Hebrews 10:19-39 . HORTATORY PORTION OF THE EPISTLE .
The great doctrine of Christ's eternal priesthood having been led up to, established by argument, and at length fully expounded, it remains only to press the practical result of a belief in it in alternate tones of encouragement and of warning.
We have seen that, even in the earlier chapters, hortatory passages were frequently interposed, showing the purpose all along in the writer's mind. In the central and deepest part of the argument (Heb 7:1-10:19) there were none, close and uninterrupted attention to the course of thought being then demanded. But now, the argument being completed, the previous exhortations are taken up again, and enforced in consequently fuller and deeper tones. The connection of thought between these final admonitions and those previously interposed is evident when we compare the very expressions in Hebrews 10:19-23 with those in Hebrews 4:14-16 , and the warnings of Hebrews 10:26 , etc., with those of Hebrews 6:4 , etc. Thus appears, as in other ways also, the carefully arranged plan of the Epistle, different in this respect from the undoubted Epistles of St. Paul, in which the thoughts generally follow each other without great regard to artistic arrangement. This, however, is in itself by no means conclusive against St. Paul's authorship, since there would be likely to be just this difference between a set treatise composed for a purpose, and a letter written currente calamo by the same author. It does, however, mark a different class of composition, and is suggestive, as far as it goes, of a different writer.
Having therefore, brethren, boldness to enter (literally, for the entrance ) into the holiest (literally, the holies, i.e. the holy place, as τὰ ἅγια is translated in Hebrews 9:25 , but meaning, there as here, the holy of holies) by the blood of Jesus, which (entrance) he consecrated (or, dedicated, as the same verb ἐγκαινίζω is translated, Hebrews 9:18 , with reference to the Mosaic tabernacle) for us, a new and living way, through the veil, that is to say, his flesh; and having a great Priest ( ἱερέα μέγαν , not ἀρχιερέα , high priest; but a priest of higher order than any earthly priest; cf. Hebrews 5:14 , ἀρχιερέα μέγαν ) over the house of God. The epithet πρόσφατον ("new") applied to the "way" dedicated for us by Christ, though meaning originally, according to its etymology, "newly slain," is commonly used to express "recent" only. And so here. It is a new way in relation to the old one of the high priest through the veil—a way untrodden by man till opened and dedicated by "the great Priest." The epithet ζῶσα ("living") applied to the way distinguishes it, as a spiritual mode of approach, from the old one. "Opponitur exanimo. Per prosopopoeiam vita adscribitur viae, ex ipsa vita Christi, qui est Via " (Bengel; see John 14:6 ). But what is the meaning of the veil ( καταπέτασμα , the word always used of the veil in the tabernacle or temple) being said to be "his flesh "? The idea cannot be simply that he passed through the human nature assumed at his incarnation to the heavenly throne; for the intended counterpart to the high priest's passing through the veil must have been after the completed sacrifice. It is rather that, at the moment of death, when, after saying, "It is finished," he "gave up the ghost," the human flesh (which had through all the ages been as a veil hiding "the unseen" from man, and behind which Christ himself had " tabernacled " during his human life) was, as it were, rent asunder and the new way opened. And that this was so was signified by the rending in twain of the veil of the temple from the top to the bottom, mentioned by St. Matthew ( Matthew 26:51 ), at the very moment of the death upon the cross. This incident may have suggested to the writer the expression used. "Quum primum Christus per momentum mortis transierat, praesto fuit mera virtus et vita. τῆς σαρκὸς αὐτοῦ , carnem suam, quae item scissa est, ut velum" (Bengel). "The house of God" in verse 21 is a resumption of the thought of Hebrews 3:1-7 , where Christ was shown to be greater than Moses, as being the SON over the house of God, having (be it observed) been called ἀρχιερέα in Hebrews 3:1 . (For the comprehensive meaning of the expression, not limited either to the Mosaic dispensation or the visible Church, see what was said under Hebrews 3:4 ) On the now firmly grounded doctrinal bases of
The great admonition.
Having completed his elaborate argument, and concluded the doctrinal part of the treatise, the author warmly exhorts the Hebrews to maintain their Christian steadfastness. The appeal contained in these verses collects into a focus of intense light and heat the main teaching of this weighty book. The paragraph before us may be regarded as the center of gravity of the Epistle. It is also the key-note of the impressive representations and the loving counsels which occupy the remaining pages.
I. THE BELIEVER 'S PRIVILEGES . ( Hebrews 10:19-21 ) The word "therefore" introduces a brief summary of what precedes in the long section devoted to the priesthood of Christ (Heb 4:14-10:18). The grand substantive blessing of the gospel is that of access to God; and this has been secured in connection with:
1. An accepted Sacrifice. ( Hebrews 10:19 ) Hebrews 10:1-18 treats of this. Jesus has gone into heaven with his own blood, and- has been allowed to sprinkle it upon the mercy-seat. His blood has expiated the sins which debarred men from standing in the Divine presence. Washed in it, the penitent sinner may draw near to God with confidence.
2. An opened sanctuary. ( Hebrews 10:19 , Hebrews 10:20 ) Hebrews 9:1-28 . discusses this branch of the subject. Christians are admitted into a far nobler holy of holies than that from which ancient Israel were excluded. "A new and living way" to the Father has been opened up by Jesus; and it shall always be "new," because, in fact, the "living" Savior is himself the Way. The breaking of his body upon the cross was like the rending of "the veil," for it opened up the mercy-seat to man.
3. A glorious Intercessor. ( Hebrews 9:21 ) Hebrews 7:1-28 . treats of the might and majesty of this "great Priest." Through the merit of Christ's blood the believer takes his place immediately in front of the throne; and then, through the mediation of the Savior, who stands by his side, he is graciously maintained in this position.
"Holiness on the bead,
Light and perfections on the breast,
Harmonious bells below, raising the dead
To lead them unto life and rest:
Thus are true Aarons drest.
"Christ is my only Head,
My alone only Heart and Breast,
My only Music, striking me ev'n dead;
That to the old man I may rest.
And lie in him new drest."
II. THE DUTIES WHICH REST UPON THOSE PRIVILEGES . ( Hebrews 7:22-25 ) These are three in number, each being introduced with the words," Let us." They deal with our conduct towards God, towards the world, and towards the Church. Observance of them calls into exercise respectively the three great graces of the Pauline theology, the duties being those of faith toward God, hope exhibited before the world, and love to our fellow-believers.
1. The duty of Divine worship. ( Hebrews 7:22 ) Worship is the movement of the soul towards God. To "draw near" includes every form which it is possible for acceptable religious service to assume. The apostle, taking for granted that his readers appreciate the inestimable value of communion with God, indicates briefly the qualifications and features of acceptable worship.
2. The duty of public confession. ( Hebrews 7:23 ) It is not enough that we cherish deep religious convictions, and that we maintain a constant commerce with God in acts of secret prayer. We must acknowledge our Christian hope before men—with our lips and by our lives, and in the observance of the public ordinances of grace. We must not he ashamed to manifest profound spiritual earnestness, even in the presence of a persecuting world. To confess our hope will strengthen it. To refuse to acknowledge Christ is to deny him. And our confession ought to be a consistent "Yea." We are unfaithful if we allow it to sway to and fro, even although it should expose us to obloquy and danger. Seeing that our hope is grounded upon the sure promises of our Father God, why should not our acknowledgment of the truth he always explicit and consistent?
3. The duty of Christian fellowship. ( Hebrews 7:24 , Hebrews 7:25 ) Brotherly love should prevail among believers as brethren in Christ. Especially should those who are connected with the same congregation cherish a kindly and affectionate interest in one another Our Church-membership is not maintained merely for one's own personal edification. We should "consider one another" in the spirit of brotherly love, and so that we may be mutually helpful to each other in the Divine life. We are to take kindly thought of each other's excellences and defects, needs and dangers, trials and temptations, and to minister aid to one another accordingly. And in so far as we realize the bonds of love and sympathy which unite us to our Christian brethren, will we prize such opportunities of intercourse with them as the meetings of the Church afford. One great purpose of our "assembling of ourselves together" is to provide occasions for Christian conference and mutual exhortation. It was peculiarly necessary just now that the Hebrew believers should incite one another "unto love and good works," for "the day" of the destruction of Jerusalem and the final collapse of the Levitical system was fast "drawing nigh." That event is now past, but another and more tremendous "day of the Lord" is still to come. We ought as Christians to "consider" and "exhort" one another in view of "that great and notable day" on which Christ shall come to be our Judge, and to describe with his scepter the eternal boundaries of being and destiny.
The Christian's access to the Holy place.
"Having therefore, brethren, boldness to enter into," etc. Here the sacred writer enters upon the last great division of the Epistle. Having closed the argumentative portion, he opens the hortatory and admonitory part of his work. Our text is an exhortation to avail ourselves of the great privilege of access to the presence of God through the blood of Jesus. We have—
I. A DECLARATION or CHRISTIAN PRIVILEGE .
1. What the privilege is in itself. It is twofold.
2. How the privilege has been obtained for us. "By the blood of Jesus." It is by the sacrifice of Christ that we have the right of access to the presence of God. And it is by the infinite love of God manifested in that sacrifice that we have confidence in availing ourselves of this right. In a word, this great privilege has been obtained for us through the mediation of our Lord and Savior. This is here represented as a way: "By the way which he dedicated for us, a new and living way," etc. The description is instructive.
II. AN EXHORTATION TO AVAIL OURSELVES OF THIS PRIVILEGE , "Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith," etc. Consider how we are to avail ourselves of this privilege.
1. With perfect sincerity. "With a tree heart." A heart free from hypocrisy and from self-deception. "God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth."
2. With assured confidence. "In full assurance of faith." Not questioning our right of access, or the certainty of our gracious acceptance, through Christ. Not with divided confidence, but "in fullness of faith" in Christ. The full undivided faith is required, as Ebrard says, "not a faith such as the readers of the Epistle to the Hebrews had, who to the questions, 'Is Jesus the Messiah? Is he the Son of God?' replied in the affirmative indeed with head and mouth, but yet were not satisfied with the sacrifice of Christ, but thought it necessary still to lean on the crutches of the Levitical sacrifices, and on these crutches would limp into heaven." We fear that there is much of this divided faith at present, or at least a great lack of "fullness of faith" in the Savior. The faith of some is divided between the Christ and the Church, or some human priesthood; others, between the Christ and the sanctions of reason or philosophy; and others, between the Christ and what they conceive to be their own personal merits. If we would draw near to God acceptably, we must do so "in full assurance of faith" in our great Priest as the only and all-sufficient Mediator.
3. With purity of heart and life. "Having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience, and our body washed with pure water." There is a reference here to the Levitical purifications (cf. Exodus 29:21 ; Le Exodus 8:30 ; Exodus 16:4 , Exodus 16:24 ; Hebrews 9:13 , Hebrews 9:14 , Hebrews 9:21 , Hebrews 9:22 ; 1 Peter 1:2 ). And in the last clause of the text there is probably a reference to Christian baptism, which is symbolic of spiritual cleansing (cf. Acts 22:16 ). The idea seems to be that to approach God acceptably we must be morally pure in heart and in action. But "who can say, I have made my heart clean, I am pure from my sin?" And so we draw near to God at present trusting in the Christ for pardon and for purity. Through him we are justified before God by faith, and have daily cleansing for daily impurities. And hereafter we shall draw near to his blessed presence "having washed our robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb," and shall appear before him as members of "a glorious Church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing, but holy and without blemish."
1. How great are our privileges of present access to God in prayer, and hope of future approach to him in person!
2. How solemn are our obligations to avail ourselves of our privileges, and to walk worthily of them!—W.J.
I. WHY THE APPROACH IS TO BE MADE . There needed the statement of no reason here; the necessity of approach is assumed. The great thing required was to substitute a new ground and a new mode of approach for a ground and a mode which had become useless, nay, even harmful. The Israelite had always acknowledged that he must approach Deity in some way or other. If God had not appointed a certain way of access in the Levitical ordinances, the Israelite would have taken his own way. Indeed, it is lamentably plain that too much he did take his own way. He had to be turned from the golden calf by the sharpest of chastisements, and many a century elapsed before image-worship and debasing rites lost their hold upon him. Moses and the prophets, say all the representatives of Jehovah under the first covenant, had quite as hard work to turn away their fellow-countrymen from image-worship as the writer of this Epistle afterwards had to turn them away from types to antitypes, from shadow to substance, and from a temporary discipline to its abiding result in the Christ. The approach to God may be looked at as either a need or a duty, and whichever aspect be considered, it is evident that a loving, foreseeing God will provide the way. He provides the right way to the right end. Let us try to imagine him leaving Israel to its own devices when it escaped from Egypt. The people would still have built altars, slain sacrifices, and appointed priests. What God does is to deliver the conscience from the tyranny of every idolatry and bring it under reasonable government and guidance. He frees human religious customs from cruelty, lust, superstition, and makes them typical and instructive. And now we come to the means of a full approach to God in Christ, is it not plain that all this is to supply a corresponding need and give scope for a corresponding duty? Jesus tells us there is a true Vine; so there is a true altar, a true sacrifice, a true Priest. The image-worshipper, whose darkened heart is filled with falsehoods about the nature and the service of God, is yet faithful to what he thinks to be right. Shall we be less faithful, who have opportunities for such service and such blessing.
II. THE GROUND OF APPROACH . The spirit of man has to find its entrance into the holy place, and has to give its reason for confidence in expecting admission—a reason which every man must apply to his own understanding, so as to make his approach as practical, as persevering, as possible. It is not expected of us, who have no experience of the details of Mosaic sacrificial institutions, to appreciate all the details here. We have not to he won away from sacrifices of beasts and dependence on an earthly priest. But, nevertheless, we must apprehend that the only ground of satisfactory approach to God is in Christ. There is no way to reach harmony with that great Being in whom is light and no darkness at all, and who cannot be tempted with evil, save through Christ. In Christ there is hope for the sinner, something to draw him, something to lift him above useless resolutions and vain struggles. Jesus Christ is the Way. "You have come to Mount Zion," says the writer in Hebrews 12:1-29 . To the real Zion, which is part of the city of the living God. But we are brought there that we may be safely and permanently introduced into the true holy of holies, and into that communion with the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, which gives purity and blessedness.
III. THE MODE OF APPROACH . The whole man must be united in a true approach to God. It is now that we have to approach, and there can be no separation between the inward and the outward man. The heart must be right and the body must be right. Mere bodily approach could never have profited at any time, save to the extent that it freed the worshipper from the penalties of complete disobedience. But still bodily approach has its place. With the body we have to serve God; and cleanliness is not only a wholesome and a comfortable thing—it is also sacred. People have sometimes been exposed to ridicule by quoting the common saying, "Cleanliness is next to godliness," as being from the Scriptures. They are not so far wrong, for that is what this passage virtually says. Then with a true heart, and a vigorous, prosperous faith bearing us onwards, we shall make a real and secure progress towards possession of the mysteries of godliness.—Y.