"Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the proving of things not seen." So the Revisers translate the first verse. They place in their margin, as an alternative, a rendering which makes faith to be "the giving substance to things hoped for, the test of things not seen." I presume to think that the margin is preferable as a representation of the first clause in the Greek, and the text as a representation of the second. So I would render (with the one further variation, in view of the Greek, that I dispense with the definite article): "Now faith is a giving of substance to things hoped for, a demonstration of things not seen." And we may paraphrase this rendering somewhat thus: "Faith is that by which the hoped-for becomes to us as if visible and tangible, and by which the unseen is taken and treated as proven in its verity."[L]
[L] A friend has pointed out to me that in the recently discovered papyri, which, although a relatively small part of them only has been read as yet, have thrown much deeply interesting light on the character and vocabulary of Greek as used by the New Testament writers, the word [Greek: hypostasis] is found with the meaning of "title-deeds." On the hypothesis of such a meaning here (we can only speak with reserve), we may paraphrase: "Faith enables us to treat things hoped for as a property of which we hold the deeds."
In the light of what we have recalled regarding the position of the first readers of the words, we have only to render them thus to see their perfect appropriateness, their adjustment to an "exceeding need." The Gospel led its disciple supremely and ultimately always towards the hoped-for and the unseen. True, it had a reference of untold value and power to the seen and present. There was then, as there is in our day, nothing like the Gospel to transfigure character, on the spot, here and now, and thus to transfigure the scene and the persons around the man, before his eyes, within reach of his hands, in the whole intercourse of his life, by giving them all a new and wonderful yet most practical importance through the Lord's relation to them and to him. But it does this always and inevitably in the power and in the light of facts which are out of sight now, and of prospects essentially bound up with "the life of the world to come." The most diligent and sensible worker in Christian philanthropy, if he is fully Christian in his idea and action, does what he does so well for the relief of the oppressed, or for the civilization of the degraded, because at the heart of his useful life he spiritually knows "Him that is invisible," and is animated by the thought that he works for beings capable, after this life's discipline, of "enjoying Him fully for ever." He labours for man, man on earth, because he loves God in heaven, and because he believes that God made man and redeemed man for an immortality to which time is only the short while all-important avenue. In the calmest and most normal Christian periods, accordingly, for the least perilous and heroic forms of faithful Christian service, it is vital to remember that attitude and action of the soul which we call faith. For faith is essential both to the victories and the utilities of the Christian life, just so far as that life touches always at its living spring "things hoped for," "things not seen." And at a time like that of the first readers of the Epistle every such necessity was enhanced indefinitely, both by the perils and threatenings which they had to face and by the majestic illusion to which they were continually exposed—the illusion under which the order of the Law, because it was Divine in origin and magnificent in its visible embodiment, looked as if it must be the permanent, the final, phase of sacred truth and life on earth.
In our next chapter we will consider both the account of faith here given and some main points in the illustration of it by examples.
FAITH AND ITS ANNALS
HEB. xi. (II.)
We considered in the last chapter the account of Faith with which the apostolic Writer opens this great recital of the "life, work, and triumph of faith" in holy human lives. His words, as we found, lend themselves to some variety of explanation in detail: the term [Greek: hypostasis] alone may be interpreted in at least three ways. But I do not think that this need disturb us as to the essential meaning of the description. Each and all of the renderings leave us with the thought that faith has a power in it to make the thing hoped-for act upon us as if it were attained, and the invisible as if it were before our eyes.
We may pause so far further over the description of faith here as to point out that it is precisely this, a description, not a definition. To quote Heb. xi. 1 as a good definition of faith is to mistake its import altogether. I have often recalled, in speech or writing, a story told me forty years ago by an Oxford friend when we were masters together at a public school. He had attended a Greek Testament lecture at his college a few years before, and the lecturer one day asked the class for a definition of faith. Some one quoted Heb. xi. 1, and the lecturer's answer was, "You could not have given a worse definition." My old friend, a "broad" but most reverent Churchman, referred to this as an instance of painful flippancy. It may have been so. But I am prepared to think that the lecturer may not have meant it so at all. He may only have expressed rather crudely his view, the right view, to my mind, that we have here not a definition of faith at all but a description of faith as an operative force, an account of what faith looks like when it is at work; and this is a very different matter.
What is a definition? A precise and exclusive statement of the essentials of a thing, such that it will fit no other thing. A description may be something altogether different from this. It may so handle the object that the terms are not exclusive at all, but are equally applicable to something else; as here for example, where the phraseology would equally well describe imagination in its more vivid forms—a thing as different as possible from faith. To be quite practical, we have here, if we read this first verse in the light of the whole subsequent development of the chapter, a description of faith at work, of the potency and victories of faith, rather than a definition of faith in its distinctive essence. A true parallel to this passage is the familiar sentence, "Knowledge is power." Those words do not define knowledge, obviously; to do that would demand a totally different phrase. What the words do is to give us one great resultant of knowledge; to tell us that the possession and use of knowledge endows the man who knows with a force and efficiency which he would lack without it. Few words are more elastic and adaptable than the verb substantive. "Is" can denote a wide variety of ideas, from that of personal identity, as when I see that yonder distant figure is my brother; to that of equivalence, as when a stamped and signed piece of thin paper called a bank-note is five pounds of gold; or to that of mere representation, as when another piece of paper, or a sheet of canvas, duly lined and coloured by the artist to show the semblance of a human face, is the King, or is my father; or to that of result and effect, as when we say that knowledge is power, or that seeing is believing.[M]
[M] It is obvious that these elementary reflections have everything to do with the need of caution in explaining those most sacred words, "This is my body which is given for you."
Here we have precisely that last application of the verb substantive, only in an exact and most noble antithesis. "Seeing is believing," says the familiar proverb. "Believing is seeing," says the Divine word here. That is to say, when the human soul so relies upon God that His word is absolute and sufficient for its certainties, this reliance, this faith, has in it the potency of sight. It is as sure of the promised blessing as if it were a present possession. It is as ready to act upon "the things not seen as yet," the laws, powers, hopes beyond the veil, as if all was in open view to the eyes of the body.
The whole course of the chapter, when it comes down to particulars and persons, bears this out. From first to last the message carried to us by the lives and actions of the faithful is this, that they took their Lord at His word, simply as His word, and in the power of that reliance found themselves able to act as if the unseen were seen and the hoped-for were present. "The elders" (ver. 2) are in view from the first—that is to say, the pre-Christian saints, who were in that sense distinctively men who proved the power of faith, that they all lived and died before the visible fulfilment of the great promise of salvation. To them, to be sure, or rather to many of them, not to all, merciful helps were granted. The unseen and the hoped-for was sometimes, not always, made more tangible to them by the grant of some sign and token, some portent or miracle, by the way. But the careful Bible-reader knows how very little such things are represented in the holy histories as being the "daily bread" of the life of the old believers. Even in the lives where they occur most often they come at long and difficult intervals, and in some lives not at all, or hardly at all. And assuredly we gather here that, to the mind of the apostolic Writer, no experience of miracles, no permission even to hold direct colloquy with the Eternal, ever made up for that immeasurable "aid to faith" which we enjoy who know the Incarnate Son as fact, and walk on an earth which has seen the God-Man traverse it, and die upon it, and rise again.
These "elders" were men called to live, in an eminent and most trying degree, not by sight but by faith, by mere reliance upon a Promiser. Therefore their living witness to the capacity of faith to make the unseen visible and the hoped-for present is the more precious to us. We, with the Christ of God manifested to us, displayed in history, experienced in the heart—what are not we to find the power of faith to be in our lives, having, for our supreme seal upon faith, the promise fulfilled, the Image of the Invisible God, made one with our nature and dwelling in our hearts?
One partial exception, and only one, to this great ruling lesson of the chapter is to be noted; it occurs in the second verse. There "by faith we perceive that the worlds," the aeons, the dispensations and evolutions of created being, "have been framed," perfected, adjusted to one another, "by the Word of God, so that not from things which appear has that which is seen originated." These words appear to be inserted where they stand in order, so to speak, to carry the sequence of the references to the Old Testament down from its very first page. The work of faith has exercise in face of the mysterious narrative of Creation, and in this one instance the exercise is quoted as what concerns us now quite as much as "the elders." They like us, we like them, get our guarantee as to the facts of the primal past not by sight but by faith, by taking God at His word. He, in His revelation, tells us that "in the beginning"—the beginning of whatever existence is other than eternal—"God created." Things finite, things visible, came into original being not as evolved from previous similar material, but as of His will.
But when that pregnant side-word has once been said, the argument settles itself forthwith upon the recorded examples of the potency of faith as "the elders" exercised it. We see man after man enabled to treat the invisible as visible, the promised as present, by reliant rest upon the word of God, however conveyed. To Abel, we know not how, it was divinely said that the sacrificed "firstling" was the acceptable offering, and, antecedent to any possible experience, he offered it. To Enoch, we know not how, it was made known that the Eternal, as invisible to him as to us, cared for man's worshipping company, and he addressed himself through his age-long life to "walk with God." Noah was apprised, for the first time in man's known history, of an approaching cataclysm and of the way of escape; the promise came to him wrapped in the cloud of an awful warning, and it was long delayed, but he acted upon it in the steady energy of faith. Abraham was "called," we know not precisely how, but in some way which tested his reliance on things "not seen as yet," and he set out on that wonderful life of a hundred years of faith. He renounced the settled habits and old civilization of Chaldea for the new life of a Syrian nomad, "settling permanently in tents" ([Greek: en skenais katoikesas]), he and his son and his grandson after him, all in view of an invisible future made visible by the trusted promise, a future culminating at last to his "eye of faith," so here we are solemnly assured, in the city of the saints, in the Canaan of the heavens. The same reliance on the sheer word of promise nerved him to the awful ordeal of the all-but immolation of his son. And that son in his turn, against all appearances, and rather bowing to the Word of God than embracing it, blessed his least-loved son above his dearest; and that son in his turn, and his son in his turn, carried the process on, treating the greatness of Ephraim and the deliverance from Egypt as things seen and present, because God had so spoken. The parents of Moses, and then Moses himself, in his strange life of disappointments and wonders, deal likewise with the future, the unseen, the seemingly impossible, on the warrant of a promise. Figures as little heroic in natural character as Sarah, as little noble in life as Rahab, take place in the long procession, as those who treat the invisible as visible by faith. So do the thronging "elders" of ver. 32—a group singularly diverse in everything but this victory over the seen and present by faith in the promise. So do the unnamed confessors and martyrs of the closing paragraph, the heartbroken, the tortured, the wanderers of the dens and caves, who all alike, amidst a thousand differences of condition and of character, "obtained a good report through faith"; and all won through faith that victory, so great when we reflect upon it—that they died "not having received the promise." They trusted to the very end. When they sank down in death upon their shadowy path of pilgrimage, "the promise," the promised Christ, had not yet come. Nevertheless they treated the hope of Him as fact, and they won their victory by faith.
And now they are parts and members of the "great cloud" who watch us in our turn—us, with things unseen and hoped-for still in front, but with JESUS at our side.
FOLLOWERS OF THEM
HEB. xii. 1-14
The Epistle approaches its close. The Writer has much yet to say to the disciples upon many things, all connected with that main interest of their lives, a resolute fidelity to the Lord, to the Gospel, and to one another. But he has not yet quite done with that side of their "exceeding need" to which the antidote is the faith which can deal with the future as the present, with the unseen as the seen. Upon this theme, from one aspect or another, is spent the passage now before us.
First, the appeal is to the recollection that the combat, the race, the victory of faith, as it was for the Hebrew believers, "the contest set before us" (ver. 1), not only had been fought and won before them by the saints of the old time, but that those saints were now, from their blessed rest, as "spirits of the just made perfect" (ver. 23), watchers and witnesses of their successors' course. "We have, lying around us, so great a cloud of witnesses" (ver. 1). "We" are running, like the competitors in the Hellenic stadium, in the public view of a mighty concourse, so vast, so aggregated, so placed aloft, that no word less great than "cloud" occurs as its designation: that "long cloud" as it is finely called in Isaac Watts' noble hymn, "Give me the wings of faith." True, the multitudinous watchers are unseen, but this only gives faith another opportunity of exercise; we are to treat the Blessed as seen, for we know that they are there, living to God, one with us, fellows of our life and love. So let us address ourselves afresh to the spiritual race, the course of faith. Let us, as athletes of the soul, strip all encumbrance off, "every weight" of allowed wrong, all guilty links with the world of rebellion and self-love; "the sin which doth so easily beset us," clinging so soon around the feet, like a net of fine but stubborn meshes, till the runner gives up the hopeless effort and is lost.[N]
[N] I cannot think possible the alternative (marginal) rendering of [Greek: euperistaton] in the Revised Version—"admired by many." There is example for the meaning in classical Greek, but the idea is totally out of keeping with the spirit of this passage.
I thus explain the "witnesses" to mean spectators, watchers, not testifiers. The context seems to me to decide somewhat positively for this explanation. It is an altogether pictorial context; the imagery of the foot-race comes suddenly up, and in a moment raises before us the vision of the stadium and its surroundings. The reader cannot see the course with his inner eyes without also seeing those hosts of eager lookers-on which made, on every such occasion, in the old world as now, the life of the hour. In such a context nothing but explicit and positive reasons to the contrary could give to the word "witnesses," and to the word "cloud" in connexion with it, any other allusion. True, these watchers are all, as a fact, evidential "witnesses" also, testifiers to the infinite benefit and success of the race of faith. But that thought lies almost hidden behind the other. It is as loving, sympathetic, inspiring lookers-on that the old saints, from Abel onwards, are here seen gathered, thronging and intent, around us as we run.
The conception runs off of course into mystery, as every possible conception about the unseen does, even when Scripture is most explicit about unseen facts. We ask, and ask in vain, what is the medium through which these observers watch us, the air and light, as it were, in which their vision acts; what is their proximity to us all the while; to what extent they are able to know the entire conditions of our race. But all this leaves faith in peaceful possession of a fact of unspeakable animation. It tells the discouraged or tired Christian, tempted to think of the unseen as a dark void, that it is rather a bright and populous world, in mysterious touch and continuity with this, and that our forerunners, from those of the remotest past down to the last-called beloved one who has passed out of our sight, know enough about us to mark our advance and to prepare their welcome at the goal.
In that rich treasury of sacred song, Hymns from the Land of Luther, is included the translation of a noble hymn by Simon Dach, O wie selig seid ihr doch, ihr Frommen, "O how happy are ye, saints forgiven." That hymn beautifully illustrates this verse. It is written responsively all through. One stanza, sung upward, is the utterance from below of the pilgrim Church, longing for her rest. The next, sung from above, is the answer of the Blessed, telling of their love and sympathy, taught them by their own similar sufferings, of their bright foreview of the celestial crown reserved for their still toiling brethren. So the two choirs answer each other, turn by turn, till at last both join in a glorious concert of blended song, a closing strain of faith and praise. Let us listen often for those answers from above.
But the holy Writer has more to say yet about the motives to faith. He points the weary saints upward, even beyond the "cloud," to a Form radiant and supreme. They are to run, conscious of the witnesses, but yet more intently "looking off ([Greek: aphorontes]) unto JESUS, the supreme Leader ([Greek: archegon]) and Perfecter of faith"; that is to say, the Lord of the whole host of the believing, and Himself the consummate Worker in the field of faith, who, for a joy promised but not seen, "endured the Cross," when its immediate aspect was an inexpressible outrage and disgrace; reaching the throne of all existence, as Son of Man, in spite of every possible appearance to the contrary (ver. 2). Yes, and not only was that final victory thus won by Him, but He arrived at it by a path full of the conflicts which threaten faith. He "endured the contradiction of sinners against Himself" (ver. 3). Year by year, day by day, from the Pharisee, from the worldling, from the leaders of religion, from the inconstant crowd, He had "contradiction" to endure—sometimes even from "the men of His own household." He was challenged to prove His claims; He was insulted over His assertion of them, or over His silence about them. In every way, at every turn, they spoke against Him to His face, as He slowly advanced, through a life of love and suffering, to the Agony and the Crucifixion.
Let us not think that all this put no strain, even in the King Messiah, upon faith. It may seem scarcely reverent (I know devout and thoughtful Christians who have felt it to be so) to speak of our blessed Lord as exercising faith, as being the supreme Believer. But we need not shrink from the thought. It is no more irreverent, surely, than to accept the evidence of the Gospels to His perfect human capacity to be weary, to be surprised, to be specially moved to compassion by the sight of suffering. In His sinless conformity "in all things to His brethren" there was never for one moment room in Him—of this we may be amply sure—for error of thought or of word, as He acted as the supreme and absolute Prophet of His Church. But there was room, so we are expressly told, on one tremendous occasion at least (Matt. xxvi. 37), for a mysterious "bewilderment" ([Greek: ademonein]) of His blessed human soul. Can we doubt that the victory won in the Garden, after which He went with profound calmness to the unjust priest, and Pilate, and the Cross, was of the nature of a victory of faith? Did He not then treat the coming "joy" as a reality although, in so awful a sense and measure He did not "feel" it then? The "bewilderment" did not drive Him back from our redemption; and why? Because "He TRUSTED in GOD that He would deliver Him" (Ps. xxii. 9; Matt. xxvii. 42), whatever should be the contents of "the cup" from which His whole humanity turned away as almost impossible to drink.
And may we not be sure that on many a previous occasion of minor and yet bitter trial, when evil men gathered round Him with cynical objections and ruthless denials of His claims, the victory was akin to the victory of Gethsemane? Often, surely, a strange "bewilderment" must have beset the Redeemer's soul, of which the external token was the sigh, the groan, the tears, which shewed Him to be so truly Man.
We all hold, in full doctrinal orthodoxy, that the Lord's sufferings, both of soul and body, were no "docetic" semblance but a deep and infinitely pathetic reality. But we need at times to think somewhat deliberately in order to receive the full impression of that truth upon the heart. And then surely we are constrained to see in Him, who thus really suffered and really "endured," the supreme Exemplar of the victory of faith, the perfect Sympathizer with the tried believer.
From this pregnant thought, of the faith exercised by JESUS, the disciple is directly led in the remainder of our passage to the practical inferences for himself. The days, for those first readers of the Epistle, were indeed evil. Though not yet called to martyrdom (ver. 4), they were hard beset, not only by importunate reasonings and appeals which, as we have seen all along, were straining their spiritual allegiance, but by actual outrages (see e.g. x. 34), by the "scourging" (ver. 6) of bitter social persecution. Well, "looking off unto" Him who had so greatly endured, they were, in these things also, to see the unseen and to presentiate the future. From the Proverbs (iii. 11, 12), that book where the apostolic insight so often finds the purest spiritual messages,[O] he quotes (verses 5, 6) the tender words which bid the chastened child see in his chastening the assurance (ver. 8) of his happy, holy sonship in the home of a Father, "the Father of our spirits," who, unlike our earthly fathers even at their best (and that was a noble best indeed), not only chastens, but chastens with an unerring result of holiness in the submissive child—yea, a holiness which is one with His own (ver. 10), His Spirit in our wills.
[O] It was evidently a book dear to St. Peter's mind, as his First Epistle shews.
Beautiful is the sympathy of this appeal to live, by faith, the life of victorious patience. "All chastening, for the present, seems not to belong to joy but grief" (ver. 11). Yes, the immediate pain is here fully recognized, not ignored. It is not spoken of as if, in view of its sequel, it did not matter. "It belongs to grief." Scripture is full of this tender insight into the bitterness of even our salutary sorrows, and its appeals to patience are all the more potent for that insight. "Nevertheless, afterward, it produces the peace-bringing fruit of righteousness," the sense of a profound inward rest, found in conformity to the "sweet, beloved will of God," in living correspondence to the Father's rule, "for those who have been exercised, as in a spiritual gymnasium ([Greek: gegymnasmenois]), thereby." That "exercise" was to tell at once, as they surrendered their wills to it in faith, in a present sense of the certainty of future blessing. "Brace the slack hands" to toil, "and the unstrung knees" to march (ver. 12), "and make straight paths for your feet," using your will, faith-strengthened, to choose the line of the will of God, and that alone. So should "the lame thing" be "healed" rather than "turned aside." The walk, feeble and halting always when the will is divided, should be restored to firmness and certainty again.
"Nevertheless, afterward." That is the watchword of the whole pregnant passage. Nature, shortsighted and impatient, can deal with the seen and the present only. Grace, in its victorious form of patient faith, already takes hold upon the "afterward," and works on, and walks on, "as seeing Him that is invisible."
With the thought of the witness-cloud around us, and "looking off" to the Prince of Faith, ascended, yet present with us, and sure of the ultimate and eternal "fruit of righteousness" which lies hidden in the chastening of the Father of our spirits—we too will live by faith, taking God at His word, and saying Amen to His will, even to the end.
SINAI AND SION
HEB. xii. 14-28
The paragraph before us is largely concerned with the inner life of the believing community, its cohesion member with member, and the call to each member and to all to "walk warily in dangerous days," in the path of evangelical holiness. The Writer lays it upon them (ver. 14) to "pursue peace with all," such peace as always tends, even in bad times, to reward the "sons of peace," while they so behave themselves as never on their own part to contribute a factor to avoidable strife, and while the influence of their meek consistency leavens in some measure the mass around them. With equal and concurrent care they are to "pursue sanctification." It is to be their strong ambition to develope and deepen incessantly that dedication of themselves to the Holy One which will give them at once the standard and the secret of holiness, by bringing them into immediate contact with Him who is at once their law and their life. They are to "live out," in the spirit of a resolute quest after fuller and yet fuller attainment, the fact that He has redeemed them to be "a people of His own possession"; remembering, with a solemn simplicity of conviction, that only "the pure in heart" shall ever be able to "see God." For the spirit which refuses to come into a surrendered harmony with His Spirit might be set in the midst of heaven itself, yet it would be blind, it would be blinded—by that alien glory. They are to keep watch and oversight upon one another (ver. 15), mutually observant all round, to see that the life of faith and love is alive indeed. Does any one find his fellow-believer "falling short of the grace of God," sinking into conduct no better than the world's? This must at once disquiet the observer, and call out his loving warnings, or at least his anxious intercessions; for the declining convert inevitably extends an influence of decline around him, and the issue will be, in the end, a declining Church. Is "any root of bitterness growing up"? Is there (see Deut. xxix. 18) any Christian in the company so fallen, so "embittered" by alienation from his Lord, as to be a cause around him of "defilement," so as to stain ultimately large circles ([Greek: hoi polloi]) with the deep pollution of a practical apostasy from holiness? Is there here and there a personal example of spiritual infidelity ([Greek: pornos]) to the Lord, of that radically "secular" ([Greek: bebelos]) spirit (ver. 16) of which Esau is the type, to which some "mess of meat," some material advantage, proves overwhelmingly more momentous than the unworldly "birthright" given by the promise of God? Let them all watch as for their life against such symptoms. It is a matter of eternal import. The ancient Esau found too late that he was an outcast, irrevocably, from the great blessing, though then he cried for it with a cry great and bitter. In vain he asked his father to reverse the destiny; there was no "place of repentance" in Isaac's will, for Isaac knew that he had but carried out, blind as he was, the will of God.
Then follows (verses 18-24) that sublime antithesis of Sinai and Sion which forms one of the greatest examples of rhythmical, of almost lyrical, eloquence in the whole New Testament. On the one hand looms on the view the Thing,[P] material, tangible ([Greek: pselaphomeno]), all on fire, black with tempestuous cloud, its echoes pealing (ver. 19) to a tremendous trumpet-blast and then to a yet more awful "voice of words." At its base cowers an awe-struck, horror-struck, host of men, shuddering at the warning (ver. 20) not to touch the fatal rocks, crowding for refuge round a leader who himself owns (ver. 21) to heart-shaking fears.[Q] On the other hand, as the eyes of faith are lifted, there shines into view, and in the closest spiritual proximity (for the believing company has actually "come unto it," ver. 22), the hill eternal, the true Mount Sion, where shines the city of the living God, the Jerusalem of heaven. No barren rocks are there, nor do menaces of articulate thunder sound from and around that height. All is light, and all is life. Yes, above all things all is life. Behold the countless thousands ([Greek: myriasin]) of radiant denizens, the angelic friends of man; and then beatified men besides (ver. 23), "festal, assembly and church of the first-born, enrolled in heaven"; the Blessed gone before, the "great cloud," seen now in their other character, as the triumphant throng of a celestial Passover, or of a Tabernacle-feast of palms, kept in the better Canaan to commemorate the mercies of the mortal wilderness. And there, centre and sun of the wonderful scene, is the glory of the "Judge of all," Vindicator (so we read the meaning of the word [Greek: krites] here) of His afflicted ones, treading down their enemies and presiding in majesty over their happy estate. Around Him rest and rejoice the pure "spirits of the just made perfect," the dear and holy who have lately passed through death, "perfected" already, even before their resurrection, in respect of the course finished, the fight fought, the faith kept, the trial for ever over. Lastly (ver. 24), the form is seen of the more than Moses of this better Mount of God. Behold the Mediator, not of the old covenant but of the new, the Covenant of the Eternal Spirit. Behold the Surety of the promise of the purified heart, the promise sealed with that sprinkled blood of the Incarnate Lamb which, in Divine antithesis to the call for vengeance on the fratricide which went up from Abel's death, claims for the "brethren" who once slew their Deliverer not remission only but holiness and heaven.
[P] The word [Greek: orei] is certainly absent from the true text. We are left as in presence of a mysterious somewhat, a mighty mass, mantled in terror and without form or name.
[Q] A traditional utterance must be referred to. But the whole narrative in Exodus and in Deuteronomy supports it.
It is a wonderful picture, the hill of the awful Law confronted by the "hill whence cometh our help." And we ask ourselves why, just here in the Epistle, it is painted for us and left upon our spirit's eyes for ever. Surely it is that the Hebrew disciple (and we in our turn to-day) may be quickened in watching and in walking alike by an immense encouragement and a warning of corresponding power. The call has just been made, all through the twelfth chapter up to this point, to endure, to watch, to warn each other, to pursue to the uttermost the ambition of holiness. Let this be done as by those whose pilgrim tents are pitched as it were in a valley between those two mountains of God. Let the true Israelite turn his eyes sometimes upon Sinai, to learn again from its shadows and its thunders the infinite importance of the eternal Will, the awfulness of transgression, the terrors of the Law when its demand is met only by the miserable failures of the sinner. Then, humbled lower than the dust, let him turn towards the eternal Sion, and not only turn towards it but recollect that in the Spirit, and in the Son, he has "come unto it." In the Lord Christ, his better Moses, his saving Mediator, he has already arrived beside it and rests upon it. No voice of thunder bids him not to touch it "lest he be thrust through." He is commanded to come as near to it as it is possible to be, because he is to come to "the Lord of the Hill" Himself, in the absolute proximity of faith, love, and life. He is welcomed to its recesses, and to its heights. The first-born are his brethren; the just made perfect are his own beloved; every angel of all the host is his friend; the supreme Judge is his omnipotent Protector; Jesus is his Peace, through the blood of His Cross. "Blest inhabitant of Sion, washed in the Redeemer's blood!" Shall he not address himself to the path and pursuit of holiness with a heart beating with an inexhaustible hope, and with a life present while eternal?
Then, as the great paragraph approaches its climax, the note of warning sounds again (ver. 25). The convert, fresh from the reminder of the "voice" of the sprinkled blood of the better covenant, is cautioned not to "refuse" it, not to "decline" it ([Greek: me paraitesesthe]). The primary reference is manifestly to that perpetual danger of the Hebrews, the temptation to turn back from the Gospel, with its spiritual order and its hopes of things not yet seen, to the outworn Dispensation, with its externally majestic circumstances of glorious ritual and imposing shows of polity and power. They would need again and again to open the soul's ears and eyes, and steadfastly to recollect, against all appearances, that we "are come unto the Mount Sion," if they were to resist the magnetic forces which drew them back towards Sinai—and towards death. So they were to hear the sweet voices of heavenly love, and festal life, and blood-bought covenanted peace, sounding from the true Sion, with joy indeed but also with holy dread. They were to fear lest they should "decline" them, lest sense should conquer faith and the soul be lost under the mountain of condemnation after all. "For if they did not escape who on earth declined Him who spoke oraculous warning ([Greek: chrematizonta]), much more shall we not escape, turning from Him who warns from heaven" (ver. 25). The contemner of the ban of Sinai fell "stricken through" the body. The "decliner" of the admonition to turn no more to the hill of doom, but boldly to climb the hill of peace, will fall stricken through the soul. That warning voice, which once shook the desert, has now promised (ver. 26)—for a promise, the promise of an eternal redemption, lies deep in that threatening (Hag. ii. 6)—that not earth only but heaven is yet to feel His shaking, and once for ever when it comes. He, "yet once more," shall work one vast "removing"; and then (ver. 27) a stability irremovable shall finally come in. "The things that have been made," the terrestrial and material "figures of the real" (ix. 24), are to pass away, never to return, in order that "the things incapable of disturbance" ([Greek: ta me saleuomena]) "may remain." And what are these things? Nothing less than the spiritual, ultimate, all-fulfilling truths and glories to which the "things made" served as preparation, type, and foil, but which themselves to all eternity shall know no successors, no "new order" through which God shall otherwise "fulfil Himself." For what are they, in their inmost essence? They are the truths which spring always from the Incarnate Son, and return always into Him; "the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, with eternal glory."
So let the disciples clasp their sublime privileges, and greatly rejoice—and also greatly fear to "decline" them, to surrender them, to treat them lightly. They "are in receipt ([Greek: paralambanoutes]) of a kingdom unshakable," for they have become the willing vassals of the eternal David of the true Israel, in whose kingship they too are kings, reigning over "all the power of the enemy." But, for the very reason that they hold a royalty, and such a royalty, let them address themselves to a life of adoration, and reverence, and awe, deep as that of the holy ones who, close to the throne above, veil their faces and their feet evermore with their wings, not in terror but in a joy full of wonder and of worship. "Let us have grace," let us take and use the grace which in the covenant is ours,[R] and in it let us live this life. For it is to be a life all the while not of alarm and doubting, but of grace. Only it is to be lived as before Him who is (ver. 29) "consuming fire, a jealous God" (Deut. iv. 24), "jealous" against all "forsakers of their own mercy" (Jonah ii. 8), rejectors of His Son, even when they seem to fly for refuge to His Law.
[R] For this use of [Greek: echomen] compare Rom. v. 1, where the best supported reading gives [Greek: echomen eirenen].
Thus the great concatenated passage concludes with one of the most formidable of Scripture utterances. But let us boldly gather peace and hope even from this word of fire. For what is the true message of the verses we have traversed, when we look back and sum them up? It is the glory, the fulness, the living richness, the abundant lovingkindness, the supreme and absolute finality, of the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. It is our Lord Himself, the perfect and ultimate revelation of the grace and peace of God. And the fiery jealousy of the close, the warning that we shall lose our souls if we "decline" the blessed Son, what does it mean as to His Father's heart? That He so loves the Son, and so loves us, that He adjures us by all His terrors as well as all His mercies never to turn for refuge for one hour away from the all-perfect Christ.
APPEALS AND INSTRUCTIONS
HEB. xiii. 1-14
The last chapter of the Epistle has a character quite of its own. Unlike many of those often arbitrary divisions of the New Testament books which we know as chapters, it is a naturally separate section. The long and sustained arguments are over. The Writer's thoughts, gravitating to a close, and occupied naturally as they do so with the personal conditions of his Hebrew brethren, attach themselves now to one now to another side of their duties, their difficulties, their more particular and detailed needs, practical and spiritual. As he touches upon these, sentence by sentence, we often see at a glance the probable occasion of the words, but often again we are left in the dark about it. Who shall say precisely why he insists (ver. 2) upon the exercise of hospitality? or who were "the prisoners" (ver. 3) whom he bids them remember? Who shall tell what in this particular community was the occasion for a solemn emphasis (ver. 4) upon the holiness of marriage, or why again, just for them, it was well to speak in warning (ver. 5) about the love of money and the temptation to discontent? Nor can we be certain who were those departed "leaders," "guides," of ver. 7, whose "faith" the disciples were to "imitate," whose blessed "exit from their walk of life" they were to "contemplate."
All we can say of these opening topics of the chapter is that, whatever the occasions were, the words occasioned are for us inestimably precious. Dear to the heart of the believing Church for ages have been these precepts to love the brethren ([Greek: philadelphia]), to love the stranger ([Greek: philoxenia]), to remember Abraham at Mamre and Gideon at Ophrah with their angel-guests, and to see a possible angel-visitor in every needing stranger at the door. The call (ver. 2) to remember the captive, and the sufferer of every sort, comes with solemn power from this paragraph, as it presses home the law of sympathetic fellowship, and in one passing phrase ("as being in the body") reminds us that, for the Christian, all sufferings, all burthens of pain and care, cease for ever when once he is "out of the body." Sacred is the witness borne here to the pure dignity of wedlock (ver. 4): "Be[S] marriage honourable in all things, and the bed unspotted; for fornicators and adulterers"—not only adulterers, but those also who sin that other sin which the world so easily and so blindly condones—"God will judge." And when the Christian is warned (ver. 5) against the greed of gain, the quoted words of the Old Testament make, by the use they are put to, a possession for ever valuable to the believing reader of the Scriptures. For not only are they in themselves wonderful in their emphasis: "I will never give thee up; I will never, never desert thee." They are inestimable as an example of the sort of use which this New Testament prophet could make of the spiritual riches of the Old Testament. For here he sees a Divine watchword for the new life, not only in the glorious outburst of faith (ver. 6) in Psalm cxviii., the Hallel of the Passover. In the words spoken to Joshua, and to all appearance spoken to him personally and alone (ver. 5: see Josh. i. 5), we are led equally to see a message from the heart of God straight to every Christian soul. Seldom, if ever, are we more powerfully and tenderly encouraged than we are here to use with confidence that old-fashioned and now often disparaged sort of Bible study, the collection of eternal and universal principles of spiritual life out of an "isolated text."
[S] The sentence demands an understood imperative verb, without which the "for" which (in the true reading) introduces the second clause is out of place.
Then comes the passage where the departed "guides" are commemorated. Whoever they were, were they a Stephen and a James, or saints utterly unknown to us, that passage is precious in its principles, true for all time, of remembrance and appeal. It consecrates the fidelity of the Christian memory. It assures us that to cherish the names, the words, the conduct, the holy lives, the blessed deaths, of our teachers of days long done is no mere indulgence of unfruitful sentiment. It is natural to the Gospel, which, just because it is the message of an unspeakably happy future, also sanctifies the past which is the living antecedent to it. Just because we look with the love of hope towards "our gathering together unto Him," we are to turn with the love of memory towards all the gifts of God given to us through the holy ones with whom we look to be "gathered together." "The exit of their walk of life" (ver. 7) is to be our study, our meditation. We are to "look it up and down" ([Greek: anatheorountes]) as we would some great monument of victory, and from that contemplation we are to go back into life, to "imitate their faith," to do just what they did, treating (xi. 1) the unseen as visible, the hoped-for as present and within our embrace. Thank God for this authorization and hallowing of our recollections. Precious indeed is its assurance that the sweetness of them (for all its ineffable element of sadness, as eyes and ears are hungry for the faces and the voices gone, for the look and tone of the preacher, the teacher, through whom we first knew the Lord, or knew Him better) is no half-forbidden luxury of the soul but a means of victorious grace.
But now comes in a passage of the chapter which more obviously tells its own story of occasion and aim. The Writer recurs to the supreme theme of the Epistle, the antithesis between the Lord Jesus, with His finished work and absolute permanence, and the transitory antecedents of the older dispensation. Once more the Hebrews are to remember His eternity, His eternal personal identity, unbeginning and without end (ver. 8); He is "the same, yesterday, and to-day, and unto the ages." Before all types and preparations, before law, and ritual, and prophecy, He is. When, having done their long work, they cease, He still is. Over the glory of His being and character passes no "shadow of turning." Never to the endless ages shall He need to be other than He is, or to be succeeded by a greater. "JESUS, MESSIAH"; He is Alpha; He is also Omega. The whole alphabet of revelation between the first letter and the last does but spell out the golden legend of His unalterable glory.
In contrast to Him, thus unchangeably Himself, place the "teachings variegated and alien" (ver. 9) which would draw you from beside Him ([Greek: parapheresthe]) back to an outworn ceremonial distorted from its true purpose. "Looking unto Jesus," stay still and be at rest in Him. The ritual law of "food" ([Greek: bromata]) had its perfectly befitting place in the age of elementary preparation. But to make it now a rival to the message of that "grace" which means a life lived by faith in the Son of God, is to defraud "the heart" of that which alone can "establish" it in peace, holiness, and hope. To walk in Him is to go from strength to strength. To "walk in them" ([Greek: hoi peripatountes]) is to miss the very "benefit" you seek. It is to move away from the light, backward, into spiritual death.
Here follows in close sequence a passage of pregnant significance. It begins with ver. 10, and the connexion is not finally broken till ver. 16. The Writer, prompted perhaps by the allusion to a ceremonial law of "meats," turns abruptly to the still existing ritual of the Law, familiar to his Hebrew readers as to himself. From it he leads their thoughts once more to the profound import and ultimate efficacy of the supreme atoning Sacrifice, in all its shame and all its glory, and to the call which that great fact conveys to the believer to break for ever, at whatever cost, from the old order, considered as a rival to the Cross. Such is the true bearing of this often debated passage, if I am not greatly mistaken. The "altar" which "we have" (ver. 10) is not, if I read the argumentative context rightly, either the atoning Cross, at least as to any direct reference of the word, or the Table of the Christian Eucharist. As to this latter conjecture indeed the reference is totally unsupported by any really primeval parallel.[T] And in this Epistle it is scarcely conceivable that, if that were the meaning, if we were to be abruptly informed here that we Christians have in the Holy Table a sacrificial altar, no allusion, however slight, should intimate that the Christian minister is not a "leader" only but a sacrificing priest. The whole Epistle may be said to circle round the great topic of Priesthood. From various points of view, and with purposes as practical as possible in regard of faith, hope, and life, that topic has been handled. But is it too much to say that, for the Writer, the one Christian priesthood which is analogous to the Levitical priesthood, as a sacrificial and mediatorial function on behalf of the Church, is the High Priesthood of the Son of God? The Christian Ministry indeed hardly, if at all, comes into view throughout the argument. We find it at length in this chapter, the chapter which tells the readers that they "have an altar." Twice over the pastors of the Church are mentioned here (verses 7, 17); but how? As "leaders," "guides," [Greek: hegoumenoi]: as those who "speak the word of God," as those whose vigilance over the souls of the flock claims a loving and grateful loyalty. That is to say, the Christian Ministry is above all things a pastorate. To a sacerdotal aspect of its special functions no reference appears. And that is noteworthy just because of the profound sacerdotalism of the whole context of the Epistle.
[T] Lightfoot (on Ign. ad Eph. v., et alibi) has clearly shewn that Ignatius' use of [Greek: thysiasterion] is altogether mystical. He means not the Holy Table but (among other references) the Church of Christ as the sphere or place of spiritual sacrifice.
On a careful review of the words before us (verses 10-16), we are justified in the conclusion that the reference is, not to a Christian institution at all but precisely to the Hebrew ritual, in which Writer and readers still had part as members of the nation. The thing in view is an altar whose law was such that the sacerdotal "ministers ([Greek: hoi latreuontes]) of the Tabernacle" might not use its sacrifices for food. But why? Not of course because they were not Christians, but because the sacrifices in question presented there were to be wholly "burned," "burned without the camp." The entire thought moves within the limits of the typical ceremonial. It deals with the holocaust which even the sacrificer might handle only to commit it to the fire; the victim whose destiny was to be—not eaten by the priestly family but carried outside the camp as wholly devoted for the people's sins.
It is possible, within the lines of the Levitical ritual, to interpret in more ways than one the "altar" in question. It may be the great altar, regarded in its special use on the Atonement Day (Lev. xvi); not another structure than that used for other sacrifices, but that same altar regarded, for the moment, as if separated and alone, because of the awful speciality of the stern while merciful ritual of that great day. Or again, as it has been argued with learning and force[U], the reference may be to the altar of incense, the golden altar of the Holiest, on which the blood not only of the atonement victims but of all sin-offerings was sprinkled; and every sacrifice so treated was regarded as a holocaust; no part of it was reserved for food. But in either case the altar in question is not of the Church but of the Tabernacle. The "we" of ver. 10 is the community in its Hebrew rather than in its Christian character.
[U] By the Rev. James Burkitt, in The Golden Altar: an Exposition of Hebrews xiii. 10, 11.
So the whole thought centres itself in the supreme Sacrifice, as Antitype answering to type. Jesus is our holocaust, wholly sacrificed for our sins. His sacrifice involved in its awful ritual the shame and agony of rejection by His own, excommunication from "the camp" of the chosen. Then let the Hebrew believer, "receiving that inestimable benefit," be ready also to follow his Redeemer's steps in rejection and in shame. Let him also be prepared for casting out by priest and scribe. Let his yearning heart, with whatever anguish, inure itself to the thought that the beloved "city of his solemnities" is not the final and enduring Jerusalem. Let his "thoughts to heaven the steadier rise," as he looks, like Abraham before him, to "God's great town in the unknown land," where sits on high the Mediator of the New Covenant, the "Priest upon His throne."
HEB. xiii. 15-25
The connexion of ver. 15 with the antecedent context is suggestive. We have been led to a contemplation of the Lord Jesus in His character as Antitype and Fulfilment of the holocaust of the Levitical atonement. Even as the chief animal victim of the old covenant, the symbolical bearer of the sins of Israel, was carried "outside the camp" to be consumed, so our Victim was led "outside the gate" of the city to His death, that there, by His blood-shedding, by His absolute and perfect self-immolation in our stead, He might "hallow His people," bringing them forgiven and welcomed back to God. The point of the dread ritual of Calvary here specially emphasized is just this, that He "suffered outside the gate." The old Israel, guiltily unknowing, fulfilled the type in the Antitype by refusing Him place even to die within the sacred city. He, in His love for the new Israel, that He might in every particular be and do what was foreshadowed for Him, refused not to submit to that supreme rejection.
From this the apostolic Writer draws two messages for his readers. First (ver. 13) they are to follow the Lord outside, willing to be rejected like Him and because of Him. They are to be patient, for His sake, when they are "put out of the synagogues" and reproached as traitors to Moses. They are by faith to conquer the cry of their human hearts as they crave perpetuity for the beloved past; they are to remember (ver. 14), as they issue from the old covenant's gate into what seems the wild, that "Jerusalem that now is" was built for time only, and that they belong to the city of eternity, where their High Priest sits on His throne to bless them now and welcome them hereafter. Then, secondly and therefore (ver. 15), they are to use Him now and for ever as their one sacerdotal Mediator. By Him, not by the Aaronic ministry, they are to bring their sacrifices to God. They are to accept exclusion and to turn it into inclusion, into a shutting-up of all their hopes and all their worship into their glorious Christ. And what now is their altar-ritual to be? It is to be twofold; the offering of praise, "the fruit of lips that confess" the glory of "His Name," and then the sacrifice of self and its possessions for others for His sake (ver. 16); "doing good, and communicating" blessings; for these are "altar-sacrifices ([Greek: thysiai]) with which God is well pleased."
Such, if we are right, is the connexion. The Lord, rejected, that He might die for us after a manner faithful to the prophetic type, is to be the Hebrew disciple's example of patience when he too is rejected. Such rejection is only to unite him the more closely to the Christ as his way to God, his Mediator for all the praise and all the unselfish service which is to fill his dedicated life.
The lesson was special for the believing Hebrew then. But it has its meaning for all time. In one way or another the true follower of the crucified and rejected Redeemer must stand ready for cross and for exclusion, so far as he is called upon by his faith to break with all ultimate and absolute allegiance save to "Jesus Christ and Him crucified." He has to recollect, on one account or another, that he too belongs to the invisible order, to the "citizenship that is in heaven," and not to any visible polity as if it were final, as if it were his spirit's goal. But then he too is to make this detachment and separation only a fresh means to unite him to his great High Priest for a self-sacrificial life in Him. He is to be no frowning sectary, saying, "I am holier than thou." He is to be simply a Christian, to whom, whatever the world may say, or the world-element in the Church, Christ the crucified is Lord indeed.
Following these appeals, in a connexion which we can trace, the thought passes (ver. 17) to the Christian Ministry. "Outside the gate" of the old order, the disciple finds himself at once not an isolated unit but included in a new order. He is one of a spiritual community, which has of course its system, for it has to cohere and to operate. It has amidst it its "leaders," its [Greek: hegoumenoi], its pastoral guides and watchmen, a recognized institution, which always as such (though always the more as it is more true to its ideal) claims the obedience, the loyalty, the subordination, of the multitude who are not "leaders." These "leaders" are set before us as bearing a Divine commission, for we read that they "must give account." So qualified, not as assertors of themselves but as servants and agents of God, they watch for souls, with a vigilance loving and tender, asking for response.
Such an ideal of the Christian Ministry is as remote as possible from that of a sacerdotal caste, or indeed of anything that has to do with a harsh and perfunctory officialism. Its position is totally different from that of an agency of mediation between man and God, between the Church and her Lord. We have one passing note of this in the fact, present in other Epistles as in this, that the Ministry is addressed and greeted through the Church rather than the Church through the Ministry. See below, ver. 24: "Salute your leaders." If we may put it so, the Christian clergy are so far from being the sole deliverers of the apostolic writings to the people that the people rather have to deliver such messages to the clergy.
Yet on the other hand this passage is one of the many which set the Christian Ministry before us as a vital factor in the life of the Church, an institution which has its life from above, not from the will of the community but from the gift of God. In their anxiety to avoid distortions and exaggerations of the ministerial idea many Christians have failed to give adequate place in thought to its essentially Divine origin and commission. A passage like this should correct such a reaction. There is in the Church, by the will of God, a "leadership," recognizable, authentic, not arbitrary yet authoritative, not mediatorial yet pastoral. It is never designed indeed to come really between the believing soul and the ever-present Lord. Yet it is appointed as the norm a human agency by which He works for the soul, not only in the solemn ministration of His great ordinances of blessing but in spiritual assistance and guidance as well. It will be the pastor's folly if he so insists upon the imagery of shepherding as to forget for one moment that the "sheep" are also, and in a larger aspect, his equal brethren and sisters, "the sons and daughters of the Lord Almighty." It will be his folly, and the ruin of his true authority, if he forgets in any part of his service that he is not the master but the servant of the Church. If in his "guidance" he dares to domineer, and if in his teaching he takes the tone of one who can dictate any point of faith or duty, on his own authority, apart from the Word of God, he is fatally mistaking his whole function. Nevertheless he is called to be a "leader," with the responsibilities and duties of a leader. This thought is to keep him always humble, and always intently on the watch over his own life. But it is to be present also to the members of the Church, to remind them always to tend towards that generous "obedience" with which Christian freedom safeguards Christian order. The Church is never to forget the responsibility of the Ministry; it is to assist the Ministry in its true discharge. For in this also "we are members one of another."
* * * * *
The closing sentences of the great Letter (ver. 18 and onwards) call for little detailed explanation, with one great exception. The Writer asks for intercessory prayer for himself and his colleagues, in the accent of one who knows his own unreserved desire (ver. 18) to keep his whole "life-walk honourable," [Greek: kalos anastrephesthai]. He asks specially for this help, with a view to his own speedier return to his disciples (ver. 19), an allusion which we cannot now explain for certain. At the very end (verses 22-25), with a noble modesty, in the tone of the true Christian leader, drawing, not driving, he asks for "patience" over his "appeal" ([Greek: paraklesis]), his solemn call for loyalty to the Christ of God under all the trials of the time.
He has "used brevity" ([Greek: dia bracheon]) in writing; he might have expanded the vast theme indefinitely; he has only given them its essentials. Then he makes his one personal reference, abruptly, as if speaking about well-known circumstances; Timotheus (ver. 23) has been released from prison, and is on his way to join the Writer, and the two may hope to visit the Hebrews together again. Then follows the greeting to the pastors through the Church; and then a message of love sent by "those from Italy," that is to say, as the familiar idiom suggests, brethren resident in Italy who send their greeting from it; an allusion over which endless conjectures may gather but which must always remain uncertain. The last word is the blessing of grace. "Grace"—the holy effect upon the Church, and upon the saint, of "God for us" and "God in us"—"be with you all."
* * * * *
We have thus followed this final passage to its end, but making, as the reader will have seen, one great omission. The twentieth and twenty-first verses stand by themselves, with such an elevation of their own, with such a tranquil majesty of diction, with such a pregnant depth of import, that I could not but reserve my brief comment on them to the very last in these attempts to carry "Messages from the Epistle to the Hebrews."
"Now the God of peace, who hath brought again from the dead the Shepherd of the sheep, that great Shepherd, with blood of covenant eternal, even our Lord Jesus—may He perfect you in all good unto the doing of His will, doing in you that which is acceptable before Him, by means of Jesus Christ; to whom be the glory to the ages of the ages. Amen."
Here is one of the greatest, if not the greatest, of the benedictory prayers of the Bible. At every turn it sets before us truths of the first order, woven into one wonderful texture. It presents to us our God as "the God of peace," the God who has welcomed us to reconciliation and is now and for ever reconciled; at peace with us and we with Him. It sets full in view the supreme fact upon which that certainty reposes, the Resurrection of His Christ, recorded here and only here in the long Epistle, as the act and deed by which the Father sealed before the universe His acceptance of the Son for us. It connects that Resurrection with its mighty antecedent, the atoning Death, in words pregnant with the truths characteristic of the Epistle; the Lord, the great Shepherd, was "brought again from the dead" (the phrase is reminiscent of Isa. lxiii. 11, with its memories of Moses and the ascent of Israel from the parted waters), "in the blood" (as it were attended, authenticated, entitled, by the blood) "of covenant eternal," that supreme Compact of Divine love of which twice over (chapters viii., x.) the Epistle has spoken; under which, for the slain Mediator's sake, God both forgives iniquity and transfigures the will of the forgiven. Then the prayer follows upon these mighty premisses. The Teacher asks, with the authority of an inspired benediction, that this God of peace, of covenant, of the crucified and risen Lord Jesus, would carry out the covenant-promise in His new Israel to the full. May He "perfect" them, that is to say, equip them on every side with every requisite of grace, for the supreme purpose of their existence, the doing of His will in everything. May He so inhabit and inform them, through His Son, by His Spirit, that He shall be the will within their will, the force beneath their weakness, "working in them to will and to do for His good pleasure's sake" (Phil. ii. 13). To Him, the Father, be glory for ever. To Him, the Son, be glory for ever. Who shall decide, and who need decide, to which Divine Person the relative pronoun [Greek: ho] precisely attaches? The glory is to the Father in the Son, to the Son in the Father.
One closing word remains. Observe this designation just here applied to the Lord Jesus Christ; "the Shepherd, the great Shepherd, of the sheep." It is noteworthy, because in our Epistle it stands here quite alone. We have had the Christ of God presented to us throughout under the totally different character of the High Priest, the great Self-Immolator of the Cross, now exalted in the glory of His High Priesthood to be the Giver of blessing from the Throne. To Him in that sublime aspect the thought of the Hebrew believer, so sorely tempted to look away from Him, to look backward to the old and ended order, has been steadily directed, for spiritual rest of conscience and for loyalty of will. But here, true to that habit of the Bible, if the word may be used, with which it accumulates on Him the most diverse titles in the effort to set forth His fulness, the Writer exchanges all this range of thought for the one endearing designation of the SHEPHERD of the sheep. It was as such that He went down to death, giving for the flock His life. It was as such that He is "brought again," to rescue, to watch, to feed, to guide His beloved charge, "in the power of life indissoluble."
Not without purpose surely was the Lord left pictured thus in the view of His tried and tempted followers. In the region of conviction and contemplation He was to shine always before them as the High Priest upon His throne, the more than fulfilment of every type and shadow, the goal of Prophecy, "the end of the Law." But He was to be all this as being also, close beside them, their Shepherd, great and good. He was to be with them in the pasture, and in the desert, and in the valley of the shadow of death. They had followed Him indeed as their Sacrifice without the gate. But precisely there He took to Himself His resurrection-life, to be their Companion and their Watcher for evermore. The Lord was their Shepherd, and He is ours; they should not, and we shall not, want.