An Exposition of Hebrews
by A. W. Pink
The Heart Established
(Hebrews 13:8, 9)
"Jesus Christ the same yesterday, and to-day, and forever" (verse 8). Sir Rob. Anderson and others regarded this as a declaration of the Savior’s Godhead, arguing that "The Same" is a Divine title taken from Psalm 102:27, etc. But why, it may be asked, should the apostle break his line of thought and introduce a formal affirmation of Christ’s Deity in the midst of a series of exhortations? Such an interpretation destroys the unity of the passage. Moreover, there was no need for this, for the Redeemer’s Godhead had been clearly and fully established in the opening chapter of the epistle. Nor was there any special reason for Paul, at this point, to insist upon the essential immutability of Christ, and that the translators of the A.V. did not so understand him is evident from their declining to add the auxiliary verb: "Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, and today," etc.
"Jesus Christ the same yesterday, and to-day, and forever." These words, as was intimated in the final paragraph of the preceding article, are not to be taken absolutely, but are to be regarded relatively; that is to say, they are not to be considered by themselves alone, but in connection with the precise place they occupy in the Sacred Canon. Every statement of Scripture is positioned by Divine wisdom, and often we miss an important key to interpretation when ignoring the particular location of a passage. The verse before us illustrates the special theme of the book in which it is found. The subject of the Hebrews’ letter is the immeasurable superiority of Christianity over Judaism, and here is further demonstration of the fact. Under Judaism, Aaron had been followed by Eleazer, and he, by Eli; but our great High Priest abides forever. Israel’s prophets followed each other on the stage of action; but our Prophet had no successor. So too there had been a long line of kings; but Zion’s King is eternal.
"The apostle speaks not of the person of Christ absolutely, but with respect unto His office and His discharge of it: he declares who and what He is therein. He is ‘the same’ in His Divine person: eternal, immutable, indeficient. Being so in Himself, He is so in His office from first to last. Although diverse alterations were made in the institutions of Divine worship, and there were many degrees and parts of Divine revelation (Heb. 1:1), yet in and through them all, Jesus Christ was still the same. In every state of the church, in every condition of believers, He is the same unto them, and will be so unto the consummation of all things; He is, He ever was, all in all unto the Church. He is the Object, the Author and Finisher of faith, the Preserver and Rewarder of all them that believe, and that equally in all generations" (Condensed from John Owen).
"Jesus Christ the same yesterday, and to-day, and forever." How thoughtlessly is this statement received by many! How carelessly is its setting ignored by most sermonizers! Were we to take this declaration absolutely it would involve us in inextricable difficulties. Ponder its terms for a moment. Did your Lord undergo no radical change when He became incarnate? Did He experience no great change at His resurrection? During the days of His flesh, He was "The Man of sorrows:" is He so now after His ascension?—one has but to ask the question to perceive its absurdity. This statement, then, is to be understood with certain limitations; or rather, it is to be interpreted in the light of its setting, and for that, not a novice, but an experienced expositor is required. Let us consider it, then, in connection with its context.
First, as has already been pointed out, it most blessedly illustrated the special theme of this epistle, for in contrast from so much that was mutable and transitory in Judaism, the Author of Christianity abides essentially the same in all generations. Second, verse 8 supplies an additional and most powerful motive to fidelity. Some of their spiritual guides had already passed away, and in those still left, time and change would swiftly work their sure effects; but the great Head of the Church remained, being alive for evermore. Jesus Christ was the One who had supported their deceased leaders, who had passed through their trials victoriously, and if trusted in, He would sustain them, for He was the same gracious and powerful Shepherd of the sheep. He is for you, as for them, "the same" Object of faith, "the same" all-sufficient Savior, "the same" effectual Intercessor. He is "the same" in His loving design and covenant faithfulness. Then cleave to Him with unshakeable confidence.
Third, the blessed declaration of verse 8 lays a foundation on which to base the exhortation which immediately follows. "The only way by which we can persevere in the right faith is to hold to the foundation, and not in the slightest degree depart from it, for he who holds not to Christ knows nothing but mere vanity, though he may comprehend heaven and earth" (John Calvin). The Lord Jesus is the same, therefore, be ye not unstable and fickle. Christ is the same teacher: His doctrine does not vary, His will does not fluctuate, nor His purpose alter; therefore should we remain steadfast in the Truth, shunning novelties and refusing all innovations. It is only by "holding the Head" (Col. 2:19), submitting to His will, receiving His doctrine, obeying His precepts, that we shall be fortified against false teachers and persevere unto the end.
Thus, verses 7-9 are intimately related and together form a complete hortatory passage: so far as we have light thereon, we understand them to mean: Hold fast to the testimony of your former leaders, for they proved the sufficiency of the Truth they proclaimed; Christian doctrine does not vary from day to day, for Jesus Christ is ever the same. The designation used of Him at once intimates that He is not here contemplated so much as the second Person in the Godhead, as the Mediator and Head of the Church. He is the same in His identity (Rev. 5:6), the same in His offices, the same in His efficacy, the same in His will; therefore must we refuse to be led away by those who teach anything different. The whole passage is a strong dissuasion against vacillation. The Truth is fixed; the Gospel is everlasting, therefore should we be "steadfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord" (1 Cor. 15:58).
"Be not carried about with divers and strange doctrines: for it is a good thing that the heart be established with grace: not with meats, which have not profited them that have been occupied therein" (verse 9). This is the point to which the apostle had been leading in the previous verses: trust in Christ, and cleave to Him according to the instruction you have received from your fathers in the Faith, and give not ear unto those who would unsettle and seduce you. "Divers doctrines" are those which differ from pure Christianity; "strange" doctrines are those which are foreign or opposed to the Gospel. To be carried "about" by such is for the mind to be unsettled thereby, producing an unsteadiness of conduct. To be immune from this evil the heart has to be established with grace, which, because of its deep importance, calls for a careful inquiry thereinto. "Not with meats" has reference to the efforts of the Judaisers to graft the ceremonial law on to the Gospel, a thing utterly unprofitable, yea, baneful.
"Be not carried about with divers and strange doctrines." It is to be duly noted that the noun is in the plural number. This is in marked and designed contrast from the revelation which God has given us. Truth is a perfect unit, but error is multiform. There is but "one faith," as there is but "one Lord" (Eph. 4:5), namely, that which was once for all delivered to the saints (Jude 3) in the revelation made of it by Christ and the apostles (Heb. 2:3, 4). Hence, when the Truth is in view, it is always "doctrine" in the singular number, as "the doctrine" (John 7:17), "the doctrine of Christ" (2 John 9) and see Romans 16:17; 1 Timothy 4:16 etc. On the other hand, where error is referred to the plural number is employed, as in "doctrines of men" (Col. 2:22), "doctrines of demons" (1 Tim. 4:1). The Truth of God is one uniform system and chain of doctrine, which begins in God and ends in Him; but error is inconsistent and manifold.
"Be not carried about with divers and strange doctrines." The very fact that this dehortation was not only given verbally by the apostles to the Christians of their own day, but is also preserved in the written Word of God, clearly intimates that the people of God will always have to contend against error unto the end of time. Christ Himself declared, "Take heed that no man deceive you: for many shall come in My name, saying, I am Christ; and shall deceive many" (Matthew 24:4, 5); and the last of His apostles wrote "try the spirits whether they are of God, because many false prophets are gone out into the world" (1 John 4:1). How unfeignedly thankful we should be that God has put into our hands an unfailing plummet by which we may measure every preacher and teacher. The doctrine of Christ changes not, and whatever proceeds not from it and accords not with it, is alien to the faith of the Church and is to be refused and rejected.
"Be not carried about with divers and strange doctrines." As this dehortation concerned the Hebrew saints the reference was, of course, to the Mosaic institutions, as the remainder of our verse denotes: "for it is a good thing that the heart be established with grace: not with meats, which have not profited them that have been occupied therein." The Levitical law made distinctions of meats, and things of a like nature, which the false teachers were pressing with much zeal. It is plain from such passages as Romans 14:13-23, 1 Corinthians 8, Galatians 4, etc., that determined efforts were being made by the Enemy to corrupt the Gospel by attaching to it parts of the ceremonialism of Judaism. When Paul says "which have not profited them that have been occupied therein" he referred not to the O.T. saints who had obeyed the Mosaic precepts, but to those who heeded the errorists of his day.
The principle expressed in this dissuasion is as applicable to and as much needed by the saints of each succeeding generation as it was by those Hebrews. It is one of the marks of the Fall that man is fonder of that which is material in religion, than he is of what is spiritual; he is most prone—as history universally and sadly shows—to concentrate on trivialities rather than upon essentials. He is more concerned about the details of ordinances than he is of getting his heart established with grace. He will lend a readier ear to novel "doctrines" than to a solid exposition of the fundamentals of the Faith. He will contend zealously for things which contribute nothing to his salvation nor conduce an iota unto true holiness. And the only sure way of being delivered from this evil tendency, and of being preserved from false doctrines, is to buy the Truth and sell it not, and to have the heart established with grace.
"For it is a good thing that the heart be established with grace." What is denoted by this weighty expression? First, what is it for the heart to be "established" and then how it is so established "with grace"? An established heart is the opposite from one which is "carried about," which term is used again in, "that we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men" (Eph. 4:14). It is a poetic expression in allusion to sailing-ships and the impression of the wind upon them. The figure is apt, and suggestive of the nature of strange doctrines, the way in which they are spread, and their effects on the minds of men. In themselves they are light and vain, "clouds which hold no water" (Jude 12): there is nothing solid and substantial in them for the soul. Those who would impose such doctrines on others, generally do so with much bombast and blustering; unless we believe and practice such things, we are denounced as heretics and unsaved (Acts 15:1). The unlearned and unstable are disturbed by them, carried out of their course, and are in danger of making shipwreck of their faith. Hence, an "established heart" is one which is rooted and grounded in the Truth, securely anchored in Christ, rejoicing in God.
The word "grace" is vastly comprehensive and has various meanings in its Scripture usage. Its grand, original, fundamental signification is to express the free, eternal, and sovereign layout of God toward His people, for that is the spring and source of all the gifts, benefits and blessings we receive from Him. From this infinite fountain of the uncaused favor and special love of God—which is the "good pleasure of His (immutable) will"—proceed all the acts of His grace toward, in, and upon the elect. "Who hath saved us, and called us with an holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace, which was given us in Christ Jesus before the world began" (2 Tim. 1:9). From that blessed ocean of grace proceed our personal and unconditional election in Christ, our union unto Him, interest in Him, relation to Him, together with our being blessed in Him with all spiritual blessings (Eph. 1:3-6). We read of "the grace of God and the gift by grace" (Rom. 5:15): the former of which must mean the favor of God in His own heart towards us, in distinction from all the favors He bestows upon us; while the latter signifies the righteousness of Christ imputed to us, as flowing from the original grace in God.
The operations, breathings, and influences of the Holy Spirit in quickening, enlightening, revealing and applying Christ to us, so that we are put into actual enjoyment of Him and His salvation, are the outworkings of the everlasting Covenant of Grace; therefore it is all of grace. The next most common use of the term is inherent or indwelling grace, being used to designate that supernatural work which is wrought in the Christian at his regeneration, whereby he is made alive Godwards and is given a relish for spiritual things: such passages as "He giveth more grace" (James 4:6), and "grow in grace" (2 Pet. 3:18) have respect to grace in the heart. Then too the whole system of doctrine comprehended by "the Gospel" is so designated, for when Paul said to the Galatians, "Whosoever of you are justified by the law, ye are fallen from grace" (Heb. 5:4) he meant they had forsaken the truth of grace. Among the less frequent uses of the term we may note that its transforming effects age themselves called "grace" (Acts 11:23); gifts for preaching beal’ the title of "grace" (2 Cor. 6:1), as do those virtues wrought in us by the Spirit (2 Cor. 12:9, 10).
"For it is a good thing that the heart be established with grace." By "grace" in this verse we understand, first, the doctrine of grace, that is, the truth of God’s free favor without us, in His own heart towards us, which is made known to us in the Gospel (Acts 20:24). Concerning this we read, "For the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men" (Titus 2:11) i.e. it has been revealed in His Gospel. The doctrine of grace is also styled, "wholesome words, even the words of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the doctrine which is according to godliness" (1 Tim. 6:3). The doctrine of grace includes all that sacred system of theology, all the fundamentals of the everlasting Gospel of the blessed God, that grand "mystery" of His mind and will which sets forth to us the complete counsel and covenant of the Eternal Three, the record of God concerning His Son, by which He declares that "he that believeth hath everlasting life."
As the whole of the Gospel, with the great salvation contained in it, and the blessings, consolations, privileges and promises of it, were fully, freely, and impartially preached by the apostles, so it was attended with the Holy Spirit sent down from Heaven to the minds and hearts of many who heard it, so that they were brought to a saving knowledge of the Lord, and to a true and actual closure with Him, by means of the Word of Truth. The doctrine of grace as proclaimed by God’s accredited servants, and as clothed with the power of the Spirit, is the Divinely appointed means of turning the elect from darkness unto light, from power of Satan into the kingdom of God’s dear Son (Acts 26:18). Their understandings are illumined to know from the Gospel that it is God’s will to save them through the appointed Redeemer, and they are enabled to personally realize that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.
Second, it is most important and blessed for the heart to be "established" with inherent grace: a fact which every one born of God must more or less know and feel. Where the Holy Spirit of God dwells, there sin is known in its guilt and felt in its power, while the effects of the Fall on all the faculties of the soul are experienced. When the Spirit has revealed the super-excellency of Christ, His all-sufficiency as a Savior, His suitableness as such, this begets some longings after Him, thirstings for Him, desires to be found in Him, and high prizings of His blood and righteousness. But many there are who, though quickened and called of God, have not yet closed in with Christ, cannot say He died for them, ‘know not that their sins are pardoned. The Spirit has thus far wrought with them that they feel themselves to be vile sinners, justly deserving of the wrath of God; yet they cannot affirm that their names are written in Heaven.
They are emptied of all creature dependency and self-sufficiency. Their hearts are broken and humbled with a true and thorough sight and sense of sin. They have heard of Christ, and of His infinite tenderness and compassion, love and mercy, to sinners like themselves. The Lord the Spirit has brought them so far as to listen attentively to the preaching of the Gospel and the searching of the Scriptures. Though they may be as bruised reeds and smoking flax, incapable of expressing their wants to God, or of describing their case to others, yet they find in the preaching of Christ crucified that which suits them. Though they cannot yet confidently say of Him "who loved me and gave Himself for me," nevertheless they wait on Him in his ordinances, longing for Him to arise upon them as the Sun of righteousness with healing in His wings. And though such may be called "seekers only," "inquirers after Christ," yet they are blessed: "Blessed are all they that wait for Him" (Isa. 30:18); "let the heart of them rejoice that seek the Lord" (1 Chron. 16:10).
Upon such persons the Lord, in His good time, causes His light of grace to break forth more clearly, shining within them, causing their spiritual faculties to expand, and be exercised more particularly upon "the mystery of the Gospel" (Eph. 6:19) and the doctrine of grace. Thereby their spiritual "senses" (Heb. 5:14) are brought to taste the sweetness of Divine truth, to have a heart relish of it, to derive nourishment from it, to perceive its spiritual excellency. In receiving and digesting it, they are brought to find the doctrine of God’s free grace to be wholesome and sustaining. By this means they are "nourished up" (1 Tim. 4:6) unto everlasting life. It is thus the Lord carries on His work in the souls of His people. At regeneration they are filled with joy in Him, and sin is but little felt within. But as the work of grace is deepened, they are made to see and feel their depravity, and their peace is clouded by increasing discoveries of their vileness, which makes way for a growing appreciation of grace.
Inherent grace, then, is a new nature or holy principle implanted by the Spirit at the new birth. It consists in spiritual perceptions, inward apprehensions, spiritual affections, in the souls of those who are born of God, whereby they are fitted for Him and Divine things, enabled to take holy delight in God, to have holy breathings after Him, to hunger and thirst after righteousness, to yearn for a consciousness of Christ’s presence, to have a spiritual appetite to feed upon Him as the Bread of Life. Thus, it is most profitable for the saint to have his heart established with inherent grace, for he is the personal subject of it, and it is for this reason that God’s people in general are so fond of experimental preaching—the tracing out of the work of the Spirit in their hearts—thereby enabling them to set to their seal that God is true, that He has thus far wrought in them to the praise and glory of His grace.
Nor is there any legality in this, for the work of the Spirit, in all its parts and phases, flows as freely from the Covenant of grace as does the work of Christ. Yea, we are expressly said to be "saved by the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit" (Titus 3:5), which is thus expressed to show that salvation depends equally upon the distinct offices which the Eternal Three are engaged in on behalf of the elect. It is helpful to converse at times with such as are experimentally acquainted with God, and His Son Jesus Christ, and who hold communion with Him by the Holy Spirit. Genuine Christian experience consists principally in this: the Spirit is pleased to open the Scriptures unto us, making them the ground of our faith, giving us to feel their power, making the experience described in them our own, revealing Christ as set forth in the Word to us, and filling our hearts with His love agreeably to what is revealed of it in the Gospel.
The people of God need to be taught and brought to an acquaintance with the real work of God within them, with His method of strengthening and comforting them, that they may learn the grounds of spiritual assurance. There is a needs be that the heart be established with grace as it respects their ascertaining for themselves that a supernatural work is actually wrought within them, that Christ is in them the hope of glory, that they "know the grace of God in truth" (Col. 1:6), and that their works are "wrought in God" (John 3:21) as Christ expressed it. Let us therefore diligently study the work of the Spirit within us, comparing it with the written Word, and carefully distinguishing between natural and spiritual affections, moral refinements and supernatural regeneration. Nor let us forget that the grace of God within us is only discovered to us as the Spirit shines upon His own work in our souls.
It is also good for the heart to be established with the grace as it respects the doctrine of it: in the belief of the Father’s everlasting love, the Son’s complete salvation, and the Spirit’s testimony thereof, which strengthens the faith and confirms the hope of the Christian. Confidence before God can be maintained on no other foundation than that of His grace. There are seasons when the believer’s mind is filled with distress, when the guilt of sin presses heavily on his conscience, when Satan is allowed to buffet him; then it is that he is forced to cry "have respect to the Covenant" (Ps. 74:20). There are seasons when he cannot pray except with groanings that cannot be uttered, being cast down with soul burdens and conflicts, but they only serve to prove to him the deep need of his heart being established with the truth of grace.
Thus, for the heart to be "established with grace" signifies, first, the doctrine of God’s free grace without us, in His own heart toward us; and second, the blessed operations of the Spirit within us. When God’s free-grace salvation is brought home to the heart by the Spirit, it produces blessed fruits and consequences in the person to whom it becomes "the power of God" (Rom. 1:16). It is of vast importance to hold forth a clear profession of the doctrine of grace, and it is of incalculable worth to be able to declare a genuine work of grace wrought in the heart by the Spirit agreeably to the truth we profess. The doctrine of grace is the means, in the hands of the Spirit, of begetting faith, promoting its growth, and supporting it. Therefore there is a real need of God’s everlasting love and Christ’s finished redemption being preached, though they be already known, and their power felt in the heart, because our walk with God and our confidence in Him receive all their encouragement therefrom.
While it is certain that the head must be enlightened with the knowledge of Truth before the heart can experience the virtue and efficacy of it, yet our text speaks of "the heart" so as to emphasize the quickening and operative power of Divine truth, when it is embraced and maintained in the soul. It is good for the heart to be established with grace, for it promotes the believer’s spiritual growth, secures his well-being, and greatly contributes to his comfort. It is also a preservative against error, an antidote against unbelief, and a choice cordial to revive the soul in seasons of distress.
N.B. For much in the second half of this chapter we are indebted to a valuable sermon by S. E. Pierce.