The important nature of the Epistle to the Hebrews demands that we should
examine it with peculiar care. It is not the presentation of Christian
position in itself, viewed as the fruit of sovereign grace, and of the work
and the resurrection of Christ, or as the result of the union of Christians
with Christ, the members of the body with the Head-a union which gives them
the enjoyment of every privilege in Him. It is an epistle in which one who
has apprehended indeed the whole scope of Christianity, considered as
placing the Christian in Christ before God, whether individually or as a
member of the body, looks nevertheless at the Lord from here below; and
presents His Person and His offices as between us and God in heaven, while
we are in feebleness on earth, for the purpose of detaching us (as walking
on earth from all that would attach us in a religious way to the earth;
even when-as was the case among the Jews-the bond had been ordained by God
The epistle shews us Christ in heaven, and consequently that our religious
bonds with God are heavenly, although we are not yet personally in heaven
ourselves nor viewed as united to Christ there. Every bond with the earth
is broken, even while we are walking on the earth.
These instructions naturally are given in an epistle addressed o the Jews,
because their religious relationships had been earthly, and at the same
time solemnly appointed by God Himself. The heathen, as to their religions,
had no formal relationships except with demons.
In the case of the Jews this rupture with the earth was in its nature so
much the more solemn, the more absolute and conclusive, from the
relationship having been divine. This relationship was to be fully
acknowledged and entirely abandoned, not here because the believer is dead
and risen again in Christ, but because Christ in heaven takes the place of
all earthly figures and ordinances. God Himself, who had instituted the
ordinances of the law, now established other bonds, different indeed in
character; but it was still the same God.
This fact gives occasion for His relationships with Israel being resumed by
Him hereafter, when the nation shall be re-established and in the enjoyment
of the promises. Not that this epistle views them as actually on that
ground; on the contrary it insists on what is heavenly, and walking by
faith as Abraham and others who had not the promises, but it lays down
principles which can apply to that position, and in one or two passages it
leaves (and ought to leave) a place for this ultimate blessing of the
nation. The Epistle to the Romans, in the direct instruction which it
furnishes, cannot leave this place for the blessings proper to the Jewish
people. In its point of view all are alike sinners, and all in Christ are
justified together before God in heaven. Still less in the Epistle to the
Ephesians, with the object which it has in view, could there be room for
speaking of the future blessing of God's people on the earth. It only
contemplates Christians as united to their heavenly Head, as His body; or
as the habitation of God on earth by the Holy Ghost. The Epistle to the
Romans, in the passage that shews the compatibility of this salvation
(which, because it was of God, was for all without distinction) with the
faithfulness of God to His promises made to the nation, touches the chord
of which we speak even more distinctly that the Epistle to the Hebrews; and
shews us that Israel will-although in a different way from before-resume
their place in the line peculiar to the heirs of promise; a place which
through their sin, was partially left vacant for a time to allow the
bringing in of the Gentiles on the principle of faith into this blessed
succession. We find this in Romans 11. But the object in both epistles is
to separate the faithful entirely from earth, and to bring them into
relationship religiously with heaven; the one (that to the Romans) as
regards their personal presentation to God by means of forgiveness and
divine righteousness, the other with respect to the means that God has
established, in order that the believer, in his walk here below, may find
his present relationships with heaven maintained and his daily connection
with God preserved in its integrity.
I have said preserved, because this is the subject of the epistle; [see note #1]
but it must
be added, that these relationships are established on this ground by divine
revelations, which communicate the will of God and the conditions under
which He is pleased to connect Himself with His people.
We should also remark, that in the Epistle to the Hebrews, although the
relationship of the people with God is established on a new ground, being
founded on the heavenly position of the Mediator, they are considered as
already existing. God treats with a people already known to Him. He
addresses persons in relationship with Himself, and who for a long period
have held the position of a people whom God had taken out from the world
unto Himself. It is not, as in Romans, sinners without law or transgressors
of the law, between whom there is no difference, because all have alike
come entirely short of the glory of God, all alike are the children of
wrath, or, as in Ephesians, an entirely new creation unknown before. They
were in need of some better thing; but those here addressed were in that
need because they were in relationship with God, and the condition of their
relationship with Him brought nothing to perfection. That which they
possessed was in fact nothing but signs and figures; still, the people
were, I again say, a people in relationship with God. Many of them might
refuse the new method of blessing and grace, and consequently would be
lost: but the link between the people and God is accounted to subsist: only
that, Messiah having been revealed, a place among that people could not be
had but in the recognition of Messiah.
It is very important for the understanding of this Epistle to apprehend
this point, namely, that it is addressed to Hebrews on the ground of a
relationship which still existed [see note #2], although in only retained its force
in so far as they acknowledged the Messiah, who was its corner-stone.
hence the first words connect their present state with previous
revelations, instead of breaking off all connection and introducing a new
thing as yet unrevealed.
Some remarks on the form of the epistle will help us to understand it better.
It does not contain the name of its author. The reason of this is touching
and remarkable. It is that the Lord Himself, according to this epistle, was
the Apostle of Israel. The apostles whom He sent were only employed to
confirm His words by transmitting them to others, God Himself confirming
their testimonies by miraculous gifts. This also makes us understand that,
although as Priest the Lord is in heaven for the exercise of His priesthood
there, and in order to establish on new ground the relationship of the
people with God, yet the communications of God with His people by means of
the Messiah had begun when Jesus was on earth living in their midst.
Consequently the character of their relationship was not union with Him in
heaven; it was relationship with God on the ground of divine communications
and of the service of a Mediator with God.
Moreover this epistle is a discourse, a treatise, rather than a letter
addressed in the exercise of apostolic functions to saints with whom the
writer was personally in connection. The author takes the place of a
teacher rather than of an apostle. He speaks doubtless from the height of
the heavenly calling, but in connection with the actual position of the
Jewish people; nevertheless it was for the purpose of making believers at
length understand that they must abandon that position.
The time for judgment on the nation was drawing near; and with regard to
this the destruction of Jerusalem had great significance, because it
definitely broke off all outward relationship between God and the Jewish
people. There was no longer an altar or sacrifice, priest or sanctuary.
Every link was then broken by judgment, and remains broken until it shall
be formed again under the new covenant according to grace.
Further, it will be found that there is more contrast than comparison. The
veil is compared, but then, closing the entrance to the sanctuary, now, a
new and living way into it; a sacrifice, but the repeated, so as to say
sins were still there, now once for all so that there is no remembrance of
sins; and so of every important particular.
The author of this epistle (Paul, I doubt not, but this is of little
importance) employed other motives than that of the approaching judgment to
induce the believing Jews to abandon their Judaic relationships. It is this
last step however which he engages them to take; and the judgment was at
hand. Until now they had linked Christianity with Judaism.; there had been
thousands of Christians who were very zealous for the law. But God was
about to destroy that system altogether-already in fact judged by the Jews'
rejection of Christ, and by their resistance to the testimony of the Holy
Ghost. Our Epistle engages believers to come forth entirely from that
system and to bear the Lord's reproach, setting before them a new
foundation for their relationship with God in a High Priest who is in the
heavens. At the same time it links all that it says with the testimony of
God by the prophets through the intermedium of Christ, the Son of God,
speaking during His life on earth, though now speaking from heaven.
Thus the new position is plainly set forth, but continuity with the former
is also established; and we have a glimpse, by means of the new covenant,
of continuity also with that which is to come-a thread by which another
state of things, the millennial state, is connected with the whole of God's
dealings with the nation, although that which is taught and developed in
the Epistle is the position of believers (of the people), formed by the
revelation of a heavenly Christ on whom depended all their connection with
God. They were to come forth from the camp; but it was because Jesus, in
order to sanctify the people with His own blood, suffered without the gate.
For here there is no continuing city: we seek one that is to come. The
writer places himself among the remnant of the people as one of them. He
teaches with the full light of the Holy Ghost, but not those to whom he had
been sent as an apostle, with the apostolic authority which such a mission
would have given him over them. It will be understood that in saying this
we speak of the relationship of the writer, not of the inspiration of the
While developing the sympathies of Christ and His sufferings, in order to
shew that He is able to compassionate the suffering and the tried, the
Epistle does not bring forward His humiliation nor the reproach of the
cross, till quite at the end when-His glory having been set forth-the
author engages the Jew to follow Him and to share His reproach.
The glory of the Messiah's Person, His sympathies, His heavenly glory, are
made prominent in order to strengthen the faltering faith of the Jewish
Christians, and to fortify them in their Christian position, that they
might view the latter in its true character; and that they themselves,
being connected with heaven and established in their heavenly calling,
might learn to bear the cross and to separate themselves from the religion
of the flesh, and not draw back to a Judaism just ready to pass away.
We must look then in this Epistle for the character of relationships with
God, formed upon the revelation of the Messiah in the position which He had
taken on high, and not for the doctrine of a new nature approach to God in
the holiest, impossible in Judaism, but no revelation of the Father, nor
union with Christ on high.
He is speaking to persons who were familiar with the privileges of the fathers.
God had spoken to the fathers by the prophets at different times and in
different ways; and now, at the end of those days, that is to say, at the
end of the days of the Israelite dispensation, in which the law ought to
have been in vigour, at the end of the times during which God maintained
relationship with Israel (sustaining them with a disobedient people by
means of the prophets)-at the end then of those days God had spoken in the
Person of the Son. There is no breach to begin a wholly new system. The God
who had spoken before by the prophets now went on to speak in Christ.
It was not only by inspiring holy men (as He had done before), that they
might recall Israel to the law and announce the coming of the Messiah.
Himself had spoken as the Son-in [His] Son. We see at once that the writer
connects the revelation made by Jesus [see note #3] of the thoughts of God, with
the former words addressed to Israel by the prophets. God has spoken, he
says, identifying himself
with His people, to us, as He spake to our fathers by the prophets.
The Messiah had spoken, the Son of whom the scriptures had already
testified. This gives occasion to lay open, according to the scriptures,
the glory of this Messiah, of Jesus, with regard to His Person, and to the
position He has taken.
And here we must always remember, that it is the Messiah of whom he is
speaking-He who once spoke on the earth. He declares indeed His divine
glory; but it is the glory of Him who has spoken which he declares, the
glory of that Son who had appeared according to the promises made to
This glory is twofold, and in connection with the twofold office of Christ.
It is the divine glory of the Person of the Messiah, the Son of God. The
solemn authority of His word is connected with this glory. And then there
is the glory with which His humanity is invested according to the counsels
of God-the glory of the Son of man; a glory connected with His sufferings
during His sojourn here below, which fitted Him for the exercise of a
priesthood both merciful and intelligent with regard to the necessities and
the trials of His people.
These two chapters are the foundation of all the doctrine of the epistle.
In chapter 1 we find the divine glory of the Messiah's Person; in chapter
2:1-4 (which continues the subject), the authority of His word; and from
2:5-18 His glorious humanity. As man, all things are put in subjection
under Him; nevertheless, before being glorified, He took part in all the
sufferings and in all the temptations to which the saints, whose nature He
had assumed, are subjected. With this glory His priesthood is connected: He
is able to succour them that are tempted, in that He Himself hath suffered
being tempted. Thus He is the Apostle and the High Priest of the "called"
To this twofold glory is joined an accessory glory: He is Head, as Son ,
over God's house, possessing this authority as the One who created all
things, even as Moses had authorityas a servant in the house of God on
earth. Now the believers, whom the inspired writer was addressing, were
this house, if at least they held fast their confession of His name unto
the end. For the danger of the Hebrew converts was that of losing their
confidence, because there was nothing before their eyes as the fulfillment
of the promises. Consequently exhortations follow (chapter 3:7-4:13) which
refer to the voice of the Lord, as carrying the word of God into the midst
of the people, in order that they might not harden their hearts.
>From chapter 4:14 the subject of the priesthood is treated, leading to the
value of the sacrifice of Christ, but introducing also the two covenants in
passing, and insisting on the change of the law necessarily consequent upon
the change of priesthood. Then comes the value of the sacrifice very fully
in contrast with the figures that accompanied the old; and on which, and on
the blood which was shed in them, the covenant itself was founded. This
instruction on the priesthood continues to the end of verse 18 in chapter
10. The exhortations founded thereon introduce the principle of the
endurance of faith, which leads to chapter 11, in which the cloud of
witnesses is reviewed, crowning them with the example of Christ Himself,
who completed the whole career of faith in spite of every obstacle, and who
shews us where this painful but glorious path terminates. (Chap. 12:2)
>From chapter 12:3 he enters more closely into the trials found in the path
of faith, and gives the most solemn warning with regard to the danger of
those who draw back, and the most precious encouragements to those who
persevere in it, setting forth the relationship into which we are brought
by grace: and finally in chapter 13 he exhorts the faithful Hebrews on
several points of detail, and in particular on that of unreservedly taking
the Christian position under the cross, laying stress on the fact that
Christians alone had the true worship of God, and that they who chose to
persevere in Judaism had no right to take part in it. In a word, he world
have them to separate themselves definitely from a Judaism which was
already judged, and to lay hod of the heavenly calling, bearing the cross
here below. It was now a heavenly calling, and the path a path of faith.
Such is the summary of our Epistle. We return now to the study of its
chapters in detail.