Commentary on the Bible, by Adam Clarke, , at sacred-texts.com
The insufficiency of the legal sacrifices to take away sin, Heb 10:1-4. The purpose and will of God, as declared by the Psalmist, relative to the salvation of the world by the incarnation of Christ; and our sanctification through that will, Heb 10:5-10. Comparison between the priesthood of Christ and that of the Jews, Heb 10:11-14. The new covenant which God promised to make, and the blessings of it, Heb 10:15-17. The access which genuine believers have to the holiest by the blood of Jesus, Heb 10:18-20. Having a High Priest over the Church of God, we should have faith, walk uprightly, hold fast our profession, exhort and help each other, and maintain Christian communion, Heb 10:21-25. The danger and awful consequences of final apostasy, Heb 10:26-31. In order to our perseverance, we should often reflect on past mercies, and the support afforded us in temptations and afflictions; and not cast away our confidence, for we shall receive the promise if we patiently fulfill the will of God, Heb 10:32-37. The just by faith shall live; but the soul that draws back shall die, Heb 10:38. The apostle's confidence in the believing Hebrews, Heb 10:39.
The law, having a shadow of good things to come - A shadow, σκια, signifies,
1. Literally, the shade cast from a body of any kind, interposed between the place on which the shadow is projected, and the sun or light; the rays of the light not shining on that place, because intercepted by the opacity of the body, through which they cannot pass.
2. It signifies, technically, a sketch, rude plan, or imperfect draught of a building, landscape, man, beast, etc.
3. It signifies, metaphorically, any faint adumbration, symbolical expression, imperfect or obscure image of a thing; and is opposed to σωμα, body, or the thing intended to be thereby defined.
4. It is used catachrestically among the Greek writers, as umbra is among the Latins, to signify any thing vain, empty, light, not solid; thus Philostratus, Vit. Soph., lib. i. cap. 20: Ὁτι σκια και ονειρατα αἱ ἡδοναι πασαι· All pleasures are but Shadows and dreams. And Cicero, in Pison., cap. 24: Omnes umbras falsae gloriae consectari. "All pursue the Shadows of False Glory." And again, De Offic., lib. iii. cap. 17: Nos veri juris germanaeque justitiae solidam et expressam effigiem nullam tenemus; umbra et itnaginibus utimur. "We have no solid and express effigy of true law and genuine justice, but we employ shadows and images to represent them."
And not the very image - Εικων, image, signifies,
1. A simple representation, from εικω, I am like.
2. The form or particular fashion of a thing.
3. The model according to which any thing is formed.
4. The perfect image of a thing as opposed to a faint representation.
5. Metaphorically, a similitude, agreement, or conformity.
The law, with all its ceremonies and sacrifices, was only a shadow of spiritual and eternal good. The Gospel is the image or thing itself, as including every spiritual and eternal good.
We may note three things here:
1. The shadow or general outline, limiting the size and proportions of the thing to be represented.
2. The image or likeness completed from this shadow or general outline, whether represented on paper, canvass, or in statuary,
3. The person or thing thus represented in its actual, natural state of existence; or what is called here the very image of the things, αυτην την εικονα των πραγματων.
Such is the Gospel, when compared with the law; such is Christ, when compared with Aaron; such is his sacrifice, when compared with the Levitical offerings; such is the Gospel remission of sins and purification, when compared with those afforded by the law; such is the Holy Ghost, ministered by the Gospel, when compared with its types and shadows in the Levitical service; such the heavenly rest, when compared with the earthly Canaan. Well, therefore, might the apostle say, The law was only the shadow of good things to come.
Can never - make the comers thereunto perfect - Cannot remove guilt from the conscience, or impurity from the heart. I leave preachers to improve these points.
Would they not have ceased to be offered? - Had they made an effectual reconciliation for the sins of the world, and contained in their once offering a plenitude of permanent merit, they would have ceased to be offered, at least in reference to any individual who had once offered them; because, in such a case, his conscience would be satisfied that its guilt had been taken away. But no Jew pretended to believe that even the annual atonement cancelled his sin before God; yet he continued to make his offerings, the law of God having so enjoined, because these sacrifices pointed out that which was to come. They were offered, therefore, not in consideration of their own efficacy, but as referring to Christ; See on Heb 9:9 (note).
For it is not possible - Common sense must have taught them that shedding the blood of bulls and goats could never satisfy Divine justice, nor take away guilt from the conscience; and God intended that they should understand the matter so: and this the following quotation from the Psalmist sufficiently proves.
When he (the Messiah) cometh into the world - Was about to be incarnated, He saith to God the Father, Sacrifice and offering thou wouldest not - it was never thy will and design that the sacrifices under thy own law should be considered as making atonement for sin, they were only designed to point out my incarnation and consequent sacrificial death, and therefore a body hast thou prepared me, by a miraculous conception in the womb of a virgin, according to thy word, The seed of the woman shall bruise the head of the serpent.
A body hast thou prepared me - The quotation in this and the two following verses is taken from Psalm 40, 6th, 7th, and 8th verses, as they stand now in the Septuagint, with scarcely any variety of reading; but, although the general meaning is the same, they are widely different in verbal expression in the Hebrew. David's words are, אזנים כרית לי oznayim caritha li, which we translate, My ears hast thou opened; but they might be more properly rendered, My ears hast thou bored, that is, thou hast made me thy servant for ever, to dwell in thine own house; for the allusion is evidently to the custom mentioned, Exo 21:2, etc.: "If thou buy a Hebrew servant, six years he shall serve, and in the seventh he shall go out free; but if the servant shall positively say, I love my master, etc., I will not go out free, then his master shall bring him to the door post, and shall bore his ear through with an awl, and he shall serve him for ever." But how is it possible that the Septuagint and the apostle should take a meaning so totally different from the sense of the Hebrew? Dr. Kennicott has a very ingenious conjecture here: he supposes that the Septuagint and apostle express the meaning of the words as they stood in the copy from which the Greek translation was made; and that the present Hebrew text is corrupted in the word אזנים oznayim, ears, which has been written through carelessness for אז גוה az gevah, Then a Body. The first syllable אז, Then, is the same in both; and the latter נים, which joined to אז, makes אזנים oznayim, might have been easily mistaken for גוה gevah, Body; נ nun, being very like ג gimel; י yod, like ו vau; and ה he, like final ם mem; especially if the line on which the letters were written in the MS. happened to be blacker than ordinary, which has often been a cause of mistake, it might have been easily taken for the under stroke of the mem, and thus give rise to a corrupt reading: add to this the root כרה carah, signifies as well to prepare as to open, bore, etc. On this supposition the ancient copy, translated by the Septuagint, and followed by the apostle, must have read the text thus: אז גוה כרית לי az gevah caritha li, σωμα δε κατηρτισω μοι, then a body thou hast prepared me: thus the Hebrew text, the version of the Septuagint, and the apostle, will agree in what is known to be an indisputable fact in Christianity, namely, that Christ was incarnated for the sin of the world.
The Ethiopic has nearly the same reading; the Arabic has both, A body hast thou prepared me, and mine ears thou hast opened. But the Syriac, the Chaldee, and the Vulgate, agree with the present Hebrew text; and none of the MSS. collated by Kennicott and De Rossi have any various reading on the disputed words.
It is remarkable that all the offerings and sacrifices which were considered to be of an atoning or cleansing nature, offered under the law, are here enumerated by the psalmist and the apostle, to show that none of them nor all of them could take away sin, and that the grand sacrifice of Christ was that alone which could do it.
Four kinds are here specified, both by the psalmist and the apostle, viz.:
Sacrifice, זבח zebach, θυσια·
Offering, מנחה minchah, προσφορα·
Burnt-Offering, עולה olah, ὁλοκαυτωμα·
Sin-Offering, חטאה chataah, περι ἁμαρτιας.
Of all these we may say, with the apostle, it was impossible that the blood of bulls and goats, etc., should take away sin.
Thou hast had no pleasure - Thou couldst never be pleased with the victims under the law; thou couldst never consider them as atonements for sin; as they could never satisfy thy justice, nor make thy law honorable.
In the volume of the book - במגלת ספר bimgillath sepher, "in the roll of the book." Anciently, books were written on skins and rolled up. Among the Romans these were called volumina, from volvo, I roll; and the Pentateuch, in the Jewish synagogues, is still written in this way. There are two wooden rollers; on one they roll on, on the other they roll off, as they proceed in reading. The book mentioned here must be the Pentateuch, or five books of Moses; for in David's time no other part of Divine revelation had been committed to writing. This whole book speaks about Christ, and his accomplishing the will of God; not only in, The seed of the woman shall bruise the head of the serpent, and, In thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed, but in all the sacrifices and sacrificial rites mentioned in the law.
To do thy will - God willed not the sacrifices under the law, but he willed that a human victim of infinite merit should be offered for the redemption of mankind. That there might be such a victim, a body was prepared for the eternal Logos; and in that body he came to do the will of God, that is, to suffer and die for the sins of the world.
He taketh away the first - The offerings, sacrifices, burnt-offerings, and sacrifices for sin, which were prescribed by the law.
That he may establish the second - The offering of the body of Jesus once for all. It will make little odds in the meaning if we say, he taketh away the first covenant, that he may establish the second covenant; he takes away the first dispensation, that he may establish the second; he takes away the law, that he may establish the Gospel. In all these cases the sense is nearly the same: I prefer the first.
By the which will we are sanctified - Closing in with this so solemnly declared Will of God, that there is no name given under heaven among men, by which we can be saved, but Jesus the Christ, we believe in him, find redemption in his blood, and are sanctified unto God through the sacrificial offering of his body.
1. Hence we see that the sovereign Will of God is, that Jesus should be incarnated; that he should suffer and die, or, in the apostle's words, taste death for every man; that all should believe on him, and be saved from their sins: for this is the Will of God, our sanctification.
2. And as the apostle grounds this on the words of the psalm, we see that it is the Will of God that that system shall end; for as the essence of it is contained in its sacrifices, and God says he will not have these, and has prepared the Messiah to do his will, i.e. to die for men, hence it necessarily follows, from the psalmist himself, that the introduction of the Messiah into the world is the abolition of the law, and that his sacrifice is that which shall last for ever.
Every priest standeth - The office of the Jewish priest is here compared with the office of our High Priest. The Jewish priest stands daily at the altar, like a servant ministering, repeating the same sacrifices; our High Priest offered himself once for all, and sat down at the right hand of God, as the only-begotten Son and Heir of all things, Heb 10:12. This continual offering argued the imperfection of the sacrifices. Our Lord's once offering, proves his was complete.
Till his enemies be made his footstool - Till all that oppose his high priesthood and sacrificial offering shall be defeated, routed, and confounded; and acknowledge, in their punishment, the supremacy of his power as universal and eternal King, who refused to receive him as their atoning and sanctifying Priest. There is also an oblique reference here to the destruction of the Jews, which was then at hand; for Christ was about to take away the second with an overwhelming flood of desolations.
For by one offering - His death upon the cross.
He hath perfected for ever - He has procured remission of sins and holiness; fur it is well observed here, and in several parts of this epistle, that τελειοω, to make perfect, is the same as αφεσιν ἁμαρτιων ποιεω, to procure remission of sins.
Them that are sanctified - Τους ἁγιαζομενους· Them that have received the sprinkling of the blood of this offering. These, therefore, receiving redemption through that blood, have no need of any other offering; as this was a complete atonement, purification, and title to eternal glory.
The Holy Ghost - is a witness to us - The words are quoted from Jer 31:33, Jer 31:34, and here we are assured that Jeremiah spoke by the inspiration of the Spirit of God. Had said before - See Heb 8:10, Heb 8:12, and the notes there.
Now where remission of these is - In any case, where sin is once pardoned, there is no farther need of a sin-offering; but every believer on Christ has his sin blotted out, and therefore needs no other offering for that sin.
"If," says Dr. Macknight, "after remission is granted to the sinner, there is no need of any more sacrifice for sin; and if Christ, by offering himself once, has perfected for ever the sanctified, Heb 10:14, the sacrifice of the mass, as it is called, about which the Romish clergy employ themselves so incessantly, and to which the papists trust for the pardon of their sins, has no foundation in Scripture. Nay, it is an evident impiety, as it proceeds upon the supposition that the offering of the body of Christ once is not sufficient to procure the pardon of sin, but must be frequently repeated. If they reply that their mass is only the representation and commemoration of the sacrifice of Christ, they give up the cause, and renounce an article of their faith, established by the council of Trent, which, in session xxii. can. 1, 3, declared the sacrifice of the mass to be a true and propitiatory sacrifice for sin. I say, give up the cause; for the representation and commemoration of a sacrifice is not a sacrifice. Farther, it cannot be affirmed that the body of Christ is offered in the mass, unless it can be said that, as often as it is offered, Christ has suffered death; for the apostle says expressly, Heb 9:25, Heb 9:26, that if Christ offered himself often, he must often have suffered since the foundation of the world." Let him disprove this who can.
Having therefore, brethren, boldness - The apostle, having now finished the doctrinal part of his epistle, and fully shown the superiority of Christ to all men and angels, and the superiority of his priesthood to that of Aaron and his successors, the absolute inefficacy of the Jewish sacrifices to make atonement for sin, and the absolute efficacy of that of Christ to make reconciliation of man to God, proceeds now to show what influence these doctrines should have on the hearts and lives of those who believe in his merits and death.
Boldness to enter - Παρῥησιαν εις την εισοδον· Liberty, full access to the entrance of the holy place, των ἁγιων· This is an allusion to the case of the high priest going into the holy of holies. He went with fear and trembling, because, if he had neglected the smallest item prescribed by the law, he could expect nothing but death. Genuine believers can come even to the throne of God with confidence, as they carry into the Divine presence the infinitely meritorious blood of the great atonement; and, being justified through that blood, they have a right to all the blessings of the eternal kingdom.
By a new and living way - It is a new way; no human being had ever before entered into the heaven of heavens; Jesus in human nature was the first, and thus he has opened the way to heaven to mankind, his own resurrection and ascension to glory being the proof and pledge of ours.
The way is called ὁδον προσφατον και ζωσαν, new or fresh, and living. This is evidently an allusion to the blood of the victim newly shed, uncoagulated, and consequently proper to be used for sprinkling. The blood of the Jewish victims was fit for sacrificial purposes only so long as it was warm and fluid, and might be considered as yet possessing its vitality; but when it grew cold, it coagulated, lost its vitality, and was no longer proper to be used sacrificially. Christ is here, in the allusion, represented as newly slain, and yet living; the blood ever considered as flowing and giving life to the world. The way by the old covenant neither gave life, nor removed the liability to death. The way to peace and reconciliation, under the old covenant, was through the dead bodies of the animals slain; but Christ is living, and ever liveth, to make intercession for us; therefore he is a new and living way.
In the Choephorae of Aeschylus, ver. 801, there is an expression like this of the apostle: -
Αγετε, των παλαι πεπραγμενων
Αυσασθ' ἁιμα προσφατοις δικαις.
Agite, olim venditorum
Solvite sanguinem recenti vindicta.
This way, says Dr. Owen, is new,
1. Because it was but newly made and prepared.
2. Because it belongs unto the new covenant.
3. Because it admits of no decays, but is always new, as to its efficacy and use, as in the day of its first preparation.
4. The way of the tabernacle waxed old, and so was prepared for a removal; but the Gospel way of salvation shall never be altered, nor changed, nor decay; it is always new, and remains for ever.
It is also called ζωσαν, living,
1. In opposition to the way into the holiest under the tabernacle, which was by death; nothing could be done in it without the blood of a victim.
2. It was the cause of death to any who might use it, except the high priest himself; and he could have access to it only one day in the year.
3. It is called living, because it has a spiritual vital efficacy in our access to God.
4. It is living as to its effects; it leads to life, and infallibly brings those who walk in it unto life eternal.
Through the veil - As the high priest lifted up or drew aside the veil that separated the holy from the most holy place, in order that he might have access to the Divine Majesty; and as the veil of the temple was rent from the top to the bottom at the crucifixion of Christ, to show that the way to the holiest was then laid open; so we must approach the throne through the mediation of Christ, and through his sacrificial death. His pierced side is the way to the holiest. Here the veil - his humanity, is rent, and the kingdom of heaven opened to all believers.
A high priest over the house of God - The house or family of God is the Christian Church, or all true believers in the Lord Jesus. Over this Church, house, or family, Christ is the High Priest - in their behalf he offers his own blood, and their prayers and praises; and as the high priest had the ordering of all things that appertained to the house and worship of God, so has Christ in the government of his Church. This government he never gave into other hands. As none can govern and preserve the world but God, so none can govern and save the Church but the Lord Jesus: He is over the house; He is its President; he instructs, protects, guides, feeds, defends, and saves the flock. Those who have such a President may well have confidence; for with him is the fountain of life, and he has all power in the heavens and in the earth.
Let us draw near - Let us come with the blood of our sacrifice to the throne of God: the expression is sacrificial.
With a true heart - Deeply convinced of our need of help, and truly in earnest to obtain it.
In full assurance of faith - Being fully persuaded that God will accept us for the sake of his Son, and that the sacrificial death of Christ gives us full authority to expect every blessing we need.
Having our hearts sprinkled - Not our bodies, as was the case among the Hebrews, when they had contracted any pollution, for they were to be sprinkled with the water of separation, see Num 19:2-10; but our hearts, sprinkled by the cleansing efficacy of the blood of Christ, without which we cannot draw nigh to God.
From an evil conscience - Having that deep sense of guilt which our conscience felt taken all away, and the peace and love of God shed abroad ill our hearts by the Holy Ghost given unto us.
Our bodies washed with pure water - The high priest, before he entered into the inner tabernacle, or put on his holy garments, was to wash his flesh in water, Lev 16:4, and the Levites were to be cleansed the same way, Num 8:7. The apostle probably alludes to this in what he says here, though it appears that he refers principally to baptisms, the washing by which was an emblem of the purification of the soul by the grace and Spirit of Christ; but it is most likely that it is to the Jewish baptisms, and not the Christian, that the apostle alludes.
Let us hold fast the profession of our faith - The word ὁμολογια, from ὁμου, together, and λογος, a word, implies that general consent that was among Christians on all the important articles of their faith and practice; particularly their acknowledgment of the truth of the Gospel, and of Jesus Christ, as the only victim for sin, and the only Savior from it. If the word washed above refer to Christian baptism in the ease of adults, then the profession is that which the baptized then made of their faith in the Gospel; and of their determination to live and die in that faith.
The various readings on this clause are many in the MSS., etc. Της ελπιδος την ὁμολογιαν, the confession of our Hope; D*, two of the Itala, Vulgate, Erpen's Arabic, and the Ethiopic. Ὁμολογιαν της πιστεως, the confession of Faith; one of the Barberini MSS. and two others. This is the reading which our translators have followed; but it is of very little authority. Την επαγγελιαν της ελπιδος, the promise of Hope; St. Chrysostom. Την ελπιδα της ὁμολογιας, the Hope of our Profession; one of Petavius's MSS. But among all these, the confession or profession of Hope is undoubtedly the genuine reading. Now, among the primitive Christians, the hope which they professed was the resurrection of the body, and everlasting life; every thing among these Christians was done and believed in reference to a future state; and for the joy that this set before them, they, like their Master, endured every cross, and despised all shame: they expected to be with God, through Christ; this hope they professed to have; and they confessed boldly and publicly the faith on which this hope was built. The apostle exhorts them to hold fast this confession without wavering - never to doubt the declarations made to them by their Redeemer, but having the full assurance of faith that their hearts were sprinkled from an evil conscience, that they had found redemption in the blood of the lamb, they might expect to be glorified with their living Head in the kingdom of their Father.
He is faithful that promised - The eternal life, which is the object of your hope, is promised to you by him who cannot lie; as he then is faithful who has given you this promise, hold fast the profession of your hope.
And let us consider one another - Κατανοωμεν· Let us diligently and attentively consider each other's trials, difficulties, and weaknesses; feel for each other, and excite each other to an increase of love to God and man; and, as the proof of it, to be fruitful in good works. The words εις παροξυσμον, to the provocation, are often taken in a good sense, and signify excitement, stirring up, to do any thing laudable, useful, honorable, or necessary. Xenophon, Cyrop., lib. vi., page 108, speaking of the conduct of Cyrus towards his officers, says: Και τουτους επαινων τε, παρωξυνε, και χαριζομενος αυτοις ὁ τι δυναιτο. "He by praises and gifts excited them as much as possible." See the note on Act 15:39, where the subject is farther considered.
Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves - Επισυναγωγην ἑαυτων. Whether this means public or private worship is hard to say; but as the word is but once more used in the New Testament, (Th2 2:1), and there means the gathering together of the redeemed of the Lord at the day of judgment, it is as likely that it means here private religious meetings, for the purpose of mutual exhortation: and this sense appears the more natural here, because it is evident that the Church was now in a state of persecution, and therefore their meetings were most probably held in private. For fear of persecution, it seems as if some had deserted these meetings, καθως εθος τισιν, as the custom of certain persons is. They had given up these strengthening and instructive means, and the others were in danger of following their example.
The day approaching - Την ἡμεραν· That day - the time in which God would come and pour out his judgments on the Jewish nation. We may also apply it to the day of death and the day of judgment. Both of these are approaching to every human being. He who wishes to be found ready will carefully use every means of grace, and particularly the communion of saints, if there be even but two or three in the place where he lives, who statedly meet together in the name of Christ. Those who relinquish Christian communion are in a backsliding state; those who backslide are in danger of apostasy. To prevent this latter, the apostle speaks the awful words following. See at the end of this chapter (Heb 10:39 (note)).
For if we sin wilfully - If we deliberately, for fear of persecution or from any other motive, renounce the profession of the Gospel and the Author of that Gospel, after having received the knowledge of the truth so as to be convinced that Jesus is the promised Messiah, and that he had sprinkled our hearts from an evil conscience; for such there remaineth no sacrifice for sins; for as the Jewish sacrifices are abolished, as appears by the declaration of God himself in the fortieth Psalm, and Jesus being now the only sacrifice which God will accept, those who reject him have none other; therefore their case must be utterly without remedy. This is the meaning of the apostle, and the case is that of a deliberate apostate - one who has utterly rejected Jesus Christ and his atonement, and renounced the whole Gospel system. It has nothing to do with backsliders in our common use of that term. A man may be overtaken in a fault, or he may deliberately go into sin, and yet neither renounce the Gospel, nor deny the Lord that bought him. His case is dreary and dangerous, but it is not hopeless; no case is hopeless but that of the deliberate apostate, who rejects the whole Gospel system, after having been saved by grace, or convinced of the truth of the Gospel. To him there remaineth no more sacrifice for sin; for there was but the One, Jesus, and this he has utterly rejected.
A certain fearful looking for of judgment - From this it is evident that God will pardon no man without a sacrifice for sin; for otherwise, as Dr. Macknight argues, it would not follow, from there remaining to apostates no more sacrifice for sin, that there must remain to them a dreadful expectation of judgment.
And fiery indignation - Και πυρος ζηλος· A zeal, or fervor of fire; something similar to the fire that came down from heaven and destroyed Korah and his company; Num 16:35.
Probably the apostle here refers to the case of the unbelieving Jews in general, as in chap. 6 to the dreadful judgment that was coming upon them, and the burning up their temple and city with fire. These people had, by the preaching of Christ and his apostles, received the knowledge of the truth. It was impossible that they could have witnessed his miracles and heard his doctrine without being convinced that he was the Messiah, and that their own system was at an end; but they rejected this only sacrifice at a time when God abolished their own: to that nation, therefore, there remained no other sacrifice for sin; therefore the dreadful judgment came, the fiery indignation was poured out, and they, as adversaries, were devoured by it.
He that despised Moses' law - Αθετησας· He that rejected it, threw it aside, and denied its Divine authority by presumptuous sinning, died without mercy - without any extenuation or mitigation of punishment; Num 15:30.
Under two or three witnesses - That is, when convicted by the testimony of two or three respectable witnesses. See Deu 17:6.
Of how much sorer punishment - Such offenses were trifling in comparison of this, and in justice the punishment should be proportioned to the offense.
Trodden under foot the Son of God - Treated him with the utmost contempt and blasphemy.
The blood of the covenant - an unholy thing - The blood of the covenant means here the sacrificial death of Christ, by which the new covenant between God and man was ratified, sealed, and confirmed. And counting this unholy, or common, κοινον, intimates that they expected nothing from it in a sacrificial or atoning way. How near to those persons, and how near to their destruction, do they come in the present day who reject the atoning blood, and say, "that they expect no more benefit from the blood of Christ than they do from that of a cow or a sheep!" Is not this precisely the crime of which the apostle speaks here, and to which he tells us God would show no mercy?
Despite unto the Spirit of grace? - Hath insulted the Spirit of grace. The apostle means the Holy Spirit, whose gifts were bestowed in the first age on believers for the confirmation of the Gospel. See Heb 6:4-6. Wherefore, if one apostatized in the first age, after having been witness to these miraculous gifts, much more after having possessed them himself, he must, like the scribes and Pharisees, have ascribed them to evil spirits; than which a greater indignity could not be done to the Spirit of God. Macknight. This is properly the sin against the Holy Ghost, which has no forgiveness.
Vengeance belongeth unto me - This is the saying of God, Deu 32:35, in reference to the idolatrous Gentiles, who were the enemies of his people; and is here with propriety applied to the above apostates, who, being enemies to God's ordinances, and Christ's ministry and merits, must also be enemies to Christ's people; and labor for the destruction of them, and the cause in which they are engaged.
The Lord shall judge his people - That is, he shall execute judgment for them; for this is evidently the sense in which the word is used in the place from which the apostle quotes, Deu 32:36 : For the Lord shall judge his people, and repent himself for his servants, when he seeth that their power is gone. So God will avenge and vindicate the cause of Christianity by destroying its enemies, as he did in the case of the Jewish people, whom he destroyed from being a nation, and made them a proverb of reproach and monuments of his wrathful indignation to the present day.
It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God - To fall into the hands of God is to fall under his displeasure; and he who lives for ever can punish for ever. How dreadful to have the displeasure of an eternal, almighty Being to rest on the soul for ever! Apostates, and all the persecutors and enemies of God's cause and people, may expect the heaviest judgments of an incensed Deity: and these, not for a time, but through eternity.
But call to remembrance - It appears from this, and indeed from some parts of the Gospel history, that the first believers in Judea were greatly persecuted; our Lord's crucifixion, Stephen's martyrdom, the persecution that arose after the death of Stephen, Act 8:1, Herod's persecution, Act 12:1, in which James was killed, and the various persecutions of St. Paul, sufficiently show that this disposition was predominant among that bad people.
A great fight of afflictions - Πολλην αθλησιν παθηματων· A great combat or contention of sufferings. Here we have an allusion to the combats at the Grecian games, or to exhibitions of gladiators at the public spectacles; and an intimation how honorable it was to contend for the faith once delivered to the saints, and to overcome through the blood of the Lamb, and their own testimony.
Ye were made a gazing-stock - Θεατριζομενοι· Ye were exhibited as wild beasts and other shows at the theatres. See the note on Co1 4:9, where all this is illustrated.
Companions of them that were so used - It appears, from Th1 2:14, Th1 2:15, that the Churches of God in Judea were greatly persecuted, and that they believed with courage and constancy in their persecutions. When any victim of persecuting rage was marked out, the rest were prompt to take his part, and acknowledge themselves believers in the same doctrine for which he suffered. This was a noble spirit; many would have slunk into a corner, and put off the marks of Christ, that they might not be exposed to affliction on this account.
Ye had compassion of me in my bonds - Συνεπαθησατε· Ye suffered with me, ye sympathized with me, when bound for the testimony of Jesus. This probably refers to the sympathy they showed towards him, and the help they afforded him, during his long imprisonment in Caesarea and Jerusalem. But instead of τοις δεσμοις μου, my bonds, τοις δεσμιοις, the prisoners, is the reading of AD, and several others, both the Syriac, the Arabic of Erpen, the Coptic, Armenian, Vulgate, some of the Itala, and several of the Greek fathers. This reading appears to be so well supported, that Griesbach has admitted it into the text. If it be genuine, it shows that there had been, and perhaps were then, several bound for the testimony of Jesus, and that the Church in Judea had shown its attachment to Christ by openly acknowledging these prisoners, and ministering to them.
Took joyfully the spoiling of your goods - They were deprived of their inheritances, turned out of their houses, and plundered of their goods; they wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, tormented. To suffer such persecution patiently was great; to endure it without a murmur was greater; to rejoice in it was greatest of all. But how could they do all this? The next clause informs us.
Knowing in yourselves - They had the fullest evidence that they were the children of God, the Spirit itself bearing this witness to their spirits; and if children than heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ. They knew that heaven was their portion, and that to it they had a sure right and indefeasible title by Christ Jesus. This accounts, and this alone can account, for their taking joyfully the spoiling of their goods: they had Christ in their hearts; they knew that they were his children, and that they had a kingdom, but that kingdom was not of this world. They had the support they needed, and they had it in the time in which they needed it most.
Cast not away therefore your confidence - Την παρῥησιαν ὑμων· Your liberty of access to God; your title and right to approach his throne; your birthright as his sons and daughters; and the clear evidence you have of his favor, which, if you be not steady and faithful, you must lose. Do not throw it away, μη αποβαλητε· neither men nor devils can take it from you, and God will never deprive you of it if you continue faithful. There is a reference here to cowardly soldiers, who throw away their shields, and run away from the battle. This is your shield, your faith in Christ, which gives you the knowledge of salvation; keep it, and it will keep you.
The Lacedemonian women, when they presented the shields to their sons going to battle, were accustomed to say: Η ταν, η επι τας· "Either bring this back, or be brought back upon it;" alluding to the custom of bringing back a slain soldier on his own shield, a proof that he had preserved it to the last, and had been faithful to his country. They were accustomed also to excite their courage by delivering to them their fathers' shields with the following short address. Ταυτην ὁ πατηρ σοι αει εσωζε· και συ ουν ταυταν σωζε, η μη εσο· "This shield thy father always preserved; do thou preserve it also, or perish;" Lacaenarum Apophthegmata, Plut. Opera, a Wittenbach, vol. i. p. 682. Thus spake the Lacedemonian mothers to their sons; and what say the oracles of God to us? Μη αποβαλητε την παρῥησιαν ὑμων· Cast not away your confession of faith. This is your shield; keep it, and it will ever be your sure defense; for by it you will quench every fiery dart of the wicked one. The Church of Christ speaks this to all her sons, and especially to those employed in the work of the ministry. Of this shield, of this glorious system of salvation by Jesus Christ, illustrated and defended in this work, I say to each of my children: Ταυτην ὁ πατηρ σοι αει εσωζε· και συ ουν ταυταν σωζε, η μη εσο· This faith, thy father, by the grace of God, hath always kept; keep thou it also, or thou must expect to perish! May this be received both as a warning and encouragement!
Great recompense of reward - No less than God's continual approbation; the peace that passeth all understanding ruling the heart here; and the glories of heaven as an eternal portion. Conscientiously keep the shield, and all these shall be thine. This will be thy reward; but remember that it is the mercy of God that gives it.
Ye have need of patience - Having so great a fight of sufferings to pass through, and they of so long continuance. God furnishes the grace; you must exercise it. The grace or principle of patience comes from God; the use and exercise of that grace is of yourselves. Here ye must be workers together with God. Patience and perseverance are nearly the same.
Have done the will of God - By keeping the faith, and patiently suffering for it.
For yet a little while - Ετι γαρ μικρον ὁσον· For yet a very little time. In a very short space of time the Messiah will come, and execute judgment upon your rebellious country. This is determined, because they have filled up the measure of their iniquity, and their destruction slumbereth not. The apostle seems to refer to Hab 2:3, Hab 2:4, and accommodates the words to his own purpose.
Now the just shall live by faith - Ὁ δε δικαιος εκ πιστεως ζησεται· But the just by faith, i.e. he who is justified by faith, shall live - shall be preserved when this overflowing scourge shall come. See this meaning of the phrase vindicated, Rom 1:17. And it is evident, both from this text, and Gal 3:11, that it is in this sense that the apostle uses it.
But if any man draw back - Και εαν ὑποστειληται· But if he draw back; he, the man who is justified by faith; for it is of him, and none other, that the text speaks. The insertion of the words any man, if done to serve the purpose of a particular creed, is a wicked perversion of the words of God. They were evidently intended to turn away the relative from the antecedent, in order to save the doctrine of final and unconditional perseverance; which doctrine this text destroys.
My soul shall have no pleasure in him - My very heart shall be opposed to him who makes shipwreck of faith and a good conscience. The word ὑποστελλειν signifies, not only to draw back, but to slink away and hide through fear. In this sense it is used by the very best Greek writers, as well as by Josephus and Philo. As dastards and cowards are hated by all men, so those that slink away from Christ and his cause, for fear of persecution or secular loss, God must despise; in them he cannot delight; and his Spirit, grieved with their conduct, must desert their hearts, and lead them to darkness and hardness.
But we are not of them who draw back - Ουκ εσμεν ὑποστολης - , αλλα πιστεως· "We are not the cowards, but the courageous." I have no doubt of this being the meaning of the apostle, and the form of speech requires such a translation; it occurs more than once in the New Testament. So, Gal 3:7 : Οἱ εκ πιστεως, they who are of the faith, rather the faithful, the believers; Rom 3:26 : Ὁ εκ πιστεως, the believer; Rom 2:8 : Οἱ εξ εριθειας, the contentious; in all which places the learned reader will find that the form of speech is the same. We are not cowards who slink away, and notwithstanding meet destruction; but we are faithful, and have our souls saved alive. The words περιποιησις ψυχης signify the preservation of the life. See the note, Eph 1:14. He intimates that, notwithstanding the persecution was hot, yet they should escape with their lives.
1. It is very remarkable, and I have more than once called the reader's attention to it, that not one Christian life was lost in the siege and destruction of Jerusalem. Every Jew perished, or was taken captive; all those who had apostatized, and slunk away from Christianity, perished with them: all the genuine Christians escaped with their lives. This very important information, which casts light on many passages in the New Testament, and manifests the grace and providence of God in a very conspicuous way, is given both by Eusebius and Epiphanius. I shall adduce their words: "When the whole congregation of the Church in Jerusalem, according to an oracle given by revelation to the approved persons among them before the war, κατα τινα χρησμον τοις αυτοθι δοκιμοις δι' αποκαλυψεως δοθεντα προ του πολεμου, μεταναστηναι της πολεως, και τινα της περαιας πολιν οικειν κεκελευσμενου, Πελλαν αυτην ονομαζουσιν, were commanded to depart from the city, and inhabit a certain city which they call Pella, beyond Jordan, to which, when all those who believed in Christ had removed from Jerusalem, and when the saints had totally abandoned the royal city which is the metropolis of the Jews; then the Divine vengeance seized them who had dealt so wickedly with Christ and his apostles, and utterly destroyed that wicked and abominable generation." Euseb. Hist. Eccles, l. iii. c. v. vol. i. p. 93. Edit. a Reading.
St. Epiphanius, in Haeres. Nazaren, c. 7, says: "The Christians who dwelt in Jerusalem, being forewarned by Christ of the approaching siege, removed to Pella."
The same, in his book De Ponderibus et Mensuris, says: "The disciples of Christ being warned by an angel, removed to Pella; and afterwards, when Adrian rebuilt Jerusalem, and called it after his own name, Aelia Colonia, they returned thither." As those places in Epiphanius are of considerable importance, I shall subjoin the original: Εκειθεν γαρ ἡ αρχη γεγονε μετα την απο των Ἱεροσολυμων μεταστασιν, παντων των μαθητων των εν Πελλῃ ῳκηκοτων, Χριστου φησαντος καταλειψαι τα Ἱεροσολυμα, και αναχωρησαι, επειδη ημελλε πασχειν πολιορκιαν. Epiph. adver. Haeres., l. i. c. 7, vol. i. p. 123. Edit. Par. 1622. The other place is as follows: Ἡνικα γαρ εμελλεν ἡ πολις ἁλισκεσθαι ὑπο των Ῥωμαιων, προεχρηματισθησαν ὑπο Αγγελου παντες οἱ μαθηται μεταστηναι απο της πολεως, μελλουσης αρδην απολλυσθαι. Οἱ τινες και μετανασται γενομενοι ῳκησαν εν Πελλῃ - περαν του Ιορδανου, ἡ τις εκ Δεκαπολεως λεγεται ειναι. Ibid. De Pon. et Mens., vol. ii. p. 171.
These are remarkable testimonies, and should be carefully preserved. Pella, it appears, was a city of Coelesyria, beyond Jordan, in the district of Decapolis. Thus it is evident that these Christians held fast their faith, preserved their shields, and continued to believe to the saving of their lives as well as to the saving of their souls. As the apostle gives several hints of the approaching destruction of Jerusalem, it is likely that this is the true sense in which the words above are to be understood.
2. I have already said a little, from Heb 10:25, on the importance of social worship. Public worship is not of less consequence. Were it not for public, private worship would soon be at an end. To this, under God, the Church of Christ owes its being and its continuance. Where there is no public worship there is no religion. It is by this that God is acknowledged; and he is the universal Being; and by his bounty and providence all live; consequently, it is the duty of every intelligent creature publicly to acknowledge him, and offer him that worship which himself has prescribed in his word. The ancient Jews have some good maxims on this subject which may be seen in Schoettgen. I shall quote a few.
In Berachoth, fol. 8, it is written: "Rabbi Levi said, He who has a synagogue in his city, and does not go thither to pray, shall be esteemed a bad citizen," or a bad neighbor. And to this they apply the words of the prophet, Jer 12:14 : Thus saith the Lord against all my evil neighbors - behold, I will pluck them out of their land.
In Mechilta, fol. 48: "Rabbi Eliezer, the son of Jacob, said," speaking as from God, "If thou wilt come to my house, I will go to thy house; but if thou wilt not come to my house, I will not enter thy house. The place that my heart loveth, to that shall my feet go." We may safely add, that those who do not frequent the house of God can never expect his presence or blessing in their own.
In Taanith, fol. 11, it is said that "to him who separates himself from the congregation shall two angels come, and lay their hands upon his head and say, This man, who separates himself from the congregation, shall not see the comfort which God grants to his afflicted Church." The wisest and best of men have always felt it their duty and their interest to worship God in public. As there is nothing more necessary, so there is nothing more reasonable; he who acknowledges God in all his ways may expect all his steps to be directed. The public worship of God is one grand line of distinction between the atheist and the believer. He who uses not public worship has either no God, or has no right notion of his being; and such a person, according to the rabbins, is a bad neighbor; it is dangerous to live near him, for neither he nor his can be under the protection of God. No man should be forced to attend a particular place of worship, but every man should be obliged to attend some place; and he who has any fear of God will not find it difficult to get a place to his mind.