An Exposition of Hebrews
by A. W. Pink
Brotherly love is that spiritual benevolence and affectionate solicitude which Christians have one toward another, desiring and seeking their highest interests. The varied characteristics of it are beautifully delineated in 1 Corinthians 13. In the opening verse of Hebrews 13 the apostle exhorts unto the maintenance of the same, "Let brotherly love continue." Negatively, that means, Let us be constantly on our guard against those things which are likely to interrupt its flow. Positively, it signifies, Let us be diligent in employing those means which are calculated to keep it in a healthy state. It is along these two lines that our responsibility here is to be discharged, and therefore it is of first importance that due heed be given thereto. We therefore propose to point out some of the main hindrances and obstacles to the continuance of brotherly love, and then mention some of the aids and helps to the furtherance of the same. May the blessed Spirit direct the writer’s thoughts and give the reader to lay to heart whatever is of Himself.
The root hindrance to the exercise of brotherly love is self-love—to be so occupied with number one that the interests of others are lost sight of. In Proverbs 30:15 we read, "The horseleech hath two daughters crying Give, give." This repulsive creature has two forks in her tongue, which she employs for gorging herself in the blood of her unhappy victim. Spiritually the "horseleech" represents self-love and her two daughters are self-righteousness, and self-pity. As the horseleech is never satisfied, often continuing to gorge itself until it bursts, so self-love is never contented, crying "Give, give." All the blessings and mercies of God are perverted by making them to minister unto self. Now the antidote for this evil spirit is for the heart to be engaged with the example which Christ has left us. He came not to be ministered unto, but to minister unto others. He pleased not Himself, but ever "went about doing good." He was tireless in relieving distress and seeking the welfare of all with whom He came into contact. Then "Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus" (Phil. 2:5). If brotherly love is to continue self must be denied.
Inseparably connected with self-love is pride, and the fostering of pride is fatal to the cultivation of brotherly affection. The majority, if not all, of the petty grievances among Christians, are to be traced back to this evil root. "Love suffereth long," but pride is terribly impatient. "Love envieth not," but pride is intensely jealous. "Love seeketh not her own," but pride ever desires gratification. "Love seeketh not her own," but pride demands constant attention from others. "Love beareth all things," but pride is resentful of the slightest injury. "Love endureth all things," but pride is offended if a brother fails to greet him on the street. Pride must be mortified if brotherly love is to flourish. Therefore the first injunction of Christ to those who come unto Him for rest is, "Take My yoke upon you, and learn of Me; for I am meek and lowly in heart."
Another great enemy to brotherly love is a sectarian spirit, and this evil is far more widespread than many suppose. Our readers would be surprised if they knew how often a sample copy of this magazine is despised by those who have a reputation for being stalwarts in the Faith and as possessing a relish for spiritual things, yet because this paper is not issued by their denomination or "circle of fellowship" it is at once relegated to the waste-paper basket. Alas, how frequently is a spirit of partisanship mistaken for brotherly love: so long as a person "believes our doctrines" and is willing to "join our church," he is received with open arms. On the other hand, no matter how sound in the faith a man may be, nor how godly his walk, if he refuses to affiliate himself with some particular group of professing Christians, he is looked upon with suspicion and given the cold shoulder. But such things ought not to be: they betray a very low state of spirituality.
We are far from advocating the entering into familiar fellowship with every one who claims to be a Christian—Scipture warns us to "lay hands suddenly on no man" (1 Tim. 5:22), for all is not gold that glitters; and perhaps there never was a day in which empty profession abounded so much as it does now. Yet there is a happy medium between being taken in by every impostor who comes along, and refusing to believe that there are any genuine saints left upon earth. Surely a tree may be known by its fruits. When we meet with one in whom we can discern the image of Christ, whether that one be a member of our party or not, there should our affections be fixed. "Wherefore receive ye one another, as Christ also received us, to the glory of God" (Rom. 15:7): it is our bounden duty to love all whom Christ loves, It is utterly vain that we boast of our orthodoxy or of the "light" we have, if brotherly love be not shown by us to the feeblest member of Christ’s body who crosses our path.
There are many other things which are serious obstacles to the maintenance of brotherly love, yet we must not do more than barely mention them: the love of the world; failure to mortify the lusts of the flesh in our souls; being unduly wrapt up in the members of our own family, so that those related to us by the blood of Christ have not that place in our affections which they ought; ignorance of the directions in which it should be exercised and of the proper duties which it calls for; forgetfulness of the foundation of it, which is a mutual interest in the grace of God, that we are fellow-members of the Household of Faith; a readiness to listen to idle gossip, which in most instances, is a "giving place to the Devil," who accuses the brethren day and night. But there is one other serious hindrance to the continuance of brotherly love which we will notice in a little more detail, namely, impatience.
By impatience we mean a lack of forbearance. True brotherly love is a reflection of God’s love for us, and He loves His people not for their native attractiveness, but for Christ’s sake; and therefore does He love them in spite of their ugliness and vileness. God is "longsuffering to us-ward" (2 Pet. 3:9), bearing with our crookedness, pardoning our iniquities, healing our diseases, and His word to us is, "Be ye therefore followers (emulators) of God, as dear children, and walk in love" (Eph. 5:1, 2). We are to love the saints for what we can see of Christ in them; yes, love them, and for that reason—in spite of all their ignorance, perverseness, ill-temper, obstinacy, fretfulness. It is the image of God in them not their wealth, amiability, social position—which is the magnet that attracts a renewed heart toward them.
"Forbearing one another in love" (Eph. 4:2). False love is glad of any specious excuse for throwing off the garb that sits so loosely and uncomfortably upon it. Ahitophel was glad of a pretext to forsake David, whom he hated in his heart, although with his mouth he continued to show much love. "Forbearing one another in love:" that love which a little silence or neglect can destroy never came from God, that love which a few blasts of malice from the lips of a new acquaintance will wither, is not worth possessing! Remember, dear brother, God suffers our love for one another to be tried and tested—-as He does our faith—or there would be no need for this exhortation "forbearing one another in love." The most spiritual Christian on earth is full of infirmities, and the best way of enduring them is to frequently and honestly remind yourself that you also are full of faults and failings.
John Owen pointed out that there are certain occasions (in addition to the causes we have mentioned above) of the decay and loss of brotherly love. "1. Differences in opinion and practice about things in religion (unless these be of a vital nature they should not be allowed to affect our love for each other, A.W.P.). 2. Un-suitableness of natural tempers and inclinations. 3. Readiness to receive a sense of appearing provocations. 4. Different and sometimes inconsistent secular interests. 5. An abuse of spiritual gifts, by pride on the one hand, or envy on the other. 6. Attempts for domination, inconsistent in a fraternity; which are all to be watched against."
We sincerely trust that the reader is not becoming weary of our lengthy exposition of Hebrews 13:1: the subject of which it treats is of such deep practical importance that we feel one more aspect of it requires to be considered. We shall therefore elaborate a little on some of the sub-headings which Owen mentioned under the means of its preservation. First, "An endeavor to grow and thrive in the principle of it, or the power of adopting grace." The three principal graces—faith, hope, love—can only thrive in a healthy soul. Just so far as personal piety wanes will brotherly love deteriorate. If close personal communion with Christ be neglected, then there can be no real spiritual fellowship with His people. Unless, then, my heart be kept warm in the love of God, affection toward my brethren is sure to decay. Second, "A deep sense of the weight or moment of this duty, from the especial instruction and command of Christ." Only as the heart is deeply impressed by the vital importance of the maintenance of brotherly love will serious and constant efforts be made thereunto.
Third, "Of the trial which is connected thereunto, of the sincerity of our grace and the truth of our sanctification, for ‘by this we know we have passed from death unto life.’" This is indeed a weighty consideration: if Christians were more concerned to obtain proof of their regeneration, they would devote far closer attention to the cultivation of brotherly love, which is one of the chief evidences of the new birth (1 John 3:14). If I am at outs with my brethren and am unconcerned about their temporal and eternal interests, then I have no right to regard myself as a child of God. Fourth, "A due consideration of the use, yea, the necessity of this duty to the glory of God, and edification of the church." The greater concern we really have for the manifestative glory of God in this world, the more zealous shall we be in seeking to promote the same by the increase of brotherly love in our self and among the saints: the glory of God and the welfare of His people are inseparably bound together.
Fifth, "Of that breach of union, loss of peace, discord and confusion, which must and will ensue on the neglect of it." Serious indeed are the consequences of a decay of brotherly love, yea, fatal if the disease be not arrested. Therefore does it behoove each of us to honestly and seriously face the question, How far is my lack of brotherly love contributing unto the spiritual decline in Christendom today? Sixth, "Constant watchfulness against all those vicious habits of mind, in self-love, love of the world, which are apt to impair it." If that be faithfully attended to, it will prove one of the most effectual of all the means for the cultivation of this grace. Seventh, "Diligent heed that it be not impaired in its vital acts: such as are patience, forbearance, readiness to forgive, unaptness to believe evil, without which no other duties of it will be long continued. Eighth, fervent prayer for supplies of grace enabling thereunto."
After the opening exhortation of Hebrews 13—which is fundamental to the discharge of all mutual Christian duties—the Holy Spirit through the apostle proceeds to point out some of the ways in which the existence and continuance of brotherly love are to be evidenced. "Be not forgetful to entertain strangers" (verse 2). Here is the first instance given, among sundry particulars, in which the greatest of all the Christian graces is to be exemplified. The duty which is inculcated is that of Christian hospitality. That which was commanded under the old covenant is repeated under the new: "But the stranger that dwelleth with you shall be unto you as one born among you, and thou shalt love him as thyself; for ye were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God" (Lev. 19:34 and cf. Deuteronomy 10:19, etc.). The Greek worn for "entertain" is rendered "lodge" in Acts 10:18, 23, and Acts 28:7.
There was a special urgency for pressing this duty by the apostles, arising from the persecution of the Lord’s people in different places, which resulted in their being driven from their own homes and forced to seek a refuge abroad. "At that time there was a great persecution against the church which was at Jerusalem; and they were all scattered abroad throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles" (Acts 8:1)—some traveled as far as "Phenice and Cyprus and Antioch" (Acts 11:19). Therein did they obey the direction of Christ’s that "when they persecute you in this city, flee ye into another" (Matthew 10:23), removing to other parts where, for the present, peace obtained; for the providence of God so directs things it is very rare that persecution prevails universally—hence some places of quiet retirement are generally available, at least for a season. Yet this being forced to leave their own habitations required them to seek refuge among strangers, and this it is which gives point to our present exhortation.
Moreover "at that time there were sundry persons, especially of the converted Hebrews, who went up and down from one city, yea, one nation, unto another, on their own charges, to preach the Gospel. They went forth for the sake of Christ, taking nothing of the Gentiles unto whom they preached (3 John 7); and these were only brethren, and not officers of any church. The reception, entertainment, and assistance of these when they came unto any church or place as strangers, the apostle celebrates and highly commends in his well-beloved Gaius (3 John 5, 6). Such as these, when they came to them as strangers, the apostle recommends unto the love and charity of the Hebrews in a peculiar manner. And he who is not ready to receive and entertain such persons, will manifest how little concern he hath in the Gospel or the glory of Christ Himself" (John Owen).
Though circumstances have altered (for the moment, for none can say how soon the restraining hand of God may be partly withdrawn and His enemies allowed to shed the blood of His people once more—such is even now the case in some parts of the earth), yet the principle of this injunction is still binding on all who bear the name of Christ. Not only are our hearts, but our homes as well, to be opened unto such as are really needy: "distributing to the necessity of saints; given to hospitality" (Rom. 12:13). An eminent and spiritual scholar points out that "the original word hath respect not so much to the exercise of the duty itself, as to the disposition, readiness, and frame of mind which is required in it and to it. Hence the Syriac renders it ‘the love of strangers,’ and that properly; but it is of such a love as is effectual, and whose proper exercise consists in the entertainment of them, which is the proper effect of love towards them."
In Eastern countries, where they traveled almost barefoot, the washing of the feet (1 Tim. 5:10), as well as the setting before them of food and giving lodgment for the night, would be included. The word for "strangers" is not found in the Greek: literally it reads "of hospitality not be forgetful"—be not unmindful of, grow not slack in, the discharge of this duty. It is to be observed that one of the necessary qualifications of a bishop is that he must be "a lover of hospitality" (Titus 1:8). Just as worldings delight in entertaining their relatives and friends, so the Lord’s people should be eager and alert to render loving hospitality to homeless or stranded Christians, and as 1 Peter 4:9 says "use hospitality one to another without grudging." The same applies, of course, to entertaining in our homes traveling servants of God—rather than sending them to some hotel to mingle with the ungodly.
"Be not forgetful to entertain strangers: for thereby some have entertained angels unawares" (verse 2). The second clause is to be regarded as supplying a motive for the discharge of this duty of Christian hospitality. Needless to say these added words do not signify that we may expect, literally, to receive a similar honor, but it is mentioned for the purpose of supplying encouragement. The apostle here reminds us that in former days some had been richly rewarded for their diligent observance of this duty, for they had been granted the holy privilege of receiving angels under the appearance of men. How this consideration enforces our exhortation is apparent: had there not been a readiness of mind unto this, a spirit of real hospitality in their hearts, they had neglected the opportunity with which Divine grace so highly favored them. Let us, then, seek to cultivate the virtue of generosity: "the liberal deviseth liberal things" (Isa. 32:8).
"For thereby some have entertained angels unawares." The special reference, no doubt, is unto the cases of Abraham (Gen. 18:1-3) and of Lot (Gen. 19:1-3). We say "special reference" for the use of the plural "some" is sufficient to bar us from ascribing it to them alone, exclusively of all others. It is quite likely that in those ancient times, when God so much used the ministry of angels unto His saints, that others of them shared the same holy privilege. The real point for us in this allusion is that the Lord will be no man’s debtor, that He honors those who honor Him—whether they honor Him directly, or indirectly in the persons of His people. "For 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). This too is recorded for our encouragement and when we have discharged the duty (as opportunity afforded—for God accepts the will for the deed!), if in indigent circumstances we may plead this before Him.
The Scriptures are full of examples where the Spirit has joined together duty and privilege, obedience and reward. Whenever we comply with such commands, we may count upon God recompensing those who exercised kindness unto His people. The cases of Rebekah (Gen. 24:18, 19, 22), of Potiphar (Gen. 39:5), of the Egyptian midwives (Ex. 2:17, 20), of Rahab (Josh. 6:25), of the widow of Zarephath (1 Kings 17:15, 23), of the woman of Shunem (2 Kings 4:8), of the inhabitants of Melita (Acts 28:2, 8, 9), all illustrate this. The resulting gains will more than repay any expense we incur in befriending the saints. Beautifully did Calvin point out that "not merely angels, but Christ Himself, is received by us, when we receive the poor of the flock in His name." Solemn beyond words is the warning of Matthew 25:41-43; but inexpressibly blessed is Matthew 25:34-36.
Compassion for the afflicted is the next thing exhorted unto: "Remember them that are in bonds, as bound with them" (verse 3). Love to the brethren is to manifest itself in sympathy for sufferers. Most reprehensible and un-Christlike is that selfish callousness which says, I have troubles enough of my own without concerning myself over those of other people. Putting it on its lowest ground, such a spirit ministers no relief: the most effectual method of getting away from our own sorrows is to seek out and relieve others in distress. But nothing has a more beneficial tendency to counteract our innate selfishness than a compliance with such exhortations as the one here before us: to be occupied with the severer afflictions which some of our brethren are experiencing will free our minds from the lighter trials we may be passing through.
"Remember them that are in bonds." The immediate reference is unto those who had been deprived of their liberty for Christ’s sake, who had been cast into prison. The "remember" signifies far more than to merely think of them, including all the duties which their situation called for. It means, first, feel for them, take to heart their case, have compassion toward them. Our great High Priest is touched with the feeling of their infirmities (Heb. 4:15), and so must we be. At best their food was coarse, their beds hard, and the ties which bound them to their families had been rudely sundered. Often they lay. cruelly fettered, in a dark and damp dungeon. They felt their situation, their confinement, their separation from wife and children; then identify yourself with them and have a feeling sense of what they suffer. "Remember," too, that but for the sovereignty of God, and His restraining hand, you would be in the same condition as they!
But more: "remember" them in your prayers. Intercede for them, seeking on their behalf grace from God, that they may meekly acquiesce to His providential dealings, that their sufferings may be sanctified to their souls, that the Most High will so overrule things that this Satanic opposition against some of His saints may yet issue in the extension of His kingdom. Finally, do unto them as you would wish them to do unto you were you in their place. If you can obtain permission, visit them (Matthew 25:36), endeavor to comfort them, so far as practicable relieve their sufferings; and leave no stone unturned to seek their lawful release. Divine providence so regulates things that, as a rule, while some of the saints are in prison, others of them still enjoy their liberty—thus allowing an opportunity for the practical exercise of Christian sympathy.
"And them which suffer adversity, as being yourselves also in the body" (verse 3). There is probably a double reference here: first, to those who were not actually in prison, but who had been severely flogged, or were in sore straits because heavy fines had been imposed on them. Second, to the wives and children of those who had been imprisoned, and who would suffer keen adversity now that the breadwinners were removed from them. Such have a very real claim upon the sympathy of those who had escaped the persecutions of the foes of the Gospel. If you are not in a financial position to do much for them, then acquaint some of your richer brethren with their case and endeavor to stir them up to supply their needs. "As being yourselves also in the body" is a reminder that it may be your turn next to experience such opposition.
John Owen, who lived in particularly stormy times (the days of Bunyan), said, "Whilst God is pleased to give grace and courage unto some to suffer for the Gospel unto bonds, and to others to perform this duty towards them, the church will be no loser by suffering. When some are tried as unto their constancy in bonds, others are tried as unto their sincerity in the discharge of the duties required of them. And usually more fail in neglect of their duty towards sufferers, and so fall from their profession, than do so fail under and on the account of their sufferings." That the apostle Paul practiced what he preached is clear from "Who is weak, and I am not weak? who is offended, and I burn not?" (2 Cor. 11:29). For illustrations of the discharge of these duties see Genesis 14:14, Nehemiah 1:4, Job 29:15, 16, Jeremiah 38:7, etc. For solemn warnings read Job 19:14-16, Proverbs 21:13, Matthew 25:43, James 2:13.
We need hardly say that the principles of verse 3 are of general application at all times and to all cases of suffering Christians. The same is summed up in "Bear ye one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ" (Gal. 6:2). The sentiment of this verse has been beautifully expressed in the lines of that hymn so precious in its hallowed memories:
"Blest be the tie that binds
Our hearts in Christian love;
The fellowship of kindred minds
Is like to that above.
We share our mutual woes,
Our mutual burdens bear,
And often for each other flows
The sympathizing tear."
The Lord grant unto both writer and reader more of His grace so that we shall "Rejoice with them that do rejoice, and weep with them that weep" (Rom. 12:15).