An Exposition of Hebrews
by A. W. Pink
The Christian’s Sacrifices
(Hebrews 13:15, 16)
From the eighth verse onwards (of Hebrews 13) the apostle is engaged in setting forth those spiritual duties of worship of which God Himself is the Object. Therein a series of contrasts are drawn between what obtained under the old covenant and that which pertains to the new. The Christian’s privileges greatly excel those which belonged to Judaism as such. These superior blessings have been considered by us as we have passed from verse to verse. What is before us in verse 15 supplies a further exemplification of this general principle. The Levitical rites required God’s earthly people to provide material offerings: but the Christian’s "sacrifices" are entirely spiritual in their character. The Israelitish worshipper could not offer his sacrifices to God directly, but had to allow the priests to officiate for him: whereas Christians have themselves been made priests unto God, and therefore may sacrifice to Him immediately. The praise-sacrifices under the Law were only presented at particular times and places (cf. the "Feasts" of Leviticus 23): but the Christian may, through Christ, offer a sacrifice to God anywhere, at any time—"continually."
"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). More is implied than is expressed. The language of this verse is restricted to the duties of worship and our oral praising of God therein, yet we know full well that He accepts not thanksgiving from us unless it be accompanied by what good old Matthew Henry called "thanksgiving." Thus it is the entire compass of evangelical obedience to God which is comprehended here. Those who have been dedicated to Him by the blood of Christ are under the deepest obligations to please and honor Him. The nature of Gospel obedience consists in thanksgivings for Christ and grace by Him, and therefore the whole of it may be suitably designated "a sacrifice of praise." Gratitude and adoration axe the animating principles of all acceptable service. Every act and duty of faith has in it the nature of a sacrifice to God, wherein He is well-pleased.
John Owen suggests a threefold reason for the particular language in which the Christian’s duty of obedience is here expressed. "1st. The great obligation that is upon us of continual thankfulness and praise to God on account of Christ’s atonement. The sum and glory of our Christian profession, is, that it is the only way of praising and glorifying God for His love and grace in the person and mediation of Christ. 2nd. This obligation to praise succeeding in the room of all terrifying legal constraints to obedience, alters the nature of that obedience from what was required under and by the Law. 3rd. Where the heart is not prepared for and disposed to this fundamental duty of praising God for the death and oblation of Christ, no other duty or act of obedience is accepted with God."
In bidding us offer the sacrifice of praise to God continually, two things are denoted: freedom from the limitations of time and place as were appointed under Judaism, and diligent perseverance and constancy therein. To abound in fervent praise unto God is the abiding duty of the Christian. But for that there must be the regular exercise of faith. Calling into question the promises of God quenches the spirit of worship; doubts snap the strings of our harps; unbelief is the deadly enemy of praise. To praise God continually requires us to be in daily communion with Him. It is not to be wondered at that the joy of many believers is so sickly, when we consider how little fellowship they have with the Lord: if there be so little heat around the bulb of their thermometer, how can the mercury rise higher! To praise God "continually" we must cultivate perpetual gratitude, and surely that should not be difficult!
"I will bless the Lord at all times; His praise shall continually be in my mouth" (Ps. 34:1): at no lower standard than that must we aim. How this meets the lament made by so many Christians. "There seems so very little I can do to express my gratitude unto the Lord." Ah, my brother, you may not be gifted with talents to exercise in public, you may not have much money to give to God’s cause, but what is to withhold your offering unto Him a sacrifice of praise, and that "continually"! Is not this God’s due? Did Spurgeon express it too strongly when he said, "Praise is the rent which God requires for the use of His mercies." Then shall we rob God? Shall we withhold that in which He delights? Does not God give us abundant cause to praise Him "continually"!
"To show forth Thy loving kindness in the morning, and Thy faithfulness every night" (Ps. 92:2). "I will sing unto the Lord as long as I live; I will sing praise to my God while I have my being" (Ps. 104:33). What a word is that for the aged and infirm Christian! Ah, dear reader, your eyes may have become so dim that you can scarcely read the Sacred page any more, your strength may have become too feeble for you to walk to the house of prayer, but your lips can still articulate and express thanksgiving! "I will be glad and rejoice in Thy mercy: for Thou hast considered my trouble" (Ps. 31:7): rejoice in His pardoning mercy, preserving mercy, providing mercy. "Who can utter the mighty acts of the Lord? who can show forth all His praise?" (Ps. 106:2). Well did Goodwin close his reflections upon the Psalms of praise by saying, "My brother, let us pray for such a heart as this, that the saints of the O.T. may not shame us who are Christians under the New."
It is striking to note that the Hebrew word "bara" signifies "to create," while "barak" means "to praise," intimating that the praising of God is the chief end of our creation. Though nothing can be added to God’s essential glory, yet praise promotes His manifestative glory, for it exalts Him before others. In this manner the angels glorify Him for they are the choristers of Heaven, trumpeting forth His praise. An old writer quaintly pointed out that believers are the "temples" of God, and when their tongues are praising Him, their spiritual "organs" are then sounding forth. We read that the saints in Heaven have "harps" in their hands (Rev. 14:2), which are emblems of praise. Alas, that so often our harps are "hung on the willows" (Ps. 137:2), and murmurings and complaints are all that issue from our mouths. O my reader, be more earnest and diligent in seeking for grace to enable thee to be praising God continually.
"But to do good and to communicate forget not: for with such sacrifices God is well-pleased" (verse 16). Here is the fifth sacrifice which the Christian is to offer unto God, namely, that of ministering to others, for all the acts and duties of love may fitly be termed "sacrifices." In the previous verse the apostle has shown the great obligation Godwards which the sanctification of the Church by the blood of Christ places upon its members, but here he makes known what influence it ought to have upon our conduct manwards. Thus, he turns from the first table of the Law to the second, and insists that if redemption places us under additional obligations to love God with all our hearts, it likewise supplies added reasons why we should love our neighbors as ourselves.
The first word of verse 16 is a connective, but the commentators differ as to how it should be translated. Calvin’s annotators insist it should be rendered "And"; John Owen suggested "Moreover"; our translators preferred "But." There is no material difference in these variants: if "but" be retained, it is not to be taken as exceptional, as though it introduced something adverse unto what had previously been presented. It is clearly a continuation, or an addition to the duty mentioned in verse 15. As some might think that the entire duty of the Christian was comprehended in rendering to God that homage and devotion to which He is justly entitled, and that while we attend to that, nothing else need concern us, the apostle added "But"—notwithstanding the diligence required in the former duty—forget not to do good unto men and minister to their needs.
Herein we may perceive once more how carefully the Scriptures preserve the balance of truth at every point. The Divine Law is a unit, yet was it written upon two tables of stone, and the one must never be exalted to the disparagement of the other. True, there is an order to be observed: God Himself ever has the first claim upon our hearts, time and strength; nevertheless our fellow-creatures, and particularly our fellow-believers, also have real claims upon us, which we must not ignore. To disregard the second table of the Law, is not only to inflict an injury upon our neighbors, but it is to disobey and therefore to displease God Himself. There is an harmony in obedience, and a failure in any one point disturbs the whole, as is evident from James 2:10, 11. It is for this reason, then, that our verse closes with, "for with such sacrifices God is well-pleased."
It was at this very point that Israel failed so often under the old covenant. Instead of treating their servants considerately, they imposed upon them; instead of ministering to the widow, they robbed her; instead of relieving the poor, they oppressed them. Nevertheless, they were very strict in keeping up their worship of Jehovah! A striking example of this is recorded in the first half of Isaiah 58. The prophet was bidden to cry aloud and spare not, but to show the people their sins. They had sought God "daily," "forsook not His ordinances," yea, took "delight" in approaching Him (verse 2). They were diligent in "fasting," yet God accepted not their worship, saying "Is not this the fast that I have chosen? to loose the bands of wickedness, to undo the heavy burdens, and to let the oppressed go free, and that ye break every yoke? Is is not to deal thy bread to the hungry, and that thou bring the poor that are cast out to thy house? when thou seest the naked, that thou cover him; and that thou hide not thyself from thine own flesh" (verses 6, 7).
Another solemn example is found in Zechariah 7. God challenges them by asking, "When ye fasted and mourned in the fifth and seventh month, even those seventy years, did ye at all fast unto Me, even to Me?" (verse 5). Then the prophet cried, "Thus speaketh the Lord of hosts, saying, Execute true judgment, and show mercy and compassions every man to his brother; and oppress not the widow, nor the fatherless, the stranger nor the poor; and let none of you imagine evil against his brother in your heart" (verses 9, 10). What a strange anomaly human nature presents! How glaring its inconsistencies! Punctilious in the performances of public worship, yet utterly remiss in attending to private duties! Diligent and zealous in keeping the fasts and feasts of the Lord, yet regardless of the needs and cries of their destitute fellows! How is such to be accounted for? Easily: it bolsters up self-righteousness, feeds the idea that the favor of God can be purchased by the creature, and causes such pharisees to be looked up to for their "holiness" (?) by certain superficial people.
Hence it is that the duties of benevolence inculcated in our text are preceded by "forget not," intimating there is a more than ordinary proneness in professors of the Gospel to neglect them. It is a sinful neglect which is here prohibited. John Owen suggested four reasons or vicious habits of mind from which such forgetfulness proceeds. First, "an undue trust unto religious duties, as in many barren professors," by which he means those who set a high value upon their religious acts and think to win Heaven thereby. How many there be who contribute liberally to "the church" and yet under-pay their employees and overcharge their customers!—the gifts of such are a stench in God’s nostrils.
Second, "from vain pleas and pretences against duties attended with trouble and charge." It is much easier and pleasanter to go to the house of prayer and sing God’s praises, than it is to enter the dwellings of the poor and personally wait upon those who are sick. It costs less to put a coin in the collection-plate than it does to feed and clothe the destitute. Third, "a want of that goodness of nature and disposition which effectual grace will produce." The spirit of Christ in the heart will produce consideration and concern for others, and counteract our innate selfishness; but where Christ is absent, the Devil rules the heart. Fourth, "A want of that compassion toward sufferers, which is required of them that are still in the body: verse 3." May God preserve us from all religion that hardens and produces callousness, stifling even "natural affection."
"But to do good and to communicate forget not." "It is the duty of Christians to express their gratitude to God for His goodness to them, through Christ Jesus, by doing good: i.e., by performing acts of beneficence—in feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, relieving the distressed; and in this way communicating to their poor and afflicted brethren of the blessings Providence has conferred on them. While the terms are of that general kind as to express beneficence and the communication of benefits generally, it seems probable that the apostle had a direct reference to doing good by communicating to others those blessings for which they were especially bound to give thanks. It is the duty of Christians to do good to their fellow-men by communicating to them, so far as this is competent to them, those heavenly and spiritual blessings for which they are bound continually to give thanks to God" (John Brown).
"But to do good and to communicate forget not." That which is here inculcated is the sacrifice of love unto our fellows. Two words are used to set forth this duty. First, "do good" which concerns the whole course of our lives, especially with regard to others. Three things are included. First, a gracious propensity or readiness of mind thereto: "the liberal deviseth liberal things" (Isa. 32:8): he does not wait till he is asked, but seeks to be on the alert and anticipate the needs of others. Second, the actual exercise of this benevolent inclination, in all those ways which will be useful and helpful, spiritually and temporally, to mankind. Idealizing and theorizing is not sufficient: there must be the acting out of good will. Third, by buying up all occasions and opportunities for the exercise of compassion and loving-kindness to others.
A spirit of philanthropy and benevolence is to he manifested by well-doing. It is not enough to be good; we must do good. "My little children, let us not love in word, neither in tongue; but in deed and in truth" (1 John 3:18). "Now there was at Joppa a certain disciple named Tabitha, which by interpretation is called Dorcas: this woman was full of good works and alms deeds which she did" (Acts 9:36): her charitable actions are called "good works" because they were profitable and did good to others. Nor is this ministering to the wants of others to be confined unto the members of our own family, or even the limits of our denomination. "As we have therefore opportunity, let us do good unto all men, especially unto those who are of the household of faith" (Gal. 6:10)—therein the spirit of Christianity differs from the narrow and clannish spirit of all other religions. God does good unto all men, and we are to be "emulators of Him as dear children" (Eph. 5:1).
"But to do good and to communicate forget not." Christians are "created in Christ Jesus unto good works" (Eph. 2:10), regeneration capacitating them thereunto. Christ gave Himself for us that we should be a people who are "zealous of good works" (Titus 2:14), for by them we honor Him and adorn our profession. No matter what self-sacrifice they entail, nor how ungrateful be the beneficiaries, we are to be diligent and persevering in helping all we can: "But ye, brethren, be not weary in well doing" (2 Thess. 3:13). "For so is the will of God, that with well doing ye may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men" (1 Pet. 2:15). And even though our well doing fails to silence the criticism of those who believe not, yea, if our perseverance therein brings down upon us increased opposition and persecution, yet it is written, "Wherefore let them that suffer according to the will of God commit the keeping of their souls to Him in well doing, as unto a faithful Creator" (1 Pet. 4:19).
The second term used here in connection with the sacrifice of charity is "communicate," which means passing on to others what God has entrusted to us, according as their necessities do require. Literally, the Greek word signifies "having something in common with others." It is the actual exercise of that pity for the poor and indigent which is required of us in the distribution of good things unto them, according to our ability. This is an important evangelical duty which the Scriptures repeatedly charge us with: the glory of God, the salvation of our souls, and the honor of our profession, are highly concerned therein. It is striking to note that when he commended the Corinthians for their liberal contributions to the poor saints at Jerusalem, the apostle declared that "they glorify God for your professed subjection unto the Gospel of Christ" (2 Cor. 9:13)—obedience to the command in our text is required by the Gospel!
John Owen rightly pointed out that "To be negligent herein is to despise the wisdom of God in the disposal of the lots and conditions of His own children in the world in so great variety, as He hath done always, and will always continue to do." What light that throws on those providential dispensations of God which are often so mysterious and exercising to the hearts of many of His people! Here is an important reason intimated why God blesses a few of His saints with considerable of this world’s goods and why many of them have scarcely any at all: it is to provide opportunity and occasion for the exercise of those graces in them which their several conditions call for. By the unequal distribution of His material mercies, the rich have opportunity for thankfulness, charity, and bounty; while the poor are called upon to exercise patience, submission, trust, and humility. Where those graces are mutually exercised, there is beauty, order, and harmony, and a revenue of glory unto God.
Christians are rarely more sensible of God’s goodness to them than when giving and receiving in a proper manner. He that gives aright feels the power of Divine grace at work in his heart, and he who receives aright is very conscious of Divine love and care in such supplies: God is near to both. Consequently, to be selfishly callous on the one hand, or proudly independent and scornful of charity on the other, is to impugn the wisdom of God in His disposal of the varied temporal circumstances of His people. No man is rich or poor merely for himself, but rather to occupy that place in the social order of things which God has designed unto His own glory. From what has been before us we may see how that many even of those who believe not are the temporal gainers by the death of Christ and the fruits thereof in the lives of His people.
Many and varied are the motives which Scripture employs to persuade the saint unto this duty of ministering unto the needy of His fellows. "He that hath pity upon the poor lendeth unto the Lord; and that which he hath given will He pay him again" (Prov. 19:17). Do we really believe this? Do we act as though we did? The Lord allows none to lose by being generous, but repays him with interest one way or another, either to him or his posterity. "He that giveth unto the poor shall not lack; but he that hideth his eyes shall have many a curse" (Prov. 28:27): the selfish man exposes himself to the ill-will of those whom he callously ignores, and brings himself under the providential curse of God. "He that turneth away his ear from hearing the Law (on this matter), even his prayer shall be abomination" (Prov. 28:9)—bear that in mind, dear reader, if you wish to have and retain the ear of God.
"Give and it shall be given unto you; good measure, pressed down, and shaken together, and running over, shall men give into your bosom. For with the same measure that ye mete withal it shall be measured to you again" (Luke 6:38). What an inducement is that! how it should stimulate unto liberality those who by nature have a miserly disposition. "Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in Heaven" (Matthew 5:16): how that should encourage us in the performing of good works! "But this I say, He which soweth sparingly shall reap also sparingly; and he which soweth bountifully shall reap also bountifully" (2 Cor. 9:6): the writer has lived long enough to see many striking examples of both of these classes. "God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power: who went about doing good" (Acts 10:38). He was ever thinking of others and ministering to them: feeding the hungry, healing the sick, relieving the distressed; and He has left us an example that we should follow His steps.
Let it be pointed out, however, that God requires us to use discretion and discrimination in the bestowments of charity. There is a class of shiftless idlers who are ever ready to impose upon the compassionate and generous hearted, and make the benevolence of others a reason for their own indolence. It is positively wrong to encourage those who seek to subsist on the liberality of others, instead of earning their own bread. Indiscriminate giving often does more harm than good. It is our bounden duty to go to the trouble of properly investigating each case on its own merits, instead of allowing our sentiment to override our judgment. God Himself has said, "This we commanded you, that if any would not work, neither should he eat" (2 Thess. 3:10), and it is sinful for us to negative that by giving money to able-bodied loafers.
"For with such sacrifices God is well-pleased." Whatever benefits the Christian bestows on others God regards them as done to Himself, and honors them with the name of "sacrifices." What gracious condescension on His part, that He should dignify our worthless works as to pronounce them holy and sacred things, acceptable to Himself! Rightly, then, did Calvin point out, "When, therefore, love does not prevail among us, we not only rob men of their right, but God Himself, who has by a solemn sentence dedicated to Himself what He has commanded to be done to men." How this consideration ought to stir us up to the exercise of kindness towards our neighbor. The more we do so, the more pleasure do we give unto Him to whom we are infinitely indebted. Withhold not thy hand, then, from that which delights thy God.
"For with such sacrifices God is well-pleased." There is a twofold emphasis in the word "such." First, it implies a contrast, denoting that God no longer required those ancient sacrifices which He had enjoined until an abrogation of the old covenant. Herein was a clear intimation that Judaism had been set aside. Second, it graciously stresses the fact that, though we deem our feeble praises and charitable works as too poor to be worthy of notice or mention, God Himself regards those very things as acts of worship that meet with His hearty approbation.
A beautiful illustration of what has just been pointed out is found in Philippians 4. The Philippian saints had sent a gift to the apostle Paul, which he not only gratefully acknowledged, but declared that the same was "an odor of a sweet smell, a sacrifice acceptable, well-pleasing to God" (verse 18). "Beyond this the highest aspirations of a Christian cannot go. It is all he can wish; it is above all that he can think. To have the approbation of good men is delightful; to have the approbation of our own conscience is more delightful still; but to have the approbation of God, this is surely the highest recompense a creature can reach. This approbation is very strongly expressed in the Word: ‘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). It will be still more illustriously displayed when the Son appears in the glory of the Father, and in the presence of an assembled universe proclaims to those who, as a token of gratitude to God for the blessings of salvation, have done good and communicated: ‘For I was an hungered, and ye gave Me meat; I was thirsty, and ye gave Me drink; I was a stranger, and ye took Me in; naked, and ye clothed Me... Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these My brethren, ye have done it unto Me:’ Matthew 25:35-40" (John Brown).