Notes on the Epistle to the Hebrews

from notes of readings by F. W. Grant.

Division 5 (Heb. 12, 13).

The last two chapters form together the fifth and final division of the epistle, which presses the responsibilities resulting from all that has been before us. And these divide, nearly with the chapters, into two parts: first (Heb. 12 — 13:6) , that of steadfast continuance in the confession of their faith, through whatever difficulties; and lastly, of decisive separation from the "camp" of Judaism.

Subdivision 1 (Heb. 12 — 13:6).

The first subdivision seems again to divide into seven sections: the first of which urges concentration of energy in following One who (whatever may be the encouragement from that of others) is the unique Example, the Leader and Perfecter of faith. We have, surrounding us, all these witnesses to what is the principle of the path: let us then lay aside every weight and sin which so easily besets us, and run with patience the race set before us. For the runner in a race, to drop all unnecessary weights is imperative. The weight and the sin are quite different things, although so closely connected as undoubtedly they are. A weight is something I take up and need not; not a duty, for what is really a duty never is a weight. People of course may take up a weight and miscall it duty; and this misnomer will not hinder their finding it what it really is. But it would be impossible for God to impose upon us as duty what would be in itself necessarily hurtful to us. On the other hand, the artificial life lived at the present day, and the supposed responsibility of living up to one's position among men such like things do indeed often burden the back and make running well-nigh impossible. A racer's heart is at the end of the road, and his motto is: "Forgetting the things that are behind, and reaching on to that which is before." Just in proportion as he has this spirit, will he measure things by his one desire to make progress in the race.

The connection with sin too here is most important. It is sin in the abstract, although no doubt there are sins which beset each of us in a special way. If we thought of it as a pack of wolves at our heels, we should easily realize the connection of a "weight" with sin: you must drop the weights to distance the wolves. Amalek smote the "hindmost" of Israel. To get on in the road is the way to escape entanglement and the need of a battle.

Christ is the goal, and if our eyes are upon Him, we find at once the perfect Example and energy for the way. "Author" is the same word as we have had before in Hebrews, both "Leader" and "Originator." The path for us is what He has made it; and He has completed it — gone through it Himself all the way.

"The joy set before Him" was all that which was to be the issue of His work — "the fruit of the travail of His soul." For this He endured the cross, despising the shame: the cross He could not despise. In result He has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God, and the full compensation is at hand for Him.

This introduces the second subsection (vers. 3, 4): it is not merely a race we have to run, but to endure the contradiction of sinners, as He endured. The Hebrews had suffered a good deal, but they must not be weary yet. They had not yet (as Christ Himself had) resisted unto blood, wrestling against sin — of course, the sin outside and around. It is a different conflict from that in Galatians 5, and of course also from that in Ephesians 6; here it is persecution, and not standing against the wiles of the devil as there. Christ went on to death, and His followers must be prepared to do as He did, suffering with Him as far as men are concerned. The suffering from God, that which made the Cross what it was for Him, He has endured; and there is no cup of that kind for us at all no forsaking of God, but the very contrary:" If ye are reproached for the name of Christ, happy are ye; for the Spirit of glory and of God resteth upon you."

On the other hand, as we find in the third subsection (vers. 5-11), there is a character of suffering on our part which was not and could not be in His. For us there is discipline, because of what we are: the trials by the way being overruled of God so that we should be thus made "partakers of His holiness." As it is put in Romans, "tribulation worketh patience" — the subduing of our wills to God; "and patience experience" — the experience of what His will is; "and experience hope."

It may not be any positive failure that is here in view: the thorn in the flesh for the apostle was needed by him "because of the abundance of the revelations" which had been made to him, but of course also in view of the tendency in him to be lifted up: it was preventive, therefore — a conclusive argument against those views of perfection which would imply the removal of such tendencies from any one while here. This was a man who had been in the third heavens, hearing unspeakable things which it was not lawful (or possible) for one to utter; yet even he needed such a preventive; and needed it, too, to be continued, for his prayer for its removal was not answered in the way expected, but grace made him triumph over it.

We must take care, moreover, of the argument of Jobs friends (which is now being elaborately put forth as wholesome Christian doctrine in some quarters), that one's spiritual condition can be argued from the bodily one. "Beloved," says the apostle to Gaius, "I wish that in all things that thou prosper and be in health, even as thy soul does prosper." People would tell him now, he need have no trouble about that.

"The Lord," in the quotation, is really Jehovah, according to the usual rendering of the Septuagint and of our common version in the Old Testament. In 1 Cor. 11 "judged of the Lord" refers to the Lord Jesus. In Peter also, "Judgment must begin at the house of God" is chastening: the "house" in Peter is of "living stones" (1 Peter 2).

Thus, in governmental dealings, it is much with us as with Moses on the mount. In governmental ways, clouds and darkness are round about Him. Like Moses we cannot meet Him face to face, but after He has passed, see the glory of the back parts: "Afterwards it yieldeth the peaceable fruits of righteousness to those who" — in the darkness — "have been exercised thereby." The Law was just such government of God, but without the revelation of His face as it has been given us in Christ. Now, if as to special dealing the cloud is there, we yet know Him who is behind the cloud. Exercise is right as to what His ways mean, and we must not deem it a strange thing if we are left to the exercise.

It is not intended that we should float lightly over every thing. That which is from a. Father's hand has purpose in it, and is not to be treated lightly; but then, because it is a Father's hand, the purpose is blessing and we must not faint under it.

And so he exhorts in the next subsection (vers. 12-17) which, as a fourth, presses the practical ways that please God, and warns against departure from Him according to the constant style of the epistle. There need be no discouragement: they must lift up the hands that hang down and the feeble knees; but withal make straight paths for the feet so that the lame even may not be turned out of the way, but rather be healed of their lameness. It is only in God's path for us that power is found whatever be the difficulties: the weaker we are, the more urgent should be our desire to walk where alone He can be with us; for what are all the difficulties then?

Peace with all men was to be sought also, not at the expense of holiness, but in holiness which, with the Lord, is a first necessity: without it none shall see Him. And therefore they must look diligently to see that no one among them really lacked the grace of God, and so a root of bitterness spring up in their midst by which many might be defiled. For alas, we have in us all that which makes us susceptible to such infection; and the presence, of the evil shows already a lax condition which has allowed it to spring up.

How a single act may discover a man's character, as with Esau here. For a bit of food he sold his birthright; and the act characterized him as a profane person, one who habitually left God out of his thoughts. Yet he could desire the blessing, and sought it earnestly after he had lost it: just as Balaam could desire to die the death of the righteous, while he had no thought of living their life, thus he found no place for repentance; for it had only respect to the lost blessing, and involved no judgment of his ways before God. He valued the gain of godliness, without the godliness; and the nature of God would have had to be changed to gratify him in that which was his sole desire.

Now (subsection five, vers. 18-24) we come to the contemplation of that to which faith brings the Christian, and sets it in contrast with that which characterized Judaism; not however as faith, but in experience. Faith, as has been shown us, might have put before the Jew also something of that which lies before the Christian; but the point is, what did the law do to help or hinder a soul in this glorious prospect? And here the apostle carries them back to the record of its beginning, that all might judge themselves by the facts given.

Israel came to Mount Sinai, and there the nation had in spirit remained — a palpable mount indeed, and that burned with fire from the presence of God; with this an awful darkness, out of which the sound of a trumpet summoned attention; and then a Voice more dreadful than all, though with a distinct utterance of words, but not a gospel. For what had been the effect upon those that heard and saw? Touch they could not, for even the beast that touched was to be stoned; and their terror was so great that they begged the word might be spoken to them no more. Nay, even Moses the mediator said: "I exceedingly fear and quake." Such was the character of that dispensation: darkness over the face of God; obscurity over the future; God when He drew nigh inspiring terror!

Now what a contrast! Of the opened sanctuary, of the ability to draw nigh, of promise securing everything, the apostle has already spoken. He has only now, therefore, to put before them the prospect for heaven and for earth now which lies unobscured on the horizon of faith — Jewish hope as well as Christian, pictured in a few touches only, but which can be extended indefinitely from a multitude of scriptures. His object is not description, but to point out some of the features of this glorious scene.

Upon earth, first, Mount Zion, the place of God's choice in grace, when everything had broken down in Israel (Ps. 78:67-70); and thus His abiding rest (Ps. 132:13-14).

From this he rises to the "city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem," the corresponding centre of heavenly glory; which we must not confound, as some do, with the Church itself, which is mentioned apart almost directly afterwards. It is the home of the saints — the common thought, and the more correct one.

Next we find "myriads of angels, the universal gathering" — taking in, I suppose, all ranks and orders of these heavenly beings.

And next, the "assembly of the first-born ones, whose names are enrolled in heaven," in contrast with Israel, who are God's first-born people on earth. These are the heirs, the "brethren" among whom Christ is the "Firstborn" in necessary pre-eminence. These, then, are distinguished plainly from the "city of God" already spoken of.

Next, we rise to "God the Judge of all" — the Sovereign Awarder to every one of place and service and recompense. This is why, in the holy city, the sevens which we could expect to characterize it are expanded into twelves, the number of manifest divine government. Seven is 4+ 3 as twelve is 4 X 3: the twelve is an expanded seven; and where can perfection be more secured than by God being in absolute supremacy, His will being the settlement of every thing for His creatures?

We have then "the spirits of just men made perfect," which certainly are Old Testament saints distinguished as a company from the assembly of the first-born. "Just" men is the natural title of the Old Testament saints; and the "spirits of just men" show them to be a company that has come under death, which will not be true of the Christian assembly as a whole, which remains here till the coming of the Lord. "Made perfect" is for these by resurrection and will be accomplished at the same time for them as for us, as the last verse of the eleventh chapter shows: "That they without us should not be made perfect."

We are then reminded of the foundation of all blessing, Jesus the Mediator of the new covenant, and the blood of sprinkling, which has been already fully spoken of.

These things we have as Christians "come to." That is, nothing lies (that we can see) between us and them. As heirs of God and joint-heirs with Christ, they all have to do with us, and are of full personal interest to us.

The sixth subsection reaches to the end of the chapter. It is another of the many warnings of this epistle, and reminds all that there is a limit to the divine patience. How great the responsibility of refusing this divine Voice, now speaking in such marvelous grace from heaven! The Voice at Sinai shook the earth; but now, once more, He is going to shake, not the earth only, but also heaven. If "once more," that must imply the removal of every thing that can be shaken, that all afterwards may remain absolutely unmoved. How blessed to know, then, that the kingdom that we have received is among the things that cannot be shaken! But let us have grace therefore to serve God acceptably, with reverence and godly fear, for our God is a consuming fire. All that is not according to His mind is destined to that fire.

In subsection seven (Heb. 13:1-6), the apostle adds some words of exhortation as to the filling out of this acceptable service as those upon the earth, created of God, though disordered by sin, and that which is attendant upon it. They are of very simple character, and need no interpretation to make them understood.

Subdivision 2 (Heb. 13:7-25).

We have now the final word which is to separate the Christian from Judaism absolutely. Isaac's weaning-time is at an end, and the bondwoman and her son are to be cast out of the house.

He begins by speaking to them of the leaders now passed away, who had spoken to them the word of God, and considering the issue of their conversation, they were to imitate their faith. Leaders there will always be, and rightly when it is their faith that carries them ahead of others. But faith must be in the word of God, and must have this to justify itself to others. Thus true guidance is always by the Word, and this is what preserves it from being merely following of men. Apart from this, we may go easily astray in the path of very good men. Peter led Barnabas astray after this fashion. Paul says, "Follow me"; but he adds, "as I follow Christ."

Christ is the fulness of this Word; and the effect of true ministry is necessarily always to exalt Him. Christ is He also who, as we saw at the beginning of the epistle; has brought us the full revelation of God in contrast with all former fragmentary communications. Thus there can be nothing to come afterwards — no addition to Him. He is Israel's Jehovah, the unchangeable God: always at one with Himself; "The Same yesterday, today and for ever."

Christ is thus the measure of all that is true riches for His people, the test of all true doctrine, the object of all real faith. But being so, He is the object of Satan's constant enmity, whose unwearied labor it is to weave those divers and strange doctrines which, however contradictory of one another they may be, present to the natural taste a variety of roads by which men may wander from the one true Way. And of all these ways undoubtedly the most successful are those which would reintroduce, now that is has been authoritatively set aside forever,what has been man's way from the beginning. Judaism was the trial of that way; but a trial in which the true issue was plainly indicated, and the finger pointed unmistakably beyond itself to Christ — to a new covenant replacing the old, and a time of reconstruction of all things at His hands. What Satanic skill thus to take out of Judaism just that mere human element which had been on trial and condemned, ignoring the condemnation, to make the finger point in fact to this as the God-commended way of blessing, making the shadow to be the substance, and stamping the name of Christ upon the woof of Antichrist!

This bastard Judaism, as we see it in Romanism and kindred systems today, is evidence of the need of such decisive separation from the Jewish "camp," as the apostle presses here. In his warning against "divers and strange doctrines," it is plain that he has this almost wholly in mind, as it is indeed in some form the one religious scheme that men naturally accept and approve.

"For it is good," he says, "that the heart be established with grace, not with meats, which have not profited those that have been occupied therewith." The adoption of the legal system means the substitution of law for grace, earthly for heavenly, carnal for spiritual, the degradation of the assembly "called out" of the world into a mere heterogenous "gathering together" — "the synagogue of Satan." For the believer entangled in it, it means uncertainty for certainty, doubt for peace, bondage for liberty, instead of communion with God, the hiss of the serpent. Grace is the only thing that can dismiss fear, conquer sin, establish the sovereignty of God over the human heart. No wonder then that every kind of travesty should be made of it, every form of opposition exhausted against it. But the appeal which the apostle makes here to experience will be justified by every honest and exercised soul.

The apostle at once proceeds to his point. "We have an altar of which they have no right to eat who serve the tabernacle." He is opposing now the substance to the shadow, and he naturally uses the language of the tabernacle in his insistence that the reality is not in the shadow. We have an altar, he says, which the tabernacle cannot furnish; and an offering of which they who serve it have no right to partake. It is the peace-offering of which he is speaking, as that was the only offering in which all Israel could have "communion with the altar." But the peace-offering at once suggests all the difference for which he has been contending. "Peace," was it ever made by these continual sacrifices? Communion with God, how far could it be enjoyed by those for whom God was behind the unrent veil, dwelling in thick darkness?

The altar itself — "the altar that sanctifieth the gift" — was the figure of Christ in Person: what else could sanctify His gift, but what He was who offered it? Where, then, had the men of the tabernacle put Christ? And how could they have communion with the altar which they had refused?

True, they had done what their types had indicated. For every sin-offering whose blood was carried into the holy places by the high priest was burned without the camp; and so Jesus, that He might sanctify the people with His own blood, suffered without the gate of the holy city. It was one of those signs of a deeper reality which united to proclaim the true character of the Cross. Outside the gate, in that mysterious darkness, hanging upon a tree, proclaimed the true sin-offering — forsaken of God, as under the curse for sin! and this was the deepest necessity for atonement. But if this were needed for the sanctification of the people, the failure of the legal system was manifest. The law was "weak, through the flesh." Nothing could improve the man in the flesh so as to make him acceptable with God: put him under the most favorable conditions, the "mind of the flesh is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be;" nay more, it is "enmity against God." For this nothing but judgment can avail with Him. That judgment is what the Cross expresses, but with this therefore the whole legal system is of necessity set aside. The "camp" (which is just the people upon that legal footing) is given up. All the grace of God for man is found in the Cross, and so outside the camp, and the glory of God outside it also.

The glory of God had been outside before: after the golden calf, when the legal covenant in its first form of pure law had come to an end with the first tables, Moses had taken the tabernacle and pitched it "outside the camp, afar off from the camp," and there the cloud of ministrant glory descended, and the Lord talked with Moses.

After far longer trial, when the legal covenant in its form of mingled law and mercy had only manifested man to be without strength as well as ungodly, at the time of the Babylonian captivity the glory was seen by the prophet Ezekiel again taking its departure from the midst of the people; and city and temple were given up to destruction.

Now, for a third time, the glory, embodied in Jesus, the Son of God, is outside, and under reproach. Let us go forth therefore to Him without the camp," says the apostle, "bearing His reproach: for we have not here an abiding city, but we seek one to come." Our faces are not even towards the Zion of the future, but towards "Jerusalem which is above, which is our mother."

We are priests of the sanctuary, but it is a heavenly one, and the offerings on the brazen altar have ceased, by virtue of the true Sacrifice abiding once for all. Our altar is now the golden altar of the sanctuary, which is still Christ; and "by Him let us offer the sacrifice of praise continually to God, that is, the fruit of the lips, confessing His name." And with this is another form of sacrifice: "But to do good and to communicate forget not; for with such sacrifices God is well pleased." How beautiful is this as the expression of a Christian life! How perfectly does it show the value of Christ's one work for us, while giving to our practical life its highest character. Our work is with praise — a thank-offering: and this is the sacrifice with which God is pleased.

Thus "inside the veil" and "outside the camp" go together — necessarily, for the true heavenly tabernacle has been always outside. While Judaism in the strict sense is what is here, every legal system comes under it in principle. There can be no real going back to Judaism. No one can reinstate it, or go back where prophets and holy men of old once were: that is impossible. To bring it back into Christianity is, as the Lord Himself has taught us, to make a synagogue of Satan. Of course, we have to remember that people now are brought up in systems partaking of such a character, and that many of the Lord's people are entangled in them. They are like those who in Thyatira suffered the "woman Jezebel," while they were not Jezebel's "children;" and we must make the same distinction that the Lord does there. The system, of course, is no less evil for the lapse of centuries: rather the reverse.

The epistle closes now with some brief exhortations mingled with prayer, and to which are added a few words of salutation.

Their guides or leaders are again referred to — now the living ones; and they are exhorted to obey them, as those watching for their souls. This is plainly not official, but something to which love would prompt, and which ought to be found among us, if the true-heartedness of a remnant characterizes us, whatever the broken condition of things may be. "As those that shall give account" means of course, the leaders, of their own conduct as caring for the souls of others; but it involves those for whom they watch, who may hinder what might be profitable to themselves. How many of us recognize responsibility as to the souls of others?

The apostle then seeks their prayers, as one having a good conscience, in all things desiring to live honestly: words of wonderful lowliness, considering the man who speaks. And then he breaks out into a prayer for them, quite in the line of his thoughts in this epistle, that they may be perfected in every good work to do the will of God. It is the "blood of the covenant" which he speaks of in it as the foundation of everything. By this we have, brought again from the dead for us, a "great Shepherd of the sheep," and it is the God of peace, of whose "counsel of peace" this is the fruit, who has raised Him up. Peace is the fruit, wrought out for us by Him upon the cross; a peace of conscience, the moral effect of which is peace in heart and life a peace which is a true reconciliation of man to God, a taking of Christ's gentle yoke, and learning of Him who was meek and lowly of heart, so as to find rest to the soul.

For this the God of peace has been working, the glorious harmony in which He is in that relation to His creatures which alone can satisfy Him. It is a peace in which the heart and life go up in worship and thus the natural completion of this epistle to the Hebrews is found in such a prayer.

He beseeches them to suffer the word of exhortation — the epistle itself — which, if it smite upon Jewish prejudice, has in it such compensation of blessing.

The epistle closes with Christian salutations.