The Epistle to the Hebrews

Hebrews 13
The last chapter gives us practical exhortations as to brotherly love continuing; then as to kindness to strangers, or hospitality; finally, as to pity for those in bonds. "Be mindful of those in bonds, as bound with them; and of those which suffer adversity." He insists on the honor and purity of the marriage tie, and the abhorrence that God has for those that despise and corrupt it, and the sure judgment that will come upon them. He presses a conversation without covetousness, and a spirit of content, founded on our confidence in the Lord's care.
At the same time he exhorts the believers as to their chiefs; that is, those who guided them spiritually. It is likely that the Hebrew believers were somewhat unruly. And he puts forward their relation to their leaders, in various forms. First, they were to remember those that once ruled them. Those were now gone from the scene of their trials and labors, of "whom, considering the issue of their conversation, imitate the faith."
This naturally leads the Apostle to bring before them One that never ends—"Jesus Christ [is) the same yesterday, and today, and forever." Why should His saints be carried away with questions about meats and drinks? He is the same unchangingly and evermore, as He has ever been. "Be not carried about with divers and strange doctrines. For it is a good thing that the heart be established in grace." See how this word, this thought, always predominates in the epistle. Why turn back to "meats, which have not profited them that have been occupied therein?"
Had they been taunted with having no altar, with possessing nothing so holy and so glorious in its associations? It was only owing to the blindness of Israel. For, says he, "we have an altar," yes, more than that, an altar, "whereof they have no right to eat which serve the tabernacle." You that go after the tabernacle (as be persists in calling it, even though now the temple) have no title to our altar with its exhaustless supplies. To us Christ is all.
But this becomes the occasion of a remarkable allusion on which I must dwell for a moment. He draws, attention to the well-known rites of the atonement day; at any rate, if not of that slay exclusively, wherever there was a beast the body, of which was burned without the camp, and the blood carried within the veil. Do you not discern in this striking combination the distinctive features of Christianity? Alas! it is not the dullness of Jewish prejudice only, but exactly what is denied by every system of which men boast in Christendom. Judaism despised the gospel for these very features. But let not the Gentile boast, no less unbelieving, no less arrogant, against true Christianity. Christendom precisely takes the middle ground of Judaism between these two extremes. The mean looks and sounds well, but is utterly false for the Christian. The two extremes, offensive to every lover of the via media of religious rationalism, must be combined in Christianity and the Christian man if he is to maintain it unimpaired and pure. The first is that in spirit the Christian is now brought, by redemption without spot or guilt, into the presence of God. If you believe in Christ at all, such is your portion- nothing less. If I know what Christ's redemption has accomplished for all who believe, I must know that God has given me this. He honors the work of Christ according to His estimate of its efficacy, as it is only according to His counsels about us for Christ's glory. We saw somewhat of this in chapter 10. And what is the effect of it? As a Christian, I am now free, by God's will, to go in peace and assurance of His love into the holiest of all-yes, now. I speak, of course, of our entrance there only in spirit..
As to the outer man also, we must learn to what we are called now. The Apostle argues that, just as the blood of the beast was brought into the holiest of all, while the body of the same animal was taken outside the camp and burned, so this too must be made good in our portion. If I have an undisputable present title of access into the holiest of all, I must not shrink from the place of ashes outside the camp. He that possesses the one, must not eschew the other. In these consists our double present association by faith, while on the earth. The Apostle earnestly insists on them both. We belong to the holiest of all, and we act upon it, if we act rightly, when we worship God—even when we draw near to God in prayer at all times. Brought nigh to God by the blood of Jesus, we have perfect access so that there is nothing between God and us; for Christ suffered once to bring us to God, as He intercedes that we may have communion with Him in this place of nearness. Our being brought to God supposes, and is founded on the fact, that our sins are gone perfectly by His one offering; otherwise no madness is greater than indulging such a thought. If it be not the truth, it would be the height of presumption indeed. But far from this, it is the simple fact of the gospel. "He suffered once for sins, the just for the unjust," says another apostle, "that He might bring us"—not to pardon, nor to peace, nor to heaven, but-"to God." Compare also Ephesians 2. We are brought then, washed from our sins, to God, and, according to this epistle, into the holiest of all, where He displays Himself. The real presumption, therefore, is to pretend to be a Christian and yet to doubt the primary fundamental truth of Christianity as to this.
But the bodies of those beasts were burned without the camp; my place so far as I in the body am concerned, is one of shame and suffering in this world.
Are those two things true of you? If you have and prize one alone, you have only the half of Christianity-yes, of its foundations. Are they both true of you? Then you may bless God that He has so blessed you, and given you to know as true of yourself that which, if not so known, effectually prevents one from having the full joy and bearing the due witness as an unworldly and simple-hearted servant of Christ here below. It is true, He does not always call at once into the place of reproach and suffering. He first brings us into the joy and nearness of His presence. He satisfies us with the perfection with which Christ has washed us from our sins in His blood, and has made us kings and priests to His God and Father. But having done this. He points us to the place of Christ without the camp. "Let us go forth therefore unto Him without the camp, bearing His reproach." This was the very thing that these Jewish Christians were shrinking from, if not rebelling against. They had not made up their minds to suffer; to be devised was odious in their eyes. Nor is it pleasant to nature. But the Apostle lets them know that if they understood their true blessing, this was the very part of it that was inseparably bound up with their present nearness to God, as set forth typically by the central and most important rite of the Jewish system. This is the meaning of the blood carried within, and of the body burned without.
Let us then seek to combine these two things perfect nearness to God, and the place of utter scorn in the presence of man. Christendom prefers the middle course; it will have neither the conscious nearness to God, nor the place of Christ's reproach among men. All the effort of Christendom is first to deny the one, and then to escape from the other. I ask my brethren here if they are looking to God strenuously, earnestly, for themselves and for their children, not to allow, but to oppose as their adversary everything that tends to weaken either of these truths, which are our highest privilege and our truest glory as Christians here below. What a surprise to the Hebrew believers to find such truths as these so strikingly shown out in type even in the Jewish system.
But the Apostle goes further, as indeed was due to truth. He proves these characteristics to be really found in Christ Himself. He is evidently gone into the holiest of all in His own Person. But how? What had immediately preceded this? The cross. Thus the cross and heavenly glory must go together. The gracious Lord gives and designs that we should take His own place both in heaven and here. "Let us go forth therefore unto Him without the camp." This is just the closing practical word of the epistle to the Hebrews. God was going to set aside openly the Jewish system, as it had already been judged morally in the cross of Christ. When the Messiah was crucified, Judaism was in principle a dead thing; if it was in any sense kept up, it was no more than a decent time before its burial. But now God sends His final summons, founded on their own ritual, to His people who were hankering after the dead instead of seeing the living One on high. He, as it were, repeats, "Let the dead bury the dead." The Romans will do the last sad offices. But as for you who believe in Jesus, wait not for the Romans; let Judaism be nothing but a corpse which does not concern you. "Let us go forth therefore unto Him without the camp, bearing His reproach."
This was a final call, and how gracious! If God had reserved the epistle to the Hebrews until after He sent forth His armies and burned up their city, destroying their polity, root and branch, it might have been retorted that the Christians valued the Jewish ritual as long as it was available, and only gave it up when earthly temple and sacrifice and priest were gone. But God took care to summon His children outside-to abandon the whole system before it was destroyed. They were to leave the dead to bury their dead, and they did so. But Christendom has wholly failed to profit by the call, and is doomed to perish by a judgment yet more solemn and widespread than that which swept away the ancient temple.
Another point follows, connected with what we have had before us, and demanding our attention. Instead of pining after that which is about to be destroyed, or repining at the call to go out to the place of Christ's shame on earth, Christianity, which replaces Judaism now, may well cause us to offer "the sacrifice of praise to God continually." There are two kinds of sacrifice to which we are now called. "By Him therefore let us offer the sacrifice of praise to God continually, that is, the fruit of our lips, confessing His name But to do good and to communicate forget not: for with such sacrifices God is well pleased." That may have a higher character, these a lower; but even the highest is never to supersede or make us forgetful of the lowest.
Then comes a second exhortation as to their guides, or leading men among the brethren. (Compare Acts 15:2222Then pleased it the apostles and elders, with the whole church, to send chosen men of their own company to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas; namely, Judas surnamed Barsabas, and Silas, chief men among the brethren: (Acts 15:22).) "Obey your leaders, and submit yourselves; for they watch for your souls, as those that shall give account." There is no sanction here, of course, of the vulgar and outrageous error that pastors give an account of the souls of their flock. an idea that superstition hatched for the purpose of spuriously exalting a clerical order. The meaning is that spiritual guides shall give an account of their own behavior in watching over other souls; for it is a work that calls for much jealousy over self, patience with others, painstaking labor, lowliness of mind, and that hearty love which can bear all, endure all, believe all. There is then the solemn admonition of the account they are to render by-and-by. They watch as those that shall give an account. Now is the time for, self-denying labor, and endurance in grace; by-and-by the account must be given to the Lord that appointed them. And the Apostle would that their work of watching might be done with joy, and not groaning, for this would be unprofitable for the saints.
But even the Apostle felt his own need of the prayers of the faithful, not because he had gone wrong, but because he was conscious of no hindrance to his work from a bad conscience. "Pray for us: for we trust we have a good conscience; in all things willing to live honestly. But I beseech you the rather to do this, that I may be restored to you the sooner."
Then he commends the saints to God. "Now the God of peace, that brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great Shepherd of the sheep, in virtue of the blood of the everlasting covenant, perfect you in every good work to do his will, working in you that which is well-pleasing in His sight, through Jesus Christ; to whom be glory for the ages of the ages."
Finally, he beseeches his brethren to bear the word of exhortation. Such is pre-eminently the bearing of this epistle to those who had no such frequent opportunities of profiting by his teaching as the Gentile churches. We can understand, therefore, both the delicacy that thus entreated them, and the meaning of the added words, "for also in few words I have written to you." Nor does it seem so natural for any as the great Apostle to inform them of his child and fellow laborer: "Know that the brother Timothy is set at liberty; with whom, if he come pretty soon, I will see you. Salute all your leaders, and all the saints. They from Italy salute you. Grace be with you all. Amen."
Thus the Apostle closes this most striking and precious epistle, brimful to overflowing with that which had an especial and very touching interest to a Jew, but nevertheless needed as certainly by us, and as rich in instruction for us in this day as for those at any time that has passed away. For let me say this as a parting word, and I say it advisedly, because of circumstances that might well be before our hearts—no deliverance, however enjoyed, no place of death to law, world, or sin, no privilege of union with Christ, will enable a soul to dispense with the truths contained in this epistle to the Hebrews. We are still walking here below; we are in the place therefore where infirmity is felt, where Satan tempts, where we may fall through unwatchfulness. If we formed our Christian character practically on such epistles as those to the Ephesians and Colossians alone, depend on it there may not be the hard lines of the law, but there will be very far from the fervent affections which become him who feels the grace of Christ. Be assured it is of the deepest possible moment to cherish the activity of Christ's present love and care for us, the activity of that priesthood which is the subject of this epistle. Holding fast the permanence of the blotting out of our guilt, may we, nevertheless and besides, own the need of such a One as Christ to intercede for us and deal in grace with all our feebleness or faults. The Lord forbid that anything should enfeeble our sense of the value and necessity of such daily grace. There may be that which calls for confusion of face in us, but there is unceasing ground also for thanksgiving and praise, however much we have to humble ourselves in the sight of God.
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