An Exposition of Hebrews
by A. W. Pink
(Hebrews 13:24, 25)
Everything down here comes, sooner or later, to its end. Terrible prospect for the wicked, for there awaits them naught but the blackness of darkness forever. Blessed outlook for the righteous, for then they are done with sin and suffering forever, and only everlasting glory and bliss Stretches before them. How would it be with you, my reader, if the hand of time were now writing the final lines of your earthly history? Did the apostle experience a pang of regret as he arrived at the parting salutation? did his readers? We cannot be sure, but this writer certainly feels sorry that the dosing verses are now reached; and we are assured that not a few of those who have followed us throughout this series will feel much the same. For rather more than ten years we have journeyed together through this epistle, and now we have come to the Conclusion.
It is very doubtful if the writer will ever again attempt a task of such dimensions. Be that as it may, he certainly will never be engaged with a more momentous and glorious subject. There is no book in the N.T. of greater importance, and few of equal. First, it furnishes us a sure guide to the interpretation of the O.T., the Holy Spirit moving the apostle to here open up its principal types. Second, it supplies us with a vivid description and explanation of the Mediator’s office and work, demonstrating the worthlessness and needlessness of all other intermediaries between the soul and God. Third, it therefore places in our hands the most conclusive exposure of the errors and fallacies of the Papacy. Fourth, it makes clear to us why Judaism has passed away, and how it can never again be restored.
The deep importance of this epistle is intimated by a feature which is peculiar to it, namely, the absence of the writer’s name. But let it be noted that he did not conceal himself, for in Hebrews 13:18-24, especially, Paul made it quite clear to the Hebrews who was the penman of this epistle: he plainly declared himself and his circumstances as one who was well known to them. The true reason why he did not prefix his name to this epistle, as to his others, was this: in all his other epistles he dealt with the churches by virtue of his apostolic authority and the revelation of the Gospel which he had personally received from Christ; but in dealing with the Hebrews, he laid his foundation in the authority of the Holy Scriptures, which they acknowledged, and resolved all his arguments and exhortations thereunto.
They who regard the body of this epistle as concerned merely with the refutation of those arguments brought against the Gospel by the ancient Jews, do greatly err. That which the apostle here took up is of vital moment for each generation. Human nature does not change, and the objections brought against the Truth by its enemies are, in substance, the same in every age. As the best means of getting rid of darkness is to let in the light, So the most effectual antidote for the poison of Satan is the pure milk of the Word. Only as we are established in the Truth are we fortified against the sophistries of error. In this epistle the apostle deals with the fundamental principles of Christianity, and no effort should be spared to arrive at a sound understanding of them. The foundations of the Faith are ever being attacked, and the ministers of Christ can perform no better service than to establish their people in the grand verities of the Faith.
The chief design of the Holy Spirit in this epistle is to set forth the great difference between the administration of the Everlasting Covenant before Christ came and since His coming. The following contrasts may be observed. First, the difference between the instruments God used: the "prophets"—His own Son: Hebrews 1:1, 2. Second, the difference between priesthood and Priesthood: Hebrews 7:11-17. Third, the difference between surety and Surety: Hebrews 7:21, 22. Fourth, the difference between the law and the "Oath:" Hebrews 7:28. Fifth, the difference between mediator and Mediator: Hebrews 8:6; 9:15. Sixth, between promises and Promises: Hebrews 8:6. Seventh, between blood and Blood: Hebrews 9:12-14. Eighth, between sacrifices and the Sacrifice: Hebrews 9:26. Ninth, between sprinkling and Sprinkling: Hebrews 9:13, 14. Tenth, between tabernacle and Tabernacle: Hebrews 9:8, 24. Eleventh, between the "shadow" and the Substance: Hebrews 10:1 and cf. Colossians 2:17. Twelfth, between "country" and Country: Hebrews 11:9, 16. In all these contrasts the difference is between the Old and N.T. administrations of the Everlasting Covenant.
The outstanding contrast between the Old and N.T. regimes is that the one was but evanescent, whereas the other is abiding. Judaism was but preparatory, a temporary economy; whereas Christianity is permanent, ushering in an everlasting order of things. This is intimated in the opening sentence of the epistle: "God hath in these last days spoken unto us in His Son:" finality has now been reached!—there is no other dispensation to follow this: cf. 1 Corinthians 10:11, 1 Peter 4:7, 1 John 2:19. In keeping with this we may note how frequently the emphasis is laid upon the abidingness and finality of what is here treated of. We read of "He became the Author of eternal salvation unto all them that obey Him" (Heb. 5:9), of "eternal judgment" (Heb. 6:2), that "He is able also to save them for evermore that come unto God by Him" (Heb. 7:25), of "eternal redemption" (Heb. 9:12), of "the eternal Spirit" (Heb. 9:14), of an "eternal inheritance" (Heb. 9:15), of "the everlasting covenant" (Heb. 13:20).
"Salute all them that have the rule over you, and all the saints. They of Italy salute you" (verse 24). It was the custom of the apostle to close his epistle with a warm greeting: not that this was merely a courtesy or pleasantry, for in those days the love of Christians was strong and fervent, both unto the Lord Himself and to His redeemed: "But as touching brotherly love ye need not that I write unto you: for ye yourselves are taught of God to love one another" (1 Thess. 4:9). How radically different things were then from what they now are! Yet only so in degree, and not in essence, for wherever the love of God is shed abroad in the heart, the affections of that soul will necessarily flow unto all His people. "We know that we have passed from death unto life, because we love the brethren" (1 John 3:14), which is as true today as it was in the first century.
Salute all that have the rule over you." This evinced the apostle’s good will unto the ministers and officers of the churches in Judea, as well as according honor to whom honor is due. Mutual amity between the servants of Christ is to be sedulously sought and lovingly maintained. The large-heartedness of the apostle in this important particular Shines forth again and again in the N.T. Calvin suggested that the reason why this salutation was sent more particularly unto the rulers of the churches was "as a mark of honor, that he might conciliate them, and gently lead them to assent to his doctrine"—which was so radically opposed to their earlier training. The "rulers" referred to in this verse are, of course, the same as those mentioned in verses 7, 17.
"And all the saints." One lesson here inculated is that the servants of Christ should be absolutely impartial, manifesting equal respect unto the highest and lowest of God’s dear people. This clause also condemns that detestable spirit of eclecticism, fostered so much by Rome. The Gospel has no secrets reserved for the initiated only, but the whole of it is the common property of all believers. "This epistle, containing strong meat for the perfect, is addressed to the whole congregation. If any part of Scripture was to be kept from the common people, we might fancy it would be this epistle. The writings of the apostles, as well as the prophets, were read in the public assembly; how much more ought it now to be left to every one to read them according to his need" (Bengel).
Believers are here designated "saints" or separated ones, which is their most common appellation in the N.T. They are so in a fourfold respect. First, by the Father’s sovereign choice, whereby before the foundation of the world, He singled them out from the mass of their fellows, to be the objects of His special favor. Second, by the Son’s redemption, whereby He purchased "a peculiar people" unto Himself, thereby distinguishing between the sheep and the goats. Third, by the Spirit’s regeneration, whereby He quickens them unto newness of life, thus making them to differ from those who are left in their natural state—dead in trespasses and sins. Fourth, by their own consecration, whereby they surrender themselves unto the Lord, and dedicate themselves to His service. Their saintship is evidenced by their lives: devoted to the love, fear, and will of God. Such are the only proper members of a local church, and such are the only true members of the Church of God.
"They of Italy salute you." They did so through the apostle unto the entire body of the Hebrews: knowing of his intention of sending a letter to them, they desired to be remembered to them. "They of Italy" if not all of them Gentiles, certainly included many among their number. A most significant detail was this. In the previous verse Paul had referred to sending "Timothy" unto them, and his father was a Gentile! But still more striking was this word: it was more than a hint that the "middle wall of partition" was already broken down. Certainly "Italy" was "outside the Camp" of Judaism: Jerusalem was no longer the center of God’s earthly witness!
"They of Italy salute you." This is very blessed, showing the victory of the spirit over the flesh. "How does Christianity melt down prejudices! Romans and Jews, Italians and Hebrews, were accustomed to regard each other with contempt and hatred. But in Christ Jesus there is neither Romans nor Jews, neither Italians nor Hebrews: all are one in Him. Christians of different countries should take all proper opportunities of testifying their mutual regards to each other. It is calculated to strengthen and console, and to knit them closer and closer in harmony. Proper expressions of love increase love on both sides" (John Brown).
"Grace be with you all. Amen" (verse 25). The epistle closes with the sign-manual of Paul himself. He commonly employed an amanuensis (Rom. 16:22), but this sentence was written by his own hand. This particular apostolic benediction was his own distinctive token. "The salutation of Paul with mine own hand, which is the token in every epistle, so I write: that the grace of our Lord Jesus be with you all. Amen" (2 Thess. 3:17, 18). If the reader will turn to the closing verse of each of the other thirteen epistles of this apostle, it will be found that the same token, substantially, is given in each one. This is the more striking for neither James, Peter, John, nor Jude employed it. Thus, this closing "grace be with you all" is conclusive evidence that Paul was the writer of this epistle.
"Grace be with you all. Amen." This is the most comprehensive petition that can be presented to God on behalf of His people, either individually or collectively, for it comprises all manner of the blessings of His free favor. Divine grace comprehends and contains all things pertaining to life and godliness. By grace we are saved (Eph. 2:8), in grace we stand (Rom. 5:2), through grace we are preserved. These words signify, Let the favor of God be toward you, His power be working in you, bringing forth the fruits of holiness. Thus, the epistle closes with prayer! "When the people of God have been conversing together, by word or writing, it is good to part with prayer, desiring for each other the continuance of the gracious presence of God, that they may meet together in the world of glory" (Matthew Henry.) "Grace be with you all" denoted their actual participation therein.
And now our happy task is completed. Very conscious are we of our limitations and infirmities. We can but commit our poor efforts to God, pleading the merits of Christ to countervail our demerits, and asking Him to bless that which was pleasing to Himself. Let those who have accompanied us throughout these articles join the writer in asking: do we now better understand the contents of this difficult yet blessed epistle? Have we a deeper appreciation of that grand order of things that has superceded Judaism? Is Christ more real and precious to our souls? Are we more conscious of the sanctifying effects of the doctrine which it inculcates? Are we now paying more diligent heed to its weighty exhortations? Are our souls more deeply impressed by its solemn warnings against apostasy? May Divine grace indeed be with us all.
N.B. The articles comprising this series have been written on land and sea. They were commenced in Australia, continued as we crossed three oceans, resumed in England, considerably added to during the years we spent in the U.S.A., and completed in Scotland and England.