the latter evil Esau is the instance, who for one meal sold his birthright. Every Hebrew was familiar with a tale humbling indeed for all concerned; but Esau stood on unhallowed ground, where God's promise yet more was despised than any such birthright. What a warning to those Hebrews in danger of giving up incomparably better blessings with Him whose kingdom did not immediately appear, as they fondly hoped! It was not repentance that Esau earnestly sought with tears, but the blessing which his father even had wished wrongly to alienate from Jacob, the heir designated of Jehovah from before their birth.
From the unbelieving, despisal of grace in Esau and from its sad issue, we turn on the one hand to a tremendous yet undeniable view of the law with its menacingly fatal accompaniments, and on the other to a comprehensive assemblage of the bright objects which grace will effect and display, into which faith even now introduces those who believe. Both parts of the contrast powerfully carry on the argument and aim of the Epistle to the Hebrews.
Were any disposed to slip away from Christianity and return to the Levitical system of their fathers? Here they are invited to look on the two sides of the picture sketched by the unerring hand of the Holy Spirit, where every element is derived from scriptures which no Jew could dispute. 2 Cor. 3 gave a similar antithesis admirably suited to enlighten and admonish the church of God in the capital of Achaia, where Jewish boasting was at work to act on those who came from the Gentiles. Here the mode of dealing is not less skilfully directed to warn and win those of Israel who were tempted to return to Judaism. Let us look at the dark side which comes first.
"For ye have not approached to [a mount]* palpable and aglow with fire, and to gloom and darkness and tempest, and a trumpet's sound and voice of words, which [voice] they that heard entreated that no word more should be addressed to them; for they could not endure what was charged: And if so much as a beast touch the mount, it shall be stoned; and, so fearful was the appearance, Moses said, I am affrighted and trembling all over" (verses 18-21).
*The best and most ancient witnesses omit ὄñåι here, which is understood from verse 22, where the positive object is found. But Mr. T. S. Green goes so far as to give up the contrast of the two mountains, and has, "You have come to a fire touched," etc.
The Christian position is not the Jewish one improved, but contrasted with it distinctly and fully. Israel did approach to Sinai. There they received the law in which they boasted over the Gentiles who know not God, who have no polity from Him nor covenant with Him. As for the nations, their judgment and their dignity proceeded from themselves. Might and craft were their deities, with demons behind them. Therefore they sacrificed to their net, and burnt to their drag. The Jew, instructed out of the law, was sure he himself was a guide of the blind and a light of those in darkness; whereas in truth through his transgression of the law he habitually dishonoured God. The name of God was blasphemed among the Gentiles because of the Jews, as their prophets attested.
But here we are given to see God in the most solemn way at Sinai intimating the end from the beginning. The law of God is and must be crushing to the pretensions of man as he is; for Israel were sinners as others, and the law could only be to such a ministry of death and condemnation. If law be the ground of action, how could God acquit the guilty? Here therefore our attention is drawn to the entire scene from the first as one of the most awful signs on God's part, of abject terror on His people's. The mount to which their fathers had approached was palpable, like the rest of their system; but, more than that, it was all aglow with fire, the symbol of God's destructive judgment. And, adding to the horror, gloom was there and darkness and tempest, not light and peace serene and bright but just the opposite. Above the glare and the black obscurity and the storm, an unearthly trumpet sounded its alarm, and a voice of words more awful still: so that those who heard that voice deprecated its reaching them more. Most ominous was that which is charged: who of mankind could endure it, when even if a beast touched the mount it was to be stoned? If such 'Must be the doom of the unconscious brutes, where should the sinner appear? Yea, the very mediator of the law, honoured of God and familiar with His presence, could only say at that fearful vision, I exceedingly fear and tremble all over.
Such was the characteristic approach of Israel to God when about to hear the law. Their own scriptures declare this and the like only to have been God's aspect towards them - this their feeling and state before Him. Assuredly it is not so that the confessors of the Lord Jesus approach God in the gospel. There we hear of the gift of His love in His only-begotten Son that whosoever believeth may have eternal life - in Him who suffered for our sins on the cross. It was He who bore the judgment and went down into death. The gospel reveals the Saviour as life and propitiation, God sending His own Son for both purposes; that as we live through Christ, so through His stripes are we healed. We are saved by grace: but the cost was God's through the reconciling death of His Son; and grace reigns through righteousness unto eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. Now if any of the Jews who confessed such a Saviour were growing weary and turning back to Judaism, let them weigh what they give up in the gospel, and to what they must return under the law.
We have been shown what does not stamp the Christian confession but the Jewish. Here we are told in a few expressive clauses what is our portion, though in hope.
"But ye have come to mount Zion; and to a living God's city, heavenly Jerusalem; and to myriads of angels, a universal assemblage; and to an assembly of firstborn ones enrolled in heaven; and to God judge of all; and to spirits of just men made perfect; and to Jesus mediator of a new covenant; and to blood of sprinkling better than Abel" (verses 22-24).
This bright statement was pre-eminently suited and intended to disabuse and raise the hearts of the unbelieving Hebrews, as it is admirable for the instruction of any and all saints who desire to learn. The conjunction simply and effectively introduces and connects each of the objects in a remarkable order after the first, as we shall see. This was overlooked in the A.V. following other translators, to the ruin of the meaning between the latter clause of verse 22 and beginning of verse 23.
No mountain in the O.T. stood in such formal contrast with Sinai as Zion. The one was, as just noticed, the never-to-be-forgotten scene of national responsibility to the law; the other the intervention of Jehovah in grace for His king when all was ruin, people and priests alike wicked, the ark taken by the Philistines, Ichabod confessed, Israel's king and his sons slain, and the Jebusite not only in the centre and stronghold of Jerusalem but defiant and insulting. Then it was that Jehovah, as He chose David, so also chose the mount Zion which He loved. And there will He set His king, upon His holy hill of Zion. "I will declare the decree: Jehovah hath said unto me, Thou art my Son; I this day have begotten thee. Ask of me, and I shall give thee the heathen for thine inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth for thy possession. Thou shalt break them with a rod of iron; thou shalt dash them, in pieces like a potter's vessel." These Psalms and others speak of a future day, of a new age when Messiah shall reign over Israel and the nations. But our Epistle simply introduces mount Zion compared with Sinai and its legal associations, as the expression of divine grace interposing to establish the kingdom after a scene of grievous sin and long humiliation. "This is my rest for ever: here will I dwell; for I have desired it." "There Jehovah commanded the blessing, even life for evermore."
To mark this aim, we may notice how the Holy Spirit connects with Zion, not as a Jew might have expected, the well-known city of David, earthly Jerusalem, but "a living God's city, heavenly Jerusalem." If Zion was morally the highest to be descried here below, we now leave earth behind and by faith behold the city for which Abraham looked, as God prepared it for such as were pilgrims and strangers on earth, a city which hath the foundations, whose maker and builder is God. It is the seat of glory in the heavenly places for the holy sufferers with Christ who shall also be glorified together; and He who is a living God is bound in love and honour to give it thus effect.
Then follows the mention of "myriads of angels, a general assemblage." They were the natural or indigenous denizens of heaven, all God's hosts that excel in strength, that do His commandments, hearkening unto the voice of His word. Here they are presented in their fulness of various order. Another inspired writer tells us that he heard their voice, and the number of them was myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands.
Further, the Christian Hebrews are said to have come "to the assembly of firstborns enrolled in heaven." There need be no hesitation in identifying this heavenly company. It is the church of God, of which we hear so much and of the deepest interest in the Acts of the Apostles and the other Epistles, as the Lord when here below spoke of it as about to be founded (Matthew 16:18), so that Hades' gates should not prevail against it. The day of Pentecost (that followed His death, resurrection, and ascension) first saw the new sight. It is described here according to the divine design of the Epistle. This accounts for putting forward the aggregate of those who compose it, firstborn ones, rather than the elsewhere familiar figures of the body of Christ, and of the temple of God - His habitation by the Spirit. And those. who compose it are here characterised: (1) in relation to Him who was carefully shown us in Heb. 1 to be the Firstborn, the established Heir of all things; (2) in relation by grace to our proper and destined sphere of glory, heaven, and not earth where Israel as such rightly look for their blessedness and triumph under Messiah's reign. Those who are holy brethren, partakers of a heavenly calling, being children, are heirs also, heirs of God and Christ's joint-heirs. He is Firstborn, alone in personal right and result of His work; but they are also firstborn truly though of divine grace. And further, they are enregistered or enrolled in heaven by divine counsel and the same grace, citizens of heaven which justly pales every other citizenship and lifts above it.
When this glory is presented, we can have none higher than what rises before us, the due and necessary summit of all, "and to God, judge of all," to whom the various objects preceding are an ascending scale. It is God in His judicial, His universally judicial, glory, not of His people only as in the magnificent Psalm 55 but here "of all" without exception. The millennial era will be the grand display of this, as doctrinally set forth in Ephesians 1:10, Colossians 1:20 (cf. Php 2:10-11), and prophetically in Revelation 21:9 et seqq.
Thence we of course descend, "and to spirits of just made perfect." These are the O.T. saints. They had had to do with God before grace reigned through righteousness unto eternal life by Jesus Christ as we know it in the gospel. When faith rested on promise, they looked for the Coming One; and they will have blessed part in His kingdom (Rev. 20), when they too shall judge the world (1 Corinthians 6:2). The like distinction from "we" may be seen at the end in Hebrews 11:39-40; and it is remarkable, as this instance proves, that they are shown not as they will be but as they are, "to the spirits of just made perfect." They will not be in the separate state when "that day" is come; they will be raised from among the dead at the presence of Christ.
Next we read "and to Jesus, mediator of a new covenant." This is the pledge of the enduring mercy which awaits the two houses of Israel. Of this all the ancient revelation speaks fully, the Law, the Psalms, and the Prophets; so that there is the less need of now dwelling on it particularly, even if the Gospels and the Acts, and the Epistles and the Revelation did not also confirm it. It is only necessary to say here that "new" means "fresh" or "recent," a quite different word and thought from the usual "new" covenant, which means covenant on a new principle, not letter but spirit, not man's responsibility as at Sinai but God's grace in Christ. Here the added comfort is given that when in days to come Jehovah makes the new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah, when He will put His law in their inward parts and write it in their hearts, and be their God and they His people, with other blessed and abiding consequences, it will also be as "fresh" as when the blood was shed by which the great Mediator founded it on His death before God. The Christian Hebrews had come to Jesus its Mediator, not yet to its actual connection and establishment with Israel, but to Him who has done all for this purpose in due time.
But the prospect makes the way for another consequent blessing: "And to blood of sprinkling speaking better than Abel." If a new covenant points to Israel put under new and sure and everlasting covenant mercy in virtue of Jehovah-Messiah, the voice of the blood of sprinkling does not cry for vengeance and curse as Abel's did (Genesis 4:10-12); it speaks of reconciliation for the earth (and indeed all things) assured by that blood which is alone precious and efficacious with God. It is clear, however, that this, however truly a guarantee, is like others we have seen, not yet in actual accomplishment; if we have come to them in hope, yea in full assurance of hope, we do not yet see them, and so with patience wait for them all, surely to be manifest in the day we see approaching.
It could not be, save by the power of faith, that Hebrews would fail to boast of the early wonders of Israel, and recall with pride the fervent words of Moses: "What nation is there so great, that hath God so nigh unto them, as Jehovah our God is in all that we call upon him for? And what nation is there so great, that hath statutes and judgments so righteous as all this law which I set before you this day? Did ever people hear the voice of God speaking out of the midst of the fire as thou hast heard, and live? Or hath God essayed to go and take him a nation from the midst of another nation by temptations, by signs, and by wonders, and by war, and by a mighty hand, and by a stretched-out arm, and by great terrors according to all that Jehovah your God did for you in Egypt before your eyes?" (Deut. 4)
Yet the force of Christianity shows itself in lifting believing Jews no less than Gentiles, above all that was or can be seen on earth, to the incomparably higher glories of Christ on the right hand of the Majesty on high revealed now to our faith. Such is the keynote of the Epistle before us. And as the Gentile enamoured of philosophy needed to be delivered from his vain dreams, we may apply to the Jew what the apostle said to the Corinthians in his Second Epistle (2 Corinthians 3:10), "For even that which hath been made glorious hath not been made glorious in this respect on account of the glory, that surpasseth," not to speak of its abiding in glory, instead of being done away in Christ as the Mosaic economy is.
"See that ye refuse not him that speaketh. For if they escaped not when they refused him that divinely warned on earth, much more [shall not] we that turn away from him that [doth] from [the] heavens; whose voice then shook the earth, but now he hath promised, saying, Yet once will I cause to quake not only the earth but also heaven. Now the Yet once signifieth the removing of the things shaken as having been made, that the things not shaken may remain. Wherefore let us, receiving a kingdom not to be shaken, have grace (or, thankfulness) whereby let us serve God acceptably with godly fear and dread. For our God [is] a consuming fire" (verses 25-29).
The Lord Jesus, the Son of God, is regarded as speaking in the N.T., and speaking from the heavens. So it is in this Epistle, Hebrews 1:2: God has spoken to us in a Son, not merely in the prophets. The person and the place give His speaking the highest authority and immeasurable value; especially as it is on the ground of that eternal redemption, and the purification of sins made by Himself before He set Himself down on the right hand of the Majesty on high. Hence the danger of refusing Him that speaks. It is not excusing ourselves because of our inability to meet divine requirements as in the law. Now "the will of God" is done by the Lord Jesus, the Son - done so perfectly in His death as a sacrifice that God is absolutely glorified; by which will we who believe have been sanctified through the offering of His body once for all - nay more, perfected continuously (εἰò ôὸ äéçíåêές), without a break. Man, weak and guilty man, is excluded from this immense doing, this infinite suffering. It is God acting for His own glory in His Son, that the believer might be perfectly blessed. He is therefore called, in the sense and confession of his evil, to bow to God in His grace, who, having thus wrought His will, speaks that man may hear and live, may believe and be saved, blessed now and evermore.
Those who trust their own thoughts and feelings do refuse Him that speaketh. They strive to find a reason in themselves or in the nature of things; and they strive in vain, for no answer can man or nature give why unclean and depraved man should be thence taken up for sharing the portion of the saints in light, and entering boldly even now into the holy of holies. They believe not Him that speaks: they credit not the efficacy of the blood of Jesus. The reason is not in man, still less in nature, but in the grace of God who has brought a new and everlasting glory to Himself by the redemption that is in Christ Jesus. Thus can He not only afford righteously to save all that believe, but to find His joy in saving the most unworthy, yet only on their heeding Him that speaks, His Son. See that ye refuse Him not!
Just because it is God coming forth in His Son to do the work, after man (tried in every way with the utmost patience on God's part) had failed in all, it is fatal for ever to refuse to hear Him and bow. The law was the grandest possible experiment for testing on the score of duty to God and man; and the cross of Christ ended it by man's greatest sin against both God and man. But that very cross saw God's will done for ever by Him whose death completed and closed all sacrifice for our sins before God. It was Christ's work: it was God's will; and the Holy Spirit testifies its efficacy for ever. Thereby is remission of our sins; and where this is, there is no longer an offering for sin. What is a bloodless sacrifice but a mockery and worse?
Hence if you refuse Him that speaks, you have nothing but your sins now and the wrath to come. The Jews had in earthly sacrifice no remission, only a calling to mind of sins. An unbloody sacrifice is a nullity and no better than Cain's, and now that Christ has died for sins, still more presumptuous and guilty. And all other blood is incapable of taking away sins. Christ, once offered to bear the sins of many, shall appear to those that look for Him the second time apart from sin for salvation. For such He will have no more to do with sin, having ended that question by His sacrifice the first time. The second time He will appear to His people for salvation, when their bodies will be saved as their souls are now. But if you refuse Him, destruction awaits you, everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord and the glory of His might not annihilation which is but an ungodly dream of perdition. And is it not just?
"For if they escaped not when they refused him that divinely warned on earth, much more shall not we that turn away from him that [doth] from heavens; whose voice then shook the earth; but now he hath promised, saying, Yet once will I cause to quake not only the earth but also the heaven." How plain, conclusive, and overwhelming! It was wicked to refuse the divine warning of the law; it is incomparably worse to turn away from Him that speaks from heaven. For He speaks, not of the yoke which neither the fathers nor the children were able to bear, nor yet of their rebellious restiveness under it, but of redemption through His own blood who was wounded for their transgressions, and bruised for their iniquities, of peace already made through the blood of His cross, who sits at God's right hand in witness of full acceptance for all who believe. To turn away from His voice is the gravest sin and the surest ruin.
Do you ask a proof? His voice then shook the earth when the law was given; for the Son was ever the One that spoke and acted even of old, no less God and the one Jehovah than the Father. And soon His voice will be heard again still more tremendously. Then Israel heard, by-and-by every creature must hear. For yet once, saith He, will I cause to quake not only the earth but also the heaven. Yet such is the efficiency of His work that for those who believe it is a" promise." What can harm those that are His own? If God. be for us, who is against us? He who has not even spared His own Son but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not also with Him freely give us all things? Who shall lay accusation against God's elect? It is God that justifieth: who is he that condemneth? It is Christ that died, yea rather was also raised up, that is also at God's right hand, that also intercedeth for us: who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Hence what is an awful menace to unbelievers is a promise to faith. Even the quaking of the universe "he hath promised"; it is no threat to us, for His love will rest on us then as much as ever, and we shall peacefully enter into all that is for His glory. From other Scriptures we know that we shall be then with Christ on high, but the words may be a special comfort to the godly Jews who follow, as we have shown elsewhere.
"Now the Yet once signifieth the removal of the things shaken as having been made, that the things not shaken may remain." It is only creation that passes away under His rebuke, that the new creation may alone stand. "For he that sat on the throne said, Behold, I make all things new." And no words are more true or faithful. They will surely be verified in their season. But the wonder of the Christian is that this is in principle true of him even now; not a promise merely but a fact, no doubt spiritual but only for this cause the more real and abiding and unchangeable. For if anyone be in Christ, there is a new creation. And this is a great advance on an O.T. saint who was begotten of God, born anew, a blessed and divinely given subjective reality. But we have not this only but our part in the objective reality. We are in Christ risen, the Beginning, the Firstborn from the dead. It is true of every Christian; if anyone be in Christ, a Dew creation. The old things have passed away. Behold, all things have become new: and all things are of God, who reconciled us to Himself by Jesus Christ (2 Cor. 5).
Hence we look as a promise for the removal of the things made, of this creation, that the things not shaken may remain, God's purpose is to head up all things in Christ, to reconcile all things to Himself; but He has reconciled us already in the body of His flesh, yet not through incarnation but through His death. Compare Eph. 1; Col. 1; Heb. 2. We died too with Christ, and reckon ourselves therefore dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus. The removal of the things shaken, of the things not in Christ, awakens no terror but rather satisfaction; and we exult in the glory of God.
"Therefore let us, receiving a kingdom not to be shaken, have grace (or, thankfulness), whereby let us serve God acceptably with godly fear and dread. For our God is a consuming fire." See the beautiful picture of this in Rev. 4, where the glorified elders are wholly unmoved by the lightnings and thunders and voices which proceed out of the throne; but when the living creatures render glory to Him that sits on it, they are all activity, leave their thrones, fall before Him, and cast their crowns before the throne, saying, Thou art worthy, O our Lord and our God. And this is revealed to act on our souls now. For we are qualified already, true worshippers in the hour that now is to worship in Spirit and truth. By grace we fear yet love Him, and would serve Him. Undoubtedly "our" God is a consuming fire; notwithstanding is He our Father who loves us perfectly. And He loves us equally as "God." None the less does He hate sin, as He has proved in the cross of Christ; and He has given us a nature that hates sin, even Christ who lives in us as He died for us. Nothing more opposed to truth than making grace a veil or excuse for sin, as every believer confesses. Therefore says the apostle to the saints in Rome, "Sin shall not have dominion over you; for ye are not under law but under grace." If we were under law, it is powerless for holiness, and can only condemn, being a ministry of death. Christ is the rule of life working on and in us by the Holy Spirit.
Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God.
For consider him that endured such contradiction of sinners against himself, lest ye be wearied and faint in your minds.
Ye have not yet resisted unto blood, striving against sin.
And ye have forgotten the exhortation which speaketh unto you as unto children, My son, despise not thou the chastening of the Lord, nor faint when thou art rebuked of him:
For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth.
If ye endure chastening, God dealeth with you as with sons; for what son is he whom the father chasteneth not?
But if ye be without chastisement, whereof all are partakers, then are ye bastards, and not sons.
Furthermore we have had fathers of our flesh which corrected us, and we gave them reverence: shall we not much rather be in subjection unto the Father of spirits, and live?
For they verily for a few days chastened us after their own pleasure; but he for our profit, that we might be partakers of his holiness.
Now no chastening for the present seemeth to be joyous, but grievous: nevertheless afterward it yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness unto them which are exercised thereby.
Wherefore lift up the hands which hang down, and the feeble knees;
And make straight paths for your feet, lest that which is lame be turned out of the way; but let it rather be healed.
Follow peace with all men, and holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord:
Looking diligently lest any man fail of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up trouble you, and thereby many be defiled;
Lest there be any fornicator, or profane person, as Esau, who for one morsel of meat sold his birthright.
For ye know how that afterward, when he would have inherited the blessing, he was rejected: for he found no place of repentance, though he sought it carefully with tears.
For ye are not come unto the mount that might be touched, and that burned with fire, nor unto blackness, and darkness, and tempest,
And the sound of a trumpet, and the voice of words; which voice they that heard intreated that the word should not be spoken to them any more:
(For they could not endure that which was commanded, And if so much as a beast touch the mountain, it shall be stoned, or thrust through with a dart:
And so terrible was the sight, that Moses said, I exceedingly fear and quake:)
But ye are come unto mount Sion, and unto the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to an innumerable company of angels,
To the general assembly and church of the firstborn, which are written in heaven, and to God the Judge of all, and to the spirits of just men made perfect,
And to Jesus the mediator of the new covenant, and to the blood of sprinkling, that speaketh better things than that of Abel.
See that ye refuse not him that speaketh. For if they escaped not who refused him that spake on earth, much more shall not we escape, if we turn away from him that speaketh from heaven:
Whose voice then shook the earth: but now he hath promised, saying, Yet once more I shake not the earth only, but also heaven.
And this word, Yet once more, signifieth the removing of those things that are shaken, as of things that are made, that those things which cannot be shaken may remain.
Wherefore we receiving a kingdom which cannot be moved, let us have grace, whereby we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear:
For our God is a consuming fire.