Hebrews 3:14-19

It is the wilderness which is ever before us in this Epistle; not Canaan, the type of the heavenly places, which is the ground of the Epistle; to the Ephesians. It is here therefore the scene of trial and danger through unbelief, with the fleshly and worldly lusts to which it exposes. Hence here too the early exhortations interspersed with doctrine. Further as in the first Epistle to the Corinthians, profession has prominence. For though reality is assumed, room is left, for those whose minds only accepted the truth which their lips confessed, but were not born of God, and hence fell away through fear, external attraction, revival of old religious habits, or other causes of a natural kind. For this reason we have responsibility urged with grave warnings, and as the Gentile saints are so dealt with in Corinth, so here are the Hebrews that bore the name of the Lord Jesus. Therefore, as has been often remarked, the “ifs” which so abound in this context as elsewhere. Faith profits by the admonitions which flesh takes lightly to its fall in the desert. Where the tie of life and love was never formed between Christ and the soul, the need of grace and mercy is not felt; glory on high fades into nothingness as the earth rises before the heart as a place of present enjoyment in desire, if not effectively.
“For we have become fellows of Christ, if only we hold fast the beginning of the assurance until the end; while it is said, Today if ye hear His voice, harden not your hearts, as in the provocation. For who on hearing did provoke? Nay, did not all that came out of Egypt through Moses? And with whom was He displeased forty years? And to whom sware He that they should not enter into His rest but to the disobedient? And we see that they could not enter in on account of unbelief” (verses 14-19).
The word here translated “fellows” is the same as is quoted from the Greek version of Psalm 45 in chapter 1:9. “Companion” would be more modern English, but the same rendering is kept up here as in the Psalm to which the allusion is made. “Partakers” not only breaks the thread of connection, but suggests what might easily mislead. There is no lowering of Christ's glory in applying “fellows” to those who confess Him. For when first used, the Holy Spirit carefully recalls how God owns Messiah as God, and even when grace adds “fellows” of His people, He is anointed as man above His fellows. He that sanctifies and they that are sanctified are all of one, and to be manifested in the same heavenly glory. But some who seemed to begin well stop short or turn aside. It was faith of mere mind and feeling, not the Holy Spirit's living work in the conscience; and such in the strain of trial, or weary of habitual self-judgment, or turning again to the mirth and pleasant enjoyments of the world, abandon first the path, and then the word, and the name of Christ. The danger of the Hebrew confessors found its parallel in their fathers' snares during the journeyings of the wilderness, and we now in Christendom are exposed to like danger. The possession of the heavenly privileges is evidenced and conditioned by holding steadfast to the end the beginning of the assurance of the Christian.
How, then, say some who assume to teach that it is presumption to have any such “assurance"? For the assurance here insisted on as proper, necessary, and incumbent from first to last is grounded on the glorified Lord Jesus, our propitiation and our high priest, on the divine dignity of His Person and the accepted efficacy of His work for us, leading, as He undertook, many sons to glory. One can hardly therefore find doctrine more opposed to the gospel than a preliminary denial of that assurance which every Christian is solemnly exhorted, not merely to have, but to hold fast and firm to the end. If assurance be founded on anything in ourselves, the sooner the better to abandon what was really self-righteous and unbecoming and spurious. The confidence which dispenses with continued dependence on God is worthless and a delusion of the enemy. But if we rest on Him by faith, we are bound to have and cherish by faith what is only His due. And it may be that the Hellenistic sense of “confidence,” while certain from the usage of Polybius (4. 54,10; 5.16,4; 6.55, 2; Diod. Sic., etc.) as cited in modern commentaries, flows from its primitive meaning of subsistence, substance, and the like. Compare Hebrews 4:33For we which have believed do enter into rest, as he said, As I have sworn in my wrath, if they shall enter into my rest: although the works were finished from the foundation of the world. (Hebrews 4:3) and Hebrews 11:11Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. (Hebrews 11:1). It points strongly to an objective base in the Christ, instead of a mere sentiment in the soul which might easily change and fade away. But the Spirit, where there is life, keeps believers true to the Lord.
Doubtless “today” is a serious and trying time (ver. 15). We are in the wilderness, and without God what is there but difficulty and danger for His people, weak as spilled water in themselves? But there especially He speaks in His word; and even when the kingdom comes, the prophetic word calls His own to hear His voice. If they were bitterly provoking, He was patient and gracious. And if there be difference now, as there is assuredly, since Christ accomplished redemption, and took His seat at God's right hand, and sent down the Holy Spirit to be in us who believe, it is still said, “Today if ye hear His voice, harden not your hearts as in the provocation.” What He has done and revealed and made ours, so transcending all wrought of old in Egypt and the desert, ought to be the most powerful stimulus, as well as firm foundation, in heeding His revealed will against our treacherous hearts, so sure to grow hard if we slight His word or tamper with sin. “Today” is till Jesus comes, the point so constant in N. T. expectation.
“For who on hearing did provoke? Nay, did not all who came out of Egypt through Moses?” (ver. 16).
The A. V. followed the indefinite pronoun, not the interrogation as is here preferred with the R. V. Thus the appeal has all force. It was not “some” only, but the mass, as is put immediately afterward, a shameful answer to Jehovah's favor toward Israel. And it is of painful interest to observe how the Spirit employs the same scenes with yet more detail in 1 Corinthians 10 to warn the Gentile faithful at Corinth, as here for the Jewish. What made the case so grave is that it was after they heard they fell into the provocation. So sin is worse far in a baptized man than in a mere Jew or Gentile; and the idolatry of Mary or Peter or an angel worse in the sight of God than that of Zeus or Venus. All that came out of Egypt by Moses. What power, judicial and delivering, had they not witnessed! What continual goodness and withal solemn dealings with rebellion and profanity! The Christian profession is admonished to beware of similar departure. “And with whom was He displeased forty years? Was it not with those that sinned, whose carcasses fell in the wilderness?” (ver 17). It was no mere sudden slip, but the grave evil of habitual state that aroused His strong displeasure; in fact, the whole period of His unparalleled intervention in the wilderness, where their stay gave occasion to His constant and wondrous tokens of mercy before all eyes. But without faith it is impossible to please Him, or walk in obedience, holiness and love. Without it there is but sin continually; as they sinned, and their carcasses fell. For God is not mocked, nor His righteous government, which was then visibly displayed.
“And to whom sware He that they should not enter into His rest, but to the disobedient?” (ver. 18). Disobedience, and above all disobedience such as this, God abhors and judges. It is not meant isolated acts, but insubjection to Himself; just the opposite of what Romans 1 calls the obedience of faith, now especially as He has revealed Himself in grace in the Lord Jesus. It is yet deeper than obedience to His commands, however important this may be in its place, and the proof not only of love, but of divinely characterized faith, and therefore of life in Christ. Such as are insubmissive to Himself, especially now that the Son has declared Him, shall assuredly not enter into the rest of God, the heavenly glory at Christ's coming. So He swore then; as His wrath is now revealed from heaven against all such ungodliness, even if after a sort they hold the truth ever so fast in unrighteousness.
The next verse closes this portion with a word on the root of the evil thus disclosed. “And we see that they could not enter in on account of unbelief” (ver. 19). Their having disobeyed God in the sense of hearkening not to His word, and thus of insubjection to Himself, pointed to their inward unbelief. Present, palpable, visible things were their all. God was in none of their thoughts really; for it is no question of idle dreamy sentiment, but of spiritual life. How could unbelief or those marked by it enter His blessed glorious rest?