A REST STILL OFFERED TO CHRISTIANS.
Let us fear, therefore, lest, a promise being still left of entering into his rest, any one of you should seem to have come short. This verse is a renewed warning against remissness, based (as is shown by the connecting οὖν) on the preceding argument, but introducing also, by means of the clause, καταλειπομένης, etc., a new thought, the elucidation of which is the subject of what follows. The new thought is that the true "rest of God," typified only by the rest of Canaan, remains still for the attainment of Christians. That this is the ease has not yet been shown; and hence the clause, "a promise being still left." etc., does not point to a conclusion already arrived at, but to what is coming. The new thought is taken up in Hebrews 4:2, and what has been thus intimated in Hebrews 4:1 is asserted as a conclusion after proof in Hebrews 4:9. ἄρα ἀπολείπεται, etc. A different view of the drift of the warning in this verse, main-rained very decidedly by Ebrard, demands attention. It rests on the interpretation of δοκῇ ὑστερήκεναι, which is taken to mean "should think that he has come too late," i.e. for the promise of the rest, under the idea that its meaning had been exhausted in the rest of Canaan. It may be said in support of this view that such is the most obvious meaning of the phrase; that δοκεῖν in the New Testament most commonly means "think" or "suppose;" that the primary sense of ὑστερεῖν is that of being behindhand, either in place or in time; and that the perfect ὑστερήκεναι is thus accounted for, whereas, according to the usual interpretation, the whole phrase is unsuitable: why was not ὑστερήση written, if a mere warning against remissness was intended? Further, it may be said that what immediately follows is in favor of this view of the purport of the caution in Hebrews 4:1, being an evident carrying out of its idea. Thus the verse is supposed to be not at all a continuation of the previous hortatory section, but rather serving as the thesis of the coming argumentative section, though put in the form of a caution because imperfect appreciation of the view to be now established was at the root of the danger of the Hebrew Christians. Some of them at least did not fully grasp the true character of the gospel as being the fulfill-merit of the old dispensation, the realization of its types and promises. They were inclined to rest in the Law as a revelation to which the gospel was only supplementary, and hence to regard the promised land, the offer of which was before their time, as the only rest intended; and therefore the writer, after adducing the example of the Israelites under Moses as a warning against remissness, prefaces his exposition. of the true rest of God by a warning against misapprehending it. But against this view of the meaning of δοκῇ ὑστερήκεναι there are the following reasons:
(1) The word φοβήθωμεν suggests rather (like βλέπετε) a warning against conduct that might lead to forfeiture than a correction of an inadequate conception; and οὖν connects the warning with what has gone before, in which the view of what the true rest is has not entered.
(2) Though δοκεῖν is most frequently used in the New Testament in its sense of "thinking," "seeming to one's self," yet it has there, as in Greek generally, the sense also of "appearing," "seeming to others;" dud certainly, as far as the word itself is concerned, may have this sense here. Also the verb ὑστερεῖν, though its primary idea (as of ὕστερος) is that of "coming after," is nevertheless invariably used in the New Testament to express "deficiency," or "falling short" (cf. especially in this Epistle, Hebrews 12:15): it is never elsewhere (though capable of the meaning) used to express lateness in time.
(3) The phrase, δοκῇ ὑστερήκεναι, in the sense of "seem to have fallen short" (rather than ὑστερήσῃ) is capable of being accounted for. One explanation of it, adopted by Alford, is indeed hardly tenable. He accounts for the past tense by supposing reference to the final judgment; taking it to mean, "lest any one of you should then appear [i.e. be found] to have fallen short." But the word δοκεῖν, which, however used, refers, not to what is made evident, but to what is thought or seems, refuses to be thus misinterpreted. It is better to take it as a softening expression. We may suppose that the writer (with a delicacy that reminds us of St. Paul) was unwilling to imply his own expectation of any failure; and so he only bids his readers beware of so living as even to present the appearance of it or suggest the thought of it to others. According to this view, the tense of ὑστερήκεναι is intelligible, the supposed deficiency spoken of being previous to its being perceived or suspected. It is not necessary to supply an understood genitive, such as "the promise," or "the rest," after ὑστερήκεναι. It may be used (as elsewhere) absolutely, to express deficiency or failure; i.e. in the conditions required for attainment. One view of its meaning is that it has reference to the idea of being behindhand in a race: but there is nothing in the context to suggest this figure.
(4) It is not necessary that Hebrews 4:1 should express only the idea of the following argument; it does sufficiently express it in the clause, καταλειπομέμης, etc; and it is in the style of this Epistle to connect new trains of argument by a continuous chain of thought with what has gone before (cf. the beginning of Hebrews 2:1-18. and 3). Though there is uncertainty as to the sequence of thought in the several clauses of the following argument (Hebrews 4:2-11), its general drift is clear. Its leading ideas are these: The invitation to enter God's rest contained in the psalm shows that the rest of Canaan, which, though forfeited under Moses, had long been actually attained under Joshua, was not the final rest intended. What, then, is meant by this remarkable term, "my rest," i.e. God's own rest? Our thoughts go back to the beginning of the Bible, where a rest of God himself is spoken of; where he is said to have rested on the seventh day from all his works. Participation, then, in that heavenly rest—a true sabbath rest with God—is what the term implies. Though this rest began "from the foundation of the world," man's destined share in if, however long delayed, was intimated by the typical history of the Israelites under Moses, and by the warning and renewed invitation of the psalm. This renewed invitation makes it plain that it is still attainable by God's people. It has at last been made attainable by Christ. who, as our great High Priest, has himself entered it, and leads us into it if we are but faithful.
For truly we have had good tidings (or, a gospel) preached unto us, even as also they: but the word of hearing did not profit them, not being mingled by faith with those that heard it. The meaning and purpose of the first part of this verse is plain, as is also the general intention of the second; viz. to account parenthetically for the gospel to the Israelites under Moses having failed of its purpose, and at the same time to renew the warning of their example with respect to the gospel now preached to Christians. But the passage is still one of singular difficulty, on account both of the various readings of it, and of the peculiarity of the language used whatever reading be adopted. With respect to the various readings, the main and indeed only important question is between
(1) συγκεκραμένος agreeing with λόγος ἀκοῆς, and
(2) συγκεκραμένους, agreeing with ἐκείνους. The variation between συγκεκραμ and συγκεκερασμ, being only different forms of the participle, does not affect the meaning.
Then the readings τῶν ἀκουσάντων and τοῖς ἀκούσθεισιν for τοῖς ἀκούσασι rest on such slight authority, and are so likely to have been substitutions (the latter to make the reading συγκεκραμένους intelligible), that they need not be considered.
(1) The reading of the Textus Receptus, following the Vulgate, is μὴ συγκεκραμένος τῇ πίστει τοῖς ἀλούσασιν. But
(2) the great preponderance of ancient authority (including that of all the uncial manuscripts except א ) supports συγκεκραμένους or συγκεκερασμένους The latter, then, must be accepted as the true reading, if authority alone is to be our guide. But then comes the difficulty of making any sense of it. The only way of doing so is to understand τοῖς ἀκούσασιν ("those who heard") in the sense of "those who hearkened;" the sense of the passage being "The word of hearing did not profit them, because they were not united by faith with those who not only heard, but hearkened and obeyed." Most of the Fathers, reading συγκεκραμένους, take τοῖς ἀκούσασιν to refer in this sense to Caleb and Joshua. But, if what has been said above be true as to these exceptions to the general unbelief not having been in the writer's mind, such an allusion is highly improbable. Some (Alford, e.g) take τοῖς ἀκούσασιν with no historical reference, but as denoting hearkeners generally. Alford, however, though adopting this as the best solution of an acknowledged difficulty, confesses himself not satisfied with it, as well he may. A very serious objection to either view, even apart from the strangeness of the whole expression if such be its meaning, is that, though the verb ἀκούειν is certainly used elsewhere in the sense thus assigned to it, the whole context here suggests different one. Cf. supra (Hebrews 3:16), τινὲς γὰρ ἀκούσαντες παρεπίκραναν: and especially ὁ λόγος τῆς ἀκοῆς immediately preceding. ἀκοῆς, denoting hearing only, seems to have suggested the use of the participle ἀκούσασιν, to which it would therefore be most unnatural to assign a different meaning. If, then, all devices for making sense of the best supported text prove unsatisfactory, and if the Textus Receptus gives an intelligible meaning, we might surely be justified in adopting the latter, however ill supported. Internal evidence (though great caution should be used in our estimate of it) need not yield entirely to external, nor common sense to authority, in the determination of true readings. But in this case the argument from internal probability has now been strengthened by the discovery of the reading συγκεκερασμένος in the Sinaitic Codex ( א ). This, then, being adopted, though the expression be peculiar, the meaning is no longer obscure, whether we take τῇ πίστει or τοῖς ἀκούσασιν as governed by συγκεκραμένος. It may be either that "the word of hearing did not profit them because it was not mingled with their faith to those that heard;" or "because it was not mingled by faith with those that heard it." In the latter case the idea is that of the necessity of the spoken word entering the heart, and being (so to speak) assimilated by the hearers through the instrumentality of faith, in order to profit them.
For we do enter into the rest, we who have believed ( οἱ πιστεύσαντες, the historical aorist, pointing to the time when Christians became believers; with a reference also to τῇ πίστει in the preceding verse: but the emphasis is on the first word in the sentence, εἰσερχόμεθα: "For we Christian believers have an entrance into the rest intended") even as he hath said, As I sware in my wrath, If they shall enter into my rest; although the works were finished from the foundation of the world. This seems to be a concise enunciation of the proof, unfolded in the verses that follow, of the true rest being one into which Christians have still an entrance. The idea is that, though God's own rest had been from the beginning, and man had not yet entered it, yet the possibility of his doing so had not ceased to be intimated: it had continued open potentially to man.
Hebrews 4:4, Hebrews 4:5
For he hath said somewhere ( που cf. Hebrews 2:6) of the seventh day on this wise, And God rested the seventh day from all his works; and in this place again, If they shall enter into my rest. Here the argument is carried out. The first passage quoted shows what must be understood by the "rest of God;" the second shows that it still remains open, that "it remaineth that some should enter thereinto." This being the case—
Hebrews 4:6, Hebrews 4:7
Since therefore it remains that some should enter into it, and they to whom the good tidings were before preached entered not in because of disobedience, he again defineth a certain day, saying in David, after so long a time, Today; as it hath been before said, Today, if ye will hear his voice, etc. The continued openness of the rest, and the failure of the Israelites of old to enter it, are the reasons why a further day for entering was defined in the psalm. But here the thought is suggested that the Israelites had not finally failed, for that, though those under Moses did so, the next generation under Joshua did attain the promised laud. No, it is replied; the rest of the promised land was but a type after all; it was not the true rest of God: otherwise the psalmist could not have still assigned a day for entering it so long after the arrival at Shiloh;—
Hebrews 4:8, Hebrews 4:9
For if Joshua had given them rest, he would not have spoken afterward of another day. The conclusion is now drawn: There remaineth therefore a sabbath rest for the people of God; the true nature of the rest intended being beautifully denoted by the word σαββατισμὸς, which refers to the Divine rest "from the foundation of the world," while the offer of it to true believers always, and not to the Israelites only, is intimated by the phrase, "the people of God."
For he that is entered into his rest (God's, as before) hath himself also rested from his works, as from his own God. There are two ways of understanding this verse. Its general intention is, indeed, clear. It accounts for the use of the word σαββατισμὸς which precedes, expressing that the true meaning of "God's rest" is not satisfied by any earthly rest, but only by one like his. The question is whether the verse is to be taken as a general proposition or as referring specifically to Christ. In favor of the latter view is the aorist κατέπαυσεν. The literal translation would be "He that entered … himself also rested." Ebrard, on this ground, strenuously defends the reference to Christ; and also on the ground of parallelism with Hebrews 2:9 in the first division of the general argument. In the first division (Hebrews 2:1-18) the course of thought was—Dominion over creation has been assigned to man: man has not attained it: Jesus has; and in Jesus man fulfils his destiny. In this second division the corresponding course of drought is—God's rest has been offered to man: man has not attained it: Jesus has; and in Jesus man may enter it. And thus (as has been explained above) the conclusion that Jesus is the High Priest of humanity is led up to by two parallel lines of argument. But the third of the propositions of the second line of argument (corresponding to Hebrews 2:9 in the first) is not distinctly expressed unless it be in the verse before us; and therefore this verse, on this ground as well as that of the use of the aorist, is taken to refer to Christ. On the other hand, it is argued (Bleek, De Wette, Delitzsch, etc) that, if a specific reference to Christ had been intended, he would have been mentioned, so as to make the meaning clear; and secondly, that the aorist κατέπαυσε is legitimate, though the proposition be a general one. Delitzsch explains it thus: "The author might have written καταπαύει or (more classically) καταπέπαυται: but he has taken up into the main proposition the κατέπαυσεν, which properly belongs (according to Genesis 2:2) to the clause of comparison: whosoever has entered God's rest, of him the ' κατέπαυσεν ἀπὸ τῶν ἔργων αὑτοῦ holds good in the same manner as of God." And, further, it is to be observed that the Greek aorist may sometimes be put for the present, "to express an action completely determined, every doubt as to its truth and unalterableness being removed". In this instance the idea might be—he that has entered into God's rest rested, when he so entered, from all his works, etc. On the whole, it appears that specific reference to Christ is not apparent from the immediate context, or required by the mere language used. Still, in consideration of the general argument, we may take the writer to have meant his readers to understand that it was Christ who had so entered the rest of God, so as to lead God's people into it. That this is so appears from Hebrews 2:14, ἔχοντες οὗν ἀρχιερέα μέγαν διελη;υθότα τοὺς οὐρανοὺς, which seems to require that preceding link of thought.—Among man's deepest feelings is a longing for rest. Haply in the freshness and ardor of early life not deeply felt, it recurs from time to time, and grows stronger with advancing years. Nothing in life fully satisfies this longing. Labors, distresses, disappointments, anxieties, never allow the desired repose. Few there are whose hearts have not sometimes echoed the psalmist's words, "Oh that I had wings like a dove! For then would I flee away, and be at rest!" Many since Job have felt something of his longing to be where "the wicked cease from troubling, and the weary are at rest." Is there to be no satisfaction ever of this deep human craving? Holy Scripture meets it as it meets all others. It spoke of a rest of God above creation from the beginning of time; it intimated man's part and interest in it by the weekly sabbath which he was to keep with God. But this was, after all, but a symbol and earnest of something unattained. At length a fuller realization of the longed-for rest was held out to the chosen people, and the Promised Land was pictured beforehand in the colors of an earthly Paradise. Forfeited, when first offered, through the people's unworthiness (representing by an historical parable the bar to man's entrance into the eternal rest), it was attained at last. But the true rest still came not. Canaan, like the sabbath, proved but a symbol of something unattained. Yet the old longing for rest went on, and inspired men went on proclaiming it as attainable and still to come. The irrepressible craving, the suggestive symbols, the prophetic anticipations, are all fulfilled in Christ. He, when he had passed with us through this earthly scene of labor, entered, with our nature, into that eternal rest of God, to prepare a place for us, having by his atonement removed the bar to human entrance. Through our faith in him we are assured that our deep-seated craving for satisfaction unattained as yet, which we express by the term "rest," is a true inward prophecy, and that, though we find it not here, we may through him, if we are faithful, confidently expect it there, where "beyond these voices there is peace."
There now follows (verses 11-14) a renewal of the warning of Heb 3:7-4:1, urged now with increased force in view of the danger of slighting such a revelation as the gospel has been shown to be; after which (Hebrews 4:14, etc) come words of encouragement, based on the view, now a second time arrived at, of Christ being our great High Priest. And thus the exposition of his priesthood, which follows in Hebrews 5:1-14., is led up to.
Let us therefore do our diligence ( σπουδάσωμεν, so translated in A.V. 2 Timothy 4:9, 2 Timothy 4:21) to enter into that rest, lest any one fall after the same example of disobedience ( ἀπειθείας: not ἀπιστίας, which means "unbelief"). It is a question, though not at all affecting the general sense of the passage, whether ἐν τῷ αὐτῶ ὑποδείγματι πέσῃ should not he translated "fall into tide same example." πίπτειν ἐν has undoubtedly the sense of "to fall into," and is frequently so used in the LXX., and the subordinate position of πέσῃ in the sentence—between ὑποδείγπατι and τῆς ἀπειθείας—is against its being used absolutely as the emphatic word. If so, the meaning will be "fall into the same exemplar of disobedience," i.e. the kind of disobedience of which that of the Israelites was a sample. This interpretation of the phrase, being that of the Vulgate, is supported by Alford, Davison, Lunemann; though most modern commentators (Bengel, Bleek, De Wette, Tholuck, Delitzsch, Wordsworth), with Chrysostom, take πέσῃ absolutely, as in Romans 11:11 (ruat, Bengel), and ἐν τῷ αὐτῶ ὑποδείγματι as meaning, "so as to present the same (i.e. a like) example of disobedience," the ἐν, according to Delitzsch, being the ἐν of state or condition. The warning is next enforced by a vivid representation of the penetrating and resistless power of the "Word of God." The question arises whether "the Word of God" is here to be understood in St. John's sense of the Hypostatic Word, i.e. the Second Person of the holy Trinity, who became incarnate in Christ. It is so understood by the Fathers generally; and the fact of this Epistle being tinged generally with the thought and terminology of Philo (whoso use of the word λόγος, derived from the Platonic philosophy in combination with Jewish theology, seems to anticipate in some degree, however vaguely, the doctrine of St. John) gives some countenance to the view. But against it are the following considerations:—
Neither is there any creature that is not manifest in his sight; but all things are naked and laid open unto the eyes of him with whom we have to do. The main difficulty in this verse is as to the meaning of the word τετραχηλισμένα (translated "laid open"). The verb τραχηλίζω (which occurs nowhere else in the New Testament or LXX., but is, with its compound ἐκτραχηλίζω, not uncommon in Philo and Josephus) has in classical Greek the sense of "seizing by the throat," or "bending back the neck," as in wrestling. And this, with the further idea of "overthrowing" or "laying prostrate," is the prevailing sense in Philo, from whom Wetstein quotes many passages in illustration. Taking, then, with most modern commentators, the sense of bending back the neck as the primary one, we have only to consider what secondary meaning is here to be attached to it. Some take the idea to be that of being thrown on the ground supine, so as to be thoroughly exposed to view. So Bengel: " τραχηλίζω, resupino, Graece et Latine dicitur pro patefacio. Corpora quae prona jacent vix nuda censentur; nam se ipsa tegunt: resupinata, secundum partes nobilissimas quasque et distinctissimas visui patent." Many (Eisner, Wolf, Baumgarten, Kuinoel, Bretschneider, Block, De Wette, etc., following Perizonius, on AElian, 'Vat. Hist.,' 12.58) see an allusion to the Roman custom of exposing criminals "reducto capite," "retortis cervieibus," so that all might see their faces (see Suetonius, 'Vitel.,' 17; Pliny, 'Panegyr.,' 34. 3). There is, however, no other known instance of the Greek verb being used with this reference, which there seems to be no necessity for assuming. The idea may be simply the general one thus expressed by Delitzsch, "that whatever shamefaced creature bows its head, and would fain withdraw and cloak itself from the eyes of God, has indeed the throat, as it were, bent back before those eyes, with no possibility of escape, exposed and naked to their view." Many of the ancients (Chrysostom, Theodoret, Ecumenius, Theophylact) saw in τετραχηλισμένα a reference to the treatment of sacrificial victims, as being smitten on the neck or hung by the neck for the purpose of being flayed kern the neck downwards, or cut open thence, so as to expose rite entrails to view. But no instance is known of such use of the word τραχηλίζω, the idea of which may have been suggested to commentators by the figure of the sword in the verse preceding; which figure, however, there is no reason to suppose continued in Hebrews 4:13, the idea of which is simply complete exposure, introduced by οὐκ ἀφανὴς. The ancients take the concluding expression, πρὸς ὂν ἡμῖν ὁ λόγος, as meaning "to whom our account must be given," i.e. "to whom we are responsible as our judge"—in the sense of λόγον διδόναι. The A.V. seems better to give the general idea of relation by the apt phrase, "with whom we have to do." Of course, λόγας here has no reference to the Word of God, the recurrence of the word, in a subordinate sense, being merely accidental.
To the interposed minatory warning of the three preceding verses now succeeds encouragement, based on the view, which has been now a second time led up to, of Christ being our great High Priest, who can both sympathize and succor. The passage answers closely in thought to the conclusion of Hebrews 2:1-18., and might naturally have followed there; but that, before taking up the subject of Christ's priesthood, the writer had another line of thought to pursue, leading up (as has been explained) to the same conclusion. The οὖν at the beginning of Hebrews 2:14 either connects κρατῶμεν ("let us hold fast") with the verses immediately preceding in the sense, "The Word of God being so searching and resistless, let us therefore hold fast," etc.,—in which ease the participial clause ἔχοντες, etc., is a confirmation of this exhortation (so Delitzsch); or is connected logically with the participial clause as a resumption of the whole preceding argument. Certainly the idea of the participial clause is the prominent one in the writer's mind, what follows being an expansion of it. And the position of οὖν suggests this connection. It is to be observed that, after the manner of the Epistle, this concluding exhortation serves also as a transition to the subject of the following chapters, and anticipates in some degree what is to be set forth, though all the expressions used have some ground in what has gone before. Having then a great High Priest who hath passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. The rendering of διεληλυθότα τοὺς οὐρανοὺς in the A.V. ("is passed into the heavens") is evidently wrong. The idea is that Christ has passed through the intermediate heavens to the immediate presence of God—to the sphere of the eternal σαββατισμὸς. In his use of the plural, τοὺς οὐρανοὺς, the writer may have had in his mind the Jewish view of an ascending series of created heavens. Clemens Alexandrinus, e.g. speaks of seven: επτὰ οὐρανοὺς οὕς τινὲς ἀρίθμουσι κατ ἐπανάβασιν. Cf. also "the heaven and the heaven of heavens" (Deuteronomy 10:14; 2 Chronicles 6:18; Nehemiah 9:6), and "who hast set thy glory above the heavens" (Psalms 8:1), also "the third heaven," into which St. Paul was rapt (2 Corinthians 12:2). Cf. also Ephesians 4:10, ὁ ἀναβὰς ὑπεράνω πάντων τῶν οὐρανῶν ἵνα πληρώσῃ τὰ πάντα. The conception of the phrase is that, whatever spheres of created heavens intervene between our earth and the eternal uncreated, beyond them to it Christ has gone,—into "heaven itself ( αὐτὸν τὸν οὐρανὸν);" "before the face of God" (Hebrews 9:24). From this expression, together with Ephesians 4:10 (above quoted), is rightly deduced the doctrine of Christ s ubiquity even in his human nature. For, carrying that nature with him and still retaining it, he is spoken of as having passed to the region which admits no idea of limitation, and so as to "fill all things." The obvious bearing of this doctrine on that of the presence in the Eucharist may be noted in passing. (It is to be observed that "the heavens" in the plural is used (Hebrews 8:1) of the seat of the Divine majesty itself to which Christ has gone. It is the word διεληλυθότα that determines the meaning here) The designation, "Jesus the Son of God," draws attention first to the man Jesus who was known by that name in the flesh, and secondly to the "more excellent name," above expatiated on, in virtue of which he "hath passed through the heavens." The conclusion follows that it is the human Jesus, with his humanity, who, being also the Son of God, has so "passed through." There may possibly (as some think) be an intention of contrasting him with Joshua ( ιησοῦς, verse 8), who won the entrance into the typical rest. But it is not necessary to suppose this; verses 8 and 14 are at too great a distance from each other to suggest a connection of thought between them; and besides ἰησοῦν occurred similarly at the end of Hebrews 3:1, before any mention of Joshua. The epithet μέγαν after ἀρχιερέα distinguishes Christ from all other high priests (cf. Hebrews 13:20, τὸν ποιμένα τῶν προβάτων τὸν μέγαν). The high priest of the Law passed through the veil to the earthly symbol of the eternal glory; the "great High Priest" has passed through the heavens to the eternal glory itself. As to ὁμολογίας, cf. on Hebrews 3:1. In consideration of having such a High Priest, who, as is expressed in what follows, can both sympathize and succor, the readers are exhorted to "hold fast," not only their inward faith, but their "confession" of it before men. A besetting danger of the Hebrew Christians was that of shrinking from a full and open confession under the influence of gainsaying or persecution.
For we have not an High Priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but one that hath been in all things tempted like as we are, without sin. The power of sympathy ( συμπαθήσαι) of our great High Priest is not adduced to distinguish him from other high priests, but to express, in this respect, his resemblance to them; community of nature and feeling with those for whom he mediates being essential to the conception of a high priest (see Hebrews 4:2). The sequence of thought is, "Let us hold fast our confession, not moved from it by the thought of the superhuman greatness of this High Priest of ours, who hath passed through the heavens; for he can still sympathize with our infirmities ( ἀσθενείαις), having undergone our trials." ἀσθένεια in the New Testament denotes both bodily infirmity, such as disease (cf. Matthew 8:17; Luke 5:15; John 5:5; John 11:4; Acts 28:9; 1 Timothy 5:23), and also the general weakness of human nature as opposed to Divine power, δύναμις (cf. Romans 8:26; 1 Corinthians 15:23; 2 Corinthians 12:5, 2 Corinthians 12:9; 2 Corinthians 13:4). St. Paul seems to have had regard to ἀσθένεια in a comprehensive sense—including chronic malady (his "thorn in the flesh"), liability to calamities, "fear and trembling," temptation to sin—when he spoke (2 Corinthians 12:5, 2 Corinthians 12:9) of glorying in his infirmities that the power of Christ might rest upon him. With all human ἀσθενείαι, of whatever kind, Christ can sympathize in virtue of his own human experience: "Himself took our infirmities ( ἀσθενείας) and bare our sicknesses" (Matthew 8:17); "himself ἐσταυρώθη ἐξ ἀσθενείας, though he now lives ἐκ δυνάμεως θεοῦ" (2 Corinthians 13:4). The latter part of the verse corresponds in meaning with Hebrews 2:18, but with further delineation of the temptation undergone by Christ. The concluding χωρὶς ἁμαρτίας (best taken in connection with καθ ὁμοιότητα, which it immediately follows, rather than with κατὰ πάντα) is not a categorical assertion of Christ's sinlessness, though it implies it, but an exclusion of the idea of sin from-the likeness spoken of. His temptation was after the likeness of ours, "apart from sin," or "sin except." For similar expressions, though not with definite reference to temptation, cf. Hebrews 9:28; Hebrews 7:26. But how is the exception of sin to be understood? Is it that, though, like us, tempted, he, unlike us, resisted temptation? Or is it that his sinless nature was incapable of being even solicited by sin? Now, the verb πειράζω means sometimes "to tempt to sin," as Satan or our own lusts tempt us (cf. 1 Corinthians 7:5; 1 Thessalonians 3:5; James 1:13, etc); and also "to prove.... to try," "to test faithfulness," as in 1 Corinthians 10:13; Hebrews 11:37, etc., in which sense, with reference especially to afflictive trials, the noun πειρασμὸς is commonly used (cf. Luke 8:13; Luke 22:18; Acts 20:19; Galatians 4:14; 1 Peter 4:12; James 1:12). That Christ was not only subjected to πειρασμὸς in this latter sense, but was also directly assailed by the tempter to sin ( ὁ πειράζων), appears from the Gospel record. But here comes in a difficulty. There can, we conceive, be no real temptation where there is no liability to the sin suggested by temptation, still less where there is no possibility of sinning. But can we imagine any such liability, or even possibility, in the case of the Divine and Sinless One? If not, wherein did the temptation consist? How could it be at all like ours, or one through his own experience of which he can sympathize with us? It was for maintaining, on the strength of such considerations, the theoretic peccability of Christ, that Irving was expelled as heretical flora the Presbyterian communion. The question has undoubtedly its serious difficulties in common with the whole subjeer of the Divine and human in Christ. The following thoughts may, however, aid solution. That Christ, in his human nature, partook of all the original affections of humanity—hope, fear, desire, joy, grief, indignation, shrinking from suffering, and the like—is apparent, not only from his life, but also from the fact that his assumption of our humanity would have otherwise been incomplete. Such affections are not in themselves sinful; they only are so when, under temptation, any of them become inordinate, and serve as motives to transgression of duty. He, in virtue of his Divine personality, could not through them be seduced into sin; but it does not follow that he could not, in his human nature, feel their power to seduce, or rather the power of the tempter to seduce through them, and thus have personal experience of man's temptation. St. John says of one" born of God" that he "doth not commit sin; for his seed remaineth in him, and he cannot sin, because he is born of God" (1 John 3:9). He does not mean that the regenerate Christian is not exposed to and does not feel, the power of temptation; only that, so far forth as he lives in the new life from God, he is proof against it; he gives no internal assent to the seduction of the tempter; and so "that wicked one toucheth him net" (verse 18). What is thus said of one "born of God" may be said much more, and without any qualification, of the Son of God, without denying that he too experienced the power of temptation, though altogether proof against it. Bengel says, "Quomodo autem, sine pectate tentatus, compati potest tentatis cum peceato? In intellectu multo acrius anima salvatoris percepit imagines tentantes quam nos infirmi: in voluntato tam celeriter incursum earum retudit quam ignis aquae guttulam sibi objectam. Expertus est igitur qua virtute sit opus ad tentationes vincendas. Compati potest nam et sine peccato, et tamen vere est tentatus."
Let us therefore come boldly (literally, with boldness) unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need.
The gospel rest.
In this passage the writer explains what is to be understood by the "rest" to which God had invited his ancient people, and urges the Hebrews of his own day to strive to attain it as the most Divine of all blessings.
I. THE REST OF GOD. "His rest" (Hebrews 4:1); "my rest" (Hebrews 4:3, Hebrews 4:5). Rest belongs essentially to God, for he is all-perfect and self-harmonious. Being infinite in purity and love, in knowledge and power, he is the God of peace, and dwells in undisturbed repose. The rest of God is mirrored in the institution of the sabbath (Hebrews 4:4), which commemorates his satisfaction at the close of his world-making, when he saw that his works "answered his great idea," and were "very good." God's own sabbath rest "is the substratum and basis of all peace and rest—the pledge of an ultimate and satisfactory purpose in creation" (Dr. Saphir).
II. THE REST OF GOD PROMISED TO MAN. This "promise" (Hebrews 4:1) is the result of God's fatherly love. For man, although he has fallen from his rest, is still the child of God, beloved in spite of his sad apostasy, and pitied on account of his weary moiling in the pursuits of sin. The sabbath instituted at the creation was not this rest (Hebrews 4:3-5), but only a sign and seal of it. Neither did the possession of the promised land involve the realization of the promised rest (Hebrews 4:6-9); for Israel had never for any time a restful life in Canaan, and King David, nearly five hundred years after the Hebrew occupation, speaks of entrance into God's rest as a blessing which was still future (Hebrews 4:7, Hebrews 4:8). However, the settlement of Israel in the land flowing with milk and honey was an adumbration of the gospel rest. And thus God himself said of Zion, "This is my rest for ever."
III. THE REST OF GOD REALIZED IN CHRIST. The Lord Jesus is the Joshua of our confession. He was indeed the Hope of the Jewish Church also in the time of the first Joshua, whether the people realized him to be such or not. If we follow him as our "Leader and Commander," our hearts, even in this weary, changeful world, will enter into true spiritual rest (verse 3). Christ brings us rest from guilt, rest from self-righteous striving, rest from wants, rest from fears, rest amidst life's burdens. In his "obedience unto death" he labored and was heavy laden that he might give us rest. If we stay our minds on him, we shall be "kept in perfect peace;" if we trust in him, we shall learn to rejoice that "the lines are fallen unto us in pleasant places, and that we have a goodly heritage.
IV. THE REST OF GOD CONSUMMATED IN HEAVEN. Although God has provided for us even in this world perfect rest in Christ, the limitation of our nature prevents us meanwhile from fully enjoying it; and our besetting sins may continue until the end to disturb our tranquility. But in the heavenly world the saints shall be set free forever from sin and temptation, from anxiety and sorrow. They shall enter there into the perfect sabbath-rest of God, and shall dwell in it throughout eternity (verse 9). His love shall abide upon his people, and their perfected love to him shall spring up within them unto everlasting life.
In conclusion, if we would acquire and possess this inheritance, we must:
1. Cherish godly "fear" (verse 1).
2. Cultivate faith in Christ (verse 3).
3. Be "united by faith with them that hear" (verse 2)—the Calebs and the Joshuas.
4. "Give diligence to enter into" the eternal rest (verse 11) by "following the Lord fully."
Hebrews 4:12, Hebrews 4:13
The power of the Divine Word.
The writer urges here that if the Word of God condemned the unbelieving Jews in the Sinaitic desert, it will judge and condemn us also, should we prove unfaithful. The original reference is, of course, not to the written Word; but, in applying the passage to ourselves, we can think only of the promises and warnings of Holy Scripture.
I. A DESCRIPTION OF THE WORD OF GOD. (Hebrews 4:12) The representation is very vivid and impressive. The Word is, as it were, a magistrate; it judges actions, sifts motives, pronounces sentences. As such it is:
1. Living. It is "the breath of his lips"—God-breathed; and so it is never "a dead letter," but always quick with spiritual life, and ready to quicken. What Luther said of Paul's writings is true of all Scripture: its words "are not dead words; they are living creatures, and have hands and feet."
2. Energetic. The actual power of the Word is as great as the authority which it claims. It is, indeed, the supreme power among men. In the moral sphere it dominates the thought of the world. To the individual soul it is like "a fire "and "a hammer." It is "sharper than any two-edged sword"—two-edged, because it both punishes as a sword and heals as a surgeon's knife.
3. Heart-dissecting. The Word pierces into the deepest recesses of man's being. It pricks men in their hearts. It parts "soul and spirit," "joints and marrow;" i.e. it separates the animal soul from the angel-spirit in human nature. It gives sensibility and power to the heavenward side of our being; and enables us to distinguish what in us is carnal and must be subdued. It marks off to the believer's consciousness "the works of the flesh" from "the fruit of the Spirit."
4. All-discerning. The sacred writers evince a profounder knowledge of human nature than even Shakespeare or Goethe. God's Word is the touchstone of character. Rather it is an eye which detects the true spiritual condition of every one upon whom it gazes. That awful eye never closes. It reads the most secret thoughts and desires of the soul, and pronounces judgment upon the impenitent for doom. Even the manner in which a man treats the promises and threatenings of the Bible shows what that man is.
"Eye of God's Word! whene'er we turn,
Ever upon us I Thy keen gaze
Can all the depths of sin discern,
Unravel every bosom's maze.
Who that has felt thy glance of dread
Thrill through his heart's remotest cells,
About his path, about his bed,
Can doubt what spirit in thee dwells?"
II. THE SECRET OF ITS POWER. (Hebrews 4:13) Holy Scripture is thus energetic and efficacious because it is the Word of the Omniscient. It derives from him "who knows what is in man" its subtle insight into character, and its deep hold upon the world's life. The all-seeing Judge, "with whom we have to do," has invested his Word with its marvelous magisterial power. As the teachings of Scripture are an exact transcript of the nature and will of God, even the bare Word itself exercises as a Book transcendent moral influence over men. But, when accompanied with the supernatural energy of the Holy Spirit, upon which it depends for its efficacy as a means of grace, Holy Scripture becomes the very omnipotence of the Omnipotent, to arouse, convict, and condemn, as well as to comfort, sanctify, and save.
1. Let ministers "preach the Word." The faithful exhibition of the truth will lay bare the hearts of those who hear, and sometimes so thoroughly that individuals will conclude that their experiences must have been reported beforehand to the preacher. And without solid spiritual instruction no Church will receive blessing or power.
2. Let all hearers of the gospel "tremble at the Word." Every human heart should submit with holy awe to its inspection, and allow its teachings to determine belief, mould character, and control conduct.
Christ's sympathy and help.
This passage is one of the great signposts of the Epistle. In Hebrews 1:1-14., 2. the writer has discussed the superiority of Christ as a King to angels; and in Hebrews 3:1-19., 4. his superiority as a Prophet to Moses. He now proceeds to discourse more at length of his superiority as a Priest to Aaron.
I. A TWOFOLD STATEMENT OF DOCTRINE. This double statement concerns the cardinal truth of the Savior's priesthood.
1. Its outer aspect. (Hebrews 3:14) Fallen, sinful man needs a priest to act for him before God, and the world has sought for one long and earnestly. The Jewish religion embodied an elaborate priesthood; and its types have at length been stereotyped under the Christian dispensation. Every believer is now a priest unto God; and Jesus Christ is the Arch-Priest of the Church. The author here encourages the Hebrew converts to steadfastness, by reminding them of the reality and majesty of Christ's priesthood. He is "a great High Priest"—the Archetype and Antitype of the Jewish pontiff. His majesty appears when we consider:
2. Its inner aspect. (Hebrews 3:15) This verse opens up before us the secret workings of the Redeemer's heart. It speaks of his priestly sympathy. Sympathy is a great power in human life. It bulks so largely that an eminent Scottish thinker, Adam Smith, makes it the basis of his whole system of morals. Now, says the apostle, the Savior's unparalleled greatness does not by any means render him incapable of sympathy. Although he has passed through the heavens, "heaven lies about us," and thus he is very near us. Although he left the world nineteen hundred years ago, he is yet" with us always." Although he is the Son of God, he has a human soul—a soul intensely human—which underwent a complete curriculum of trial, and graduated to its glory through suffering. Although he was "without sin," his earthly life was a life of constant temptation, as well as of constant and culminating sorrow because of sin. So he is "touched with the feeling of our infirmities"—our infirmities of health, of temper, of devotion, of resolution, of service. He knows experimentally the precise force of every evil suggestion which may try us. As the Head of the Church, he is its great Nerve-center; and he that toucheth any one of his people "toucheth the apple of his eye."
II. A TWOFOLD ENFORCEMENT OF DUTY. The double exhortation corresponds to the two aspects of the doctrine respectively. The apostle exhorts to:
1. Steadfast confessions. (Hebrews 3:14) The early Hebrew Christians found it very difficult openly to confess Christ; for their unbelieving countrymen treated all who did so as renegades from Israel, and apostates from Israel's God. But fidelity to the truth was necessary then, and it is equally necessary now. Every believer is bound publicly to confess Christ. He must do so for Christ's sake, for his own sake, and for the sake of his fellow men.
2. Constant supplication. (Hebrews 3:16) To the universe at large God's throne is a throne of majesty; to sinners, it is a throne of judgment; to believers, the presence of Christ at God's right hand makes it a "throne of grace." And the thought of our High Priest's tender sympathy should fill us with holy confidence to go daily and hourly into the Divine presence for the supplies which we need. What a joy to know that we have a Friend at court, and that he is our Sovereign's Son! As often as we look up to his open, loving face, we may use all "liberty of speech" in asking pardoning mercy for the past and helping grace for the future.
HOMILIES BY W. JONES
Fear of failing to realize the promised rest.
"Let us therefore fear, lest, a promise being left," etc. Let us notice—
I. THE GREAT PROMISE. "A promise being left of entering into his rest." Later in the chapter (Hebrews 4:6-9) the writer shows from the Old Testament that such a promise was left to Christians. The rest promised is God's rest—"his rest;" because:
1. It corresponds with his.
"Absence of occupation is not rest;
A mind quite vacant is a mind distrest."
Robertson well says, "In creation the rest of God is exhibited as a sense of power which nothing wearies."
"And central peace subsisting at the heart
Of endless agitation."
"These things have I spoken unto you, that in me ye may have peace. In the world ye have tribulation," etc.
2. It is conferred by him. God is the Giver of this rest. He bestows it
II. THE GRAVE POSSIBILITY. "Lest any one of you should seem to have come short of it." The grave possibility is that when the great testing-time shall come any one should be found without a personal participation in the promised rest. The word "seem" does not indicate the apparent as distinguished from the real; but is, as Alford says, "a mild term, conveying indeed a sterner intimation behind it." But how should any one come short of the promised rest? Clearly by unbelief, even as the Israelites who left Egypt came short of the rest of Canaan. To these Hebrew Christians there was more than a possibility of the failure of their faith in Jesus Christ. His system had no imposing ceremonial, no pomp or pageantry to commend it, as Judaism had. He himself was despised and rejected by the conventionally and officially great and noble, and was condemned and crucified. The claims of Christianity upon the acceptance of men were spiritual, and could only be spiritually discerned. Hence the danger of those to whom the text was primarily addressed. And still men are in danger of coming short of the attainment of the great promise. This peril arises from the temptation to seek satisfaction in visible and material things rather than in invisible and spiritual things; or to seek for ease and happiness rather than for peace and rest; or to seek for rest