An Exposition of Hebrews
by A. W. Pink
Most of the commentators regard the final chapter of Hebrews as an appendix or postscript, containing sundry exhortations which have no direct relation to the body of the epistle. Personally, we regard it as a serious mistake, due to lack of perspicuity, to ignore the organic connection between the central theme of the apostle and the various duties which he here inculcates; rather do we agree with Owen that in these closing verses there is exhibited an exemplification of "that Divine wisdom wherewith he was actuated in writing of the whole, which the apostle Peter refers to in 2 Peter 3:15" The more an anointed mind meditates on this fact, with the faith and reverence which the Holy Scriptures call for, the more will the Divine inspiration of this portion be revealed. It is a great pity that so many writers become slack when they reach the final chapter of an epistle, seeming to imagine that its contents are of less importance and value than those of the earlier ones.
Unless we carefully bear in mind the order which the apostle was moved by the Holy Spirit to follow in this treatise, we shall fail to learn some most vital and valuable lessons concerning the proper method and manner of setting forth the Truth of God before the souls of men. Not only is the teacher of God’s Word to hold fast the system of doctrine contained therein (introducing no speculations of his own), to preserve a due balance of Truth (not allowing personal preference to make him a hobbyist), but in order for his ministry to be most acceptable to God and profitable to his hearers or readers he must adhere strictly to the order of Scripture; for if the context and connections of a passage be ignored, there is great danger of perverting it, for its proper emphasis is then lost and the chain of Truth is broken. Let preachers especially attend closely to the remarks which follow.
A careful reading through of our epistle at a single sitting will reveal the fact that throughout the first twelve chapters not a single moral or ecclesiastical duty is inculcated. It is true that here and there the apostle breaks in upon the orderly development of his thesis, by urging an exhortation unto obedience to God and perseverance in the faith, or by interspersing a solemn warning against the fatal consequences of apostasy; nevertheless, never once does he formally press upon the Hebrews any of the duties enjoined by the second table of the Law—those were reserved for his closing words. The course followed by the apostle was, first, to set forth the glorious person, offices, and work of Christ, and then, having laid a firm foundation for faith and obedience, to exhort unto evangelical and moral duties. As we deem this a most essential consideration we subjoin a paragraph from that master exegete, John Owen.
"He prescribes by his own example, as he also doth in most of his other epistles, the true order and method of preaching the Gospel; that is, first, to declare the mysteries of it, with the grace of God therein, and then to improve it unto practical duties of obedience. And they will be mistaken, who in this work propose unto themselves any other method; and those most of all, who think one part of it enough without the other. For as the declaration of spiritual truths, without showing how they are the vital quickening form of obedience, and without the application of them thereunto, tends only unto that knowledge which puffeth up, but doth not edify; so the pressing of moral duties, without a due declaration of the grace of God in Christ Jesus, which alone enables us unto them, and renders them acceptable unto God, with their necessary dependence thereon, is but to deceive the souls of men, and lead them out of the way and off from the Gospel."
The Divine mysteries unfolded and the great doctrines expounded in the Holy Scriptures are not mere abstractions addressed to the intellect, devoid of valuable fruits and effects: where they are truly received into the soul and there mixed with faith, they issue, first, in the heart being spiritually molded thereby and drawn out God-wards, and second, they issue in practical results man-ward. If the Gospel makes known the infinite love and amazing grace of God in Christ, it also directs unto the performance of spiritual and moral duties. So far from the Gospel freeing believers from the duties required by the Law, it lays upon us additional obligations, directs to their right performance, and supplies new and powerful motives to their discharge.
So much, then, for the general relation of the contents of Hebrews 13 to what has preceded it; now for the more specific connection. So far from there being a radical break between Hebrews 12 and 13 the closing verses of the former and the opening ones of the latter are closely linked together. There the apostle had mentioned the principal duties which believers are to perform God-wards, namely, to "hear" (verse 25) and to "serve Him acceptably" (verse 28); here, he tabulates those duties which are to be performed man-wards. He begins with what is really the sum and substance of all the rest, brotherly love: first, the loving of God with all our heart, and then our neighbor as ourselves. Adolph Saphir pointed out another link of connection which is not so evident at first sight: having just reminded the Hebrews that "things that are made" shall be shaken and removed (Heb. 12:27), he now exhorts them to "let that abide which is of God, which is eternal, even love."
"Let brotherly love continue" (13:1). The first application in the case of the Hebrews would be, See to it that your having become Christians does not make you behave in a less kindly manner unto your brethren according to the flesh, the Jews. True, they are occasioning great provocation by their enmity and persecution, yet this does not warrant your retaliating in a like spirit, rather does it provide opportunity for the exercise and manifestation of Divine grace. Remember the example left by your Master: the Jews treated Him most vilely, yet He bore patiently their revilings; yea continued to seek their good—then do you follow His steps. Most blessedly did the writer of this epistle emulate his Lord, and practice what he here inculcated: see Romans 9:1-3 and 10:1.
This lower application of our text holds good for any of us who may, in our measure, be circumstanced similarly to the Hebrews. Since yielding ourselves to the claims of the Lord Jesus, our relations and friends may have turned against us, and, stirred up by Satan, are now opposing, annoying, ill-treating us. In such a case the word comes to us "Let brotherly love continue." Avenge not yourself: answer not railing with railing: but exercise a spirit of true benevolence, desiring and seeking only their good. "If thine enemy hunger, feed him; if he thirst, give him drink: for in so doing thou shalt heap coals of fire on his head. Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good" (Rom. 12:20, 21).
"Let brotherly love continue." The higher reference is, of course, to that special and spiritual affection which is to be cultivated between and among God’s children. "He calls love brotherly, not only to teach us that we ought to be mutually united together by a peculiar and inward feeling of love, but also that we may remember that we cannot be Christians without loving the brethren, for he speaks of the love which the Household of Faith ought to cultivate one towards another, as the Lord has bound them closely together by the common bond of adoption" (John Calvin). Matthew Henry well pointed out, "the spirit of Christianity is a spirit of love." The fruit of the Spirit is love (Gal. 5:22). Faith worketh by love (Gal. 5:6). "Everyone that loveth Him that begat loveth him also that is begotten of Him" (1 John 5:1). Love to the brethren is both the first indication and fruit of the Christian life (Acts 16:33) and the final aim and result of Divine grace (2 Pet. 1:7).
It is to be noted that these Hebrew believers were not exhorted "let us have brotherly love," but "let brotherly love continue." Thus the apostle’s language clearly supposes that they already had love for each other, that he approvingly notices the same, and then calls upon them for a continuance of it. Like his Master, Paul combines exhortation with commendation: let all His servants do so wherever possible. He had already reminded them "God is not unrighteous to forget your work and labor of love, which ye have showed toward His name, in that ye have ministered to the saints, and do minister" (Heb. 6:10); and "Ye endured a great fight of afflictions; partly whilst ye were made a gazingstock both by reproaches and afflictions; and partly, whilst ye became companions of them that were so used" (Heb. 10:32, 33). But the apostle felt there was danger of their brotherly love decaying, for there were disputes among them concerning the ceremonies of the Mosaic law, and wrangling over religious differences bodes ill for the health of spiritual affection. He therefore puts them on their guard, and bids them live and love as "brethren."
"A love hath its foundation in relation. Where there is relation, there is love, or there ought so to be; and where there is no relation, there can be no love, properly so called. Hence it is here mentioned with respect unto a brotherhood... This brotherhood is religious: all believers have one Father (Matthew 23:8,9), one elder Brother (Rom. 8:29), who is not ashamed to call them brethren (Heb. 2:11); have one spirit, and are called in one hope of calling (Eph. 4:4), which being a spirit of adoption interesteth them all in the same family (Eph. 3:14, 15)"—John Owen. Brotherly love we would define as that gracious bond which knits together the hearts of God’s children; or more definitely, it is that spiritual and affectionate solicitude which Christians have toward each other, manifested by a desiring and endeavoring after their highest mutual interests.
This duty was enjoined upon His disciples by the Lord Jesus: "A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another" (John 13:34). It was to this word of Christ that His apostle referred in "Brethren, I write no new commandment unto you, but old commandment which ye had from the beginning. The old commandment is the word which ye have heard from the beginning. Again, a new commandment I write unto you, which thing is true in Him and in you" (1 John 2:7, 8 and cf. 3:11). Some have been puzzled by his "I write no new commandment unto you... Again, a new commandment I write unto you," yet the seeming ambiguity is easily explained. When a statute is renewed under another administration of government it is counted a "new" one. So it is in this case. That which was required by the Law (Lev. 19:18) is repeated by the Gospel (John 15:12), so that absolutely speaking it is not a new, but an old commandment. Yet relatively, it is "new," because enforced by new motives (1 John 3:16) and a new Pattern (1 John 4:10, 11). Thus, "Let us do good unto all men, especially unto them who are of the household of faith" (Gal. 6:10), because the latter have peculiar claims upon our affections, being created in the same image, professing the same faith, and having the same infirmities.
The maintenance of brotherly love tends in various ways to the spiritual blessing of the Church, the honor of the Gospel, and the comfort of believers. The exercise thereof is the best testimony to the world of the genuineness of our profession. The cultivation and manifestion of Christian affection between the people of God is a far more weighty argument with unbelievers than any apologetics. Believers should conduct themselves toward each other in such a way that no button or pin is needed to label them as brethren in Christ. "By this shall all men know that ye are My disciples, if ye have love one to another" (John 13:35). It should be made quite evident that their hearts are knit together by a bond more intimate, spiritual, and enduring than any which mere nature can produce. Their deportment unto each other should be such as not only to mark them as fellow disciples, but as Christ says, "My disciples"—reflecting His love!
The exercise of brotherly love in not only a testimony unto the world, but it is also an evidence to Christians themselves of their regeneration: "We know that we have passed from death unto life because we love the brethren" (1 John 3:14). There should be a word of comfort here for those poor saints whose souls are cast down. At present they cannot "read their title clear to mansions in the sky," and are afraid to cry "Abba, Father" lest they be guilty of presumption. But here is a door of hope opened to Christ’s little ones: you may, dear reader, be afraid to affirm that you love God, but do you not love His people? If you do, you must have been born again, and have in you the same spiritual nature which is in them. But do I love them? Well, do you relish their company, admire what you see of Christ in them, wish them well, pray for them, and seek their good? If so, you certainly love them.
But not only is the exercise of Christian love a testimony unto the world of our Christian discipleship, and a sure evidence of our own regeneration, but it is also that which delights God Himself. Of course it does! It is the product of His own grace: the immediate fruit of His Spirit. "Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity!" (Ps. 133:1) is what the Lord Himself declares. This also comes out very sweetly in Revelation 3. There we find one of the epistles addressed to the seven churches which are in Asia, namely, the Philadelphian, the church of "brotherly love," for that is the meaning of the word "Philadelphia," and in that epistle there are no censures or rebukes: there was that there which refreshed the heart of the Lord!
But our text refers not so much to the existence and exercise of brotherly love, as it does to its maintenance: "Let brotherly love continue" or "abide constant" as some render it, for the word includes the idea of enduring in the face of difficulties and temptations. That which is enjoined is perseverance in a pure and unselfish affection toward fellow-Christians. Brotherly love is a tender plant which requires much attention: if it be not watched and watered, it quickly wilts. It is an exotic, for it is not a native of the soil of fallen human nature—"hateful and hating one another" (Titus 3:3) is a solemn description of what we were in our unregenerate state. Yes, brotherly love is a very tender plant and quickly affected by the cold air of unkindness, easily nipped by the frost of harsh words. If it is to thrive, it must needs be carefully protected and diligently cultivated.
"Let brotherly love continue:" what a needful word is this! It was so at the beginning, and therefore did the Lord God make it a fundamental in man’s duty: "thou shalt love try neighbor as thyself." O what strife and bloodshed, suffering and sorrow had been avoided, had this commandment been universally heeded. But alas, sin has domineered and dominated, and where sin is regnant love is dormant. If we wish to obtain a better idea of what sin is then contrast it with its opposite—God. Now God is spirit (John 4:24), God is light (1 John 1:5), God is love (1 John 4:8); whereas sin is fleshly, sin is darkness, sin is hatred. But if we have enlisted under the banner of Christ we are called unto a warfare against sin: against fleshliness, against hatred. Then "let brotherly love continue."
Yes, a most needful exhortation is this: not only because hatred so largely sways the world, but also because of the state of Christendom. Two hundred and fifty years ago John Owen wrote, "It (brotherly love) is, as unto its luster and splendor, retired to Heaven, abiding in its power and efficacious exercise only in some comers of the earth. Envy, wrath, selfishness, love of the world, with coldness in all the concerns of religion, have possessed the place of it. And in vain shall men wrangle and contend about their differences in faith and worship, pretending to design the advancement of religion by an imposition of their persuasions on others: unless this holy love be again re-introduced among all those who profess the name of Christ, all the concerns of religion will more and more run into ruin. The very name of a brotherhood amongst Christians is a matter of scorn and reproach, and all the consequents of such a relation are despised."
Nor are things any better today. O how little is brotherly love in evidence, generally speaking, among professing Christians. Is not that tragic word of Christ receiving its prophetic fulfillment: "because iniquitiy shall abound, the love of many shall wax cold" (Matthew 24:12). But, my reader, Christ’s love has not changed, nor should oars: "Having loved His own which were in the world, He loved them unto the end" (John 13:1). Alas, have not all of us reason to hang our heads in shame! Such an exhortation as this is most needful today when there is such a wide tendency to value light more highly than love, to esteem an understanding of the mysteries of Faith above the drawing out our affections unto each other. Here is a searching question which each of us should honestly face: Is my love for the brethren keeping pace with my growing (intellectual) knowledge of the Truth?
"Let brotherly love continue." What a humbling word is this! One had thought that those bound together by such intimate ties, fellow-members of the Body of Christ, would spontaneously love each other, and make it their constant aim to promote their interests. Ah, my reader, the Holy Spirit deemed it requisite to call upon us to perform this duty. What sort of creatures are we that still require to be thus exhorted! How this ought to hide pride from us: surely we have little cause for self-complacency when we need bidding to love one another! "Hateful and hating one another" (Titus 3:3): true, that was in our unregenerate days, nevertheless the root of that "hatred" still remains in the believer, and unless it be judged and mortified will greatly hinder the maintenance and exercise of Christian affection.
"Let brotherly love continue." What a solemn word is this! Is the reader startled by that adjective?—a needful and humbling one, but scarcely a "solemn." Ah, have we forgotten the context? Look at the verse which immediately precedes, and remember that when this epistle was first written there were no chapter-breaks: 12:29 and 13:1 read consecutively, without any hiatus—"our God is a consuming fire: let brotherly love continue!" The fact these two verses are placed in immediate juxtaposition strikes a most solemn note. Go back in your mind to the first pair of brothers who ever walked this earth: did "brotherly love continue" with them? Far otherwise: Cain hated and murdered his brother. And did not he find our God to be "a consuming fire"? Most assuredly he did, as his own words testify, "My punishment is greater than I can bear" (Gen. 4:13)—the wrath of God burned in his conscience, and he had a fearful foretaste of Hell before he went there.
But it may be objected to what has just been said, The case of Cain and Abel is scarcely a pertinent and appropriate one, for they were merely natural brothers where as the text relates primarily to those who are brethren spiritually. True, but the natural frequently adumbrates the spiritual, and there is much in Genesis 4 which each Christian needs to take to heart. However, let us pass on down the course of human history a few centuries. Were not Abraham and Lot brethren spiritually? They were: then did brotherly love continue between them? It did not: strife arose between their herdsmen, and they separated (Gen. 13). Lot preferred the well-watered plains and a home in Sodom to fellowship with the father of the faithful. And what was the sequel? Did he find that "our God is a consuming fire"? Witness the destruction of all his property in that city when God rained down fire and brimstone from heaven!—another solemn warning is that for us.
"Let brotherly love continue." But what a gracious word is this! Consider its implications: are they not similar to "walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are called, with all lowliness and meekness, with longsuffering, forbearing one another in love" (Eph. 4:1, 2)? That means we are to conduct ourselves not according to the dictates of the flesh, but according to the requirements of grace. If grace has been shown toward me, then surely I ought to be gracious to others. But that is not always easy: not only has the root of "hatred" been left in me, but the "flesh" still remains in my brethren! and there will be much in them to test and try my love, otherwise there would be no need for this exhortation "forbearing one another in love." God has wisely so ordered this that our love might rise above the mere amiability of nature. We are not merely to govern our tempers, act courteously, be pleasant to one another, but bear with infirmities and be ready to forgive a slight: "Love suffereth long, and is kind" (1 Cor. 13:4).
"Let brotherly love continue." What a comprehensive word is this! Had we the ability to fully open it and space to bring out all that is included, it would be necessary to quote a large percentage of the precepts of Scripture. If brotherly love is to continue then we must exhort one another daily, provoke unto good works, minister to each other in many different ways. It includes far more than dwelling together in peace and harmony, though unless that be present, other things cannot follow. It also involves a godly concern for each other: see Leviticus 19:17 and 1 John 5:2. It also embraces our praying definitely for each other. Another practical form of it is to write helpful spiritual letters to those now at a distance from us: you once enjoyed sweet converse together, but Providence has divided your paths: well, keep in touch via the post! "Let brotherly love continue."
"Let brotherly love continue." What a forcible word is this, by which we mean, it should drive all of us to our knees! We are just as dependent upon the Holy Spirit to call forth love into action as we are our faith: not only toward God, but toward each other—"The Lord direct your hearts into the love of God" (2 Thess. 3:5). Observe the forcible emphasis Christ placed upon this precept in His paschal discourse: "A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another" (John 13:34). Ah, but the Savior did not deem that enough: "This is My commandment, That ye love one another, as I have loved you" (John 15:12): why that repetition? Nor did that suffice: "These things I command you, that ye love one another" (John 15:17). In an earlier paragraph we reminded the reader that the Philadelphian church is the church of "Brotherly love." Have you observed the central exhortation in the epistle addressed to that church: "Hold that fast which thou hast, that no man take thy crown"? (Rev. 3:11).
"Let brotherly love continue." What a Divine word is this. The love which is here enjoined is a holy and spiritual one, made possible "because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Spirit" (Rom. 5:5). For until then there is naught but hatred. Love for the brethren is a love for the image of God stamped upon their souls: "every one that loveth Him that begat, loveth him also that is begotten of Him" (1 John 5:1). No man can love another for the grace that is in his heart, unless grace be in his own heart. It is natural to love those who are kind and generous to us; it is supernatural to love those who are faithful and holy in their dealings with us.
"Put on therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, bowels of mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, longsuffering; forbearing one another and forgiving one another, if any man have a quarrel against any; even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye. And above all these things put on LOVE, which is the bond of perfectness" (Col. 3:12-14).