An Exposition of Hebrews
by A. W. Pink
The Christian’s Sacrifices
(Hebrews 13:15, 16)
The verses which are now to engage our attention are closely related with those which immediately precede, as is intimated by the "therefore." The links of connection may be set forth thus. First, "We have an Altar" (verse 10); what use are we to make of it? the answer is, offer sacrifice thereon. Second, Jesus has sanctified His people "with His own blood" (verse 12). What is to be their response? the answer is, draw night to God as joyous worshippers. Third, we must go forth unto Christ "without the camp." What then, is to be our attitude towards those who despise and reject Him? The answer is, not one of malice, but benevolence, doing good unto all as we have opportunity and occasion. Such, in brief, is the relation between our present portion and its context.
Calvin suggested, we believe rightly, that the apostle here anticipated an objection which might have been made against what he had previously advanced. In saying that Jesus "suffered without the gate" (verse 11), plain intimation was given that God had done with, abandoned Judaism as such. In bidding Hebrew believers to go forth unto Christ "without the camp," the Holy Spirit signified they must now turn their backs upon the temple and its service. But this presented a serious difficulty: all the sacrifices—those of thanksgiving as well as those of expiation—were inseparably connected with the temple system, therefore it followed that if the temple was to be deserted, the sacrifices also must have ceased. It was to meet this difficulty, and to make known the superior privileges of Christianity, that the apostle penned our text.
If the Christian was debarred from offering any sacrifice to God, then he would occupy an inferior position and be deprived of a privilege which the Jews of old enjoyed, for sacrifices were instituted for the purpose of celebrating God’s worship. The apostle therefore shows that another kind of sacrifice remains for us to offer, which is no less pleasing to God than those which He appointed of old, even the praise of our lips. Here we are taught what is the legitimate way of worshipping God under the new covenant, which presents another striking contrast from that which obtained under the old. As our "Altar" is not one of wood or stone, brass or gold, but Christ Himself, so our "sacrifices" are not the fruits of the ground or the firstlings of our herds, but the adoration of our hearts and the devotion of our lives. The contrast, then, is between the outward and ceremonial and the inward and spiritual.
The Jews offered to God a slain lamb each morning and evening, and on certain special days bullocks and rams; but the Christian is to present unto God a continual sacrifice of thanksgiving. This brings before us a most interesting and blessed subject, namely, those sacrifices of the Christian with which God is well pleased. The first of these was mentioned by David: "The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit, a broken and a contrite heart, O God, Thou wilt not despise" (Ps. 51:17). "When the heart mourns for sins God is better pleased than when the bullock bleeds beneath the axe. ‘A broken heart’ is an expression implying deep sorrow, embittering the very life; it carries in it the idea of all but killing anguish in that region which is so vital as to be the very source of life. A heart crushed is, to God, a fragrant heart. Men condemn those who are contemptible in their own eyes, but the Lord seeth not as man seeth. He despises what man esteems, and values that which they despise. Never yet has God spurned a lowly, weeping penitent" (C.H. Spurgeon).
John Owen pointed out that there were two things in connection with the O.T. sacrifices: the slaying and shedding of the blood of the beast, and then the actual offering of it upon the altar. Both of these were required in order to the completing of a sacrifice. On the one hand, the mere killing of the animal was no sacrifice unless its blood was placed upon the altar; and on the other hand, no blood could be presented there to God until it had been actually shed. Corresponding to these, there is a twofold spiritual sacrifice in connection with the Christian profession. The first is what has just been made reference to in the paragraph above: the broken heart and contrite spirit of the believer. That signifies evangelical repentance and mortification, or the crucifixion of the flesh, which is the Christian’s first sacrifice, answering to the death of the beast before the altar.
The second sacrifice which the believer presents unto God is his offering of Christ each day. This is done by an act of faith—which is ever preceded by repentance, just as we must feel ourselves to be desperately sick before we send for the physician. As the awakened sinner is convicted of sin and mourns for it before God, pride and self-righteousness are subdued, and he is able to appreciate the Lamb of God which taketh away the sin of the (elect) world. Christ appears to him as exactly suited to his case and need. He perceives that He was wounded for his transgressions and bruised for his iniquities. He perceives that Christ took his place and endured the penal wrath of God on his behalf. Therefore does he now lay hold of him by faith and present the atoning sacrifice of Christ to God as the only ground of his acceptance. And as he begins, so he continues. A daily sense of defilement leads to a daily pleading of Christ’s blood before the throne of grace. There is first the appropriating of Christ, and then the presenting of Him to God as the basis of acceptance.
Now it is this laying hold of Christ and the offering of Him to God in the arms of faith which corresponds to the second thing in connection with the tabernacle (and temple) sacrifices of old. As the fire fell upon the oblation placed upon the altar, incense was mingled therewith, so that the whole yielded a "sweet savor unto God." Just as the mere slaying of the animal was not sufficient—its blood must be laid upon the altar and fragrant incense be offered therewith; so the Christian’s sacrifice of a broken and contrite heart will not by itself secure the favor of God. Essential as repentance is, it cannot purchase anything from God. The broken heart must lay hold of Christ, exercise faith in His blood (Rom. 3:25), and plead His merits before God. Only then will our sacrifice of a contrite spirit be a "sweet smelling savor" unto Him.
The third sacrifice which the Christian presents unto God is himself. "I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service" (Rom. 12:1). That is an act of consecration. It is the recognition and acknowledgement that I am no longer my own, that I have been bought with a price, that I am the purchased property of Another. Hence, of the primitive saints we read that they "first gave their own selves to the Lord" (2 Cor. 8:5), surrendering themselves to His scepter, taking upon themselves His yoke, henceforth to live to His glory; that as they had formerly served sin and pleased self, now they would serve God and seek only His honor. As Christ gave Himself for us, we now give ourselves back again to Him. Hereby alone can we know that we are saved: not only by believing in Christ for the forgiveness of sins, but by yielding ourselves up to His government, as living sacrifices for His use.
The fourth sacrifice of the Christian is that mentioned in our text, namely, "the fruit of our lips"; but before taking up the same let us say a few words on the order of what has now been before us. There can be no acceptable sacrifice of praise until we have offered ourselves unto God as those that are alive from the dead, for as Psalm 115:17 declares, "The dead praise not the Lord." No, those who are yet in their sins cannot praise God, for they have no love for Him and no delight in Him. The heart must first be made right before it is attuned to make melody unto Him. God accepts not the lip service of those whose hearts are estranged from Him. Of old He complained "This people draw near Me with their mouth, and with their lips do honor Me, but have removed their heart far from Me" (Isa. 29:13), and as Christ affirmed "in vain do they worship" Him (Matthew 15:8). Such hypocrisy is hateful to Him.
Nor can any man present himself acceptably to God until he has believingly embraced Christ. No matter how willing I am to live honestly in the future, satisfaction must be made for the debts contracted in the past; and nothing but the atoning work of Christ can satisfy the just demands which the Law has against us. Again; how can I serve in the King’s presence unless I be suitably attired? and nothing short of the robe of righteousness which Christ purchased for His people can gratify God’s holy eye. Again; how could God Himself accept from me service which is utterly unworthy of His notice and that is constantly defiled by the corrupt nature still within me, unless it were presented in the meritorious name of the Mediator and cleansed by His precious blood. We must, then, accept Christ’s sacrifice before God will accept ours; God’s rejection of Cain’s offering is clear proof thereof.
Equally evident is it, yet not so clearly perceived today by a defectively-visioned Christendom, that no sinner can really accept Christ’s sacrifice until his heart be broken by a felt sense of his grievous offenses against a gracious God, and until his spirit be truly contrite before Him. The heart must be emptied of sin before there is room for the Savior. The heart must renounce this evil world before a holy Christ will occupy it. It is a moral impossibility for one who is still in love with his lusts and the willing servant of the Devil to appropriate Christ and present Him to God for his acceptance. Thus, the order of the Christian’s sacrifices is unchanging. First, we bow in the dust before God in the spirit of genuine repentance; then we appropriate Christ as His gracious provision, and present Him to God for the obtaining of His favor. Then we yield ourselves to Him unreservedly as His purchased property; and then we render praise and thanksgiving for His amazing grace toward us.
"By Him therefore let us offer the sacrifice of praise to God continually, that is, the fruit of our lips giving thanks to His name" (verse 15). This is an exhortation to duty, by way of inference from what was declared concerning the Redeemer and the sanctification of the people by His sufferings. Therein we are shown what use we are to make of our Altar, namely, offer sacrifice. The worship which the Christian presents unto God is the sacrifice of praise. Nothing is more pleasing unto Him, and nothing is more honoring to Him, than the praise of a renewed heart. Has He not declared, "Whoso offereth praise glorifieth Me"? (Ps. 50:23). How thankful for that statement should those believers be who feel themselves to be poor and feeble. Had God said, whoso shall create a world, or even whoso shall preach wonderful sermons and be a successful winner of souls, or whoso shall give a huge sum of money to missions, they might well despair. But "whoso offereth praise" opens a wide door of entrance to every believer.
And have not the redeemed abundant cause for praising God! First, because He has granted them a vital and experimental knowledge of Himself. How the excellencies of God’s being, character and attributes, thrill, as well as awe, the souls of the saints! Glance for a moment at Psalm 145, which is entitled a "Psalm of Praise." David begins with "I will extol Thee, my God, O King; and I will bless Thy name for ever and ever. Every day will I bless Thee, and I will praise Thy name for ever and ever. Great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised" (verses 1-3). In the verses that follow, one perfection of God after another passes in review and stirs the soul to adoration. His "mighty acts" (verse 4), the "glorious honor of His majesty" (verse 5), His "greatness" (verse 6), His "great goodness" and "righteousness" (verse 7), His "fullness of compassion" and "great mercy" (verse 8), His "power" (verse 11), the "glorious majesty of His kingdom" (verse 12), His everlasting "dominion" (verse 13), His providential blessings (verses 14-17), His dealings in grace with His own (verses 18, 19), His preserving them (verse 20). No wonder the Psalmist closed with, "my mouth shall speak the praise of the Lord, and let all flesh bless His holy name for ever and ever."
If the Psalms be full of suitable petitions for us to present unto God in prayer, and if they contain language well fitted for the lips of the sobbing penitent, yet they also abound in expressions of gladsome worship. "Sing praises to God, sing praises; sing praises unto our King, sing praises. For God is the King of all the earth: sing ye praises with understanding" (Ps. 47:6, 7). What vehemency of soul is expressed there! Four times over in one verse the Psalmist called upon himself (and us) to render praise unto the Lord, and not merely to utter it, but to "sing" the same out of an overflowing heart. In another place the note of praise is carried to yet a higher pitch: "Be glad in the Lord, and rejoice ye righteous; and shout for joy, all ye that are upright in heart" (Ps. 32:11). Not in any formal and perfunctory manner is the great God to be praised, but heartily, joyously, merrily. "Sing forth the honor of His name: make His praise glorious" (Ps. 66:2). Then let us offer Him nothing less than glorious praise.
The "therefore" of our text intimates an additional reason why we should praise God: because of Christ and His so great salvation. For our sakes the Beloved of the Father took upon Him the form of a servant, and was made under the Law. For our sakes the Lord of glory, entered into unfathomable depths of shame and humiliation, so that He cried "I am a worm and no man" (Ps. 22:6). For our sakes He bowed His back to the cruel smiter and offered His blessed face to those who plucked off the hair. For our sakes He entered into conflict with the Prince of Darkness, and the pains of death. For our sakes He endured the awful curse of the Law, and for three hours was forsaken by God. No Christian reader can reverently contemplate such mysteries and marvels without being stirred to the depths of his soul. And then, as he seeks to contemplate what the shame and sufferings of Christ have secured for him, "Thanks be unto God for His unspeakable Gift," must be the fervent exclamation of his heart.
And observe well, dear reader, how God has allotted to Christ the position of chief honor in connection with our subject. "By Him (the One mentioned in verses 12, 13) let us offer the sacrifice of praise to God." As the Lord Jesus Himself declared, "I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life: no man cometh unto the Father but by Me" (John 14:6). The saints can no more draw nigh unto God apart from Christ, than the sinner can: we are as dependent upon His mediation to render our worship acceptable to God, as we were at first for obtaining the forgiveness of our sins. As our great High Priest Christ is the "Minister of the Sanctuary" (Heb. 8:2). He meets us, as it were, at the door of the heavenly temple, and we place our spiritual sacrifices in His hands, that He may, in the sweet fragrance of His merits and perfections, present them for God’s acceptance. "Another Angel came and stood at the altar, having a golden censer; and there was given unto Him much incense, that He should offer it with the prayers of all saints" (Rev. 8:3).
At every point God has made us dependent upon Christ, the Mediator. Only by Him can we offer acceptable sacrifices unto God. First, because it is through Christ’s bloodshedding, and that alone, that our persons have been sanctified, or made acceptable to God—note how in Genesis 4:4 Jehovah had respect first to Abel himself, and then to his offering! Second, because it is through Christ’s atonement, and that alone, that a new and living way has been opened for us into God’s presence: see Hebrews 10:19-21. Third, because He bears "the iniquity of our holy things" (fulfilling the type in Exodus 28:38), that is, through His perfect oblation our imperfect offerings are received by God: His merits and intercession cancel their defects. Fourth, because as the Head of the Church, He ministers before God on behalf of its members, presenting their worship before Him. Thus, "By Him" signifies, under His guidance, through His mediation, and by our pleading His merits for acceptance with God.
What has just been before us supplies further proof of what was pointed out in an earlier paragraph, namely, that it is impossible for the unregenerate to worship God acceptably. "The sacrifice of the wicked is an abomination to the Lord" (Prov. 15:8). And why? Not only because he is utterly sinful in himself, but because there is no Mediator to come between him and God. This is brought out strikingly in the O. T. types. Not a single "song" is recorded in the book of Genesis. In Eden our first parents were fitted to sing unto their Creator, and join the angels in ascribing glory and thanksgiving to the Lord. But after the Fall, sinners could only praise on the ground of redeeming grace, and it is not until Exodus is reached that we have the grand type of redemption. That book opens with Israel in Egypt, groaning and crying in the house of bondage. Next, the paschal lamb was slain, Egypt was left behind, the Red Sea was crossed, and on its farther shore they looked back and saw all their enemies drowned: "Then sang Moses and the children of Israel" (Ex. 15:1). Praise, then, is on the ground of redemption.
"By Him therefore let us offer the sacrifice of praise." Every word of Holy Writ is inspired of God, and throughout, its language is chosen with Divine discrimination. Therefore it behooves us to carefully weigh each of its terms, or we shall miss their finer shades of meaning. Here is a case in point: it is not "let us render praise unto God," but "let us offer a sacrifice of praise." Christ has made His people "kings and priests unto God" (Rev. 1:6), and here they are called upon to exercise their priestly functions. Thus we are instructed to make a right use of our "Altar" (verse 10). We are not only partakers of its privileges, but we are to discharge its duties, by bringing our sacrifices thereto. The same aspect of truth is seen again in 1 Peter 2:5, where we read that believers are "an holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ." Yes, offered "unto God" and not to angels or saints; and, acceptable "by Jesus Christ," and not the Virgin Mary!
This particular expression "let us offer a sacrifice of praise to God" not only emphasizes the fact that in their worship believers act in priestly capacity, but it also signifies that we now have the substance of what was shadowed forth by the Levitical rites. It also denotes that the Christian ought to be as particular and diligent in the discharge of his evangelical duties as the Jew was in the performing of his ceremonial obligations. As he was required to bring an offering that was without physical defect, so we must bring to God the very best that our hearts can supply: "Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless His holy name." Content not thyself with offering to God a few formal utterances of thanksgiving, still less hurry through thy worship as a task you are glad to get finished; but strive after reality, fervency, and joy in the same.
When the worshipping Israelite approached the tabernacle or temple, he did not come empty-handed, but brought with him a thank-offering. Then "let us offer the sacrifice of praise to God." When the saints come together for public worship, it should be not only for the object of having their empty vessels filled and their hungry souls fed, but with the definite purpose of offering to God that which will please Him. The more closely we walk with God, and the more intimate be our communion with Him, the easier the performance of this pleasant duty. The more we delight ourselves in the Lord and regale our souls by the contemplation of His perfections, the more spontaneous, fervent, and constant, will be our worship of Him. The more we cultivate the habit of seeing God’s hand in everything, and are grateful to Him for temporal blessings, the more will the spirit of thanksgiving possess our hearts and find expression in songs of praise.
This sacrifice of praise is here designated "the fruit of our lips," which is a quotation from Hosea 14:2, where backsliding Israel vows that in return for God’s receiving them graciously, they will render to Him "the calves of their lips"—the Hebrew word for "calves" being the same as for "praise." The expression "fruit of our lips" may at first strike us as strange, but a little reflection will reveal its propriety. Isaiah 6:5, 6 serves to open its meaning. By nature our "lips" are unclean: "Their throat is an open sepulcher, with their tongues they have used deceit, the poison of asps is under their lips; whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness" (Rom. 3:13, 14). But by God’s applying to us the virtues of Christ’s atonement, our lips are cleansed, and should henceforth be used in praising Him. "Fruit" is a living thing: the product of the Holy Spirit. When, through backsliding, the heart has cooled toward God and the music of joy has been silenced, cry unto Him "O Lord, open Thou my lips, and my mouth shall show forth Thy praise" (Ps. 51:15).
This "sacrifice of praise" is to be offered unto God not merely on the Sabbath, but "continually." Have we not more cause to praise God than to pray? Surely, for we have many things to thank Him for, which we never ask for. Who ever prayed for His election, for godly parents, for their care of us in helpless infancy, for their affection, for their faithfulness in training us the way we should go! Does not God daily heap upon us in favors beyond that we are able to ask or think? Therefore we should be more in praising God than in petitioning Him. "With thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God" (Phil. 4:6): ah, is it not our failure in the former which explains why we are so often denied in the latter? "Continue in prayer, and watch in the same with thanksgiving" (Col. 4:2); "with thanksgiving" is as much a command as is the "continue in prayer."
"It is good thing to give thanks unto the Lord, and to sing praises unto Thy name, O most High" (Ps. 92:1). Yes, it is not only glorifying to God, but it is beneficial to the soul, To cultivate the habit of praising God will preserve the believer from many evils. The trials of life are more cheerfully borne if the spirit of thankfulness to God be kept lively in the heart. A man cannot be miserable while he is joyful, and nothing promotes joy so much as a heart constantly exercised in praising God. The apostles forgot their smarting backs in the Philippian dungeon as they "sang praise unto God" (Acts 16:25). The happiest soul we have ever met was a sister in a London garret (before the days of old-age pensions), who had neither eaten meat or fruit nor had a glass of milk for years past, but was continually praising the Lord.
Mary was offering to God a sacrifice of praise when she exclaimed "My soul doth magnify the Lord, and my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Savior" (Luke 1:46, 47). That was no mechanical act, but the spontaneous outburst of a heart delighting itself in the Lord. It is not enough that the believer should feel adoring emotions in his soul: they must be expressed by his mouth—that is one reason why the sacrifice of praise is defined in our text as "the fruit of our lips." Vocal, articulated praise, is what becomes those who have received the gift of speech: that is why the saints of all ages have expressed their worship in holy songs and psalms. None of us sing as much as we should—how often the worldling shames us I Then let us say with David "I will praise Thee, O Lord, with my whole heart; I will show forth all Thy marvelous works. I will be glad and rejoice in Thee: I will sing praise to Thy name, O Thou Most High" (Ps. 9:1, 2).