An Exposition of Hebrews
by A. W. Pink
The Perfecting of the Church
The connection between our present passage and the verses preceding is so close, the relation between them so intimate, that what is now to be before us cannot be understood, and appreciated apart from the other. The design of the whole is to show the superlative excellency of the sacrifice of Christ and what it has procured for His people, with the inevitable setting aside of all the typical offerings. This great change in the outward worship of God’s saints on earth was no temporary expediency in view of the failures of fleshly Israel, but was ordained by the Divine counsels before the foundation of the world, recorded in the Book of God’s decrees, and, in due time, transcribed upon the pages of Holy Scripture; the 40th Psalm having announced the alteration which was to be brought about by the incarnation and advent to this earth of the Son of God.
Most blessedly does that Messianic Psalm acquaint us with what passed between the Father and the Son and of the covenant agreed upon by Them. Most blessedly are we there shown not only the Son’s acquiescence to the Father’s purpose, but also His readiness and joy to execute the same. The strenuous undertaking was to rest upon His shoulder, the burden and heat of the day was to be borne by Him, the humiliation and pains of death wire to be His portion; yet so far from rebelling against this frightful ordeal, He exclaimed "I delight to do Thy will, O My God" (Ps. 40:8). So dear to Him was the Father’s glory, so filled with zeal was He to accomplish His counsels, so deep was His longing to magnify His law and make it honorable, that His very "meat" was to do and accomplish His will. Never did famished mortal so crave food to satisfy hunger, as did the God-man Mediator to perform the Father’s pleasure.
He too knew full well that the blood of bulls and goats could never repair the damage which sin had wrought. He too had heartily concurred in tee august Council of the Trinity that, if satisfaction were to be made unto Divine justice, then an adequate one should be given, one which should be suited in every way to meet all the aspects of the case. Inasmuch as it was man who had revolted against the Divine government and broken the Divine law, He was willing to become Man, and in the same nature which had apostatized from God render perfect obedience to Him. Inasmuch as "the Law" was the rule of obedience (Jer. 31:33), comprehending all God’s demands, the entire service of love which creatures owe unto their Maker, the Son consented to be "made under the law" (Gal. 4:4) and "fulfill" its precepts (Matthew 5:17). Inasmuch as the penalty of that law was death unto the transgressor, He agreed to be "made a curse for us."
It was not that all of this was forced on the Son, but that He freely agreed thereto. If there are verses which tell us the Father "sent" the Son, there are other passages which declare that the Son "came." Blessedly was this foreshadowed in Genesis 22, where we behold an earthly adumbration of that "counsel of peace" which was between "Both" the Father and the son (Zech. 6:13). There we are shown a human father willing to sacrifice his beloved son upon the altar, and there too we see a human son (then fully grown) willing to be slain! Marvelously did that set forth the mutual consent of the Divine persons with regard to the Great Transaction. Mark attentively, those precious words, "So they went both of them together" (Gen. 22:8)! As we follow Isaac upon mount Moriah, his actions said, "Lo, I come to do Thy will, O my God."
In man three things combine to the doing of a thing. First, there is the exercise of will, which is the prime mover and spring of all the rest. Second, there is the exercise of wisdom, by which he plans and arranges. Third, the putting forth of strength to accomplish the same. So it is in the Divine Trinity in connection with the salvation of the Church and all that that entails. "Will" is more generally ascribed to the Father: Matthew 11:26, Ephesians 1:11, etc. "Wisdom" is more eminently attributed to the Son, the "Wonderful Counselor," called so often "Wisdom" in the book of Proverbs, Luke 7:35, 11:49 etc. "Might" to the Holy Spirit—Luke 1:35, where He is designated "the Power of the Highest." The Father contrived the great work of redemption, the Son transacted it, and the Holy Spirit applies the same. Here in Hebrews 10 things are traced back to the first great cause of our salvation, namely, the sovereign will of the Father.
The closer the whole passage be read, the more will it appear that the apostle was moved to ascend in thought to the originating source of redemption. In verse 5 we hear the Lord Jesus saying to the Father concerning the legal sacrifices, "Thou wouldest not," i.e. they were not what Thou didst eternally purpose should take away sins. To this He adds, "But a body hast Thou prepared Me," which (as we have shown) in its deepest meaning signifies: a human nature hast Thou ordained for Me, to be the meet vehicle of service in which I should render an adequate satisfaction. Next, He makes reference to the Book of God’s eternal decrees, in view of which He declares, "I come to do Thy will, O God." Finally, the Holy Spirit sums up the whole by affirming "in the which will we are sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once."
We feel it a bounden duty to enlarge upon this fundamental truth, the more so in view of the present almost universal denial of the absolute sovereignty of God. The Holy Spirit has Himself here emphasized the fact that God’s imperial pleasure was the sole moving-cause even in that greatest of all the Divine works, through which is communicated the chiefest glory to God and highest good to His people. God was under no necessity to save any. He "spared not the angels that sinned, but cast them down to hell" (2 Pet. 2:4); and had it so pleased Him, He had done the same with the whole human race. There was no necessity in His nature which compelled or even required Him to show mercy; had there been, mercy had been bestowed on the fallen angels! The Almighty is under no restraint either from anything outside or anything inside Himself; to affirm the contrary, would be to repudiate the absolute freedom of His will.
Still less was God under any necessity of giving His own beloved Son if He chose to redeem a part of Adam’s race. He who declares, "All nations before Him are as nothing: and they are counted to Him less than nothing, and vanity. To whom then will ye liken God?" (Isa. 40:17, 18) is not to be measured by human reason nor limited by our unbelief. Had God so pleased He had made this earth a thousand times bigger than it is; and had He so pleased, He had created it a thousand times smaller. In like manner, He was absolutely free to use whatsover means He determined in order to save His people from their sins. The sending forth of His Son to be made of a woman and to die upon the cross, was not a work of His nature, but of His will; as He now begets us "of His own will" (James 1:18). True it "became" Him so to do (Heb. 2:10), and He is infinitely honored thereby, yet He could have refused had He so pleased.
Thus, the "will" of God referred to throughout Hebrews 10 is that eternal, gracious, free purpose, by which God determined in Himself to recover His elect out of lost mankind, to remove their sins, sanctify their persons, and bring them nigh unto the everlasting enjoyment of Himself. This act of the will of God was without any meritorious cause foreseen in them, and altogether apart from anything outside Himself to dispose Him thereto. It was His own free and uncaused act by which God purposed so to do. Nor have we the smallest occasion to regard this supremacy of the Most High with any aversion. God is no Tyrant, nor does He act capriciously, His will is a wise and holy one, therefore do we read of Him working "all things after the counsel of His own will" (Eph. 1:11), and therefore did He devise a plan whereby His grace might be most magnified.
It was for this reason He determined that His people should be saved in such a way as to remove all ground for boasting in themselves, and to glory only in God Himself. Therefore did He appoint His own Son to be their Savior, and that by rendering to Him such a satisfaction as would meet every requirement of justice and every demand of the most enlightened conscience. God’s end and aim in giving Christ to die was to advance the glory of His grace, which consists in having the monarchy and sole prerogative in saving sinners attributed unto it; the highest of whose honor and eminency is this, that it alone "reigns" (Rom. 5:21), and hath not and could not have any competitor therein. As it is the excellency of God that He is God alone, and there is none beside Him, so it is of His Son that He is Savior alone and there is none beside Him (Acts 4:12).
Unto God the Son, made Man, has been assigned an office which no creature in earth or heaven could possibly fill. The fullest trial and manifestation of this is made in a case of less difficulty (than that of making satisfaction to Divine justice for sin) in Revelation 5. There we read of a challenge given, "Who is worthy to open the book"—which was sealed and held in the hand of God seated on His throne "and to loose the seals thereof?" Waiving the question as to what "book" this was, we note the response: "And no one in heaven, nor in earth, neither under the earth, was able to open the book, neither to look thereon" (verse 3). Even the beloved John was discouraged, and "wept much because no one was found worthy to open and to read the book" (verse 4). Mark the unspeakably blessed sequel: "One of the elders saith unto me, Weep not; behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, hath prevailed to open the book and to loose the seals thereof. And I beheld, and, Lo, in the midst of the throne... stood a Lamb as it had been slain... and He came and took the book out of the right hand of Him that sat upon the throne" (verses 5-7). If then no mere creature was fit to reveal redemption, how much less to effect it!
Thus, the origin of our salvation is found in the sovereign will of God; the means, in the satisfaction made by His incarnate Son. The two things are brought together in verse 10, "In the which will we are sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once." "In the which will" has reference to what is recorded in the Book of God’s decrees. That "will" was that His people should be "sanctified" unto Him, set apart with acceptance to Him. This was to be effected through "the offering" of Christ, which began at the first moment of His birth and ended when on the cross He cried, "It is finished." This was "once for all."
It was an absolute necessity that there should be these two things: the originating will of God the Father, the consenting will of the Mediator to make full satisfaction for sin. Necessary it was that the Father should be willing and call His Son to this work, for He was the person unto whom the satisfaction was to be made. Had Christ performed all that He did, freely and gladly, yet, unless the Father had first decreed that He should and had "called" Him unto it, then had He rejected the whole, asking "who hath required this at Thy hand?" Therefore has the Spirit insisted upon this foundational fact again and again in the course of this epistle: see Hebrews 2:10; 3:4, 5; 6:17 etc. Thus does Hebrews 10:10 ascribe as much, yea more, to God’s appointing and accepting of Christ’s sacrifice, as to the merits of Christ unto the sanctification of His people.
"And every priest standeth daily ministering and offering oftentimes the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins: But this Man, after He had offered one sacrifice for sins, for ever sat down on the right hand of God; from henceforth expecting, till His enemies be made His footstool. For by one offering He hath perfected forever them that are sanctified (verses 11-14). "These words are an entrance into the close of that long blessed discourse of the apostle, concerning the priesthood and sacrifice of Christ, their dignity and efficacy; which he shuts up and finisheth in the following verses, confirming the whole with the testimony of the Holy Spirit before producing by Him.
"Four things doth he here instruct us in, by way of recapitulation of what he had declared and proved before. 1. The state of the legal priests and sacrifices, as unto the recognition of them, by which he had proved before their utter insufficiency to take away sin (verse 11). 2. In that one offering of Christ, and that once offered, in opposition thereunto (verse 12). 3. The consequence thereof on the part of Christ; whereof there are two parts. First, His state and condition immediately ensuing thereon (verse 12), manifesting the dignity, efficacy and absolute perfection of His offering. Secondly, as unto the continuance of His state and condition afterwards (verse 13). 4. The absolute effect of his sacrifice, which was the sanctification of the Church (verse 14)" ( John Owen).
"And every priest standeth daily ministering and offering oftentimes the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins" (verse 11). The opening "And" links this verse with the 10th, for the purpose of accentuating the blessedness of what is there declared. Once more the Holy Spirit emphasizes the contrast between the all-sufficient offering of Christ and the unefficacious offerings under the law. This is brought out under five details, upon which there is little need for us to enlarge at length.
First, under the law the sacerdotal office was filled by many: attention is called to this by the "every priest," which is set over against the "this Man" of verse 12, who was competent by Himself to do all God required. Second, the Levitical priests stood. This was true both of the high priests and of all under him. No chair or seat was provided for them in either the tabernacle or temple, for their work was never ended. Third, they were employed daily, which showed they were unable to do immediately and once for all that which would satisfy God. Fourth, they oftentimes presented "the same sacrifices": true, they varied in detail and design, nevertheless they had this in common, that, they were irrational creatures, incapable of offering intelligent and acceptable obedience to God. Fifth, they could not meet the infinite demands of justice, expiate sins, nor provide a permanent resting-place for an exercised conscience.
An improvement should be made of what has just been before us, by pointing out the utter worthlessness of all human devices for appeasing God and comforting the conscience. If the Levitical offerings, which were of Divine appointment, were unable to really meet either the full requirements of God or the deepest need of sinners, how much less can the contrivances of man do so! How vain are the Romish inventions of confession, absolution, indulgencies, masses, penances, purgatory, and the like tom-fooleries! Equally vain are the austerities of some Protestants: the signing of a temperance-pledge, giving up of tobacco, and other reformations, with tears, lastings, and religious performances designed to make peace with God. The salvation of the Lord does not come to a soul via any such things. "Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, by the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit; which He shed on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Savior" (Titus 3:5, 6).
"But this man, after He had offered one sacrifice for sins for ever sat down on the right hand of God" (verse 12). The opening word denotes that a contrast is here presented from what was before us in verse 11: it is the Holy Spirit placing in antithesis the one perfect and efficacious offering of Christ from the unavailing sacrifices of the law. The word "Man" ought to be in italics: if any word is to be supplied it should be that of "Priest." The Greek simply reads, "But He," the pronoun being emphatic. It is the sacerdotal work of the Mediator which is in view. He came and once for all laid Himself on the Divine altar as an atonement to God—the entire course of His obedience terminating and being consummated at the cross.
There is both a comparison and a contrast here between Christ and Aaron and his successors. Both were priests; both offered a sacrifice for sins; but there the analogy between them ends. They were many; He alone. They offered numerous sacrifices; He, but one. They continued to offer sacrifices; His is complete and final. Their offerings were unefficacious; His, has actually removed sins. They stood; He has sat down. They ministered unto God; He is seated at the right hand of God. The typical high priest entered the holiest only for a brief season, one day in the year; Christ has gone on High "forever." He has not ceased to be a Priest, nor to exercise that office; but He is now "a Priest upon His throne" (Zech. 6:13). The position He occupies witnesses to the supreme excellency of His work, and attests the acceptance of His sacrifice by God. The glorious place which our once humiliated Savior has been accorded, supplies conclusive evidence of the value and finality of His redemptive work. "The very fact that Christ is in heaven, accepted by His Father, proves that His work must be done. Why, beloved, as long as an ambassador from our country is at a foreign court, there must be peace; and as long as Jesus Christ our Savior is at His Father’s court, it shows that there is real peace between His people and His Father. Well, as He will be there forever, that shows our peace must be continued and shall never cease. But that peace could not have been continual, unless the atonement had been wholly made, unless justice had been entirely satisfied" (C.H. Spurgeon).
Commentators have been divided as to whether the "for ever" is to be connected with the Savior’s one sacrifice or to His sitting down at God’s right hand. The Greek, while hardly conclusive, decidedly favors the latter. Perhaps the double thought is designed. They who insist that the "for ever" must be joined to the first clause, argue that it cannot be so with the second because 1 Thessalonians 4:16, Revelation 19:11 etc. show that the Savior will yet leave Heaven. As well might appeal be made to Christ’s "standing" to receive Stephen (Acts 7:55). But the difficulty is self-created through carnalizing the metaphor used. "For ever sat down" is in designed contrast from the "standeth daily" of verse 11. Christ has ceased for ever from the priestly work of making oblation: He will never again be engaged in such a task; but He has other characters to fill beside that of Maker of atonement.
"For ever sat down on the right hand of God." Four times in this epistle is reference made to Christ’s being seated on High, yet is there no repetition. On each occasion the reference is found connected with an entirely different line of thought. First, in Hebrews 1:3 it is His seat of personal glory which is in view: the whole context before and after showing that. Second, in Hebrews 8:1 it is the seat of priestly pre-eminence which He occupies, namely, His superiority over all others who filled the sacerdotal office. Third, here in Hebrews 10:12 it is the seat of sacrificial acceptance, God’s witness to the value of His satisfaction. Fourth, in Hebrews 12:2 it is the seat of the Victor, the prize given for having successfully run His race.
The One born in Bethlehem’s manger, who on earth had not where to lay His head, who died upon the cross, and whose body was laid in a borrowed grave, is now in Heaven. He has been given a place higher than that of the arch-angel, He has been exalted above all created things. There is a glorified Man at God’s right hand! Christ is the only one among all the hosts above who deserves to be there! It is naught but Divine favor which gives holy angels and redeemed sinners a place in the Father’s House; but the Man Christ Jesus has merited that high honor!
"The highest place that Heaven affords,
Is His by sovereign right,
King of kings and Lord of lords,
He reigns there in the Light."
Unspeakably blessed is this; the more so when it be realized that Christ has entered heaven for His people. He has gone there in his official character. He has gone there as our Representative; to appear before God "for us" (Heb. 9:24). He is there as our great High Priest, bearing our names on His breastplate. Wondrous and precious are those words, "Whither the fore-runner is for us entered, even Jesus" (Heb. 6:20). There the mighty Victor sits "crowned with glory and honor." He occupies the Throne of universal dominion, of all-mighty power, of sovereign and illimitable grace. He is making all grace. He is making all things work together for the good of His own. The kingly scepter shall He wield until all His redeemed are with Him in glory.
"From henceforth expecting till His enemies be made His footstool" (verse 13). In these words we have the seventh and last N. T. reference made to the 110th Psalm. There we read. "The Lord said unto my Lord, Sit Thou at My right hand, until I make Thine enemies Thy footstool" (verse 1). Allusion is here made to that promise of the Father to the Son for the purpose of supplying additional confirmation of what had just been declared. In verses 10, 12 (also in 14), the utter needlessness for any repetition of Christ’s sacrifice is shown, here the impossibility of it. From the beginning, a state of glory and position of honor had been appointed the Mediator following on the presentation of His offering to God. He was to take His place on the throne of heaven, till His foes were completely subjugated: therefore to enter the place of service and die again He was no longer capable!
The suffering Savior has been invested with unlimited power and dominion, and nothing now remains but the accomplishing of all those effects which His sacrifice was designed to procure. These are twofold; the saving of His elect, the subjugating of all revolters against God, for "He hath appointed a day in the which He will judge the world in righteousness by that Man whom He hath ordained" (Acts 17:31). The Redeemer having perfected His great work, now calmly awaits the fulfillment of the Father’s promise: cf. 1 Corinthians 15:25-27. Christ will yet put forth His mighty power and overthrow every proud rebel against Him. He will yet say, "I will tread them in Mine anger, and trample them in My fury, and their blood shall be sprinkled upon My garments . . . for the day of vengeance is in Mine heart" (Isa. 63:3, 4): cf. Revelation 14:20. Then will men experience the terribleness of "the wrath of the Lamb" (Rev. 6:16).
The "wrath of the Lamb" is as much a perfection as is the "love of Christ." In His overthrow of God’s adversaries, His glory shines as truly as when He conducts the redeemed into the Father’s House. He is equally to be adored when we behold His vesture stained with the blood of His enemies, as when we see His life ebbing from His side pierced for us. Each was an intrinsic part of that work assigned Him of the Father. Though in our present state we are apt to shrink-back with horror, as we contemplate Him saying to those who despised and rejected Him. "Depart from Me, ye cursed," yet in that day we shall praise Him for it. "Oh! what a triumph that will be, when men, wicked men, persecutors, and those who opposed Christ, are all cast into the lake that burneth" (C.H. Spurgeon).
A remarkable adumbration (shadowing forth) of what has just been before us was made by God in A.D. 70. During the days of His flesh, the enemies of Christ pursued Him with relentless hatred. Nor was their enmity appeased when they had hounded Him to death: their rage continued to vent itself upon His followers. No one can read through the book of Acts without discovering many an evidence of the rancor of apostate Judaism against the early Christians. Loudly did the Jews boast of their triumph against Jesus of Nazareth, and for a time it looked as though they would prevail against His church. Though the issue hung in suspense for some years, God made a complete end to the same by utterly destroying them as a nation, and thereby gave a pledge of the eternal destruction of those who obey not the Gospel. In sending the Romans to burn their city and raze their temple, we discover a solemn foreshadowing of that which shall yet take place when Christ says, "But those Mine enemies, which would not that I should reign over them, bring hither and slay before Me" (Luke 19:27).
But let our final thought of this 13th verse be one of a different tenor. In the word "expecting" we have manifested again the lovely moral perfections of the Mediator. Christ is able to destroy all His enemies in a moment, yet for nineteen centuries He has bided His time. Why? Because, even in Heaven, He meekly and gladly bows to the Father’s pleasure. His final triumph is still postponed, because He calmly waits that day which God has "appointed" (Acts 17:31). Therefore do we read of "the kingdom and patience of Jesus Christ" (Rev. 1:9). In this too He sets us an example. Whatever be our lot and condition, however the forces of evil rage against us, we are to possess our souls in patience (Luke 21:19), knowing that there is a "set time" to favor Zion (Ps. 102:13). Ere long, every enemy of Christ and of His church shall be overthrown—overthrown, not "reconciled": "His enemies be made His footstool" plainly gives the lie to the dreams of Universalists!
"For by one offering He hath perfected for ever them that are sanctified" (verse 14). Three things claim our attention here: first, the relation of this view to the context; second, what is meant by "perfected for ever"?; third, who are the "sanctified"? The link between our verse and what precedes is contained in the opening "For," which has a double force. First, it intimates that what is now said furnishes additional proof for the thesis of the whole passage: the very fact that the one offering of Christ has "perfected for ever" (contrast Hebrews 7:17!) those sanctified by God, gives further demonstration of the efficacy and sufficiency of it, and the needlessness of any repetition. Second, the same fact manifests the meet-ness of the Mediator’s sitting at God’s right hand until His enemies are made His footstool—His work having accomplished such a blessed result, He is entitled both to rest and reward.
"For by one offering He hath perfected for ever them that are sanctified." The word for "perfected" literally means "completed" or "consummated." It is more of an objective than a subjective perfection which is here in view, as the immediate context and the whole epistle shows. This verse is not speaking of the Church’s eternal state in Glory, but of its present standing before God. By His sacrifice Christ has procured for His people the full pardon of sin and peace before God thereon. The "one offering" of the Lord Jesus possesses such infinite merits (being that of an infinite or Divine person in a holy humanity), that it has wrought out a complete expiation and secured for "His own" personal acceptance with and access to God, a priestly standing and covenant nearness before Him.
Because their salvation has been accomplished by the vicarious obedience and vicarious suffering, in life and in death, by no less a person than Immanuel, because He glorified God’s law by keeping it fully and enduring its curse, His people are both perfectly justified and perfectly sanctified, that is, a complete righteousness and complete fitness to worship in the Temple of God is theirs, not in themselves, but through Christ their Head. Their title to heaven is founded alone on the righteousness of Christ imputed to them. Their fitness is given when the Holy Spirit regenerates them. Their present enjoyment of the same is determined by the maintenance of communion with God day by day. Their perfect and eternal enjoyment thereof will issue from their glorification at the return of the Savior.
The word "perfected" here is to be understood in a sacrificial rather than in an experimental sense. It has reference to the Christian’s right to stand in the holy presence of God in unclouded peace. Our title so to do is as valid now as it will be when we are glorified, for that title rests alone on the sacrificial work of our Substitute, finished on the cross. It rests on something altogether external to ourselves, altogether apart from what God’s sovereign grace works in us or through us, either when we first believe or afterwards. We are precious in the sight of God according to the preciousness of Christ: see Ephesians 1:6, John 17:22, 23. Yet, let it be added that, this perfect objective sanctification (our consecration to God by Christ) in no wise renders the less requisite our need of being constantly cleansed, experimentally, by the Spirit’s use of the Word: John 13:10, 1 Peter 1:2 etc.
Those perfected by the "one offering" of Christ are "them that axe sanctified," or more literally, simply "the sanctified," the reference being to those who were eternally set apart by the Father (Jude 1). The persons of the elect are variously designated in this epistle. They are referred to as "heirs of salvation" (Heb. 1:14), "sons" (Heb. 2:10), "brethren" of Christ, (Heb. 2:12), "partakers of the heavenly calling" (Heb. 3:1), "heirs of promise" (Heb. 6:17), "the house of Israel" and "of Judah" (Heb. 8:8); but here "the sanctified," because the Spirit’s object in the whole of this passage is to trace everything to its originating source, namely, the imperial will of a sovereign God.