An Exposition of Hebrews
by A. W. Pink
Before turning to our present verse we must complete our observations on the one which occupied our attention in the last article, for the practical importance and value of it cannot be over-estimated or over-emphasized. "Suffer the Word of Exhortation." In its local meaning to the Hebrews this expression comprehended the entire contents of the Epistle which Paul had addressed to them, for, from beginning to end, it was in the nature of an earnest entreaty that they would relinquish the now effete system of Judaism, and remain steadfast in the profession of Christianity and the performance of Gospel duties, This was, then, a final word from the apostle that his readers would duly take to heart the message he had delivered to them, that no matter how radically it conflicted with their traditions, sentiments, and prejudices, their eternal welfare depended upon receiving what was worthy of all acceptation. It was an affectionate appeal to them that they would not, through natural disinclination, miss and lose the inestimable value of what he had written.
But this expression "the Word of Exhortation" has a still wider meaning and application for us. It may legitimately be taken for the entire Word of God, for what are the Scriptures—considered from one essential viewpoint—but a continuous exhortation? Just as in Romans 9:9 we read of "the Word of Promise" and in 2 Peter 1:19 of the more sure "Word of Prophecy," so here the Scriptures are designated "the Word of Exhortation"—the emphasis being changed in each case. And just as responding to the Word of Exhortation meant to the Hebrews that they must first relinquish something, and then adhere to another thing in its place; so it is with us. The Hebrews were called upon to forsake the Christ-dishonoring camp of Judaism and act by faith in the revelation which God had made in His Son; whereas we are called upon to forsake the world and its vanities, to forsake the pleasures of sin and the indulging of our fleshly lusts, and to tread that highway of holiness which alone conducteth unto Everlasting Life. No matter how much the Divine exhortations cross our wills and oppose our corruptions, obedience thereto is absolutely necessary if we are to escape the wrath to come.
In our last article we sought to show how we are to "suffer the Word of Exhortation," how we are to respond thereto, by making use of what is found in Psalm 119 on this subject, for it is there, more fully than anywhere else in Scriptures, we are taught how the man of God conducts himself with reference to the Divine Law. We briefly touched upon seven things, and pointed out that we are to "suffer" or give the Word of Exhortation that place in our hearts and lives to which it is entitled, by frequently reminding ourselves that obedience thereto is the way of true blessedness (Ps. 119:1-3), by constantly calling to mind the Divine authority with which it is invested (verse 4), by earnestly praying for enabling grace (verses l2, 27), by frequently meditating therein (verses 15, 48, 78), by begging God to make us go in the path of His commandments (verse 35), by praying Him to incline our hearts thereto (verse 36), by our own diligent improvement of the grace which God has already given to us (verse 112): let us now add a few more words upon this last point.
"I have inclined mine heart to perform Thy statutes always, even unto the end" (verse 112). Was this creature boasting? Most certaintly not, any more than Paul was guilty of the same when he declared "I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith." It is not unusual for Scripture to ascribe to us what God works in us, and that because of our subservient endeavors to Divine grace, as we pursue the work of God. The soul responds to the impressions which the Spirit makes upon it. God gives us breath, yet we breathe. God supplies food, yet we have to prepare and eat it. God sets motives before us, but we have to respond thereto. God imparts grace, but we must improve it. This is the way to get more: Luke 8:18. It is our duty to heed that injunction "now set your heart and your soul to seek the Lord your God" (1 Chron. 22:19); and as Paul "If that I may apprehend (lay hold of) that for which also I am apprehended of Christ Jesus" (Phil. 3:12).
Moreover, there are certain aids and helps thereto, which it is our privilege to employ. For example the Psalmist said, "I am a companion of all them that fear Thee, and of them that keep Thy precepts" (Ps. 119:63). We are largely affected and influenced by the company we keep: "Make no friendship with an angry man; and with a furious man thou shalt not go" (Prov. 22:24). We must not expect to love and obey God’s precepts if we have fellowship with those who despise them. But communion with godly souls will be a stimulus to our own piety. "He that walketh with wise men shall be wise" (Prov. 13:20). Here too our responsibility is exercised, for we are free to choose our companions. So far as Providence permits, it is our duty to cultivate acquaintance with those who make conscience of obeying God’s commands. Pious conversation with them will kindle the spark of grace in our own hearts: "Ointment and perfume rejoice the heart: so doth the sweetness of a man’s friend by hearty counsel" (Prov. 27:9).
There is one other thing we would notice in Psalm 119 as it bears upon the subject of obedience to God’s commands, and that is, profiting from Divine chastenings, begging God to sanctify to us the various trials through which we pass. "Before I was afflicted I went astray: but now have I kept Thy Word" (verse 67). It is in seasons of temporal prosperity that we are most apt to decline spiritually, and generally we have to pass through deep waters of trouble before we are restored—the snapping dog of adversity is employed to recover the strayed sheep. Afflictions are blessings in disguise when they cool our lusts, wean us from the world, make us realize our weakness, and cast us back immediately upon God. So declared the Psalmist: "It is good for me that I have been afflicted; that I might learn Thy statutes" (verse 71). Then "despise not thou the chastening of the Lord, nor faint when thou art rebuked of Him" (Heb. 12:5).
Ere turning from this subject, let us remind the reader that the Greek word rendered "exhortation" in Hebrews 13:22 is translated "consolation" in Hebrews 6:18, for the term not only signifies to entreat and incite, but it also means to relieve and refresh. It may seem strange to some that the same word should have such different forces as exhortation and consolation, yet these two things have a much closer affinity than is generally realized, and this twofold meaning is designed by the Spirit to inculcate an important practical lesson. To despise the Word of Exhortation is to forsake our own comforts, as many a backslidden Christian can testify. Obedience to the Divine precepts carries its own reward now: peace of conscience, tranquility of mind, contentment of heart, and assurance of God’s approbation. Divine consolation is secured by heeding the Word of Exhortation!
"Know ye that our brother Timothy is set at liberty; with whom, if he come shortly, I will see you" (verse 23). Following our usual custom we will first raise the question, What is the connection between this verse and the context? At first glance there does not appear to be any relation between them, yet further examination seems to indicate otherwise. Some of our readers may deem us fanciful, but it appears to the writer that this historical allusion to the "liberty" of Timothy Supplies an illustrative encouragement for us to respond to the call contained in the preceding verse. Let us set it forth thus: those who refuse to heed the Word of Exhortation, and instead give free play to their own corruptions, are in the worst servitude of all—the bondage of sin and Satan; but those who yield submission to the commands and precepts of God enter into true spiritual freedom.
It is one of the great delusions of the natural man that he is free only so long as he may please himself, supposing that to be placed under the authority of another is to curtail his liberty and bring him into bondage. But that is a putting of darkness for light and light for darkness. For just so far as the language of our hearts be "let us break Their bands asunder, and cast away Their cords from us" (Ps. 2:3) are we tyrannized over by our lusts. In proportion as we follow the inclinations and devices of our evil hearts are we in servitude to sin and Satan. Lawlessness is not liberty, but libertinism, which is the worst bondage of all: "While they promise them liberty, they themselves are the slaves of corruption, for of whom a man is overcome, of the same is he brought in bondage" (2 Pet. 2:19).
Alas, what widespread ignorance and delusion abounds on this subject today. Carnal liberty is but moral thraldom. To make this the more evident let it be pointed out, first, that which most infringes upon a man’s real liberty is that which most hinders and disables him to prosecute his true happiness. When the things of sense crowd Out the things of the spirit, when the concerns of time oust the interests of eternity, when Satan is given that place in our lives which belongs only to God, then we are forsaking our own mercies and come under the most cruel task-masters. Second, that which disorders the soul and puts reason out of dominion, is certain spiritual bondage. When the base prevail over the honorable, it is a sign that a country is enthralled: and when our fleshly lusts, rather than our understanding and conscience, prevail over the will, it is sure proof that we are in Spiritual bondage.
Again; consider the great power and tyranny of sin. Sin, in various forms and ways, has such complete dominion over the unconverted that it robs them of all control over themselves and their actions: they are "serving divers lusts and pleasures" (Titus 3:3). This is most evident in the case of the confirmed drunkard and the drug addict—what fetters they have forged for themselves, and how helpless they are to break from them! Yet, the bondage of pleasure and worldly pursuits is just as real, if not so apparent. Sin, even in its most refined forms, obtains such a mastery over its victims that they have no command of their affections and still less of their wills, so that they are quite unable to forsake what they themselves believe to be vanity or follow that which they know to be good. "Can the Ethiopian change his skin, or the leopard his spots? then may ye also do good, that are accustomed to do evil" (Jer. 13:23). Therefore do many of them say, "There is no hope: but we will walk after our own devices, and we will everyone do the imagination of his evil heart" (Jer. 18:12).
Now on the contrary, true liberty is to be found in the ways of God, for spiritual freedom is a freedom from sin and not to sin, a freedom to serve God and not self, a freedom to take upon us the easy yoke of Christ and not the despising of it. Genuine liberty is not a liberty to do what we please, but to do what we ought. "Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty" (2 Cor. 3:17); contrariwise, where Satan rules there is captivity (2 Tim. 2:26). Said the Psalmist, "And I will walk at liberty: for I seek Thy precepts" (119:45). Yes, just so far as we walk according to the Divine precepts, are we freed from the fetters of our corruptions. It is that miracle of grace which brings the heart to love the Divine statutes, that sets the heart at rest. "The way of holiness is not a track for slaves, but the King’s highway for freemen, who are joyfully journeying from the Egypt of bondage to the Canaan of rest" (Spurgeon).
First, the way of God’s precepts is in itself liberty, and therefore God’s Law is called "the perfect Law of liberty" (James 1:25). How grievously are they mistaken, then, who accuse us of bringing souls into bondage when we insist that the Law is the believer’s Rule of Life—-the bondage of the Law from which Divine grace delivers, is from the Law as a covenant of works, and therefore from its condemnation and curse; and not from the preceptive authority of the Law. Yet ever since we drank that poison, "ye shall be as gods" (Gen. 3:5), man affecteth dominion over himself and would be lord of his own actions. But Scripture makes it clear that the most dreadful judgment which God inflicts upon the wicked in this world is when He withdraws His restraints and gives them over to do as they please: Psalm 81:12, Romans 1:26-29.
Real liberty is found in the ways of God because it is there we are directed to attain unto true felicity. The way of sin seems broad and easy to the flesh, yet is it strait and painful to the spirit—"the way of trangressors is hard." Contrariwise, the way of holiness seems strait and narrow to the flesh, yet, because it is life and peace, it is broad and easy to the spirit—all of Wisdom’s ways are "ways of pleasantness." He liveth the freest life who liveth under the bonds of duty, who maketh conscience of pleasing God, for it is the Truth which makes us free (John 8:32). The fuller be our obedience, the more completely emancipated are we from the fetters of moral slavery. The only unshackled ones are those who walk with God.
Second, liberty is given to walk in God’s ways. At regeneration the soul, hitherto in prison, is set free by Christ (Luke 4:18, John 8:36). "For the Law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death" (Rom. 8:2). Conversion is a change of masters: "But God be thanked, that ye were the servants of sin, but ye have obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine which was delivered you. Being then made free from sin, ye became the servants of righteousness" (Rom. 6:17, 18). Redemption is a being delivered from the cruel task-masters of Egypt and coming under the Lordship of Christ. In loving, fearing, serving, and praising God the highest faculties of the soul are exercised in their noblest and most regular way of operation. The soul is lifted above the things of time and sense, elevated to occupation with heavenly and eternal things. (For some things in the last few paragraphs we are indebted to Manton’s sermon on Psalm 119:45.)
We trust that the reader is now able to perceive the connection between the deeper spiritual significance of Hebrews 13:23 and the verse which immediately precedes it. The historical allusion to the physical release of Timothy from his imprisonment, coming immediately after the call for us to heed the Word of Exhortation, is to be regarded as an illustration of the spiritual freedom which attends our compliance with that Divine injunction. Just in proportion as we yield subjection to the Divine precept, do we enter into and enjoy real freedom of soul. If this should seem too fanciful to some of our more prosaic readers, perhaps they will be willing that others should be permitted to exercise their own judgment thereon.
"Know ye that our brother Timothy is set at liberty." "Who this Timothy was, what was his relation unto Paul, how he loved him, how he employed him and honored him, joining him with himself in the salutation prefixed unto some of his epistles, with what care and diligence he wrote unto him with reverence unto his office of an evangelist, is known out of his writings. This Timothy was his perpetual companion in all his travels, labors and sufferings, serving him as a son serveth his father, unless when he designed and sent him unto any special work for the Church. And being with him in Judea, he was well known unto the Hebrews also, as was his worth and usefulness" (John Owen).
Timothy means "precious to God." His father was a Greek; his mother a Jewess. Nothing is known of the former. That his mother was a true believer we learn from 2 Timothy 1:5, where the apostle makes mention of the unfeigned faith which "dwelt first in thy grandmother Lois, and thy mother Eunice." The expression "unfeigned faith" testifies to the reality and genuineness of it, in contradistinction from the empty profession of others who, without just cause, posed as believers. From the above reference many have concluded that Timothy, in his early days, received a godly training. This is confirmed by "From a child thou hast known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus" (2 Tim. 3:15). Apparently the family resided at Lystra.
The first visit of the apostle Paul to Lystra is recorded in Acts 14. There he and Barnabas "preached the Gospel" (verse 7). There too God wrought a mighty miracle through Paul, by healing an impotent man who had never walked, being a cripple from his mother’s womb (verse 10). A deep impression was made upon the heathen inhabitants, who could scarce be restrained from doing homage to the apostles as gods. But shortly after, Jews came from Antioch and Iconium and persuaded the people—so fickle is human nature—to stone Paul. The writer believes that he was then actually stoned to death and that God restored him to life. Possibly the following passage refers to that incident: "We would not, brethren have you ignorant of our troubles which came to us in Asia, that we were pressed out of measure, above strength, insomuch that we despaired even of life: But we had the sentence of death in ourselves, that we should not trust in ourselves, but in God which raiseth the dead: who delivered us from so great a death, and doth deliver: in Whom we trust that He will yet deliver" (2 Cor. 1:8-10).
It was during this first visit of Paul to Lystra that young Timothy was converted. This seems clear from the fact that in 1 Timothy 1:2 he refers to him as "my own son in the faith"; while in 2 Timothy 3:10, 11 Paul reminds him now that he fully knew the persecutions and afflictions which befell his spiritual father "at Antioch, at Iconium, at Lystra." The expression "my own son in the faith" signifies that Paul had, ministerially, begotten him through the Gospel (1 Cor. 4:17). The Lystrians had dragged the body of Paul outside the city (Acts 14:19), but he rose up and returned into it. Next day he departed to Derbe, but after preaching the Gospel there, he returned to Lystra, "confirming the souls of the disciples, exhorting them to continue in the faith, and that we must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God" (verse 22).
What has been pointed out above explains the fact that when Paul revisited Lystra some three or four years later, Timothy is already spoken of as a "disciple" (Acts 16:1). The second verse intimates how he had acquitted himself during the apostle’s absence. During that time he had established a reputation for godliness, not only in Lystra, but in Iconium. He had become well known to the churches at both dries, and was "well reported of." Probably it was this good report which attracted Paul, who then stood in need of a fellow-helper—Barnabas and Mark having in the interval deserted him (Acts 15:39). The commendation of Timothy’s "brethren" inclined Paul to select him for a wider work. But there was, however, one hindrance in the way: Timothy was a Gentile, and the Jewish Christians were not yet, generally, prepared to receive an uncircumcised leader. To place him in office as a teacher might arouse prejudice, so Paul, in deference to their scruples, circumcised the young disciple.
Nothing is told us of what it must have cost Eunice to give up such a son: but God took notice (Ps. 56:8). From now on Timothy figured prominently in the history of Paul, becoming his companion and fellow-laborer. Two of his epistles were addressed to him, and in six others he is associated with him in the superscription: compare 2 Corinthians 1:1. Timothy was with the apostle during his second great missionary tour, accompanied him to Jerusalem, and was with him in his first imprisonment. In 1 Corinthians 4:17 we find Paul affirming that Timothy was "faithful in the Lord." Philippians 2:19-22 presents to us a lovely picture of the gracious power of the Spirit triumphing over the affections of the flesh, and the love of Christ constraining unto unselfishness. The apostle was prisoner in Rome, and Timothy, who was there, was very dear unto him; yet was he willing to part with his beloved companion, even in his sorrow and solitariness, He was solicitous for the welfare of the Philippian saints, and having none other he could send, authorized Timothy to visit them.
In referring to Timothy as being "like minded" with himself, Paul gives us an insight into his ability. Not only was Timothy his "own son in the faith" but he speaks of him "as a son with the father, he hath served with me in the Gospel" (Phil. 2:22). Young believers generally become like those with whom they associate most intimately. Blessed is it when we see them growing up to follow the example of godly leaders—"imitators of us and of the Lord" (1 Thess. 1:6). How solemnly important it is, then, that the leaders should live so that the younger Christians may not be made to stumble.
From the personal exhortations addressed by Paul to Timothy (in the epistles bearing his name), it seems clear that he was of a sensitive, shrinking, and timid nature. The word in 2 Timothy 1:6 (cf. 1 Timothy 4:12, 14, 16) seems to imply that he was almost ready to give up in despair. The "God hath not given us the spirit of fear"—really "cowardice" (2 Tim. 1:7) and the "be not ashamed" (verse 8) intimate that there was need for the exhortation "fight the good fight of faith" (1 Tim. 6:12) and "endure hardness as a good soldier of Jesus Christ" (2 Tim. 2:3, and cf. 4:5). That he was a man of frail constitution is evident from 1 Timothy 5:23. Yet to Paul he was "his dearly beloved son" (2 Tim. 1:2). Timothy’s "tears" (2 Tim. 1:4) over Paul’s imprisonment show that he was a man of feeling.
"Know ye that our brother Timothy is set at liberty: with whom, if he come shortly, I will see you" (Heb. 13:23). This supplies one more incidental confirmation that Paul was the writer of the Hebrews’ epistle, for it is clear from this verse that Timothy was the one who accompanied him on his missionary journeys—there is no hint elsewhere that Timothy was the fellow-worker of any one else but Paul. The actual incarceration of Timothy is not recorded in the Acts or elsewhere, but it is clear from this verse that he had been restrained, but that he was now free. The imprisonment of faithful ministers is an honor to them, yet is their release an occasion of rejoicing to the saints; and therefore the apostle acquaints the Hebrews of this good news, for he knew how highly they esteemed Timothy. He had not yet returned to Paul himself—apparently having been imprisoned at some other place than Rome, but if God directed him thither, he purposed that they should both again visit the churches in Judea. Whether this hope was realized, we know not.