An Exposition of Hebrews
by A. W. Pink
The Superiority of Christianity
"But ye are come unto" etc. (verse 22). These words do not, in fact cannot, mean, that in some mystical sense believers are "in spirit" projected into the future, to something which will only be actualized in the future. The Greek verb has a specific significance in this Epistle, as may be seen by a careful reference to Hebrews 4:16, 7:25, 11:6: "to come unto" here means to approach as worshippers. In the verses now before us we are shown the high dignity and honor of that spiritual worship which is the privilege of Christians under the Gospel dispensation. When they meet together in the name of the Lord Jesus, as His people, and with a due observance of His holy institutions, they "are come unto," have access to, the eight privileges here enumerated: they draw nigh by faith to Heaven itself, to the antitypical holy of holies. But this is possible only to spiritual worshippers.
They who are strangers to experimental spirituality soon grow weary even of the outward form of worship, unless their eyes are entertained with an imposing ritual and their ears regaled by appealing music. This is the secret of the pomp and pageantry of Romanism—now, alas, being more and more imitated by professing Protestants; it is to attract and charm religious worldlings. Ritualists quite obscure the simplicity and beauty of true Gospel worship. Man in his natural estate is far too carnal to be pleased with a worship in which there is nothing calculated to fire the imagination and intoxicate the senses by means of tangible objects. But they who worship in spirit and in truth can draw nigh to God more joyously in a barn, and mingle their praises with the songs of Heaven, than if they were in a cathedral.
How vast is the difference between that spiritual adoration which issues from renewed hearts and that "form of godliness" which is associated with altars and candles, choirs and surpliced ministers! Only that is acceptable to God which is produced by the Holy Spirit through sinners washed in the blood of the Lamb. Under grace-magnifying and Christ-exalting preaching, the spiritual senses of real Christians are exercised; as they behold the Savior’s glories in the glass of the Gospel, as they hear His voice, they have an inward impression of His presence, they taste afresh of His goodness, and His name is to them as ointment poured forth, perfuming their spirits. In this joyous frame, their hearts are drawn Heavenwards, and their songs of praise mingle with those of the holy angels and the spirits of just men made perfect.
"But ye are come unto Mount Sion." David, after having taken Mount Zion from the Jebusites, made it the place of his residence, so that it became "the city of the great king." There he reigned and ruled, there he issued his laws, and thence he extended the sway of his peaceful scepter over the whole of the holy land. From that circumstance, Mount Zion became the great type of the kingdom of God, of which the Lord Jesus Christ is the Head and Sovereign. As David ruling upon Mount Zion in the palace built there as his royal seat, issuing his commands which were obeyed all over the land, so our blessed Redeemer has been exalted according to God’s promise "Yet have I set My King upon My holy hill of Zion" (Ps. 2:6 and cf. Hebrews 2:9); and there sitting as King in Sion, issues His mandates and sways His peaceful scepter over the hearts of His obedient people.
"And unto the City of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem." Most of the older writers understood these terms to refer to the Church, but we think this is a mistake, for the Church is referred to, separately, in a later clause. As pointed out in the preceding article, we regard this language as signifying Heaven itself, as the residence of God and the eternal abode of His people. "The living God" is the true and only God, the Triune Jehovah, the Fountain of all life, the One who is "from everlasting to everlasting," without beginning or end: this title is given to each of the eternal Three—Matthew 16:16, 1 Timothy 4:10, 2 Corinthians 6:16, cf. 1 Corinthians 3:16. As "Zion" was the seat of David’s throne, so "Jerusalem" was the dwelling place of Jehovah in the midst of His covenant people. "Jerusalem" signifies "the Vision of Peace," and in Heaven the "sons of peace" (Luke 10:6) will behold the glory of God in the face of the Prince of peace.
"And to an innumerable company of angels." This is the third great privilege enjoyed by the worshippers under the Christian economy: having mentioned the place to which Divine grace has brought believers, the Holy Spirit now described the inhabitants of the heavenly Jerusalem. The angels, who are worshippers of God and His Christ, are perhaps mentioned first because they are in closer proximity to the Throne, because they are the original denizens of Heaven, and because they are greatly in the majority. The reference is, of course, to the holy angels who kept their first estate and sinned not when some of their fellows apostatized. They are "the elect angels" (1 Tim. 5:21), and although they have not been redeemed by the atoning blood of the Lamb, it appears highly probable that they were confirmed in their standing by the incarnation of the Son, for God has united in Christ both elect men and elect angels (Eph. 1:10), that He might be "the Head of all principality and power" (Col. 2:10).
"Ye are come unto . . . an innumerable company of angels." This sets before us a further contrast between that which characterizes Christianity, and what obtained under the Mosaic economy—that is, so far as the Israelitish nation as a whole was concerned. It is clear from several passages that "angels" were connected with the giving of the Law, when Judaism was formally instituted. We read, "the Lord came from Sinai and rose up from Seir unto them; He shined from mount Paran, and He came with ten thousands of saints: from His right hand went a fiery law for them" (Deut. 33:2): and again, "The chariots of God are twenty thousands, even thousands of angels: the Lord is among them, as in Sinai" (Ps. 68:17). But while many "thousands" of the heavenly hosts attended Jehovah upon Sinai, this was very different from the "innumerable company" with which we are connected, namely the "ten thousand times ten thousand, and thousands of thousands" of Revelation 5:11. And even to the many thousands of angels at Sinai the Nation did not "come": instead, they were fenced off at the foot of the mount.
Redeemed sinners who have fellowship with the Father and the Son by the Holy Spirit, are of one spirit with all the heavenly hosts, for there is a union of sentiment between them. Christians have been brought into a state of amity and friendship with the holy angels: they are members of the same family (Eph. 3:15), are united under the same Head (Col. 2:10), and joined together in the same worship (Heb. 1:6; Revelation 5:9-14). We are "come unto" them by a spiritual relation, entering into association with them, sharing the benefits of their kind offices, for "are they not all ministering spirits, sent forth to minister for them who shall be heirs of salvation?’’ (Heb. 1:14). The angels are "fellow servants" with believers "that have the testimony of Jesus" (Rev. 19:10). Wondrous fact is this that sinners of the earth, while here in this world, have communication with the angels in Heaven, for they are constantly engaged in the same worship of God in Christ as we are: Thus there is perfect oneness of accord between us.
As we pointed out in the preceding chapter, the Church’s spiritual union with the holy angels—being united together in one spiritual society and family—is due to the atoning work of Christ, who by putting away the sins of His people has restored the breach made by Adam’s fall and "reconciled all things unto Himself" (Col. 1:20). Hence we believe that in the verse now before us there is not only a contrast drawn between Judaism and Christianity, but that its ultimate reference is to the immense difference brought in between the offense of the first Adam and the righteousness of the last Adam. Upon the transgression of Adam we read "So He drove out the man: and He placed at the east of the garden of Eden cherubim, and a flaming sword which turned every way, to keep the way of the tree of life" (Gen. 3:24). There God made His "angels spirits, and His ministers a flame of fire" (Heb. 1:7) to execute His vengeance against us; but now these same angels are our associates in worship and service.
God is "the Lord of hosts" (Ps. 46:7), myriads of holy celestial creatures being in an attendance upon Him—"an innumerable company of angels:" how this should help us to realize the majesty and grandeur of that Kingdom into which Divine grace has brought us. In this expression we may also discern a word to encourage our trembling hearts in connection with our wrestling against the "hosts of wicked spirits" (Eph. 6:12): numerous as are the forces of Satan assailing us, an "innumerable company of angels" are defending us! This was the blessed truth by which Elisha comforted his fearing servant "they that be with us are more than they that be with them" (2 Kings 6:16, 17). "When the thought of Satan and his legions brings fear, we ought to comfort ourselves with the assurance that more in number and greater in power are the loving and watchful angels, who for Christ’s sake regard us with the deepest interest and affection" (A. Saphir).
Before turning to the next item a word should be said in refutation of the blasphemous error of Romanists concerning our relation to the angels. They teach that we are "come unto" the angels with our prayers, which is one of their empty superstitions—there is not a word in Scriptures to countenance such an idea. Though it be true that the angels are superior to us in dignity and power, yet in communion with God we are their equals—"fellow-servant’, (Rev. 22:9), and, as Owen pointed out, "Nothing can be more groundless than that fellow-servants should worship one another"—the worshipping of angels is condemned in Colossians 2:18, Revelation 22:8, 9. Well did Owen also point out, "It is the highest madness for any one to pretend himself to be the head of the church, as the pope does, unless he assume also to himself to be the head of all the angels in Heaven," for we belong to the same holy society.
"To the general assembly." This expression occasions some difficulty, for in the first place it is not quite clear as to what the Spirit specifically alludes unto. In the second place, the Greek word (pangueris, a compound one) occurs nowhere else in the N.T., so that we are not able to obtain any help from its usage in other passages. In the third place, it is not very easy to decide whether this clause is to be linked with the one immediately preceding or with the one following it. In its classical usage the Greek word was employed in connection with a public convocation, when all the people were gathered together to celebrate a public festival or solemnity. Most of the commentators link this word with what follows: "To the general assembly and church of the firstborn," understanding the reference to be unto the ("general") union of believing Jews and believing Gentiles in one Body. Personally, we think this is a mistake.
First, such language would be tautological, for if the "general assembly" points to the middle wall of partition being broken down, and converted Jews and Gentiles being joined together in one Body, that would be "the Church." Second, the denomination "church of the firstborn" takes in the totality of God’s elect and redeemed people of all ages. Third, there is no "and" between the "innumerable company of angels" and the "general assembly," as there is in every other instance in these verses where a new object is introduced. Personally, we regard this third expression as in apposition (the placing together of two nouns, one of which explains the other) to the former, thus: "unto an innumerable company of angels—the general assembly." There are various ranks and orders among the angels: principalities and powers, thrones and dominions, seraphim and cherubim, and the "general assembly" of them would be the solemn convocation of all the angelic hosts before the throne of God—compare "A fiery stream issued and came forth from before Him: thousand thousands ministered unto Him, and ten thousand times ten thousand stood before Him: the judgment (a special convocation) was set, and the books were opened" (Dan. 7:10).
No doubt this amplifying expression (of the "innumerable company of angels") also emphasizes another contrast between the privileges of Christianity and that which obtained under Judaism. Perhaps the contrastive allusion is a double one. First, from the general assembly of Israel at Sinai, when the whole of the nation was then formally assembled together—in fear and trembling. Second, to the general assembly of all the male Israelites three times in the year at the solemn feasts of the O.T. Church (Ex. 34:23, Deuteronomy 16:16) which was called "the great congregation" (Ps. 22:25, 35:18, etc.)—in joy and praise. But each of these were on earth, by men in the flesh; whereas Christians, in their worship, unite with all the holy hosts of Heaven in blessing and adoring the Triune God.
"And Church of the firstborn, which are written in heaven": that is, to the entire company of God’s redeemed. "This is that church whereunto all the promises do belong; the church built on the rock, against which the gates of hell shall not prevail; the spouse, the body of Christ, the temple of God, His habitation forever. This is the church which Christ loved and gave Himself for, which He washed in His own blood, that He might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word, that He might present it to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that it should be holy and without blemish (Eph. 5:25-27). This is the church out of which none can be saved, and whereof no one member shall be lost" (John Owen).
This is the only place in the N.T. where the election of grace is designated "the Church of the firstborn ones" (plural number in the Greek). Why so here? For at least three reasons. First, so as to identify the Church with Christ as the "Heir of all things" (Heb. 1:2). The prominent idea associated with the "firstborn" in Scripture is not that of priority, but rather excellency, dignity, dominion, and right to the inheritance. This is clear from "Reuben, thou art my firstborn,... the excellency of dignity, and the excellency of power" (Gen. 49:3); and again "I will make Him My firstborn, higher than the kings of the earth" (Ps. 89:27). For the "firstborn" and the "inheritance" see Genesis 27:19, 28, 29 and cf. Hebrews 12:16; Deuteronomy 21:16; 1 Chronicles 5:1. Second, this title intimates the Church’s glory is superior to that of the celestial spirits: redeemed sinners and not fallen angels are God’s "firstborn ones." Third, this points a further contrast from Judaism: Israel was God’s "firstborn" (Ex. 4:22) among the nations of the earth; but the Church is His "firstborn" among the inhabitants of Heaven!
The Church is raised to the highest created dignity: superior privileges and a nobler dignity of son-ship pertain to its members than to the holy angels. This is solely due to their union with Christ, the original "Firstborn": Psalm 89:26, 27; Romans 8:29; Hebrews 1:6. Christians have been made "kings and priests unto God" (Rev. 1:6), which compromises the whole right of the inheritance. The entire election of grace, by God’s gratuitous adoption, are not only members of His family, but "heirs of God and joint-heirs with Christ" (Rom. 8:17), and thus given an inalienable title to the heavenly inheritance. This was equally true of the saints of all generations from the foundation of the world, yet a much clearer and fuller revelation thereof has been made under this Christian economy: "which in other ages was not made known unto the sons of men, as it is now revealed unto His holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit" (Eph. 3:5).
"Which are written in Heaven," announcing that they are genuine Christians—in contrast from mere professors, whose names are recorded only upon the church-scrolls of earth. Just as the registering of men’s names on the rolls of corporations, etc., assures them of their right to the privileges thereof (for example, to vote—which we believe is something that no child of God should do), so our names being written in Heaven is the guaranty of our title to the celestial heritage. It was to this Christ referred when He said, "Rejoice because your names are written in heaven" (Luke 10:20). The apostle Paul also speaks of those "whose names are in the book of life" (Phil. 4:3): that Book of Life (cf. Revelation 3:5 and 13:8) is none other than the roll of God’s elect, in His eternal immutable designation of them unto grace and glory. "Written in Heaven" points another contrast from Judaism: the names of Jews (as such) were only written upon the synagogue scrolls.
"And to God the Judge of all." The reference here is not (as some recent writers have supposed) unto the person of Christ, but rather unto God the Father in His rectoral office as the high Governor of all. Does this seem to spoil the harmony of the passage? had we not much preferred it to read "and to God our Father"? No, coming to "God the Judge of all" in nowise conflicts with the other privileges mentioned: it is a vastly different thing to be brought before a judge to be tried and sentenced as a criminal, from having a favorable access to him as our occasions and needs may require. Such is the meaning here: we are come not only to the heavenly Jerusalem, to an innumerable company of angels, to the Church, but also the supreme Head of the heavenly society—the Author and End of it.
"And to God the Judge of all," that is, the Majesty of Heaven itself. It was God as Judge who appointed Christ to death, and it was God as Judge who accepted His sacrifice and raised Him from the dead. To God as "Judge" believers have been reconciled and by Him they were justified (Rom. 8:33). Concerning Christ our Exemplar, we read "when He suffered, He threatened not, but committed Himself to Him that judgeth righteously" (1 Pet. 2:23). The apostle reminded the saints that "it is a righteous thing for God (as "Judge") to recompense tribulation to them that trouble you" (2 Thess. 1:6). Now it was as Judge that God ascended His awful tribunal at Sinai, and that the people could not endure: but Christians draw nigh to Him with holy boldness because His law has nothing against them—the requirements of His justice were fully met by Christ. How great is the privilege of that state which enables poor sinners, called by the Gospel, to approach the Judge of all upon His "bench" or throne without fear! Only by faith is this possible.
"And to the spirits of just men made perfect." It is blessed to note that this comes immediately after mention of "the Judge of all"—to show us the saints had nothing to fear from Him, "for there is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ" (Rom. 8:1). The reference is to the O.T. believers, who have passed through death: that N.T. saints are "come" to them is clear from Ephesians 2:19. Of course that "made perfect" is relative and not absolute, for their resurrection and full glorification is yet future. As Owen defined it: First, they had reached the end of the race wherein they had been engaged, with all the duties and difficulties, temptations and tribulations connected therewith. Second, they were completely delivered from sin and sorrow, labor and trouble, which in this life they had been exposed to. Third, they had now entered their rest and reward and were, according to their present capacity, in the immediate presence of God and perfectly happy.
"And to Jesus the Mediator of the new covenant:" His personal name is used here because it is in this character He saves His people from their sins—compare our exposition of 9:15-17. Here again a contrast is drawn from that which obtained under the old covenant. Moses was the middle person between Israel and God: chosen by the people (Ex. 20:19, etc.) and appointed by Him to declare His mind unto them; unto him they were all baptized (1 Cor. 10:2). But Moses was merely a man, a fallen descendant of Adam: he delivered God’s law to the people, but was incapable of magnifying and making it honorable by a perfect personal obedience. Nor was he that "surety" of the covenant unto God for the people, as Christ was; he did not confirm the covenant by offering himself as a sacrifice to God, nor could he give the people an interest in heavenly privileges. How far short he came of Christ!
By being brought unto "Sion," Christians are come to all the mercy, grace and glory prepared in the new covenant and presented in the promises of it. Herein lies the supreme blessedness and eternal security of the Church, that its members are taken into such a covenant that they have a personal interest in the Mediator of it, who is able to save them unto the uttermost. This is the very substance and essence of Christian faith, that it has to do with the Mediator of the new covenant, by whom alone we obtain deliverance from the old covenant and the curse with which it is accompanied. It is both the privilege and wisdom of faith to make use of this "Mediator" in all our dealings with God: He it is who offers to God our prayers and praises and brings down the favor of God upon His people.
"And to the blood of sprinkling, that speaketh better things than that of Abel." The blood of Christ is referred to thus in allusion unto the various sprinklings of blood Divinely instituted under the old covenant, the three most signal instances of which are recorded in Exodus 12:22; 24:6-8; Leviticus 16:14, the principal reference here being to Exodus 24, where the old covenant was thus ratified. All of those instances were eminent types of the redemption, justification and sanctification of the Church by the blood of Christ. The specific thing denoted by the "sprinkling" (in contrast from its "shedding") is the application to believers of its virtues and benefits. The more the Christian exercises repentance toward God and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ, the more will he experience the peace-speaking power of that precious blood in his conscience. The blood of Christ "speaketh" to God as a powerful Advocate: urging the fulfillment of the Mediator’s part of the everlasting covenant, His perfect satisfaction to Divine justice, the full discharge from condemnation purchased for His people.
The contrast here is very impressive: the blood of Abel called for vengeance (Gen. 4:10), whereas the blood of Christ calls for blessing to be bestowed on those for whom it was shed. Even the blood of the wicked if unrighteously shed, calls to God for it to be recompensed. But Abel was a saint, the first martyr, and his blood cried according to the worth that was in him, for "precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints." If then the blood of a saint speaks so forcibly to God, how infinitely more powerfully must the blood of "the King of saints" (Rev. 15:3) plead! If the blood of a single member of Christ’s Body so speaks to God, what will the blood of the Head Himself! Moreover, Abel’s blood only cried to God "from the ground," where it was shed, but Christ’s blood speaks in Heaven itself (Heb. 9:12).