THE EPISTLE TO THE HEBREWS

 AN EXPOSTION

 BY

 ADOLPH SAPHIR

 FIRST AMERICAN EDITION

 

The Epistle To The Hebrews

 

INTRODUCTORY REMARKS.

 

COMMENCING in the style of a doctrinal treatise, but constantly interrupted by fervent and affectionate admonitions, warnings, and en­couragements, this grand and massive book con­cludes in the epistolary form, and in the last chapter the inspired author thus characterizes his work: " I beseech you, brethren, suffer the word of exhortation; for I have written a letter unto you in few words."

 We are attracted and riveted by the majestic and sabbatic style of this epistle. Nowhere in the New Testament writings do we meet language of such euphony and rhythm. A peculiar solemnity and anticipation of eternity breathe in these pages. The glow and flow of language the stateliness and fullness of diction, are but an external mani­festation of the marvelous depth and glory of spiritual truth, into which the apostolic author is eager to lead his brethren. The epistle reminds us in this respect of the latter portion of tha prophet Isaiah,* {Isaiah 40 – 66 Remark of Delitzsch.}  in which, out of the abundance of an enraptured heart, flows such a mighty and beautiful stream of consoling revelations. In both Scriptures we behold the glory which dwelleth in Immanuel's land; we breathe the Sabbatic air of Messiah's perfect peace. Both possess the same massiveness; both describe things which are real and substantial, the beauty and strength of which is eternal; in both is the same intensity of love, and the same comprehensiveness of vision.

 The central idea of the epistle is the glory of the New Covenant, contrasted with and excelling the glory of the old dispensation; and while this idea is developed in a systematic manner, yet the aim of the writer throughout is eminently and directly practical. Everywhere his object is ex­hortation. He never loses sight of the dangers and wants of his brethren. The application to conscience and life is never forgotten. It is rather a sermon than an exposition. Thus he himself describes the aim of his letter, and thus the Apostle Peter, writing to the same Hebrew Christians, refers to our book when he says, "And account that the longsuffering of our Lord is salvation; even as our beloved brother Paul also according to the wisdom given unto him hath written unto you."  2Pet 3:15.

 In all his argument, in every doctrine, in every illustration, the central aim of the epistle is kept prominent—the exhortation to steadfastness. Sur-rounded by temptations of a peculiarly sifting character, tested by persecution and reproach most fitted to shake their faith and their loyalty to the Messiah, rejected by the nation, the apostle speaks to them, in language of intense and piercing ear­nestness, of the fearful danger of apostasy, and points out to them that it was a mark of the true Israel, and a necessary sign of the follower of Jesus, to be despised and persecuted,—that the proper position of the God-chosen saint, of the believer, was outside the camp, bearing reproach, enduring the cross, and despising the shame. Representing to them the awful danger of draw­ing back, and the glory and blessedness of the cross, he entreats them, by the whole spirit of their history, and all the mercies of Jehovah, which in Jesus find their perfect manifestation and eternal fulfillment, to hold fast the beginning of their confidence unto the end, and to continue steadfast in the faith, and wait for the joy set before them.

 It is worthy of notice and thought, that when the Hebrews were in such a dangerous condition of mind, when the apostle was afraid of their yielding to the strong temptations and persecu­tions of the temple, so that he felt it necessary to remind them that if after being enlightened they fell away, it was impossible for them to be renewed, that the method, which he adopts in his epistle, is to enter into the depth of Christian truth, to unfold before them all the glory of the eternal High Priest and the heavenly sanctuary, to leave behind the elementary doctrine, and to launch forth into the deep ocean of New Testa­ment mysteries.(1) *[i]

  Thus it appeared to apostolic wisdom, that lukewarm, languid, and tempted Christians are to be roused, strengthened, and revived. The milk of simple gospel truth was not sufficient. It was necessary to declare unto them the whole counsel of God. As in the epistle which the exalted Saviour sends unto the church of Laodicea, there is the most glorious description of the person of Jesus, and of His overflowing and tender love, as in all His seven epistles {Rev 2 Rev 3} the self-revelation of Jesus is the basis and source of exhortation, thus in every age of the Church the renewal of strength, the rekindling of love, the deliverance from languor and inertness, bordering on death and destruction, can only proceed from a fuller and deeper knowledge of the Lord and His truth, from a renewed behold­ing of His countenance and of His glory. When the love of the majority shall wax cold, when iniquity shall abound, and the last struggle prepare, then let the church go on unto perfection, and behold with open face the glory of Christ ; and, gazing on His brightness, she will be strong anti courageous, and remain steadfast unto the end.

 The circumstances, in which the Hebrew be­lievers were, at the time when this epistle was written to them, claim our attentive consideration. Perhaps Scripture is sometimes obscure to us, because we neglect the ordinary rules which are observed in the reading of uninspired books. We forget the human and historical element. We do not read consecutively and with the expecta­tion, as well as the aim, to understand the scope and import of a whole book. And eager to arrive immediately at what we consider a practical ap­plication to our own circumstances, we do not sufficiently consider the primary meaning and bearing of the inspired Word.

 The condition of the Hebrew Christians in the period of apostolic history, of which we now speak, is peculiarly difficult for Gentile believers in the present day to realize. As it was difficult for the believing Jews to realize during the tran­sition period the new approaching age of the Church, of a body in which Jew and Gentile are united, which while different from and a contrast to the Theocracy (and yet filled with the same Spirit and glorifying the same Messiah), was to manifest its life and power apart from the law of Moses and the Jewish economy. so it is difficult for us now to think of the apostles Peter and John, and of thousands of Jews, observing the law of Moses, worshipping in the temple, and in every respect identifying themselves with the nation and her hope.

 Jesus had, through suffering and death, entered into glory. Rejected by His people, He was exalted according to the promise to the right hand of God. He sent His apostles to Israel. They preached the death, resurrection, and exaltation of Jesus, and His second coming to judgment, anal to establish His kingdom. They declared the gospel unto the nation, exhorting and beseeching them to turn to Jesus, who was sent first to them to bless them, by turning every one from their iniquities. Between the cross and the glory, when the Messiah would fulfill the promises unto the fathers, the apostles stood and testified to Israel. Their aim, their hearts' desire, their constant appeal, was Israel's national repentance and faith in Jesus. Thus was it becoming, and in accord­ance with the whole dealings of God. Thus the Saviour Himself came to the lost sheep of the house of Israel, as the minister of the circumcision. Thus in the marvelous love of God another opportunity was given to Jerusalem, even after her rejection of the divine Lord. And only when the Jews rejected the counsel of God, the apostles turned unto the Gentiles. Nor was it without difficulty that they entered into the full understanding of the divine counsel, according to which for a season Israel as a nation is left to itself, and the church, in which there is neither Jew nor Greek, receives the testimony and the blessing of God. {Acts 3:26; 27:25; Rom 15:8; Eph 3}

 While the apostles were thus as Jews preaching Jesus to the nation, many believed in the crucified Messiah. We read that when the apostle Paul and his companions came to Jerusalem, James, who was a pillar of the church, and all the elders received them, and said unto him, " Thou seest, brother, how many thousands (muriades, ten thou-sands) of Jews there are which believe; and they are all zealous of the law: and they are informed of thee, that thou teachest all the Jews which are among the Gentiles to forsake Moses." It is evident that those believing Jews observed the statutes and ordinances of the law with great zeal and earnestness. They went daily into the temple; they appeared to the ordinary Jews as most diligent and scrupulous in their obedience to the precepts of Moses. And this observance of the law did not conflict with their exclusive and explicit trust in Jesus as their Saviour. David and all the godly Israelites were saved by faith, and knew the grace of God, and righteousness without works, though it was God's will that unto them the law should be the rule and form of life.{ Acts 21:20; 2:46; Rom 4:6}

 Nor must we be astonished, that even to these believing Jews it was difficult to receive such glimpses into the then future church dispensation as were given by the proto-martyr Stephen in his teaching about the temple, and the approaching crisis in Jewish history. After the death of Stephen, and the bitter persecution which then broke forth against the believing Jews, a lull seems to have succeeded. James, the brother of our Lord, according to tradition, revered by all the Jews as a just and devout man, Peter and John were pillars of the church at Jerusalem. Rejoicing in the work among the Gentiles, and acknowledging their freedom from the law of Moses, the apostles of the circumcision saw no reason and no right to alter the customs and observances of the Jewish believers. And the apostle Paul followed their suggestions, and showed to the Jews, both believers and unbe­lievers, his reverence for the law. That same apostle who, when the liberty of the Gentile Christians was concerned, and the truth of the gospel doctrine was endangered, withstood the apostle Peter, observes the law when he is among Jews ; for herein he does not lose his liberty, but uses it. He became a Jew unto the Jews, as under the law, to them that were under the law ; at all times and everywhere living in the love and liberty of the Son of God.{Acts 15 and Gal 2:14; 1Cor 9:20-22}.

 Then arose another persecution of the believers, especially directed against the apostle Paul. Festus died about the year 63, and under the high priest Ananias, who favored the Sadducees, the Christian Hebrews were persecuted as trans­gressors of the law. Some of them were stoned to death; and though this extreme punishment could not be frequently inflicted by the Sanhedrim, they were able to subject their brethren to suffer­ings and reproaches which were felt most keenly. It was a small thing that they confiscated their goods; but they banished them from the he ly places. Hitherto they had enjoyed the privileges of devout Israelites; they could take part in the beautiful and God-appointed services of the sanc­tuary; but now they were treated as unclean and apostates. Unless they gave up faith in Jesus, and forsook the assembling of themselves together, they were not allowed to enter the temple; they were banished from the altar, the sacrifice, the high priest, the house of Jehovah.

 We can scarcely realize the piercing sword which thus wounded their inmost heart. That by clinging to the Messiah they were to be severed from Messiah's people was indeed a great and perplexing trial ; that for the hope of Israel's glory they were banished from the place which God had chosen, and where the divine Presence was revealed, and the symbols and ordinances of His grace had been the joy and strength of their fathers ; that they were to be no longer children of the covenant and of the house, but worse than Gentiles, excluded from the outer court, cut off from the commonwealth of Israel,—this was indeed a sore and mysterious trial. Cleaving to the promises made unto their fathers, cherishing the hope in constant prayer that their nation would yet accept the Messiah, it was the severest test to which their faith could be put, when their loyalty to Jesus involved separation from all the sacred rights and privileges of Jerusalem.

 The apostolic writer of the epistle enters fully and lovingly into their difficulties, and comforts them in his exhortation (aapakxwls) by showing them the unspeakably greater glory of the new covenant, in which they now stood by faith in the Saviour. Hence the subjects spoken of here are the priesthood, the sacrifice, the altar, the holy of holies. It is not, as in the epistles to the Galatians and Colossians, a question about circumcision, about things which are not lawful to eat, about ordinances—" Touch not, taste not, handle not." The Sanhedrim did not, and could not; interfere with their domestic and private religious life: it is the question of their Jewish citizenship—of their connection with the temple and its services—of their relation to the beloved city, and the chosen nation.

 In order to establish and comfort them in this temptation, the apostle unfolds the glory of the new covenant; reminding them both of the unity and connection, and the contrast which subsists between the two dispensations.

 He tells them that they are the true Israel, listening to the same God who spake of old by the prophets to the fathers, who had sent the perfect and ultimate revelation of Himself in His Son, who is Lord above all. Children of the law, which was given by the administration of angels, they were now reconciled and ruled over by the royal High Priest, whom the Father hath exalted above all principalities and powers. The disciples of Moses, who was faithful as a servant in all God's house, they were now partakers of Him who is the Lord and Master of the house, the Son, who abideth for ever. Brought into the promised land by Joshua, they had now, through faith, entered into rest, of which their history was but the shadow and imperfect type. And while the priesthood of Aaron was precious, as a picture and pattern of atonement and sympathy, Jesus was the true High Priest, who offered a perfect sacrifice, whose intercession is all-prevailing, whose compassionate love is boundless, and whose power and glory are the substantial and infinite fulfillment of the prophecy of Melchisedec. The tabernacle, with its symbols and services, was indeed glorious; but how much more glorious is the heavenly sanctuary, into which Christ has entered 1 and how much greater is the perfection, nearness, and liberty of worship, which He gives unto all His believers!

 " We have," the apostle says so frequently, because the Hebrews imagined that they had lost treasures and blessings. Though deprived of the temple, with its priesthood, and altar, and sacrifice, the apostle reminds them, "We have" the real and substantial temple, the great High Priest, the true altar, the one sacrifice, and with it all offerings, the true access into the very presence of the Most High.

 And having thus reminded them that the glory which pertaineth unto Israel {Rom. 9:4} was truly and fully theirs, he exhorts them to steadfast­ness, and encourages them by their whole past history, throughout which for thousands of years the one golden thread of faith and the scarlet thread of reproach and suffering marked the presence of Jehovah. Nay, from the beginning of the world the true people of God were despised and persecuted. Righteous Abel believed the sacrifice, and became a sacrifice. Enoch testified to an ungodly generation. Noah was the only one who saved himself and his household. Abraham and all the patriarchs were strangers and pilgrims; they had to leave their home and kindred; they had to sacrifice what was dearest; Moses had to suffer the reproach of Christ; all your ancestors and prophets lived and suffered in faith, waiting for the city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God. And He who is the crown of Israel, as well as Israel's Lord, Jesus, the root and offspring of David, in whom all Israel's history culminates, the glory of the temple, the Lord of the Sabhath, the messenger of the covenant; Jesus the Lord Himself was rejected by His people, and as a malefactor, as one unworthy to live in the beloved city, He was cast outside the camp, and there He was crucified and nailed to the accursed tree. If you are the true children of Abraham, if you are the true disciples of Jesus, do not wonder that your place is also outside the camp ; that you also are called to endure the cross and to despise the shame. Yet yours is even now the substance, and yours will be hereafter the joy.

 Hence in this epistle the peculiarly large and full meaning of the word faith. Throughout Scripture faith means more than trust in Jesus for personal safety. This is the central point, but we must take care that we understand it in a true and deep manner. Faith, as the apostle explains in the epistle to the Corinthians, is looking at the things which are not seen and temporal ; it is pre­ferring spiritual and eternal realities to the things of time, sense, and sin ; it is leaning on God and realizing His word ; it is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.

Thus every doctrine and illustration of this epistle goes straight to the heart and conscience, appeals to life, addresses itself to faith. It is one continued and sustained fervent and intense appeal to cleave to Jesus, the High Priest ; to the sub­stantial, true, and real worship; a most urgent and loving exhortation to be steadfast, patient, hopeful, in the presence of God, in the love and sympathy of the Lord Jesus, in the fellowship of the great cloud of witnesses.

 Whoever is the author of this epistle, its value and authority remain the same. " We may com­pare it to a painting of perfect beauty, which had been regarded as a work of Raphael. If it should be proved that it was not painted by Raphael, we have thereby not lost a classical piece of art, but gained another master of first rank."[Thiersch]But let us see how far the supposition of the Pauline authorship meets the circumstances.

 The apostle Paul, according to his own testi­mony, which is abundantly borne out by his life and sufferings, cherished an affection for his brethren which finds its equal only in the devotion of Moses, and was surpassed only by the Lord, from whom all love descends into human hearts. Though he rejoiced in the calling and faith of the Gentiles, his heart was continually with Israel. It was no doubt a trial to him that Christian Hebrews regarded him with something like suspicion. Much as he desired to confirm and comfort them, he could not write to them as an apostle. We see how very modestly he justifies his writing an epistle to the Romans ; in the same tone the author of the epistle to the Hebrews writes, " I beseech you, brethren, suffer the word of exhortation." Hence it appears natural that the apostle Paul should sink his individuality and apostleship as much as possible, and in harmony with the key-note struck in the first verse, “God spake," be to the Hebrews as the voice of one speaking truth and comfort to them in their hour of need and trial. In the concluding chapter it is difficult not to recognize the apostle Paul. A few expressions (as {Heb. 2: 3} (2)*[ii] seem such, as could not have come from his pen, (3)*[iii] and it is not un­natural to suppose that some Tertius was entrusted with more than the mere mechanical writing, with the formal and verbal arrangement of the argu­ment.

 But when we think of the depth and breadth of the epistle, when we remember the wisdom given to the apostle Paul, when we bear in mind that on this special point, the relation between the old and the new covenant, none was so fitted and gifted to teach the church as he, (4)*[iv] we find it diffi­cult to waver in our decision, especially as so many collateral proofs seem to point to the same result. We have referred already to the testi­mony of the apostle Peter. We notice also the concluding benediction-mark of all Pauline epistles. Neither the Epistles of Peter, or John, or Jude, or James, conclude with words like these: Grace be with you all. {2Thess. 3:17}. The tradition of the Church in the East, where the Epistle was first received, is unanimous in asserting the author-ship of the apostle Paul. And thus we believe, that according to the word of the Lord Jesus, when He appeared unto this chosen vessel, the apostle Paul, after testifying to the Gentiles and to kings, last of all in this epistle unfolds to the children of Israel the glory of the Messiah and His kingdom. However this may be, the epistle is in full and striking harmony with all Pauline teaching ; it is in full harmony with all other por­tions of the Scripture ; for it is not the word of man, but written by inspiration of God.

 It is an epistle which enters deeply into the truth as it is in Jesus. It offers strong meat to them that are of full age ; it goes on unto perfection. Let us approach this portion of the divine word with reverence, and with a deep sense of our de­pendence on the teaching and influence of the Holy Ghost. Our very weakness, and the pecu­liar trial of the present time, render this epistle more suitable to our need, and encourage us to hope that it will prove a word of exhortation to our hearts, establishing them in faith and love. Above all, let us bear in mind that, as the true difficulty throughout Scripture is our unwillingness to deny ourselves and to take up our cross, so this epistle, throughout, bears the inscription, " Outside the Camp." Every step of true progress is a step " outside the camp " with Jesus, who was crucified outside the gate. If we know the cross of Jesus, not merely as a doctrine, but a power of life, we possess the golden key which opens the treasuries of revelation.(5)*[v]

 Jesus, the Son of God, exalted above all, in-finitely high above us, and unspeakably near us in the power and sympathy of His High-priestly intercession, is set before us in this solemn and heart-stirring epistle. To look constantly and steadfastly unto Him, and with Him to be sepa­rated from the world, waiting for the glory of His second coming;—behold, here is wisdom and the patience of the saints.


 

[i] (1)* The apostle leads us also into the depths of Christ's humili­ation. Nowhere in Scripture is the humanity of Christ so fully revealed; nowhere are we so fully taught the sufferings through which the Son was made perfect, and the experiences of His earthly life, on which His sympathy with us is based.

  

[ii] (2)* According to a statement of Clement, Pantaenus, head of the Alexandrian school, held the apostle Paul to be the author, and explained this difficulty by saying that he who was the apostle of the Gentiles could not speak of himself as apostle of the Hebrews, as the Lord Himself was the apostle of God to Israel.

  

[iii] (3)* The question of the authorship of our epistle is difficult and complicated. The opinion that the apostle Paul is the author, though not the writer and composer, seems on the whole the most probable. The testimony of the ancient Eastern Churches is im­portant. It is true that style and diction differ from that of the Pauline epistles, excelling it in purity, regularity, and smoothness. But this and other difficulties would be sufficiently accounted for by the supposition, already referred to, that the epistle was Pauline in thought, design, and argument, but not Pauline in its actual form. With regard to doctrine, the parallels with (other) Pauline epistles are striking and numerous, although the epistle contains several peculiarities of doctrinal statement. In no other portion of Scripture (not merely Pauline) is Christ represented as High Priest (the isolated passages, Psalm cx. and Zech. iii., excepted). The emphasis with which the humanity and the sympathy of our blessed Lord are mentioned requires also notice, as well as the peculiar importance attached to the ascension of Christ and the heavenly sanctuary. But the epistle itself accounts for these peculiarities, which are moreover in full harmony with the teaching of the apostle Paul.

 

The hypothesis, first started by Luther, that Apollos wrote the epistle, is ingenious, and meets to a large extent the difficulties real or supposed. But there is no historical foundation for it Resemblances between our epistle in thought and l pnilden and the writings of Luke have been pointed out.

 

The first impression of the simple reader, that he is listening to the words of him whom we so naturally call the apostle, is likely correct, though the question of the actual writer may remain un­solved. The following incidental remarks of Mallet are forcible : "Where do we find beside the apostle a theologian who could have written this epistle? Who beside him would have ventured to write it with such decided apostolic authority ? And who had greater reason to write anonymously to Israel than the apostle who loved his people so fervently, and who was so hated by them that they refused to listen to his voice and to read his writings ?" Although the authorship of Isaiah xL-lxvi. is much more clearly and fully established, we may say both of that prophetic section and the epistle to the Hebrews, how could the authors of such writings, transcendently beautiful and glorious even among Biblical books, remain anonymous?

 

[iv] (4)* " Comparing the manner of argument," says Lightfoot, "with the Talmuds Zohar, and Rabboth, and such like, you might easily tell with whom he is dealing, though the epistle was not inscribed to the Hebrews; the very style of it may argue the scholar of GamalieL" And we may add the matter of it marks one " who had profited in the Jews' religion more than many ;" and in my mind this suffi­ciently accounts for the writer's name being suppressed, not because the apostle of the Gentiles desired to address the Jews anonymously, but because he wished to sink his apostolic authority, and to argue with the Jews upon their acknowledged principles."—GEORGE VISCOUNT MANDEVILLE, Horne Hebraicae .pp. 5 and 6..

  

[v] (5)* "The veil which is spread over the Scriptures for the Jews is also there for false Christians, and for all who do not hate them-selves. But only let a man be sincerely disposed to hate himself, and how eager will he be to understand them, and to obtain the knowledge of Jesus Christi—Rue-Al.'s Possess.