Types in Hebrews - Chapter 13 - HIS FULL PROVISION

"BE not high-minded, but fear." This apostolic warning, addressed to us Gentiles, is entirely in keeping with the Lord’s parable of the Great; Supper. (See earlier in this work.) But both parable and precept are ignored in Christendom. And yet the parable might suggest a further thought. Street waifs and wayside tramps are fully satisfied if only they can find "bit and sup" and keep clear of the police. And most Christians are very like them in this respect. For, misapplying that other apostolic precept, "Having food and covering, let us be therewith content," they have no spiritual ambitions beyond obtaining forgiveness of sins. and immunity from "the wrath to come." If our salvation is assured, what more can we need? It is not strange, therefore, that such a book as Hebrews is neglected; for its purpose is not to tell how sinners can be saved, but to unfold the infinite fullness there is in Christ, for sinners who have obtained salvation. Therefore it is that the passover has no place, and the sin offering but a secondary place, in its doctrinal teaching.
In seeking to call attention to neglected truths, repetition is unavoidable. The Israelites, as we have seen, were "saved" ere they raised their triumph song on the wilderness shore of the sea. But a man’s release from a criminal charge gives neither right nor fitness to enter the king’s palace; and this parable may serve to exemplify Israel’s condition when gathered round Mount Sinai. The doom and bondage of Egypt they were for ever done with, but they had neither fitness nor right to approach the Divine Majesty. And if the Pentateuchal narrative ran differently, and we read there that God gave the law in order that His people might thereby attain to holiness, and thus gain access to His presence, the record would have accurately prefigured our popular theology upon this subject. But in emphatic contrast with this we find that before they set out on their wilderness journey their redemption was completed by the great covenant sacrifice. By the sprinkling of the blood of the covenant they were sanctified; and the law with all its elaborate ritual was designed, not as a means by which they might attain to holiness, but as a gracious provision to maintain them in all the blessing which was theirs by virtue of the covenant.
The true effort of the Christian life is not to become what we are not, but to live worthily of what God in His infinite grace has made us in Christ. In the Epistles of the New Testament, therefore, the characteristic and most usual designation of Christians is "saints," or holy people. But the truth being lost that the Christian is not only justified, but sanctified by the blood of Christ, this scriptural name for Christians is now treated as a purely conventional expression, and it is practically obsolete.1 The standard of Christian living has thus been lowered. And just in proportion as the great type which prefigured this aspect of the work of Christ drops out of view,2 the Epistle to the Hebrews is misunderstood. For it supplies the key to its doctrinal teaching.
The great covenant sacrifice is, as we have seen, the note struck in the opening clause of Chapter 1. That note vibrates throughout the Epistle,3 and in its concluding sentences it rings out loud and clear: "Now the God of peace, who brought again from the dead the great Shepherd of the sheep in virtue of the blood of the eternal covenant, even our Lord Jesus, make you perfect in every good thing to do His will, working in you that which is well-pleasing in His sight through Jesus Christ; to whom be the glory for ever and ever. Amen."
This reference to the Resurrection is framed upon the Pentateuchal narrative, but the actual words are taken from the Septuagint version of Isaiah 63:11, which reads: "Where is He that brought up out of the sea the Shepherd of the sheep?" And here, as in the only other mention of the Resurrection in Hebrews 1:5, 6, the Ascension is regarded as the complement and completion of the exaltation of Christ from the grave to the throne. The marginal rendering of the earlier passage is now generally accepted: "When He bringeth again the first begotten into the world, He saith, And let all the angels of God worship Him." The reference to the Resurrection is clear, the only alternative being the strange suggestion that the homage of angels is deferred until the future advent. Some distinguished expositors adopt that suggestion, but this weighs nothing as against the explicit statement of Scripture. For we are expressly told that at the Ascension He was proclaimed the King of Glory (Psalm 24:7-10). And reading the heavenly visions of the Apocalypse in the light of such prophecies and of His prayer on the betrayal night (John 17:5), we rejoice to know that all the heavenly host now worship Him as enthroned in heaven.
It is noteworthy that while the words "And let all the angels of God worship Him" agree substantially with Psalm 97:7 in the Greek Bible, they are letter for letter identical with Deuteronomy 32:43, as given in that version. True it is that our "Received Text" contains nothing corresponding to them; but we must not forget that the authors of that version had Hebrew MSS. more than 1000 years older than any we now possess. And moreover the Epistle to the Hebrews is Holy Scripture, the writing of an inspired Apostle.
"The God of peace": to take these words as a veiled rebuke aimed at supposed divisions among the Hebrew Christians, is to lose the significance of this most gracious climax to His the teaching of the Epistle. Christians generally have two Gods - the God of Sinai, and the God revealed in Christ. But "our God is a consuming fire" (Hebrews 12:29) - the same God Who declared Himself at Sinai. (Exodus 24:17) The work of Christ has not changed either His nature or His attributes; but it has made it possible for Him to change His attitude toward sinful men. We have seen how clearly this is unfolded in the typical story of Israel at Sinai before and after the covenant sacrifice was offered. (Exodus 19:21-25; 29:9-11; 25:8. See earlier in this work.) And just as in virtue of that covenant "the great and terrible God" of Sinai could dwell among His people, so in virtue of the New Covenant God can declare Himself as "the God of Peace," and bid us to draw near to Him, and to draw near with boldness.
"With boldness," because we have such a full redemption, and such a Great Priest in the heavenly sanctuary which is our place of access. But this is not all. For here on earth we are a flock without a fold,4 and we are conscious of our weakness and our proneness to wander. And to meet these our needs we have a shepherd. It was a marvellous triumph of faith that before Christ came His people could believe in a personal God and make words such as those of Psalm 23 their own. With what fullness of meaning and of joy ought we as Christians to be able to claim them now! For "in virtue of the blood of the eternal covenant" our Lord Jesus is "the great Shepherd of the sheep."
But even this is not all. For we are not merely "the sheep of His pasture," but morally responsible human beings. And we are living in a world where God is not owned, and in circumstances that are uncongenial to the Christian life. And His purpose for us is, not that we should spend "the time of our sojourning here" in failure and sin, with intervals of penitence, marked by abject cries for mercy, but that we should consistently live to His praise, as becomes those who have such a salvation and such a God. Every divinely inspired prayer in Holy Scripture expresses what God is willing and ready to do for His people. And here is the closing prayer of this most blessed and wonderful Epistle: "Now the God of peace…make you perfect in every good thing to do His will, working in you that which is well-pleasing in His sight."
"Is that you, darling" We all know the pathetic story, and how the other child, who was not the "darling," sadly answered, "No, mother, it’s only me." And with too many Christians "it’s only me" expresses the response the heart makes to His appeal to them to follow Him as His "beloved children." (Ephesians 5:1) That Enoch pleased God is the Greek Bible rendering of the Hebrew words that he "walked with God." And both are joined in the, Apostle’s exhortation: "how ye ought to walk and to please God." (1 Thessalonians 4:1) But such a standard of Christian life, even for a single day, is deemed visionary and unpractical. We are "only me" Christians.
"Make you perfect"; it is a different word from that which is thus rendered in other passages in the Epistle.5 It means primarily to restore or put in full order again, (As in Galatians 6:1) and secondarily to equip or to furnish completely.6 To set us tasks beyond our powers and yet to hold us responsible for failure would be worthy of an oriental savage. This is not God’s way. His call to service ensures a full provision to enable us to do His will. And it is not a question of benefits peculiar to some of His people, but of His purpose and desire for all. The perfecting, therefore, is not by means of exceptional spiritual gifts, but through the Lord Himself. "To Whom be the glory for ever and ever."
"Suffer the word of exhortation": "Our brother Timothy is set at liberty" "Salute all your leaders." How delightful are these human touches in the Divine Scriptures! We are thus reminded that the words we have been considering are not the rhapsody of a "saint" in the sense ecclesiastical,7 but the sober utterances of one who, though an inspired Apostle, and the greatest of all the Apostles, was the most intensely human of men. And as we read "the word of exhortation" we think, not of "saint" Paul, with a halo round his head, as raised to a pinnacle which ordinary Christians cannot be supposed to reach, but of him who "obtained mercy" in order that he might be "a pattern" to believers like ourselves. (1 Timothy 1:16) And we seem to hear him say to us:
"I beseech you, brethren, be ye followers of me - be ye followers of me, even as I also am of Christ." (1 Corinthians 4:16; 11:1) "Salute your (spiritual) leaders." At the one end of the ecclesiastical gamut of Christendom we have sacrificing priests, and at the other extreme all ministers are systematically denied a formal or definite recognition. The one is sheer paganism, the other is chargeable with ignoring or belittling the Lord’s provision of ministers until the end (Ephesians 4:11-13).The foundation of Apostles and Prophets remains, but the "building of the body of Christ" is the work of evangelists, pastors, and teachers, and to ignore them is to dishonour Him Whose gifts they are.
For it is not a question here of "spiritual gifts" in the 1 Corinthians sense, but of men who are themselves the gifts of our ascended Lord. And there is no vagueness in the way they are mentioned. For they were to be obeyed, and a special greeting was sent to them. "Obey your leaders," "salute your leaders" would be quite unmeaning if the persons designated were not definitely known. And the explicitness of the mention of these shepherds is increased by the context which speaks of "the Great Shepherd." The relation of pastor and flock is but little recognized today, but it is a holy bond, and altogether divine; for it depends on the Lord’s gracious provision, the continuance of which is assured until all ministry is merged in its glorious consummation. (Ephesians 4:8-13)
The primary meaning of the verb translated "them that have the rule" in Hebrews 13:7; 17, 24 (hegeomai) is to lead or go before, and then to be a leader, to rule. It is a word of such elastic meaning that in the first of its twenty-eight occurrences it is rendered governor (Matthew 11:6), and in many passages, think, count, reckon, esteem (as in 1 Thessalonians 5:13). The Apostle’s use of it, especially in this last cited instance, clearly suggests that in Hebrews 13 he employs the word in its primary sense. The "leaders" here, therefore, were not their official rulers, but their spiritual guides who ministered the Word of God among them. There was probably no need for such an exhortation in the case of men apostolically appointed to office in the Church. Indeed the tendency to give undue honour to the episkopoi culminated in the grossly profane homage claimed for them in the pseudo-Ignatian epistles.8 I call them episkopoi because (as Dean Afford bluntly says in his Commentary on 1 Timothy), "the episkopoi of the New Testament have officially nothing in common with our bishops." Though some episkopoi did "labour in the word and teaching," - and such were to be held in special honour - they were appointed, not to teach, but to rule. (1 Timothy 5:17)
No less true is it that the diakonoi of the New Testament have nothing in common with our "deacons." As an exception to this, indeed, the service for the "making of deacons" preserves the ordinary New Testament meaning of the word, and New Testament truth about ministry. For before ordaining a candidate the bishop requires from him an assurance that he is divinely called to the ministry - "truly called according to the will of the Lord Jesus Christ." What the Apostle said of his own ministry - that it was neither by man nor through man - is true of every real minister of Christ. Ordination is but the Church’s recognition of the divine call. The distinction between diakonoi and episkopoi- ministry and office - appears from Scriptures such, ex. gr., as Philippians 1:1; 1 Timothy 3:8- 10. These passages give further proof that the ministers of the Word were as definitely known as the office-bearers, although (as appears from 1 Timothy 3:10) they were not appointed in the same way. The. Apostle’s injunctions were explicit: "Let them first be proved, and, being found blameless (not, let them be ordained, but) let them minister." The phrase "use the office of a deacon" is a sheer mistranslation for ecclesiastical reasons. For our word deacon has no precise equivalent in the Greek language. Diakonos is used of household servants (as in John 11:5, 9), of "Ministers of the Word," of Apostles, and even of the Lord Himself (Romans 15:8)
In Ephesians 4:8-13 the Apostle speaks of the Church as the vital unity - the body of Christ. In 1 Corinthians 12:28-31 he is speaking of "the visible church," the organized society on earth. In Ephesians 4, therefore, there is no mention of "governments" or of "gifts" in the First Corinthians sense. And as the ministry of evangelists is not exercised within the Church, but in the world without, they are not mentioned in 1 Corinthians 12:28.9