Notes on the Bible, by Albert Barnes, , at sacred-texts.com
Analysis Of The Chapter
The general subject of this chapter Heb. 10 is the sacrifice which Christ has made for sin, and the consequences which flow from the fact, that he has made a sufficient atonement. In chapter IX. the apostle had shown that the Jewish rites were designed to be temporary and typical, and that the offerings which were made under that dispensation could never remove sin. In this chapter he shows that the true sacrifice had been made, by which sin could be pardoned, and that certain very important consequences followed from that fact. The subject of "sacrifice" was the most important part of the Jewish economy, and was also the essential thing in the Christian dispensation, and hence, it is that the apostle dwells upon it at so great length. The chapter embraces the following topics.
I. The apostle repeats what he had said before about the inefficacy of the sacrifices made under the Law; Heb 10:1-4. The Law was a mere shadow of good things to come, and the sacrifices which were made under it could never render those who offered them perfect. This was conclusively proved by the fact, that they continued constantly to be offered.
II. Since this was the fact in regard to those sacrifices, a better offering had been provided in the gospel by the Redeemer; Heb 10:5-10. A body had been prepared him for this work; and when God had said that he had no pleasure in the offerings under the Law, Christ had come and offered his body once for all, in order that an effectual atonement might be made for sin.
III. This sentiment the apostle further illustrates, by showing how this one great offering was connected with the forgiveness of sins; Heb 10:11-18. Under the Jewish dispensation, sacrifices were repeated every day; but under the Christian economy, when the sacrifice was once made, he who had offered it sat down forever on the right hand of God, for his great work was done. Having done this, he looked forward to the time when his work would have full effect, and when his enemies would be made his footstool. That this was to be the effect of the offering made by the Messiah, the apostle then shows from the Scriptures themselves, where it is said Jer 31:33-34, that under the gospel the laws of God would be written on the heart, and sin would be remembered no more. There must then be, the apostle inferred, some way by which this was to be secured, and this was by the great sacrifice on the cross, which had the effect of perfecting forever those who were sanctified.
IV. Since it was a fact that such an atonement had been made; that one great offering for sin had been presented to God which was never to be repeated, there were certain consequences which followed from that, which the apostle proceeds to state; Heb 10:19-25. They were these:
(a) the privilege of drawing near to God with full assurance of faith Heb 10:22;
(b) the duty of holding fast the profession of faith without wavering Heb 10:23;
(c) the duty of exhorting one another to fidelity and to good works Heb 10:24;
(d) the duty of assembling for public worship, since they had a High Priest in heaven, and might now draw near to God; Heb 10:25.
V. As a "reason" for fidelity in the divine life, and for embracing the offer of mercy now made through the one sacrifice on the cross, the apostle urges the consequence which "must" follow from the rejection of that atonement, and especially after having been made acquainted with the truth; Heb 10:26-31. The result, says he, must be certain destruction. If that was rejected, there could remain nothing but a fearful looking for of judgment for there was no other way of salvation. In support of this, the apostle refers to what was the effect, under the Law of Moses, of disobedience, and says that, under the greater light of the gospel, much more fearful results must follow.
VI. The chapter closes Heb 10:32-39 with an exhortation to fidelity and perseverance. The apostle reminds those to whom he wrote of what they had already endured; encourages them by the commendation of what they had already done, and especially by the kindness which they had shown to him; says that they had need only of patience, and that the time of their deliverance from all trial was not far off, for that he who was to come would come; says that it was their duty to live by faith, but that if any one drew back, God could have no pleasure in him. Having thus in the close of the chapter alluded to the subject of faith, he proceeds in the following chapter to illustrate its value at length. The object of the whole is to encourage Christians to make strenuous efforts for salvation; to guard them against the danger of apostasy; and to exhort them to bear their trials with patience, and with submission to the will of God.
For the law having a shadow - That is, the whole of the Mosaic economy was a shadow; for so the word "Law" is often used. The word "shadow" here refers to a rough outline of anything, a mere sketch, such as a carpenter draws with a piece of chalk, or such as an artist delineates when he is about to make a picture. He sketches an outline of the object which he designs to draw, which has "some" resemblance to it, but is not the "very image;" for it is not yet complete. The words rendered "the very image" refer to a painting or statue which is finished, where every part is an exact copy of the original. The "good things to come" here refer to the future blessings which would be conferred on man by the gospel. The idea is, that under the ancient sacrifices there was an imperfect representation; a dim outline of the blessings which the gospel would impart to people. They were a typical representation; they were not such that it could be pretended that they would answer the purpose of the things themselves which they were to represent, and would make those who offered them perfect. Such a rude outline; such a mere sketch, or imperfect delineation, could no more answer the purpose of saving the soul than the rough sketch which an architect makes would answer the purpose of a house, or than the first outline which a painter draws would answer the purpose of a perfect and finished portrait. All that could be done by either would be to convey some distant and obscure idea of what the house or the picture might be, and this was all that was done by the Law of Moses.
Can never with those sacrifices which they offered year by year continually - The sacrifices here particularly referred to were those which were offered on the great day of atonement. These were regarded as the most sacred and efficacious of all, and yet the apostle says that the very fact that they were offered every year showed that there must be some deficiency about them, or they would have ceased to be offered.
Make the comers thereunto perfect - They could not free them from the stains of guilt; they could not give ease to a troubled conscience; there was in them no efficacy by which sin could be put away; compare the notes on Heb 7:11; Heb 9:9.
For then would they not have ceased to be offered? - Margin, "Or they would have." The sense is the same. The idea is, that the very fact that they were repeated showed that there was some deficiency in them as to the matter of cleansing the soul from sin. If they had answered all the purposes of a sacrifice in putting away guilt, there would have been no need of repeating them in this manner. They were in this respect like medicine. If what is given to a patient heals him, there is no need of repeating it; but if it is repeated often it shows that there was some deficiency in it, and if taken periodically through a man's life, and the disease should still remain, it would show that it was not sufficient to effect his cure. So it was with the offerings made by the Jews. They were offered every year, and indeed every day, and still the disease of sin remained. The conscience was not satisfied; and the guilty felt that it was necessary that the sacrifice should be repeated again and again.
Because that the worshippers once purged should have had no more conscience of sin - That is, if their sacrifices had so availed as to remove their past sins, and to procure forgiveness, they would have had no more trouble of conscience on account of them. They would not have felt that it was necessary to make these sacrifices over and over again in order to find peace. When a man has full evidence that an atonement has been made which will meet all the demands of the Law, and which secures the remission of sin, he feels that it is enough. It is all that the case demands, and his conscience may have peace. But when he does "not" feel this, or has not evidence that his sins are all forgiven, those sins will rise to remembrance, and he will be alarmed. He may be punished for them after all. Thence it follows that if a man wants peace he should have good evidence that his sins are forgiven through the blood of the atonement.
No temporary expedient; no attempt to cover them up; no effort to forget them will answer the purpose. They "must be blotted out" if he will have peace - and that can be only through a perfect sacrifice. By the use of the word rendered "conscience" here, it is not meant that he who was pardoned would have no "consciousness" that he was a sinner, or that he would forget it, but that he would have no trouble of conscience; he would have no apprehension of future wrath. The pardon of sin does not cause it to cease to be remembered. He who is forgiven may have a deeper conviction of its evil than he had ever had before. But he will not be troubled or distressed by it as if it were to expose him to the wrath of God. The remembrance of it will humble him; it will serve to exalt his conceptions of the mercy of God and the glory of the atonement, but it will no longer overwhelm the mind with the dread of hell. This effect, the apostle says, was not produced on the minds of those who offered sacrifices every year. The very fact that they did it, showed that the conscience was not at peace.
But in those sacrifices there is a remembrance again made of sins every year - The reference here is to the sacrifices made on the great day of atonement. This occurred once in a year. Of course as often as a sacrifice was offered, it was an acknowledgment of guilt on the part of those for whom it was made. As these sacrifices continued to be offered every year, they who made the offering were reminded of their guilt and their desert of punishment. All the efficacy which could be pretended to belong those sacrifices, was that they made expiation for the past year. Their efficacy did not extend into the future, nor did it embrace any but those who were engaged in offering them. These sacrifices, therefore, could not make the atonement which man needed. They could not make the conscience easy; they could not be regarded as a sufficient expiation for the time to come, so that the sinner at any time could plead an offering which was already made as a ground of pardon, and they could not meet the wants of all people in all lands and at all times. These things are to be found only in that great sacrifice made by the Redeemer on the cross.
For it is not possible that the blood of bulls and of goats should take away sins - The reference here is to the sacrifices which were made on the great day of the atonement, for on that day the blood of bulls and of goats alone was offered; see the notes on Heb 9:7. Paul here means to say, doubtless, that it was not possible that the blood of these animals should make a complete expiation so as to purify the conscience, and so as to save the sinner from deserved wrath. According to the divine arrangement, expiation was made by those sacrifices for offences of various kinds against the ritual law of Moses, and pardon for such offences was thus obtained. But the meaning here is, that there was no efficacy in the blood of a mere animal to wash away a "moral" offence. It could not repair the Law; it could not do anything to maintain the justice of God; it had no efficacy to make the heart pure. The mere shedding of the blood of an animal never could make the soul pure. This the apostle states as a truth which must be admitted at once as indisputable, and yet it is probable that many of the Jews had imbibed the opinion that there was such efficacy in blood shed according to the divine direction, as to remove all stains of guilt from the soul; see the notes, Heb 9:9-10.
Wherefore - This word shows that the apostle means to sustain what he had said by a reference to the Old Testament itself. Nothing could be more opposite to the prevailing Jewish opinions about the efficacy of sacrifice, than what he had just said. It was, therefore, of the highest importance to defend the position which he had laid down by authority which they would not presume to call in question, and he therefore makes his appeal to their own Scriptures.
When he cometh into the world - When the Messiah came, for the passage evidently referred to him. The Greek is, "Wherefore coming into the world, he saith." It has been made a question "when" this is to be understood as spoken - whether when he was born, or when he entered on the work of his ministry. Grotius understands it of the latter. But it is not material to a proper understanding of the passage to determine this. The simple idea is, that since it was impossible that the blood of bulls and goats should take away sin, Christ coming into the world made arrangements for a better sacrifice.
He saith - That is, this is the language denoted by his great undertaking; this is what his coming to make an atonement implies. We are not to suppose that Christ formally used these words on any occasion for we have no record that he did - but this language is what appropriately expresses the nature of his work. Perhaps also the apostle means to say that it was originally employed in the Psalm from which it is quoted in reference to him, or was indited by him with reference to his future advent.
Sacrifice and offering thou wouldest not - This is quoted from Psa 40:6, Psa 40:8. There has been much perplexity felt by expositorsin reference to this quotation, and after all which has been written, it is not entirely removed. The difficulty relates to these points.
(1) to the question whether the Psalm originally had any reference to the Messiah. The Psalm "appears" to have pertained merely to David, and it would probably occur to no one on reading it to suppose that it referred to the Messiah, unless it had been so applied by the apostle in this place.
(2) there are many parts of the Psalm, it has been said, which cannot, without a very forced interpretation, be applied to Christ; see Psa 40:2, Psa 40:12, Psa 40:14-16.
(3) the argument of the apostle in the expression "a body hast thou prepared me," seems to be based on a false translation of the Septuagint, which he has adopted, and it is difficult to see on what principles he has done it. - It is not the design of these notes to go into an extended examination of questions of this nature. Such examination must be sought in more extended commentaries, and in treatises expressly relating to points of this kind.
On the design of Ps. 40, and its applicability to the Messiah, the reader may consult Prof. Stuart on the Hebrews, Excursus xx. and Kuinoel in loc. After the most attentive examination which I can give of the Psalm, it seems to me probable that it is one of the Psalms which had an original and exclusive reference to the Messiah, and that the apostle has quoted it just as it was meant to be understood by the Holy Spirit, as applicable to him. The reasons for this opinion are briefly these:
(1) There are such Psalms, as is admitted by all. The Messiah was the hope of the Jewish people; he was made the subject of their most sublime prophecies, and nothing was more natural than that he should be the subject of the songs of their sacred bards. By the spirit of inspiration they saw him in the distant future in the various circumstances in which he would be placed, and they dwelt with delight upon the vision; compare Introduction to Isaiah, section 7.iii.
(2) The fact that it is here applied to the Messiah, is a strong circumstance to demonstrate that it had an original applicability to him. This proof is of two kinds. "First," that it is so applied by an inspired apostle, which with all who admit his inspiration seems decisive of the question. "Second," the fact that he so applied it shows that this was an ancient and admitted interpretation. The apostle was writing to those who had been Jews, and whom he was desirous to convince of the truth of what he was alleging in regard to the nature of the Hebrew sacrifices. For this purpose it was necessary to appeal to the Scriptures of the Old Testament, but it cannot be supposed that he would adduce a passage for proof whose relevancy would not be admitted. The presumption is, that the passage was in fact commonly applied as here.
(3) the whole of the Psalm may be referred to the Messiah without anything forced or unnatural. The Psalm throughout seems to be made up of expressions used by a suffering person, who had indeed been delivered from some evils, but who was expecting many more. The principal difficulties in the way of such an interpretation, relate to the following points.
(a) In Psa 40:2, the speaker in the Psalm says, "He brought me up out of an horrible pit, out of the miry clay, and set my feet upon a rock," and on the ground of this he gives thanks to God. But there is no real difficulty in supposing that this may refer to the Messiah. His enemies often plotted against his life; laid snares for him and endeavored to destroy him, and it may be that he refers to some deliverance from such machinations. If it is objected to this that it is spoken of as having been uttered" when he came into the world," it may be replied that that phrase does not necessarily refer to the time of his birth, but that he uttered this sentiment sometime "during" the period of his incarnation. "He coming into the world for the purpose of redemption made use of this language." In a similar manner we would say of Lafayette, that "he coming to the United States to aid in the cause of liberty, suffered a wound in battle." That is, during the period in which he was engaged in this cause, he suffered in this manner.
(b) The next objection or difficulty relates to the application of Psa 40:12 to the Messiah. "Mine iniquities have taken hold upon me, so that I am not able to look up; they are more than the hairs of my head; therefore my heart faileth me." To meet this some have suggested that he refers to the sins of people which he took upon himself, and which he here speaks of as "his own." But it is not true that the Lord Jesus so took upon himself the sins of others that they could be his. They were "not" his, for he was in every sense "holy, harmless, and undefiled." The true solution of this difficulty, probably is, that the word rendered "iniquity" - צון ̀awon - means "calamity, misfortune, trouble;" see Psa 31:10; Sa1 28:10; Kg2 7:9; Psa 28:6; compare Psa 49:5. The proper idea in the word is that of "turning away, curving, making crooked;" and it is thus applied to anything which is "perverted" or turned from the right way; as when one is turned from the path of rectitude, or commits sin; when one is turned from the way of prosperity or happiness, or is exposed to calamity. This seems to be the idea demanded by the scope of the Psalm, for it is not a penitential Psalm, in which the speaker is recounting his "sins," but one in which he is enumerating his "sorrows;" praising God in the first part of the Psalm for some deliverance already experienced, and supplicating his interposition in view of calamities that he saw to be coming upon him. This interpretation also seems to be demanded in Psa 40:12 by the "parallelism." In the former part of the verse, the word to which "iniquity" corresponds, is not "sin," but "evil," that is, calamity.
"For innumerable evils have compassed me about;
Mine iniquities (calamities) have taken hold upon me."
If the word, therefore, be used here as it often is, and as the scope of the Psalm and the connection seem to demand, there is no solid objection against applying this verse to the Messiah.
(c) A third objection to this application of the Psalm to the Messiah is, that it cannot be supposed that he would utter such imprecations on his enemies as are found in Psa 40:14-15. "Let them be ashamed and confounded; let them be driven backward; let them be desolate." To this it may be replied, that such imprecations are as proper in the mouth of the Messiah as of David; but particularly, it may be said also, that they are improper in the mouth of neither. Both David and the Messiah "did" in fact utter denunciations against the enemies of piety and of God. God does the same thing in his word and by his Providence. There is no evidence of any "malignant" feeling in this; nor is it inconsistent with the highest benevolence. The Lawgiver who says that the murderer shall die, may have a heart full of benevolence; the judge who sentences him to death, may do it with eyes filled with tears. The objections, then, are not of such a nature that it is improper to regard this Psalm as wholly applicable to the Messiah.
(4) the Psalm cannot be applied with propriety to David, nor do we know of anyone to whom it can be but to the Messiah. When was it true of David that he said that he "had come to do the will of God in view of the fact that God did not require sacrifice and offerings?" In what "volume of a book" was it written of him before his birth that he "delighted to do the will of God?" When was it true that he had" preached righteousness in the great congregation?" These expressions are such as can be applied properly only to the Messiah, as Paul does here; and taking all these circumstances together it will probably be regarded as the most proper interpretation to refer the whole Psalm at once to the Redeemer and to suppose that Paul has used it in strict accordance with its original design. The other difficulties referred to will be considered in the exposition of the passage. The difference between "sacrifice" and "offering" is, that the former refers to "bloody" sacrifices; the latter to "any" oblation made to God - as a thank-offering; an offering of flour, oil, etc.; see the notes on Isa 1:11.
When it is said "sacrifice and offering thou wouldest not," the meaning is not that such oblations were "in no sense" acceptable to God - for as his appointment, and when offered with a sincere heart, they doubtless were; but that they were not as acceptable to him as obedience, and especially as the expression is used here that they could not avail to secure the forgiveness of sins. They were not in their own nature such as was demanded to make an expiation for sin, and hence, a body was prepared for the Messiah by which a more perfect sacrifice could be made. The sentiment here expressed occurs more than once in the Old Testament. Thus, Sa1 15:22. "Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams," Hos 6:6, "For I desired mercy and not sacrifice; and the knowledge of God more than burnt-offerings;" compare Psa 51:16-17, "For thou desirest not sacrifice, else would I give it; thou delightest not in burnt-offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit." This was an indisputable principle of the Old Testament, though it was much obscured and forgotten in the common estimation among the Jews. In accordance with this principle the Messiah came to render obedience of the highest order, even to such an extent that he was willing to lay down his own life.
But a body hast thou prepared me - This is one of the passages which has caused a difficulty in understanding this quotation from the Psalm. The difficulty is, that it differs from the Hebrew, and that the apostle builds an argument upon it. It is not unusual indeed in the New Testament to make use of the language of the Septuagint even where it varies somewhat from the Hebrew; and where no "argument" is based on such a "passage," there can be no difficulty in such a usage, since it is not uncommon to make use of the language of others to express our own thoughts. But the apostle does not appear to have made such a use of the passage here, but to have applied it in the way of "argument." The argument, indeed, does not rest "wholly," perhaps not "principally," on the fact that a "body had been prepared" for the Messiah; but still this was evidently in the view of the apostle an important consideration, and this is the passage on which the proof of this is based.
The Hebrew Psa 40:6 "Mine ears hast thou opened," or as it is in the margin, "digged." The idea there is, that the ear had been, as it were, excavated, or dug out, so as to be made to hear distinctly; that is, certain truths had been clearly revealed to the speaker; or perhaps it may mean that he had been made "readily and attentively obedient." Stuart; compare Isa 1:5. "The Lord God hath opened mine ear, and I was not rebellious." In the Psalm, the proper connection would seem to be, that the speaker had been made obedient, or had been so led that he was disposed to do the will of God. This may be expressed by the fact that the ear had been opened so as to be quick to hear, since an indisposition to obey is often expressed by the fact that the ears are "stopped." There is manifestly no allusion here, as has been sometimes supposed, to the custom of boring through the ear of a servant with an awl as a sign that he was willing to remain and serve his master; Exo 21:6; Deu 15:17.
In that case, the outer circle, or rim of the ear was bored through with an awl; here the idea is that of hollowing out, digging, or excavating - a process to make the passage clear, not to pierce the outward ear. The Hebrew in file Psalm the Septuagint translates, "a body hast thou prepared me," and this rendering has been adopted by the apostle. Various ways have been resorted to of explaining the fact that the translators of the Septuagint rendered it in this manner, none of which are entirely free from difficulty. Some critics, as Cappell, Ernesti, and others have endeavored to show that it is probable that the Septuagint reading in Psa 40:6, was - ὠτίον κατηρτίσω μοι ōtion katērtisō moi - "my ear thou hast prepared;" that is, for obedience. But of this there is no proof, and indeed it is evident that the apostle quoted it as if it were σῶμα sōma, "body;" see Heb 10:10. It is probably altogether impossible now to explain the reason why the translators of the Septuagint rendered the phrase as they did; and this remark may be extended to many other places of their version. It is to be admitted here, beyond all doubt, whatever consequences may follow:
(1) that their version does not accord with the Hebrew;
(2) that the apostle has quoted their version as it stood, without attempting to correct it;
(3) that his use of the passage is designed, to some extent at least, as "proof" of what he was demonstrating.
The leading idea; the important and essential point in the argument, is, indeed, not that "a body was prepared," but that "he came to do the will of God;" but still it is clear that the apostle meant to lay some stress on the fact that a body had been prepared for the Redeemer. Sacrifice and offering by the bodies of lambs and goats were not what was required, but instead of that the Messiah came to do the will of God by offering a more perfect sacrifice, and in accomplishing that it was necessary that he should be endowed with a body But on what principle the apostle has quoted a passage to prove this which differs from the Hebrew, I confess I cannot see, nor do any of the explanations offered commend themselves as satisfactory. The only circumstances which seem to furnish any relief to the difficulty are these two:
(1) that the "main point" in the argument of the apostle was not that "a body had been prepared," but that the Messiah came to do the "will of God," and that the preparation of a body for that was rather an incidental circumstance; and
(2) that the translation by the Septuagint was not a material departure from the "scope" of the whole Hebrew passage.
The "main" thought - that of doing the will of God in the place of offering sacrifice - was still retained; the opening of the ears, that is, rendering the person attentive and disposed to obey, and the preparing of a body in order to obedience, were not circumstances so unlike as to make it necessary for the apostle to re-translate the whole passage in order to the main end which he had in view. Still, I admit, that these considerations do not seem to me to be wholly satisfactory. Those who are disposed to examine the various opinions which have been entertained of this passage may find them in Kuinoel, in loc., Rosenmuller, Stuart on the Hebrews, Excursus xx., and Kennicott on Psa 40:6. Kennicott supposes that there has been a change in the Hebrew text, and that instead of the present reading - אזנים ‛aaznaayim - "ears," the reading was אז גוף ‛aaz guwph - then a body;" and that these words became united by the error of transcribers, and by a slight change then became as the present copies of the Hebrew text stands. This conjecture is ingenious, and if it were ever allowable to follow a "mere" conjecture, I should be disposed to do it here. But there is no authority from mss. for any change, nor do any of the old versions justify it, or agree with this except the Arabic.
In burnt-offerings and sacrifices for sin thou hast had no pleasure - This is not quoted literally from the Psalm, but the sense is retained. The reading there is, "burnt-offering and sin-offering hast thou not required." The quotation by the apostle is taken from the Septuagint, with the change of a single word, which does not materially affect the sense - the word ὀυκ ἐυδόκησας ouk eudokēsas - "ouk eudokesas" - "thou hast no pleasure," instead of ὀυκ ἠθέλησας ouk ēthelēsas - "ouk ethelesas" - "thou dost not will." The idea is, that God had no pleasure in them as compared with obedience. He preferred the latter, and they could not be made to come in the place of it, or to answer the same purpose. When they were performed with a pure heart, he was doubtless pleased with the offering. As used here in reference to the Messiah, the meaning is, that they would not be what was required of "him." Such offerings would not answer the end for which he was sent into the world, for that end was to be accomplished only by his being "obedient unto death."
Then said I - "I the Messiah." Paul applies this directly to Christ, showing that he regarded the passage in the Psalms as referring to him as the speaker.
Lo, I come - Come into the world; Heb 10:5. It is not easy to see how this could be applied to David in any circumstance of his life. There was no situation in which he could say that, since sacrifices and offerings were not what was demanded, he came to do the will of God in the place or stead of them. The time here referred to by the word "then" is when it was manifest that sacrifices and offerings for sin would not answer all the purposes desirable, or when in view of that fact the purpose of the Redeemer is conceived as formed to enter upon a work which would effect what they could not.
In the volume of the book it is written of me - The word rendered here "volume " - κεφαλίς kephalis - means properly "a little head;" and then a knob, and here refers doubtless to the head or knob of the rod on which the Hebrew manuscripts were rolled. Books were usually so written as to be rolled up, and when they were read they were unrolled at one end of the manuscript, and rolled up at the other as fast as they were read; see notes on Luk 4:17. The rods on which they were rolled had small heads, either for the purpose of holding them, or for ornament, and hence, the name head came metaphorically to be given to the roll or volume. But what volume is here intended? And where is that written which is here referred to? If David was the author of the Psalm from which this is quoted Ps. 40, then the book or volume which was then in existence must have been principally, if not entirely, the five books of Moses, and perhaps the books of Job, Joshua, and Judges, with probably a few of the Psalms. It is most natural to understand this of the Pentateuch, or the five books of Moses, as the word "volume" at that time would undoubtedly have most naturally suggested that.
But plainly, this could not refer to David himself, for in what part of the Law of Moses, or in any of the volumes then extant, can a reference of this kind be found to David? There is no promise, no intimation that he would come to "do the will of God" with a view to effect what could not be done by the sacrifices prescribed by the Jewish Law. The reference of the language, therefore, must be to the Messiah - to some place where it is represented that he would come to effect by his obedience what could not be done by the sacrifices and offerings under the Law. But still, in the books of Moses, this language is not literally found, and the meaning must be, that this was the language which was there implied respecting the Messiah; or this was the substance of the description given of him, that he would como to take the place of those sacrifices, and by his obedience unto death would accomplish what they could not do.
They had a reference to him; and it was contemplated in their appointment that their inefficiency would be such that there should be felt a necessity for a higher sacrifice, and when he should come they would all be done away. The whole language of the institution of sacrifices, and of the Mosaic economy, was, that a Saviour would hereafter come to do the will of God in making an atonement for the sin of the world. That there are places in the books of Moses which refer to the Saviour, is expressly affirmed by Christ himself Joh 5:46, and by the apostles (compare Act 26:22, Act 26:3), and that the general spirit of the institutions of Moses had reference to him is abundantly demonstrated in this Epistle. The meaning here is, "I come to do thy will in making an atonement, for no other offering would expiate sin. That I would do this is the language of the Scriptures which predict my coming, and of the whole spirit and design of the ancient dispensation."
To do thy will, O God - This expresses the amount of all that the Redeemer came to do. He came to do the will of God:
(1) by perfect obedience to his Law, and,
(2) by making an atonement for sin - becoming "obedient unto death;" Phi 2:8.
The latter is the principal thought here, for the apostle is showing that sacrifice and offering such as were made under the Law would not put away sin, and that Christ came in contradistinction from them to make a sacrifice that would be efficacious. Everywhere in the Scriptures it is held out as being the "will of God" that such an atonement should be made. There was salvation in no other way, nor was it possible that the race should be saved unless the Redeemer drank that cup of bitter sorrows; see Mat 26:39. We are not to suppose, however, that it was by mere arbitrary will that those sufferings were demanded. There were good reasons for all that the Saviour was to endure, though those reasons are not all made known to us.
Above when he said - That is, the Messiah. The word "above" refers here to the former part of the quotation. That is, "having in the former part of what was quoted said that God did not require sacrifices, in the latter part he says that he came to do the will of God in the place of them."
Sacrifice and offering, and burnt-offerings ... - These words are not all used in the Psalm from which the apostle quotes, but the idea is, that the specification there included all kinds of offerings. The apostle dwells upon it because it was important to show that the same remark applied to all the sacrifices which could be offered by man. When the Redeemer made the observation about the inefficacy of sacrifices, he meant that there was none of them which would be sufficient to take away sin.
Then said he - In another part of the passage quoted. When he had said that no offering which man could make would avail, then he said that he would come himself.
He taketh away the first - The word "first" here refers to sacrifices and offerings. He takes them away; that is, he shows that they are of no value in removing sin. He states their inefficacy, and declares his purpose to abolish them.
That he may establish the second - To wit, the doing of the will of God. The two stand in contrast with each other, and he shows the inefficacy of the former, in order that the necessity for his coming to do the will of God may be fully seen. If they had been efficacious, there would have been no need of his coming to make an atonement.
By the which will - That is, by his obeying God in the manner specified. It is in virtue of his obedience that we are sanctified. The apostle immediately specifies what he means, and furnishes the key to his whole argument, when he says that it was "through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ." It was not merely his doing the will of God in general, but it was the specific thing of offering his body in the place of the Jewish sacrifices; compare Phi 2:8. Whatever part his personal obedience had in our salvation, yet the particular thing here specified is, that it was his doing the will of God by offering himself as a sacrifice for sin that was the means of our sanctification.
We are sanctified - We are made holy. The word here is not confined to the specific work which is commonly called sanctification - or the process of making the soul holy after it is renewed, but it includes everything by which we are made holy in the sight of God. It embraces, therefore, justification and regeneration as well as what is commonly known as sanctification. The idea is, that whatever there is in our hearts which is holy, or whatever influences are brought to bear upon us to make us holy, is all to be traced to the fact that the Redeemer became obedient unto death, and was willing to offer his body as a sacrifice for sin.
Through the offering of the body - As a sacrifice. A body just adapted to such a purpose had been prepared for him; Heb 10:5. It was perfectly holy; it was so organized as to be keenly sensitive to suffering; it was the dwelling-place of the incarnate Deity.
Once for all - In the sense that it is not to be offered again; see the notes on Heb 9:28. This ideals repeated here because it was very important to be clearly understood in order to show the contrast between the offering made by Christ, and those made under the Law. The object of the apostle is to exalt the sacrifice made by him above those made by the Jewish high priests. This he does by showing that such was the efficacy of the atonement made by him that it did not need to be repeated; the sacrifices made by them, however, were to be renewed every year.
And every priest standeth daily ministering - That is, this is done every day. It does not mean literally that every priest was daily concerned in offering sacrifices, for they took turns according to their courses, (notes on Luk 1:5), but that this was done each day, and that every priest was to take his regular place in doing it; Num 28:3. The object of the apostle is to prove that under the Jewish economy sacrifices were repeated constantly, showing their imperfection, but that under the Christian economy the great sacrifice had been offered once, which was sufficient for all.
And offering oftentimes the same sacrifices - The same sacrifices were offered morning and evening every day.
Which can never take away sins - notes, Heb 9:9; Heb 10:1.
But this man - The Lord Jesus. The word "man" is not in the original here. The Greek is literally "but this;" to wit, this priest. The apostle does not state here whether he was a man, or a being of a higher order. He merely mentions him as a priest in contradistinction from the Jewish priests.
After he had offered one sacrifice for sins - By dying on the cross. This he did but once; this could not be repeated; and need not be repeated, for it was sufficient for the sins of the world.
For ever sat down - That is, he sat down then to return no more for the purpose of offering sacrifice for sin. He will no more submit himself to scenes of suffering and death to expiate human guilt.
On the right hand of God - see the notes on Mar 16:19; compare the notes on Eph 1:20-22.
From henceforth expecting - Or waiting. He waits there until this shall be accomplished according to the promise made to him that all things shall be subdued under him; see the notes on Co1 15:25-27.
Till his enemies - There is an allusion here to Psa 110:1, where it is said, "The Lord said unto my Lord, Sit thou at my right hand until I make thine enemies thy footstool." The enemies of the Redeemer are Satan, the wicked of the earth, and all the evil passions of the heart. The idea is, that all things are yet to be made subject to his will - either by a cheerful and cordial submission to his authority, or by being crushed beneath his power. The Redeemer, having performed his great work of redemption by giving himself as a sacrifice on the cross, is represented now as calmly waiting until this glorious triumph is achieved, and this promise is fulfilled. We are not to suppose that he is inactive, or that he takes no share in the agency by which this is to be done. but the meaning is, that he looks to the certain fulfillment of the promise.
His footstool - That is, they shall be thoroughly and completely subdued. The same idea is expressed in Co1 15:25, by saying that all his enemies shall be put under his feet. The language arose from the custom of conquerors in putting their feet on the necks of their enemies, as a symbol of subjection; see Jos 10:24; notes, Isa 26:5-6.
For by one offering - By offering himself once on the cross. The Jewish priest offered his sacrifices often, and still they did not avail to put away sin; the Saviour made one sacrifice, and it was sufficient for the sins of the world.
He hath perfected forever - He hath laid the foundation of the eternal perfection. The offering is of such a character that it secures their final freedom from sin, and will make them forever holy. It cannot mean that those for whom he died are made at once perfectly holy, for that is not true; but the idea is, that the offering was complete, and did not need to be repeated; and that it was of such a nature as entirely to remove the penalty due to sin, and to lay the foundation for their final and eternal holiness. The offerings made under the Jewish Law were so defective that there was a necessity for repeating them every day; the offering made by the Saviour was so perfect that it needed not to be repeated, and that it secured the complete and final salvation of those who availed themselves of it.
Them that are sanctified - Those who are made holy by that offering. It does not mean that they are as yet "wholly" sanctified, but that they have been brought under the influence of that gospel which sanctifies and saves; see Heb 2:11; Heb 9:14. The doctrine taught in this verse is, that all those who are in any measure sanctified will be perfected forever. It is not a temporary work which has been begun in their souls, but one which is designed to be carried forward to perfection. In the atonement made by the Redeemer there is the foundation laid for their eternal perfection, and it was with reference to that, that it was offered. Respecting this work and the consequences of it, we may remark, that there is:
(1) perfection in its nature, it being of such a character that it needs not to be repeated;
(2) there is perfection in regard to the pardon of sin - all past sins being forgiven to those who embrace it, and being forever forgiven; and
(3) there is to be absolute perfection for them forever.
They will be made perfect at some future period, and when that shall take place it will be to continue forever and ever.
(The perfection, in this place, is not to be understood of the perfection of grace or of glory. It is perfection, in regard to the matter in hand, in regard to what was the chief design of sacrifices, namely, expiation and consequent pardon and acceptance of God. And this indeed is the Τελειωσις Teleiōsis of the Epistle to the Hebrews generally, Heb 7:11; Heb 9:9; Heb 10:1. Perfect moral purity and consummate happiness will doubtless follow as consequences of the sacrifice of Christ, but the completeness of his expiation, and its power to bring pardon and peace to the guilty and trembling sinner, to justify him unto eternal life, is here, at all events, principally intended. The parties thus perfected or completely justified, are τους ἁγιαζομενους tous hagiazomenous, the "sanctified." Ἁγιαζω Hagiazō, however, besides the general sense of "sanctify" has in this Epistle, like τελειοω teleioō, its sacrificial sense of cleansing from guilt. "Whether ceremonially, as under the Levitical dispensation; Heb 9:13; comp, Lev 16:19; or really and truly, by the offering of the body of Christ; Heb 10:10, Heb 10:14, Heb 10:29; compare Heb 10:2, and Heb 2:11; Heb 9:14." - Parkhurst's Greek Lexicon. The meaning, then, may be, that they who are purged or cleansed by this sacrifice, in other words, those to whom its virtue is applied, are perfectly justified.
Wherever this divine remedy is used, it will effectually save. By one offering Christ hath forever justified such as are purged or cleansed by it. This could not be said of those sanctified or purged by the legal sacrifices. Mr. Scott gives the sacrificial sense of the word, but combines with it the sense of sanctifying morally, in the following excellent paraphrase. "By his one oblation he hath provided effectually for the perfect justification unto eternal life, of all those who should ever receive his atonement, by faith springing from regeneration, and evidenced 'by the sanctification of the Spirit unto obedience,' and who were thus set apart and consecrated to the service of God.")
Whereof the Holy Ghost is a witness to us - That is, the Holy Spirit is a proof of the truth of the position here laid down - that the one atonement made by the Redeemer lays the foundation for the eternal perfection of all who are sanctified. The witness of the Holy Spirit here referred to is what is furnished in the Scriptures, and not any witness in ourselves. Paul immediately makes his appeal to a passage of the Old Testament, and he thus shows his firm conviction that the Scriptures were inspired by the Holy Spirit.
For after that he had said before - The apostle here appeals to a passage which he had before quoted from Jer 31:33-34; see it explained in the notes on Heb 8:8-12. The object of the quotation in both cases is, to show that the new covenant contemplated the formation of a holy character or a holy people. It was not to set apart a people who should be externally holy only, or be distinguished for conformity to external rites and ceremonies, but who should be holy in heart and in life. There has been some difficulty felt by expositors in ascertaining what corresponds to the expression "after that he had said before," and some have supposed that the phrase "then he saith" should be understood before Heb 10:17. But probably the apostle means to refer to two distinct parts of the quotation from Jeremiah, the former of which expresses the fact that God meant to make a new covenant with his people, and the latter expresses the nature of that covenant, and it is particularly to the latter that he refers. This is seen more distinctly in the passage in Jeremiah than it is in our translation of the quotation in this Epistle. The meaning is this, "The Holy Spirit first said, this is the covenant that I will make with them:" and having said this, he then added, "After those days, I will put my laws into their hearts, and in their minds will I write them, and their sins and their iniquities will I remember no more." The first part of it expresses the purpose to form such a covenant; the latter states what that covenant would be. The quotation is not, indeed, literally made, but the sense is retained; compare the notes on Heb 8:8-12. Still, it may be asked, how this quotation proves the point for which it is adduced - that the design of the atonement of Christ was "to perfect forever them that are sanctified?" In regard to this, we may observe:
(1) that it was declared that those who were interested in it would be holy, for the law would be in their hearts and written on their minds; and,
(2) that this would be "entire and perpetual." Their sins would be "wholly" forgiven; they would never be remembered again - and thus they would be "perfected forever."
Now where remission of these is - Remission or forgiveness of sins; that is, of the sins mentioned in the previous verse.
There is no more offering for sin - If those sins are wholly blotted out, there is no more need of sacrifice to atone for them, any more than there is need to pay a debt again which has been once paid. The idea of Paul is, that in the Jewish dispensation there was a constant repeating of the remembrance of sins by the sacrifices which were offered, but that in reference to the dispensation under the Messiah, sin would be entirely cancelled. There would be one great and all-sufficient sacrifice, and when there was faith in that offering, sin would be absolutely forgiven. If that was the case, there would be no occasion for any further sacrifice for it, and the offering need not be repeated. This circumstance, on which the apostle insists so much, made a very important difference between the new covenant and the old. In the one, sacrifices were offered every day; in the other, the sacrifice once made was final and complete; in the one case, there was no such forgiveness but that the offender was constantly reminded of his sins by the necessity of the repetition of sacrifice; in the other, the pardon was so complete that all dread of wrath was taken away, and the sinner might look up to God as calmly and joyfully as if he had never been guilty of transgression.
Having therefore, brethren - The apostle, in this verse, enters on the hortatory part of his Epistle, which continues to the end of it. He had gone into an extensive examination of the Jewish and Christian systems; he had compared the Founders of the two - Moses and the Son of God, and shown how far superior the latter was to the former; he had compared the Christian Great High Priest with the Jewish high priest, and shown his superiority; he had compared the sacrifices under the two dispensations, and showed that in all respects the Christian sacrifice was superior to the Jewish - that it was an offering that cleansed from sin; that it was sufficient when once offered without being repeated, while the Jewish offerings were only typical, and were unable to put away sin; and he had shown that the great High Priest of the Christian profession had opened a way to the mercy-seat in heaven, and was himself now seated there; and having shown this, he now exhorts Christians to avail themselves fully of all their advantages, and to enjoy to the widest extent all the privileges now conferred on them. One of the first of these benefits was, that they had now free access to the mercy-seat.
Boldness to enter into the holiest - Margin, "liberty." The word rendered "boldness" - παῤῥησίαν parrēsian - properly means "boldness of speech," or freedom where one speaks all that he thinks (notes, Act 4:13); and then it means boldness in general, license, authority, pardon. Here the idea is, that before Christ died and entered into heaven, there was no such access to the throne of grace as man needed. Man had no offering which he could bring that would make him acceptable to God. But now the way was open. Access was free for all, and all might come with the utmost freedom. The word "holiest" here is taken from the holy of holies in the temple (notes on Heb 9:3), and is there applied to heaven, of which that was the emblem. The entrance into the most holy place was forbidden to all but the high priest; but now access to the real "holy of holies" was granted to all in the name of the great High Priest of the Christian profession.
By the blood of Jesus - The blood of Jesus is the means by which this access to heaven is procured. The Jewish high priest entered the holy of holies with the blood of bullocks and of rams (notes, Heb 9:7); but the Saviour offered his own blood, and that became the means by which we may have access to God.
By a new and living way - By a new method or manner. It was a mode of access that was till then unknown. No doubt many were saved before the Redeemer came, but the method by which they approached God was imperfect and difficult. The word which is rendered here "new" - πρόσφατον prosphaton - occurs nowhere else in the New Testament. It properly means "slain, or killed thereto;" that is, "newly killed, just dead; and then fresh, recent." Passow. It does not so much convey the idea that it is new in the sense that it had never existed before, as new in the sense that it is recent, or fresh. It was a way which was recently disclosed, and which had all the freshness of novelty. It is called a "living way," because it is a method that imparts life, or because it leads to life and happiness. Doddridge renders it "ever-living way," and supposes, in accordance with the opinion of Dr. Owen, that the allusion is to the fact that under the old dispensation the blood was to be offered as soon as it was shed, and that it could not be offered when it was cold and coagulated. The way by Christ was, however, always open. His blood was, as it were, always warm, and as if it had been recently shed. This interpretation seems to derive some support from the word which is rendered "new." See above. The word "living," also, has often the sense of perennial, or perpetual, as when applied to a fountain always running, in opposition to a pool that dries up (see the notes on Joh 4:10), and the new way to heaven may be called living - in all these respects. It is away that conducts to life. It is ever-living as if the blood which was shed always retained the freshness of what is flowing from the vein. And it is "perpetual" and "constant" like a fountain that always flows - for it is by a sacrifice whose power is perpetual and unchanging.
Which he hath consecrated for us - Margin, "or new made." The word here used means properly to renew, and then to initiate, to consecrate, to sanction. The idea is, that he has dedicated this way for our use; as if a temple or house were set apart for our service. It is a part consecrated by him for the service and salvation of man; a way of access to the eternal sanctuary for the sinner which has been set apart by the Redeemer for this service alone.
Through the veil, that is to say, his flesh - The Jewish high priest entered into the most holy place through the veil that divided the holy from the most holy place. That entrance was made by his drawing the veil aside, and thus the interior sanctuary was laid open. But there has been much difficulty felt in regard to the sense of the expression used here. The plain meaning of the expression is, that the way to heaven was opened by means, or through the medium of the flesh of Jesus; that is, of his body sacrificed for sin, as the most holy place in the temple was entered by means or through the medium of the veil. We are not to suppose, however, that the apostle meant to say that there was in all respects a resemblance between the veil and the flesh of Jesus, nor that the veil was in any manner typical of his body, but there was a resemblance in the respect under consideration - to wit, in the fact that the holy place was rendered accessible by withdrawing the veil, and that heaven was rendered accessible through the slain body of Jesus. The idea is, that there is by means both of the veil of the temple, and of the body of Jesus, a medium of access to God. God dwelt in the most holy place in the temple behind the veil by visible symbols, and was to be approached by removing the veil; and God dwells in heaven, in the most holy place there, and is to be approached only through the offering of the body of Christ. Prof. Stuart supposes that the point of the comparison may be, that the veil of the temple operated as a screen to hide the visible symbol of the presence of God from human view, and that in like manner the body of Jesus might be regarded as a "kind of temporary tabernacle, or veil of the divine nature which dwelt within him." and that "as the veil of the tabernacle concealed the glory of Yahweh in the holy of holies, from the view of people, so Christ's flesh or body screened or concealed the higher nature from our view, which dwelt within this veil, as God did of old within the veil of the temple."
See this and other views explained at length in the larger commentaries. It does not seem to me to be necessary to attempt to carry out the point of the comparison in all respects. The simple idea which seems to have been in the mind of the apostle was, that the veil of the temple and the body of Jesus were alike in this respect, that they were the medium of access to God. It is by the offering of the body of Jesus; by the fact that he was clothed with flesh, and that in his body he made an atonement for sin, and that with his body raised up from the dead he has ascended to heaven, that we have access now to the throne of mercy.
And having an High Priest over the house of God - Over the spiritual house of God; that is, the church; compare the notes on Heb 3:1-6. Under the Jewish dispensation there was a great high priest, and the same is true under the Christian dispensation. This the apostle had shown at length in the previous part of the Epistle. The idea here is, that as under the former dispensation it was regarded as a privilege that the people of God might have access to the mercy-seat by means of the high priest; so it is true in a much higher sense that we may now have access to God through our greater and more glorious High Priest.
Let us draw near with a true heart - In prayer and praise; in every act of confidence and of worship. A sincere heart was required under the ancient dispensation; it is always demanded of people when they draw near to God to worship him; see Joh 4:23-24. Every form of religion which God has revealed requires the worshippers to come with pure and holy hearts.
In full assurance of faith - see the word used here explained in the notes on Heb 6:11. The "full assurance of faith" means unwavering confidence; a fulness of faith in God which leaves no room for doubt. Christians are permitted to come thus because God has revealed himself through the Redeemer as in every way deserving their fullest confidence. No one approaches God in an acceptable manner who does not come to him in this manner. What parent would feel that a child came with any right feelings to ask a favour of him who had not "the fullest confidence in him?"
("This πληροφορια plērophoria, or full assurance of faith, is not, as many imagine, absolute certainty of a man's own particular salvation, for that is termed "the full assurance of hope," Heb 6:11, and arises from faith and its fruits. But the full assurance of faith is the assurance of that truth, which is testified and proposed in the gospel, to all the hearers of it in common, to be believed by them, unto their salvation, and is also termed the full assurance of understanding; Col 2:2. Though all that the gospel reveals, claims the full assurance of faith, yet here it seems more particularly to respect the efficacy and all-sufficiency of Christ's offering for procuring pardon and acceptance." - McLean.
Having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience - By the blood of Jesus. This was prepared to make the conscience pure. The Jewish cleansing or sprinkling with blood related only to what was external, and could not make the conscience perfect Heb 9:9, but the sacrifice offered by the Saviour was designed to give peace to the troubled mind, and to make it pure and holy. An "evil conscience" is a consciousness of evil, or a conscience oppressed with sin; that is, a conscience that accuses of guilt. We are made free from such a conscience through the atonement of Jesus, not because we become convinced that we have not committed sin, and not because we are led to suppose that our sins are less than we had otherwise supposed - for the reverse of both these is true - but because our sins are forgiven, and since they are freely pardoned they no longer produce remorse and the fear of future wrath. A child that has been forgiven may feel that he has done very wrong, but still he will not be then overpowered with distress in view of his guilt, or with the apprehension of punishment.
And our bodies washed with pure water - It was common for the Jews to wash themselves, or to perform various ablutions in their services; see Exo 39:4; Exo 30:19-21; Exo 40:12; Lev 6:27; Lev 13:54, Lev 13:58; Lev 14:8-9; Lev 15:16; Lev 16:4, Lev 16:24; Lev 22:6; compare the notes on Mar 7:3. The same thing was also true among the pagan. There was usually, at the entrance of their temples, a vessel placed with consecrated water, in which, as Pliny says (Hist. Nat. lib. 15:c. 30), there was a branch of laurel placed with which the priests sprinkled all who approached for worship. It was necessary that this water should be pure, and it was drawn fresh from wells or fountains for the purpose. Water from pools and ponds was regarded as unsuitable, as was also even the purest water of the fountain, if it had stood long. AEneas sprinkled himself in this manner, as he was about to enter the invisible world (Aeneid vi. 635), with fresh water.
Porphyry says that the Essenes were accustomed to cleanse themselves with the purest water. Thus, Ezekiel also says, "Then will I sprinkle clean water upon you, and you shall be clean." Sea-water was usually regarded as best adapted to this purpose, as the salt was supposed to have a cleansing property. The Jews who dwelt near the sea, were thence accustomed, as Aristides says, to wash their hands every morning on this account in the sea-water. Potter's Greek Archae. i. 222. Rosenmuller, Alte und Neue Morgenland, in loc. It was from the pagan custom of placing a vessel with consecrated water at the entrance of their temples, that the Roman Catholic custom is derived in their churches of placing "holy water" near the door, that those who worship there may "cross themselves." In accordance with the Jewish custom, the apostle says, that it was proper that under the Christian dispensation we should approach God, having performed an act emblematic of purity by the application of water to the body.
That there is an allusion to baptism is clear. The apostle is comparing the two dispensations, and his aim is to show that in the Christian dispensation there was everything which was regarded as valuable and important in the old. So he had shown it to have been in regard to the fact that there was a Lawgiver; that there was a great High Priest; and that there were sacrifices and ordinances of religion in the Christian dispensation as well as the Jewish. In regard to each of these, he had shown that they existed in the Christian religion in a much more valuable and important sense than under the ancient dispensation. In like manner it was true, that as they were required to come to the service of God, having performed various ablutions to keep the body pure, so it was with Christians. Water was applied to the Jews as emblematic of purity, and Christians came, having had it applied to them also in baptism, as a symbol of holiness.
It is not necessary, in order to see the force of this, to suppose that water had been applied to the whole of the body, or that they had been completely immersed, for all the force of the reasoning is retained by the supposition that it was a mere symbol or emblem of purification. The whole stress of the argument here turns, not on the fact that the body had been washed all over, but that the worshipper had been qualified for the spiritual service of the Most High in connection with an appropriate emblematic ceremony. The quantity of water used for this is not a material point, any more than the quantity of oil was in the ceremony of inaugurating kings and priests. This was not done in the Christian dispensation by washing the body frequently, as in the ancient system, nor even necessarily by washing the whole body - which would no more contribute to the purity of the heart than by application of water to any part of the body, but by the fact that water had been used as emblematic of the purifying of the soul. The passage before us proves, undoubtedly:
(1) that water should be applied under the new dispensation as an ordinance of religion; and,
(2) that pure water should be used - for that only is a proper emblem of the purity of the heart.
Let us hold fast the profession of our faith without wavering - To secure this was one of the leading designs of this Epistle, and hence, the apostle adverts to it so frequently. It is evident that those whom he wrote were suffering persecution Heb. 12, and that there was great danger that they would apostatize. As these persecutions came probably from the Jews, and as the aim was to induce them to return to their former opinions, the object of the apostle is to show that there was in the Christian scheme every advantage of which the Jews could boast; everything pertaining to the dignity of the great Founder of the system, the character of the High Priest, and the nature and value of the sacrifices offered, and that all this was possessed far more abundantly in the permanent Christian system than in what was typical in its character, and which were designed soon to vanish away. In view of all this, therefore, the apostle adds that they should hold fast the profession of their faith without being shaken by their trials, or by the arguments of their enemies. We have the same inducement to hold fast the profession of our faith - for it is the same religion still; we have the same Saviour, and there is held out to us still the same prospect of heaven.
For he is faithful that promised - To induce them to hold fast their profession, the apostle adds this additional consideration. God, who had promised eternal life to them, was faithful to all that he had said. The argument here is:
(1) that since God is so faithful to us, we ought to be faithful to him;
(2) the fact that he is faithful is an encouragement to us.
We are dependent on him for grace to hold fast our profession. If he were to prove unfaithful, we should have no strength to do it. But this he never does; and we may be assured, that all that he has promised he will perform. To the service of such a God, therefore, we should adhere without wavering; compare the notes on Co1 10:13.
And let us consider one another - Let us so regard the welfare of others as to endeavor to excite them to persevere in the Christian life. The idea is, that much might be done, in securing perseverance and fidelity, by mutual kind exhortation. They were not to be selfish; they were not to regard their own interests only (notes, Phi 2:4); they were to have a kind sympathy in the concerns of each other. They had, as Christians have now, the same duties to perform, and the same trials to meet, and they should strengthen each other in their trials and encourage them in their work.
To provoke unto love - We use the word "provoke" now in a somewhat different sense, as meaning to offend, to irritate, to incense; but its original meaning is to "arouse, to excite, to call into action," and it is used in this sense here. The Greek is, literally, "unto a paroxysm of love" - εἰς παροξυσμον eis paroxusmon - the word "paroxysm" meaning "excitement or impulse," and the idea is, that they were to endeavor to arouse or excite each other to the manifestation of love. The word is what properly expresses excitement, and means that Christians should endeavor to excite each other. Men are sometimes afraid of excitement in religion. But there is no danger that Christians will ever be excited to love each other too much, or to perform too many good works.
Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together - That is, for purposes of public worship. Some expositors have understood the word rendered here as "assembling" - ἐπισυναγωγὴν episunagōgēn - as meaning "the society of Christians," or the church; and they have supposed that the object of the apostle here is, to exhort them. not to apostatize from the church. The arguments for this opinion may be seen at length in Kuinoel, in loc. But the more obvious interpretation is what is commonly adopted, that it refers to public worship. The Greek word (the noun) is used nowhere else in the New Testament, except in Th2 2:1, where it is rendered "gathering together." The verb is used in Mat 23:37; Mat 24:31; Mar 1:33; Mar 13:27; Luk 12:1; Luk 13:34, in all which places it is rendered "gathered together." It properly means an act of assembling, or a gathering together, and is nowhere used in the New Testament in the sense of an assembly, or the church. The command, then, here is, to meet together for the worship of God, and it is enjoined on Christians as an important duty to do it. It is implied, also, that there is blame or fault where this is "neglected."
As the manner of some is - Why those here referred to neglected public worship, is not specified. It may have been from such causes as the following:
(1) some may have been deterred by the fear of persecution, as those who were thus assembled would be more exposed to danger than others.
(2) some may have neglected the duty because they felt no interest in it - as professing Christians now sometimes do.
(3) it is possible that some may have had doubts about the necessity and propriety of this duty, and on that account may have neglected it.
(4) or it may perhaps have been, though we can hardly suppose that this reason existed, that some may have neglected it from a cause which now sometimes operates - from dissatisfaction with a preacher, or with some member or members of the church, or with some measure in the church.
Whatever were the reasons, the apostle says that they should not be allowed to operate, but that Christians should regard it as a sacred duty to meet together for the worship of God. None of the causes above suggested should deter people from this duty. With all who bear the Christian name, with all who expect to make advances in piety and religious knowledge, it should be regarded as a sacred duty to assemble together for public worship. Religion is social; and our graces are to be strengthened and invigorated by waiting together on the Lord. There is an obvious propriety that people should assemble together for the worship of the Most High, and no Christian can hope that his graces will grow, or that he can perform his duty to his Maker, without uniting thus with those who love the service of God.
But exhorting one another - That is, in your assembling together a direction which proves that it is proper for Christians to exhort one another when they are gathered together for public worship. Indeed there is reason to believe that the preaching in the early Christian assemblies partook much of the character of mutual exhortation.
And so much the more as ye see the day approaching - The term "day" here refers to some event which was certainly anticipated, and which was so well understood by them that no particular explanation was necessary. It was also some event that was expected soon to occur, and in relation to which there were indications then of its speedily arriving. If it had not been something which was expected soon to happen, the apostle would have gone into a more full explanation of it, and would have stated at length what these indications were. There has been some diversity of opinion about what is here referred to, many commentators supposing that the reference is to the anticipated second coming of the Lord Jesus to set up a visible kingdom on the earth; and others to the fact that the period was approaching when Jerusalem was to be destroyed, and when the services of the temple were to cease. So far as the language is concerned, the reference might be to either event, for the word a "day" is applied to both in the New Testament. The word would properly be understood as referring to an expected period when something remarkable was to happen which ought to have an important influence on their character and conduct. In support of the opinion that it refers to the approaching destruction of Jerusalem, and not to the coming of the Lord Jesus to set up a visible kingdom, we may adduce the following considerations:
(1) The term used - "day" - will as properly refer to that event as to any other. It is a word which would be likely to suggest the idea of distress, calamity, or judgment of some kind, for so it is often used in the Scriptures; comp Psa 27:13; Sa1 26:10; Jer 30:7; Eze 21:5; notes Isa 2:12.
(2) such a period was distinctly predicted by the Saviour, and the indications which would precede it were clearly pointed out; see Matt. 24. That event was then so near that the Saviour said that "that generation would not pass" until the prediction had been fulfilled; Mat 24:34.(3) The destruction of Jerusalem was an event of great importance to the Hebrews, and to the Hebrew Christians to whom this Epistle was directed, and it might be reasonable to suppose that the apostle Paul would refer to it.
(4) it is not improbable that at the time of writing this Epistle there were indications that that day was approaching. Those indications were of so marked a character that when the time approached they could not well be mistaken (see Mat 24:6-12, Mat 24:24, Mat 24:26), and it is probable that they had already begun to appear.
(5) there were no such indications that the Lord Jesus was about to appear to set up a visible kingdom. It was not a fact that that was about to occur, as the result has shown; nor is there any positive proof that the mass of Christians were expecting it, and no reason to believe that the apostle Paul had any such expectation; see Th2 2:1-5.
(6) the expectation that the destruction of Jerusalem was referred to, and was about to occur, was just what might be expected to produce the effect on the minds of the Hebrew Christians which the apostle here refers to. It was to be a solemn and fearful event. It would be a remarkable manifestation of God. It would break up the civil and ecclesiastical polity of the nation, and would scatter them abroad. It would require all the exercise of their patience and faith in passing through these scenes. It might be expected to be a time when many would be tempted to apostatize, and it was proper, therefore, to exhort them to meet together, and to strengthen and encourage each other as they saw that that event was drawing near. The argument then would be this. The danger against which the apostle desired to guard those to whom he was writing was, that of apostasy from Christianity to Judaism. To preserve them from this, he urges the fact that the downfall of Judaism was near, and that every indication which they saw of its approach ought to be allowed to influence them, and to guard them from that danger.
It is for reasons such as these that I suppose the reference here is not to the "second advent" of the Redeemer, but to the approaching destruction of Jerusalem. At the same time, it is not improper to use this passage as an exhortation to Christians to fidelity when they shall see that the end of the world draws nigh, and when they shall perceive indications that the Lord Jesus is about to come. And so of death. We should be the more diligent when we see the indications that the great Messenger is about to come to summon us into the presence of our final Judge. And who does not know that he is approaching him with silent and steady footsteps, and that even now he may be very near? Who can fail to see in himself indications that the time approaches when he must lie down and die? Every pang that we suffer should remind us of this; and when the hair changes its hue, and time makes furrows in the cheek, and the limbs become feeble, we should regard them as premonitions that he is coming, and should be more diligent as we see that be is drawing near.
For if we sin willfully after that we have received the knowledge of the truth - If after we are converted and become true Christians we should apostatize, it would be impossible to be recovered again, for there would be no other sacrifice for sin; no way by which we could be saved. This passage, however, like Heb 6:4-6, has given rise to much difference of opinion. But that the above is the correct interpretation, seems evident to me from the following considerations:
(1) It is the natural and obvious interpretation, such as would occur probably to ninety-nine readers in a hundred, if there were no theory to support, and no fear that it would conflict with some other doctrine.
(2) it accords with the scope of the Epistle, which is, to keep those whom the apostle addressed from returning again to the Jewish religion, under the trials to which they were subjected.
(3) it is in accordance with the fair meaning of the language - the words "after that we have received the knowledge of the truth," referring more naturally to true conversion than to any other state of mind.
(4) the sentiment would not be correct if it referred to any but real Christians. It would not be true that one who had been somewhat enlightened, and who then sinned "wilfully," must look on fearfully to the judgment without a possibility of being saved. There are multitudes of cases where such persons are saved. They "wilfully" resist the Holy Spirit; they strive against him; they for a long time refuse to yield, but they are brought again to reflection, and are led to give their hearts to God.
(5) it is true, and always will be true, that if a sincere Christian should apostatize he could never be converted again; see the notes on Heb 6:4-6. The reasons are obvious. He would have tried the only plan of salvation, and it would have failed. He would have embraced the Saviour, and there would not have been efficacy enough in his blood to keep him, and there would be no more powerful Saviour and no more efficacious blood of atonement. He would have renounced the Holy Spirit, and would have shown that his influences were not effectual to keep him, and there would be no other agent of greater power to renew and save him after he had apostatized. For these reasons it seems clear to me that this passage refers to true Christians, and that the doctrine here taught is, that if such an one should apostatize, he must look forward only to the terrors of the judgment, and to final condemnation.
Whether this in fact ever occurs, is quite another question. In regard to that inquiry, see the notes on Heb 6:4-6. If this view be correct, we may add, that the passage should not be regarded as applying to what is commonly known as the "sin against the Holy Spirit," or "the unpardonable sin." The word rendered "wilfully" - ἑκουσίως hekousiōs - occurs nowhere else in the New Testament, except in Pe1 5:2, where it is rendered "willingly" - "taking the oversight thereof (of the church) not by constraint, but willingly." It properly means, "willingly, voluntarily, of our own accord," and applies to cases where no constraint is used. It is not to be construed here strictly, or metaphysically, for all sin is voluntary, or is committed willingly, but must refer to a deliberate act, where a man means to abandon his religion, and to turn away from God. If it were to be taken with metaphysical exactness, it would demonstrate that every Christian who ever does anything wrong, no matter how small, would be lost.
But this cannot, from the nature of the case, be the meaning. The apostle well knew that Christians do commit such sins (see the notes on Rom. 7), and his object here is not to set forth the danger of such sins, but to guard Christians against apostasy from their religion. In the Jewish Law, as is indeed the case everywhere, a distinction is made between sins of oversight, inadvertence, or ignorance, (Lev 4:2, Lev 4:13, Lev 4:22, Lev 4:27; Lev 5:15; Num 15:24, Num 15:27-29; compare Act 3:17; Act 17:30), and sins of presumption; sins that are deliberately and intentionally committed; see Exo 21:14; Num 15:30; Deu 17:12; Psa 19:13. The apostle here has reference, evidently, to such a distinction, and means to speak of a decided and deliberate purpose to break away from the restraints and obligations of the Christian religion.
There remaineth no more sacrifice for sins - Should a man do this, there is no sacrifice for sins which could save him. He would have rejected deliberately the only atonement made for sin, and there will be no other made. It is as if a man should reject the only medicine that could heal him, or push away the only boat that could save him when shipwrecked; see notes, Heb 6:6. The sacrifice made for sin by the Redeemer is never to be repeated, and if that is deliberately rejected, the soul must be lost.
But a certain fearful looking for of judgment - The word "certain" here does not mean "fixed, sure, inevitable," as our translation would seem to imply. The Greek is the same as "a (τις tis) fearful expectation," etc. So it is rendered by Tyndale. The idea is, that if there was voluntary apostasy after having embraced the Christian religion, there could be nothing but an expectation of the judgment to come. There could be no other hope but that through the gospel, and as this would have been renounced, it would follow that the soul must perish. The "fearful apprehension" or expectation here does not refer so much to what would be in the mind itself, or what would be experienced, as to what must follow. It might be that the person referred to would have no realizing sense of all this, and still his situation be that of one who had nothing to expect but the terrors of the judgment to come.
And fiery indignation - Fire is often used in the Scriptures as an emblem of fierce punishment. The idea is, that the person referred to could expect nothing but the wrath of God.
Which shall devour the adversaries - All who become the adversaries or enemies of the Lord. Fire is often said to devour, or consume, and the meaning here is, that those who should thus become the enemies of the Lord must perish.
He that despised Moses' law - That is, the apostate from the religion of Moses. It does not mean that in all cases the offender against the Law of Moses died without mercy, but only where offences were punishable with death, and probably the apostle had in his eye particularly the case of apostasy from the Jewish religion. The subject of apostasy from the Christian religion is particularly under discussion here, and it was natural to illustrate this by a reference to a similar case under the Law of Moses. The Law in regard to apostates from the Jewish religion was positive. There was no reprieve; Deu 13:6-10.
Died without mercy - That is, there was no provision for pardon.
Under two or three witnesses - It was the settled law among the Hebrews that in all cases involving capital punishment, two or three witnesses should be necessary. That is, no one was to be executed unless two persons certainly bore testimony, and it was regarded as important, if possible, that three witnesses should concur in the statement. The object was the security of the accused person if innocent. The "principle" in the Law was, that it was to be presumed that two or three persons would be much less likely to conspire to render a false testimony than one would be, and that two or three would not be likely to be deceived in regard to a fact which they had observed.
Of how much sorer punishment, suppose ye, shall he be thought worthy - That is, he who renounces Christianity ought to be regarded as deserving a much severer punishment than the man who apostatized from the Jewish religion, and if he ought to be so regarded he will be - for God will treat every man as he ought to be treated. This must refer to future punishment, for the severest punishment was inflicted on the apostate from the Jewish religion which can be in this world - death; and yet the apostle here says that a severer punishment than that would be deserved by him who should apostatize from the Christian faith. The reasons why so much severer punishment would be deserved, are such as these - the Author of the Christian system was far more exalted than Moses, the founder of the Jewish system; he had revealed more important truths; he had increased and confirmed the motives to holiness; he had furnished more means for leading a holy life; he had given himself as a sacrifice to redeem the soul from death, and he had revealed with far greater clearness the truth that there is a heaven of glory and of holiness. He who should apostatize from the Christian faith, the apostle goes on to say, would also be guilty of the most aggravated crime of which man could be guilty - the crime of trampling under foot the Son of God, of showing contempt for his holy blood. and despising the Spirit of grace.
Who hath trodden under foot the Son of God - This language is taken either from the custom of ancient conquerors who were accustomed to tread on the necks of their enemies in token of their being subdued, or from the fact that people tread on what they despise and contemn. The idea is, that he who should apostatize from the Christian faith would act as if he should indignantly and contemptuously trample on God's only Son. What crime could be more aggravated than this?
And hath counted the blood of the covenant - The blood of Jesus by which the new covenant between God and man was ratified; see the notes on Heb 9:16-20; compare the notes on Mat 26:28.
Wherewith he was sanctified - Made holy, or set apart to the service of God. The word "sanctify" is used in both these senses. Prof. Stuart renders it, "by which expiation is made;" and many others, in accordance with this view, have supposed that it refers to the Lord Jesus. But it seems to me that it refers to the person who is here supposed to renounce the Christian religion, or to apostatize from it. The reasons for this are such as these:
(1) it is the natural and proper meaning of the word rendered here "sanctified." This word is commonly applied to Christians in the sense that they are made holy; see Act 20:32; Act 26:18; Co1 1:2; Jde 1:1; compare Joh 10:36; Joh 17:17.
(2) it is unusual to apply this word to the Saviour. It is true, indeed, that he says Joh 17:19, "for their sakes I sanctify myself," but there is no instance in which he says that he was sanctified by his own blood. And where is there an instance in which the word is used as meaning "to make expiations?"
(3) the supposition that it refers to one who is here spoken of as in danger of apostasy, and not of the Lord Jesus, agrees with the scope of the argument. The apostle is showing the great guilt, and the certain destruction, of one who should apostatize from the Christian religion. In doing this it was natural to speak of the dishonor which would thus be done to the means which had been used for his sanctification - the blood of the Redeemer. It would be treating it as if it were a common thing, or as if it might be disregarded like anything else which was of no value.
An unholy thing - Greek common; often used in the sense of unholy. The word is so used because what was holy was separated from a common to a sacred use. What was not thus consecrated was free to all, or was for common use, and hence, also the word is used to denote what is unholy.
And hath done despite unto the Spirit of grace - The Holy Spirit, called "the Spirit of grace," because he confers favor (grace) upon people. The meaning of the phrase "done despite unto" - ἐνυβρίσας enubrisas - is, "having reproached, or treated with malignity, or contempt." The idea is, that if they were thus to apostatize, they would by such an act treat the Spirit of God with disdain and contempt. It was by him that they had been renewed; by him that they had been brought to embrace the Saviour and to love God; by him that they had any holy feelings or pure desires; and if they now apostatized from religion, such an act would be in fact treating the Holy Spirit with the highest indignity. It would be saying that all his influences were valueless, and that they needed no help from him. From such considerations, the apostle shows that if a true Christian were to apostatize, nothing would remain for him but the terrific prospect of eternal condemnation. He would have rejected the only Saviour; he would have in fact treated him with the highest indignity; he would have considered his sacred blood, shed to sanctify people, as a common thing, and would have shown the highest disregard for the only agent who can save the soul - the Spirit of God. How could such an one afterward be saved? The apostle does not indeed say that anyone ever would thus apostatize from the true religion, nor is there any reason to believe that such a case ever has occurred, but if it should occur the doom would be inevitable. How dangerous then is every step which would lead to such a precipice! And how strange and unscriptural the opinion held by so many that sincere Christians may "fall away" and be renewed, again and again!
(See the supplementary note on Heb 6:6. where certain principles are laid down, for the interpretation of this and similar passages, in consistency with the doctrine of the saints' perseverance. If that doctrine be maintained, and our author's view of the passage at the same be correct, then plainly it contains an impossible case. It is descriptive of real Christians, yet they never can fall away. The utility of the warning, in this case, may indeed successfully be vindicated, on the ground that it is the means of preventing apostasy in the saints, the means by which the decree of God in reference to their stability is effected. Most, however, will incline to the view which regards this case, as something more than imaginary, as possible, as real. The warning is addressed to professors generally, without any attempt of distinguishing or separating into true or false. Doubtless there might be some even of the latter class in the churches whose members the apostles, presuming on their professed character, addressed as "saints, "elect," and "faithful," without distinction.
Of course, in consistency with the doctrine of perseverance only the "false," in whom the "root of the matter" had never existed, could apostatize; yet at the same time, when no distinction was made, when the apostle made none, but addressed all in the language of charity, when Christians themselves might find it difficult at all times to affirm decidedly on their own case, universal vigilance was secured, or at all events designed. But is not the party whose apostasy is here supposed, described by two attributes which belong to none but genuine Christians, namely, the "reception of the knowledge of the truth," and "sanctification through the blood of the covenant?" The answer which has been given to this question is generally, that neither of these things necessarily involves more than external dedication to God. The first is parallel to the "once enlightened" of Heb 6:4, and of course admits of the same explanation; see supplementary note there.
The second thing, namely, the sanctification of the party "is not real or internal sanctification, and all the disputes concerning the total and final apostasy from the faith of them who have been really and internally sanctified from this place, are altogether vain. As at the giving of the Law, the people being sprinkled with blood, were sanctified or dedicated to God in a special manner, so those who, by baptism and confession of faith in the church of Christ, were separated from all others were especially dedicated to God thereby." - "Owen." Yet, this eminent writer is rather disposed to adopt the opinion of those who construe, ἐν ᾡ ἡγιασθη en hō hēgiasthē with the immediate antecedent, τον Υἱον του Θεου ton Huion tou Theou, thus referring the sanctification to Christ, and not to the apostate; see Joh 17:19. Whichever of these views we receive, the great doctrine of perseverance is, of course, unaffected. In reference to an objection which the author has urged that "the sentiment (in the Heb 10:26 and Heb 10:27 verses) would not be correct, if it referred to any but true Christians," let it be noticed that while many may be saved, who have long resisted the Spirit, yet the assertion must appear hazardous in the extreme, that any can be saved, who do all that the apostate in this passage is alleged to do. The sin described seems to be that of a determined, insulting, final rejection of the only remedy for sin.)
For we know him that hath said - We know who has said this - God. They knew this because it was recorded in their own sacred books.
Vengeance belongeth unto me ... - This is found in Deu 32:35; see it explained in the notes on Rom 12:19. It is there quoted to show that we should not avenge ourselves; it is here quoted to show that God will certainly inflict punishment on those who deserve it. If any should apostatize in the manner here referred to by the apostle, they would, says he, be guilty of great and unparalleled wickedness, and would have the certainty that they must meet the wrath of God.
And again, The Lord shall judge his people - This is quoted from Deu 32:36. That is, he will judge them when they deserve it, and punish them if they ought to be punished. The mere fact that they are his people will not save them from punishment if they deserve it, any more than the fact that one is a beloved child will save him from correction when he does wrong. This truth was abundantly illustrated in the history of the Israelites; and the same great principle would be applied should any sincere Christian apostatize from his religion. He would have before him the certainty of the most fearful and severe of all punishments.
It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God - There may be an allusion here to the request of David to "fall into the hands of the Lord and not into the hands of men," when it was submitted to him for the sin of numbering the people, whether he would choose seven years of famine, or flee three months before his enemies, or have three days of pestilence; 2 Sam. 24. He preferred "to fall into the hands of the Lord," and God smote seventy thousand men by the pestilence. The idea here is, that to fall into the hands of the Lord, after having despised his mercy and rejected his salvation, would be terrific; and the fear of this should deter from the commission of the dreadful crime. The phrase "living God" is used in the Scripture in opposition to "idols." God always lives; his power is capable of being always exerted. He is not like the idols of wood or stone which have no life, and which are not to be dreaded, but he always lives. It is the more fearful to fall into his hands because he will live "forever." A man who inflicts punishment will die, and the punishment will come to an end; but God will never cease to exist, and the punshment which he is capable of inflicting today he will be capable of inflicting forever and ever. To fall into his hands, therefore, "for the purpose of punishment" - which is the idea here - is fearful:
(1) because he has all power, and can inflict just what punishment he pleases;
(2) because he is strictly just, and will inflict the punishment which ought to be inflicted;
(3) because he lives forever, and can carry on his purpose of punishment to eternal ages; and
(4) because the actual inflictions of punishment which have occurred show what is to be dreaded.
So it was on the old world; on the cities of the plain; on Babylon, Idumea, Capernaum, and Jerusalem; and so it is in the world of wo - the eternal abodes of despair, where the worm never dies. All people must, in one sense, fall into his hands. They must appear before him. They must be brought to his bar when they die. How unspeakably important it is then now to embrace his offers of salvation, that we may not fall into his hands as a righteous, avenging judge, and sink beneath his uplifted arm forever!
But call to remembrance the former days - It would seem from this, that at the time when the apostle wrote this Epistle they were suffering some severe trials, in which they were in great danger of apostatizing from their religion. It is also manifest that they had on some former occasion endured a similar trial, and had been enabled to bear it with a Christian spirit, and with resignation. The object of the apostle now is to remind them that they were sustained under those trials, and he would encourage them now to similar patience by the recollection of the grace then conferred on them. What was the nature of their former trials, or of what they were then experiencing, is not certainly known. It would seem probable, however, that the reference in both instances is to some form of persecution by their own countrymen. The meaning is, "that when we have been enabled to pass through trials once, we are to make the remembrance of the grace then bestowed on us a means of supporting and encouraging us in future trials."
After ye were illuminated - After you became Christians, or were enlightened to see the truth. This phrase, referring here undoubtedly to the fact that they were Christians, may serve to explain the disputed phrase in Heb 6:4; see notes on that passage.
A great fight of afflictions - The language here seems to be taken from the Grecian games. The word "fight" means properly contention, combat, such as occurred in the public games. Here the idea is, that in the trials referred to, they had a great struggle; that is, a struggle to maintain their faith without wavering, or against those who would have led them to apostatize from their religion. Some of the circumstances attending this conflict are alluded to in the following verses.
Partly - That is, your affliction consisted partly in this. The Greek is, "this" - specifying one kind of affliction that they were called to endure.
Whilst ye were made a gazing-stock - Greek θεατριζόμενοι theatrizomenoi - you were made a public spectacle, as if in a theater; you were held up to public view, or exposed to public scorn. When this was done, or in precisely what manner, we are not told. It was not an uncommon thing, however, for the early Christians to be held up to reproach and scorn, and probably this refers to some time when it was done by rulers or magistrates. It was a common custom among the Greeks and Romans to lead criminals, before they were put to death, through the theater, and thus to expose them to the insults and reproaches of the multitude. See the proofs of this adduced by Kuinoel on this passage. The "language" here seems to have been taken from this custom, though there is no evidence that the Christians to whom Paul refers had been treated in this manner.
By reproaches - Repreached as being the followers of Jesus of Nazareth; probably as weak and fanatical.
And afflictions - Various "sufferings" inflicted on them. They were not merely reviled in words, but they were made to endure positive sufferings of various kinds.
And partly, while ye became companions of them that were so used - That is, even when they had not themselves been subjected to these trials, they had sympathized with those who were. They doubtless imparted to them of their property; sent to them relief, and identified themselves with them. It is not known to what particular occasion the apostle here refers. In the next verse he mentions one instance in which they had done this, in aiding him when he was a prisoner.
For ye had compassion of me in my bonds - You sympathized with me when a prisoner, and sent to my relief. It is not known to what particular instance of imprisonment the apostle here refers. It is probable, however, that it was on some occasion when he was a prisoner in Judea, for the persons to whom this Epistle was sent most probably resided there. Paul was at one time a prisoner more than two years at Cesarea Act 24:27, and during this time he was kept in the charge of a centurion, and his friends had free access to him; Act 24:23. It would seem not improbable that this was the occasion to which he here refers.
And took joyfully the spoiling of your goods - The plunder of your property. It was not an uncommon thing for the early Christians to be plundered. This was doubtless a part of the "afflictions" to which the apostle refers in this case. The meaning is, that they yielded their property not only without resistance, but with joy. They, in common with all the early Christians, counted it a privilege and honor to suffer in the cause of their Master; see the notes on Phi 3:10; compare Rom 5:3. Men may be brought to such a state of mind as to part with their property with joy. It is not usually the case; but religion will enable a man to do it.
Knowing in yourselves - Marg "or, that ye have in yourselves; or, for yourselves." The true rendering is, "knowing that ye have for yourselves." It does not refer to any internal knowledge which they had of this, but to the fact that they were assured that they had laid up for themselves a better inheritance in heaven.
That ye have in heaven a better and an enduring substance - Better than any earthly possession, and more permanent. It is:
(1) better; it is worth more; it gives more comfort; it makes a man really richer. The treasure laid up in heaven is worth more to a man than all the wealth of Croesus. It will give him more solid peace and comfort; will better serve his turn in the various situations in which he may be placed in life, and will do more on the whole to make him happy. It is not said here that property is worth nothing to a man - which is not true, if he uses it well - but that the treasures of heaven are worth more.
(2) it is more enduring. Property here soon vanishes. Riches take to themselves wings and fly away, or at any rate all that we possess must soon be left. But in heaven all is permanent and secure. No calamity of war, pestilence, or famine; no change of times; no commercial embarrassments; no failure of a crop, or a bank; no fraud of sharpers and swindlers, and no act of a pick-pocket or highwayman can take it away; nor does death ever come there to remove the inhabitants of heaven from their "mansions." With this hope, therefore, Christians may cheerfully see their earthly wealth vanish, for they can look forward to their enduring and their better inheritance.
Cast not away therefore your confidence - Greek "your boldness;" referring to their confident hope in God. They were not to cast this away, and to become timid, disheartened, and discouraged. They were to bear up manfully under all their trials, and to maintain a steadfast adherence to God and to his cause. The command is not to "cast this away." Nothing could take it from them if they trusted in God, and it could be lost only by their own neglect or imprudence. Rosenmuller supposes (Alte und Neue Morgenland, "in loc.") that there may be an allusion here to the disgrace which was attached to the act of a warrior if he cast away his shield. Among the Greeks this was a crime which was punishable with death. Alexander ab Alexand. Gen. Dier. L. ii c. 13. Among the ancient Germans, Tacitus says, that to lose the shield in battle was regarded as the deepest dishonor, and that those who were guilty of it were not allowed to be present at the sacrifices or in the assembly of the people. Many, says he, who had suffered this calamity, closed their own lives with the baiter under the loss of honor. Tac. Germ. c. 6. A similar disgrace would attend the Christian soldier if he should cast away his shield of faith; compare the notes, Eph 6:16.
Which hath great recompense of reward - It will furnish a reward by the peace of mind which it gives here, and will be connected with the rewards of heaven.
For ye have need of patience - They were then suffering, and in all trials we have need of patience. We have need of it because there is in us so much disposition to complain and repine; because our nature is liable to sink under sufferings; and because our trials are often protracted. All that Christians can do in such cases is to be patient - to lie calmly in the hands of God, and submit to his will day by day, and year by year; see Jam 1:3-4; notes, Rom 5:4.
That after ye have done the will of God - That is, in bearing trials, for the reference here is particularly to afflictions.Ye might receive the promise - The promised inheritance or reward - in heaven. It is implied here that this promise will not be received unless we are patient in our trials, and the prospect of this reward should encourage us to endure them.
For yet a little while - There seems to be an allusion here to what the Saviour himself said, "A little while, and ye shall not see me; and again, a little while and ye shall see me;" Joh 16:16. Or more probably it may be to Hab 2:3. "For the vision is yet for an appointed time, but at the end it shall speak, and not he: though it tarry, wait for it; because it will surely come, it will not tarry." The idea which the apostle means to convey evidently is, that the time of their deliverance from their trials was not far remote.
And he that shall come will come - The reference here is, doubtless, to the Messiah. But what "coming" of his is referred to here, is more uncertain. Most probably the idea is, that the Messiah who was coming to destroy Jerusalem, and to overthrow the Jewish power Matt. 24, would soon do this. In this way he would put a period to their persecutions and trials, as the power of the Jewish people to afflict them would be at an end. A similar idea occurs in Luk 21:28. "And when these things begin to come to pass, then look up, and lift up your heads; for your redemption draweth nigh;" see the notes on that passage. The Christians in Palestine were oppressed, reviled, and persecuted by the Jews. The destruction of the city and the temple would put an end to that power, and would be in fact the time of deliverance for those who had been persecuted. In the passage before us, Paul intimates that that period was not far distant. Perhaps there were already "signs" of his coming, or indications that he was about to appear, and he therefore urges them patiently to persevere in their fidelity to him during the little time of trial that remained. The same encouragement and consolation may be employed still. To all the afflicted it may be said that "he that shall come will come" soon. The time of affiction is not long. Soon the Redeemer will appear to deliver his afflicted people from all their sorrow; to remove them from a world of pain and tears; and to raise their bodies from the dust, and to receive them to mansions where trials are forever unknown; Joh 14:3 note; 1 Thes. 4:13-18 notes.
Now the just shall live by faith - This is a part of the quotation from Habakkuk Hab 2:3-4, which was probably commenced in the previous verse; see the passage fully explained in the notes on Rom 1:17. The meaning in the connection in which it stands here, in accordance with the sense in which it was used by Habakkuk, is, that the righteous should live by "continued confidence" in God. They should pass their lives not in doubt, and fear, and trembling apprehension, but in the exercise of a calm trust in God. In this sense it accords with the scope of what the apostle is here saying. He is exhorting the Christians whom he addressed, to perseverance in their religion even in the midst of many persecutions. To encourage this he says, that it was a great principle that the just, that is, all the pious, ought to live in the constant exercise of "faith in God." They should not confide in their own merits, works, or strength. They should exercise constant reliance on their Maker, and he would keep them even unto eternal life. The sense is, that a persevering confidence or belief in the Lord will preserve us amidst all the trials and calamities to which we are exposed.
But if any man draw back, my soul shall have no pleasure in him - This also is a quotation from Hab 2:4, but from the Septuagint, not from the Hebrew. "Why" the authors of the Septuagint thus translated the passage, it is impossible now to say. The Hebrew is rendered in the common version, "Behold, his soul which is lifted up is not upright in him;" or more literally, "Behold the scornful; his mind shall not be happy" (Stuart); or as Gesenius renders it, "See, he whose soul is unbelieving shall, on this account, be unhappy." The sentiment there is, that the scorner or unbeliever in that day would be unhappy, or would not prosper - לה ישרה lo' yaasharaah. The apostle has retained the general sense of the passage, and the idea which he expresses is, that the unbeliever, or he who renounces his religion, will incur the divine displeasure. He will be a man exposed to the divine wrath; a man on whom God cannot look but with disapprobation. By this solemn consideration, therefore, the apostle urges on them the importance of perseverance, and the guilt and danger of apostasy from the Christian faith. If such a case should occur, no matter what might have been the former condition, and no matter what love or zeal might have been evinced, yet such an apostasy would expose the individual to the certain wrath of God. His former love could not save him, any more than the former obedience of the angels saved them from the horrors of eternal chains and darkness, or than the holiness in which Adam was created saved him and his posterity from the calamities which his apostasy incurred.
But we are not of them ... - We who are true Christians do not belong to such a class. In this the apostle expresses the fullest conviction that none of those to whom he wrote would apostatize. The case which he had been describing was only a supposable case, not one which he believed would occur. He had only been stating what "must" happen if a sincere Christian should apostatize. But he did not mean to say that this "would" occur in regard to them. or in any case. He made a statement of a general principle under the divine administration, and he designed that this should be a means of keeping them in the path to life. What could be a more effectual means than the assurance that if a Christian should apostatize "he must inevitably perish forever?" See the sentiment in this verse illustrated at length in the notes on Heb 6:4-10.
(1) It is a subject of rejoicing that we are brought under a more perfect system than the ancient people of God were. We have not merely a rude outline - a dim and shadowy sketch of religion, as they had. We are not now required to go before a bloody altar every day, and lead up a victim to be slain. We may come to the altar of God feeling that the great sacrifice has been made, and that the last drop of blood to make atonement has been shed. A pure, glorious, holy body was prepared for the Great Victim, and in that body he did the will of God and died for our sins; Heb 10:1-10.
(2) like that Great Redeemer, let us do the will of God. It may lead us through sufferings, and we may he called to meet trials strongly resembling his. But the will of God is to be done alike in bearing trials, and in prayer and praise. "Obedience" is the great thing which he demands; which he has always sought. When his ancient people led up in faith, a lamb to the altar, still he preferred obedience to sacrifice; and when his Son came into the world to teach us how to live, and how to die, still the great thing was obedience. He came to illustrate the nature of perfect conformity to the will of God, and he did that by a most holy life, and by the most patient submission to all the trials appointed him in his purpose to make atonement for the sins of the world. Our model, alike in holy living and holy dying, is to be the Saviour; and like him we are required to exercise simple submission to the will of God; Heb 10:1-10.
(3) the Redeemer looks calmly forward to the time when all his foes will be brought in submission to his feet; Heb 10:12, Heb 10:13. He is at the right hand of God. His great work on earth is done. He is to suffer no more. He is exalted beyond the possibility of pain and sorrow, and he is seated now on high looking to the period when all his foes shall be subdued and he will be acknowledged as universal Lord.
(4) the Christian has exalted advantages. He has access to the mercy-seat of God. He may enter by faith into the "Holiest" - the very heavens where God dwells. Christ, his great High Priest, has entered there; has sprinkled over the mercy-seat with his blood, and ever lives there to plead his cause. There is no privilege granted to people like that of a near and constant access to the mercy-seat. This is the privilege not of a few; and not to be enjoyed but once in a year, or at distant intervals, but which the most humble Christian possesses, and which may be enjoyed at all times, and in all places. There is not a Christian so obscure, so poor, so ignorant that he may not come and speak to God; and there is not a situation of poverty, want, or wo, where he may not make his wants known with the assurance that his prayers will be heard through faith in the great Redeemer; Heb 10:19-20.
(5) when we come before God, let our hearts be pure; Heb 10:22. The body has been washed with pure water in baptism, emblematic of the purifying influences of the Holy Spirit. Let the conscience be also pure. Let us lay aside every unholy thought. Our worship will not be acceptable; our prayers will not be heard, if it is not so. "If we regard iniquity in our hearts the Lord will not hear us." No matter though there be a great High Priest; no matter though he have offered a perfect sacrifice for sin, and no matter though the throne of God be accessible to people, yet if there is in the heart the love of sin; if the conscience is not pure, our prayers will not be heard. Is this not one great reason why our worship is so barren and unprofitable?
(6) it is the duty of Christians to exhort one another to mutual fidelity; Heb 10:24. We should so far regard the interests of each other, as to strive to promote our mutual advance in piety. The church is one. All true Christians are brethren. Each one has an interest in the spiritual welfare of every one who loves the Lord Jesus, and should strive to increase his spiritual joy and usefulness. A Christian brother often goes astray and needs kind admonition to reclaim him; or he becomes disheartened and needs encouragement to cheer him or his Christian way.
(7) Christians should not neglect to assemble together for the worship of God; Heb 10:25. It is a duty which they owe to God to acknowledge him publicly, and their own growth in piety is essentially connected with public worship. It is impossible for a man to secure the advancement of religion in his soul who habitually neglects public worship, and religion will not flourish in any community where this duty is not performed. There are great benefits growing out of the worship of God, which can be secured in no other way. God has made us social beings, and he intends that the social principle shall be called into exercise in religion, as well as in other things. We have common wants, and it is proper to present them together before the mercy-seat. We have received common blessings in our creation, in the providence of God, and in redemption, and it is proper that we should assemble together and render united praise to our Maker for his goodness.
Besides, in any community, the public worship of God does more to promote intelligence, order, peace, harmony, friendship, neatness of apparel, and purity and propriety of contact between neighbors, than anything else can, and for which nothing else can be a compensation. Every Christian, and every other man, therefore, is bound to lend his influence in thus keeping up the worship of God, and should always be in his place in the sanctuary. The particular thing in the exhortation of the apostle is, that this should be done "even in the face of persecution." The early Christians felt so much the importance of this, that we are told they were accustomed to assemble at night. Forbidden to meet in public houses of worship, they met in caves, and even when threatened with death they continued to maintain the worship of God. It may be added, that so important is this, that it should be preserved even when the preaching of the gospel is not enjoyed. Let Christians assemble together. Let them pray and offer praise. Let them read the Word of God, and an appropriate sermon. Even this will exert an influence on them and on the community of incalculable importance, and will serve to keep the flame of piety burning on the altar of their own hearts, and in the community around them.
(8) we may see the danger of indulging in any sin; Heb 10:26-27. None can tell to what it may lead. No matter how small and unimportant it may appear at the time, yet if indulged in it will prove that there is no true religion, and will lead on to those greater offences which make shipwreck of the Christian name, and ruin the soul. He that "wilfully" and deliberately sins "after he professes to have received the knowledge of the truth," shows that his religion is but a name, and that he has never known any thing of its power.
(9) we should guard with sacred vigilance against everything which might lead to apostasy; Heb 10:26-29. If a sincere Christian "should" apostatize from God, he could never be renewed and saved. There would remain no more sacrifice for sins; there is no other Saviour to be provided; there is no other Holy Spirit to be sent down to recover the apostate. Since, therefore; so fearful a punishment would follow apostasy from the true religion, we may see the guilt of everything which has a "tendency" to it. That guilt is to be measured by the fearful consequences which would ensue if it were followed out; and the Christian should, therefore, tremble when he is on the verge of committing any sin whose legitimate tendency would be such a result.
(10) we may learn from the views presented in this chapter Heb 10:26, Heb 10:29, the error of those who suppose that a true Christian may fall away and be renewed again and saved. If there is any principle clearly settled in the New Testament, it is, that if a sincere Christian should apostatize, "he must perish." There would be no possibility of renewing him. He would have tried the only religion which saves people, and it would in his case have failed; he would have applied to the only blood which purifies the soul, and it would have been found inefficacious; he would have been brought under the only influence which renews the soul, and that would not have been sufficient to save him. What hope could there be? What would then save him if these would not? To what would he apply to what Saviour, to what blood of atonement, to what renewing and sanctifying agent, if the gospel, and the Redeemer, and the Holy Spirit had all been tried in vain? There are few errors in the community more directly at variance with the express teachings of the Bible than the belief that a Christian may fall away and he again renewed.
(11) Christians, in their conflicts, their trials, and their temptations, should be strengthened by what is past; Heb 10:32-35. They should remember the days when they were afflicted and God sustained them, when they were persecuted and he brought them relief. It is proper also to remember for their own encouragement; now, the spirit of patience and submission which they were enabled to manifest in those times of trial, and the sacrifices which they were enabled to make. They may find in such things evidence that they are the children of God; and they should find in their past experience proof that he who has borne them through past trials, is able to keep them unto his everlasting kingdom.
(12) we need patience - but it is only for a little time; Heb 10:36-39. Soon all our conflicts will be over. "He that shall come will come and will not tarry." He will come to deliver his suffering people from all their trials. He will come to rescue the persecuted from the persecutor; the oppressed from the oppressor; the down-trodden from the tyrant; and the sorrowful and sad from their woes. The coming of the Saviour to each one of the afflicted is the signal of release from sorrow, and his advent at the end of the world will be proof that all the trials of the bleeding and persecuted church are at an end. The time too is short before he will appear. In each individual case it is to be but a brief period before he will come to relieve the sufferer from his woes, and in the case of the church at large the time is not far remote when the Great Deliverer shall appear to receive "the bride," the church redeemed, to the "mansions" which he has gone to prepare.