The Epistle to the Hebrews
An Exposition

Adolph Saphir
(1873)

 

Chapter 12. Growth in Grace and Knowledge
(Hebrews 5:11-6:3)
11 Of whom we have many things to say, and hard to be uttered, seeing ye are dull of hearing. 12 For when for the time ye ought to be teachers, ye have need that one teach you again which be the first principles of the oracles of God; and are become such as have need of milk, and not of strong meat. 13 For every one that useth milk is unskilful in the word of righteousness: for he is a babe. 14 But strong meat belongeth to them that are of full age, even those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil. 6:1 Therefore leaving the principles of the doctrine of Christ, let us go on unto perfection; not laying again the foundation of repentance from dead works, and of faith toward God, 2 Of the doctrine of baptisms, and of laying on of hands, and of resurrection of the dead, and of eternal judgment. 3 And this will we do, if God permit.
The apostle has scarcely entered on the central and most important part of his epistle, when he feels painfully the difficulty of explaining the doctrine of the heavenly and eternal priesthood of the Son, and this not merely on account of the grandeur and depth of the subject, but on account of the spiritual condition of the Hebrews, whom he is addressing. He had presented to their view the Lord Jesus, who after His sufferings was made perfect in His exaltation to be the High Priest in heaven. When he quotes again the 110th Psalm, "Thou art a priest for ever after the order of Melchizedek," the solemn and comprehensive words which are addressed by the Father to the Son, he has such a vivid and profound sense of the exceeding riches of this heavenly knowledge, of the treasures of wisdom and consolation which are hidden in the heavenly priesthood of our ascended Lord, that he longs to unfoId to the Hebrews his knowledge of the glorious mystery; especially as this was the truth which they most urgently needed. Here and here alone could they see their true position as worshippers in the true tabernacle, the heavenly sanctuary. Here and here alone was consolation for them in the trial which they felt on account of their exclusion from the temple and the earthly service in Jerusalem; while from the knowledge of Christ's heavenly priesthood they, would also derive light to avoid the insidious errors, and strength to overcome the difficulties which were besetting their path.

The subject being so central and glorious, and its practical bearing on the Hebrews so direct and important, the apostle, in his eagerness to develop the truth which he has only stated, feels himself checked by the spiritual condition of the Hebrews. He had many things to say concerning the Melchizedek priest; many things important, useful, nay, necessary; many things full of consolation and joy; but he felt that they were hard to be uttered, because the Hebrews were dull of hearing. They had fallen into a state of spiritual inertness. Their perception had become blunted, their vision dim. It seemed almost necessary to teach them the first principles of the oracles of God; not that they had lost the knowledge of them, but they had failed to lay to heart their solemnity, and to live in the power of the saving truth. In times past they had known clearly, confessed joyfully, and suffered with great willingness. But instead of progressing they had retrograded. And with this retrogression they had lost their spiritual insight and vigour; they had become earthly-minded and unskilful in the word of righteousness. In this feeble state into which they had fallen, they were exposed to great danger. When heavenly realities became dim and vague to their hearts, the visible form and power of Judaism became both a difficulty to the mind and a temptation to the soul. The peril in which the apostle beholds them is the awful one of apostasy. He sees them on the brink of a precipice, and therefore he addresses them in the words of keen but affectionate expostulation.

But while he is filled with anxiety, he still cherishes hope. Remembering their former faith and patience, remembering, above all, the mercy and love of God, who had enlightened them and counted them worthy to suffer for the gospel's sake, the apostle enters with earnestness and trustful expectancy on his difficult task. He does not allow himself to be deterred or diverted from his purpose by the difficulty of the subject and the low condition of the people. Here is not a case where the wisdom of educating love is justified in withholding deep truths which the disciples are not yet able to bear. It is only by the exposition of deep truths, by the full manifestation of the glory of Christ as our exalted High Priest, of the glory of the heavenly sanctuary, into which the believer has access, that the imminent danger of apostasy can be averted, and the dim spark of light and joy be sustained and revived. The Hebrews, we are told, were dull of hearing: "For when for the time ye ought to be teachers, ye have need that one teach you again which be the first principles of the oracles of God; and are become such as have need of milk, and not of strong meat." They are blamed for being babes, and not "of full age," or perfect.

In the Church of Christ there are little children, there are men, there are fathers. It is evident that the apostle refers in our passage to the wisdom of the heart and of life. There is a distinction between "little ones" and young men and fathers. In one sense the Saviour calls us all children. We remain always learners, and blessed are we if we belong to the "babes" unto whom the Father reveals the mysteries of the kingdom. We are exhorted by the apostle Peter, as new-born babes, to desire the sincere milk of the Word, that we may grow thereby; and the apostle John describes the various stages of Christian experience when he writes to little children, because their sins are forgiven for His name's sake; to young men, because they are strong, and have overcome the wicked one; to fathers, because they have known Him that is from the beginning.(1) What can be more lovely than the Christian in his infancy, in the spring time of his spiritual life, when the flowers appear and the voice of gladness is heard, when in his first love he rejoices in the Saviour? Such babes are to be cherished with great affection and tenderness.

Christians differ in their measure of understanding and strength, as well as in the gifts of grace, which by the Spirit and according to their natural endowments and providential position are bestowed on them. Those who have only recently been brought into the fold cannot possess the experience and the wisdom of the elder. The Lord, who is the head of the church, distributes also gifts and talents according to His good and wise will. Some members of the church are called to be teachers, appointed to be pillars, lights, and guides, sons of consolation and fathers in the gospel; whereas others will, perhaps, always remain weak, and in need of constant help and guidance. Now the Lord, who Himself is full of love and tenderness, exhorts the church to be gentle, considerate, patient toward the young and the inexperienced; to comfort the feeble-minded, to support the weak. They that are strong ought not merely to bear the infirmities of the weak, but exercise self-denial in accommodating themselves to their less enlightened brethren; even as Christ pleased not Himself, we ought to please our neighbour for his good to edification. We must exercise a wise and patient discretion, even as Jesus had many things to say to His disciples, but remembered that they could not bear them.

Having stated this principle in defence of the weak and the babes in Christ, we may safely proceed to remind you of the Scripture's uniform declaration, that the Spirit is given and the church instituted for the very purpose that we should not remain children, but grow unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ; that in understanding, in stedfastness, in courage, we must become men; that after awhile they who at first could not bear strong meat ought to advance in knowledge and wisdom, and ultimately to become teachers. This view is expressed often directly, and still more frequently indirectly. And of all the ways in which it is stated, none to my mind is so impressive as the prayers of the apostle Paul for his congregations, in which he beseeches God to give unto them the Spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Him. Paul was anxious that Christians should comprehend the length and breadth, and height and depth. For this he laboured, he wrote his epistles, he bowed his knees before God. This was his constant prayer, and he felt it necessary to tell the churches that his soul's desire was their growth. All the children of God, from the least to the greatest, are to progress in the knowledge of God in Christ Jesus, and thus they grow in grace. According to the new covenant, and by the indwelling of the Holy Ghost, they are all called to know the things which are freely given unto us of God. For since they are Christ's, and Christ is God's, all things are theirs (1 Cor 3:21, 23). They are to know the mystery of the Father and the Son, the mystery of Christ and the church, the mystery of Israel, the mystery of the apostasy. The little children are to become men, able to teach others; and if they do not grow, it is either because that which is their nourishment is not the sincere milk of the word, or because they do not really, by faith in prayer, meditation, and obedience, live on the truths of the gospel. This subject is important, and is frequently neglected or misunderstood. Starting, then, from the admission, that according to the divine word and God's will all Christians are called to grow and to become fully instructed and established, let us inquire into the nature and method of this growth.

1. The comparison between a newly-converted man and a babe is, like all comparisons, imperfect. For in one sense a Christian is born by the Holy Ghost full-grown; as Adam came into the world a perfect man, full of light and insight, who gave names to all the living creatures, who understood and spake. The newly-converted man is born into the spiritual world, and from the first moment he sees and knows Christ, and has the mind of Christ, the Spirit, so that he can immediately understand all spiritual things. The milk of the word, as contrasted with strong meat, does not refer to any real and inherent difference between the gospel first preached and afterwards taught. From first to last we present the same truth, the same circle of truths, the whole truth. The apostles preached the first and second advent, the person and work of Christ, the gift and indwelling of the Holy Ghost; they preached the whole counsel of God to all men. They preached Jesus as the centre; but in their preaching they presented the whole circumference of truth. Do not allow modern practice to cramp your ideas of what is meant by "preaching the gospel" even to unbelievers. Experience will decide whether the apostolic method is not the safer and better.

Hence we find that congregations after a very short time were fully indoctrinated, and that such epistles as those to the Ephesians and Thessalonians could be addressed to men who a few months ago worshiped idols, and did not know the name of Jesus. The most comprehensive and profound view of the whole plan of redemption was given unto them by the apostle Paul. He explained to them the great mystery of Christ and the church, and the position of believers in the heavenlies.

For the understanding and reception of truth depend chiefly, if not exclusively, on the heart; as Paul says, "the eyes of your heart being opened." The babe in Christ (I mean he who is a babe naturally, and not unnaturally through his own worldliness and indolence), full of love to Jesus, and impressed with the importance and blessedness of heavenly things, learns very easily and very rapidly. He delights in the word; he is humble and tender; he does not resist truths which condemn the flesh and correct our waywardness; he is unworldly, heavenly-minded, and nine-tenths of the Bible becomes clear, when we are willing to deny ourselves, and take our cross and follow Jesus. Yes, we run well at the commencement. It is apathy, worldliness, sluggishness, conceit, which afterwards render Christians slow of heart to understand all that is written. The lukewarm church must needs be an ignorant church. The divided heart must needs be confused and dim-sighted.

It is for this reason that the apostle blames the Hebrews for not having progressed in knowledge. If it was an intellectual effort, if the progress meant a mere matter of thought, research, and study, would such importance be attached to the slowness of their progress? But it implies the growth of faith and of love; their retrogression was based upon a moral and spiritual retrogression and decay. Their senses had not been exercised; that is, they had not walked closely with God, they had not followed the Master, listening earnestly to His voice, and proving what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect will of God. They had not conscientiously applied the knowledge which they had, but allowed it to remain dead and unused. If they had really and truly partaken of the milk, they would not have remained babes. If people really loved and cherished what they so fondly call "the simple gospel," their knowledge and Christian character would deepen, and all the truths which are centred in Christ crucified would become the object of their investigation and delight, and enrich and elevate their experience. For

2. It is not that there is a higher truth or life for the older Christians. The apostle in writing to the Corinthians blames them that they were still carnal, that they were still babes, and that therefore he was to feed them with milk and not with meat. And yet in this very epistle he states most emphatically that he knew nothing among them but Christ and Him crucified, and that this is the wisdom of God, wisdom among them that are perfect.

There are no doctrines more profound than those which are preached when Christ's salvation is declared, and to which they who are more advanced are admitted, as to an esoteric wisdom. All our progress consists in learning more fully the doctrine which at first is preached unto us.

Let us beware of entertaining erroneous views as to what is meant by milk and meat. "Milk" designates gospel truth preached simply, so that thereby true nourishment is given, and faith is both called forth, and the new spiritual life strengthened and increased. Hence, there is nothing in the term meant to depreciate, but, on the contrary, to exalt the first declaration of saving truth in Christ. The strong meat, the doctrine of Christ's high priesthood in heaven, is also milk, pure and nourishing, simple, and only received by the child-like heart; whereas pride and ambition often call speculative and unprofitable discussions strong meat, though they are of no use to the spiritual man, but minister only unto strife and the exaltation of the flesh.

The Colossians dreamt of a higher and deeper wisdom than the gospel of grace. They wished to speculate about the nature of angels; they wished to ascend to a higher platform, a so-called higher Christian life of worship, devotedness, and obedience. But the apostle corrects them. He shows them that Christ is all; that in Him are hid all treasures of knowledge and understanding; that we are to learn Him, and to abide in the simplicity of the inexhaustible gospel. While they fancied they were advancing, they were falling back into the elements of the world.

It is the fleshly mind that is puffed up with dreamy speculations and self-invented gradations of worship. The spiritual mind knows that to know Christ, to know more and more what we saw and believed at first, is the whole progress of the Christian in time and eternity.

Connected with this is also the Corinthian error. It seems at first contradictory that the apostle calls them babes, and at the same time speaks of them as enriched in all utterance and in all knowledge. The church at Corinth was gifted in a remarkable degree. Very manifold were the manifestations of the Holy Ghost among them. But their knowledge became a snare to them, and ceased to be true knowledge. False knowledge puffeth up; it is unsubstantial, and without value. A man may possess much knowledge of Scripture truth; he may possess intellectually a vigorous and comprehensive grasp of doctrine; he may see the relation of various aspects of truth, and the application of truth to human character; he may be able to express doctrine and experience in lucid and glowing language, to detect error, subtle and false teaching, in a keen and masterly way, and yet he may be a babe in Christ; that is, in true spiritual knowledge of Jesus, in the tone of his mind, in the character of his daily walk, in his knowledge of his own heart, and his skill and wisdom in the conflict with sin, the world, and Satan. True knowledge is of the heart, and in love. Hence the apostle explains, in the epistle to the gifted Corinthians, so fully and with such earnestness and beauty, the pre-eminence of love. When love is perfect, knowledge is perfect. The child of God grows, obeying and honouring God, meditating on the word of God, applying it to himself, and moulding his life according to the mind of Christ, he becomes strong, his vision clear, his perceptions sensitive, his heart established. The secret of the Lord is with them that fear Him. They that follow on to know shall know. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. Beginning means not merely the temporal commencement, but the very root and life of wisdom.

Returning to our passage, let us notice that the apostle refers to the wisdom of the heart and of life. The Hebrews had become as babes. Hence the word, which elsewhere is the sweetest expression of divine love and favour, is a term of reproach when it indicates an unnatural and dangerous condition of spiritual weakness, the result of a culpable and habitual inertness. It had not always been thus with the Hebrew Christians. For we read that when they were first enlightened they endured a great fight of affliction. Then, although they had many and grievous sufferings, they were strong, and rejoiced in Christ; and why? Because they were heavenly-minded. They believed and knew that they had in heaven a better and an enduring substance. Then, though young in the faith, they were more fervent, and therefore more spiritual, possessed of clearer knowledge and perception. And therefore the apostle is so anxious to lead them on to perfection, that is, to fix their thoughts on Christ in heaven. Their earthly-mindedness constitutes both the necessity and the difficulty of his task.

For the perfection unto which the apostle desires to go is not an esoteric doctrine or method of holiness peculiar to an imaginary second stage of faith. It has nothing to do directly with any thing in our heart and conduct. It refers, on the contrary, to heaven, to the High Priest above, to our position in Him who is seated at the right hand of God. The perfection the apostle speaks of is the beholding Christ by faith, our righteousness, strength, and life, in the heavenly sanctuary. It is to know that we are priests, worshippers in Spirit and truth, that, being reconciled to God by the death of Christ, we have now been brought nigh to the Father; and our citizenship, the source of our life and strength, the things which we seek, the blessings with which we are enriched, are no longer on earth, but in heaven. Here is perfection; for here and nowhere else is the Christ who was crucified. Christ was made perfect. The law made nothing perfect. But in the incarnate Son of God, in heaven, after His death and exaltation, there is now perfection for all who believe in Him. This is the strong meat, the same as the milk, viz., Christ is here, who was crucified, yea, rather that is risen, sitteth at the right hand of God, making intercession for us. And here alone is the power and safety of the Christian during his earthly life. Looking unto heaven, he keeps himself unspotted from the world; he is delivered from this present evil age, and he is able to follow the Lord, and to go outside the camp bearing His reproach.

The apostle exhorts the Hebrews to go on unto perfection, to become men in understanding, to fix their thoughts on Christ ascended into heaven, and representing them inside the veil. For this reason he wishes to leave aside the elementary and fundamental doctrines through which they were initiated as disciples. He enumerates six doctrines, and in a form with which the Jews were familiar. As Bengel says:

"The six particulars here specified had been, as it were, the Christian Catechism of the Old Testament; and such Jews, who had begun to recognise Jesus as the Christ immediately on the new light being shed on these fundamental particulars, were accounted as having the elementary principles of the doctrine of Christ."
To turn from dead works, a life without God, in which there was no true life, and to turn by faith unto God, this is the very commencement of all discipleship. They who had thus repented and believed, received, in baptism and by the laying on of hands, the sign and seal of covenant gifts, and the power of the Holy Ghost to labour in the work of the church; and, sealed with the earnest of the inheritance, they looked forward unto the resurrection of the just, and the final separation unto the kingdom of glory.(2)

1. Repentance from dead works and faith toward God.

The divine message to sinners has always been to turn from sin and ungodliness to the mercy and power of God, who is willing to forgive sin and able to renew the heart. Repentance and faith are inseparably connected. All true repentance has its source in the declaration of God's holiness and grace. He who turns unto God believes both the justice and the mercy of the Lord. Repentance was never preached except in connection with redemption: the kingdom of God is at hand; the loving arms of God are open; turn unto Him before the great day of His wrath. The whole message of the old covenant prophets is the solemn and yet sweet message of repentance; and this also was the preaching of John the Baptist, and the Lord Jesus Himself, during His prophetic ministry.

Repentance is unto life. The deepest explanation, and the most lovely illustration of the true nature of repentance, is in the gospel of Luke (chap 15); the publicans and sinners drawing near to Jesus to hear Him. To draw near to the Saviour, and to trust, is to repent.

Again, faith cannot be without repentance. When Cornelius and his friends believed the gospel preached unto them by the apostle Peter, their conversion is described by these words: God has given repentance unto the Gentiles (Acts 10, 11).

But while repentance and faith are thus inseparably connected, in repentance the negative element preponderates, in faith the positive. In the one, because of God's holiness and grace, we turn from sin and ungodliness; in the other, because of our sin and misery, we look unto the holy and merciful Lord. Hence sorrow and fear are prominent features of repentance; hopeful trust and loving joy characterize faith.

The expression "repentance from dead works" refers to the truth that, apart from God and from the life which His grace implants, even our good works are without life; possessing no vitality, they are unfruitful; that is, they do not glorify the Father (John 15:8), and they do not issue in the reward and blessedness which Scripture connects with good works wrought in God.

As long as man is alienated from God, he, though living, is dead in trespasses and sins; and while he is apart from the true Vine he can do nothing. The works of the law performed in the spirit of bondage have no inward truth and substance. The good works of a godly man reveal his inner life; they exert a life-influence on those that see them (Matt 5:16), and they react on the character and spirit of him who performs them. But our old life, before the grace of God renews us, is a life of "dead works."

Opposed to the life of dead works is faith; that is, the positive aspect of conversion; the soul turning in confidence and appropriating trust to the grace of God as revealed in redemption. Faith in God the Redeemer, the covenant God, who will abundantly pardon, and with whom is plenteous redemption, was the life of God's saints, from Abel to John the Baptist. The just always lived by faith (Hab 2:4), and by faith they possessed that life which is of God and eternal. And since God has now fully revealed Himself in Christ Jesus, and given us in Him the true and perfect redemption, it is evident that the object of our faith is now specially the Lord Jesus Himself, and yet the same Holy One of Israel, in whom the fathers trusted.

2. The doctrine of baptisms and the laying on of hands.

The Jews were familiar with baptism as a rite of initiation, by which Gentiles were separated from the unholy and idolatrous communion to which they belonged, and admitted into the commonwealth of Israel. The baptism of John required for this reason no explanation as to the act itself; the only thing remarkable about it was, that it was applied to the children of the kingdom, and not to those who stood without. The baptism which our Lord instituted differed again from that of the Jews and of John the Baptist, in that it was a sign and seal of the covenant of grace, and in the name of Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, signifying and sealing the gift of a new life, through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus and the renewal by the Holy Ghost. Those who had been baptized were viewed as having put on Christ, as being washed from their sins, and as having received the Holy Ghost. The laying on of hands was a symbolic act which from time immemorial, and with divine sanction, had been connected with prayer, invoking the divine benediction. And they who had been admitted into the church, and recognised as believing and renewed members, were viewed as priests, and each one was called to exercise the gift which the Spirit had bestowed on him for the good and edification of the whole; while some, called to special work of evangelisation or other ministry, were set apart for the work, after fasting and prayer, by the laying on of hands.(3)

3. Intimately connected with the doctrine of the Holy Ghost, as set forth in baptism and the laying on of hands, is the doctrine of resurrection and eternal judgment. In the Creed (commonly called the Apostles) we find this connection illustrated; believing in the Holy Ghost, we see His creation in the Catholic Church, His power and indwelling in the communion of saints, His consolation in the renewed assurance of forgiveness of sin, His ultimate and crowning work in the resurrection of the body and the life of glory, which is eternal. By the spirit that dwells in us God shall quicken our mortal bodies (Rom 8:11; compare also 2 Cor 5:5; Eph 1:14). The doctrine of resurrection, which was strenuously held by the Pharisees, is so intimately connected with the Messianic hope that the apostle Paul could say truthfully: "Men and brethren, I am a Pharisee, the son of a Pharisee: of the hope and resurrection of the dead I am called in question" (Acts 23:6). As this fundamental doctrine was held by the Jews, so in its full and deepest sense the resurrection was the crowning and ultimate object of the apostles' hope, the goal to which they constantly looked. "If by any means I might attain unto the resurrection from among the dead" (Phil 3:11). This is the resurrection of the just, of which our Lord speaks; this is the first resurrection, in which the blessed and holy have part (Rev 20:6).

The judgment is called eternal; for the word judgment (krima) means not the act or process of judgment (which is krisis 9:27 and 10:27), but its result or judicial sentence, which is final and irrevocable. For nowhere does Scripture hold out the prospect of that sentence "Depart from me" being changed. It is the uniform doctrine of Scripture, that the gulf between the saved, the "blessed of my Father," and the lost, is fixed, and that the life of glory as well as the death of anguish is everlasting.

Such was the elementary Christian instruction, summed up in the form of sound words, with which the Jews were familiar. The germ of all truths is contained in them; they present an outline and sketch of the whole building. And yet these fundamental doctrines did not set before the Hebrews with sufficient fulness and clearness the truth of which they stood in need to keep them from apostasy, and to strengthen and comfort them in their sore trial and temptation. It was necessary for them now to fix their thoughts on the "heavenly things" to which our Saviour alludes in His conversation with Nicodemus (John 3:12), to the perfection of the High Priest and the heavenly sanctuary.

John the Baptist preached repentance and faith; he baptized with water, and spoke of the baptism with the Holy Ghost; he testified of the approach of judgment, of the wheat gathered, and the chaff burned up. And yet John the Baptist stood not in the full light of Pentecostal fulfillment. It behoved the Hebrews to go on in their knowledge unto perfect manhood, till the measure of the stature of Christ's fulness be attained. And it not merely behoved them, but it was absolutely necessary. For, notwithstanding their dulness of hearing, the apostle, deeply impressed with a sense of their danger, and hoping in the never-failing mercy of our compassionate Lord, takes courage to unfold to them the deep things of God.

Here is a very important lesson for our times. When we think of the state of the church and of Christendom, we naturally ask what is the best method of rousing and strengthening that which is languid and feeble, of bringing back those who have strayed, and of fortifying the tempted against the errors and the God-opposing spirit of the age. This is specially a solemn question for those who are teachers, stewards of the mystery of God, under-shepherds of the flock. Is it sufficient to preach the simple doctrine of the gospel, to declare the fundamental truths of repentance and faith, limiting ourselves to what is absolutely essential to the commencement of Christian life, and simply reminding our people of the great salvation, that Jesus died because of our offences, and was raised again because of our justification? Is such a method scriptural? and, viewing it from the lower point of expediency and experience, is it safe and effectual? Does not Scripture teach us that we should keep back nothing that is profitable, that we should not shun to declare the whole counsel of God, that the children of God should comprehend with all saints what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height? Do we not continually notice that scanty, elementary, and one-sided teaching does not even secure the true, living, and healthy knowledge of simple and fundamental truths? And with regard to those who are still strangers to the grace of God, is it not our duty to lay before them the divine message in all its fulness and beauty, in its comprehensiveness and depth, and by unfolding to them as far as man is able the Scripture, teaching to counteract the unscriptural opinions which refer not merely to the central questions of personal salvation, but to the character of God, the origin of the world and man, the nature of sin, the history and the ultimate destiny of our race? Above all, is it not for us to preach Jesus Christ; Jesus, the Messiah promised to Israel, the Saviour of sinners and head of the church; Jesus, the Son of God and Son of man; Jesus, the High Priest in heaven and the coming Lord, who will be King over the whole earth?

Perhaps no church had fallen into so low and dangerous a condition as the Hebrews. The remedy which apostolic wisdom and love applied was (contrary to what most of us would have suggested) a profound exposition of the glory of the exalted Saviour as the royal High Priest. He endeavours to bring before them the wonderful perfections of the Lord Jesus as their all-sufficient Mediator, that thus their hearts may be drawn from earth and filled with the peace and joy of God. Thus nothing is more needed in our days, both for the church and the world, than a faithful and deep exposition of Scripture, of the whole Scripture, of Scripture in its organic unity and comprehensive fulness, in order that by grace mind, conscience, and heart may be convinced that here are revealed unto us thoughts higher than our thoughts, divine realities and blessings, things which eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man. And thus, while they who believe not will acknowledge that God is in us of a truth, the children of God will be kept stedfast and faithful; they will be furnished unto every good work, and, forgetting the things that are behind, will press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.(4)

Going on unto perfection, beholding Christ in heaven, we continue in the simplicity which is in Christ Jesus. When by the grace of God we were converted, we became as little children; we were made humble, docile, cheerfully dependent on God's mercy, and joyfully accepting His gift. Having no wisdom, righteousness, or strength of our own, we were made willing to receive Christ Jesus. By Him are we continually brought as little children to the Father. When we abide in faith and love, though in understanding we become men, yet we continue childlike, we are children in malice. Thus only do we retain the humble, trustful, joyous, obedient, and plastic character of childhood, the dew of our youth. In one sense we always sing

"Sweet the moments, rich in blessing,
Which before the cross we spend."
Christ crucified is the sum of our knowledge. For here is not merely the foundation on which our faith rests, the source of our love and obedience, of our strength and hope; but here we behold the eternal counsel of God, and the glory which shall hereafter be revealed. But it is the living Christ, the Lord Himself, who is the object of our faith and contemplation. We behold Him who was dead but is now living; it is in Him that we now see and learn God. He who became man that we might be made partakers of the divine nature, who died that by His blood we might be brought near unto God, who ascended and sat down at the right hand of God to send unto us the Spirit, and to present us perfect before the Father, is the true Mediator, in whom divine light, life, and love are given unto us. Thus is fulfilled the saying of Israel's great King, "The way of life is above to the wise, that he may depart from hell beneath" (Pro 15:24). In Christ ascended is our only safety. To look unto Him is the only way in which our feet can be kept from falling, in which we can worship in the presence of God, and, beholding the countenance of our Father, serve Him on earth.

There is a simplicity which is the result of full and profound knowledge, of varied experience and conflict; a simplicity which is the indication of abundance and depth, which is the result of meditation, prayerfulness, and a humble walk with God. They who are fathers in the church, who, like the apostle John, lean on the bosom of Jesus, who behold the glory of the only-begotten, and in singleness of heart rest in His love, reach a lofty and calm mountain height, and they express their knowledge and experience with great simplicity and brevity. We often fancy we understand their quiet and axiomatic words, or that we have fathomed their meaning, and yet we may only have come into contact with the surface. The apostle John is thus the simplest and deepest teacher in the church. Like the Sabbath-day, he appears among the disciples; a solemn, yet childlike quiet and simplicity characterize his words; we meet with no complicated arguments, no noise and struggle, no upward steep ascent from earth to heaven, law to grace, Levitical type to Melchizedek perfection; we are transplanted at once into the high region of God's light, love, life. These simple yet inexhaustible words are the constantly recurring realities of which he testifies. To reach this simplicity is the object of the Christian individual and of the Christian church.

While we are serving the Lord amid trials and sorrows, and waiting for His second coming, let us behold, as we are taught in the epistle to the Hebrews, the High Priest in heaven—let us see, as the apostle John testifies in the Apocalypse, "the Lamb in the midst of the throne" (Rev 7:17). This is the simplest and most comprehensive word of Scripture. "The Lamb on the throne." This sums up all Scripture history and prophecy, all Scripture doctrine and consolation; this fulfils all Scripture types; for here is the sacrifice, the sanctuary, and the royal High Priest. He who was slain for us is the Divine King; He unto whom all power is given in heaven and in earth is the Lamb, full of love and tenderness. We are at peace; we learn the patience and wisdom of the saints as followers of the Lamb. Called to suffer in fellowship with Him, we look forward with hope to His return; for the Church is the bride, the Lamb's wife. To behold the Lamb in the midst of the throne, this is "going on unto perfection."

 

Chapter 13.
The Danger of Apostasy; the Patience of Faith and the Anchor of Hope
(Hebrews 6:4-20)
4 For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted of the heavenly gift, and were made partakers of the Holy Ghost, 5 And have tasted the good word of God, and the powers of the world to come, 6 If they shall fall away, to renew them again unto repentance; seeing they crucify to themselves the Son of God afresh, and put him to an open shame. 7 For the earth which drinketh in the rain that cometh oft upon it, and bringeth forth herbs meet for them by whom it is dressed, receiveth blessing from God: 8 But that which beareth thorns and briers is rejected, and is nigh unto cursing; whose end is to be burned. 9 But, beloved, we are persuaded better things of you, and things that accompany salvation, though we thus speak. 10 For God is not unrighteous to forget your work and labour of love, which ye have shewed toward his name, in that ye have ministered to the saints, and do minister. 11 And we desire that every one of you do shew the same diligence to the full assurance of hope unto the end: 12 That ye be not slothful, but followers of them who through faith and patience inherit the promises. 13 For when God made promise to Abraham, because he could swear by no greater, he sware by himself, 14 Saying, Surely blessing I will bless thee, and multiplying I will multiply thee. 15 And so, after he had patiently endured, he obtained the promise. 16 For men verily swear by the greater: and an oath for confirmation is to them an end of all strife. 17 Wherein God, willing more abundantly to shew unto the heirs of promise the immutability of his counsel, confirmed it by an oath: 18 That by two immutable things, in which it was impossible for God to lie, we might have a strong consolation, who have fled for refuge to lay hold upon the hope set before us: 19 Which hope we have as an anchor of the soul, both sure and stedfast, and which entereth into that within the veil; 20 Whither the forerunner is for us entered, even Jesus, made an high priest for ever after the order of Melchisedec.
The danger of retrogression is, perhaps, nowhere in Scripture placed before us in such a forcible and alarming manner as in this solemn chapter. One of the promises which occurs very frequently with regard to Israel after their conversion and restoration, is their stedfastness; they shall never turn back, but love and serve the Lord for ever. The prophetic word represents to us the picture of Israel continuing faithful during all the centuries that may be before them in the promised land. They shall never lapse. After, by the grace of God, and the appearing of the Lord Jesus, and the outpouring of the Holy Ghost, they are brought to repentance and faith, they shall continue for ever walking in the light of His countenance, and rejoicing in the rock of their salvation, serving and glorifying God their Redeemer.

The apostle Paul may be regarded as a striking and eminent type of Israel. Converted on his way to Damascus by the appearing of the Lord of glory, he typifies the sudden and direct manner in which the Jews, who, ignorant of God's righteousness, reject the gospel, shall be turned from darkness unto light, and experience the forgiving love of Joseph their brother, whom they hated and sold into Egypt(5) And the subsequent life of the apostle seems a type of the subsequent uninterrupted faithfulness and service of renewed and restored Israel. Think of the career of the great apostle. When it pleased God to reveal His Son in him, obedient to the heavenly vision, and without conferring with flesh and blood, he became the servant of the Lord, whom before he had persecuted. From that day on he continued stedfast, and through a life full of danger and suffering, of incessant toil and sacrifice, he went on with increasing ardour, vigour, and alacrity, never pausing, never relaxing his effort, or diminishing zeal, until at last, facing death, he was able to say, "I have fought the good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith" (2 Tim 4:7). He never for a moment relaxed in his intense energy, in his fervent devotion, in his arduous labours. He went on with a steady step and a loving heart. His affection, his faith, his self-forgetfulness, his courage, seem to increase and shine with a brighter and stronger light. He never seems to rest satisfied with his past attainments, or to be content with the measure of suffering and reproach endured for Christ's sake, or with the measure of victory gained in the beloved Master's cause. He is always, as he himself describes it, doing one thing, forgetting the things that are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, he pressed toward the mark of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus. Many and painful were the disappointments which met him in his work. He had constantly to bear the enmity of the Jews, the opposition of the Greeks, the suspicion with which many Jewish Christians regarded him, the interference of false teachers, the ingratitude and the unfaithfulness of many of his own converts; but his zeal remained unaltered, he continued in faith, in patience, in that love which endureth all things and hopeth all things. No stripes or imprisonment, no perils by land or sea, among robbers or false brethren, no sufferings or hardships, were able to cloud his confidence in the grace and power of the Lord Jesus who had sent him, or to lessen that ardent affection which he felt for unbelieving Israel, and that tender and fatherly love with which he regarded all the faithful. He continued bearing the churches on his heart, praying for them, and writing to them words of heavenly wisdom and fervent affection. The ingratitude of men seemed only to deepen his love and stimulate his zeal. Forgetful of self, he addressed words of encouragement and rejoicing from his prison and in the prospect of death. With ever-increasing brightness of knowledge, faith, love, hope, he patiently ran the race set before him, though none of God's servants had such a rough and thorny path. Jesus, who said of him that he was a chosen vessel unto Him, also declared, I will show him how great things he must suffer for my name's sake. As the Lord Jesus showed forth all long-suffering in him for a pattern, so by the grace of God the apostle Paul is an illustration of perseverance and faithful service.

I am not idealising the apostle. I am not guilty of hero or saint-worship. He was a chosen vessel, appointed to be a pattern, both of converting grace and of the power and stedfastness of the new life, bestowed by the Holy Ghost. He was able to say to the churches, "Be ye followers of me, even as I am of Christ" (1 Cor 11:1).

With what force and significance do exhortations to perseverance come from him. How willing ought we to be to listen to him when he exhorts us to work out our own salvation with fear and trembling. He was always giving diligence to make his calling and election sure. His constant aim was, to know Jesus, and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being made conformable unto His death, if by any means he might attain unto the (first) resurrection from among the dead. Filled with love to the saints, he is anxious to see them all strong and joyous in the faith, that God may be glorified.

When he thinks of the Hebrews, who through lukewarmness and culpable inertness had become again like babes, unable to receive the doctrine of the glorified Saviour and of His perfect priesthood, he is filled with sorrow and great anxiety. Although new-born babes are weak, yet the apostle, like his divine Lord, rejoiced over them, and gave thanks unto the Father for their faith and love. The life of the newly-converted souls is full of promise. With eagerness they listen to the doctrine of apostles, and in their first love they are swift to hear and to understand. But when old Christians become again like babes, their state is dangerous. The apostle regards the retrogression of the Hebrews with dismay. He sees in it the danger of an entire, continued, wilful, and irrecoverable apostasy from the truth. He beholds them on the brink of a precipice, and he therefore lifts up his voice, and with vehement, yet loving earnestness, he warns them against so fearful an evil.

"It is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted of the heavenly gift, and were made partakers of the Holy Ghost, and have tasted the good word of God, and the powers of the world to come, if they shall fall away, to renew them again unto repentance." These solemn and awful words have occasioned much controversy, and caused much alarm to anxious and sensitive hearts; but let us also hope that, blessed by the Spirit, they have achieved the purpose for which they were written; viz., to rouse the careless and indolent, who have fallen asleep on the enchanted ground; to show unto the backslider and unto the unfaithful and slothful servant the evil and danger of his way; to cause earnest heart-searching before God, and to encourage the humbled soul to return to the love of the Father and the grace of the Lord Jesus; for it is evident that the apostle's great aim in this chapter is to encourage the Hebrews to persevere and to stand fast in the grace of God, that returning unto the Lord they may have full assurance of hope.

The Hebrews had become lukewarm, negligent, and inert; the gospel, once clearly seen and dearly loved by them, had become to them dim and vague; the persecution and contempt of their countrymen a grievous burden under which they groaned, and in which they did not enjoy fellowship with the Lord Jesus. Darkness, doubt, gloom, indecision, and consequently a walk in which the power of Christ's love was not manifest, characterised them. Now if they continued in this state, what else could be the result but apostasy? Forgetfulness must end in rejection, apathy in antipathy, unfaithfulness in infidelity.

Such was their danger. And if they succumbed to it their state was hopeless. No other gospel remains to be preached, no other power to rescue and raise them. They had heard and known the voice which saith, "Come unto me, and I will give you rest." They had professed to believe in the Lord, who died for sinners, and to have chosen Him as their Saviour and Master. And now they were forgetting and forsaking the Rock of their salvation. If they deliberately and wilfully continued in this state, they were in danger of final impenitence and hardness of heart.

The exhortation must be viewed in connection with the special circumstances of the Hebrews. After the rejection of the Messiah by Israel, the gospel had been preached unto the Jews by the apostles, and the gifts and power of the Holy Ghost had been manifested among them. The Hebrews had accepted the gospel of the once crucified and now glorified Redeemer, who sent down from heaven the Spirit, a sign of His exaltation, and a pledge of the future inheritance. Having thus entered into the sphere of new covenant manifestation, any one who wilfully abandoned it could only relapse into that phase of Judaism which crucified the Lord Jesus. There was no other alternative for them, but either to go on to the full knowledge of the heavenly priesthood of Christ, and to the believer's acceptance and worship through the Mediator in the sanctuary above, or to fall back into the attitude, not of the godly Israelites before Pentecost, such as John the Baptist and those who waited for the promised redemption, nor even into the condition of those for whom the Saviour prayed, "for they know not what they do" (Luke 23:34); but into a state of wilful and conscious enmity against Christ, and the sin of rejecting Him, and putting Him to an open shame.

Though the apostle hopes better things of the Hebrews, as we shall see immediately, yet he cannot in faithfulness and love but present this solemn warning to them, and as this warning, like all Scripture teaching and exhortation, applies not merely to the people to whom it was primarily addressed, but is written also for us, it becomes us more fully to consider and weigh its meaning.

It has been asked whether the description here given is the description of a truly converted and renewed soul. While some, remembering the Scriptural truth, that the sheep of Christ can never perish, and that the children of God are born of incorruptible seed, have attempted to explain the terms used, as not reaching fully the description of regeneration by the Spirit; others have insisted on the expressions denoting unmistakably the renewal of the heart by the grace of God.

The true explanation seems to be, that the apostle uses expressions to describe what the Hebrews were in profession and outward appearance. He describes them as we describe our fellow-Christians—as they appear to us, as they themselves profess to be, and as we think of them from their words and actions. Hence the apostle would doubtless use different expressions if he wished to describe (objectively) the believer. From the eternal, heavenly, and divine point of view, a believer is one who is born of God, who has been quickened together with Christ, who is accepted in the Beloved—who was chosen before the foundations of the world were laid—who has received the Holy Ghost as an earnest of the inheritance: he is of God, and the seed of God abideth in him; he is one of Christ's sheep, and can never perish. The new life which is given by the Spirit is an eternal life. The union between Jesus and the believer is an indissoluble one. The apostle therefore could never join the description of a true believer with the description of final apostasy. But he does join (and so does all Scripture) the description of the apparent and professing believer, and that taking him at his highest and best, with the consequence of retrogression, and lukewarmness, and sin. The Hebrews professed, and to all appearance had been enlightened. They had tasted of the heavenly gift, for they expressed their joy in believing the glad tidings; they seemed to have been made partakers of the Holy Ghost, for they called Jesus Lord; they seemed to have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the world to come, for they were willing to suffer and to lose their worldly goods for the sake of the eternal reward. But now, unless they gird up the loins of their mind and rouse themselves from their slumber, unless by repentance and faith they collect and concentrate their energy, and ascend the steep and rugged height as Jesus commands us to follow Him, their path is downward and unto eternal ruin.(6)

In no other form could this most necessary exhortation have been given. And it is equally unscriptural to blunt the edge of this severe warning as it is to deduce from it the doctrine that the truly-renewed soul can finally fall away from God. While the apostle entertains the hope that the Hebrews are true and sincere, and that by the grace of God their faith will be revived, he feels that this can be effected in no other way than by showing them their present actual condition, and the inevitable results which must follow their continuance in it. If they continue in their downward career, it will then become manifest that they received the good seed only superficially, that they had no depth, and therefore after a short season of joy fell away. Land which drinks in the rain that comes down from heaven shows that it is good land, because it brings forth fruit, and the blessing of God is visibly and evidently resting upon it. Land which, though visited by the same benign influences, and watered by the same rain, brings forth nothing but briers and thorns, shows that it is reprobate, and well-nigh unto destruction and cursing. Think it, then, no slight or unimportant matter whether you are bringing forth fruit or not. Delay not, but retrace your steps; return to the Lord; go forth and weep bitterly, and then hear the Lord's question, "Lovest thou me?" Choose between ignorance, apathy, gloom, and the favour and blessing and service of the Lord.

It is strange that some have failed to perceive that all Scripture warnings are given according to the same method; and it is difficult to see how they could possibly be framed differently. For instance, the apostle says to believers, "If ye live after the flesh, ye shall die" (Rom 8:13). Does he teach that they unto whom there is no condemnation, who are in Christ Jesus, shall die? No; but he wishes to show that the consequence of living after the flesh would necessarily be death. "If a man abide not in me, he is cast forth as a branch, and is withered" (John 15:6). If one who appears to be a member of Christ does not continue in the communion of faith and obedience, the inevitable result is that, having no vital union with the source of life, he must perish. Again, if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses (Mark 11:26). And still more clear is the parable of the unmerciful servant who, having received his Lord's forgiveness, would not forgive his fellow-servant who owed him a debt (Matt 18:23-35). Here the hypothesis is converted into a narrative. The point to be illustrated is this, forgiveness which is not accompanied by a renewal of the heart, inclining it to be merciful, compassionate, and forgiving, is only apparent and superficial, and on the day of decision it will be made manifest that it was not genuine and God-given. Now, in what other way could this thought be illustrated than by representing the hypothesis as an actual fact? The servant's debt is remitted; he meets his fellow-servant; he shows no pity, but is unrelenting; the Lord finally pronounces judgment, and cancels his pardon. Does this parable then contradict the truth that the gilts and calling of God are without repentance, that being justified by faith we have peace, and stand in grace, that once in Christ, we are in Christ for ever? Take again the parable of the servants, and the picture given of the unprofitable servant who brought the one talent hid in a napkin (Matt 25:14-30). What is the truth taught here, but that most solemn one, that there is a semblance of conversion, of faith, of preaching, of works, in which there is no truth, substance, and life; that there is a counterfeit of conversion and renovation; that many profess and think they have been pardoned and accepted, of whom yet Jesus says, "I know you not"? (Matt 7:21-23) The Lord Jesus represents this in a history. The question is not, Has this servant (who afterwards is manifested to have been unprofitable) received true grace? But the conduct of one, who appeared and professed to be a servant of Christ, is described, and the result is declared for our instruction and warning. Our election of God is a secret, and to make our election sure is the constant desire, aim, and prayer of the godly. The Lord's people are known only unto Him; there is no outward, unmistakeable sign or seal given to any individual or to any community, whereby they stand out as the chosen saints of God, who shall be with Him in glory everlasting. Tares are among the wheat. Think of the twelve apostles, chosen and called by the Lord Himself. What higher position could be assigned to men? What greater dignity could be bestowed, or what surer indication given of divine favour and of future glory? And when Jesus said to the twelve, "Ye shall sit upon twelve thrones, judging the tribes of Israel," did it not seem as if the throne had been already prepared for Judas Iscariot? (Matt 19:28; Luke 22:30) And so it must have appeared—from our human point of view—to the twelve disciples, and to him also who afterwards betrayed the Lord. Yet the divine Master, while He thus spake, warned all the apostles, (and it is beautiful to hear them ask, in true humility, "Lord, is it I?" Matthew 26:22; Mark 14:19) and with faithfulness and solemnity He warned Judas especially. Every individual must see to it that he builds upon a sure foundation, that he possesses not merely the form, but the power of godliness. The whole Church of God, as an actual, outward, and visible community, even the innermost circle of apostles, and still more the innermost sanctuary—the heart of the chosen believer—must be constantly kept in the attitude of humble watchfulness; and we must continually remember that faith is in life, that there is a necessary connection between self-denial, obedience, stedfastness to the end, and the final manifestation of the elect of God, chosen from all eternity in Christ Jesus to be His for evermore. "He that endureth to the end shall be saved" (Matt 10:22).(7)

Yet, dear friends, all these warnings and exhortations do not for a single instant militate against the truth of electing love and the grace of God sustaining the believer unto the end. There is a higher region of truth and of doctrine revealed unto us in Scripture. If we look at the disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ from the earthly, or time-point of view, as I have said already, then all these exhortations are in full force, and who can doubt their necessity? The Lord Jesus said, "If the light that is in thee be darkness, how great is that darkness"! (Matt 6:23) He warned us that if the salt lose its savour it is good for nothing, but must be cast out and trodden under foot (Matt 5:13). And did it not happen that whole congregations, whole churches, whole regions, who had the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ, but who through unfaithfulness lapsed, have become entirely forsaken by the light and by the grace of God? Thus we read warnings in the seven epistles which Jesus sent from heaven. He threatens that the candlestick shall be removed, and the candlestick was removed, and many of those churches in the East lost their savour, and became almost worse than the people that were around them. The condition of churches who once possessed the knowledge of God became so low—Christians, so-called, fell into such superstition, deadness, and idolatrous practices, that even Mahometanism, notwithstanding its imposture, and with all its grievous errors, was to a certain extent an improvement on the fearful hypocrisy and ungodliness of those who were called by the holy name of Messiah.

But let us consider now the other and the higher aspect of truth. The children of God are born again of incorruptible seed, and they can never die. They that believe in Jesus, who really, and not in word only, trust in the Saviour, are born of God, and they cannot sin, because the seed of God abideth in them. They who belong to the flock of Christ can never perish. Have you noticed the use of the word "sheep" in Scripture? We read of true disciples and of false disciples, of wise virgins and of foolish virgins, of faithful stewards and of unfaithful stewards; but we never read of sheep in any other sense than as the elect who are saved with an everlasting salvation. "For my sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me: and I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, and none shall pluck them out of my hand. My Father, who gave them me, is greater than all" (John 10:27-29). The sheep of the Lord Jesus Christ are saved by the blood of Jesus, chosen by the Father from all eternity, and quickened by the Holy Ghost; in vital union with Him who is the resurrection and the life, they shall receive that blessedness which is eternal and full of glory. In like manner, the Lord Jesus Christ says, that in the latter days there shall be many false Christs, many false teachers, so that they shall lead astray many, and, "if it were possible," even the elect (Matt 24:24). What is the meaning of that "if it were possible"? The meaning of it is simply, that it is not possible; that the elect of God are perfectly safe; that if it were not for the power of God that keeps them, the sophistry and the fascination of false teachers would certainly lead them astray; but because God holds them, and Jesus prays for them, and the Holy Ghost seals them, therefore they cannot fall away.

These abundant assurances of the word of God are illustrated by every aspect of the work of salvation, by the election of the Father, by the sacrifice of the Son, and by the work of the Holy Ghost. They are confirmed by our own experience; for every Christian can sing:

"Twas thy love, O God, that knew us
Earth's foundation long before;
That same love to Jesus drew us,
By its sweet constraining power,
And will keep us
Safely, now and evermore."
While we have these abundant assurances of the position of safety that all the chosen of God have in Christ Jesus, it is by these very warnings and exhortations that we are kept humble, vigilant, clinging unto Jesus.(8)

But the apostle hastens to comfort and encourage, lest the Hebrews should be overwhelmed with fear and sorrow, or lest they should think that their condition was regarded by him as hopeless. The affection of the writer is now eager to inspire hope, and to draw them with the cords of love. The word "beloved" is introduced here most appositely, a term of endearment which occurs frequently in other epistles, but only once in ours; not that the apostle was not filled with true and fervent love to the Hebrew Christians, but that he felt obliged to restrain as it were his feeling by reason of their prejudices against him. But here the expression bursts forth, as in a moment of great danger or of anxious suspense the heart will speak out in tender language. He assures them that, although he thus speaks, he is persuaded better things concerning them, and things which are connected with, which grasp and accompany, salvation. This thought is eminently Pauline, and a comment on the words, Love thinketh no evil, and hopeth all things. So he says to the Romans, "I myself am persuaded of you, my brethren, that ye are full of goodness" (15:14); and to the Philippians, "Being confident of this very thing, that He which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ: even as it is meet for me to think this of you all, because I have you in my heart" (1:6, 7). The things which accompany salvation, or are linked to it, are humility, faith, patience, diligence, prayer, stedfastness. His confidence is, that as true children of God they will persevere unto the end. For he recalls the days of their first faith and love, when they willingly suffered for Christ's sake, and when they ministered unto the saints. God also remembers it; and as in His grace He has connected reward with our good works, wrought by faith in Jesus, so it would be unrighteous in Him to forget what they had done and suffered for the gospel. He will reward them, and what better, higher, and sweeter reward can God give us than to keep us faithful, to sustain us to the end, to shed abroad His love in our hearts; for God Himself is our sure portion, and our exceeding great reward.

Having this encouragement and hope, his heart's desire is that every one of them should show the same diligence to the full assurance of hope unto the end. He reminds them of their father Abraham. In faith and patience he continued stedfast, though his hope was not accomplished. How long had Abraham to wait for the fulfillment of the promise! How severely was his faith tested! If the Hebrews were sorely tried, if they felt it a great hardship to be excluded from the temple, to be regarded as strangers from the commonwealth of Israel; if they felt it difficult to look by faith unto Jesus and unto His return, waiting for the possession of the promised inheritance, let them remember the patriarchs, who likewise lived by faith, who not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off were persuaded of their substance and certainty, and embraced them; who made pilgrimage their willing choice, and, though dwelling in tents in a land which was not theirs, rejoiced in hope of the glory of God.

Abraham believed the word of God. He hoped against hope. He staggered not at the promise of God through unbelief, but was strong in faith, giving glory to God. The birth of Isaac fulfilled his hope, but did not terminate the trial and conflict of faith. But when the decisive trial was past, and Abraham by faith had offered up Isaac, then God gave unto him the reward in a final confirmation of the promise by His oath. The promise which was thus renewed and confirmed to Abraham, after the patience and wonderful endurance of faith, was most comprehensive and emphatic: "Blessing I will bless thee .... and in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed" (Gen 22:17, 18). The words "blessing I will bless thee," express that this blessing is not an outward and transient act of God, but the manifestation of His cherished purpose and of His inmost love. It expresses the truth which runs through the whole Scripture, that God has chosen His people, that His delight is in them, and that He Himself is their glory and blessedness. And knowing our weakness to grasp such infinite blessings and to rely on promises so exceeding great, knowing our difficulties and temptations, God confirmed the word with an oath. Among men an oath is an end of all strife. It is the ultimate and highest confirmation of statement and promise. God in His wonderful condescension and considerate remembrance of our weak hearts, which are slow to believe the exceeding riches of His grace, confirms the promise with an oath, and since there is none greater than Himself, the Lord by an oath mediated between Himself and the heirs of promise.

Jesus is the Mediator, the seal as well as the fulfillment of God's promise. He is as it were the Oath of God. "Verily, verily, I say unto you" is the majestic commencement of the Saviour's declarations and blessings. In Him all the promises of God are yea and Amen; in Him all covenant blessings are made sure. How much more abundant ought the faith of those to be, who in the resurrection of Jesus and in His exaltation behold the confirmation of God's counsel. Abraham possessed the promise, and in the oath of God the assurance of the immutability of His counsel. We possess a more abundant confirmation in fuller manifestation of the oath. The eternal blessings and the future glory of the covenant are sealed to all who believe by the resurrection of Jesus, by the outpouring and indwelling of the Holy Ghost, by Baptism and by the Lord's Supper.

So abundant is the encouragement which God gives to all faithful though tried disciples. The apostle therefore expresses his eager desire that every member of the congregation show the same diligence and zeal in regard to the full assurance of hope. In this chapter his object is to rouse the lukewarm and inert, to lift them out of their apathy and gloom, and to raise them to the sunny and joyous height of faith and hope. Assurance, or fulness of hope (comp. Col 2:2; 1 Thess 1:5; Heb 10:22), means a living, constant, and firm expectation of the coming of our Lord Jesus, who will give rest and glory unto all who wait for Him.

We rejoice in hope of the glory of God. By hope we anticipate the future blessedness, and thus live in the power of heavenly realities, influenced by the promised reward. Thus the apostle, who so clearly teaches us that we have been saved by grace through faith, also teaches that we are saved by hope; we wait for the adoption, that is the redemption of the body. In this patient waiting we are the followers of the Old Testament saints. They also, from Abraham, to whom God confirmed the promise by oath, looked unto the same advent of Messiah which we are awaiting. The fathers who pertained specially to the Hebrews, cherished the same hope, which was more fully revealed by the gospel, and which therefore we should hold fast with greater stedfastness and joy.

The severe rebuke of the apostle thus ends in words of strong encouragement. Fulness of hope is to characterise the believer. In like manner, Scripture speaks of the assurance or fulness of faith. The kingdom of God is not in word, but in power. To say that we are sure of our salvation, to force ourselves as it were into expressions of certainty and peace, without possessing that inward and true calmness which flows from communion with God, is of no avail. It is dangerous to anticipate by imagination an experience which we have not reached, and to adopt the expression of feelings which we covet, but do not actually possess. It is unwise of teachers to urge people to use words of assurance and triumph. The true assurance of faith is given unto those who in humility look unto Jesus; for assurance of faith means not a peculiar kind of faith, but simply faith in full, healthy, vigorous exercise—the singleness and sincerity of trust which looks only to the promise, which leans only on the perfection of the Saviour's grace. To look unto Jesus only, to see Him as our light and life, our righteousness and strength, is the fulness of faith; and to wait for the fulfillment of the promises at the coming of our Lord Jesus, is the fulness of hope.

We wait for the Son of God from heaven; and in the fact that the Son of God is in heaven we possess the substance as well as the pledge of our future inheritance. Jesus Himself is our hope. The soul is like a ship, tossed to and fro by the tumultuous waves of the sea, exposed to the temptations of Satan, the afflictions and sufferings of this present life, the difficulties and dangers of our earthly course, to doubts within and storms without. But we have an anchor, even hope; and this anchor is fixed, not in the depth below, but in the height above, even in the heavenly sanctuary, the everlasting and immovable throne of the Most High. Where but in heaven, in eternity, in that which is infinite, can we find rest, can we find the object of faith, love, and hope? Only He who from everlasting to everlasting is God, can be the dwelling-place of His people in all generations; only God the Father in Christ Jesus can be the object of our faith, our soul's trust and stay; only infinite love can kindle in us love, and be the love of our love. Thus only God Himself is our hope. And as God in Christ is the sinner's faith and love, so it is the Lord Jesus, once crucified and now enthroned, who is our hope; and while earthly joys and encouragements vary and vanish, the Spirit commands the troubled and disquieted soul to hope in God (Psa 43).(9) And this suggests to the apostle another illustration,(10) for when the mind beholds vividly spiritual truths, when the heart is filled with the fervid vision of heavenly realities, the fulness of glorious blessings can only be expressed by combining the scattered and imperfect rays in which, through symbols, the light shines unto us. The believer on earth is, as it were, in the outer court of the Tabernacle. In the holy of holies is Christ the Lord. The veil that separated the holy place from the most holy was the body of Christ. When He died the veil was rent, sin was put away, transgression was finished, the curse was removed, Satan and death were conquered, and an everlasting righteousness was brought in. We who believe in Jesus, by faith and prayer enter now into that which is within the veil; we who trust in Jesus, who died for us, are now, as it were, on the other side of the cross. Sin, condemnation, death, have been put away, and within the veil is the region of resurrection life, peace and glory, the eternal election, love, and favour of God. It is only through the death of the Lord, through the rent veil of His flesh, that we are saved; but having been reconciled to God by the death of His Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by His life. Within the veil, Jesus, in the prayer which He offered before His death unto the Father, reveals unto us this highest region when He says, "I have declared unto them thy name, and will declare it: that the love wherewith thou hast loved me may be in them, and I in them" (John 17:26). The eternal and infinite love of the Father, who has loved us as He loved Jesus (John 17:23), this is "within the veil." This anchor is sure, it never yields even to the strongest pressure; it is stedfast, it never moves from its place, it never varies with the changing condition of our feelings. Many are they that rise up against us, and often are our foes increased; but when hope enters into that within the veil, we can say, "Who shall lay anything to the charge of God's elect? It is God that justified. Who is he that condemned? It is Christ that died, yea rather, that is risen again, who is even at the right hand of God, who also maketh intercession for us" (Rom 8:33, 34).

Jesus Himself is our hope; for He (and not merely His work and death) is for us entered, the forerunner. And by this thought and expression the apostle returns to the theme of the epistle, which he never forgets; viz., the Melchizedek Priesthood of the Lord Jesus. Aaron went into the holy of holies only once a year, and then it was not to abide there. Moreover, only the high priest was allowed to enter; and not even the priests, still less the people, were permitted to follow him. But here is one, Jesus (for the apostle dwells emphatically on the human nature of our Lord), the Man who is God's equal, and who died on the cross, who enters the holy of holies, to abide there in royal dignity, and to prepare a place for us—the Forerunner, by whom all believers are brought into the very presence of God. He is therefore a priest, not after the order of Aaron, but after the order of Melchizedek, the eternal High Priest, in whom is perfect mediation.

Let faith only behold Jesus on the right hand of God, let hope only enter as an anchor into that within the veil, the eternal Father-love in the glorified Son who died for us, and we have reached perfection. Amid all dangers and temptations, amid all struggles and conflicts, though sin is still present with us, though we have no confidence in the flesh, and with increasing sorrow and contrition judge ourselves, we are persuaded that nothing shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus. We are in Christ; "old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new" (2 Cor 5:17). Christ is in heaven, and His prayer is, "Father, I will that they also, whom thou hast given me, be with me where I am" (John 17:24).

Read again this solemn and severe chapter, and say, "Let the righteous smite me; it shall be a kindness: and let him reprove me; it shall be an excellent oil, which shall not break my head" (Psa 141:5). God's words are in love, the thoughts of His heart are peace. Blessed are they who listen to the voice of heavenly wisdom, who love instruction, and turn not from correction; for the bitter arrows of reproof are sent by the sweet hand of a Father, and the earnest words of warning come from the home of everlasting truth and peace. There is a sweetness which is not wholesome, and a calmness which is treacherous; there is the voice of the flattering woman, there are the enchanting words of a spurious gospel, which bids us not go outside the camp bearing the reproach with Jesus, which tells us not of our heavenly citizenship, and of our having been crucified by the cross of Christ to the world. But let us who are risen with Christ seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God. Faith and hope rejoice; for of God is our righteousness and our glory, even Christ.

 

Chapter 14.
The Argument from Melchizedek; and the Inspiration of Scripture
(Hebrews 7:1-5)
1 For this Melchisedec, king of Salem, priest of the most high God, who met Abraham returning from the slaughter of the kings, and blessed him; 2 To whom also Abraham gave a tenth part of all; first being by interpretation King of righteousness, and after that also King of Salem, which is, King of peace; 3 Without father, without mother, without descent, having neither beginning of days, nor end of life; but made like unto the Son of God; abideth a priest continually. 4 Now consider how great this man was, unto whom even the patriarch Abraham gave the tenth of the spoils. 5 And verily they that are of the sons of Levi, who receive the office of the priesthood, have a commandment to take tithes of the people according to the law, that is, of their brethren, though they come out of the loins of Abraham:
The apostle now enters upon the main argument of the epistle. The High Priestly dignity of the Lord Jesus Christ, upon which He entered after His death and ascension, is infinitely higher than that of Aaron; and as the Levitical priesthood was imperfect and only the shadow and type of the substance, so the Lord is the true Priest of the heavenly and eternal sanctuary.

We are first reminded of the absolute perfection of the High Priest Himself, and for this purpose Christ is compared with Melchizedek and contrasted with Aaron.

The incident recorded in the book of Genesis is in itself very remarkable and instructive. But the comment which David five centuries after gives in the psalm, of which the Lord Himself testifies that in it David spoke by the Spirit, and the exposition of the psalm which after a thousand years is given here, unfold unto us depths which our own investigation, be it ever so minute and careful, would never have brought to light. May not, therefore, this exposition of Scripture by Scripture be useful to us in giving us a fuller and deeper view of the character of the history of Israel, and of the record of this supernatural history?

The victory which Abram the servant and friend of God had gained over the kings was a remarkable and significant event. It was before Isaac was born and the sign of the covenant was given unto our father, whose faith was counted to him for righteousness. Obedient to the call of the God of glory, Abram left his father's house and country. He believed in God and in the promise which God gave unto him to make him a great nation, and to bless all the families of the earth in his seed. The character of Abram appears from the beginning one of singular beauty and greatness. The sincerity as well as the strength of his faith manifested itself in sacrifice and self-denying obedience. The treasure which he had found in the love of God made him willing to be a stranger on earth. Seeking a better country, that is a heavenly, and believing Him faithful who promised, Abram left all and followed the Lord. Full of the generosity and the meekness of true love, he allows his nephew Lot to choose the land where he wished to dwell; and after Lot, who had chosen what appeared good and fertile, had separated from him, the Lord renewed and confirmed the promise to Abram, giving unto him the length and breadth of the land which he should afterwards receive for an inheritance, and in the plain of Mamre the God-fearing man built an altar unto Jehovah. Love is always the companion of faith, and self-denial the daughter of love. And God always sustains and rewards those who for His sake love and serve the brethren. Lot's righteous soul was vexed with the iniquity of the people among whom he dwelt, and the place chosen for its prosperity soon proves a place of trial and danger. When Abram heard that Lot had been taken captive, with that love which, forgetting injuries and remembering kindness, is eager to help the needy, he armed his trained servants, and with a small band of three hundred and eighteen men, who were doubtless filled with the same spirit of faith as himself, and united with him in the bond of affection, he completely conquered the kings, and regained the captives, and all the goods which had been taken. While no doubt love to his kinsman, unclouded by any reminiscence of his somewhat selfish conduct, was his chief motive, he was actuated by the justice of the cause, and he showed the purity and disinterested motive of his enterprize by his refusal to receive any reward from the liberated kings; and in this he appealed unto the Lord, the most high God, the possessor of heaven and earth; as if the servant of such a Master must needs represent in all things the honour and dignity of the almighty and bountiful Lord.

So great and lovely was our father Abraham from the very first days of his faith, so simple and earnest was his trust in God, implicitly believing and immediately obeying the call from above; so meek and lowly, and yet so heroic, valiant and courageous; so affectionate and tender-hearted towards his kinsmen, so generous and royal towards all men. Blessed is the memory of the just; their very name is full of fragrance, and we delight to recall the features of their spiritual countenance.

Returning from the victory, he was met by Melchizedek, king of Salem. Let us view this incident first in the light of the statement in Genesis. Let us limit ourselves to the facts there stated by the historian.

This king, whose name was King of Righteousness, was also a priest of the most high God. He lived at Salem; he brought forth bread and wine; and he blessed Abram, and said, "Blessed be Abram of the most high God, possessor of heaven and earth: and blessed be the most high God, which hath delivered thine enemies into thy hand" (Gen 14:19, 20). And Abram gave him tithes of all.

This priestly king was a worshipper of the true God. Idolatry was then predominant. Even Abram's father was a worshipper of idols; yet, as this instance shows, the primeval revelation was not entirely forgotten, and there were still cities and tribes in which God was adored and served. Melchizedek calls God the most high God. This expression implies that he knew and worshiped the only true and living God, who is above all. Though there are many that are called gods and lords, there is only one God, high above all gods. The expression also means that God is above creation, high above heaven and earth; the Lord whose throne and sanctuary are now no longer on earth, as they were once at the entrance of the garden of Eden, but high above.

He was king and priest, and, it seems to me, because of the priesthood, a king. It was his peculiar position in relation to God which invested him with authority over men. Because he knew God, and in the name of God pronounced blessings, was he king, and, as his name expresses it, the prophet and dispenser of righteousness. Salem, or peace, was the name of the city where he reigned and exercised his priesthood.

This venerable man, in whom we behold as it were the glorious sunset of the primeval dispensation, met Abram and brought unto him bread and wine, evidently as symbols of the gifts of God in creation, to sustain and gladden fallen man; and he blessed Abram, as belonging by faith to the same God; and he blessed God, as having given through Abram and his victory a new manifestation of Himself. Abram received the blessing, and gave tithes of all unto him, thereby recognizing Melchizedek's superiority.

What did Melchizedek see in Abram? Evidently the future—a new dispensation of divine grace and truth. What did Abram see in Melchizedek? The past, in its universal character embracing all tribes and families of the earth; in its character of simplicity and fulness, the blessing of God in the reign of righteousness, priestly intercession, and peace—type of the ultimate future, which shall terminate the period of Israel and the church. Melchizedek is thus greater than Abram, because the past dispensation, which he represents, is a type of that future dispensation of which the Abrahamic is only preparatory. As the last chapters of the Apocalypse correspond with the first chapters of Genesis, as the garden of Eden was a type and earnest of the ultimate reign of blessedness, which the last pages of the book of Revelation describe, so the Melchizedek reign and priesthood prefigure the glory of the Christocracy, which we await, and which is the consummation of the period commencing with Abram, and including the history of Israel and the times of the Gentiles. In the bread and wine Abram saw the pledge of God's abundant grace. After the expulsion from Paradise, and the judgment of the flood, bread and wine are the gifts by which man's life is nourished and invigorated, and which, though, like all good gifts, coming primarily from God, are yet obtained through processes symbolic of suffering.

Abraham is blessed of the most high God, possessor of heaven and earth. The expression "possessor" is significant. The patriarch "possessed" nothing actually; but by faith he possessed all things promised unto him. Abraham had to buy even the burying-place for Sarah of the sons of Ephron. But He in whom he trusted was the possessor of heaven and earth, and the promised inheritance was therefore sure. Abraham, like all the faithful, was blessed of God. In Him he was rich; by Him he was strong and victorious. All things are ours, if we are God's—if His blessing rests on us.

Such are the main features of this remarkable incident, as recorded in the Book of Genesis, and viewed apart from the inspired exposition of its deeper meaning, as given in subsequent portions of Scripture. Before entering on the consideration of the Davidic and Pauline exposition, it may be useful to recall the peculiar character of the history and of the record of revelation.

We must always view Scripture in its connection with Israel and with Christ. The Lord Jesus is of Israel, and therefore to Abraham's seed were given the oracles of God. While we believe that God is not the God of the Jews only, but also of the Gentiles, that in all history His wisdom, power, and grace are to be recognised, and that all history is typical, illustrating spiritual principles, a mirror of things invisible and future, we believe that the history of Israel is in a special sense miraculous and supernatural and in immediate connection with the great plan of redemption. Israel is the nation; chosen for the sake of all nations, separated unto God, and for the good of the whole world, that through them the glory and salvation of God might be made manifest. God has connected from all eternity, and in a necessary and inseparable manner, the Word, who is the brightness of His glory, and the express image of His person; Israel, His chosen nation; the oracles or Scripture; and Jesus, the Son of God and man. As the Word was with God, and the centre of the divine counsel, as the Word became the centre and medium of creation, so the Word was set apart to be the centre of redemption, and the centre of the future glory and inheritance.

This great plan of God, while it had the Son of God for its centre, had Israel, as it were, for its immediate and primary circumference. God selected Israel as the garden in which the blessed Branch should appear. From all nations he separated Israel, that out of them should come the Redeemer and Saviour of mankind. And as Israel was chosen in Christ, and for Christ's sake, so their whole history and education were according to that great object.

The Scripture, which is the testimony of God's dealings in mercy as Jehovah, could therefore not originate anywhere else than among the Jews. It was according to the divine plan that Jesus should be of Israel, and likewise the Scripture must needs be Jewish. Israel's history is therefore central in importance and symbolical in character. It is for the sake of the Redeemer, chosen in the counsel of God, that fallen and sinful humanity is allowed to continue; it is for the sake of the final restoration that there is a history of nations: in Israel's Messiah shall all nations of the earth be blessed. And since God chose Israel, and revealed Himself and His grace unto them in word, act, and type, it cannot be otherwise than that the whole history of this nation should be a grand series of symbols of spiritual and eternal truths, and that the Scriptures recording the history should possess a vitality and depth of meaning which can never be exhausted.

The history of the chosen people of redemption was supernatural, and all events and institutions connected with it under the immediate guidance of God and under the immediate influence of the Holy Ghost.

The supernatural character of Israel's history must be obvious to every one who believes the miraculous birth of the Lord Jesus. As He was conceived of the Holy Ghost, and born of the God-chosen Virgin Mary, so His birth was the last link of a chain, the consummation of a long series of miraculous revelations and acts of the Redeemer-God. The offspring of David is also the root of David; the seed of Abraham is before Abraham was; and the whole history of Israel is the going forth of Him who is eternal.

Thus we understand the great and outstanding events of this history, such as the birth of Isaac, the sufferings and exaltation of Joseph, the Exodus, the fall of Jericho, the reign of David. Thus we understand the types, the sacrifices and festivals. Thus we perceive that the tabernacle was not framed by human wisdom, but that the Holy Ghost symbolized through this mysterious sanctuary the eternal truth as it is in Jesus. Nor can we be astonished that this supernatural, symbolic, and eternal character of Israel's history should manifest itself not merely in central events and persons, but that it should pervade the whole, and enter into every detail. The very names Abraham, Joshua, David, the very sequence of events and promises, the colours and numbers in the arrangements of the tabernacle, were ordered of God, and are full of deep meaning. And as the history of Israel by reason of its central character is symbolic, mirroring the experience of the individual soul and of the congregation in every possible circumstance, in patriarchal infancy, in the house of bondage, in the wilderness journey, in Canaan's warfare and temptation, in Davidic and Solomonic rule, in Babylonian exile, so is it also typical and prophetic, and stands related to that ultimate development of the divine kingdom, towards which tend all God's dealings, and of which all the prophets of the eternal witnessed from the beginning.

The whole history of Israel is a golden history, if we may so say—a Holy Ghost history. It differs from every other history. This nation God formed for Himself; and in all the events, institutions, and great men of this people God in a special manner revealed Himself and the truths of His kingdom. And this because the eternal Word, the Saviour of sinners, the King of the Jews, the Head of the Church, the Heir of all things, who is the upholder and end of all ages, Jesus Himself, is organically and inseparably connected with this chosen nation; He is of the seed of David, of the seed of Abraham.

Now such being the character of the history, was the record of this history (or the Scripture) the work of man, depending on the capacity and grasp of human intellect, the faithfulness of human memory, on man's wisdom and design? Is not the casket also golden which contains the invaluable jewel? If the spirit and substance were God-given, has He not also clothed it with a body prepared and perfected by His own omnipotent and all-wise hand? We believe that Scripture is given by inspiration of God. We do not believe it possible that this book, world-wide and eternal in its character, could have been written by holy men, unless they were moved by the Spirit, who searcheth the deep things of God, and guided by Him who was, and is, and is to come. We believe Scripture to be inspired. And our faith in the inspiration of Scripture has its basis and root in our faith in God Himself. It is because we have experienced the divine power of the truth Scripture contains, and because in the reading of Scripture we have heard the voice of God; it is because God speaks to us in this written word that we believe it is God's. This faith is a conviction, an inward beholding and seeing, a knowledge which far transcends in light and strength, in certainty and firmness, all human evidence and argument. We cannot communicate this faith to our neighbour; for faith is the gift of God, and "they shall be all (and each) taught of God" (John 6:45); we can only testify of it and give a reason, a connected statement of the knowledge that is in us. But on no lower ground can we build our assertion, that Scripture is God-inspired; not on the testimony of the Church, not on the evidences (valuable as they are) of the historic faithfulness of the record, the fulfillment of prophecy, the effects of the sublime teaching on human minds, &c. The inspiration of Scripture is an object of faith; and faith can only rest on the word of God, the testimony of the Spirit to the soul.

When we are asked: Is this inspiration verbal? or does it refer only to the divinely-revealed truths and promises? it is not necessary for us to enter into distinctions which Scripture itself does not make. We need no adjective to qualify the substantive, inspiration. It is impossible for us to form a theory of inspiration. Even of that influence of the Spirit of which we possess personal experience in our own conversion and daily renewal, it would be impossible for us to frame a theory; for the work of the Spirit is mysterious. We cannot trace the beginning or end of His path (John 3:8); His "intercession is with groanings which cannot be uttered" (Rom 8:26); we cannot explain His indwelling in the heart; and as His love is infinitely tender, entering into our deepest and most individual peculiarity and need, so is it impossible for us to analyze His constant vivifying influence, guidance, and rule. If it is thus with the work of the Spirit, of which we have experience, why should we attempt to form a theory of inspiration of which none of us have experience? Most probably the prophets themselves could not explain and analyze the operation of the holy and infinite Spirit upon and within their spirits, and could give no other reply to our enquiry than the statement which Scripture contains: the Spirit of the Lord came upon them; they spake not of themselves, but as they were moved by the Holy Ghost.

The inseparable connection between thought and word, between the substance and spirit and the form and expression, is obvious. The Holy Spirit, who reveals truth and spiritual reality to holy men, moves them also in speaking; influencing also the words, so that they are correct and adequate expressions: the spoken and written word is an adequate manifestation of the word(11) inwardly revealed. To separate thought and word, spirit and embodiment, matter and manner, is at all times a very difficult and perilous thing; for not merely is the boundary line between the idea and the expression almost impossible to find, but the Spirit who animates the body which it has formed can only be retained by us in the word. Hence, as Martin Luther said against the rationalists of his day, "Christ did not say of His Spirit, but of His words, they are spirit and life." Scripture is God's word; it is His gift, and a revelation of Himself. It is God's word, the revelation of eternal and spiritual truth in a written record.

The language of Scripture accordingly is perfectly unique; it possesses an indescribable something which is not found in any (merely) human writings; the Spirit, who seeth all things in their depth and reality, and who knoweth the end from the beginning, speaks here in a way so profound and comprehensive, that the wisdom and experience of all ages cannot exhaust His meaning, and yet with such simplicity and definiteness, that all childlike hearts find guidance and consolation in their daily path of duty and trial. The style of Scripture betokens its inspiration. Here is a depth, a solemnity, a heart-winning sweetness and familiarity, which we meet nowhere else. Here is the voice of One who speaketh with authority, and communicates to us out of an inexhaustible fulness what is profitable for us in our present condition. The Scripture is to other books as Nature is to the works of art, as the ocean is to a lake; the Scripture sees all things from a great height, and breathes the atmosphere of eternity. In the best human books, in the loftiest poetry, in the most fervent and devout utterances of man, there is always something unreal, artificial, self-conscious; something morbid and necessarily ephemeral. Scripture is the only true, real, eternal book.

The apostles and the Lord Himself teach us that not merely was Israel's history, if we may so say, inspired, under the special influence of God; but they teach us also that the record of this history is inspired, that the Scripture which narrates God's dealings with Israel is also under the special and infallible guidance of the Holy Ghost. It must be evident, from the preaching of the apostles to Jews and Gentiles, from the manner in which they decide difficult questions of doctrine and practice, from the epistles they addressed to the churches, that they believed Scripture inspired in the fullest sense, and regarded the men by whom the word was written as the instruments, but the Lord, and more especially the Holy Ghost, as the true author of the whole organism of the Jewish record.

It appears from this very chapter (and from the whole epistle) that its author regarded the Scripture as inspired in the most absolute sense of the word; for his whole argument here is based upon the manner in which the Holy Ghost narrated the incident of Melchizedek's appearing and blessing. Because there is no statement given of his descent, of his beginning and end, the apostle sees in this omission the indication of a very important and fundamental truth. Genesis is the book of genealogies. Most carefully and minutely the descent of men is traced; their age is stated, and the fact of their death chronicled. In a human work no further inference could be drawn from an omission of this kind. It is otherwise, however, in Scripture. As in music, not only the notes, but also the pauses are according to the plan and mind of the composer, and instinct with the life and spirit which breathe through the whole; so the very omissions of Scripture are not the result of chance, or of the accidental ignorance of the writer, but according to and in harmony with the wisdom of the eternal Spirit, who is the true author of the record. The apostle evidently thinks that the Holy Ghost teaches by not stating these points. In like manner he attaches importance to the names of Melchizedek and Salem.

When he writes to the Galatians he bases a very important argument on the word seed—not many, but one—showing that Christ is the promised seed and heir. He represents Sara and Hagar as typical of the two covenants—of Jerusalem and of Sinai—gospel and law, liberty and bondage; and, in a manner quite analogous to our chapter, he points out that the promise given to Abraham four hundred years before the giving of the law could not be disannulled by it. He affirms that the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the heathen by faith, preached before the gospel unto Abraham, saying, "In thy seed shall all nations be blessed" (Gen 22:18, 26:4, 28:14; Acts 3:25). And again, the Scripture hath concluded all under sin, that the promise of faith might be given to them that believe. He personifies the Scripture as omniscient, foreseeing all things, and speaking in harmony with the whole counsel of God.

The apostolic "as it is written" is rooted in a very deep conviction of the divine perfection of the written Word. The whole Scripture is one organic structure; and in its minute and subsidiary portions, as well as in the more prominent and fundamental parts, the Scripture is inspired of God: the infinite and eternal Spirit reveals through the Scripture the truths and realities of God's salvation.

Hence the names of persons and places, the omissions of circumstances, the use of the singular or plural number, the application of a title—all things are under the control of the all-wise and gracious Spirit of God.(12)

I may also add a word on the manner of quotation. Scripture passages are quoted by the Lord in the gospels and by the apostles not always with verbal accuracy, giving an exact repetition of the expressions used by Moses or the prophets. This appears at first sight a difficulty, and not in harmony with the doctrine of inspiration. But on investigation it will be found to confirm this truth; for here also the Spirit is revealed as the Spirit of truth and liberty. The original meaning of the Spirit is developed with increasing clearness and fulness; the Lord and His apostles quote the Scripture according to the deepest and truest meaning of the inspired Word, and according to the new requirements of the dispensation and the condition of their hearers. The prophets themselves knew that their prophecy was above them; they therefore searched with diligent zeal what Messiah's Spirit which was in them did signify. In the fulness of the Spirit the Messiah Himself quotes Scripture; in the fulness of the Spirit, received on the day of Pentecost, the apostles quote and apply the Scripture to confirm and illustrate the truth as it is in Jesus, to guide and to exhort the church in her present course. This refers also to interpretation. The allegorical interpretation, if applied by man, is dangerous; because he may either be without the mind of Christ, and then he will certainly introduce thoughts contrary to and apart from Scripture, and his interpretation will not be the unfolding of the divine truth; or he may possess the Spirit, yet by reason of imperfection and sin fail to see the true and real meaning of the Word. But when the Lord Jesus and the inspired apostles interpret Scripture, it is as if the author of a book himself explains his true, real, and full meaning to those who have read it. It is authentic exposition of the original Word; an exposition which, on account of the further development of God's counsel, is more profound and luminous than could have been given at the time of its first utterance.

It seems as if in the outward form of Scripture, in the quotations and comments, there is such apparent imperfection in order that faith may be tested. Outwardly, there seems no difference between Paul's allegorising and that of the Rabbis or of Philo. It was said of Jesus, "Is not this Jesus, the Son of Joseph, the carpenter?" (John 6:42) So it may be thought that Scripture is merely human. The Word (that is Christ, and also the Scripture) came, as Luther says, "in our poor flesh and blood."

Above all, remember that the Lord Jesus, our one and only Master, the Son of God, who is the Truth, honoured, confirmed, and fulfilled the Scripture, and led His apostles into a deeper, because more loving, reverence for the inspired word, and into the true and full understanding of its mysteries. Remember how Jesus referred to Scripture when He was teaching the people, or refuting gainsayers, or resisting and conquering Satan, or instructing and comforting His disciples. Remember how He appeals to Scripture as the ultimate judge, declaring as an axiom that the Scripture cannot be broken, and that not one jot or tittle of the law can pass away. Remember His questions: How does David in the Spirit call Him Lord? How readest thou? Have ye not read? Remember His references to the whole scope of prophetic teaching (it is written in the prophets, They shall be taught of God); to Moses, who wrote of Him; to the prophets and psalms; to the whole Scripture (the things written concerning me); and to single words and expressions, incidents and institutions, contained in the Scripture. Remember Christ's references to Scripture on the cross, how the whole prophetic word passed before His mind; and in the conviction of His having fulfilled all that by the Holy Ghost was written concerning Him, after He had said, "I thirst," He uttered that great and blessed word, "It is finished" (John 19:28, 30). And after His resurrection, appearing unto His chosen disciples and witnesses, He opened unto them the Scriptures, beginning with Moses, unfolding unto them His suffering, and giving and commanding them to preach, because they understood now the word. "Thus it is written, and thus it behoved Christ to suffer, and to rise from the dead the third day, and thus preach repentance and remission of sins in His name" (Luke 24:46, 47).

It is impossible to separate the Lord Jesus either from Israel or from the Scripture. Faith in Jesus, the true and real Jesus, who died and rose again according to Scripture, must lead to childlike and reverential faith in the Scripture as the word of God, inspired and perfect.

On the testimony of the Lord Jesus and the apostles I receive the Scripture as God's word. Like David, I pray that God may open mine eyes to see wonders hidden in God's law, in the history and ordinances, recorded in the Scripture; like the psalmist, I view the history of Israel as a parable, a symbol of spiritual and eternal truth (Psa 78:2, &c.). Not as a critic dare I approach this book as if it were an ordinary book, which I may hope to master and fathom. It is above me, and I cannot exhaust its fulness; it knows me, even the hidden things of the heart, and judges me, bringing me into contact with the all-seeing God. I enter with reverence into the temple of Scripture, which, from the height of God's eternal counsel and out of the depth of God's infinite love, beholds and comprehends all ages, and is sufficient for the guidance and perfecting of souls in all generations—praying with trustful hope that out of Christ's fulness the Spirit will minister unto me also grace upon grace.

But while I thus stand in awe, beholding the grandeur and infinite depth of the Scripture as one organic spirit-built temple, and the beauty, perfection, and exquisite skill which characterize the most minute portion of this structure, I feel at home and as in a peaceful and fragrant garden. For our admonition was the Scripture written; for us upon whom the ends of the world are come. Moses and the prophets minister unto us, to whom the fulness of salvation is revealed. Through comfort of the Scriptures we have hope. I am not paralyzed by the divine perfection and the infinite depth of the Word; for such is the love, such is the perfection of God, that even from a child I may know the Scriptures, and be made wise by them unto salvation. And while it may be given to me in some favoured moment to take a comprehensive view, and to behold somewhat of the length, and breadth, and height, and depth, I know that every word of God is pure, every name which He has revealed, every promise which He has given, every word He has uttered, is perfect; and in it He is a shield unto them that put their trust in Him. Thus I possess the whole in every little fragment; though weak, ignorant, and limited, I have perfect peace and the light of life. And often I find the truth of that saying, so characteristic of that great lover of the word,(13) "In Scripture every little daisy is a meadow."

Is not this the experience of the Christian? We are at home in the Scriptures, because we have found the Messiah, of whom the Scriptures testify. Once we are in possession of this central truth, we see unity, order, light, and beauty throughout. Though many things seem dark, wonderful, and beyond our comprehension, it is the mystery of love. It does not alarm our heart, or contract our affection, joy, and courage. The whole Scripture is full of the goodness, the sweetness, and the beauty of the Lord. Yea, in one sense we know all things; for we have received the anointing of Christ; the Spirit Himself is our teacher and guide. Everywhere in Scripture we behold Jesus, the Lord; our great High Priest, enthroned in heaven; King of righteousness and Prince of peace, who brings unto us the blessing of God; who sustains our inner life, and who gladdens and strengthens our hearts by giving us continually bread to eat and wine to drink. Do you know the Bread? He came down from heaven; He suffered and died; He was buried and rose again. This is the bread—the body that was broken, the flesh that He gave for the life of the world. Do you know the Wine? He is the true Vine, and the wine which He gives to us is the fruit of the suffering of bitter agony, when He was crushed under the weight of transgressions not His own; it is the blood which was shed for the remission of sins. Are you a child of Abraham? Is yours the righteousness which is of faith? Are you waiting for the inheritance? Then in the reading of Scripture Jesus will bless you, and give you the bread and wine which the world knoweth not, because it seeth no longer Him who is now in heaven.

 

Chapter 15. Melchizedek a Type
(Hebrews 7:1-17)
1 For this Melchisedec, king of Salem, priest of the most high God, who met Abraham returning from the slaughter of the kings, and blessed him; 2 To whom also Abraham gave a tenth part of all; first being by interpretation King of righteousness, and after that also King of Salem, which is, King of peace; 3 Without father, without mother, without descent, having neither beginning of days, nor end of life; but made like unto the Son of God; abideth a priest continually. 4 Now consider how great this man was, unto whom even the patriarch Abraham gave the tenth of the spoils. 5 And verily they that are of the sons of Levi, who receive the office of the priesthood, have a commandment to take tithes of the people according to the law, that is, of their brethren, though they come out of the loins of Abraham: 6 But he whose descent is not counted from them received tithes of Abraham, and blessed him that had the promises. 7 And without all contradiction the less is blessed of the better. 8 And here men that die receive tithes; but there he receiveth them, of whom it is witnessed that he liveth. 9 And as I may so say, Levi also, who receiveth tithes, paid tithes in Abraham. 10 For he was yet in the loins of his father, when Melchisedec met him. 11 If therefore perfection were by the Levitical priesthood, (for under it the people received the law,) what further need was there that another priest should rise after the order of Melchisedec, and not be called after the order of Aaron? 12 For the priesthood being changed, there is made of necessity a change also of the law. 13 For he of whom these things are spoken pertaineth to another tribe, of which no man gave attendance at the altar. 14 For it is evident that our Lord sprang out of Juda; of which tribe Moses spake nothing concerning priesthood. 15 And it is yet far more evident: for that after the similitude of Melchisedec there ariseth another priest, 16 Who is made, not after the law of a carnal commandment, but after the power of an endless life. 17 For he testifieth, Thou art a priest for ever after the order of Melchisedec.
The High Priesthood upon which our Lord entered after His sufferings, death, and ascension (Heb 6:20), is infinitely higher than the Aaronic. It possesses perfection; it is heavenly and eternal. Hence it is impossible that it should be prefigured by the Aaronic priesthood;(14) and therefore the apostle illustrates it by the type of Melchizedek, in accordance with the interpretation given centuries before by David, when in the Spirit he declared the divine decree—"Thou art a priest for ever after the order of Melchizedek" (Psa 110:4).

It was difficult, though absolutely necessary, to explain to the Hebrews the imperfect, shadowy, and temporary character of the Levitical priesthood, and to show unto them that with the change of priesthood there must needs be also a change of dispensation. The Aaronic priesthood and the Levitical dispensation were indeed of God, and possessed glory. And our Lord, who on the cross was the Sacrifice, and who by His own blood entered into the holy of holies, fulfilled all that was typified by these divine ordinances. Hence the apostle neither makes void the Aaronic institutions, nor does he depreciate their importance, value, and power. But Jesus, the Messiah, having come and fulfilled that which was written of Him, and being the substance of the shadow, there has begun now the exercise of a real, living, continuous, and perfect High Priesthood, of which a type is found in the pre- and super-Aaronic priesthood of Melchizedek. Jesus is in heaven, dispensing the blessings which He purchased with His blood, and in perfect mediation bringing us to God, and the favour and life of God to us.

The argument of the apostle, deducing and illustrating the superiority of Christ's priesthood over the Aaronic, from and by the relation of Melchizedek to the Levitical priesthood, is in some respects analogous to the argument of the apostle with regard to the law, and its parenthetical and inferior position, as compared with the gospel. You must have noticed the sluggish tendency in man which renders him unwilling, and to a certain extent unable, to understand quickly, and to accept readily any change and development in the manifestation of God's purpose; so that when that which has been preparatory, and which from the very outset was given only for a time, and with indications of its imperfect and intermediate character, is removed, he feels, so to say, to a certain extent disappointed, and as if some injustice had been done unto him, or as if God was changeable, and the revelations of God not consistent. It was in this way that the Jews were shocked when the apostle Paul taught that it was not necessary for the Gentiles to observe the law; that for the new covenant church the law of Moses was no longer the rule and form of life. And therefore the apostle, in his epistle to the Galatians, tells them that the law was given four hundred years after the promise had been made unto Abraham, and that therefore there was no injustice, and no inconsistency, in the bringing in of a new dispensation, which was in fact only a return in a fuller and more perfect manner to that which was from the beginning in the mind of God. There was in it nothing that was derogatory to the majesty and holiness of the law.

The original promise which through Abraham was given both to Jews and Gentiles was brought prominently into the foreground, and the law set aside, which had come in as an intermediate dispensation, a schoolmaster to bring men unto Christ, a guardian to keep the appointed heir during the years of his minority. The twofold object of the law was now fulfilled. The law was to convince man of sin, and to declare God's condemnation. Christ was made a curse for us; He is the end of the law unto righteousness. The law was also to teach us our deadness; for it could not give life; it could not minister the Spirit; but the Spirit of Christ, as the Spirit of the Son, is now sent into our hearts. Hence, the law being fulfilled, we enter fully and substantially into the covenant which was made before law.

It is in like manner that he argues in the epistle to the Romans with regard to our father Abraham. Abraham was justified by faith; he received the promises; the covenant was made with him. He believed God, and his faith was counted to him for righteousness. But when was this? Was it not before circumcision was instituted? And is it not clear from this that God may again return unto His original, primary, and more comprehensive idea, and bring in that righteousness which is by faith, irrespective of all ordinances and of all temporary and intermediate institutions? Thus in the present day some regard the doctrine of the ushering in of a new dispensation—the advent of the Lord Jesus Christ with His glorified Church, and His reign in the age to come, as something disturbing. They feel unwilling to enter as it were upon a new phase; it seems troublesome to have to understand and to comprehend new developments. Remember that God, who is the eternal, is the Lord of all times and of all dispensations. And although the ages change, His truth remains for ever the same. Time only brings out more fully that eternal and immutable counsel which He purposed in Himself when He appointed Christ, the incarnate Son, to be Lord and Heir of all. And yet no portion of Scripture can ever become antiquated, losing its instructiveness, significance, and value. No period of the history of God's people, no type, no institution, no event of any dispensation, can be forgotten; nothing that God has said, given, or done, will be lost. For the eternal Spirit, who saw the end from the beginning, hath so ordered it that the whole Scripture ministers unto all generations of His people, that as the fathers cannot be made perfect without the children, so the children who are privileged to see the better things provided for them by God are gathered unto the fathers, and blessed with the ancient household of faith; and when the purpose of God is at last fulfilled, then Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, kings and prophets, who saw the glory afar off, the church gathered since Pentecost, and called especially to know the fellowship of Christ's sufferings, shall rejoice together and praise Jehovah, "Jesus Christ the same yesterday, and to-day, and for ever" (Heb 13:8). As there was diversity in the dispensations and the gifts, the service and the suffering, and yet one Lord, one Mediator, one Spirit, so will the glory also be manifold and yet one glory, even the glory of God and of the Lamb.

The incident of the meeting of Melchizedek and Abraham which is mentioned in the book of Genesis belongs unto the history of God's people, which, both in itself and in its record, is under the immediate guidance of God and of the Holy Ghost.

We have seen already what the meaning of the appearing of Melchizedek was unto Abraham himself—what is immediately implied in the historical record apart from its typical aspect. This Melchizedek, who was king and priest in one person, and the name of whose residence was Salem—that is, peace—who possessed the knowledge of God, as of the Lord Most High, who is supreme above all kings and above all gods, who is high above all things that are created, came as the representative of the primeval dispensation, which is greater and more comprehensive than the dispensation that commenced with Abraham, and is therefore a type of that restoration of all things, of that universal reign of Truth and Love which shall commence with the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ. He came as the representative of the first dispensation, and as the type of the ultimate dispensation, and he blessed Abraham, the father of Israel and of the faithful, in the name of God, bringing unto him in bread and wine the symbolic representation of all the blessings pertaining to a vigorous and joyous life which, according to the goodness of God, were in grace vouchsafed unto Adam's children, although they had forfeited life through their transgression. Abraham, the man whom God called His friend, who was chosen, honoured, and blessed of the Lord, acknowledges this royal priest as his superior; he receives his blessing, and he gives unto him tithes.(15)

But now the apostle tells us that in this record we have to consider not merely that which is mentioned, but that which is not mentioned. Different speculations have been entertained in the church with regard to the actual historical person Melchizedek. The sole reason why I allude to it is to remind you how utterly useless these speculations are, and not merely useless, but entirely in contradiction to the scope of this very passage. Some have thought this Melchizedek was Shem. As far as chronology is concerned, there is nothing impossible in this hypothesis; for Shem lived not merely up to the days of Abraham, but even into a later period. Others have thought that this Melchizedek was a descendant of Japhet. Some again have supposed that he was an Amorite. But the Scripture purposely does not mention who he was. Genesis abounds in genealogies, and in full and minute genealogies; but the genealogy of this man is not given. If we knew who he was, should we not counteract thereby the meaning of the Holy Ghost in this instructive omission? If he was Shem, then we know who his father was, and when he lived, and how old he was; and this is just the very point which the Holy Ghost does not wish us to know. Thus has it pleased God to leave this man that he should stand out in Scripture as a man without father, without mother, without descent, having neither beginning of days nor end of life; as a man having a priesthood inherent in himself, of whom we do not know the parentage, of whom we do not know the successor. It is equally obvious that this Melchizedek is not a theophany, an appearing of the Lord Jesus Christ Himself. For he was made like unto the Son of God; that is, he was made in the inspired record to be a similitude, or pattern, or illustration of the Son of God. In all the appearances of the Word of God or the Son of God, in all theophanies before the incarnation, there is something either in what the mysterious One says, promises, or does, or in the worship that is given unto Him, or in the names and attributes which are applied to Him, which shows most clearly and distinctly that He is the Lord Jehovah; whereas there is nothing of this kind in the record of Genesis; all we are told is, Melchizedek was one of those still left upon the earth, who retained the primeval knowledge of God, who worshiped Him, and who ruled in righteousness. With regard to all other circumstances, our ignorance is knowledge. The negative element is a positive element. Let no man attempt to supply that which the Holy Ghost purposely has left out; for, in the first place, he must be unsuccessful; in the second place, if he were successful, it would only militate against the purpose and the word of God, and only hinder us from learning those lessons which the Scripture intends us to derive.(16)

Now, in this Melchizedek we see, as in a type foreshadowing, these things: In the first place the dignities and functions of priest and king combined in one person; in the second place, righteousness and peace joined together; in the third place, a priest who is greater than Abraham, and therefore above the Levitical priesthood, which, as Abraham's descendants, are represented by him; in the fourth place, a priest who has neither father nor mother, without beginning of days, or end of life, who therefore has a priesthood inherent in himself, to which there can be no successor, a priesthood which is based upon an eternal or indissoluble life; and in the fifth place, this royal priesthood which, different from the priesthood of Aaron, is appointed and confirmed with the divine oath.

Looking upon Melchizedek simply in the way in which he is spoken of in the Scripture—not the historical individual Melchizedek, but the Melchizedek whom Scripture both by its statements and omissions makes a similitude of the Lord, an illustration of that fulness which is in Christ Jesus—we may hope in the light of the apostolic epistles and of the doctrine of the new covenant to see how beautifully the perfection of the heavenly priesthood of our blessed Lord is prefigured in this eminent type.

1. What is meant by king? what by priest? What is the idea of kingship and of priesthood? For it is evident that in this world there are many kings and many priests who give us a false and, if not an erroneous, yet an inadequate idea of what God means by royalty and by priesthood. For the things and relations which are seen on earth, and which are imperfect and temporal, are according to realities which are in heaven, and which are perfect and eternal. Even in the case of the illustration of father and child, we must not transfer earthly things to heavenly things, but we must rather transfer heavenly things to earthly things. There is a true, eternal, and perfect fatherhood; and thus we must also learn from God's word what is implied in kingship and in priesthood.

Now, the idea of kingship was to some extent announced in the creation of Adam, who was of God (Luke 3:38), and who was appointed lord and ruler over the earth, over the beasts of the field, and over the fowls of the air (comp. Psa 8 and Dan 2:37, 38). A king then is a man in the image of God, who represents upon earth God Himself, and unto whom, direct from God, without the intervention of any other, there is given power and dominion that he may rule according to the mind, according to the goodness and the wisdom of God.

By priesthood is meant communion with God—that which brings unto man the love of God—that which brings unto God the worship and service of man. It need scarcely be added, that kingship and priesthood cannot exist without prophetship; for how can there be rule in the name of God, or how can there be a mediation of the love of God to man, and of our worship and obedience to God, unless there be in the first place a manifestation of God Himself, a revelation of His character? Nay, as this very revelation of God is the basis, so is it the very essence and the very fruit of all kingship and priesthood; in which aspect the office of the prophet is the most comprehensive and ultimate of the three. These simple ideas combined amount to this—there is a mediation between God and man; this mediation is to bring unto us in the first place the knowledge of God (we require a prophet); in the second place the love and favour of God, so that we can have communion with Him (we need a priest); and in the third place the life and the power of God, so that we can serve, obey, and glorify Him (we require a king; in New Testament language a head, source of life). And this the Church of Christ has always taught; everything that Christ does as a Mediator is summed up in these three offices. He is prophet, priest, and king. There is no fourth; neither will any one of these, or two of these, suffice. These three, by a necessary, essential, and inherent unity, go together.

Moses, as we have seen, combined to a certain extent the three offices; hence as the mediator of the old covenant he is a figure of Jesus, the Mediator of the new and everlasting covenant. But in the history of Israel we nowhere see the royal and priestly dignity united; for, as the apostle reminds us, the priests were of the tribe of Levi; the kings were of the tribe of Judah. He who was a priest never could rule over Judah and Israel. He who was a king never could perform priestly functions in the sanctuary, still less go into the holy of holies. When king Uzziah, contrary to the ordinance of God, interfered with the prerogatives of the priesthood, he was smitten with leprosy; that is to say, he was made an outcast, so that he was not able to approach God and to mingle with the congregation of Jehovah. What a wonderful thing it is then, that that which formerly never could have been combined was, in the primeval age and before the children of Abraham were born and the Abrahamic dispensation commenced, shown to exist in unity—that Melchizedek, who was a priest, was also a king. "David who as the king over Israel after God's heart was himself a type of his great Son, given to him by divine promise, got possession at last of Jebus(17) according to God's command; he founded the sanctuary of the Lord upon mount Zion, and in connection with it his royal throne. He thereby to some extent restored the ancient Salem of Melchizedek; he appears as it were as a successor of Melchizedek, a king appointed by God, whose sceptre goes forth from Zion, where is also the ark of the covenant, the glory of the Lord."(18) It is on this historical basis, that the prediction of the future royal Priest rests, illustrated by the Melchizedek-type; it is from this point of view that the eternal priesthood and glorious reign of the Son and Lord of David are seen by the psalmist. In like manner we read in the prophet Zechariah, that the Messiah, the man whose name is the Branch, is to build the temple of the Lord: He shall bear the glory, and shall sit and rule upon His throne. With the terseness characteristic of this prophet, who condenses the previous Messianic predictions, he declares of the Son of David, "He shall be a Priest upon His throne" (Zech 6:13).

The fulfillment is in Christ. It is fully explained to us in the New Testament. That simple and most comprehensive expression, "The Lamb in the midst of the throne," shows us that when this High Priest entered into the holy of holies He entered also as King into the palace.(19) He went not merely into the sanctuary, but ascended and sat down on the throne of the Majesty on high, there to be a king and ruler over God's creation. Jesus by His blood entered into the heaven of heavens, and because He humbled Himself unto death He was not merely made a priest to represent us before the Father and to bring unto us the benediction of God, but all things were put under His feet, all power was given unto Him in heaven and in earth; He is ruler over all things, and head over all things unto the church, to the glory of the Father. He commands in heaven and on earth. All the elements obey Him, all angels and principalities, thrones and dominions, worship and serve Him; He is the Governor, the Prince of the kings of the earth; He has the keys of Hades and of death. Such is His power. And why is He King on God's throne? Because He is Priest. By reason of the obedience unto death, He was enthroned King in the universe of God; and in exercising this kingship now He exercises it in the spirit of priesthood. At present the kingship of Christ is in the background; the priesthood of Christ is prominent. Thus it is that He overrules all things for the good of His elect. Thus it is that He stays the execution of vengeance and of judgment, in order that the chosen of God may be gathered in, and that the Church of Christ may be perfected. At present His royalty is not manifested, but His high-priestly compassion and mercy are continually set forth. The gospel of the Good Shepherd is preached now, who having sought and saved the lost sheep laid it on His shoulders and carried it home, there to abide in perfect safety, greeted by the love and joy of the Father and all angels; the gospel of the faithful Shepherd, who gathers the lambs with His arms and carries them in His bosom; of the compassionate and merciful High Priest, who prays for us that our faith fail not, and who upholds us with His all-sufficient grace and perfect sympathy. But when He shall come again, when the High Priest shall come forth out of the heavenly sanctuary, then shall He show unto all the world that He is King of kings, and Lord of lords; then shall His royalty be made prominent; then shall He be seen as the Son of man, unto whom God has given an everlasting kingdom and a dominion which shall have no end. Now the King is seen as Priest; then the Priest will be seen as King. The wrath of the Lamb will be revealed, and instead of the rod of the Shepherd will be seen the rod of iron. And after the judgment the King will reign with justice, mercy, and equity, as Psalm 72 describes.

How does He exercise His High Priesthood? He exercises His High Priesthood royally. He sits down on the throne of God. By that very attitude He shows that He is not an Aaronic high priest; for the high priest went into the holy of holies only once a year, on the day of atonement, and then only for a short time, standing there before the glory of the Lord, which he was not to see clearly lest he die; but this High Priest, when He enters into the sanctuary, by the very entrance shows that He is Lord of all, that He is King of glory, that He is equal with the Father. In His humanity He is enthroned as the Lamb that was slain; He exercises the High Priesthood with royal power. His intercession possesses omnipotence. The government is on His shoulder, and the Father heareth Him alway. Omnipotent royalty is in His Priesthood, priestly love and tenderness in His royal power and glory. He is still meek and lowly in heart, with infinite tenderness and compassion. He rules over His people by His indwelling Spirit. What a wonderful combination is here! What perfection in Jesus! He is Priest and King—He who is also the Prophet, the Son of the Most High!

I delight to think that the Sonship of Christ is the basis of all our hope, and that in that first announcement of our epistle, that God speaks to us now in His Son, all Scripture doctrines and consolations are contained. None but the Son of God can be the Mediator. From this eternal and essential Sonship flow all blessings of redemption. Here is the source of grace and glory. Because He is the Son of God, He is Prophet, Priest, and King, to bring us nigh unto God.

2. Melchizedek, that is, as the name signifies, the king of righteousness, lives at Salem, which signifies peace. In the Scripture everything is of importance; we cannot read and interpret the Scripture as any other book, since Scripture is not like any other book, even as no other book is like the Scripture. The Scripture is among books what the man Christ Jesus is among men: as Jesus is God and man in one person, so is Scripture a divine word and a human word; and hence it is that only through the interpretation of the Spirit in the Scripture can we understand the true meaning of the word. In God's light we see light. Scripture is its own interpreter. Only diamond cuts diamond. And when the inspired apostles see significance in names of eminent persons, we see in it nothing arbitrary or fanciful, believing as we do in the wonderful and perfect structure of the Scripture record.

These quotations and expositions of Scripture in Scripture are, as has been remarked, "grapes of Eshcol—examples of, not exceptions to, the fruitful Carmel, whence they come." Thus, who can fail to see the significance of the name Seth, who was given instead of Abel, one who was firm and enduring in the place of him who vanished? or of the name Joshua, who brought Israel into the promised land? or of Saul, the king asked of the people, and David, the man loved of God? or of Isaiah, who spoke of the salvation of God? The names Melchizedek and Salem are to teach us that Christ Jesus is the King of Righteousness and the Prince of Peace. "Righteousness" is one of those fundamental words in Scripture, without the true understanding of which it is impossible to understand its teaching. The experience of Luther, narrated by him in his preface to the epistle to the Romans, and frequently throughout his writings, is well known. While he understood by "righteousness" something which man offers to God, the Scripture remained to him a sealed book, and his soul was without peace. As soon as he discovered that the Scripture "righteousness" is righteousness, which God in His infinite mercy, according to His holiness and justice, gives to man, he understood the way of salvation, and rejoiced in the grace of God.

The righteousness of God, of which both the law and the prophets witnessed, is now revealed from faith to faith. It is now manifested. There is no righteousness by the works of the law; the gift of righteousness is by Jesus Christ unto all who believe.

"King of Righteousness" seems to be a title which properly belongs only unto God. For unto Him alone belongeth righteousness. Yet does prophetic Scripture speak also of God's righteous Servant; of David's Son, who loveth righteousness; of the true Solomon, whose reign is a reign of righteousness and peace. The prophetic word teaches also that this righteous Servant shall justify many by His knowledge; it announces that the Lord will bring man His righteousness, and that Jehovah-Tsidkenu will be the name of Israel's Redeemer, who bringeth safety and help to His chosen people. As in the prophet Isaiah (53), so in the prophecy of Daniel, the bringing in of everlasting righteousness is connected with the atonement for sin (Dan 9).

The fulfillment is in Christ Jesus. He is the righteous Servant of God. He came to fulfil all righteousness; He obeyed the law perfectly; in Him the Father was pleased. While He was on earth, though no man could convince Him of sin, yet His purity, His holiness, His righteousness were not recognised, for the world knew Him not. He was made under the law. He went to be baptised of John, and submitted Himself to all the ordinances of God. He concealed His divine glory and righteousness. He was accused of blasphemy, of breaking the Sabbath, of not honouring the temple. He was at last numbered with transgressors, and died the death of reproach outside the camp. But it was by this death that He brought in everlasting righteousness. It was by His thus "going to the Father," by His entering through the cross into that glory, where the world seeth Him no more, that there is now "righteousness" unto and upon all that believe. In His resurrection God declared both the righteousness of Jesus and our justification in Him. And now we behold Christ in heaven, the Righteous One and our Advocate (1 John 2) He is the King of righteousness. The government of the everlasting kingdom is based on redemption-righteousness. Because of His obedience unto death He is exalted Lord; because He is the Lamb that was slain He has power to open the book and the seals thereof.

It is true, that it is of God that Christ is made unto us righteousness (1 Cor 1:30), even as it is God who made Him, who knew no sin, to be sin for us, that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him (2 Cor 5:21). God is righteous when He justifies those that believe in Jesus. But when we speak of the Lord our righteousness, we refer not to the divine attribute of righteousness, but to the righteousness of Jesus, the Mediator, the Substitute—of the Redeemer-God, Jehovah, in whom all the seed of Israel shall be justified and shall glory. As God commends His love in Christ's death on the cross, so God's righteousness is the righteousness which in Christ is ours. By the obedience of one, even Jesus, we are made righteous. We possess the righteousness of God and our Saviour Jesus Christ (2 Peter 1:1). Even as eternal life is the gift of God, and Jesus saith, I give unto my sheep eternal life, and I am the resurrection and the life; so is it with the gift of righteousness; it is of God, it is in and through Christ, it is Christ's righteousness, and it is Christ Himself.

Christ is the perfect righteousness in which believers stand, and with which they are clothed. Christ is likewise the King of righteousness, by renewing our hearts and giving unto us His Spirit. Hence He says: "Except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven" (Matt 5:20). Christ speaks of our righteousness. In like manner, although Christ is the Light of the world, and the true and only light, He commands us: "Let your light so shine before men" (Matt 5:16). If we are clothed with Christ our righteousness, we ourselves become righteous in our mind, and work righteousness. This aspect of truth is emphasized by the apostle John, when says, "He that doeth righteousness is righteous." He adds the necessary and salutary warning: "Little children, let no man deceive you" (1 John 3:7). The same Lord who clothes us with His righteousness renews us also after His image. Justified by faith, we are quickened unto the new life of obedience. Jesus is our Lord and Master, our King, who by the Holy Spirit fills us with the love of righteousness, and enables us to be followers of Him, and to do the will of the Father in heaven.

Melchizedek is at Salem. Jesus is also, and by virtue of righteousness, the Prince of peace. Without righteousness there cannot be peace. But the Lord Jesus came to bring peace, to make peace, to be our peace, and this according to the holiness of God; so that glory abounds to God in the highest, because justice is satisfied, the divine law honoured, and the conscience purified; and even Satan the accuser, who has the power of death, can no longer lay anything to the charge of God's elect.

How perfect is the peace which the risen Saviour gives to His people! It is His own peace, which the Head gives to His members. It is a blood-bought peace. It is God's peace, ordained by Him and beloved of Him as His chosen rest—a peace which passeth all understanding, and which is secure from all the interruptions and adverse influences of the world. Jesus has made peace between God and man (the Father Himself, the God of peace, sending Him for this purpose to His "enemies"); peace between angels and reconciled sinners, between Jew and Gentile. In Him all things which are in heaven and which are on earth shall be gathered together (Eph 1 and Col 1). He is the Peace and Bond of the whole creation. Blessed are all who dwell in Salem, who are in Christ.

3. Melchizedek, greater than Abraham, is also greater than the Levitical priesthood, and is thus a type of Christ, who is above Aaron, and whose priesthood is perfect.

Abraham represents all Israel. The doctrine of federal representation is deeply rooted in Scripture. By Adam's disobedience many were constituted sinners. In his fall all men fell. Through the transgression of one, sin and death entered into the world. Such is the truth revealed to us in Scripture, and confirmed by universal experience. And the darkness of this mystery is irradiated by the brightness of the great mystery of the Second Adam.

We can praise God that there is such a federal representation; for the gift of God is eternal life through the righteousness of the Lord Jesus, the federal Head of all who trust in Him. Nor is the gift as the offence, but exceeding abundant is the grace of God, which instead of merely restoring us to our former condition of creaturely innocence, unites us with the Son of God through the Holy Ghost, who from the glorified humanity of Jesus is given unto us.

We see this same law of representation here. Isaac was not yet born. The whole nation was therefore as yet in Abraham. And the tribe of Levi was, in the person of the father of the faithful, paying homage and acknowledging the superiority of Melchizedek. Abraham received Melchizedek's blessing. He paid tithes to him. It seems, from the expression used by Jacob (Gen 28:22), that the offering of a tenth was from time immemorial one of the ways in which believers honoured the Most High. Hence we may argue that, in receiving the blessing and in offering tithes, Abraham (and in him Aaron) acknowledged the priesthood of Melchizedek.

For we must bear in mind what is implied according to Scripture in this expression: "He was blessed of him." Abraham, as the apostle points out, had already received the promises. The Most High had already revealed to Abraham the gracious purpose, that in his seed all families of the earth should be blessed; and he had received repeated assurances of this great and comprehensive promise (Gen 12:2, 3, 7, 13:16). How great the blessing is which God promised to Abraham we may learn from such passages as Galatians 3:14. Who then is this royal priest, better and greater than Abraham, the father of the faithful and the blessed of the Lord? We know with what profound veneration the Hebrews regarded their father Abraham, and how reverently and fondly they cherished the remembrance of all that is written concerning his faith and the favour he found with God. It is therefore with great emphasis that the apostle says: "Now consider how great this man was, unto whom even the patriarch Abraham gave the tenth." Melchizedek typifies the Lord Jesus, who, although a Son of Abraham, yet says of Himself: "Before Abraham was, I am" (John 8:58); who is not merely the offspring, but the root of David. He who was promised to Abraham is Himself the blessing of God, the Mediator through whom all divine gifts and promises are bestowed, and in whom all spiritual blessings in heavenly places are given. In Him Abraham and Abraham's children are chosen. He is that greater One who blesses the patriarch. Herein is also typified that Jesus is above the Levitical priesthood. When He was on earth Jesus was subject to the law, and observed all its ordinances. He commanded the cleansed lepers to go and show themselves to the priests. Thus it behoved Him to fulfil all righteousness. But He is the Lord, and His is an eternal and perfect priesthood. For whereas the Levitical priests died and succeeded one another, thereby also showing their imperfection, Jesus, as is witnessed in the 110th Psalm, liveth for evermore (Heb 7:8).

But if the priesthood is changed, if instead of the Levitical priesthood there ariseth according to the type of Melchizedek and the prediction of the 110th Psalm "another priest," then the inference is inevitable that there is also a change of dispensation; there must needs be also a change of law. This was a very important statement, and we can scarcely realise the effect it was calculated to produce on the minds of the Hebrews. The unbelieving Jews accused Stephen that he had spoken against this holy place and the law, and that he had been heard to say that Jesus of Nazareth should destroy that place, and change the customs which Moses delivered them (Acts 6). We must remember how difficult it was even for believing Jews to understand the liberty of the gospel, the change of dispensation, the character of the new covenant; for they also were zealous of the law (Acts 21:20). But now the same argument by which the apostle had proved to the Galatians, that apart from the law the promise given to Abraham was fulfilled unto all who believe, is presented to the Hebrews from another point of view, and with equal clearness and cogency. For the Levitical priesthood is evidently imperfect. It was weak and unprofitable (v 18); that is, it could not bring perfection, else "another priest" would not have been predicted. But as the law was based upon the Levitical priesthood, so the change of priesthood necessarily involves a change of dispensation. Jesus, the great High Priest, is the end of the law unto righteousness; and in the liberty and power of new covenant blessings, of which the gift of the Holy Ghost is the chief, the righteousness of the law is fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit, who are not under the law, but under grace.

4. Melchizedek is introduced in the narrative of Genesis without descent. In the book of Genesis genealogy holds a very prominent position. The genealogical records in the word of God are of importance, although we frequently may not see their value or significance. There are many things in Genesis, and in Scripture in general, which will only be understood when Jesus comes again to fulfil all things, and when, according to the purpose of God, known to Him from the beginning, the nations are brought to know and to serve Him. Then shall we understand why all these genealogies are given at length. In the book of Genesis are enumerated also tribes which do not appear afterwards in the history of redemption. God has entered them in His book to show that He has counsels of love and peace with regard to them.

Now, with regard to Aaron, we know the name of his father and mother; we know how old he was, and how he was buried. And so important is the genealogy of the priests, that in the book of Nehemiah we read that those priests who were not able to trace their descent, and about whose genealogy there was the slightest doubt, were excluded from the Levitical services. This strictness was necessary; for these men were priests, not by reason of anything inherent in them, but simply because God had set apart that tribe, and therefore their descent from one who was unmistakably and certainly a priest was their only authority, and their only position. There is nothing of the kind in the Church of Christ.(20)

But Melchizedek appears in the inspired history as a Priest solely by divine appointment and right. His priestly dignity is personal; his position is directly God-given; his priesthood is inherent. It is not derived and inherited; for he who is the first person in Scripture called priest, is introduced "without descent," without father, without mother. There is neither end mentioned of his priesthood, nor successor.

Let us look now at the fulfillment. Jesus is the "everlasting Father." The very Scriptures, which describe Him as a child born, as a Son given, which dwell on His humanity, declare to us His eternal divinity. He has no beginning of days, nor end of life. His is now a continuous, not a successional priesthood, not after the law of a carnal commandment, but after the power of an endless, an indissoluble life.

For He, the eternal self-subsistent Word, that eternal Life which was with the father, became man, and of His own free will laid down His life for the sheep. Through the eternal Spirit the Son of God offered Himself, and so that life which was manifested on earth was solved. The Saviour actually died, He gave up the ghost. He was crucified because of the weakness which in His mercy He had taken upon Him. According to the counsel of God, He who was God's own Son, sent in the likeness of sinful flesh, was a sacrifice for sin, when in His death God condemned sin in the flesh. But when Jesus rose again from the grave, after He had been offered for our offences, and had in His death conquered death and put away our sins, He, as God and man in one person, entered into that life which is indissoluble; for who or what power can solve it? He died unto sin once. The condemnation of the law, the power of Satan and of death, the guilt of sin and the wrath of God—all was met on the cross. Hence Jesus is declared now to live to God for evermore (Rom 6:10). Thus the glorified Redeemer, when He appeared to the beloved disciple, said: "Fear not; I am the first and the last [without beginning of days or end of life]: I am He that liveth, and was dead; and, behold, I am alive for evermore" (Rev 1:17, 18). Because He was dead, His is now an endless, an indissoluble life. In the power of this resurrection-life He exercises His priesthood; for in Him is fulfilled what no single type could set forth, what all types combined do not adequately illustrate. He is God and Man, Sacrifice and Priest, Righteousness and Life, Atoner and King, interceding Advocate, and the Dispenser of blessings. The life upon which He entered by His resurrection is life for us, because in Christ's death our death is abolished, and we are raised together with Him. And the sanctuary whither He has ascended is heaven itself, the very throne of God, whence He rules over all things, according to the power which is given unto Him in heaven and in earth. Continuously, without interruption and without successor, He is our Priest, applying to us the efficacy of His sacrifice, and by the Spirit appropriating to us the blessings purchased with His blood. He is our Priest in the power of His endless life. Thus we know the power of His resurrection. God's power to us-ward who believe is exceeding great, according to the working of His mighty power, which He wrought in Christ when He raised Him from the dead, and set Him at His own right hand. (Comp. Phil 3:10; Eph 1:20.) We are partakers of Christ, Christ liveth in us, and therefore our life is endless, indestructible, incorruptible. Neither things present nor things to come; neither this present earthly existence nor the death of the body, which may be before us; neither powers, nor principalities, nor angels; neither height, nor depth, nor any creature, can separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus; for our risen Lord is Priest according to the power of an indissoluble life.

Here let us pause. These truths are truths of the greatest solemnity. Why were the Jews so unwilling to receive them? Was it not partly because it was too solemn and too overwhelming to believe that the end of all things had come; that the last times had begun; that the days of the Messiah had been ushered in; that the day had commenced, the very day which shall end with the appearing of the great God and Saviour, and with the establishment of the reign of righteousness and peace upon the earth? And is not this hesitation natural to us all? Do we not shrink from entering into the full and realizing faith of what is revealed unto us in the Gospels and in the Epistles, because it is the beginning of the end? The Son of God has become man; the Son of God has died upon the cross; the Son of God has entered as man into the holy of holies. The blood of Jesus Christ is in the heavenly sanctuary. The powers and influences of the Holy Ghost are going forth now to gather a people unto Himself. He is waiting until the command is uttered by the Father to appear again, and to change all things, and to make all things new. We are living as it were upon the very threshold of that new dispensation, the new heavens and the new earth wherein dwelleth righteousness. The most awful and stupendous sacrifice has already been made. Christ has suffered and entered into His glory. We have now to wait for nothing except the consummation, Jesus, apart from sin, appearing unto salvation to them that look for Him. But the reality, the substance, the earnest of the inheritance, behold, all is given even now to every one that believeth. This very instant that I speak, Jesus as man, as the Lamb slain, as the merciful High Priest, is at the right hand of God. Believe in Him and you are justified, a child of God, an heir of God, and joint-heir with Christ Jesus.

Oh, if we know these great, these awful, and these real solemnities, what manner of men ought we to be! Have we tasted the power of the world to come, of that kingdom of heaven, which has come already? Have we received a life which alone is worthy to be called life—not the life of the senses, not the life of the intellect, not the life of emotion, not the life of fluctuating and sentimental religiousness, but the life which comes out of the fountain of life, even from Jesus, and from Jesus only after His death and His resurrection? How blessed is it for poor guilty sinners to know that the King of righteousness and peace is the Lamb, and that the Lamb has all power! He was dead; then all my condemnation is gone. And He liveth; therefore we also live. And He is alive for evermore; and we also, who bear now the image of the first Adam in humility and bondage, shall bear the image of the second Adam in liberty and in glory.

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Copyright 2007 JCR