Calvin's Commentaries, Vol. 44: Hebrews, tr. by John King, [1847-50], at sacred-texts.com
Hebrews Chapter 4:1-2
1. Let us therefore fear, lest, a promise being left us of entering into his rest, any of you should seem to come short of it.
1. Timeamus ergo ne derelicta promissione introeundi in requiem ejus videatur quispiam nostrum esse frustratus.
2. For unto us was the gospel preached, as well as unto them: but the word preached did not profit them, not being mixed with faith in them that heard it
2. Nobis enim annuntiata est promissio quemadmodum et illis; at illis nihil profuit sermo auditus, quia non fuit cum fide conjunctus in iis qui audierant.
1. Let us therefore fear, etc. He concludes that there was reason to fear lest the Jews to whom he was writing should be deprived of the blessing offered to them; and then he says, lest anyone, intimating that it was his anxious desire to lead them, one and all, to God; for it is the duty of a good shepherd, in watching over the whole flock so to care for every sheep that no one may be lost; nay, we ought also so to feel for one another that every one should fear for his neighbors as well as for himself
But the fear which is here recommended is not that which shakes the confidence of faith but such as fills us with such concern that we grow not torpid with indifference. Let us then fear, not that we ought to tremble or to entertain distrust as though uncertain as to the issue, but lest we be unfaithful to God’s grace.
By saying Lest we be disappointed of the promise left us, he intimates that no one comes short of it except he who by rejecting grace has first renounced the promise; for God is so far from repenting to do us good that he ceases not to bestow his gifts except when we despise his calling. The illative therefore, or then means that by the fall of others we are taught humility and watchfulness according to what Paul also says,
“These through unbelief have fallen; be not thou then high minded, but fear.” 67
2. For to us, etc. He reminds us that the doctrine by which God invites us to himself at this day is the same with that which he formerly delivered to the fathers; and why did he say this? That we may know that the calling of God will in no degree be more profitable to us than it was to them, except we make it sure by faith. This, then, he concedes, that the Gospel is indeed preached to us; 68 but lest we should vainly glory, he immediately adds that the unbelieving whom God had formerly favored with the participation of so great blessings, yet received from them no fruit, and that therefore we also shall be destitute of his blessing unless we receive it by faith. He repeats the word hear for this end, that we may know that hearing is useless except the word addressed to us be by faith received.
But we must here observe the connection between the word and faith. It is such that faith is not to be separated from the word, and that the word separated from faith can confer no good; not indeed that the efficacy or power of the word depends on us; for were the whole world false, he who cannot lie would still never cease to be true, but the word never puts forth its power in us except when faith gives it an entrance. It is indeed the power of God unto salvation, but only to those who believe. (Ro 1:16.) There is in it revealed the righteousness of God, but it is from faith to faith. Thus it is that the word of God is always efficacious and saving to men, when viewed in itself or in its own nature; but no fruit will be found except by those who believe.
As to a former statement, when I said that there is no faith where the word is wanting, and that those who make such a divorce wholly extinguish faith and reduce it to nothing, the subject is worthy of special notice. For it hence appears evident that faith cannot exist in any but in the children of God, to whom alone the promise of adoption is offered. For what sort of faith have devils, to whom no salvation is promised? And what sort of faith have all the ungodly who are ignorant of the word? The hearing must ever precede faith, and that indeed that we may know that God speaks and not men.
Hebrews Chapter 4:3-10
3. For we which have believed do enter into rest, as he said, As I have sworn in my wrath, if they shall enter into my rest: although the works were finished from the foundation of the world.
3. Ingredimur enim in ejus requiem postquam credidimus: sicut dixit, Itaque juravi in ira mea, si introibunt in requiem meam; tametsi operibus a creatione mundi perfectis.
4. For he spake in a certain place of the seventh day on this wise, And God did rest the seventh day from all his works.
4. Dixit enim alicubi sic de die septimo, Et requievit Deus septimo die ab omnibus operibus suis:
5. And in this place again, If they shall enter into my rest.
5. Et in hoc rursum, Si introibunt in requiem meam.
6. Seeing therefore it remaineth that some must enter therein, and they to whom it was first preached entered not in because of unbelief:
6. Quando igitur reliquum fit ut quidam ingrediantur in ipsam, et quibus prius evangelizatum fuit, non intrarunt propter incredulitatem:
7. Again, he limiteth a certain day, saying in David, To day, after so long a time; as it is said, To day if ye will hear his voice, harden not your hearts.
7. Rursum quendam praeficit diem hodiernuum in David dicens post tantum temporis (quemadmodum dictum est) Hodie si vocem ejus audieritis, ne obduretis corda vestra:
8. For if Jesus had given them rest, then would he not afterward have spoken of another day.
8. Nam si Iesus requiem illis praestitisset, non de alia loqueretur post illos dies.
9. There remaineth therefore a rest to the people of God.
9. Ergo relinquitur sabbathismus populo Dei.
10. For he that is entered into his rest, he also hath ceased from his own works, as God did from his.
10. Nam qui ingreditur in requiem ejus, requievit et ipse ab operibus propriis quemadmodum a suis Deus.
He now begins to embellish the passage which he had quoted from David. He has hitherto taken it, as they say, according to the letter, that is, in its literal sense; but he now amplifies and decorates it; and thus he rather alludes to than explains the words of David. This sort of decoration Paul employed in Ro 10:6, in referring to these words of Moses, “Say not, who shall ascend into heaven!” etc. Nor is it indeed anything unsuitable, in accommodating Scripture to a subject in hand, to illustrate by figurative terms what is more simply delivered. However, the sum of the whole is this, that what God threatens in the Psalm as to the loss of his rest, applies also to us, inasmuch as he invites us also at this day to a rest.
The chief difficulty of this passage arises from this, that it is perverted by many. The Apostle had no other thing in view by declaring that there is a rest for us, than to rouse us to desire it, and also to make us to fear, lest we should be shut out of it through unbelief He however teaches us at the same time, that the rest into which an entrance is now open to us, is far more valuable than that in the land of Canaan. But let us now come to particulars.
3. For we which have believed do enter into rest, or, for we enter into the rest after we have believed, etc. It is an argument from what is contrary. Unbelief alone shuts us out; then faith alone opens an entrance. We must indeed bear in mind what he has already stated, that God being angry with the unbelieving, had sworn that they should not partake of that blessing. Then they enter in where unbelief does not hinder, provided only that God invites them. But by speaking in the first person he allures them with greater sweetness, separating them from aliens.
Although the works, etc. To define what our rest is, he reminds us of what Moses relates, that God having finished the creation of the world, immediately rested from his works and he finally concludes, that the true rest of the faithful, which is to continue forever, will be when they shall rest as God did. 69 And doubtless as the highest happiness of man is to be united to his God, so ought to be his ultimate end to which he ought to refer all his thoughts and actions. This he proves, because God who is said to have rested, declared a long time after that he would not give his rest to the unbelieving; he would have so declared to no purpose, had he not intended that the faithful should rest after his own example. Hence he says, It remaineth that some must enter in: for if not to enter in is the punishment of unbelief, then an entrance, as it has been said, is open to believers.
7. But there is some more difficulty in what he immediately subjoins, that there is another today appointed for us in the Psalm, because the former people had been excluded; but the words of David (as it may be said) seem to express no such thing, and mean only this, that God punished the unbelief of the people by refusing to them the possession of the land. To this I answer, that the inference is correct, that to us is offered what was denied to them; for the Holy Spirit reminds and warns us, that we may not do the same thing so as to incur the same punishment. For how does the matter stand? Were nothing at this day promised, how could this warning be suitable, “Take heed lest the same thing happen to you as to the fathers.” Rightly then does the Apostle say, that as the fathers’ unbelief deprived them of the promised possession, the promise is renewed to their children, so that they may possess what had been neglected by their fathers.
8. For if Jesus had given them rest, or, had obtained rest for them, etc. He meant not to deny but that David understood by rest the land of Canaan, into which Joshua conducted the people; but he denies this to be the final rest to which the faithful aspire, and which we have also in common with the faithful of that age; for it is certain that they looked higher than to that land; nay, the land of Canaan was not otherwise so much valued except for this reason, because it was an image and a symbol of the spiritual inheritance. When, therefore, they obtained possession of it, they ought not to have rested as though they had attained to the summit of their wishes, but on the contrary to meditate on what was spiritual as by it suggested. They to whom David addressed the Psalm were in possession of that land, but they were reminded of the duty of seeking a better rest.
We then see how the land of Canaan was a rest; it was indeed but evanescent, beyond which it was the duty of the faithful to advance. In this sense the Apostle denies that that rest was given by Joshua; for the people under his guidance entered the promised land for this end, that they might with greater alacrity advance forward towards heaven.
And we may hence easily learn the difference between us and them; for though the same end is designed for both, yet they had, as added to them, external types to guide them; not so have we, nor have we indeed any need of them, for the naked truth itself is set before our eyes. Though our salvation is as yet in hope, yet as to the truth, it leads directly to heaven; nor does Christ extend his hand to us, that he may conduct us by the circuitous course of types and figures, but that he may withdraw us from the world and raise us up to heaven. Now that the Apostle separates the shadow from the substance, he did so for this reason, — because he had to do with the Jews, who were too much attached to external things.
He draws the conclusion, that there is a sabbathizing reserved for Gods people, that is, a spiritual rest; to which God daily invites us.
10. For he that is entered into his rest, or, For he who has rested, etc. This is a definition of that perpetual Sabbath in which there is the highest felicity, when there will be a likeness between men and God, to whom they will be united. For whatever the philosophers may have ever said of the chief good, it was nothing but cold and vain, for they confined man to himself, while it is necessary for us to go out of ourselves to find happiness. The chief good of man is nothing else but union with God; this is attained when we are formed according to him as our exemplar.
Now this conformation the Apostle teaches us takes place when we rest from our works. It hence at length follows, that man becomes happy by selfdenial. For what else is to cease from our works, but to mortify our flesh, when a man renounces himself that he may live to God? For here we must always begin, when we speak of a godly and holy life, that man being in a manner dead to himself, should allow God to live in him, that he should abstain from his own works, so as to give place to God to work. We must indeed confess, that then only is our life rightly formed when it becomes subject to God. But through inbred corruption this is never the case, until we rest from our own works; nay, such is the opposition between God’s government and our corrupt affections, that he cannot work in us until we rest. But though the completion of this rest cannot be attained in this life, yet we ought ever to strive for it. 70 Thus believers enter it but on this condition, — that by running they may continually go forward.
But I doubt not but that the Apostle designedly alluded to the Sabbath in order to reclaim the Jews from its external observances; for in no other way could its abrogation be understood, except by the knowledge of its spiritual design. He then treats of two things together; for by extolling the excellency of grace, he stimulates us to receive it by faith, and in the meantime he shows us in passing what is the true design of the Sabbath, lest the Jews should be foolishly attached to the outward rite. Of its abrogation indeed he does expressly speak, for this is not his subject, but by teaching them that the rite had a reference to something else, he gradually withdraws them from their superstitious notions. For he who understands that the main object of the precept was not external rest or earthly worship, immediately perceives, by looking on Christ, that the external rite was abolished by his coming; for when the body appears, the shadows immediately vanish away. Then our first business always is, to teach that Christ is the end of the Law.
Hebrews Chapter 4:11-13
11. Let us labor therefore to enter into that rest, lest any man fall after the same example of unbelief.
11. Studeamus ergo ingredi illam requiem, nequis eodem cadat incredulitatis exemplo.
12. For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.
12. Vivus enim sermo Dei et efficax, et penetrantior quovis gladio utrinque scindente, et pertingens usque ad divisionem animae et spiritus, compagumque et medullaarum, et discretor cogitationum et intentionum cordis.
13. Neither is there any creature that is not manifest in his sight: but all things are naked and opened unto the eyes of him with whom we have to do.
13. Nec ulla est creatura quae non appareat coram ipso, imo omnia nuda et resupina in oculis ejus com quo nobis est ratio.
Having pointed out the goal to which we are to advance, he exhorts us to pursue our course, which we do, when we habituate ourselves to selfdenial. And as he compares entering into rest to a straight course, he sets falling in opposition to it, and thus he continues the metaphor in both clauses, at the same time he alludes to the history given by Moses of those who fell in the wilderness, because they were rebellious against God. (Nu 26:65.) Hence he says, after the same example, signifying as though the punishment for unbelief and obstinacy is there set before us as in a picture; nor is there indeed a doubt but that a similar end awaits us, if there be found in us the same unbelief.
Then, “to fall” means to perish; or to speak more plainly, it is to fall, not as to sin, but as a punishment for it. But the figure corresponds as well with the word to “enter”, as with the sad overthrow of the fathers, by whose example he intended to terrify the Jews.
12. For the word of God is quick, or living, etc. What he says here of the efficacy or power of the word, he says it, that they might know, that it could not be despised with impunity, as though he had said, “Whenever the Lord addresses us by his word, he deals seriously with us, in order that he may touch all our inmost thoughts and feelings; and so there is no part of our soul which ought not to be roused.” 71
But before we proceed further, we must inquire whether the Apostle speaks of the effect of the word generally, or refers only to the faithful.
It indeed appears evident, that the word of God is not equally efficacious in all. For in the elect it exerts its own power, when humbled by a true knowledge of themselves, they flee to the grace of Christ; and this is never the case, except when it penetrates into the innermost heart. For hypocrisy must be sifted, which has marvelous and extremely winding recesses in the hearts of men; and then we must not be slightly pricked or torn, but be thoroughly wounded, that being prostrate under a sense of eternal death, we may be taught to die to ourselves. In short, we shall never be renewed in the whole mind, which Paul requires, (Eph 4:23,) until our old man be slain by the edge of the spiritual sword. Hence Paul says in another place, (Php 2:17,) that the faithful are offered as a sacrifice to God by the Gospel; for they cannot otherwise be brought to obey God than by having, as it were, their own will slain; nor can they otherwise receive the light of God’s wisdom, than by having the wisdom of the flesh destroyed. Nothing of this kind is found in the reprobate; for they either carelessly disregard God speaking to them, and thus mock him, or clamour against his truth, and obstinately resist it. In short, as the word of God is a hammer, so they have a heart like the anvil, so that its hardness repels its strokes, however powerful they may be. The word of God, then, is far from being so efficacious towards them as to penetrate into them to the dividing of the soul and the spirit. Hence it appears, that this its character is to be confined to the faithful only, as they alone are thus searched to the quick.
The context, however, shows that there is here a general truth, and which extends also to the reprobate themselves; for though they are not softened, but set up a brazen and an iron heart against God’s word, yet they must necessarily be restrained by their own guilt. They indeed laugh, but it is a sardonic laugh; for they inwardly feel that they are, as it were, slain; they make evasions in various ways, so as not to come before God’s tribunal; but though unwilling, they are yet dragged there by this very word which they arrogantly deride; so that they may be fitly compared to furious dogs, which bite and claw the chain by which they are bound, and yet can do nothing, as they still remain fast bound.
And further, though this effect of the word may not appear immediately as it were on the first day, yet it will be found at length by the event, that it has not been preached to any one in vain. General no doubt is what Christ declares, when he says, When the Spirit shall come, he will convince the world, (John 16:8, John 9:0.) for the Spirit exercises this office by the preaching, of the Gospel. And lastly, though the word of God does not always exert its power on man, yet it has it in a manner included in itself. And the Apostle speaks here of its character and proper office for this end only, — that we may know that our consciences are summoned as guilty before God’s tribunal as soon as it sounds in our ears, as though he had said, “If any one thinks that the air is beaten by an empty sound when the word of God is preached, he is greatly mistaken; for it is a living thing and full of hidden power, which leaves nothing in man untouched.” The sum of the whole then is this, — that as soon as God opens his sacred mouth, all our faculties ought to be open to receive his word; for he would not have his word scattered in vain, so as to disappear or to fall neglected on the ground, but he would have it effectually to constrain the consciences of men, so as to bring them under his authority; and that he has put power in his word for this purpose, that it may scrutinize all the parts of the soul, search the thoughts, discern the affections, and in a word show itself to be the judge.
But here a new question arises, “Is this word to be understood of the Law or of the Gospel?” Those who think that the Apostle speaks of the Law bring these testimonies of Paul, — that it is the ministration of death, (2 Cor. 3:6, 7,) that it is the letter which killeth, that it worketh nothing but wrath, (Ro 4:15,) and similar passages. But here the Apostle points out also its different effects; for, as we have said, there is a certain vivifying killing of the soul, which is effected by the Gospel. Let us then know that the Apostle speaks generally of the truth of God, when he says, that it is living and efficacious. So Paul testifies, when he declares, that by his preaching there went forth an odor of death unto death to the unbelieving, but of life unto life to believers, (2Co 2:16,) so that God never speaks in vain; he draws some to salvation, others he drives into ruin. This is the power of binding and loosing which the Lord conferred on his Apostles. (Mt 18:18.) And, indeed, he never promises to us salvation in Christ, without denouncing, on the other hand, vengeance on unbelievers; who by rejecting Christ bring death on themselves. 72
It must be further noticed, that the Apostle speaks of God’s word, which is brought to us by the ministry of men. For delirious and even dangerous are those notions, that though the internal word is efficacious, yet that which proceeds from the mouth of man is lifeless and destitute of all power. I indeed admit that the power does not proceed from the tongue of man, nor exists in mere sound, but that the whole power is to be ascribed altogether to the Holy Spirit; there is, however, nothing in this to hinder the Spirit from putting forth his power in the word preached. For God, as he speaks not by himself, but by men, dwells carefully on this point, so that his truth may not be objected to in contempt, because men are its ministers. So Paul, by saying, that the Gospel is the power of God, (Ro 1:16.) designedly adorned with this distinction his own preaching, though he saw that it was slandered by some and despised by others. And when in another place, (Ro 10:8,) he teaches us that salvation is conferred by the doctrine of faith, he expressly says that it was the doctrine which was preached. We indeed find that God ever commends the truth administered to us by men, in order to induce us to receive it with reverence.
Now, by calling the word quick or living he must be understood as referring to men; which appears still clearer by the second word, powerful, for he shows what sort of life it possesses, when he expressly says that it is efficacious; for the Apostle’s object was to teach us what the word is to us. 73 The sword is a metaphorical word often used in Scripture; but the Apostle not content with a simple comparison, says, that God’s word is sharper than any sword, even than a sword that cuts on both sides, or twoedged; for at that time swords were in common use, which were blunt on one side, and sharp on the other. Piercing even to the dividing asunder of the soul and spirit, or to the dividing of the soul and spirit, etc. The word soul means often the same with spirit; but when they occur together, the first includes all the affections, and the second means what they call the intellectual faculty. So Paul, writing to the Thessalonians, uses the words, when he prays God to keep their spirit, and soul, and body blameless until the coming of Christ, (1Th 5:23,) he meant no other thing, but that they might continue pure and chaste in mind, and will, and outward actions. Also Isaiah means the same when he says,
“My soul desired thee in the night; I sought thee with my spirit.” (Isa 26:9.)
What he doubtless intends to show is, that he was so intent on seeking God, that he applied his whole mind and his whole heart. I know that some give a different explanation; but all the soundminded, as I expect, will assent to this view.
Now, to come to the passage before us, it is said that God’s word pierces, or reaches to the dividing of soul and spirit, that is, it examines the whole soul of man; for it searches his thoughts and scrutinizes his will with all its desires. And then he adds the joints and marrow, intimating that there is nothing so hard or strong in man, nothing so hidden, that the powerful word cannot pervade it. 74 Paul declares the same when he says, that prophecy avails to reprove and to judge men, so that the secrets of the heart may come, to light. (1Co 14:24.) And as it is Christ’s office to uncover and bring to light the thoughts from the recesses of the heart, this he does for the most part by the Gospel.
Hence God’s word is a discerner, (κριτικὸς, one that has power to discern,) for it brings the light of knowledge to the mind of man as it were from a labyrinth, where it was held before entangled. There is indeed no thicker darkness than that of unbelief, and hypocrisy is a horrible blindness; but God’s word scatters this darkness and chases away this hypocrisy. Hence the separating or discerning which the Apostle mentions; for the vices, hid under the false appearance of virtues, begin then to be known, the varnish being wiped away. And if the reprobate remain for a time in their hidden recesses, yet they find at length that God’s word has penetrated there also, so that they cannot escape God’s judgment. Hence their clamour and also their fury, for were they not smitten by the word, they would not thus betray their madness, but they would seek to elude the word, or by evasion to escape from its power, or to pass it by unnoticed; but these things God does not allow them to do. Whenever then they slander God’s word, or become enraged against it, they show that they feel within its power, however unwillingly and reluctantly. 75
13. Neither is there any creature, etc. The conjunction here, as I think, is causal, and may be rendered for; for in order to confirm this truth, that whatever is hid in man is discerned and judged by God’s word, he draws an argument from the nature of God himself. There is no creature, he says, which is hid from the eyes of God; there is, therefore, nothing so deep in man’s soul, which cannot be drawn forth into light by that word that resembles its own author, for as it is God’s office to search the heart, so he performs this examination by his word.
Interpreters, without considering that God’s word is like a long staff by which he examines and searches what lies deep in our hearts, have strangely perverted this passage; and yet they have not relieved themselves. But all difficulty disappears when we take this view, — that we ought to obey God’s word in sincerity and with cordial affection, because God, who knows our hearts, has assigned to his word the office of penetrating even into our inmost thoughts. The ambiguous meaning of the last words has also led interpreters astray, which they have rendered, “Of whom we speak;” but they ought, on the contrary, to be rendered, With whom we have to do. The meaning is, that it is God who deals with us, or with whom we have a concern; and that, therefore, we ought not to trifle with him as with a mortal man, but that whenever his word is set before us, we ought to tremble, for nothing is hid from him.
Hebrews Chapter 4:14-16
14. Seeing then that we have a great high priest, that is passed into the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our profession.
14. Habentes igitur ponticem magnum qui coelos ingressus est, Iesum filium Dei, teneamus confessionem.
15. For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin.
15. Neque enim habemus pontificem, qui compati non possit infirmitatibus nostris; sed in omnibus tentatum, secundum similitudinem, absque peccato.
16. Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need.
16. Accedamus igitur cum ficucia ad thronum gratiae, ut obtineamus miseericordiam, et gratiam inveniamus in auxilium opportunum.
14. Seeing then that we have, or, Having then, etc. He has been hitherto speaking of Christ’s apostleship, But he how passes on to his second office. For we have said that the Son of God sustained a twofold character when he was sent to us, even that of a teacher and of a priest. The Apostle, therefore, after having exhorted the Jews obediently to embrace the doctrine of Christ, now shows what benefit his priesthood has brought to us; and this is the second of the two points which he handles. And fitly does he connect the priesthood with the apostleship, since he reminds us that the design of both is to enable us to come to God. He employs an inference, then; for he had before referred to this great truth, that Christ is our high priest; 76 but as the character of the priesthood cannot be known except through teaching, it was necessary to prepare the way, so as to render men willing to hear Christ. It now remains, that they who acknowledge Christ as their teacher, should become teachable disciples, and also learn from his mouth, and in his school, what is the benefit of his priesthood, and what is its use and end.
In the first place he says, Having a great high priest, 77 Jesus Christ, let us hold fast our profession, or confession. Confession is here, as before, to be taken as a metonymy for faith; and as the priesthood serves to confirm the doctrine, the Apostle hence concludes that there is no reason to doubt or to waver respecting the faith of the Gospel, because the Son of God has approved and sanctioned it; for whosoever regards the doctrine as not confirmed, dishonors the Son of God, and deprives him of his honor as a priest; nay, such and so great a pledge ought to render us confident, so as to rely unhesitantly on the Gospel.
15. For we have not, etc. There is in the name which he mentions, the Son of God, such majesty as ought to constrain us to fear and obey him. But were we to contemplate nothing but this in Christ, our consciences would not be pacified; for who of us does not dread the sight of the Son of God, especially when we consider what our condition is, and when our sins come to mind? The Jews might have had also another hindrance, for they had been accustomed to the Levitical priesthood; they saw in that one mortal man, chosen from the rest, who entered into the sanctuary, that by his prayer he might reconcile his brethren to God. It is a great thing, when the Mediator, who can pacify God towards us, is one of ourselves. By this sort of allurement the Jews might have been ensnared, so as to become ever attached to the Levitical priesthood, had not the Apostle anticipated this, and showed that the Son of God not only excelled in glory, but that he was also endued with equal kindness and compassion towards us.
It is, then, on this subject that he speaks, when he says that he was tried by our infirmities, that he might condole with us. As to the word sympathy, (συμπαθεία,) I am not disposed to indulge in refinements; for frivolous, no less than curious, is this question, “Is Christ now subject to our sorrows?” It was not, indeed, the Apostle’s object to weary us with such subtleties and vain speculations, but only to teach us that we have not to go far to seek a Mediator, since Christ of his own accord extends his hand to us, that we have no reason to dread the majesty of Christ since he is our brother, and that there is no cause to fear, lest he, as one unacquainted with evils, should not be touched by any feelings of humanity, so as to bring us help, since he took upon him our infirmities, in order that he might be more inclined to succor us. 78
Then the whole discourse of the Apostle refers to what is apprehended by faith, for he does not speak of what Christ is in himself, but shows what he is to us. By the likeness, he understands that of nature, by which he intimates that Christ has put on our flesh, and also its feelings or affections, so that he not only paroled himself to be real man, but had also been taught by his own experience to help the miserable; not because the Son of God had need of such a training, but because we could not otherwise comprehend the care he feels for our salvation. Whenever, then, we labor under the infirmities of our flesh, let us remember that the Son of God experienced the same, in order that he might by his power raise us up, so that we may not be overwhelmed by them.
But it may be asked, What does he mean by infirmities? The word is indeed taken in various senses. Some understand by it cold and heat; hunger and other wants of the body; and also contempt, poverty, and other things of this mind, as in many places in the writings of Paul, especially in 2Co 12:10. But their opinion is more correct who include, together with external evils, the feelings of the souls such as fear, sorrow, the dread of death, and similar things. 79
And doubtless the restriction, without sin, would not have been added, except he had been speaking of the inward feelings, which in us are always sinful on account of the depravity of our nature; but in Christ, who possessed the highest rectitude and perfect purity, they were free from everything vicious. Poverty, indeed, and diseases, and those things which are without us, are not to be counted as sinful. Since, therefore, he speaks of infirmities akin to sin, there is no doubt but that he refers to the feelings or affections of the mind, to which our nature is liable, and that on account of its infirmity. For the condition of the angels is in this respect better than ours; for they sorrow not, nor fear, nor are they harassed by variety of cares, nor by the dread of death. These infirmities Christ of his own accord undertook, and he willingly contended with them, not only that he might attain a victory over them for us, but also that we may feel assured that he is present with us whenever we are tried by them.
Thus he not only really became a man, but he also assumed all the qualities of human nature. There is, however, a limitation added, without sin; for we must ever remember this difference between Christ’s feelings or affections and ours, that his feelings were always regulated according to the strict rule of justice, while ours flow from a turbid fountain, and always partake of the nature of their source, for they are turbulent and unbridled. 80
16. Let us therefore come boldly, or, with confidence, etc. He draws this conclusion, — that an access to God is open to all who come to him relying on Christ the Mediator; nay, he exhorts the faithful to venture without any hesitation to present themselves before God. And the chief benefit of divine teaching is a sure confidence in calling on God, as, on the other hand, the whole of religion falls to the ground, and is lost when this certainty is taken away from consciences.
It is hence obvious to conclude, that under the Papacy the light of the Gospel is extinct, for miserable men are bidden to doubt whether God is propitious to them or is angry with them. They indeed say that God is to be sought; but the way by which it is possible to come to him is not pointed out, and the gate is barred by which alone men can enter. They confess in words that Christ is a Mediator, but in reality they make the power of his priesthood of none effect, and deprive him of his honor.
For we must hold this principle, — that Christ is not really known as a Mediator except all doubt as to our access to God is removed; otherwise the conclusion here drawn would not stand, “We have a high priest Who is willing to help us; therefore we may come bold and without any hesitation to the throne of grace.” And were we indeed fully persuaded that Christ is of his own accord stretching forth his hand to us, who of us would not come in perfect confidence? 81 It is then true what I said, that its power is taken away from Christ’s priesthood whenever men have doubts, and are anxiously seeking for mediators, as though that one were not sufficient, in whose patronage all they who really trust, as the Apostle here directs them, have the assurance that their prayers are heard.
The ground of this assurance is, that the throne of God is not arrayed in naked majesty to confound us, but is adorned with a new name, even that of grace, which ought ever to be remembered whenever we shun the presence of God. For the glory of God, when we contemplate it alone, can produce no other effect than to fill us with despair; so awful is his throne. The Apostle, then, that he might remedy our diffidence, and free our minds from all fear and trembling, adorns it with “grace,” and gives it a name which can allure us by its sweetness, as though he had said, “Since God has affirmed to his throne as it were the banner of ‘grace’ and of his paternal love towards us, there are no reasons why his majesty should drive us away.” 82
The import of the whole is, that we are to call upon God without fear, since we know that he is propitious to us, and that this may be done is owing to the benefit conferred on us by Christ, as we find from Eph 3:12; for when Christ receives us under his protection and patronage, he covers with his goodness the majesty of God, which would otherwise be terrible to us, so that nothing appears there but grace and paternal favor.
That we may obtain mercy, etc. This is not added without great reason; it is for the purpose of encouraging as it were by name those who feel the need of mercy, lest any one should be cast down by the sense of his misery, and close up his way by his own diffidence. This expression, “that we may obtain mercy”, contains especially this most delightful truth, that all who, relying on the advocacy of Christ, pray to God, are certain to obtain mercy; yet on the other hand the Apostle indirectly, or by implication, holds out a threatening to all who take not this way, and intimates that God will be inexorable to them, because they disregard the only true way of being reconciled to him.
He adds, To help in time of need, or, for a seasonable help; that is, if we desire to obtain all things necessary for our salvation. 83 Now, this seasonableness refers to the time of calling, according to those words of Isaiah, which Paul accommodates to the preaching of the Gospel, “Behold, now is the accepted time,” etc., (Isa 49:8; 2Co 6:2;) for the Apostle refers to that “today,” during which God speaks to us. If we defer hearing until tomorrow, when God is speaking to us today, the unseasonable night will come, when what now may be done can no longer be done; and we shall in vain knock when the door is closed.
Calvin renders the last verb “be disappointed,” (frustratus,) though the verb means properly to be behind in time, to be too late; yet it is commonly used in the sense of falling short of a thing, of being destitute; of being without. See Ro 3:23; 1Co 1:7; Heb 12:15. To “come short” of our version fitly expresses its meaning here, as adopted by Doddridge and Stuart; or “to fall short,” as rendered by Macknight.
“Seem” is considered by some to be pleonastic. The verb δοκέω is so no doubt sometimes, but not always; but here appears to have a special meaning, as the Apostle would have no one to present even the appearance of neglecting to secure the rest promised. — Ed.
See Appendix O
The general drift of the passage is evident, yet the construction has been found difficult. Without repeating the various solutions which have been offered, I shall give what appears to me the easiest construction, —
3. We indeed are entering into the rest who believe: as he hath said, “So that I sware in my wrath, They shall by no means enter into my rest,” when yet the works were finished since the foundation of
4. the world; (for he hath said thus in a certain place of the seventh day, “And God rested on the seventh day from all his works,”
5. and again in this place, “They shall by no means enter into my
6. rest;”) it then remains therefore that some do enter in because of unbelief.
The particle ἐπεῖ has created the difficulty, which I render in the sense of ἔπειτα, then consequently the argument is simply this: Inasmuch as God had sworn that the unbelieving should not enter into his rest long after the rest of the sabbath was appointed; it follows as a necessary consequence that some do enter into it, though the unbelieving did not enter. The argument turns on the word “rest;” It was to show that it was not the rest of the Sabbath. The argument in the next verses turns on the word “today,” in order to show that it was not the rest of Canaan.
The fourth and fifth verses are only explanatory of the concluding sentence of the preceding, and therefore ought to be regarded as parenthetic. — Ed.
Many, like Calvin, have made remarks of this kind, but they are out of place here; for the rest here mentioned is clearly the rest in heaven. — Ed.
It has been a matter of dispute whether the “word” here is Christ, or the Scripture. The fathers as well as later divines are divided. The former is the opinion of Augustin, Ambrose, and also of Dr. Owen and Doddridge: and the latter is held by Chrysostom, Theophylact, and also by Calvin, Beza, Macknight, Scott, Stuart and Bloomfield. The latter is clearly the most suitable to the words of the passage. The only difficulty is in verse 13; but there a transition is evidently made from the word of God to God himself; and thus both are in remarkable manner connected together. — Ed.
See Appendix P.
See Appendix Q.
The metaphor of a sword is evidently carried on; the word is like the sword which “penetrates so as to separate the soul (the animal life) and the spirit, (the immortal part,) the joints also and the marrows, being even a strict judge of the thoughts and purposes of the heart.” — Ed.
See Appendix R.
That is, in the latter part of chapter 2. In the beginning of chapter 3 he exhorted us to “consider” the apostle and high priest of our profession, and then proceeded to speak of him as an apostle. He now returns to the high priesthood, and says that as we have a great high priest, we ought to hold fast our profession. Such, according to Calvin, is the connection, and is adopted by Stuart and Bloomfield. — Ed.
In the Apostle’s time there were many called high priests, such as the heads of the Levitical courses; but “the great high priest” meant him who alone had the privilege of entering into the holy of holies, that is, the high priest, as distinguished from all the rest. — Ed.
Calvin has followed the Vulg. In rendering this clause, “who cannot sympathize (compati) with our infirmities.” Our version is that of Eramus and Beza. The meaning may thus be given, “Who cannot feel for us in our infirmities.” — Ed.
The word “infirmities” is often used metonymically for things which we are too weak to bear, even trials and temptations. Christ, our high priest, feels for us in all those straits and difficulties, whatever they be, which meet us in our course, and make us feel and know our weaknesses. — Ed.
The common idea of what is here said is, that Christ though tried and tempted, was not yet guilty of sin, or did not fall into sin. That he had no sin, that he was without sin, is what we plainly learn from 2Co 5:21; 1Jo 3:5, etc.; but is this what is taught here? The clause, I conceive, may be thus rendered, —
“But was in all things tried in like manner except sin;”
that is, with the exception that he had no innate sin to contend with. The last words are literally, “in likeness with the exclusion of sin,” which seems to import that it was a likeness with the exclusion of sin. But if the words “except (or without) sin” do not qualify “likeness,” they must be connected with “tried” or tempted, and thus rendered, —
“But was in like manner tried in all things without sin;”
that is, without sinning, or falling into sin. The difference is, that in the one sense Christ had no inward sin to contend with, and that in the other he withstood temptation without falling into sin. Both senses are true, and either of them will suit this passage. — Ed.
“Confidence,” that is, of being heard. — Ed.
The “throne of grace” is evidently in opposition to the throne of judgment, which especially belongs to a king. Some of the Greek fathers regarded this as the throne of Christ; but most commentators consider it to be God’s throne, as Christ is here represented as a priest and as access to God is ever described as being through Christ. See Eph 2:18. — Ed.
Calvin’s version is, “and find grace for a seasonable help;” which according to his explanation, means a help during the season or period of “today.” Doddridge has, “for our seasonable assistance,” — Macknight, “for the purpose of seasonable help,” — and Stuart, “and find favor so as to be assisted in time of need.” Our version seems the best, “and find grace to help in the time of need.” The address is to those exposed to trials and persecutions; and the seasonable or opportune help was such as their peculiar circumstances and wants required. The word εὔκαιρον, is in the Sept. put for “due season,” or in its time, in Ps 104:27. The idea of Calvin is that some of the fathers, but is not suitable to this passage.
“Mercy” is compassion, and “grace” is favor or benefit received; it means sometimes favor entertained, but here the effect of favor — a benefit, and this benefit was to be a help in time of need. — Ed.