THE BETTER COVENANT
The Person and greatness of our High Priest are now full before the readers of the Epistle. The paragraph we enter next, after one more deliberate contemplation of His dignity and His qualifications, proceeds to expound His relation to the better and eternal Covenant. We shall find here also messages appropriate to our time.
The first step then is a review, a summing up, a "look again" upon the true King of Righteousness and peace (verses 1, 2). "Such a High Priest we have." It is a wonderful affirmation, not only of His existence but of His relation to "us," His people. "We have" Him. He has taken His seat indeed "at the right hand of the throne of the majesty in the heavens." But this great exaltation has not removed Him for a moment out of our possession; we have Him. He is now the great Minister, the supreme sacerdotal Functionary, of the heavenly sanctuary, "the true tabernacle," τῆς σκῆνῆς τῆς ἀληθινῆς, the non-figurative reality of which the Mosaic structure was only the shadow; the true scene of unveiled Presence and immortal worship, "pitched" by Him whose face makes Heaven, and makes it all one temple. But this sublimity of our Priest's place and power does not make Him in the least less ours; we have Him.
The words invite us to a new and deliberate look upward, and then to a recollection deeper than ever that He is held spiritually in our very hands; that He is a possession, nearer to us than any other.
Then (verses 3 and following) the thought moves towards the sacrificial and offertorial qualifications of this great and most sacred Person. He is what He is, our High Priest, our Minister of the sanctuary above, on perfectly valid grounds. For He is, what every sacerdotal minister must be, an Offerer. And He is this in a sense, in a way, congruous to His heavenly position. He has no blood of goats and calves to present, like the priests on earth. Indeed, were He "on earth" (ver. 4), this greatest of all High Priests "would not even be a priest" (οὐδ ἂν ἦν ἱερεύς), an ordinary priest. For that function, says the Writer, is already filled, "according to the law," by the Aaronic order, to which He never belonged and never could belong (see vii. 13, 14). It is in charge of the sacred servants (λατρεύουσιν) of the earthly sanctuary, the God-given type and shadow (ver. 5) of the realities of Heaven, but no more than their type and shadow, partial and transient. No, His sacerdotal qualification is of another sort and a greater. What it is which "He has to offer" in the celestial Holiest is not yet explicitly said; that is reserved for the ninth chapter, to which this is but the vestibule. But already the Epistle emphasizes the truth that "He has somewhat to offer," so that we may fully realize the completeness of His high-priestly power.
It may be well to pause here, and to ask whether this passage reveals that our Lord Jesus Christ is at this moment "offering" for us, in His heavenly life. We are all aware that this has been widely held and earnestly pressed, sometimes into inferences which, as far as I can see, cannot at all be borne even by the doctrine that He is offering for us now. In particular it is said that, if He in glory is offering for His Church, then His Church must, in some sense, as in a counterpart, be offering here on earth, in union with Him. In short, there must still be priests on earth who are ministers of "the example and shadow of heavenly things." But surely, if this Epistle makes anything clear, it makes it clear that our great Priest is the superseding fulfilment of all such ministrations done by "men having infirmity." It is His glory, and it is ours, that He is known by us as our one and all-sufficient Offerer and Mediator. It is precisely as such that "we have Him," in a way to distinguish our position and privilege in a magnificent sense from that of those who needed the sacerdotal aid of their mortal brethren.
But then further, does this passage really intimate at all that He is offering now? The thought appears to be decisively negatived by the grandeur of the terms of the first verse of this chapter. Where, in the heavenly sanctuary, is our High Priest now? He has "taken His seat on the right hand of the throne of the majesty." But enthronement is a thought out of line with the act and attitude of oblation. The offerer stands before the Power he approaches. Our Priest is seated --- where Deity alone can sit.
Does not this tell us that the words (ver. 3), "It is necessary that He too should have something to offer," are to be explained not of a continuous historical procedure (to which idea, by the way, the aorist verb προσενέγκῃ would hardly be appropriate), but as the statement of a principle in terms of time? The "necessity" is, not that He should have something to offer now, and to-following day, and always, but that the matter and act of offering should belong to Him. And they do so belong, in principle and effect, for priestly purposes, by having been once and for ever handled and performed by Him. His "need" is, not to be always offering, but to be always an Offerer. He meets that need by being for ever the Priest who had Himself to offer, and who offered Himself, and who now dispenses from His sacerdotal seat the benedictions based upon the sacrifice of which He is for ever the once accepted Offerer.
Only thus viewed, I venture to say, can this phrase be read in its full harmony with the whole Epistle. "He has somewhat to offer," in the sense that He has for ever the grand sacerdotal qualification of being an Offerer who, having executed that function, now bears to all eternity its character. But He is not therefore always executing the function. Otherwise He must descend from His throne. But His enthronement, His session, is a fact of His present position as important and characteristic as possible in this whole Epistle.
Aaron was not always offering. But he was always an offerer. On the following day of the Atonement Day he was as much an offerer as on the day itself. All through the year, even until the next Atonement, he was still an offerer. He exercised his priestly functions at all times because, in principle, he "had somewhat to offer" in its proper time. Our High Priest knows only one Atonement Day, and it is over for ever. And His Israel have it for their privilege and glory not to be "serving to an example and shadow" of even His work and office, but to be going always, daily and hourly, direct to Him in His perfect Priesthood, in which they always "have" Him, and to be always abiding, in virtue of Him, "boldly," "with confidence," in the very presence of the Lord.
Then the chapter moves forward (verses 6 and following) to consider the relation between our High Priest and the Covenant of which He is the Mediator. Here begins one of the great themes of the Epistle. It will recur again and again, till at last we read (xiii. 20) of "the blood of the Covenant eternal."
This pregnant subject is introduced by a solemn reference to the "promises upon which has been legislated," legally instituted, νενομοθετήται, this new compact between God and man. The reference is to the thirtieth chapter of Jeremiah, from which an extract is here made at length. There the prophet, in the name of his God, explicitly foretells the advent of what we may reverently call a new departure in the revealed relations between Jehovah and His people. At Sinai He had engaged to bless them, yet under conditions which left them to discover the total inability of their own sin-stricken wills to meet His holy while benignant will. They failed, they broke the pact, and judgment followed them of course. But now another order is to be taken. Their King and Lawgiver, without for one moment ceasing to be such, will also undertake another function, wholly new, as regards the method of covenant. He will place Himself so upon their side as Himself to readjust and empower their affections and their wills. He "will put His laws into their mind and write them upon their hearts," and "they shall all know Him," with the knowledge which is life eternal. And further, as the antecedent to all this, in order to open the path to it, to place them where this wonderful blessing can rightly reach and fill them, their King and Lawgiver pledges Himself to a previous pardon, full and unreserved; "Their sins and their iniquities I will remember no more." They shall be set before Him in an acceptance as full as if they had never fallen. And then, not as the condition to this but as the sequel to it, He will so deal with them, internally and spiritually, that they shall will His will and live His law. There shall be no mechanical compulsion; "their mind," "their hearts," full as ever of personality and volition, shall be the matter acted upon. But there shall be a gracious and prevailing influence, deciding their spiritual action along its one true line; "I will put," "I will write."
This is the new, the better, the everlasting Covenant. It is placed here in the largest and most decisive contrast over against the old covenant, the compact of Sinai, "written and engraven in stones" (2 Cor. iii. 7). That compact had done its mysterious work, in convincing man of his sinful incapacity to meet the will of God. Now emerges its wonderful antithesis, in which man is first entirely pardoned, with a pardon which means acceptance, peace, re-instatement into the home and family of God, and then and therefore is internally transfigured by his Father's power into a being who loves his Father's law.
What the prophet foretold was claimed by the Lord Christ Himself, as fulfilled in His Person and His work, when He took the cup of blessing, at the feast of the new Passover of the new Israel, and said, "This cup is the new covenant in my blood." And what He so claimed His great apostle rejoiced in, when he wrote to Corinth (2 iii. 6, etc.) of the "ministry of the new covenant," the covenant of the Spirit, of life, of glory. And here the same truth is stated again, and in strong connection again with Him who is at once its Sacrifice, its Surety, its Mediator; the Cause, and Guardian, and Giver of all its blessings. He is such that it is such; ours is "so great a salvation," because of so great and wonderful a High Priest, the possessor in very deed of "somewhat to offer," and now, with hands full of the fruits of that offering, "seated" for us "on the right hand of the throne of the majesty in the heavens."
Here is a message for our times, in a sense which seems to me special, pressing, and deeply beneficent. For the terms of that new covenant are nothing less than the glorious essence, the Divine peculiarity, of the Gospel of the grace of God. This forgiveness, this most sincere and entirely unearned amnesty, this oblivion of the sins of the people of God --- do we hear very much about it now, even where by tradition it might be most expected? But do we not need it now? Was there ever a time when human hearts would be more settled and more energized than now, amidst their moral restlessness, by a wise, thoughtful, but perfectly unmistakable reaffirmation of the sublime fulness of Divine forgiveness in Christ? Men may think that they can do without that message. They may bid us throw the whole weight of preaching upon self-sacrifice, upon social service, upon conduct at large. But the fully wakeful soul knows that it is only then capacitated for self-sacrifice in the Lord's footsteps when it has received the warrant of forgiveness, written large in His sacred blood, finding pardon and peace at the foot of His sacrificial Cross. Then turn to the second limb of the covenant, a limb greater even than the first, inasmuch as for it the first is provided and guaranteed. Do we hear too much about this covenant blessing now? Do our pulpits too frequently and too fully give out the affirmation that God in Christ stands pledged and covenanted to work the moral transfiguration of His believing Israel, to act so on "the first springs of thought and will" that our being shall freely respond to His free action upon it, and will His will, and live His law? But was there ever greater need for such an affirmation than in our time, so restless, so unsatisfied, and, deep below all its superficial arrogance, so disappointed, so discouraged?
Let us return upon the rich treasures of this great Compact of God in Christ. The Covenant is ever new, for it is eternal. And it lies safe in the ministering hands of Him who died to inaugurate it and make it good, and who lives to shower its blessings down. He is on the right hand of the throne of the majesty in the heavens. And "we have" Him.
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.