Our study of the great Epistle takes here another step, covering three short but pregnant chapters. So pregnant are they that it would be altogether vain to attempt to deal with them thus briefly were we not mindful of our special point of view. We are pondering the Epistle not for all that it has to say, but for what it has to say of special moment and application for certain needs of our own time.
The outline of the portion before us must accordingly be traced. In detail it presents many questions of connection and argument, for, particularly in chapter iv., the apostolic thought takes occasionally a parenthetical flight of large circuit. But in outline the progression may be traced without serious difficulty.
We have first the appeal to exercise the promptitude and decision of faith, in view of the magnificent promise of a Canaan of sacred rest made to the true Israel in Christ. Even to "seem" (iv. 1) to fail of this, even to seem to sink into a desert grave of unbelief while "the rest of faith" is waiting to be entered, is a thought to "fear." Great indeed are the promises; "living" and "energetic" is "the Word" which conveys them.
Ch. iv. 12, if I am right, follows in thought upon iv. 2, leaving a long and deep parenthesis between.
That "Word" is piercing as a sword in its convictions, for it is the vehicle of His mind and His holiness "with whom is concerned our discourse" (iv. 13); while yet it is, on its other side, a "Gospel" indeed (iv. 2), the message of supreme good, if only it is met with faith by the convicted soul. Yes, it is a message which tells of a land of "rest," near and open, fairer far than the Canaan on which Caleb reported and from which he and his fellows brought the great clusters of its golden vines. Passage after passage of the old Scriptures (iv. 3-9) shows that that Canaan was no finality, no true terminus of the purpose of God; another "rest," another "day" of entrance and blessing, was intimated all along. Unbelief forfeited the true fruition of even the old Canaan for the old Israel. And now out of that evil has sprung the glorious good of a more articulate promise of the new Canaan, the inheritance of rest in Christ, destined for the new Israel. But as then, so now, the promise, if it is to come to its effect, must be met and realized by obedient faith. Despite all the difficulties, in face of whatever may seem the Anakim of to-day, looking to Him who is immeasurably more than Moses, and who is the true and second Joshua, we must make haste to enter in by the way of faith. We must "mingle the word with faith" (iv. 2), into one glorious issue of attained and abiding rest. We must lay our hearts soft and open (iv. 7) before the will of the Promiser. We must "be in earnest" to enter in (iv. 11).
The "Jesus" (iv. 8) of the Authorized Version.
Then, at iv. 14, the appeal takes us in beautiful order more directly to Him who is at once the Leader and the Promised Land. And again He stands before us as a "great High Priest." Our Moses, our Joshua, is also our more than Aaron, combining in Himself every possible qualification to be our guide and preserver as we enter in. He stands before us in all the alluring and endearing character of mingled majesty and mercy; a High Priest, a great High Priest, immeasurably great; He has "passed through the heavens" (iv. 14) to the Holiest, to the throne, the celestial mercy-seat (iv. 16) "within the veil" (vi. 19); He is the Son (v. 5); He is the Priest-King, the true Melchizedek; He is all this for ever (vi. 20). But on the other hand He is the sinner's Friend, who has so identified Himself in His blessed Humanity with the sinner, veritably taking our veritable nature, that He is "able to feel with our weaknesses" (iv. 15); "able to feel a sympathetic tolerance μετριοπαθεῖν towards the ignorant and the wandering" (v. 2); understanding well "what sore temptations mean, for He has felt the same"; yea, He has known what it is to "cry out mightily and shed tears" (v. 7) in face of a horror of death; to cast Himself as a genuine suppliant, in uttermost suffering, upon paternal kindness; to get to know by personal experience what submission means (ἔμαθε τὴν ὑπακοήν, v. 8); "not my will but Your be done."
Such is the "Leader of our faith," so great, so glorious, so perfect, so tender, so deep in fellowship with us. Shall we not follow Him into "the rest," though a "Jordan rolls between" and though cities of giants seem to frown upon us even on the other side? Shall we not dare there to follow Him out of the desert of our "own works"?
Much, says the Epistle (v. 11, etc.), is to be said about Him; the theme is deep, it is inexhaustible, for He is God and Man, one Christ. And the Hebrew believers (and is it not the same with us?) are not quick to learn the great lesson of His glory, and so to grow into the adult humanity of grace. But let us try; let us address ourselves to "bear onwards (φερώμεθα) to perfection" (vi. 1), in our thought, our faith, and so in our experience. The great foundation factors must be for ever there, the initial acts or attitudes of repentance, and of "faith towards God"; the abandonment of the service of sin, including the bondage of a would-be salvation of self by self, and the simple turning God-ward of a soul which has come to despair of its own resources --- truths symbolized and sealed by the primal rites of baptism and blessing (vi. 2); and then the great revealed facts in prospect, resurrection and judgment, must be always remembered and reckoned with. These however must be "left" (vi. 1), not in oblivion but in progress, just as a building "leaves" the level of its always necessary foundation. We must "bear onwards" and upwards, into the upper air of the fulness of the truth of the glory of our Christ. We must seek "perfection," the profound maturity of the Christian, by a maturer and yet maturer insight into Him. Awful is the spiritual risk of any other course. The soul content to stand still is in peril of a tremendous fall. To know about salvation at all, and not to seek to develope the knowledge towards "perfection," is to expose one's self to the terrible possibility of the fate reserved for those who have much light but no love (vi. 4-9). But this, by the grace of God, shall not be for the readers of the Epistle. They have shewn living proofs of love already, practical and precious, for the blessed Name's sake (vi. 10). Only, let them remember the spiritual law --- the necessity of growth, of progress, of "bearing onwards to perfection"; the tremendous risks of a subtle stagnation; the looking back; the pillar of salt.
I make no attempt here to expound in detail the formidable words of vi. 4-8. But I believe that their purport is fairly described in the sentence above in the text. Their true scriptural illustrations are to be sought in a Balaam and a Judas.
In order that full blessing may thus be theirs, let them look for it in the only possible direction. Let them take again to their souls the mighty promise of eternal benediction (vi. 14), sealed and crowned with the Promiser's gracious oath in His own Name, binding Himself to fidelity under the bond of His own majesty (vi. 13). Aye, and then let them again "consider" Him in whom promise and oath are embodied and vivified for ever; in whom rests --- no, in whom consists --- our anchor of an eternal hope (vi. 19); Jesus, our Man of men, our High Priest of the everlasting order, now entered "within the veil," into the place of the covenant and the glory, and "as Forerunner on our behalf" (vi. 20). To follow Him in there, in the "consideration" of faith and of worshipping love --- this is the secret, to the end, for "bearing onwards to perfection."
Our review of the passage is thus in some sort over. Confessedly it is an outline; but I do not think that any vital element in the matter has been overlooked. Much of the message we are seeking has been inevitably given us by the way; we may be content now to gather up and summarize the main result.
The "Hebrews," then, and their special circumstances of difficulty, are here in view, as everywhere else in the Epistle. Tempted to "fall away," to give up the "hope set before them," to relapse to legalism, to bondage, to the desert, to a famine of the soul, to barrenness and death --- here they are dealt with, in order to the more than prevention of the evil. And here, as ever, the remedy propounded is our Lord Jesus Christ, in His personal glory, in His majestic offices, in His unfathomable human sympathy, seen in perfect harmony of light with His eternal greatness.
The remedy is Christ; a deeper, fuller, always maturing sight of Christ. The urgent necessity is first promptitude and then progress in respect of knowing Him.
At the risk of a charge of iteration and monotony, I reaffirm that here is the great antidote for the many kindred difficulties of our troubled time. From how many sides comes the strain! Sometimes from that of an open naturalism; sometimes from that of a partial yet far-reaching "naturalism under a veil" which some recent teachings on "The Being of Christianity" may exemplify, with principles and presuppositions which largely underlie the extremer forms, certainly, of the modern critique of Scripture; sometimes from the opposite quarter of an ecclesiasticism which more or less exaggerates or distorts the great ideas of corporate life and sacramental operation. It would be idle to ignore the subtle nuances of difference between mind and mind, and the resultant varying incidence in detail of great and many-sided truths. But is it not fair and true to say that, on the whole, the supreme personal glory of Christ, as presented direct to the human soul in its august and ineffable loveliness, in its infinite lovableness, is what alike the naturalistic and the ultra-ecclesiastic theories of religion tend to becloud? On the other side, accordingly, it is in the "consideration" of that glory, in acquaintance with that wonderful Christ, that we shall find the glow which can melt and overcome the cloud. We must put ourselves continually in face of the revelation of this in the Word of God. We must let that revelation so sink into the heart as to do its self-verifying work there thoroughly, yet with a growth never to be exhausted. We must "bear onwards" evermore "to perfection" --- in "knowing Him." So we shall stand, and live, and love, and labour on.
From Message from the Epistle to the Hebrews, By HANDLEY C.G. MOULE, D.D. BISHOP OF DURHAM. First Edition May 1909, Produced by Colin Bell, Thomas Strong and the Online Distributed Proofreading Team at http://www.pgdp.net. Lightly updated to the language of the 21st century by D. N. Pham. (c) 2012.
Insights of the past for the present
To the Hebrews - H.C.G. Moule
ON THE BOOK SHELF
May your insights be worthy.