The Hebrew Epistle

The Speaker is God Himself speaking in the Person of the Son. His greatness is set before us in chapter 1. There He is the Heir of all things, the One to whom by right the whole universe belongs, and the One by whom God brought at the beginning everything into being. He is also the perfect expression of God in that universe which is the work of His hands, as He is also the One who upholds it by the Word of His power. And having by Himself made purification for sins He set Himself down on the right hand of the Majesty on high. This shows Him to be infinitely above angels, by whom Israel had received the law, and under whose administration that whole Jewish system was. Thus at once does the writer set the present dispensation immeasurably above the past. From this to the end of the chapter the Messiah is placed in contrast with angels. He has a name more excellent than they. And then the Spirit of God unfolds from the old Scriptures the name which is His. He is the Son begotten in time, and for this the second Psalm is quoted.

Next we have a quotation from 1 Chronicles 17:13. “I will be His Father, and He shall be my Son.” In all these Scriptures which apply to the Son angels are left far behind, for to none of them could any of these passages be applied. But there is still more to come. The angels of God are all called to worship Him (Ps. 97:7). Everything is eclipsed by this glorious Person.

Next, He is addressed as God, “Thy throne, O God, is for ever and ever; a sceptre of righteousness is the sceptre of Thy kingdom. Thou hast loved righteousness, and hated iniquity; therefore God, even Thy God, has anointed Thee with the oil of gladness above Thy fellows,” Here, as having been proven to the utmost and found faithful, He Is entrusted with the government of the world.

Next, we have a quotation from Psalm 102, a Psalm in which the Messiah cries out of the deepest depths of humiliation, and in presence of the indignation and wrath of Jehovah who had lifted Him up, and cast Him down again. He sees His days shortened, and His strength weakened; and His request is that He may not be taken away in the midst of His days. Then we have the answer of God, “Thou, Lord, in the beginning hast laid the foundation of the earth; and the heavens are the works of Thine hands: they shall perish; but thou remainest; and they all shall wax old as doth a garment; and as a vesture shalt Thou fold them up, and they shall be changed: but Thou art the same, and Thy years shall not fail.” Here the foundation of the earth is said to be laid by His hands, and the universe is all His own work; and He is the One who will make a complete change in the whole fabric of creation; but in the midst of a creation that grows old and is the subject of change, He who created it, and who is found in it as Man, is for ever the same.

One thing more is added to complete the glories of the name so set at nought by those who should have welcomed Him with acclamations: He is called to sit at the right hand of God; a place occupied by no angel; for they are all only ministering spirits, sent forth to minister for them who shall be heirs of salvation. Such is the greatness of the Speaker.

The Word stands in contrast with the word spoken by angels. The reference is to that which was spoken from the burning mount. From the midst of the thick darkness and the devouring fire were declared in the ears of the people the terms upon which they were placed in relationship with God, and upon which they were to inherit the land. It was a covenant of demand, and the man who fulfilled the demand—and he only—was to live in blessing with God. But this, as Paul shows in 2 Corinthians 3, was a ministration of death and condemnation. And, as he tells the Galatians, “As many as are of the works of the law are under the curse.” There could be no inheriting on that ground. Hence the people were never under pure law, for after their sin in making the golden calf, and the breaking of the tables upon which the law was first written, the Lord proclaimed Himself “merciful and gracious, long-suffering, and abundant in goodness and truth, keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin” (Ex. 34:6-7). Had grace not been thus mingled with law, none of them would have left Sinai alive.

But the Word spoken by the Lord is a word of grace. It is not telling men what they should be for God, but rather what He is for them. It is not saying to men, “You must love Me or be cursed,” but it is God saying to men, “I love you, and am come down to be your justifier and Saviour.” In the synagogue at Nazareth, at the commencement of His ministry, they wondered at the words of grace that proceeded out of His mouth. It is no longer the mount that might be touched, and that burned with fire, and blackness, and darkness, and tempest, and the sound of a trumpet, and the voice of words that could not be listened to. But it is mount Zion, a mount that as yet cannot be touched, for it is but yet in testimony, not in actual being, as it will be in the world to come—it is this mount we are come to; and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem; and to all these mighty and gracious principles which will be open and manifest in the coming age, but which we are now brought face to face with in the gospel.

In the presence of that display of Divine majesty and terror that accompanied the demand of God, Moses exceedingly feared and quaked; but to hear the words that fell from the lips of Jesus, even the publicans and sinners could draw near without the least evidence of perturbation. The Word spoken by angels was condemnation, that spoken by Jesus was salvation. He says, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because He has anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor; He has sent me to heal the broken-hearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised, to preach the acceptable year of the Lord” (Luke 4:18-19). The Creditor was there with forgiveness for the debtor, not to enforce the payment of the debt. Instead of demanding love from the people, God was there seeking to occupy their hearts with His love to them. Jehovah was there as Saviour instead of Lawgiver. Hence He was attractive to every heart that felt its need of the grace of God.

The Inheritance, though, because of the nature of this Epistle is largely occupied with the habitable earth to come, opens up a heavenly order of things for saints of the present dispensation. In the first place, the angels are said to be sent forth to minister to them who are to inherit salvation. In order to understand this expression we must keep in mind the fact that the prophets in the past time had set forth with terrible clearness the judgments that the people of Israel would be called to pass through, and how in the mercy and grace of the Lord, a remnant would be saved to be for a seed of God in the earth; for were this not so they would be, like Sodom and Gomorrah, utterly abolished (Isa. 1:9; Rom. 9:27-29).

It is to this remnant that reference is made in Luke 13:23. There one asks the Lord the question, “Are there few that be saved?” That is the remnant which is addressed in Hebrews, but in the church period lifted out of mere earthly hopes into heavenly. At the same time room is left in the teaching of the Epistle for the return of the remnant to their national place upon earth. I need not say not the same individuals, for at the present time the Jew ceases to be a Jew when incorporated into the church, but at the close of the present period the Jew will be taken up again as a Jew, and will enter into his earthly inheritance. This is the salvation which is looked at here, the salvation of a remnant while the nation is in rejection.

But there are also the promises to be inherited, and this is really the inheritance which is before the mind of the Spirit all through the Epistle. Of these promises Abraham was the root. They were first given to him (Gem 12:1-3), and afterwards confirmed to his seed on the principle of resurrection (22:16-18). It is to chapter 22 the writer of this Epistle refers when he speaks of God confirming His word by an oath, “That by two immutable things, in which it was impossible for God to lie, we [the Hebrews, and we, of course, along with them] might have a strong consolation, who have fled for refuge to lay hold upon the hope set before us.”

Then we have that which lifts our thoughts above all that is revealed to Abraham, in the words: “Which hope we have as an anchor of the soul, both sure and steadfast, and which entereth into that within the veil; whither the Forerunner is for us entered, even Jesus, made an high priest for ever after the order of Melchisedec.” Here it is not only the world to come that is in view, but heaven itself, where our place and portion are.

Now we become followers of them who by faith and patience inherit the promises. But that does not say that our prospects are confined to that which is encompassed by these promises; for the hopes of those in the past dispensation, whose followers we have become never entered within the veil, nor indeed could they until they had the Forerunner there; but we become imitators of their faith, in the power of which they overcame every obstacle that rose up to hinder them in their progress toward the goal.

There is a very clear statement regarding the principle upon which we inherit these promises found in both Romans and Galatians. In Romans 4 the principle upon which we are justified, or rather, the principle upon which Abraham was justified, is raised. He was, we are told, justified by faith, and the proof that the blessing of the justified man comes equally upon the uncircumcision as upon the circumcision is given in the fact that Abraham was justified by faith while he was in uncircumcision, “And he received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had, yet being uncircumcised: that he might be the father of all them that believe,” whether circumcised or not, who walk in the steps of that faith which he had in his uncircumcised state, “For the promise, that he should be the heir of the world, was not to Abraham or to his seed, through the law, but through the righteousness of faith.” “Therefore,” he goes on to say, “it is by faith, that it might be by grace, to the end the promise might be sure to all the seed.” The whole argument of the Apostle here is to show that those who are of faith are on the line of Abraham, are justified, and certain to inherit.

The faith of Abraham as set before us here is in the God of resurrection, which is the great characteristic of the faith of “the cloud of witnesses” in Hebrew 11. Now in Galatians 3 we have the same questions discussed as in Romans 4; that is to say, righteousness and inheritance. There we are told “They which are of faith, the same are the children of Abraham.” Again, we have “They which be of faith are blessed with faithful Abraham.” Then in the latter part of the chapter we read that “We are the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus;” and then, “Ye are all one in Christ Jesus. And if ye be Christ’s, then are ye Abraham’s seed and heirs according to the promise.” Then in chapter 4 we are sons of God, and heirs through Christ. Nothing can be more certain than that as believers we are justified, and as certain to inherit as though we were already in possession. Indeed, in Ephesians 1:14 we have already got the earnest of the inheritance in the seal of the Spirit.

As to the exhortations and warnings which we so constantly find in the Scriptures, they are of infinite value to us, for “By the words of Thy lips I have kept me from the paths of the destroyer” (Ps. 17:4). Pilgrims and Servants have to take heed to their ways, lest in the end they be rejected, for they may be true believers or otherwise; but as to children of God, as to all in vital relationship with Him, they are just as safe and as sure of glory, the kingdom, the inheritance, and all else in the way of blessing, as they shall be in the day in which they shall be glorified.

The Priest is the Son of God. This sets before us the greatness and dignity of His Person. He has also graduated for the priesthood. He has made purification for sins (chap. 1:3); He has annulled our oppressor, the one who had the power of death—the devil—and has set us free; He has been tempted in all things that can tempt us upon the path of faith (4:15); He learned what it is to obey by the things that He suffered (5:8); He has trodden the whole path of faith (12:2); others had trodden parts of that path, but no one ever traversed it completely but Himself.

He is of the order of Melchisedec; saluted as such in resurrection; made priest after this order by the oath of God (chap. 8). But while He is, after the order of Melchisedec, a Priest upon the throne, that priesthood is exercised after the order of Aaron. The priesthood of Melchisedec does not take in intercession; that of Aaron does. He has made propitiation for the sins of the people by His death on the cross; He has passed through the heavens, He appears in the presence of God for us.

We are told that “such an High Priest became us,” because of the greatness of our calling. He has gone into the place that is ours in the counsels of God, and from there He maintains us down here according to the place to which we belong. This has nothing to do with our sins. They were all put away by His death before He took His place as Priest in the presence of God. Then again, it is not with the Father He is Priest, but with God. We do not get the Father in Hebrews. The character of the Epistle is much too low for that. I may say also that the worship in Hebrews is not of the highest character, just because it is not the worship of the Father.

The Rest of God is that which is before our souls. In the past dispensation this was confined to the Land of Promise. Nor will it ever go beyond that land for the Jew as such. We are exhorted to run, with patience, the race set before us, looking off unto Jesus, 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 (Heb. 12). The goal, for us, is the place He has entered into for us. In Psalm 16 we get the joy that was set before Him, and there we get Him treading the whole path of faith. I do not doubt it is that Psalm that is in the mind of the writer in chapter 12. He entered upon the path, saying, “Preserve me, O God: for in Thee do I put my trust.” And the goal before Him is set forth in the closing words of that Psalm, “In Thy presence is fullness of joy: at Thy right hand there are pleasures for evermore.” This is the joy that was set before Him. He said to His disciples, “If ye loved Me ye would rejoice, because I said I go unto the Father” (John 14:28). This is the goal before our souls.

It is plain that the Land of Promise was the place in which Israel was to find rest at the end of the wilderness journey. Moses said to the people, while they were yet in the desert, “Ye are not as yet come to the rest and to the inheritance which the Lord your God gives you. But when ye go over Jordan and dwell in the land which the Lord your God gives you to inherit, and when He gives you rest from all your enemies round about, so that ye dwell in safety” (Deut. 12:9-10). At the dedication of the temple Solomon says, “Blessed be the Lord that has given rest to His people Israel, according to all that He promised” (1 Ki. 8:6). But neither under the reign of David nor Solomon did the people ever find rest; therefore we hear the Lord saying through Isaiah, “The heaven is My throne, and the earth is My footstool: where is the house that ye build Me? and where is the place of My rest?” (chap. 66:1). Psalm 132 comes in when every link of the people was broken; and in answer to the prayer of David God approaches them in the grace of His heart. The Philistines had taken the ark of God. He “delivered His strength into captivity, and His glory into the enemy’s hand” (1 Sam. 4; Ps. 78:61). The neck of the priesthood was broken, and “Ichabod” written on everything. But the Lord was well able to look after His own interests and safeguard His own glory. The enemy were as glad to get quit of the Ark as they had been to capture it. The foe is judged, David enthroned, and Zion chosen as His rest for ever; and there the blessing is commanded—“life for ever more.”

But all this refers to the earthly people, and to Israel’s inheritance, which is earthly, and does not in the least touch the heavenly side of things, to which we are called. I do not mean we have nothing to do with the earthly: we have to do with everything, for Christ has to do with everything, and with Him are all our associations. But our position is a heavenly one, and the place our Priest has determines our place, for He lives before the face of God, that He may safely bring us through all the dangers of the way, until we arrive in that place where is found “fullness of joy, and pleasures for evermore.” Therefore in chapter 12, where we have the glorious principles of the world to come brought before us, we are said to have come not only to Mount Sion, but to the “city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem.” And when the glories of that city are unfolded before our wondering eyes in Revelation, we see in it the throne of God and of the Lamb. The throne established upon Zion takes in under its sway nothing but the people of Israel and the nations of the earth; but that which is established in the heavenly city takes all that is in heaven and upon earth. In Revelation, I admit, we have it only in its relations to earth, but inasmuch as it is the Bride of Christ, under whose feet “all things” are placed, its influence must be felt throughout the whole creation.

The Chastening of the Lord is to help us on our way. He does it in loves and by its means the will of the flesh is broken down, the cords that would bind us to earth are loosened, and heaven becomes more to our hearts. Thus we are made partakers of His holiness. The Lord deals with us in grace, and rather than allow us to come short of His purpose for us, He allows the enemy to disturb our earthly tranquillity. “As an eagle stirreth up her nest, fluttereth over her young, spreadeth abroad her wings, taketh them, beareth them on her wings” (Deut. 32:11), so does the Lord deal with those He loves, His object being to lead us to where He rests in His love. Such passages as those in chapter 6:4-8, and 10:26-31 are not on the line of chastisement at all, but refer to the utter and final rejection of apostates from Christ.

In chapter 11 we have the “cloud of witnesses” to the power of faith. They have become witnesses to us of the power of that faith through which they overcame every obstacle that rose up to hinder them. But the Spirit of God would have our eye directed to Him who has left the imprint of His blessed feet upon every inch of the path, from beginning to end; who has reached the goal; who makes intercession for us, and who furnishes all the grace and strength that is needful to carry us through to the end. Our ear is to be open to His Word; our hearts full of confidence in God; our hands held up in prayerful dependence on Him; our knees strengthened by the consolations of the Lord, and our feet firmly planted in the narrow way that loads to life.