Hebrews: Its Aim, and for Whom Written? Part 2

Hebrews  •  14 min. read  •  grade level: 8
Listen from:
But I prefer at present to follow out the direct teaching of this Epistle, which makes all clear, if anything can, if there is spiritual intelligence. Further, then, in this chapter it is said, “Whose house are we, if we hold fast the confidence and the rejoicing of the hope firm unto the end.” To whom does this apply? For whom is it written? Are unbelieving Jews, however inclined to listen, the house of Christ as the exalted Son of God?
Are they to hold fast their profession, the beginning of their confidence and rejoicing of hope, firm to the end? The Jewish remnant is not, further, a partaker of the heavenly calling, but of the earthly. In a word, thus far we have Christ, not as Melchisedec priest, but as sitting at the right hand of God, the High Priest of our profession; and those addressed are “partakers of the heavenly calling,” and are to hold fast their first confidence. We, says the writer, are His house if we do. “Made partakers of Christ,” which in English might embarrass a soul, offers no difficulty, but the contrary. It is final partaking with Him in glory, according to chap. 1:9, where “fellows” is the same word. Some remarks on how far this chapter may subsequently suit the remnant in its use of the wilderness history I will make when I refer to that point.
In chap. 4 it is said, “For we which have believed do enter into rest.” Does “we which have believed” (οἱ πιστεύσαντες) apply to unbelievers? and this of the rest of sons whom God was bringing to glory? Again I read, “Seeing then that we have a great high priest that is passed into the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our profession.” Whose? Whose then? The unbelievers willing to listen, or even the Jewish remnant after the church is gone, have no profession to hold fast which a Christian could call “ours,” when he referred to having a high priest in the heavens. This priesthood, moreover, a present priesthood which “we have,” has nothing to do with a Melchisedec priesthood; it is a priesthood for the time of need, a priest who can be touched with the feeling of our infirmities, tempted in all points like we are, except sin; so that we can come boldly to the throne of grace for mercy and help in time of need. This is priesthood, and not Melchisedec priesthood, after enemies are destroyed; but what enables us to come boldly to a throne of grace for mercy and help.
In chap. v. the “For” of this first verse shows that the Aaronic priesthood was founded on this very principle. It is not Christ’s priesthood itself, as the fifth verse very clearly and positively shows; but it takes the Aaronic priesthood as a sample of the thoughts of God in priesthood, clearly not Melchisedec priesthood. It was different from Christ’s, inasmuch as the Aaronic priesthood had sympathy while in, and because they were in, the same weakness as the others who drew nigh to God; whereas Christ’s priesthood is exercised in the heavens. The partaking of the sorrows, when here, fitted Him for it, as chaps. ii. 18, iv. 15, 16 show, and v. 7. But THESE took place in the days of His flesh before He became a priest. He became that when perfected on high, for “we have a great high priest that is passed into the heavens.” This makes the place and nature of His priesthood as clear as possible. He was tempted and suffered here below, as we suffer, to be fitted for it, touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but He exercises it on high. These two points are the fundamental and essential ones of the doctrine of the epistle, while it clearly states that it is for us. He is the High Priest of our profession. He is the author of eternal salvation to all those who obey Him. That those whom the apostle thus addresses were Christians will appear in the strongest light from what is here and afterward said of them: Christians in danger of being led away by judaism and of apostatizing.
“For the time ye ought to be teachers” (ver. 12). What had time to do if they were unbelievers or Jews? or how could the writer say to the Jewish remnant after the church was gone, that they for the time ought to be teachers? Ye ought to be teachers. Who? The unbelieving remnant?
And now let the reader remark here what lies at the root of all this question.
We have seen as clearly as Scripture could make it, a priesthood based on Christ’s being exalted at the right hand of the Majesty in the heavens on the one hand, and on His having been tempted, and having suffered, and having learned obedience here below in the days of His flesh on the other; the priest of our profession who has the heavenly calling, a priest, as we shall see, who is entered into the heavens as our forerunner; and able, as having suffered, to help those who are tempted; and this priest is the priest according to the order of Melchisedec. (See chap. v. 7-10). We have the whole process of His perfecting for priest and then He is saluted of God a High Priest after the order of Melchisedec.
Is it not perfectly clear that, though, personally, the priesthood be not after the order of Aaron, but a new one, the exercise of the priesthood is not after the similitude of Melchisedec? Save what belongs to the person, not one clement of Melchisedec priesthood is here found. The priest is in heaven, and profits by sufferings experienced here below to succor a tempted and suffering people. So that we come boldly to the throne of grace. I add to this, that it is after He has perfected the work of propitiation, chap. 1:3 to chap. 2:17, where “reconciliation” should be “propitiation” (ἰλάσχεσθαι)—but His priesthood, wholly and expressly on high, and He is on no Melchisedec throne, no throne of His own at all, but on the Father’s throne, on the right hand of the throne of God; not after His enemies are all subdued, but expecting till His enemies be made His footstool. His priesthood is this; not Melchisedec priesthood in its place or exercise. I remark further, that though the application of every blessing, all the work of God in good from creation on, is by the Spirit, yet that that truth is not taught here. The person who feels for us has had experience, so as to be able to feel for us. “Who is able to succor the tempted” is not the Spirit here, but Christ, and Christ as priest. And this is a most important thing. For the heart of the Christian, Christ is an object of affection, which the Spirit—though we are indebted to His working for every blessing—cannot be.
I pursue my inquiry into the contents of the epistle. They for the time ought to be teachers; and (chap. vi.) the writer will not go back to Jewish elements. How does he speak of the responsibility of those he addresses? He will go on to perfection (that is, the estate of full age: it is the same root-word as in chap. v. 14, “full age”) with those he addresses. “For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted of the heavenly gift, and were made partakers of the Holy Ghost, and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the world to come, if they shall fall away, to renew them again to repentance, seeing they crucify to themselves the Son of God.” Is that the state of Jews disposed to listen then, or of the Jewish remnant in the last days? Falling away from having enjoyed their privileges is the thing contemplated. But these two categories of persons had never enjoyed them at all. And this is the aim of the whole epistle—to guard against falling away. The nation had crucified Christ—they might be forgiven it as an act of ignorance; but these, after the enjoyment of Christian privileges, did it for themselves; then there was no help. But in spite of this so solemn warning, he hoped better things of those he addressed, for they had brought forth fruits of grace. He could not think they could fall away from their privileges; for fruits of life had been shown. Only he desired that every one of them might show the same diligence to the full assurance of hope to the end. Is that addressed to a then unbelieving remnant, or to Christians who had received all fullness of privileges, and whose fruits made their teacher fully hope they would not abandon them? What was falling away from unbelief? The best thing they could do was to give it up. What was the same diligence to be shelved to the end in unbelievers? And what was the hope that belonged to them? It entered in within the veil whither the forerunner was entered for them, even Jesus. That is not the hope of the remnant, no more than the beginning of the chapter was the state of the remnant. Their hope is deliverance. The forerunner is for us entered within the veil. We hope to be with Him in heaven. Jesus is gone in: we are to follow Him there. Yet this is He who is made a High Priest after the order of Melchisedec.
The inspired writer then unfolds this priesthood of Melchisedec; but of the exercise of the priesthood not a word. All relates to His person, and the setting aside of the law by the setting up of another priest. There is large allusion to the history, or to His person and personal dignity; but not a word as to what He did. But we have the bringing in of a better hope, by the which we draw nigh to God. Who? the unbelieving Jews ready to listen? Of whom does the writer say, “We draw nigh unto God”; and “He is able also to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by him, seeing he ever liveth to make intercession for them”? Here we have an ever living priest, by whom we draw nigh to God, able to save through and through to the end (not because He has perfected us by His offering, infinitely precious, unspeakably precious, as that is; not because He has died for us, though that be the ground of all, a ground even for the Father’s love of Him; but) because He ever lives to make intercession for us. Appearing in the presence of God for us is another thing, and otherwise expressed in this epistle (chap. ix. 24). And really “ever living to appear,” has very little sense. He is able, since He ever lives, to do something which requires activity, is plain enough; but “ever living to appear” is not a sentence which could commend itself to any sober mind taught of God.
But ἐντυγχάνειν does not mean that; it means “to intercede.” If he who has given occasion to this paper likes to take the dictionary sense given by his correspondent as a general idea, I have no objection. “Talking with, or getting to the spirit of another”; that is, activity; not appearing before another, but talking with that other, getting to his spirit, if we are so to express it. And I insist distinctly, that the use of it in Rom. 8 is a very distinct and plain proof of its meaning. The Holy Ghost in us does not appear before God for us. He is active in us, and makes us groan, and God recognizes it as His activity in us; finds the mind of the Spirit in us; for He makes intercession for the saints. This is activity. It is talking to another, even to God, in a groan; and, if I am reverently to use such an expression, “it gets to His Spirit.” God apprehends His mind when even we cannot, and recognizes it as His, accepts it. He talks to another, and it gets, as far as we may venture to use the words, it gets to His Spirit—it reaches God’s mind and heart.1 Christ ever lives to intercede for us on high. I say “for us,” not as sitting in heavenly places, but as coming to God by Him. I say “us,” “for such an high priest became us, who is holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners, made higher than the heavens.” “Became us” because we belong to heaven—go in spirit into heaven in our coming to God. We have not to do with a priest on a throne on earth, or on His own throne anywhere; but with one who is now made higher than the heavens.
Such is the priesthood of Christ always in this epistle, a present priesthood, a priesthood in heaven, a priesthood on the right hand of the Majesty in the heavens, exercised there; a priesthood, not after the order of Aaron as to person or descent, but our Lord, priest on high after the power of an endless life, personally similar to, and after the order of, Melchisedec, but never introduced as exercising His priesthood after the pattern, or in the place of, Melchisedec; always, from chapter ii. and iii. as compared with and contrasted with Aaron’s, to lift Jewish Christians (for they were Jewish Christians specifically), then from Jewish habits of association with that which was on earth, in showing a present priesthood exercised above the heavens, and to preserve them by grace from falling away from the heavenly things to what they were used to; and I may add, to bring them out from what they had hitherto staid in, the camp—outward association with Israel and a judged system, and by teaching which, for us, is based on the truth, in its continual exercise, that He ever lives to do it, now as then. It is the exercise of a continual priesthood after He had offered up Himself once for all.
It is well that the reader should remark, that though the sacrifice has been stated (it is spoken of in the very first chapter, so in the second, as it is again here), we have not one word as yet of being made perfect in fact or in conscience, but the priest’s fitness for tempted exercised souls down here; a priest who can be touched with the feeling of our infirmities. He is gone on high, but we have no perfecting by sacrifice, no appearing— as yet in the presence of God for us. Though the value of His priesthood for tried ones, and its fitness, is fully stated, as yet it is not our perfectness before God, but help for the feeble and tried, who need help and mercy. It is to this last that priesthood is applied, and priesthood at the right hand of God, on the right hand of the throne of Majesty on high, not at all on any Melchisedec throne. And this application of the priesthood of Christ to our infirmities and help in time of need is the more remarkable, because, when the author of the epistle comes to speak of perfectness through His offering and His appearing in the presence of God for us, he does not speak of Him as priest at all; the reference to His priesthood is wholly dropped. Though contrasted with the Jewish priesthood, infirmities, help, intercession, ever living to make it, and these alone are identified with His priesthood—save the fact of propitiation in chap. ii., which is admitted to be an exceptional case, in which the high priest represented the people (not a proper act of priesthood, though of the high priest on the day of atonement)—and on the other hand, when our perfecting by His offering of Himself, and His appearing in the presence of God for us, is spoken of, priesthood is wholly dropped. There is distinct and marked contrast. That is not priesthood, intercession is, according to the Epistle to the Hebrews.
[J. N. D.]
(Continued from page 188)
(To be continued)