Musings on the Epistle to the Hebrews: Hebrews 13

Hebrews 13
We are closing the epistle, and we get what is common in all the epistles — some little details. It is eminently the structure of Paul’s epistles to begin with doctrine and close with exhortation. So it is here. “Let brotherly love continue."
Then a brother may be a stranger. “Be not forgetful to entertain strangers." And to encourage them to that duty they are reminded that some in their own history entertained angels unawares. Then another duty, "Remember them that are in bonds," and the encouragement follows — "as bound with them." Take your place in the body of Christ as His prisoners, not prisoners corporeally but mystically. When he speaks of suffering for Christ’s sake he appeals to you in your mystic place; but when he speaks of suffering adversity (vs. 3) in a common, ordinary way, he appeals to natural life "as being yourselves also in the body."
Then we get the divine duties of purity and unworldliness. Unworldliness is expressed in the words, “Content with such things as ye have," not seeking to be richer tomorrow than today. Then the Lord speaks in verse 5, and you answer Him in verse 6. It is the response of faith to grace — the reply of the heart of the believer to the heart of the Lord God. Then comes the duty of subjection — "Remember them which have [which have had] the rule over you." Not a blind following of them, as when they were heathens (1 Cor. 12:22Ye know that ye were Gentiles, carried away unto these dumb idols, even as ye were led. (1 Corinthians 12:2)) following dumb idols. Are you to be led blindfold? No; you are to be led intelligently. “No one calls Jesus, Lord, but by the Holy Spirit." We are living people of a living temple. So it is, “considering the end of their conversation." They died in faith, as they preached faith. As one said shortly before he died: “I have preached Jesus, I have lived Jesus, and long to be with Jesus."
Now he leaves all that and starts in verse 8 from another point; and this verse 8 may be called the motto of the epistle. Only in one light I grant. What I mean is, that as we have seen before, the Spirit of God in this epistle is looking at one thing after another — taking a passing glance at angels, at Moses, at Joshua, at Aaron, at the old covenant, at the altars with their victims, and setting every one of them aside to let in Christ. And you would not have it otherwise. With your whole heart and your whole soul you set your seal to that. Let all go to make room for Christ; and when Christ is brought in, do not let Him go for anything. This is what you get in verse 8. He is gazing for a moment at the object of the epistle. “I have displaced everything to let Him in, and now keep Him before you." It is a most blessed peroration of the whole teaching of the epistle.
Then there comes a corollary — a conclusion to that: “Be not carried about with divers and strange doctrines," doctrines foreign to Christ. You have got everything in Christ; take care to hold fast by Him. Then if I get Christ as my religion I get grace. “It is a good thing that the heart be established with grace." The Lord is set before you and me as the sum of our religion, and that religion is a religion that breathes grace to the poor sinner.
Now do not read verse 9 as if you could to some extent establish your heart with meats. Observe the punctuation; a semicolon after “grace" cuts it off from the close of the verse. Meats do nothing for you; as he tells you in another place — "touch not, taste not, handle not." They bring neither profit nor honor to you. Suppose you accumulate carnal religious observances. If Colossians 2 tells me there is no honor in them, this tells me there is no profit in them. When probed and searched out they are all to the satisfaction of the flesh. The moment I get the Lord brought in, I get the heart established in grace. Did you ever hear it remarked that not a single religion on earth takes grace as its secret but the divine religion? It is keeping God quiet, if you can, with them all. God’s religion is the only religion ever thought of that takes grace for its basis. This is exactly contemplated here. Do not be carried about by doctrines foreign to Christ.
"We have an altar." What is the altar of this dispensation? It is an altar exclusively for burnt offerings — eucharistic services. The Jews had an altar for expiatory sacrifice. We have no such altar. Christ has been on the altar of expiation, and now we as priests minister at an altar of eucharistic services. We remember that the Son of God has bled, and we serve at an altar where we know sin as canceled, blotted out, thrown behind the back; and there at your altar you are rendering a constant service of thanksgiving. But they that go back to the services of the tabernacle have no right, no competency, to stand as priests at the altar of this dispensation. Many a loved and loving soul is struggling with a legal mind, but that is a very different thing from displacing Christ for anything, as the Galatians were doing, putting a crutch under Him. The Spirit in this epistle does not quarrel with the poor struggling soul, but if you are seeking to offer expiatory sacrifices and not holding your altar diligently for eucharistic services, you are blaspheming the sacrifice of the Son of God.
Now, having put you at your altar, and also within the holiest, he shows you your place outside the camp. Jesus was accepted in the holiest by God and He was put outside the camp by men. You are exactly to be with Christ in both these places. That is where this dispensation puts you; and if ever moral glory attached to a creature of God it is that which attaches to you at this moment. Called outside the camp with Him to bear His reproach! Are angels in such conditions? Did He ever say to them, “Ye are they which have continued with Me in My temptations"? Angels are never invited to be the companions of His sorrow. He has never put such honor on angels as on you. Therefore by-and-by the church will be nearer the throne than angels. “Here have we no continuing city." Christ had none.
But further, we see in verse 16 another beautiful thing, another character of service for your altar: "To do good and to communicate forget not." In various scriptures we find that the more joy we have in God, the more large-hearted we shall be to one another. It is the very character of joy to enlarge the heart. As in Nehemiah 8, where the prophet tells the people, "Go your way, eat the fat, and drink the sweet, and send portions unto them for whom nothing is prepared: for this day is holy unto our Lord: neither be ye sorry; for the joy of the Lord is your strength.... And all the people went their way... to send portions, and to make great mirth." A man that is happy himself can afford to look round and make others happy with him.
After this the apostle comes to those who have present rule. Those in verse 7 are those who had died. Is this a, blind subjection, I ask again? No; you are to take knowledge of them. “They watch for your souls." Office without power, without the unction of the Holy Spirit, is a thing this dispensation does not know; and if we know of it, we have got into the corrupt element of it and out of God’s element. It is a part of your fidelity to God to keep the dispensation in purity; and mere official authority is an idol.
This vessel of the Holy Spirit, this mightiest servant that ever served in God’s name, comes down to the feeblest saint, "Pray for us," and he asks it on the authority of a good conscience. Could you ask another to pray for you if you were purposing to err? I will answer for it, you could not. And here it is on the ground of a good conscience that the apostle asks prayer. Then he gives them a subject of prayer. Oh! the familiarity of scripture! You are not taken out of your own world of affections and sympathies. Then he breaks out into his doxology.
Now, if we remember what we were saying to one another we shall find here something new and strange. We get the Lord in this verse 20 in resurrection not ascension. The great theme of the epistle is, as we have seen from the beginning hitherto, Christ displayed in heaven, but here the apostle does not go beyond resurrection. Why in closing does he bring down Christ from heaven? He has been keeping our eyes straining after Him into heaven, and just at the close He brings Him down to earth. Yes, for it is very sweet to know that we need not travel beyond death and resurrection to come in contact with the God of peace. You have reached the God of peace when you have reached the God of resurrection. Resurrection shows that death is abolished. Death is the wages of sin; and if death is abolished sin is abolished, because death hangs on sin as the shadow on the substance.
The covenant is called “everlasting," because it is never to be displaced. The old covenant was put away. The new covenant is ever new, never abrogated. The blood is as fresh this moment to speak peace to the conscience as when it rent the veil. So when we come to daily life we are brought down to be in all simplicity in company with the God of peace that has raised the great Shepherd from the dead by the blood that has sealed remission of sins forever. So you may forget sin. In one great sense we shall remember it forever, but as far as that which constitutes your condition before God you may forget it forever.
Then he prays that God may adjust and mold us to do His will. What poor adjustment there is in you and me compared with that verse. We are awkward in our business, as if we were not at home in it. And then, at the last, he just closes by a few common words to the brethren. "Grace be with you all. Amen."