THE GREEK SCRIPTURES ON THE BRIDE
THE LETTER TO THE HEBREWS
Merely for chronological reasons, we turn first to the book of Hebrews, which while not grouped in the manuscripts with the other distinctly Jewish writings is nonetheless Jewish, both from its name and from its content. The writer was both prophet and priest to the believing Jews, to admonish and comfort and encourage the fainting believers among Israel, after they had been nationally cast aside, and when, as in the dark days just prior to the Babylonian captivity, the just had nothing to live on but his faith (Hab.2:4). Everything that they had been taught to hope for was about to be submerged in the blackness of judgment. But, though faith in and hope for the immediate fulfillment of the kingdom promises were necessarily dim, that should not break their faith in God as Creator, Sustainer, and Father.
So, it was to help the believing Jews to withstand the shock of the destruction of their city and the general dispersion of their people that the book of Hebrews was written. If any prefer to think of it as written by some other than Paul, by Apollos, by Barnabas, by Luke, by Silas, or yet another, well and good. Who wrote it is not vital: its divine authorship is. The writer’s name was, in any case, purposely omitted: and that is highly significant.
Another glance at the note at the foot of page 43 will help to keep fresh in mind the fact that the Hebrews, or Hebraist party among the Jews, and the believing section of them, were the recipients of this letter. Unless our ethics are so loose as to permit us to think it proper to forge the endorsement of a check made out to some other person with a view to obtaining the money for ourselves, unless we could do that we can not consistently steal anything from Hebrews in the way of special promises or specific instructions. We are not Hebraists nor even Hellenists. We are not Jews of any kind, nor Israelites of any kind whatsoever. We are believing Gentiles joined to Christ by faith without regard to Israel or even Abraham. Our relation to God is strictly individual and not national. So far from being national, it is not even tribal nor denominational nor movemental, or family.
Let us, therefore, leave the book of Hebrews right where it was put by divine direction and supervision—to the Hebrews. They needed it in the past and will yet need it after the body of Christ is complete. Its noblest word is beggared, its highest hope o’ersped by what we have in the celestial sphere as the body of Christ. We have as little need to steal from the Hebrews as a baron would have needed to pilfer a bag of wheat from one of his yeomen.
Let there be no misunderstanding. All the Bible is for us, but it is not all directly to nor concerning us. It is all profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness. And without it all and without a right apportionment of it all, the man of God is but poorly furnished and incompetent for every good work, because he will bring in confusion as respects the divine purposes.
If there were any doubt about the superscription, “to the Hebrews,” there can be none about the reference to the “fathers” (Heb.1:1). And they belong to the “Israelites,” Paul’s “kinsmen according to the flesh” (Rom.9:3-5).
Hebrews is linked to the Gospels and Acts by ch.2:1-4. It is connected with that which “began to be spoken by the Lord,” i.e., the period of our Lord’s earthly ministry, covered by the Gospels, “and was confirmed unto us by them that heard,” i.e., the first part of our Lord’s heavenly ministry, the period of the activities of the twelve, who had companied with Jesus from the day of His baptism to that of His ascension. There is not even a hint here of the things which our Lord saved for the second part of His heavenly ministry, which things were never uttered or even known by the twelve but made known by special revelation only through Paul and ministered by him through letters and by those whom he had instructed.
The time from Pentecost on to the destruction of Jerusalem (its twentieth destruction in 70 A.D.) parallels the time from the giving of the Law and the making of the covenant at Sinai to the entrance of Beulah, the married land. Indeed, this period may safely be called an antitype of the wilderness. Back there they entered not in because of unbelief. They entered not into that married kingdom blessedness to which they had been publicly espoused at Sinai. Here, too, there was grave danger of the same thing. Nationally, it had been already determined that they should not enter the kingdom; but the individual believers, like Caleb and Joshua of old, might have their allotments held over until the kingdom state was entered into, if they did not perish after the same example of unbelief. Note the “ifs” in 3:6,14.
The substance of the book is a setting forth of Jesus Christ as the Son of God, the creative Agent of God (Heb.1:2,10), who as such is necessarily greater than the prophets (1:1), greater than the angels (1:5-14; 2:2). greater than Adam, as the Creator is greater than His creature—though to Adam was first given the dominion of the earth (Gen.1:28; Heb.2:6-8), greater than the devil (2:14), greater than Moses (3:3), greater than Joshua (4:8), greater than Aaron (7:4-7), greater even than Melchizedek, who most closely pictures Him, inasmuch as the reality is greater than the picture of it. Christ is everything in substance that the Jews had had in type; therefore if every drop of that typical stream were to dry up (as it was about to do) they would still have the Fountain Head, and they could live by a magnified faith, as had all the holy men both before the Law and under it.
All this is of value to us as body believers, because love neglects nothing which proceeds from and is a manifestation of the one it loves. If God has taken the trouble to institute and fulfill a series of types and shadows and has shown the kindness to explain what they mean, then the least we can do is to be instructed. But that does not mean that we are the subjects of the book, nor even the objects of its admonitions, threats, and exhortations. Like the priesthood, “no man taketh this honor unto himself”—though it must be feared that many have tried to do so. We must not rush in ungraciously and affect to preempt everything to ourselves. In this case, if we do that it will be to our loss. Who would fight for a job as sheriff when the governorship was not only open but presented as a gift?
We must bear in mind the situation: the tens of thousands of Jewish believers in the Messiahship of Jesus all remained strong Mosaists too. They had seen that the advent of the Messiah meant a blessing for the people of Israel and through them to the Gentiles. They had brought forcibly to their attention at the time of the Jerusalem conference that this blessing of the Gentiles was not to be after the manner of full observance of Moses’ law but in a simpler and more direct manner. Yet in spite of this lesson, they were revolting from the grace in Christ Jesus back to Moses and worse; for some of them were turning to idols and to the obscene practices attendant upon idol worship. Some were at least in danger of ‘departing from the living God,’ and that term is always used in contrast with idols.
These believers, along with the other Jews, had long known of the promise of a new covenant, which of itself implied a new priesthood, since the two were intimately connected. Indeed, as has been seen in the early part of this treatise, covenant, kingdom, and priesthood were all tied together. The espousal vows at Sinai were the basis of Israel’s hopes for becoming a nation of kingly priests. The nation back there failed. Now they were in another crisis.
As the old covenant had been established by blood mingled with water and as that covenant was the espousal covenant between Yahweh and His chosen people, so now Jesus had shown His love, not by slaying bulls and goats but by offering Himself on the place of skulls outside the city of Jerusalem. There the water and the blood flowed out. There the rock was smitten which gave forth blood and water, as the Hebrew of Psalm 78:20 indicates (1 Cor. 10:4). At Sinai water was mingled with the blood, so we are told (Heb.9:19). This was the custom when time was to elapse between the drawing of the blood and the sprinkling of it, as was the case here when Moses set forth the terms of the covenant before sprinkling the people. So the water, outpouring with the blood from our Lord’s riven side, suggests the possibility of an interval between the time of the shedding and the sprinkling.
But that blood was the pledge and basis of the new covenant (Matt.26:28; 1 Cor.11:25). And with whom was that new marriage covenant to be made? As long foretold, “with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah,” with all the twelve tribes, exactly as it had been made at Sinai.
Mark this: the antitype pulls nothing away from Israel; for both covenant, kingdom, and priesthood in both type, and antitype belong to Israel and to no one else. Certainly, no one else could rush in and take them without divine warrant or authorization. A man’s wife is chosen by either the man or his parents. People could hardly hold their reputation for respectability by presuming to occupy a relationship so peculiarly selective without being of the twelve tribes. But, what about “spiritual Israel?” And the only answer is, What about it? Where is it even mentioned, much less defined in Scripture?
The new marriage covenant was to be a covenant of grace over and above that manifested at Sinai, because in the meantime centuries of unfaithfulness on the part of His first married then divorced wife had piled up her sin, so that, the sin being so abundant, the grace is seen to be yet superabundant.
In the old covenant ceremony, gifts were bestowed upon the people in the shape of laws, but at Pentecost, while still, the ceremonies of the new covenant were on (Pentecost being an anniversary of the giving of the Law), there were sent forth not the hard stony tablets, as hard, cold, and unresponsive as the people’s hearts, but there were sent forth certain gifts of the spirit, such as are appropriate from a bridegroom to his bride, the beginning of the sprinkling of all the people, the beginning of that restoration and reunion on the soil of the Promised Land which Jeremiah mentions in connection with the covenant.
So the foundation had already been laid in the prophets (Jer.31:31-34; Ezek.36:25-27) of better things and promises not dependent, in the last analysis, on the deeds of the people. The betterness of these promises consists in the fact that the divine will, the will of the Husband if you please, no longer comes as a bare command but comes as a living and working thing into the hearts of His people. In consequence thereof, a living knowledge of God is to be the common blessing of all the members of the covenant, and the distinctions between prophets and non-prophets, priests and non-priests, is to fall away, and the ground of this is stated to be the forgiveness of sins wrought solely by the grace of God.
It was for this reason that Jeremiah could predict that all the old law economy, even the chest of the covenant itself, would be no more an object of longing to the people (Jer.3:16,17; Joel 3:1 on; Isa.11:9; 54:13; Ezek.11:19).
Well then, the believing remnant of Israel as the bride experiences reconciliation, does she not? Absolutely. And if we experience reconciliation (Col.1:20) does it not prove that we are of the bride? Absolutely not. Reconciliation is to be experienced between God and all His unconciliated creatures, both in heaven and on earth, and surely no one would take hold of angels to make up the bride when the Lord takes hold of the seed of Abraham! We are not of the bride because (1) we are not invited to that honor, and because (2) we are invited to something else, far greater.
The priestly office is very prominent in the book of Hebrews. But there is no priest for us. We are in Christ and chosen in Him from before the down-casting of the world (Eph.1:4). There was no priest in Eden, nor any needed. The presence of priests is a sign of alienation. Priesthood is part of the mediatorial office. True, mediatorship is not limited to the new covenant, which is specifically confined to all Israel but extends to “all men” (1 Tim.2:5,6). Yet the priestly office is nowhere referred to as operating on behalf of the church, the body of Christ. The relationship between Head and body is too intimate to use terms implying separation. The Head is everything to all the members (Col.3:11), but we must not force words beyond their Biblical usage. The writing of God’s law into the hearts of Israel under the new covenant is a work similar in the end to that work which the spirit effects in us, but that would be a very poor and very sophistical reason for supposing that because of that fact we ourselves are under the new covenant.
The old covenant was the basis of the old kingdom, and there was no dedicated priesthood until more than ten months after the ratification of the covenant by the sprinkling of all the people. The Law was given at the time of Pentecost one year and the priesthood was not installed until the first month of the following year. No antitype of any Israelitish type is ever found in the Gentiles; therefore antitypical covenant, antitypical kingdom, and antitypical priesthood are all found in Israel, and the priesthood not until after the establishment of the kingdom in power and great glory.
All this, of course, applies to the under priesthood. Moses acted as a high priest in the mediatorial work, and nothing other than the high-priestly office is dwelt on in Hebrews, either in type or antitype.
The high priest is first mentioned in 3:1, where also a “heavenly calling” is intimated. Some have connected this with the heavenward or on-high calling (Phil.3:14), i.e., the calling to the celestial realms. But the grammatical structure is quite different. In Hebrews 3:1 the thought is, that calling which emanates from the celestial throne, where the high priest is (Heb.9:24). Israel has no celestial allotment, and their priestly order and work is located on the earth in the Millennial age. The Jews are to be a heaven-designated kingdom of priests for a thousand years (Rev.20:6).
Note that this High Priest sheds not the blood of beasts but His own blood, therefore the sins of the people are not covered merely (as the Hebrew word rendered atonement signifies) but are blotted out. This difference of the blood is brought out in Hebrews 9:12-14,26, where the “bulls and goats” and the “heifer” are on the type side and “his own blood,” “the blood of Christ” (Heb.9:26) stands solely and alone on the side of the antitype. They often; He once. The teaching is most plain. Jesus Christ personally fulfills all the sacrificial types, without any addenda or manipulation whatever. The people have no active part in the effecting of the new covenant. It all depends on God. Therefore it will not fail. To the people is given not another religion merely, but faith in God Himself, trust in a Person.
Had the nation of Israel appreciated the reoffer of the kingdom during the period of the Acts the great High Priest would have reappeared to them (Heb.9:28), as had been promised in Acts 3:20 and fondly hoped for in Acts 1:6. The hardness of Israel’s heart affects the time but not the fact of the High Priest’s reappearance. In the type, all the people ‘waited for him,’ howbeit by representatives. So the twelve thousand out of each of the twelve tribes of Israel will wait representatively for the whole people and to them will He appear a second time, bringing salvation; for Israel, as the manslayer, will then all know of the death of the High Priest and may return to their patrimony (Num. 35:22-29). Any attempt to drag the church of this dispensation in here is to bring only confusion and not truth.
The new covenant is already instituted (literally, law placed or adjudicated) upon better promises, but it is not yet concluded* (Heb.8:6,8) or consummated; nor can it be until all the people of Israel are sprinkled. The sprinkling affects them first with a consciousness of their own guilt at having pierced their Messiah, and then with a consciousness of the perfect work done for them by the Sin-Bearer, “sprinkled from a wicked conscience” (Heb.10:22). Thus Jesus is already made the surety of a better covenant (Heb.7:22), and the believing Jews were obligated by or were under the terms of the new covenant from the time of our Lord’s death on until the present dispensation opened up, or past that and to the present, for such believing Jews as have never seen or responded to the special ministry of Paul.
Reference is not had here to legalistic bickerings, but rather to the spirit of the thing.
A maiden whose betrothal was about to be publicly announced would hardly be justified—indeed thoroughly condemned by both old and new covenant—in practicing indiscretions with another man on the technical ground that she was not yet obligated. In fact, the Jewish bride was obligated by the new kingdom laws as promulgated by their Lord in the first Sermon on the Mount.
Believing Jews and believing Gentiles were obligated to the new covenant arrangement, the kingdom arrangement until the prison ministry of Paul was given forth. There was no dispensation of truth relating to the earth apart from the kingdom; and, since the covenant is the basis of the kingdom, there was no dispensation of earth-truth apart from the covenant. Believing Jews were citizens. Believing Gentiles were strangers and guests, but amenable to the kingdom laws just as surely as a cannibal visiting Europe is subject to European laws.
Under the old covenant, the Jew had atonement, covering for his sins. That was a judicial matter. Under the new covenant, the Jew has pardon or forgiveness,* which is a putting away of the subject of transgression. Concerning the twelve tribes of Israel it was promised, “I will forgive their iniquity,” and “I will remember their sin no more” (Jer.31:34). There is a social feeling connected with pardon that is not found under the old atonement arrangement.
And be it remarked right here that the word “atonement” in the old covenant sense is never used in the Greek Scriptures commonly called the New Testament. The English word is one time used (Rom.5:11), but to translate a very different word from that describing Hebrew ritual. The real meaning of the English word atonement is ‘a state of accord or harmony,’ but it has been so long and often connected with the old sacrifices that can never take away sin that it comes to our minds saturated with a misleading color. With the Common Version usage of the word atonement in mind, it is degrading to speak of our Lord’s work as an atonement. It is vastly more than that. It is a gracious success.
But atonement (covering) is for Jews and pardon is almost exclusively so used; the one under the old covenant, the other under the new. We are spoken of (excepting Eph.1:7; Col.1:14), rather as having justification, acquittal, a dismissing of the indictment, which is much more than pardon after one has been individually condemned and sentenced, as was the case with the Jew. The place where we start is therefore ahead of anything that the covenant Jew has as such. But in addition to justification, which is a legal matter and negative in its nature, merely dropping legal action because of satisfaction made for us by our Lord and Head; in addition to that we have the privilege of reconciliation or of being brought into the warm, happy, filial circle, into the family of God. Surely it is more to be adopted into the Judge’s home circle than to have been acquitted of a charge as he sat on the bench.
Another point of distinction and difference: the Lord Jesus Christ is a substitute sacrifice for the Jew as such, the antitype of all the substitute beasts of old; but for us, He is more than a substitute. He is a representative. We are standing on the basic ground: “As in Adam all die, so in Christ all shall be made alive” (1 Cor.15:22). We are represented in the one in death and represented in the other life. The Jews’ sins are taken away and put out of mind, but dependent on repentance. We are justified without a moving cause * anywhere to be found in law (Rom.3:24).
It is true that all distinctions will eventually cease in the consummation when the Fatherhood of God and the brotherhood of man (or would it not be more reverential to say, the sonship of man) will be no longer a sentimental theory but an accomplished fact; yet as long as distinctions prevail, and by divine ordination, we must give heed and recognize them if we would be unashamed, efficient workmen.
Chapter ten of Hebrews proceeds with the identification of Jesus Christ as the antitype of the Jewish sacrifices, in which figures the Jewish believers are worshipers (Heb.10:2) and not officiators. The Jewish believer never officiates until the kingdom is set up, and then his ministrations are on behalf of the nations. His priesthood then takes on very largely the basic thought of ‘teacher in things pertaining to God,’ missionary, and pastor. But in the time covered by the Hebrew epistle, the believing Jews were worshipers, having access not only into the court and holy but even into the most holy place by virtue of the one sacrifice (Heb.10:10,12,14), then already accomplished.
The eleventh chapter is given to strengthen them for the time when every visible mark of divine displeasure would be upon them. They were to realize that no amount of zeal for law could please God without faith.
The twelfth chapter was given to help them see that all the apparent marks of divine displeasure, their disciplinary trials, were for their good and not harm. There was grave danger of being like Esau by drifting into the pleasures of the world and thus losing the birthright; for they were the firstborn (James 1:18). And perhaps some view of the firstborn is proper here.
Our Lord is the Firstborn of life (Col.1:15-17) and also the Firstborn from among the dead (Col.1:18). In the former capacity of the Only Begotten Son of God He relates to the universe and is, therefore, not pictured in the Jewish types. But in the latter office, He is freely pictured. The Law witnesses the firstborn from the grave; for it was the woman’s, not necessarily the man’s, firstborn, “the male which first openeth the womb,” that figured in the picture.
Under the Law, the firstborn had some special responsibilities and some special privileges to enable him to meet them. He had the right of being priest and king, of interceding for and ruling over his younger brethren (Ex.13:2; 24:5; Num.3:12,13; 8:16; 1 Chron. 5:1,2). He had the responsibility of being a redeemer for a brother who had grown poor and thus sold himself to a stranger. He must avenge his brother’s blood; raise up seed to his dead brother through that brother’s wife; had the first obligation to redeem his brother’s inheritance if it were lost or alienated (Lev.25:25,47,48; Deut.19:4-12; 25:5-10; Gen.38:8; Ruth 2:20; 4:6-10). To meet these greater responsibilities God gave him a double portion of his father’s goods (Deut.21:17).
So Jesus Christ, the first out of the grave, that barren womb (Prov.30:15,16), is the Firstborn through whom the blessing reaches His brethren. Nowhere are we called brethren of the Lord, though the Jewish believers are so called (Matt.25:40; Heb. 2:11,12,17). It is God’s purpose for the Firstborn from the dead to save and bless the later born.
But there are others, too, who are firstborn and “Abraham’s seed,” as Isaac was the firstborn of his mother but not of his father. These share in some measure this same honor with and under Christ, and in whom as “joint-heirs with him” (Rom.8:17) the promise must be fulfilled that in and through them “all the kindreds of the earth shall be blessed” (Gen.22:18). The elect are elected not as a mere end, but as a means, to exercise the birthright; not to be blessed only, but to be a blessing. As firstborn with Christ, they share the glory of kingship and priesthood with Him, ruling and interceding for their younger brethren. They also avenge the blood of their brethren (Luke 18:7,8; Rev.6:10), raise up seed to the dead, and are instrumental in the work of redeeming or rescuing their lost inheritance.
Not one Scripture passage gives us, believers of this dispensation, the slightest ground for imagining ourselves to be allotted to this convocation of firstborn ones. In the old time there was a mammoth register kept in the temple, showing the lineage of every firstborn in Israel; but the temple was about to be destroyed, and this new order of priests and Levites (for both were taken in place of all the firstborn in an official way) needed assurance that the record of their allotment would not be lost. So they were told that their names were inscribed in heaven (Heb.12:23). God would not lose the records.
This subject of the firstlings is further illuminated by the law of the oblation of the firstfruits, which is another aspect and presentation of the same thing. The Law which required a firstfruit speaks of a double first-fruit (Lev.23:10,17). The first was the sheaf of unleavened ears, first to spring up and ripen, and this was offered at the first great feast of the year, the Passover, or feast of unleavened bread (Lev.23:10,11; Luke 22:1). The other “firstfruits” (Lev.23:17) consisted of an offering of leavened cakes, fifty days later at the second great feast, Pentecost.
The first of those firstfruits is in Hebrew called “the beginning.” So it is Christ, personally, the Firstfruits (1 Cor. 15:23). The day of His resurrection was the very day of that firstling offering of crops. “On the morrow after the sabbath,” after the Passover (Lev.23:11), that is the very day on which our Lord rose from the dead, “the Firstfruits of them that slept” (1 Cor.15:20). And who are the other firstfruits? Are they not those who began to be manifest at Pentecost, the believing remnant of Israel, headed by the twelve apostles, and in turn by the Lord as King of the Jews? This thought is encouraged by the second 144,000 in the Apocalypse (ch.14:4). If these be understood as the same 144,000 as mentioned in chapter 7, then they are unalterably fastened on Israel, for that group is said to be twelve thousand out of each of the twelve tribes of Israel (Rev.7:4). But perhaps this is not the same group. No matter: the number twelve in the Bible is fastened on Israel; and James settles the question when, writing to the twelve tribes of the dispersion (James 1:1), he says: “Of His own will begat He us with the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of His creatures” (James 1:18).
It is not essential to the purpose of the present research to know with just what bodies these firstborn will be endowed. They will be glorious, metamorphosed in some manner, like our Lord on the mount, but their activities will certainly be on the earth. They “live and reign with Christ,” are “priests unto God,” and are “like Him” in that thoroughly good and satisfactory place which He has prepared for them. The main purpose here is to show that the firstborn, other than our Lord, are not the body-church of this dispensation but are in some manner and in some way of Israel and related to Israel; for “Israel is my son, my firstborn, saith the Lord” (Ex.4:22); and if He says so the matter should be settled.
The twelve were limited in their ministry to Israel (Matt. 10:5,6), but not so the seventy (Luke 10:1,17) yet the messages were similar. May not the twelve in the kingdom—and therefore the twelve times twelve thousand—have especially to do with Israel, and the seventy, corresponding to the number of Israel as they went down into Egypt and therefore to the seventy heads of “nations which were divided in the earth after the flood” (Deut.32:8; Gen.10:1-32; comp. Ex.24:9), have to do with the chosen nation’s missionary activities among the other nations? Perhaps there is something more yet in the seven heads and ten horns of the terrible beast of the Gentiles, at least by way of a contrast with what will be under the true Messianic rule.
The twelfth chapter of Hebrews unquestionably describes the establishment of the new covenant at that august tribunal of which Sinai was but a picture.
** Note the distinction between this mediatorship of Jesus which is limited to the twelve tribes (Jer.31:31) and that general one of Christ Jesus between God and men (1 Tim.2:5) in all nations.
It is plain to see that the Hebrew believers had approached a spectacle, to convocation more awful than that at Sinai. It is as much more awful and glorious as it is more successful than the former (of course we must speak after the manner of men; for the first covenant accomplished precisely what it was intended to accomplish). It is more successful because it depends in no wise on the efforts of man. It depends entirely on God’s sovereign, yes despotic, faithfulness. There it was Mount Sinai: here it will be Mount Zion, the same mount where the 144,000 stand, who, like those in Egypt, are under the shelter of the blood, before the kingdom is set up (1 Peter 1:1,2).
All this the believing Jews had approached unto. But because the nation was unfit to receive the kingdom, because the re-wooed divorced-wife-bride gave no signs of response to her royal Lord, therefore the actual entrance into the scenes and portions of this great judicial gathering or assize was delayed until Israel shall have been humbled by a long period of estrangement from their married land and by the most terrible apostasy ever known among them.
Back there the personnel of the inauguration ceremonies was arranged as follows (Ex.24:1,9,13,14):
Among these colorful scenes of Jewish classes and covenants can we, as Gentile believers with personal relations by grace direct with God as Father, honestly find ourselves? We can not honestly find ourselves in any place where we are not, and we certainly are not there any more than we were in one of the classes back at Sinai. Indeed the very presence of classes implies a dispensation different from our own. Despite the fact that the ecclesiastical landscape of Christendom is cluttered with all kinds of class barriers, there is still only one method of dealing with God in this dispensation, and that is individually. We may be members of visible and human organizations or orders, great or small, old or young, more formalistic or more evangelical, but we get nothing whatever of a spiritual nature merely because of that membership. In fact, what spiritual blessings we get are often in spite of such membership. Our spiritual (mind, not social or cultural) advantages come in any organization by (1) personal devotional relations with God in and through Christ and (2) personal devotional relations with others likewise in touch with God through Christ. Both of these advantages may be our portion in or out of any organization.
What, then, gives rise to ecclesiastical organizations? Rarely, if ever, a mere desire for common worship. Common worship can be had with very little congregational machinery and no super-congregational or even inter-congregational government. The supposed advantages of organizations lie in the field of service, and most organizations have arisen out of some misconception of service. Surely there is no harm in a cooperative effort, but the difficulty lies in the fact that the means soon becomes more prominent than the end or purpose for which the cooperation was started.
There is no “army of God” now. The figure in Ephesians 6 is of an individual soldier arrayed for personal combat. Such songs as “Like a mighty army moves the church of God” are not only false, being absolutely contrary to the facts, but are also foolish. An army is an organization. The church of Christ is an organism in which we should not struggle to produce a particular brand of cooperation but be diligent to preserve the unity of the spirit in the bond of peace. The unity of the spirit is a fruitage of the spirit. It grows under the happy benefactions of that Son, whose light is truth and whose warmth is love. Organizational unity, such as there is, comes from human effort, and, like the works of man generally, may be conceived and developed in the dark, far from either truth or love.
Religious life, not spiritual life, is the chief mainstay of religious organizations. Indeed spiritual life is at a discount because it is concerned chiefly with the will of God, its only object of worship. The will of God often crosses inconveniently with the plans of men, yes, the religious activities of men. Religious life can start at any time or any place. It is mere reform of something already there. Spiritual life starts only with a conviction of sin and is not reform but a new creation.
The whole caste system belongs to the old creation. When God’s purpose with man is accomplished there will be no more governing and governed, no more rule or authority or power (1 Cor.15:24), but the perfection of God’s will shall have been steeped into the very fiber of His creatures so that all show of power will be unnecessary, like the veteran policeman lays off his uniform and enjoys himself in his own grown-family circle.
There was caste under the old covenant. There will be caste under the new. But there is rightly none now. And in the end of the long and gracious age following the Millennium there will be none; for that is the age of the new creation proper, the new heavens and the new earth, of which we are but an advanced working model (Eph.2:7).
The blurred mixture of law and grace which prevails in the minds of Christendom is due to a failure to distinguish between the new creation and the new covenant. Many think that because they are Episcopalians or Presbyterians or Catholics or something else they are entitled to some special consideration. But the grace of God pays no more attention to those man-made screens than air and sunlight do in passing through an open window. The screen certainly does not help either air or sunshine, however much it may debar the socially incorrect from entering.
Again, organizations appeal to the soul, even to the body; but rarely to the spirit. As soon as a group of people believe they have some understanding of or insight into Scripture that is not had and has never been had before; as soon as they are unshakably fixed to any idea in or about the Word of God, or to anything other than the Word of God as such, there they have the foundation to their organization and to much human works. The thought that one has something never known by other believers is an insidious thought and has the germ of pride in it. Pride usually rests on ignorance, ignorance of how little is known by any and of how much more is known by others than by ourselves. Pride is a soulish attribute as are all self-conscious powers.
Soulish powers, God-given though they be, do not enable one to sense the presence of God in His universe nor His sovereignty in our lives. “The soulish man receiveth not the things of the spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Cor.2:14). It was for this reason that the apostle Paul did not speak the wisdom of this age, but the wisdom of God (1 Cor.2:6,7). The world by its soulish wisdom has not known God.
“Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man,
The things which God hath prepared for them that love Him.
But God hath revealed them unto us by His spirit:
For the spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God.” (1 Cor.2:9,10)
The deep things of God have to do with His motives and purposes as distinguished from His visible acts. His motives and purposes are knowable only by revelation; so those who scorn “revealed religion” in favor of “natural religion,” the written Word in favor of the wrought Word, are not spiritual. Such might be in possession of facts of science and know nothing better to do than to play with them, theorize about them, taking particular care to leave God out of their theories.
The soulish man is anything from the world’s good fellow to the most gifted litterateur or most accomplished artist in forms or tones. He may be “earthly, soulish, demoniacal” (James 3:15), or simply “soulish, having not the spirit” (Jude 19).
The point of all this here is that one may be extremely religious and not spiritual at all. In fact, to be extremely religious in this dispensation, when a set system of worship is not laid upon us, itself marks a dearth of the spirit.
The great moralistic and humanitarian culture clubs, which out of courtesy are called churches, spring from and thrive on soulish attributes. They can not live without them. Social contact with the “best” people of the community, soft, mellow lighting for the eye, nerve-soothing music for the ear, attenuated-moonshine philosophy for the head, a smug sense of being among the “better” classes of the most civilized lands—all these things and feelings are traceable not to God-consciousness but to self-consciousness. Philosophy for the head and religion for the heart: that’s the best the soul can do, alone.
Yes, that brings us to the heart, which is associated with the soul. “The soul of all flesh is in the blood;” and since the heart is furnishing the motive power for the blood it is therefore the moving power of the soul. In the Gospels, in Acts, in the Jewish epistles, and even in the pre-prison epistles of Paul, both soul and heart are frequently used, and much more rarely in the prison epistles—the word soul almost never except in reference to human relations or vigor.
The purpose is not to belittle either soul or heart but to show that soul and heart may be either good or bad and that the soulish powers without the spirit of God are always deceptive. The Jews were a whole-souled people. They had a soulful attachment to their religion, but insofar as they had not the spirit they were an abomination to the Lord. So it is with organizational religion generally, as opposed to individual spiritual life. As long as an organization ministers to and encourages spiritual life it is good; but as soon as it either openly or tacitly discourages personal loyalty to God by favoring organizational or class loyalty, it is bad. The truth is that whoever is supremely loyal to God will be loyal to all of God’s children, whether those children know it or not.
Soulish religion is bootstrap religion, the neglected half of Satan’s lie, to the effect that men by self-will can become like God.
We are born in and surrounded by the kingdom of darkness, and the first hope of light is the conviction that we are in the dark, that we are hopeless without God—without Him, not merely without His assistance—and that we are sinners, broken, helpless, defenseless, and excuseless before Him, our only plea the grace-provided blood of Christ.
And this is why it was said above that there is no spiritual life that does not begin with a conviction of sin because it was sin that broke the harmony with God in Eden. If we do not believe that the harmony was broken; more than that, if we do not believe that the harmony is broken save as we are individually in Christ, we neither believe in nor care for deliverance, no matter how religious we may be. None are rescued till they either believe or know their ruin; and if they do not believe it they will be taught to know it, through humiliating judgments. The prodigal had to come to himself before he came to his father. And this helps us to understand the book of Hebrews.
Their faith had had too much of a soulish base and body. They did not realize themselves as quite condemned. They felt that there should be special deference paid to them because they were the seed of Abraham. They did not want grace (which is only for the condemned, the undeserving) so much as they wanted the distinction which comes with worldwide kingly and priestly powers. Rarely was their thought one of, “Father, glorify thou me that thy son also may glorify thee” (John 17:1). Their faith was based largely on miracles; so when the miracles died down the faith died down too. The only thing left was judgment. And what was the judgment for? To appease a pettish God? Ah, no; but to humble them till grace seems good. A loving Father wastes no chastisement. It is men who magnify His justice with juristic theories not His own. God melts not for the sport in the sputter; He melts only to mold anew, to make those know their state who would not believe it.
The Hebrew believers had mostly lapsed from faith to religious zeal. Few were humble enough to take God’s gifts in God’s way. Therefore those who really had access into the holiest of all where their Bridegroom was, cared not so much for it as for the sterile traditions of the elders. And this brings us to an understanding of the imprecatory sections of Hebrews, in chapters 6 and 10. In the first place, there is not a word in either of these passages about a second death; and unless we cherish that as an especially delectable morsel—always for someone else, of course —we will not read it into them. It is not really there.
The rudiments spoken of in 6:1,2 all have to do with the kingdom as the Jews expected it, and as they will have it under Messiah’s reign. These rudiments do not constitute the foundation of present truth at all.
(1 and 3) Repentance and baptism are connected with the offer of the kingdom, especially the Pentecostal offer, and are the keys of the kingdom, which were proclaimed as the authoritative means of access into the kingdom privileges. Faith is the present basis of our relationship to God.
(2) Belief in God is much less than believing God. “Abraham believed God and it was counted to him for righteousness.” To believe is a righteous act. Abraham not only believed in God, believed that He exists—as do also His worst enemies—but he believed what God said. Our relationship goes beyond what Abraham had, but there are similarities; for reconciliation is the basis of friendship as well as of sonship.
(4) Not many would now claim that the imposition of hands is a thing fitting to the present. But if anyone were to claim it, their claim would be unfounded on Scripture. It was one of the miraculous powers of the kingdom-proclamation period. And there is no authorized announcement of either king or kingdom without the special powers which the prophets of old had said would accompany that message. There is no need for either twisting or warping of Scripture: those signs simply do not belong to this dispensation, this householding, or ministry.
(5) Resurrection of the dead is a general term, not the special expression with which our hopes are connected, “resurrection out from among the dead.”
(6) Eonian or age-long judgment has no bearing on us or our message. The kingdom will find its inception in the severest judgments the earth has ever known. Yet we are not in them, but in Christ where there is no condemnation. We have not the slightest Scriptural authority for making a specialty of the day of vengeance of our God.
Verses 4-6 take up the identification further. There are six points mentioned in the rudiments above and six counts in the indictment or, rather, warning here given. One would incline to expect them to correspond, and perhaps they all do on closer examination. Some of them do quite apparently. Anyway, the description applies only to those who had received the Pentecostal marks and blessings. They were (1) illuminated, they had (2) tasted of that calling which derived from heaven rather than from earth, they were (3) endued with power from on high, holy spirit, they (4) had a taste of that benign teaching about the imminence of the kingdom and about the righteousness of its reign, they had had (5) a sample of the powers of the coming age, the raising of the dead, the healing of the lame, the miraculous discernment and summary judgment, and now they were about to (6) fall aside and incur the only thing left for them under the circumstances, viz., eonian judgment. Instead of producing a crop worthy of the seed and of the labor and of the Owner of the field, they were producing only indifference, grumbling, or ingratitude, just as their forebears had done in the wilderness. Back there they perished, but not to endless oblivion. So down here their end is a curse and burning, which is exactly what came upon them in the destruction of their city and in their national scattering for the intervening centuries.
They could not be renewed again to repentance, because repentance is a change of mind and the only thing that could turn their minds back to the attitude they first had as believers, when they served the saints and took joyfully the spoiling of their goods, would be for them to see more of the same kind of miracles which drew their attention then. And those little endearing gifts had fallen off, were mostly gone because the nation had rejected her Bridegroom-King.
The Jews who received all the disadvantages implied in this passage, who have had to pay the uttermost farthing, are not cut out of the general provision for mankind any more than those who sinned in the wilderness. In any case, the passage does not belong to the same group revealed and ministered to, especially in the prison letters.
Hebrews 10:32-34 is an unmistakable reference to the early Hebrew believers. The correct rendering of the first part of Hebrews 10:34 is, “who sympathize [or, as we would say, sympathized] with my prisoners also.” This pins the epistle and its warnings and threatenings down upon Hebrew believers of the first century. The account is invaluable, just as the accounts of Exodus and Deuteronomy are invaluable, but the specific instructions, directions, and warnings in them can not be carried over into the present dispensation without loss and confusion to us. If we place ourselves in the atmosphere of Hebrews the best we shall have is a combination of Davidic and Abrahamic honors, both far below what we have in fact. There is a general truth, of a non-dispensational character, in Hebrews, as there is in all parts of the Scriptures. The Son ‘through death is to destroy him that hath the power of death, that is the devil.’ That is general as to the purpose of God and is not limited to a dispensation, but we must be careful how we read in matters of type and antitype.
Look now at the dread section, verses 26-31. It panders to every lower passion of the soul to fling this at those who disagree with us, but the climax of offense is reached in the words, “outrages the spirit of grace.” One spurning grace has the judgment to expect, expiation, which is just what those apostate believers got. Judgment is given to teach the need for grace. It is fearful, it is not pleasant, to fall under the judgments of the living God, but divine judgments are all instructive, not baldly punitive. The Jews had and still have to learn the lesson that nothing counts but God until they learn the blessedness of answering grace with gratitude.
Jewish Religion, Greek Wisdom, Roman Law, British Justice, German Kultur (i.e., civilization), French Liberte, and American Progress have all claimed with more or less blatancy to be the thing the world needs, and, curiously enough, each of them has failed most signally on the very virtue trumpeted.
God alone is the Whence, Why, and Whither of all life. He is the Source, Channel, and Mouth of every stream; the home port of every living craft. This truth most of the Hebrew believers failed to cling to. But not all failed, and to these are given words of encouragement and tender exhortation. Some such words are in the thirteenth chapter. “It is a good thing that the heart be established with grace” rather than with the things of religious ritual. The real issue was: leaning on God’s grace, His unmerited, undeserved, unelicited, uncalled-for, unsought, unforced, unaided, unassisted, unearned, undiluted, unadulterated, sovereign, and despotic grace on the one hand, and human effort, self-will-to-perfection, bootstrap religion on the other.
Then comes the famous allusion to the Jewish atonement day. In no case whatever are Gentiles involved in the matter. There is not a scintilla of evidence authorizing such a thought. The simple facts are that the unjust putting of our Lord to death by the nation’s high court, and the ignominious manner of it, defiled the camp. In ideal times it would be apostasy to leave the camp, but when the camp as a whole was apostate it would be apostasy to stay there, to inhabit the city in any religious or devotional sense. The city was set for judgment: but what should they care? Their Lord was outside. To go outside would not be to leave Him but to go to Him. “For we have no continuing city, but we seek one to come.”The reason for the statement in verse 13 lies in the fact that the city was about to be destroyed. Our Lord is personally the antitype of both “bulls and goats” (Heb.9:13,14).
Fredrik Homer Robison
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