An Exposition of Hebrews
by A. W. Pink
Two Christians Described
The passage which is to be before us is in strong and blessed contrast from what we found in verses 4-6. There we beheld a class of people highly favored, blest with grand external privileges, richly gifted, and wrought upon by the Holy Spirit. There we see the faculties of the natural man’s soul wound up to their highest pitch: the conscience searched, the understanding enlightened, the affections drawn out, and the will moved to action. There we have described the character of a class which constitutes a very large proportion of those who profess the name of Christ. Yet, though they have never been born again, though they are unsaved, though their end is destruction, nevertheless, it is by no means an easy matter for a real child of God to identify them. Oftentimes their head-knowledge of the truth, their zeal for religion, their moral qualities, put him to shame. Still, if he weigh them in the balances of the sanctuary, they will be found wanting.
The careful reader of the four Gospels, will discover that in the days of His flesh, the Lord Jesus healed those concerning whom nothing is recorded of their faith. The blessings which He dispensed were not restricted to His disciples. Temporal mercies were bestowed upon natural men as well as upon spiritual. And, be it carefully noted, this was something more, something in addition to, the providential goodness of the Creator, which is extended to all of Adam’s race: "He maketh His sun to rise, on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust" (Matthew 5:45). Rather did those gracious acts of Christ unto the unbelieving, foreshadow that which we designated in the preceding article, the inferior operations of His Spirit. On a few Christ bestowed spiritual blessings, saving mercies; to others, He imparted temporal blessings, mercies which came short of saving their recipients.
In our last article we made reference to James 1:17: "Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above". We believe that, in keeping with the character, theme and purpose of that epistle, those words have reference to two distinct classes of gifts, for two different classes of people: the "good" referring to those bestowed, under Gospel-ministry on the non-elect; the "perfect" imparted to God’s own people. A scripture which we believe supplies strong corroboration of this is found in Psalm 68:18. There, in a Messianic prophecy concerning the ascension of Christ, we read, "Thou hast received gifts for men; yea, for the rebellious also": gifts are bestowed by Christ on two distinct classes. It is to be particularly observed that a part of this verse is quoted by the Spirit in Ephesians 4:8; part of it we say, for its closing words, "the rebellious also" are there omitted. And why? Because in Ephesians it is the elect of God (see Hebrews 1:3, 4 etc.) who are in view. Yet, in addition to them, Christ has received "gifts" for the "rebellious also"; that is, for the non-elect too.
Few indeed have perceived that there is a double work of GOD being prosecuted under the ministry of the Gospel. Plain intimation of this is found in the words of Christ in Matthew 22:14, "For many are called, but few chosen." Half of the human race has never heard the Gospel; those who have, are divided into four classes, as Christ has taught us in His parable of the Sower. The "wayside" hearers are those upon whom the preaching of the Gospel produces no effect. The "stony" and the "thorny" ground hearers are they which form a very large percentage of "church members" or who are "in fellowship" with those known as "the Brethren". Of these it is said that they "for a while believe" (Luke 8:13); nor are they unproductive, yet they "bring no fruit to perfection" (Luke 8:14). In them the "enmity" of the carnal mind is, to a considerable extent, subdued; yet it is not vanquished. There is a work of the Spirit upon them, yet it falls short of the new creation. They are "called" but not "chosen".
Only as due attention is paid to the distinction just noted, are we really able to appreciate the point and meaning of the qualifying language which the Spirit of God has used when speaking of the saving call of God’s elect. For example, in Romans 8:28, they are denominated the called "according to His purpose", which notes a distinction from others who receive an inferior "call" according to His providence, under the general proclamation of the Gospel. So too in 2 Timothy 1:9 we read of those "called with a holy calling... according to His own purpose and grace", which is the language of discrimination, signifying there are others called yet not with "a holy calling". So again in 1 Peter 5:10, "The God of all grace, who hath called us unto His eternal glory", is in antithesis from the many who are only called unto a temporal righteousness in this world.
It needs to be very carefully noted that the "us" of the Epistles is frequently used with a far narrower discrimination than from all the rest of the world: very often the "us" is in contrast from the great crowd of lifeless professors which ever surrounds the little handful of God’s true people—professors which, though spiritually lifeless, are yet to be distinguished from the vast multitudes of non-professors; distinguished by a real work of the Holy Spirit upon them, but still an abortive work. Of this class the Epistle of James has much to say. Concerning them John, in his first Epistle, declares "They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us" (Heb. 2:19). A work of "calling" must have been wrought upon them, for they had once separated from the world, and united themselves with the true people of God. Moreover, that work of "calling" must have produced such a change in them that they had been accounted real Christians, or otherwise they had not been admitted among such.
The occasion of Christ’s uttering those words "For many are called, but few chosen" (Matthew 22:14) is exceedingly solemn and searching. The context records the parable of the wedding-feast of the King’s Son. First, the invitation to it had been given to the Jews, but they despised it, mistreated God’s servants, and, in consequence, their city was destroyed. Then God’s servants are sent forth into the Gentile highways to bring in others. But when the King inspects the guests, He sees a man "which had not on a wedding-garment". The awful sentence goes forth, "Bind him hand and foot, and take him away, and cast him into outer darkness." Immediately after, Christ said, "For many are called, but few chosen".
Now in sharp and blessed contrast from the many professing the name of Christ who have received only the inferior call of God through the Gospel—a call which, yet, leads them to assent to the doctrine of His word, which brings them to espouse the outward cause of Christ in this world, which produces a real reformation in their ways, so that they become respectable and useful members of their community, as well as provide a measure of protection to the few of God’s "chosen" from the openly antagonistic world;—our present passage treats of "the remnant according to the election of grace" (Rom. 11:5). This is clear from its opening words, "But, beloved, we are persuaded better things of you." The "But" sets these "beloved" ones in opposition from those mentioned in verse 8. The "better things" also points an antithesis. "Better" is an adjective in the comparative degree, set over against something which is merely "good". Those described in verses 4, 5 had good things, yet these possessed something far better. Mark how this confirms what we have said on James 1:17!
In verses 9-12 we find the apostle doing three things: first, he expresses his good will towards the Hebrew saints; second, he declares his judgment concerning their state; third, he gives the grounds upon which his judgment was based. His aim was that they should make a proper use of what he had set before them in the first eight verses, so that on the one hand they might not be discouraged, and on the other hand not become careless. We subjoin Dr. J. Brown’s summary of our passage. "The general meaning of this paragraph, all the parts of which are closely connected together, plainly is: The reason why I have made these awful statements about apostates, is not because I consider you whom I am addressing as apostates for your conduct proves that this is not your character, and the promise of God secures that this doom shall not be yours; but that you may be stirred up to persevering steadiness in the faith, and hope, and obedience of the truth, by a constant continuance in which alone you can, like those who have gone before you, obtain in all their perfections the promised blessings of the Christian salvation."
"But, beloved" (verse 9). This term testified to the apostle’s good will toward and affection in the Hebrew saints. Such an expression was more than the formal language of courtesy; it revealed the warmth of Paul’s heart for God’s people. Though he had spoken severely to them in Hebrews 5:11-14, it was not because he was unkindly disposed toward them. Love is faithful, and because it seeks the highest good of its objects, will reprove, rebuke, admonish, when occasion calls for it. Spiritual love is regulated not by impulse, but by principle. Herein it differs from the backboneless amiability and affability of the flesh, and from the maudlin sentimentality of the day. "We hence conclude, that not only the reprobates ought to be reproved, severely, and with sharp earnestness, hut also the elect themselves, even those whom we deem to be children of God" (John Calvin).
"The apostle hastens to comfort and encourage, lest the Hebrews should be overwhelmed with fear and sorrow, or lest they should think that their condition was regarded by him as hopeless. The affection of the writer is now eager to inspire hope, and to draw them with the cords of love. The word ‘beloved’ is introduced here most appositely, a term of endearment which occurs frequently in other epistles, but only once in ours; not that the apostle was not filled with true and fervent love to the Hebrew Christians, but that he felt obliged to restrain as it were his feelings, by reason of the prejudices against him. But here the expression bursts forth, as in a moment of great danger or of anxious suspense the heart will speak out in tender language (Adolph Saphir).
"But, beloved, we are persuaded better things of you". In these words the apostle sets forth his judgment concerning the spiritual state of the Hebrews (cf. Hebrews 3:1). The "persuasion" here did not amount to an infallible certitude, but was a strong confidence based on good grounds. It is similar to what we find in Romans 15:14, "I myself also am persuaded of you my brethren, that ye also are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge, able also to admonish one another". So again in 2 Timothy 1:5, "When I call to remembrance the unfeigned faith that is in thee, which dwelt first in thy grandmother Lois, and thy mother Eunice; and I am persuaded that in thee also." However low the spiritual condition of these Hebrews (Heb. 5:11-14), there had been, and still was found in them, fruit, such as manifested them to be truly regenerated souls. It ever holds good that a tree is known by its fruits, hence, the genuineness of my Christian profession is evidenced by what I bring forth, or its worthlessness by what I fail to produce. There may be a "form of godliness" (2 Tim. 3:5), but if the power thereof be "denied" by my works (Titus 1:16) then is it profitless and vain.
"But, beloved, we are persuaded better things of you." It is the bounden duty of every pastor to ascertain the spiritual condition of his people: "Be thou diligent to know the state of thy flocks" (Prov. 27:23). This is very necessary if the servant of God is to minister suitably and seasonably. While he is ignorant of their state, he knows not when or how to rebuke or console, to warn or encourage. A general preaching at random is little more than a useless formality. A physician of bodies must acquaint himself with the condition of his patients, otherwise he cannot prescribe intelligently or effectually. Equally so it is with a physician of souls. The same principle holds good in the fellowship of Christians one with another. I cannot really love a brother with the Gospel-love which is required of me, unless I have a well-grounded persuasion that he is a brother.
"And things that accompany salvation" (verse 9). The word "accompany" signifies "conjoined with", or inseparable from, that which has a sure connection with "salvation". The principal things that "accompany salvation" are sorrow for and hatred of sin, humility or self-abnegation, the peace of God comforting the conscience, godly fear or the principle of obedience, a diligent perseverance in using the appointed means of grace and pressing forward in the race set before us, the spirit of prayer, and a joyous expectation of being conformed to the image of Christ and spending eternity with Him. True Gospel faith and sincere obedience are far "better things" than the most dazzling gifts ever bestowed on unregenerate professors.
To believe on Christ is very much more than my understanding assenting and my will consenting to the fact that He is a Savior for sinners, and ready to receive all who will come to Him. To be received by Christ, I must come to Him renouncing all my righteousness (Rom. 10:3), as an empty-handed beggar (Matthew 19:21). But more; to be received by Christ, I must come to Him forsaking my self-will and rebellion against Him (Ps. 2:11, 12; Proverbs 28:13). Should an insurrectionist and seditionist come to an earthly king seeking his sovereign favor and pardon, then, obviously, the very law of his coming to him for forgiveness requires that he should come on his knees, laying aside his hostility. So it is with a sinner who comes to Christ for pardon; it is against the law of faith to do otherwise.
An "unfeigned faith" (2 Tim. 1:5) in Christ, is one which submits to His yoke and bows to His authority. There is no such thing in Scripture as receiving Christ as Savior without also receiving Him as Lord: "As ye have therefore received Christ Jesus the Lord, walk ye in Him" (Col. 2:6). If it be an honest and genuine faith, it is inseparably connected with a spirit of obedience, a desire to please Him, a resolve to not henceforth live unto self, but unto Him which died for me (2 Cor. 5:15). The man who really thinks he has a saving faith in Christ, but yet has no concern for His glory and no heart for His commandments, is blinded by Satan. There are things which "accompany salvation", that have a certain connection therewith. As light is inseparable from the shining of the sun, as heat is inseparable from fire, so good works are inseparable from a saving faith.
"Though we thus speak" (verse 9). The reference is to what the apostle had said about apostates in verses 6, 8, and which had been written to these Hebrews as a solemn and searching warning for them to take to heart. "In the visible professing church, all things outwardly seemed to be equal. There are the same ordinances administered unto all, the same profession of faith is made by all, the same outward duties are attended unto, and scandalous offenses are by all avoided. But yet things are not internally equal. In a great house, there are vessels of wood and stone, as well as of gold and silver. All that eat outwardly of the bread of life, do not feed on the hidden manna. All that have their names enrolled in the church’s book, may yet not have them written in the Lamb’s book. There are yet better things than gifts, profession, participation of ordinances and whatever is of the like nature. And the use hereof in one word is to warn all sorts of persons, that they rest not in, that they take not up with an interest in, or participation of the privileges of the church, with a common profession, which may give them a name to live; seeing they may be dead or in a perishing condition in the meantime" (Dr. John Owen).
"For God is not unrighteous to forget your work" (verse 10). Here the apostle makes known the ground on which his "persuasion" rested, and that was, the unchanging faithfulness of God toward His covenant promises unto His people, and why he believed that these Hebrews were numbered among them. The foundation on which confidence should rest concerning my own security unto eternal glory, as that of my fellow-Christians, is nothing in the creature. "It is of the Lord’s mercies that we are not consumed" (Lam. 3:22). The believer’s perseverance is not the cause but the consequence of God’s preservation.
"For God is not unrighteous to forget your work". A scripture which enables us to understand the force of these words is 1 John 1:9, "If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins". God is "faithful" to His covenant engagements with us in the person of His Son; "just", to the full satisfaction which He rendered unto Him. The very justice of God is engaged on the behalf of those whom Christ redeemed. His veracity towards us is pledged: "In hope of eternal life, which God, that cannot lie, promised before the world began" (Titus 1:2). And because God is immutable, without variableness or shadow of turning, He cannot go back on His own oath: "For I am the Lord, I change not; therefore ye sons of Jacob are not consumed" (Mal. 3:6). Therefore have we the absolute assurance that "He which hath begun a good work in you will finish it" (Phil. 1:6).
"For God is not unrighteous to forget your work". Some have found a difficulty here, because these words seem to teach that heaven is a reward earned by good works. But the difficulty is more seeming than real. What God rewards is only what He Himself hath wrought in us: it is the Father’s recognition of the Spirit’s fruit. "The act of a benefactor in entering into engagements with his beneficiary may be wholly gratuitous, and yet, out of his act, rights may grow up to the beneficiary. The advantages thus acquired are not the less gracious, because they have become rights; for they originated in free grace" (Dr. Sampson, 1857). It may look now as though God places little value on sincere obedience to Him, that in this world the man who lives for self gains more than he who lives for Christ; yet, in a soon-coming day it shall appear far otherwise.
"For God is not unrighteous to forget your works". "God does not pay us a debt, but performs what He has of Himself freely promised, and not so much on our works, as on His own grace in our works; nay, He looks not so much on our works, as on His own grace in our works. And this is to be ‘righteous’, for He cannot deny Himself . . . God is righteous in recompensing works, because He is true and faithful; and He has made Himself a debtor to us, not by receiving anything from us, but, as Augustine says, by freely promising all things" (John Calvin). They who imagine there is an inconsistency between the God of all grace "rewarding" His people, will do well to ponder carefully the Reformer’s words.
"Your work". We believe the reference here is to their faith. First, because he is here speaking of the "things that accompany salvation", and faith is inseparable therefrom. Second, because faith "worketh by love" (Gal. 5:6), and the very next thing mentioned in our verse is their "labor of love". Third, because in 1 Thessalonians 1:3 we read of the "work of faith, and labor of love, and patience of hope", and in Hebrews 6:11, we have their "hope" mentioned. Should it be inquired, Why did the apostle omit the express mention of "faith" here? We answer, Because their faith was so small and feeble. To have commended their faith directly, would have weakened the force of his repeated exhortations in Hebrews 3:12, 4:1, 2, 6:12, 12:1 etc. "Your work" refers not to any single work, but to a course of working, i.e., the whole course of obedience to God, of which faith is the principle moving thereunto. Evangelical obedience is thus denominated "your work" because this is what they had been regenerated unto (see Ephesians 2:10), and because such a course calls for activity, pains, toil; cf. "all diligence" (2 Pet. 1:5).
A living faith is a working faith (James 2:17). Two things are plainly and uniformly taught throughout the New Testament. Justification is by faith, and not by works, (Rom. 4, etc.). Yet, such justifying faith is a living, operative, fruitful faith, evidencing itself by obedience to the commands of God (1 John 2:4, etc.). Christ gave Himself for us that "He might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto Himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works" (Titus 2:14). This greatly needs emphasizing today and pressing repeatedly upon those professing to be believers in the Lord Jesus, for multitudes of these have a name to live, but "art dead" (Rev. 3:1). Their faith is not that of God’s elect (Titus 1:1), but nothing better or different than that which the demons have (James 2:19).
"Your faith and the labor of love", for so the Greek reads. These were the evidences upon which the apostle grounded his confidence concerning the Hebrew saints. Five things are to be noted. First this distinguishing grace, their "labor of love": let the reader turn to and ponder carefully 1 John 3:16-19; 4:7-12. "Mutual love among believers is a fruit of the Spirit of holiness, and an effect of faith, whereby being knit together in the bond of entire spiritual affection, on the account of their joint interest in Christ; and participation of the same, new, divine, spiritual nature from God, they do value, delight and rejoice in one another, and are mutually helpful in a constant discharge of all those duties whereby their eternal, spiritual and temporal good may be promoted" (Dr. John Owen). Note "labor of love": a lazy love, like that of James 2:15, 16, is no evidence of saving faith. True love is active, diligent, untiring.
"Which ye have showed". This gives us the second feature of their love. It was not a secret and un-manifested love: but one that had been plainly evidenced in a practical way. In James 2:18 the professor is challenged to "show" his faith, today it would also be pertinent to ask many of those who bear the name of Christ to "show" their love, especially along the line of 1 John 5:2. "Which ye have showed toward His name," defines, third, the end before them in the exercise of their ardent love in ministering to the saints. The words last quoted have a threefold force. Objectively, because God’s name is upon His people (Eph. 3:15). It is both blessed and solemn to know that whatever is done unto the people of God, whether it be good or evil, is done toward the name of Christ: Matthew 25:34-45. Formally: they ministered to the saints as the people of God. This it is which gives spiritual love its distinctive character: when it is exercised to souls because God’s name is on them. Efficiently: the "name of God" stands for His authority. God requires His people to love one another, and when they do so out of obedience to Him, it is, necessarily, done "toward His name", having respect to His will.
"In that ye have ministered to the saints, and do minister". This tells us, fourth, the manner in which their love had been exercised: in an untiring service. Fifth, it announces, the objects of their love, God’s "saints". Many of God’s people are in various kinds of temporal distress, and one reason why their loving Father permits this is, that their brethren and sisters in Christ may have the holy privilege of ministering to them: see Romans 15:25-27, 2 Corinthians 8:21, 9:11-15. But let such ministry be rendered not from sentimental considerations, nor to satisfy an uneasy conscience, still less with the object of vain glory, to gain a reputation for benevolence; rather let it be "shown toward His name". It is the owning of His authority, the conscious performance of His will, which alone gives life, spirituality and acceptance unto all those duties of love which we are able to perform to others.
In summing up the teaching of verses 9, 10, let us observe how the apostle justified the Hebrews according to his Master’s rule in Matthew 7:15-20. Genuine Christians give plain evidence that their profession of the Gospel is accompanied by transforming grace. The obedience of faith and the labor of love toward the saints—not from human instincts, but out of submission to the revealed will of God—both in the past and in the present, were the visible ground of Paul’s good persuasion concerning them. It is important to note what were the particular graces singled out for mention. The apostle says nothing about their clear views of the truth, their missionary activities, zeal for "their church"—which are the things that many formal professors boast in.
"And we desire that every one of you do show the same diligence to the full assurance of hope unto the end" (verse 11). The apostle looks back to the exhortation of v. 1 and also the solemn warning pointed in verses 4-8. His purpose had been to excite them unto a diligent persevering continuance in faith and in love, with the fruits thereof. All he had said was unto this end. The closer connection of this verse with the preceding one is: having expressed his conviction about their spiritual state, and having assured them of a blessed issue of their faith from the fidelity of God, he now presses upon them their responsibility to answer to the judgment he had formed of them, by diligent progress unto the end.
In this verse (11) the apostle, with heavenly wisdom, makes known the proper use and end of Gospel threatenings (verses 6-8), and Gospel promises (verses 9, 10): either may be, and often are, abused. Many have looked upon threatenings as serving no other purpose than a terrifying of the minds of men, causing them to despair; as if the things threatened must inevitably be their portion. Few have known how to make a right application of them to their consciences. On the other hand, many have abused the promises of God: those who had no title to such have suffered themselves to be deceived, and to be so falsely comforted by them to lie down in a carnal security, imagining that no evil could befall them. But here the apostle reveals the proper end of each, both to believers and unbelievers: the threatenings should stir up to earnest examination of the foundation of our hope; the promises should encourage unto a constant and patient diligence in all the duties of obedience. What wisdom is needed by a minister of the Gospel to make a proper and due use of both upon his hearers!
"And", or rather (Greek) "But we desire". In verses 9,10 the apostle had told them what was not his object in making to them the statements of verses 4-8; now he tells them what it was. The word "desire" here signifies an intense longing; without this, preaching is cold, formal, lifeless. "That every one of you": the loving care and untiring efforts of the minister should be extended to all the members of his flock. The oldest, as much as the youngest, is in need of constant exhortation. "Do show the same diligence... unto the end". Unless this be done, our profession will not be preserved nor God glorified. Paul knew nothing of that half-heartedness and sluggish neglect of the means of grace which today satisfies the generality of those bearing the name of Christ. "Give thyself wholly to them" (1 Tim. 4–15).
Many are very "diligent" in their worldly business, still more are most punctual in prosecuting their round of pleasure and fleshly gratification; but there are very few indeed who exercise a godly concern for their souls. To an earnest endeavor after personal holiness, the work of faith and labor of love, the vast majority of professors are strangers, nor can they be persuaded that any such things are required or expected from them. They may be regular attenders of "church" from force of custom; they may perform certain acts of charity for the sake of their reputation; but to be really exercised in heart as to how they may please and honor God in the details of their lives, they know nothing and care still less. Such are destitute of those things which "accompany salvation"; they are deluded and lost souls. Make no mistake, my reader, unless there is in you a work of faith in keeping God’s commandments, and a labor of love toward His saints as such, then "the root of the matter" (Job 19:28) is not in you. This is the test of profession, and the rule whereby each of us shall be measured.
Nor can this work of faith and labor of love be persisted in without studious diligence and earnest endeavor. It calls for the daily searching of the Scriptures, and that, not for intellectual gratification, but to learn God’s will for my walk. It calls for watchfulness and prayer against every temptation which would turn me aside from following Christ. It requires that I should rightly abstain from "fleshly lusts that war against the soul" (1 Pet. 2:11), yielding myself unto God as one that is passed from death unto life, and my members "as instruments of righteousness unto God" (Rom. 6:13). It requires that I "lay aside every weight" (whatever hinders vital godliness) and the sin which doth so easily beset (the love of self), and run (which calls for the putting forth of all our energies) the race that is set before us" (Heb. 12:1, 2),and that race is a fleeing from the things of this doomed world, with our faces set steadfastly towards God. Those who despise, or even continue to neglect such things, are only nominal Christians.
This "diligence" is to be shown "to the full assurance of hope". Full assurance here signifies a firm conviction or positive persuasion. "Hope" in the New Testament means an ardent desire for and strong expectation of obtaining its object. Faith looks to the Promiser, hope to the things promised. Faith begets hope. God has promised His people perfect deliverance from sin and all its troubles, and full enjoyment of everlasting glory with Himself. Faith rests on the power and veracity of God to make good His word. The heart ponders these blessings, and sees them as yet future. Hope values and anticipates the realization of them. Like faith, "hope" has its degrees. "Full assurance of hope" signifies a steady prevailing persuasion, a persuasion which issues from faith in the promises made concerning "good things to come". The "diligence" before mentioned, is God’s appointed means toward this full assurance: compare 2 Peter 1:10, 11. To cherish a hope of Heaven while I am living to please self is wicked presumption. "Unto the end": no furloughs are granted to those called upon to "fight the good fight of faith" (1 Tim. 6:12); there is no discharge from that warfare as long as we are left upon the field of battle. No spiritual state is attainable in this life, where "reaching forth unto those things which are before" (Phil. 3:13) becomes unnecessary.