Remarks on the Epistle to the Hebrews.

1877 246 Two questions present themselves at the threshold of this epistle, Who was the writer? and to whom was it addressed? A great deal has been written in reply to these questions, and various conclusions have been arrived at, but most of them with little certainty or profit. That Paul, under the guidance of the Holy Ghost, was the inspired penman there seems little room to doubt, and the suppression of his name is not without profitable significance. The only apostle mentioned in the epistle is Christ Himself. The work of Paul's apostleship was, as we know, specially among the Gentiles, while Peter's line was particularly to the circumcision. The absence of Paul's name, therefore, in writing to Hebrews would show his tender consideration for them, lest he should hinder blessing by seeming to press his apostolic ministry upon those whose feelings and prejudices might check them from readily receiving his instruction, or give the appearance of trespassing upon another apostle's line of things. Moreover, the general scope and style of the epistle, the earnest way in which the doctrines of the personal glory of the Son of God, His accomplished redemption and everlasting priesthood are contended for, the well-known affectionate allusion to "our brother Timothy," the touching way in which he solicits their prayers for his own restoration to them, strikingly give it throughout a Pauline character.

That it was addressed to Hebrews who had taken up the profession of Christianity seems plain enough; few of them, however, might have been competent to discern the vast contrast between the principles of Judaism and Christianity; and some of them were evidently disposed to relinquish the substance (Christ), and go back again to a ritual of typical things. Still, the allusion in the opening words to "the fathers" and "the prophets;" the way in which he mentions the many and oft-repeated sacrifices which could never take away sins; the copious references to an earthly order of priesthood, a worldly sanctuary, separating veil, and other details of tabernacle service, exclude the idea of the epistle having been written to those who were of Gentile origin, or that it could be immediately adapted to any but such as had been educated in "the Jews' religion" of carnal ordinances and distance from God.

There seems, therefore, to be strong reasons for supposing that Paul was the writer, and that the epistle was addressed to Hebrew professing Christians. We have also no difficulty in understanding why Paul's name does not appear in it, and why it has not been presented to us like other epistles, which plainly signify who the writers are, and to whom they are addressed. The value of this precious epistle to the souls of God's children can scarcely be over-estimated.

It is well to observe that this epistle begins at once with "God." It is God who has spoken unto us in the Son. This characterizes divine ministry. It is always from above downward — from God to man. All human religiousness, and legality of every kind, incline from earth to heaven — from man to God; as one of our own poets has said, "We look from nature up to nature's God;" but few expressions could be more opposed to the true character of divine teaching. It is "God," then, who speaks to us, and that in His Son, who did by Himself, without any aid whatever, but excluding all else make purgation of sins, and sat down on the right hand of the throne of God. It is God who is the source of all our blessings: grace and truth came by Jesus Christ.

We find also that the first epistle of John begins by at once bringing Christ before us, without any introduction whatever. The first words are, "That which was from the beginning," etc. It is the person of Christ — "that eternal life which was with the Father, and was manifested unto us" — the Son of God. This is God's way of meeting us, speaking to us, and blessing us. He calls our attention to the person and work of the Son.

Neither of these epistles is written to an assembly, as many others were, but we gather from both epistles that the souls addressed were in a critical condition, though the dangers to which they were exposed were not in both instances the same; and yet, be it observed, whatever be the failure or need of the soul, the person and worth and work of Christ are all-sufficient. It is the infinite glory and eternal Godhead of the Son which gave such eternal efficacy to His work. The smallest taint or imperfection ascribed to His person is like removing the keystone of an arch, when the whole of what remains inevitably falls to pieces. No doubt this is why in so many scriptures the Holy Ghost so repeatedly sets before us the eternal excellencies and glory of Jesus the Son of God.

Those addressed in this epistle, as I have said, were manifestly in a low estate of soul. Some seem to have been ready to give up the truth of Christianity, and return to Judaism; and such are most solemnly warned. From the first the adversaries of the truth sought to undermine the glory of Christ, and the infinite value of His accomplished work, by a return to ordinances and otherwise attempting to mix up two essentially different elements, Judaism and Christianity. The natural man always prefers ritualism to Christ, because the former appeals to the senses, intoxicates the mind, and gives importance to man in the flesh; while vital Christianity calls forth the exercise and life of faith upon the Son, gives glory to God, draws our hearts to the Father in dependence and spiritual worship, and has no confidence in the flesh.

Among other precious lessons we gather from this epistle, is, that the divine method of raising and restoring souls from a low condition is by setting Christ before them, which reminds us of the lines —
"'What think ye of Christ?' is the test
To try both your state and your scheme:
You cannot be right in the rest,
Unless you think rightly of Him."

We also learn from this epistle that souls need Christ, not in one or two aspects merely, but in every variety of aspect in which He is graciously revealed in scripture. And it is important to see this, because it keeps us always in the spirit of inquiry, and desire for further knowledge of Himself, and His work, offices, and ways; instead of setting down content with any feeble measure of His goodness and grace which we may have been taught.

In this letter to the Hebrews, we find that nearly every chapter gives us a different aspect of Christ for our heart's contemplation and blessing. If the Godhead of the Son shines forth with eternal brightness in the first chapter, His spotless manhood attracts us in the second; while in the third we are taught to consider Him not only as the "Apostle," the sent One who came down, and the "High Priest" who went up, but also as "Son over his own house." The fourth chapter teaches us that He who has passed through the heavens is "Jesus the Son of God," a sympathizing High Priest. In the fifth chapter, the Spirit conducts our minds back to contemplate His sufferings in the days of His flesh, crying to Him who was able to save Him out of death, the Son thus learning obedience from the things that He suffered; we are instructed also that His priesthood is perpetual — "a priest for ever after the order of Melchizedec." In the sixth chapter, He is set before us as having gone inside the veil as our "Forerunner." No doubt He is called the Forerunner because other runners are following, and soon to be there with Him. In Hebrews vii., the priesthood of the Son of God is declared to be everlasting, unchangeable, made with an oath; that He is now an interceding priest, and though performing Aaronic functions, yet is He a blessing priest after the Melchizedec order, who, according to the scripture record, comes before us without beginning of days, or end of life. In the next chapter (Heb. viii.), we see Him a sitting priest, in the highest place of dignity and power. In the ninth chapter, He is contemplated as having gone into heaven itself by His own blood, appearing there for us before the face of God, and to them that look for Him coming the second time, without any question of sin, for salvation. We see in the tenth chapter the infinite value of His one offering giving us remission of sins, a purged conscience, sanctifying or separating us to God, perfecting us for ever, with liberty to enter into the holiest of all by His blood, who is now inside the veil, sitting in perpetuity on God's right hand, and coming again in "a little while." The eleventh chapter shows us the reality of the path of faith, and that it is connected with "the reproach of Christ." In the twelfth chapter, we have Jesus who endured the cross, despised the shame, and is now set down on the right hand of the throne of God, as the object for our heart's sustainment and blessing while we are running the race set before us; and the last chapter presents to us, Him who suffered without the gate, and by whose blood we are sanctified, and who, as the Great Shepherd of the sheep, was brought again from among the dead in the power of the blood of the everlasting covenant by the God of peace.

Thus we find, in this hasty run through this epistle, how many and varied are the aspects in which the person, work, and offices of the Son of God are set before us; thus meeting the various questions that an exercised mind might suggest, as well as richly feeding the soul, meeting every requirement of the conscience, and attracting the heart from self, and worldly religiousness, and Jewish principles, to fix it stedfastly on Christ Himself. How blessed it is thus to find all our rest and peace in Him! How gracious and tender is this sweet ministry of the Holy Ghost to raise drooping and declining souls, by presenting Christ as the perfect and all-sufficient One for our hearts! Do we not thus feel ourselves attracted to Christ? Does He not thus become increasingly precious to us?

But, further, there have always been two great hindrances to souls having a firm grasp and enjoyment of Christ: one through giving men, faithful and honoured servants of God though they may be, an undue place of importance, so as to obscure our blessed Master from our view; and the other in allowing ordinances to come between our souls and the Lord. Both are evidently treated of in this epistle.

With regard to eminent servants of God, who could a Jew think of that so commanded his respect as Moses? Even in the days of our Lord, when the people were far sunk in apostasy, they prided themselves in being "Moses' disciples." True, he was "faithful in all his house," but when brought beside the Son of God, the glory of the man is entirely eclipsed. We are told that "this One [Jesus] was counted worthy of more glory than Moses, inasmuch as he who builded the house has more honour than the house. For every house is builded by some one; but he that built all things is God." (Observe here the testimony to the Godhead of Christ.) "And Moses verily was faithful in all his house, as a servant, for a testimony of those things which were to be spoken after; but Christ as a Son over his own house, whose house are we," etc. (Heb. iii. 8-6.) Thus the greatness of Moses vanishes before the infinite glory of the person of the Son of God.

The Jews also thought most highly of Joshua, who brought them into the land, and of David, their king, who was a man after God's own heart: but neither of them could bring them into rest; for if Joshua had given them rest, David would not afterward have spoken of rest as future. "There remaineth therefore a rest [or a sabbatism] to the people of God." This their true Messiah will yet give them when He reigns before His ancients gloriously. Thus Joshua and David sink down before the majesty of the Son of God. (Heb. iv.)

Aaron, too, was greatly extolled by the people of Israel among their honoured ancestry, but he was a man "compassed with infirmity," had to offer a sacrifice for his own sins, and could not continue by reason of death; but of the Son of God it is said, "'Thou art a priest for ever." (Heb. 5) Thus Aaron, with all his official glory and the magnificence of sacerdotal garments, crumbles into dust before the eternal brightness of Him whom the Jewish high priest so faintly shadowed forth.

But among all the list of worthies a Jew boasted of, none held so high a place of reputation and esteem among them as Abraham, who has been called "the friend of God." To the last it was the boast of Jews that they were the seed of Abraham. They said so to the Lord. But while He allowed that they were "Abraham's seed," they little apprehended His cutting rebuke, when He said unto them, "If ye were Abraham's children, ye would do the works of Abraham." (John viii. 37-39.) They greatly venerated the father of the faithful, and we can easily understand how the proud heart of man would naturally boast of such a lineal descent. But in Hebrews 7, the writer shows that in the fact of Abraham's paying tithes to Melchizedec, and receiving blessing from him, he thus owned one greater than himself, and that this king of Salem (and of righteousness) whom he thus honoured was only a type of our ever-blessing Priest, Jesus, the Son of God. Thus the greatness of the patriarch Abraham passes away before the glory of the Son who is consecrated for evermore.

Again, after looking at the remarkable exercises of faith of patriarchs and other Old Testament saints in Hebrews xi., we are admonished to look away from this cloud of witnesses to Him who trod the path of faith perfectly, "Looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of faith, who for the joy was set before him endured the cross, and despised the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God." (Heb. xii. 1, 2.)

In the last chapter, the leaders who had watched over them and were gone before are to be remembered as men whose faith was to be followed, and its issue considered; but immediately they are directed from them to Him who is "the same yesterday, today, and for ever." All these instances serve to teach us over and over again, "line upon line, and precept upon precept," that when the Lord has His rightful place in our souls, no servant, however honoured, could displace Him, nor would any faithful servant but be esteemed for the Lord's sake according to the grace of God wrought in him and by him. But about this we need to watch and guard our hearts, for there can be no sure progress, or true service rendered, when the Lord Jesus is not everything to us.

Now let us look at ordinances. No believing student of scripture can fail to discern much that is attractive and interesting in the ritual of a former dispensation, which, I need scarcely say, is the only ritual which scripture recognizes; though it no doubt yet points to a future time of blessing, when God's earthly people will be established by Him in their long-looked-for inheritance. The tabernacle boards covered with gold, and resting upon silver sockets, the altar of burnt-offering, the laver, golden altar, candlestick, and table; the ark, with its golden mercy-seat, and cherubim at either end; the variously wrought curtains, and veil of blue, purple, scarlet, and fine-twined linen of cunning work, with cherubim; the various coverings of the tent; the high priest's garments of glory and beauty, with their many jewels and golden chains, could not have failed to charm the natural man with their elegance, richness, and symmetrical arrangement. And when, after this, centuries had passed, and wilderness wanderings had long ceased, to find the same gorgeous ritual set up again on a more elaborate and costly scale, under divine instruction, with its sacrifices and priesthood, upon a more lasting basis, might easily account for the feelings of a Jew, untaught by the Spirit of God, giving to it a substantial, instead of shadowy, import, and regarding these things with superstitious awe, because they know not the precious and unfading realities which these typical lessons set forth. We now know that these things were shadows of Christ, though not the very image, and in varied ways, like finger-posts, pointed to His person, work, offices, and excellencies. So that as soon as He came into the world, "gold, myrrh, and frankincense" were laid by God's messengers at His blessed feet; and, when nearing Calvary to offer Himself without spot to God, as the antitype to which these magnificent types culminated, He declared that this costly temple built with hands would be so completely razed to the ground, that one stone should not be left upon another; but, though their house would be thus left unto them desolate, He lovingly pointed to another house made without hands — the Father's house — to which He was going to prepare a place for them, and come again to take them there.

Again, we find that when our adorable Lord bowed His head in death upon the shameful tree, and said, "It is finished," the beautiful veil of separation in the temple was "rent in twain from the top to the bottom," thus showing that in virtue of the One sacrifice for sins there was no longer any hindrance to man going straight into the very presence of God, through that new and living way, the rent veil, that is to say, His flesh. The shadowy veil and other types were thus done away in Christ.

This ancient ritual (and there is no modern ritual in scripture) was then a shadow of good things to come, having their fulfilment partly known now, especially as far as sacrifice and priesthood and entrance into the holiest are concerned, and partly to be known by Israel in millennial times, when as a nation they will have their promises and blessings made good to them on the ground of Christ's redemption-work, when, according to the prophecies of Ezekiel and other scriptures, feasts of "new moons,"" sabbaths," "offerings and whole burnt-offerings," will have their true accomplishment in Israel's land for the glory and praise of God.

Before closing this brief glance at some of the characteristics of this beautiful epistle, it may be well to notice that much blessed instruction is also brought before us in the way of contrast. Thus the divine glory of the Son is blessedly contrasted with angels — the highest class of created intelligences that were known to men. When He, the risen, glorified Man, sat down on the right hand of God, He took a place by so much better than the angels, as He inherits a name more excellent than they; for though angels may be spoken of as "sons of God" by creation, yet they could never call God Father like the Son. Angels are made subject to the Son, and worship Him, and they are also ministering spirits sent forth to minister for them who shall be heirs of salvation, but it has never been said to them, what could be said only of the ascended Son, "Sit thou on my right hand, until I make thine enemies thy footstool." Again, the habitable world which is to come is not to be subjected to angels, but to Him of whom, as Son of man, it is said, "Thou hast put all things under his feet."

Law and grace are also remarkably contrasted in this epistle. We are told that the law made nothing perfect, and that God had no pleasure in those sacrifices which were offered by the law; but the grace of God, by the one offering of Christ, has sanctified and perfected us for ever. Blessed contrast indeed! At the giving of the law the people came to the mount that might be touched and was on fire, and to blackness and darkness and tempest, and the sound of a trumpet, and the voice of words, which voice they that heard entreated 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 how vastly different is the sweet voice of the gospel from all this! By the grace of God "we are come unto mount Zion, and to the city of the living God, heavenly Jerusalem; and to myriads of angels, the universal gathering; and to the assembly of the first-born, whose names are written in heaven; and to God, judge of all; and to the spirits of just men made perfect; and to Jesus, mediator of a new covenant; and to the blood of sprinkling, speaking better things than Abel." (Heb. xii. 18-24.) How wide the contrast here drawn! While law demands, terrifies, and repels; divine grace attracts, gives freely, blesses, and makes its unworthy objects happy in God's own presence.

How important, then, it is to hold fast grace! The law made nothing perfect, not even as pertaining to the conscience, but by the one offering of Christ we have no longer an annual remembrance of sins, but remission of sins, a purged conscience, and we are perfected for ever. We have then, by divine grace, through Him who was the "Surety of a better testament," "better promises," "better hope," "better resurrection," and "in heaven a better and an enduring substance." Thus the Eternal Son is the author of "eternal salvation," hath "obtained for us eternal redemption," and will introduce us into an "eternal inheritance.''

The contrast in priesthood is also very striking. The Aaronic high priest was compassed with infirmity, needed a sacrifice for himself, was always a standing priest, could never sit down, because he could never present to God a finished work; whereas the holy, harmless, undefiled Son of God, having offered one sacrifice for sins, sat down, and that for ever or in perpetuity, on the right hand of God, having nothing more to do for atonement for sins, but "from henceforth expecting, till His enemies be made his footstool."

What an object for our heart's contemplation and delight is presented to us in the Son on the right hand of the Majesty in the heavens! And what rest too, seeing He is there as our Forerunner! What liberty also He has so mercifully brought us into! How it fills our hearts with joy and gladness, and bows us with adoring gratitude and worship before the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort. H. H. Snell.