An Exposition of Hebrews
by A. W. Pink
The Saving of the Soul
As there is so much ground covered by the verses which are now to be before us, we shall dispense with our usual introductory paragraphs. In lieu of them, we present a brief analysis of the present passage. Verse 35 really belongs to the section which we took up in our last article. In verses 32-35 the apostle gives a persuasion unto perseverance in the Christian life. First, he bids the Hebrews call to remembrance what they had suffered for Christ’s sake in days gone by: then let them not now renounce their faith and thereby render void their early witness—verses 32, 33. Second, he reminded them of the ground on which they had willingly suffered hardships and losses, namely, because they had the inward assurance and evidence that in Heaven they had a better and enduring substance: then, inasmuch as it changed not, why should they?—verse 34. From these facts, the conclusion is drawn that a duty is rightly required from them, upon the performance of which the reward should be given them—verse 35.
In the last section of Hebrews 10 the apostle first confirms the exhortation he had just insisted on, and points to the chief aids to perseverance, namely, patience and faith—verse 36. Second, he encourages the Lord’s people by the prospect of the sure and speedy coming of the Redeemer who would then reward them—verse 37. Third, he warns again of the fearful state of the apostate—verse 38. Fourth, he affirms that they who persevered to the end, believe to the saving of the soul—verse 39. The obvious design of these verses is to stir up Christians unto utmost earnestness in making their calling and election sure, to guard them against the danger of backsliding, and to bear their trials with submission to the will of God. May it please the Holy Spirit to apply this passage in power to the heart of both writer and reader, that our meditation may issue in fruit to the glory of our blessed Lord.
"Cast not away therefore your confidence, which hath great recompense of reward" (verse 35). Let us notice first the force of the "therefore." This is an inference drawn from the foregoing: since you have already suffered so many things in your persons and goods, and inasmuch as Divine grace supported and carried you through with constancy and joy, do not be discouraged and give way to despair at the approach of similar trials. Further, this "therefore" is drawn from the blissful prospect which the sure promise of God holds before His faithful people, and gives point to the admonition: inasmuch as confidence persisted in is going to be richly repaid, cast it not away.
"Cast not away therefore your confidence." The word "confidence" here has respect unto an attitude or state of heart God-wards. It is the same term (in the Greek) as is translated "boldness" in Hebrews 10:19. It is found again in 1 John 3:21, "then have we confidence toward God"; and verse 14, "this is the confidence that we have in Him." It is not so much faith itself, as one of the products or fruits thereof. It is closer akin to hope. It is that effect of faith which fits the Christian for freedom and readiness unto all his spiritual duties, notwithstanding difficulties and discouragements. It is that frame of spirit which carries us cheerfully through all those sufferings which a real profession of the Gospel entails. More specifically, this "confidence" may be defined as fortitude of mind, courage of heart, and constancy of will.
From what has just been said, it will be seen that we do not agree with those commentators who understand verse 35 as dehorting against the abandonment of Christianity. The apostle’s admonition here strikes deeper than a warning against forsaking the outward profession of the Gospel. It is addressed against that state of heart, which, if it became chronic, would likely lead to the external forsaking of Christ. What is needed in the face of trials and persecution is boldness of mind, the heart being freed from bondage and fear, through a prevailing persuasion of our acceptance with God in the performance of those duties which He has appointed us. It was this particular grace which was admired in Peter and John in Acts 4:13. It is only as the mind remains convinced of the righteousness of our cause, and as the heart is assured we are doing that which is well-pleasing to God, that, when we are criticized and condemned by men, and are menaced by their frowns and threats, we shall be "steadfast, unmovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord" (1 Cor. 15:58), in nothing moved by our adversaries.
This confidence in and toward God, which had hitherto sustained the persecuted Hebrews, they are here bidden to "cast not away." Here again the responsibility of the Christian is addressed. There are those who insist we can no more control our "confidence"—weaken or strengthen it—than we can control the wind. But this is to lose sight of the fact that we are moral creatures and accountable for the use or misuse of all our faculties. If I allow my mind to dwell upon the difficulties before me, the disadvantages I may suffer through faithfulness to Christ, or listen to the whisperings of Satan as to how I can avoid trouble by little compromises, then my courage will soon wane, and I shall be to blame. On the other hand, if I seek grace to dwell upon God’s promises, realize it is an honor to suffer for Christ’s sake, and remind myself that whatever I lose here is not worthy to be compared with what I shall gain hereafter, then, assured that God is for me, I shall care not who be against me.
To encourage the tempted Hebrews the apostle at once added, "which hath great recompense of reward." From these words it is very evident that the true Christian may, and should, have his eye upon the reward that is promised those who suffer for the Gospel’s sake. Nor does this verse by any means stand alone: "Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for My sake: Rejoice, and be exceeding glad, for great is your reward in Heaven" (Matthew 5:11, 12)—notice carefully the words "in Heaven," which at once exposes the error of those who declare that the "Sermon on the Mount" belongs not to and is not about those who are members of the Body of Christ, but is "Jewish" and "Millennial." Christians are not sufficiently occupied with their reward in Heaven.
The subject of "Rewards" is too large a one for us to now canvass in detail, yet in view of present-day errors something needs to be said thereon. Not a few suppose that the concepts presented by "grace" and "reward" are irreconcilably at variance. The trouble with such people is that, instead of searching the Scriptures to discover how the Holy Spirit has used the term, they turn to a human dictionary. In human affairs a "reward" commonly (though not always) denotes the recognition and recompensing of a meritorious performance; but not so is its general usage in Scripture. Take the first occurrence of the word: in Genesis 15:1 we find Jehovah saying unto Abraham, "Fear not, Abram: I am thy shield, and thy exceeding great reward": how utterly impossible for the patriarch to have done anything to deserve this! Once it is plainly perceived that in Scripture the term "reward" has in it no thought of a meet return for a meritorious performance, much of the fog with which modern "dispensationalists" have surrounded the subject will be cleared away.
"Which hath great recompense of reward." Rightly did John Calvin point out in his comments on this verse: "By mentioning ‘reward,’ he diminishes nothing from the gratuitous promise of salvation, for the faithful know that their labor is not in vain in the Lord in such a way that they still rest on God’s mercy alone. But it has been often stated elsewhere how ‘reward’ is not incompatible with the gratuitous imputation of righteousness." If those who suppose that Christians living since the’days of J.N. Darby and "Dr." Scofield appeared on the scene have "much more light" than they who preceded them, would only read the Reformers and the Puritans with an unprejudiced mind, they would soon be obliged to revise their ideas. In many respects we have gone backwards instead of forwards, and only too often the "light" which is in men, is but darkness, and "how great is that darkness" (Matthew 6:23)!—so great that it closes their eyes against all true light.
"For ye have need of patience, that, after ye have done the will of God, ye might receive the promise" (verse 36). The opening "for" intimates that the apostle is here confirming the exhortation which he had just insisted upon. "The reward can be obtained only by holding fast this confidence—by adhering steadily and perseveringly to Christ and His cause" (John Brown). Patience, or endurance in the path of obedience, fidelity and suffering, is indispensably necessary if we are to be preserved unto salvation. Let those who will, call this teaching legalistic; the only other alternative is lawlessness and licentiousness. Though it is not "for," yet it is "through faith and patience" or "perseverance," that we "inherit the promises" (Heb. 6:12).
No one who is familiar with the writings of John Owen the Puritan, who proclaimed the free grace of God and the gratuitousness of His salvation in such certain terms, will accuse him of legality or of inculcating creature-merits; yet he, in his comments in Hebrews 10:35, 36 wrote, "Wherefore, ‘the recompense of the reward’ here intended, is the glory of Heaven, proposed as a crown unto them that overcome in their sufferings for the Gospel. And the future glory, which, as unto its original cause, is the fruit of the good pleasure and sovereign grace of God, whose pleasure it is to give us the kingdom; and as unto its procuring cause is the sole purchase of the blood of Christ, who obtained for us eternal redemption; and it is, on both accounts, a free gift of God, for ‘the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God through Christ is life eternal’ (so as it can be no way merited nor procured by ourselves, by virtue of any proportion by the rules of justice between what we do or suffer, and what is promised), is yet constantly promised to suffering believers, under the name of a recompense or a reward. For it doth not become the great—ness and goodness of God to call His own people unto sufferings for His name, and unto His glory, and therein to the loss of their lives many times, with all enjoyments here below, and not propose unto them, nor provide for them, that which shall be infinitely better than all that they so undergo. This confidence ‘hath’ this recompense of reward; that is, it gives a right and title unto the future reward of glory: it hath in it the promise and constitution of God; whoever abides in its exercise, shall be no longer in the issue."
"For ye have need of patience." The apostle did not charge them with being destitute of this grace, for all who are born of the Spirit bear, in some measure, the fruit of the Spirit, and this among the rest (Gal. 5:22); those who are brought into the kingdom of Jesus Christ, are into His patience also (Rev. 1:9). No, the apostle signified that they needed the exercise, continuance, and increase of this grace: compare Zephaniah 2:3 where the "meek" are exhorted to seek "meekness." That unto which the apostle would bestir these saints was, that they receive afflictions as from the hand of God, to bear reproaches and persecutions from men as that unto which He had "appointed" them (1 Thess. 3:3), to commit their cause unto the Lord and rest in Him (Ps. 37:5, 6); to bear up, and not sink under trials, and to live in the constant expectation of Heaven.
The Hebrew Christians (like we sometimes are) were tempted to become weary of well doing. Numbers of their fellows who had once appeared to be zealous believers, had apostatized, and the rest would soon be sorely tried. It was necessary then that they should arm their minds with the spirit of resignation and persevering constancy, that having done the will of God, by steadfastly cleaving to Christ, and obeying Him through all temptations and sufferings, they might afterwards receive the promised gift of eternal life. The principle of this verse remains unchanged. Satan is the same, and so also is the world, and they who will live godly cannot escape trials and tribulations. Nor is it desirable that we should: some of the finer and more delicate of the Christian graces can only be developed under stress and suffering. Then how much we need to pray for God to sanctify to our good each affliction which comes upon us, so that fruit may issue to His praise and that we may so conduct ourselves as to be encouragements to fellow-pilgrims.
The exercise of this grace of patience is to be continued until "after ye have done the will of God." There is no dismission from the discharge of this duty while we are left here upon earth. While the more immediate reference is unto meekly bearing whatever the sovereign will of our all-wise and infinitely loving God has ordained for us, yet the active walking in the way of God’s commandments is also included, as is evident from the word "done." The will of God, as it is made known in His Word, is the alone rule by which we are to live and all our ways are to be conformed. That revealed will of God is not only to be believed and revered by us, but practiced as well. No situation in which we can be placed, no threatenings of men however terrible, can ever justify us for disobeying God. True, there will be seasons of sore testing, times when it seems that our trials are more than flesh and blood can endure, and then it is that we most have "need of patience"; nor will Divine succor and supernatural grace be withheld if we humbly and trustfully seek it.
"That, after ye have done the will of God, ye might receive the promise." Here the "great recompense of reward" of the previous verse is designated "the promise," partly to guard against the error that eternal life can be earned, or that Heaven can be merited by creature performances; and partly to emphasize the certainty of that which is promised unto all who endure unto the end. The "promise" is here put for the things promised, as in Hebrews 6:12, 17; 11:13, 39. It is called "the promise" as in 1 John 2:25 etc., because it is the grand comprehensive promise, including all others, being the glorious consummation to which they point. Nor should any stumble because they cannot perceive the consistency of a thing being both a "reward" and a "promise." We find the same conjunction of concepts in Colossians 3:24, "Ye shall receive the reward of the inheritance; for ye serve the Lord Christ": it is so denominated to show that it is not merited by works, but is bestowed by free grace, and will certainly be enjoyed by all the elect; and yet, it will only be obtained by them as they persevere in the path of duty.
"For yet a little while, and He that shall come will come, and will not tarry" (verse 37). The causal "For" denotes that the apostle was about to confirm what he had just said: he both adds a word to strengthen their "confidence" and "patience," and also points them to the near approach of the time when they should receive their "reward." The Greek is very expressive and emphatic. The apostle used a word which signifies "a little while," and then for further emphasis added a particle meaning "very," and this he still further intensified by repeating it; thus, literally rendered this clause reads, "For yet a very, very little while, and He that shall come will come."
"There is indeed nothing that avails more to sustain our minds, should they at any time become faint, than the hope of a speedy and near termination. As a general holds forth to his soldiers the prospect that the war will soon end, provided they hold out a little longer; so the apostle reminds us that the Lord will shortly come to deliver us from all evils, provided our minds faint not through want of firmness. And in order that this consolation might have more assurance and authority, he adduces the testimony of Habakkuk. But as he follows the Greek version, he departs somewhat from the words of the prophet" (John Calvin). Frequently does the Holy Spirit emphasize the exceeding (comparative) brevity of the saints’ sufferings in this world; "Weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning" (Ps. 30:5); "And the God of peace shall bruise Satan under your feet shortly" (Rom. 16:20); "For our light affliction, which is but for a moment" (2 Cor. 4:17).
"For yet a little while, and He that shall come will come, and will not tarry." The reference here is to the person of the Lord Jesus, as is evident from Habakkuk 2:3, to which the apostle here alludes. Like so many prophecies, that word of Habakkuk’s was to receive a threefold fulfillment: a literal and initial one, a spiritual and continuous one, a final and complete one. The literal was the Divine incarnation, when the Son of God came here in flesh. The final will be His return in visible glory and power. The spiritual has reference to the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70 when that which most obstructed the manifestation of Christ’s kingdom on earth was destroyed—with the overthrow of the Temple and its worship, official Judaism came to an end. The Christians in Palestine were being constantly persecuted by the Jews, but their conquest by Titus and their consequent dispersion put an end to this. That event was less than ten years distant when Paul wrote: compare our remarks on "see the day approaching" (Heb. 10:25).
We trust that none will conclude from what has been said above that we regard verse 37 as containing no reference to the final coming of Christ. What we have sought to point out was the immediate purport of its contents unto the Hebrews. But it also contains a message for us, a message of hope and comfort. It is our privilege too to be waiting for God’s Son from Heaven. Let us add that it is a big mistake to regard every mention of the "coming" of Christ in the N.T. Scriptures as referring to His "appearing the second time" (Heb. 9:28). In John 14:18, 28, the reference was to Christ’s "coming" by His Spirit; in John 14:23 to His "coming" in loving manifestation to the individual soul; in Ephesians 2:17 He "came" by the Gospel; in Revelations 2:5 His "coming" is in chastisement. Careful study of each verse is required in order to distinguish between these several aspects.
"Now the just shall live by faith: but if any man draw back, My soul shall have no pleasure in him" (verse 38). The first half of this verse is a quotation from Habakkuk 2:4, and its pertinency to the admonition which the apostle was pressing upon the Hebrews is not difficult to perceive. The prophet is cited in proof that perseverance is one of the distinguishing characteristics of a child of God. He who has been justified by God, through the imputation of Christ’s righteousness to his account, lives by faith as the influencing principle of his life. Thus the apostle declared, "The life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God" (Gal. 2:20). The one whom God has exonerated from the curse and condemnation of the law, is not him who has merely "believed," but is the man who continues "believing," with all that that word includes, and involves. Let the reader fully note the force of the present perfect "believeth" in John 3:15, 16, 18; 5:24 etc., and contrast the "for a while believed" of Luke 8:13!
The use of the future tense "shall live" announces and enforces the necessity for the continued exercise of faith. It is true that one who has been justified by God was previously quickened, for we are "justified by faith" (Acts 13:39, Romans 5:1 etc.), and one who is dead in trespasses and sins cannot savingly believe—note the "called" before "justified" in Romans 8:30. It is also true that the real Christian lives by faith, for that is the very nature of indwelling grace. But it is equally true that the "just shall live by faith." The constant exercise of faith by the saint is as essential to his final salvation as it was to his initial salvation. Just as the soul can only be delivered from the wrath to come by repentance (self-judgment) and personal faith in the Lord Jesus, so we can only be delivered from the power of indwelling sin, from the temptations of Satan, from an enticing world which seeks to destroy us, by a steady and persistent walking by faith.
Patient endurance is a fruit of faith, yet it is only as that vital and root grace is in daily exercise, that the Christian is enabled to stand firm amid the storms of life. Those whom God declares righteous in Christ are to pass their lives here, not in doubt and fear, but in the maintenance of a calm trust in and a joyful obedience to Him. Only as the heart is engaged with God and feeds upon His Word, will the soul be invigorated and fitted to press onwards when everything outward seems to be against him. It is by our faith being drawn out unto things above that we receive the needed strength which causes us to look away from the discouraging and distracting scene around us. As faith lives upon Christ (John 6:56, 57), it draws virtue from Him, as the branch derives sap from the root of the vine. Faith makes us resign ourselves and our affairs to Christ’s disposing, cheerfully treading the path of duty and patiently waiting that issue which He will give. Faith is assured that our Head knows far better than we do what is good and best.
"But if any man draw back, My soul shall have no pleasure in him." It seems to the writer that the translators of the A.V. took an unwarranted liberty with the Word of God when they inserted (in italics) the words "any man" and changed "and" (kai) into "but": the Holy Scripture should never be altered to suit our ideas of evangelical truth—the R.V. correctly gives "if he shrink back," and Bag. Int. "and if he draw back." Yes, if the "just" man himself were to draw back and continue in apostasy, he would finally perish. "By this solemn consideration, therefore, the apostle urges on them the importance of perseverance, and the guilt and danger of apostasy from the Christian faith. If such a case should occur, no matter what might have been the former condition, and no matter what love or zeal might have been evinced, yet such an apostasy would expose the individual to the certain wrath of God. His former love could not save him, any more than the former obedience of the angels saved them from the horrors of eternal chains and darkness" (A. Barnes).
"And if he drew back, My soul shall have no pleasure in him." Once more the apostle faithfully warns the Hebrew Christians (and us) of the dreadful consequence which would attend the continuance in a course of backsliding. He who thinks that by refusing to take up his cross daily and follow the example left by Christ, can escape the world’s reproach and persecution and yet go to Heaven, is fatally deluding himself. Said the Lord Jesus, "For whosoever will save his life shall lose it" (Matthew 16:25): that is, he who is so diligent in looking after his temporal prospects, worldly reputation and personal comforts, shall eternally lose his soul.
It was to stir up the Hebrews unto the more diligent laboring after living the life of faith that the apostle here pointed out the terrible alternative: unless they maintained a steady trust in God and an obedient submission unto His revealed will, they were in grave danger of backsliding and apostatizing. If any should "draw back" then God would have "no pleasure in him," which is but the negative way of saying that he would be an object of abhorrence. But observe closely, it does not say God would have "no more pleasure in him," which would conflict with the uniform teaching of the Word concerning the unchanging love of God (Mal. 3:6, John 13:1, Romans 8:35-39) toward His own. O the minute accuracy of Holy Writ! The practical application of this solemn word to us is, that in order to have a scripturally-grounded assurance of God’s taking pleasure in us, we must continue cleaving closely unto Him.
"But we are not of them who draw back unto perdition; but of them that believe to the saving of the soul" (verse 39). The word "perdition" shows plainly that the "drawing back" of the previous verse is a fatal and final one. Nevertheless, so far is verse 38 from establishing the doom of any child of God, the apostle assures the Hebrews that no such fate would overtake them. What is added here in this verse, was to prevent their being unduly affrighted with the solemn warnings previously given, and lest they should conclude that Paul thought evilly of them: though he had warned, he did not regard them as treading the broad road to destruction, instead he was "persuaded better things of them" (Heb. 6:9). "Let it be noticed that this truth belongs also to us, for we, whom God has favored with the light of the Gospel, ought to acknowledge that we have been called in order that we may advance more and more in our obedience to God, and strive constantly to draw nearer to Him. This is the real preservation of the soul, for by so doing we shall escape eternal perdition" (John Calvin).
"In this the apostle expresses the fullest conviction that none of those to whom he wrote would apostatize. The case which he had been describing was only a supposable case, not one which he believed would occur. He had only been stating what must happen if a sincere Christian should apostatize. But he did not mean to say that this would occur in regard to them. He made a statement of a general principle under the Divine administration, and he designed that this should be a means of keeping them in the path of life" (A. Barnes). Christians may grow cold, neglect the means of grace, backslide, fall into grievous sins as did David and Peter; but they shall not "draw back unto perdition." No, they have been predestinated "to be conformed unto" the image of Christ (Rom. 8:29), and God’s purpose cannot fail. They are the objects of Christ’s intercession (John 17:15, 24), and that is efficacious (John 11:42). They are restored by the good Shepherd when they go astray (Ps. 23:3).
As the term "perdition" denoted that eternal damnation is the doom of apostates, so the word "salvation" here has reference to that ultimate consummation of the portion of all true believers. It is to be carefully noted that the apostle did not say, "them that have believed to the salvation of the soul," but "them that believe to the saving of the soul." The difference is real and radical. There is a blessed sense in which every regenerated believer has been saved by Christ, yet there is also another and most important sense in which his salvation is yet future: see Romans 13:11, 1 Peter 1:5, 9. The complete and final salvation of the Christian is dependent upon his continued trust in and obedience to God in Christ, not as the cause thereof, yet as the indispensable means thereto.
It is gloriously true that Christians are "kept by the power of God." He who prepares Heaven for them preserves them unto it. But by what instrument or means? The same verse tells us: "through faith" (1 Pet. 1:5). To depend upon an invisible God for a happiness that awaits us in an invisible world, when in the meantime He permits us to be harassed with all sorts of temptations, trials and troubles, requires faith—real faith, supernatural faith. Through faith alone can the heart be sustained till we obtain salvation. Nothing but a God-given and God-maintained faith can enable us to row against the stream of flesh and blood, and so deny its cravings that we shall win through to Heaven at last. The "flesh" is for sparing and pampering the body; but "faith" is for the "saving of the soul."