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An Exposition Of the Epistles Of Saint Paul And Of The Catholic Epistles Volumes 1&2

Analysis

The Apostle, having shown in the preceding chapter, that one bloody oblation of Christ had amply atoned for sin and answered all the ends of universal redemption, proceeds to show, in this, that Christ alone could redeem us and remit sin. For, as to the law and the sacrifices of the Levitical priesthood, in which the Hebrews so much confided, he proves by several arguments, from verse 1 to 19, that they contained no efficacy whatever for the remission of sin. First, the law and the legal sacrifices were only the shadow of the future goods promised us by Christ; but not the reality promised. Secondly, the repetition of these sacrifices—and reference is directly made to the annual great sacrifice of expiation—for the self-same sins that were before remitted, proves their inefficacy for remitting sin. And thirdly, it was impossible for the blood of animals, of its own nature and intrinsic efficacy, to remit sin, as the Hebrews vainly imagined (1–5).

The Apostle proves from SS. Scripture, the inefficacy of the ancient sacrifices for the remission of sin. He introduces Christ addressing his Father, Psalm 39, “Sacrifices and oblations,” &c., and from this prophetic quotation, he draws a two-fold conclusion—first, by saying “Sacrifices … thou wouldst not,” Christ has shown the abolition of the sacrifices referred to; and secondly, by saying, “Behold I come,” &c., the institution of the second description of sacrifice, which Christ offered according to the will of God (6–10).

Their repetition proved the inefficacy not only of the annual sacrifices, but also the inefficacy of the daily sacrifices, offered morning and evening among the Jews; whereas Christ, by one bloody oblation of himself, has made full atonement for sin, and purchased a treasure of grace for sanctifying men, at all times (11–14). The Apostle then proves, from the Prophet Jeremias, the inefficacy of the ancient sacrifices for remitting sin (15–19).

Having proved the abrogation of the legal sacrifices, and shown the superior excellence of the priesthood of Christ, and of his sacrifice over the Levitical priesthood and their offerings, he exhorts the Hebrews to constancy in the faith (19–21). He deters them from committing the dreadful crime of apostacy (24–31). He calms the fears which his words were calculated to inspire, by reminding them of their past good works of charity (32–34). Finally, he exhorts them to hold out for a short time, when they shall reap the full fruit of their past labours and sufferings.

Paraphrase

1. Christ was offered to make atonement for the sins of all (9:28), and Christ alone could remit sin; for, as to the law, it contained only the shadow, or mere representation of the future goods, procured for us by Christ, but not the things promised, in their real form. Hence, it could neither justify nor remit the sins of the priests officiating under it, much less those of the people by the self-same annual victims continually offered up, as sacrifices of expiation.

2. For, if these victims had the effect of remitting sin, there would be no occasion for their renewal (in commemoration of the self-same sins, for which they were before offered); because the ministers once purified would require no further expiation, and would have no further consciousness of the sins already remitted.

3. But what is the fact? It is, that in the annual sacrifices—namely, of expiation—there is made a commemoration and confession of the self-same sins, as if actually subsisting and uncancelled.

4. (These sacrifices, then, did not remove the guilt of sin—in them was only made a remembrance of sin); for, it is absolutely impossible that the blood of animals, of oxen and of goats, could, of its own intrinsic efficacy, remit the guilt of sin. (This was reserved for the precious blood of Jesus Christ).

5. Hence it is, that entering into the world at his Incarnation, he says to his heavenly Father (Psalm 39), sacrifice and oblation thou hast rejected and abolished, as no longer grateful to thee; but, a body fit for immolation thou hast given to me.

6. Holocausts for sin did not please thee

7. Then, said I: Behold, I am present, prepared (according to what has been foretold of me in the entire of the Scriptures) to do thy will.

8. In this quotation from Psalm 39, spoken by Christ, two things are to be specially noted: first, he says, sacrifices, and oblations, and holocausts for sin thou hast held in no regard, nor have any of the offerings prescribed, by the Old Law, been pleasing to thee:

9. Secondly, he says:—Behold, I am ready, O God, to do thy will. In the first words, “sacrifices,” &c., he shows the abolition of the ancient oblations there referred to; and by saying, Behold I come, &c., he has established the second kind of sacrifices, which Christ offered, according to the will of God.

10. Conformably to which will of God (whereby he wished that Christ would be offered as a victim), we are sanctified by the bloody oblation of the body of Christ, once.

11. And not only does the high priest annually repeat the sacrifice of expiation (making a commemoration of the same sins), but in the daily sacrifices, at which the priests minister in turn, the same victims are offered, the same repetition made—hence, they too, for a like reason, cannot take away sins.

12. But Christ, after having offered one sacrifice, which satisfies for all sins, sitteth glorious at the right hand of God,

13. Awaiting the time, when his enemies shall be made his footstool.

14. For, by one bloody oblation of himself—an oblation of infinite value, extending to all generations—he perfected those who are sanctified at all times; in other words, by this one bloody oblation of himself, he made atonement for all sin, and purchased the treasures of grace, whereby men are sanctified at all times.

15. The testimony of the Holy Ghost is corroborative of the same, viz., that the remission of sin was not attached to the Old Law, this being a distinguishing characteristic of the New; for, having said, (Jeremias, 31):—

16. This is the testament, which I will make unto them, after those days, saith the Lord, I will engrave my laws on the their hearts, and en their minds will I write them.

17. And their sins and iniquities I will remember no more.

18. Now, where these are remitted, and a ransom adequate to make atonement for them offered, there is no further need for any such oblation for sin.

19. Having, therefore, brethren (from what has been already shown regarding the efficacy of the blood of Christ, his entering heaven in quality of our high priest, to open it for us, &c.), a well grounded confidence of entering the Holy of Holies of heaven, through the efficacy of the same blood.

20. And having a new way hitherto untrodden, and a living way which Christ dedicated, and first entered on through the veil of his own flesh.

21. And a great meditating Pontiff, placed over the entire Church militant and triumphant, to guard the concerns of both.

22. Let us approach with sincere minds, in the fullest conviction which faith carries with it, having our hearts cleansed from the defilements of sin, and our bodies washed with the cleansing waters of baptism.

23. Let us hold firm and unwavering, the confession of faith and hope which we professed in baptism (for he is infinitely veracious, on whose promises, our faith and hope are grounded);

24. And let us observe each other attentively, so as to be excited to emulation, in the exercise of charity and good works;

25. Not imitating the perverse example of a certain class of persons, in forsaking our public meetings, and the Church itself, but rather consoling each other, and by charitable admonitions, exhorting each other to perseverance, and this with greater zeal, as we know that the day of retribution is drawing near.

26. For, to us, who, after receiving a knowledge of the truth, and becoming members of the Church, wilfully commit the sin of receding from her, there is left, in that state, no redeeming victim for sin.

27. We have only to expect the terrible and dread judgment of God, and the raging vehemence of the fire of hell, which is destined to devour God’s enemies.

28. A man apostatizing from the law of Moses, is inexorably put to death, on the testimony of two or three witnesses

29. How much heavier punishment, think you, does he not deserve who, by his apostasy, has trodden under foot and treated with the greatest ignominy the Son of God—approving of this conduct in the Jews—has esteemed the blood of the testament, in which he was sanctified, common and unclean, and offers an affront to the Holy Ghost, the fountain of grace?

30. And we know, he shall suffer all the punishment he deserves; for, the Lord has declared, that the fulness of revenge is his, and that he will inflict it, and also, that he will take judgment for his people, and punish their enemies.

31. It is a dreadful thing for the impenitent to fall into the hands of the living God, who, therefore, will never cease to inflict punishment.

32. Call to mind the days of your first fervour, in which, having been enlightened in baptism, you endured a great struggle with afflictions;

33. Partly by being yourselves exposed to public insult and suffering, and partly by being made partakers by sympathy, in the sufferings of the others similarly maltreated.

34. You were made partakers in the sufferings of others, when you sympathized with the Christians cast into chains, and were personally exposed to injury in the plunder of your property, knowing from faith, that a better and more lasting substance was in store for you in heaven.

35. Do not, therefore, abandon that confident hope which has sustained you in misfortune, and which has annexed to it a great remuneration.

36. For, the patient expectation of future goods and liberation from present evils is necessary for you that, after having complied with the will of God (wishing you to submit to sufferings), you may obtain the promised inheritance.

37. For, yet a very short time, and he who is to come will come, and will not delay, and will render to each one the reward of his merits.

38. But, in the mean time, until he come, the just man will live through faith (in which his spiritual life is begun and strengthened); but, if he withdraw himself from faith, he shall not please me.

39. But I trust we shall not be children of withdrawal from the faith, i.e., of unbelief, unto our destruction, but of perseverance in faith, in order to obtain life everlasting.

Commentary

1. In verse 28, of the preceding chapter, it is implied, that Christ alone could confer justification and remit sin; and, to prove this implied proposition, the Apostle proceeds to point out the utter insufficiency for justification of the Jewish sacrifices, in attributing too much efficacy to which the principal error of the Hebrews consisted.

“For the law.” By “the law” is understood the entire law of Moses. The word “shadow,” is understood by some to mean, an obscure delineation and outline, opposed to the perfect picture of a thing. The idea is borrowed from the art of painting. Others, more probably, understand it of the shadow as opposed to the body or reality, of which it is a shadow, which opinion better accords with the words of the Apostle (Colossians. 2:7).

“Of the good things to come,” i.e., to be given us by Christ—viz., grace, remission of sin, justification, &c., of which the legal remission was a mere figure.

“Not the very image of things.” “Image,” (εἰκὀνα) signifies the things themselves appearing in their most perfect representation—viz., in their own real form, in which sense, the word is employed, when it is said of Christ, that “he is the image of God.” (2 Cor. 4:4; Col. 1:5).

“Which they offer every year,” refers to the great sacrifice of expiation offered once a year, by the high priest.

“Cannot make the servers perfect;” and the Apostle leaves it to be implied, that if they cannot sanctify the ministering priest, nor remit his sins, much less, can they remit the sins of the people.

2. “For then they would have ceased to be offered.” The ordinary Greek reading is, οὐκ ἄν επαυσαντο, they would NOT have ceased. The negative, not, is omitted in the Syriac and other copies; it is inserted by Griesbach, on the authority of manuscripts, and will make no difference in the meaning of the passage. The words mean, that if these victims had the effect of remitting the sins for which they were offered, they would not have been repeated, for the self-same sins.

3. Now, they are repeated for the self-same sins. In these annual sacrifices of expiation there is made a remembrance and confession of the same sins commemorated in preceding years; for, in the sacrifice of the emissary goat (Leviticus, 16:21), the pontiff is enjoined to confess over him “all the iniquities, offences, and sins of the children of Israel,” without exception or distinction. Therefore, the very law itself supposes the inefficacy of preceding annual sacrifices of expiation; since, if once expiated, what necessity would there be for offering up sacrifices for the same sins continually.

OBJECTION.—Catholics have the sacrifice of the Mass daily offered up; they also recur daily to the sacrament of Penance, and maintain, still, that the repetition of either does not prove its inefficacy. Does not this manifestly contradict the doctrine of the Apostle?

ANSWER.—In reply, it is merely necessary to say, that if the reasoning of the Apostle be closely examined, it will be easily discovered, that the Catholic practice does not furnish the slightest ground for the foregoing objection. The Apostle is proving the inefficacy of the sacrifices of expiation annually presented for sin, from the fact of these sacrifices being offered up each year for the self-same sins, for which they were offered up in preceding years. “In them there is made a commemoration of sins every year” (verse 3). He does not suppose that they were offered up for the sins of the current year merely; for, the law commands the high priest to offer up the sacrifice of expiation annually for his sins, whether he sinned that year, or not; from this, the law abstracts. It is on the circumstance of the repetition of the sacrifices for the self-same sins, that the Apostle grounds his argument, which may be reduced to this form:—If the sacrifices of the Old Law had the effect of justifying and remitting the sins of the servers, they would not be offered repeatedly for the self-same sins (verse 2). Which proposition he proves thus:—Because if they remitted sins, then, the worshippers would have no further consciousness of the sins remitted (verse 2). But, we find there is a confession of the SAME sins made in them every year (verse 3). Therefore, they do not remit sin. That such is the reasoning of the Apostle will appear quite clear, if it be borne in mind that the proposition, though apparently affirmative, “they would cease to be offered,” is equivalent to the negative proposition, they would not be offered, contradictory of the proposition, verse 3: “But in them there is made a commemoration,” &c. These contradictory propositions must, therefore, have the same subject and attribute; and to the former proposition, “they would cease to be offered,” must be added the words, “in commemoration of sins,” which is the same as, for the self-same sins, “every year;” otherwise, the reasoning of the Apostle would be inconclusive. Where, then, is the parity between the cases of repetition referred to by the Apostle and the Catholic practice? Is Mass offered up for sins already remitted?—or, is penance resorted to, as a matter of precept, for sins already forgiven? Certainly not. Hence, there is no parity. Besides, the reasoning of the Apostle would not prevent the repetition of the Mass, as a holocaust, as a peace-offering, &c.; his argument, even supposing it to apply to the Mass, would only prove against its repetition, as an expiatory sacrifice; for, it is of such he is speaking.

Nor is it true, that the repetition of the Mass is, even in this latter respect, that is to say, as a sacrifice of expiation, in the slightest degree affected by the reasoning of the Apostle; for, he is treating of redemptory sacrifices. Now, one redemptory sacrifice, if efficacious, should not be repeated; for, it is only an Infinite Being could offer it. Its value, therefore, would be infinite, and its repetition, useless. Whereas, the Mass, being only an applicatory sacrifice, subordinate to, and in substance, the same as, the sacrifice of the cross, of which it is a real commemoration and unbloody continuation, deriving from it all its efficacy, should be no more abolished than the other channels of divine grace, to say nothing of its repetition, as an holocaust or peace-offering, &c.

4. This is confirmatory of the preceding. “It is impossible,” &c., in the sense of the Hebrews, who imagined it could remit sin, of its own intrinsic efficacy. No doubt, the blood of animals could remit sins, if there were a connexion divinely instituted, as in the case of the water, in baptism; but no such connexion had been instituted in the Old Law. If sin had been ever remitted, it was, ex opere operantis. The Apostle, by saying, “it is impossible,” &c., shows, that he is speaking of our redemption, which was to be effected by the substitution and vicarious offering of Him, “on whom the Lord laid the iniquity of us all.”—(Isaias, 53)

5. He proves the inefficacy of the ancient sacrifices, from the SS. Scriptures. It was on this account, that in Psalm, 34 (which, some say, regards Christ; at least, if it regard David directly, it refers to Christ mystically) Christ is introduced as addressing his Father in these words—“Sacrifice,” &c. These words show the little regard in which every species of ancient sacrifices was held by God the Father. “Sacrifice,” i.e., offering of bloody victims. “Oblation,” of, unbloody. “Thou wouldst not.” He did not wish for them permanently; because they did not possess the effect of remitting sin; moreover, as they were but types, he did not wish for their continuance, after the reality had come. “But a body thou hast fitted to me.” These words are quoted by St. Paul from the Septuagint version, as, indeed, are all his quotations in this Epistle. In the Hebrew version, followed by St. Jerome in our Vulgate on the Psalms, the words are, “But thou hast bored ears for me,” expressive of his servile condition and obedience, in allusion to the boring of the ears of perpetual servants, among the Jews.—(Exodus, 21:6). The meaning of both readings is not different, as the “boring of his ears,” and “fitting a body to him,” both denote the obedience of Christ. The reading of the Septuagint better suits the scope of the Apostle: God gave him a passible body, otherwise he could not offer sacrifice to God, nor “take away the first, by establishing that which followeth” (verse 9).

6. “Holocausts for sin did not please thee,” not because they were bad; but, imperfect. In the Greek of this place, and in the Psalm, it is, ὅλοκαυτωματα καιπερι αμαρτιας, holocausts and for sin, i.e., holocausts and sin offerings. The “holocausts for sin,” according to our version, probably regard the great sacrifice of expiation, which was both a holocaust and sin offering; but, generally speaking, holocausts and sin offerings were quite distinct.

7. “Then said I.” The word “then,” according to some, refers to the time when the ancient sacrifices ceased to please God the Father; or, more probably, it has the force of, therefore, “I come,” I am ready “to do thy will (it is written of me in the head of the book.”) It will make the reading more clear, if these words, “in the head of the book,” &c., be enclosed within a parenthesis. In the Hebrew, the reading is, “in the volume, or, roll of the book,” in which allusion is made to the mode, in which the books of the law among the Jews were folded up on rollers. The words, most probably, mean, that the sum or contents of the SS. Scriptures, placed at the beginning of the book, regarded the obedience of Christ to his Father.

9. From the quotation, the Apostle draws this two-fold conclusion, by saying—“Sacrifice thou wouldest not,” Christ has shown the removal or abolition of the first kind of sacrifices referred to; and, by saying, “Behold I come,” &c., the institution of the second description of sacrifice, which he offered according to the will of God.

10. The Apostle shows what this will of God, which Christ was ready to do, is: it is this—viz., that in the body which his Father had given him, he would make one bloody offering of himself, which would be a source of redemption and sanctification to the entire world.

11. In this verse he proceeds to show, that the circumstance of their repetition did not prove the inefficacy of the annual sacrifices of expiation only; that it also proved the same, for a like reason, in regard to the daily sacrifices, offered morning and evening, by the priests in their turn. “And every priest standeth,” in fear and awe; “daily ministering,” morning and evening (Numbers, 28). “Often offering the same sacrifices, which can never take away sin,” any more than could the annual sacrifice of expiation, offered by the high priest alone.

12. “But this man offering one sacrifice,” i.e., after having offered one sacrifice. The Greek for “offering,” προσενέγκας, means, having offered. “Sitteth” in glory and triumph. The Jewish priest “stood” with fear and awe; he “sitteth” in glory and majesty.

13. Nor will he leave this seat of glory until his enemies are prostrated, according to the promise of the Royal Prophet (Psalm 109)—“Sit at my right hand, until I make thine enemies thy footstool.” “This subjection of all things to Christ will be manifested at the end of the world.”

14. He need not leave heaven to repeat, like the Jewish priest, the bloody oblation of himself; for, by one such oblation, he has compassed all the ends of Redemption, he has made perfect atonement for sin, and merited the graces, whereby men are, at all times, sanctified.

OBJECTION.—Against the sacrifice of the Mass. In these two chapters, the Apostle allows only one oblation of Christ, therefore, he excludes the repeated oblation of him in the Mass, as opposed to the unity of his offering.

ANSWER.—The oblation of Christ referred to by the Apostle in these chapters, and the repetition of which he rejects, is the bloody oblation on the cross; for, there is question of the oblation, by which “he perfected” (or sanctified) “all;” i.e., redeemed mankind, and atoned for sin; the oblation wherein, if repeated, he should suffer death (9:26). But, from the fact that he cannot be offered up again, in a bloody manner, can it be inferred, that he cannot be offered, in an unbloody manner? As well might it be inferred from the fact of God having promised, that the world would not be again destroyed by water, that therefore, it is not to be destroyed in any other way, whether by water or by fire, which would be contrary to faith. Christ is offered up, in an unbloody manner, in the sacrifice of the Mass; and the Apostle, for reasons already assigned, does not refer to that oblation; it does not fall within his scope; nor, perhaps, would it be expedient at the time, to do so.

But, by saying, he can be offered, only once, does he not exclude a second oblation or more; and hence, the oblation made of him, in the Mass?

ANSWER.—He excludes a second oblation of the same kind, and presented in the same way. The unity of Christ’s oblation is insisted on, in opposition to other reiterated oblations. Now, to any person attentively examining the reasoning of the Apostle, in these two chapters, it must appear quite clear, that the opposition instituted is, between the bloody oblation of Christ on the cross, and the annual and daily sacrifices of the Jews, the efficacious and fruitful unity of the former being contrasted with the useless multiplicity of the latter. The objection, therefore, is quite inconclusive; Christ will not be offered up a second time—which, to be true, must mean—in a bloody manner. Therefore, he will not be offered up, in an unbloody manner. Just as conclusive would it be to say—The world will not be destroyed again by the waters of deluge. Therefore, it will be destroyed in no other way, and it shall be eternal. The Apostle excludes the repetition of the sacrifice of Christ in the Mass, as a redemptory sacrifice, as making atonement and offering satisfaction for sin; in which respect only, the sacrifice of Christ is contrasted with the annual and daily sacrifices among the Jews; he never contemplates rejecting the repetition, or rather the continuation of the same, in an unbloody manner, as applicatory of the merits purchased on the cross. On the cross, an infinite treasure of merit was purchased; a satisfaction offered, adequate to make reparation for the sins of ten thousand worlds. But, no Christian can deny that by the institution of God himself, there are certain channels required for the application to our souls, in a limited degree, of this treasure of grace, in itself infinite. What else is the end of the sacrament of baptism, to which all Christians have recourse for the remission of original sin?—and Catholics regard the sacrifice of the Mass, as a channel through which are applied to us the merits and graces purchased on the cross. Surely, it cannot be alleged that the sins of the elect are directly remitted by the merits of Christ, the instant they are committed. Would this not be plainly opposed to the precept, inculcated in several passages of SS. Scripture, of recurring to baptism for the remission of sin? Would not be opposed to the words of our redeemer:—“He that believeth and is baptized, shall be saved; but he that believeth not, shall be condemned?”—(Mark, 16:16). It is opposed to the manner in which the Jews converted after St. Peter’s first sermon were justified. They were told, “to do penance, and to be baptized, every one of them, for the remission of their sins” (Acts, 2:28). Now, on their justification was to be modelled that of all the Gentiles, who at the preaching of the Apostles did penance, believed, were baptized, and their sins thus remitted.

15. The Apostle adduces the testimony of the Holy Ghost, to prove that the remission of sin was not effected by the sacrifices of the Old Law, but only by those of the New. He quotes from chapter 31 of Jeremias, referred to in chapter 8 of this Epistle. The proof is taken from verse 17. By saying that in the new testament which he was to make with his people, “he would no longer remember their sins,” i.e., that he would remit them, he implies, that in the old testament there was no such efficacy, this being a distinguishing characteristic of the new. The reading from verse 15, in our version, is suspensive and imperfect. There is nothing corresponding with the words, “after that he said” (verse 15); nor does it appear, that there are any words expressing the result which they would seem to imply or denote. Hence, some Expositors endeavour to remedy this, by making the words, “saith the Lord,” the beginning of the second member of the sentence, as if they ran thus:—“After that he said” (verse 15), “THEN saith the Lord, I will give my laws, &c.” (verse 16). The words, “saith the Lord,” however, regard the preceding, and are a part of the prophetic quotation. Others supply, at verse 17, such words as these:—“THEN, HE SAID, and their sins,” &c. It may be, that the sense is suspended from verse 15 to 18; as if, the Apostle made the conclusion drawn from the prophetic quotation, the second member of the sentence, thus:—“For, after that he said,” &c. (verses 15, 16, 17), then, the only conclusion to be arrived at is, that where sins are remitted, there is no need for any further such oblation (verse 18).

18. “Now where there is remission of sin,” &c. There is no necessity for repeating oblations for sins already remitted. This is quite clear, if there be question of actual remission. Nor can there be any difficulty about it either, if there be a question of potential remission, in the sense that there has been a ransom paid, and a redemptory sacrifice offered for them; because, one redemptory sacrifice, if efficacious, must be a sacrifice of infinite value; and hence, its repetition as such, would be useless; but neither signification of the words is opposed to the repeated offering of applicatory sacrifices for sins, not yet actually remitted; the Mass, therefore, as an applicatory sacrifice, is not excluded; if so, the other means of grace, faith, hope, contrition, sacraments, should be excluded as well, on the same principle.

19. Some Expositors say, that the second, or moral part of this Epistle commences at this verse. It is more likely, that one of the principal dogmatic parts of the Epistle, regarding the necessity of divine faith, concerning which, it would appear, the Hebrews entertained rather serious doubts, yet remains to be treated of; but before engaging them in this point, he wishes to deter them from the crime of apostasy, by a strong denunciation of its heinous enormity. “In the entering into the Holies,” of entering heaven, the true Holy of Holies.

20. “And a new and living way,” “New,” because untrodden by any before Christ; “living,” because it leads to life eternal, or, “living,” i.e., permanent, and not to be destroyed, like the Jewish tabernacle. “Which he hath dedicated for us.” The Greek, ενεκαινισεν, literally means, which he initiated, or, first opened for us. “Through the veil, that is to say, his flesh.” The allusion to the Jewish tabernacle is kept up, the veil of which was a type of Christ’s flesh; because, as the veil was to be removed for the entrance of the high priest into the Holy of Holies, and he should pass through it; so was Christ to pass through our assumed nature, and through its division on the cross, into the sanctuary of heaven, and open it for us. His flesh may be also called the “veil,” because, it concealed his Divinity, as the veil of the tabernacle concealed the sanctuary from the gaze of the people; the former reason is the more probable.

22. “Having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience;” i.e., purified from sin, which generates an evil conscience, “and our bodies washed with clean water,” i.e., having our bodies washed with the cleansing waters of baptism. In the words, “sprinkled” and “washed,” is contained an allusion to the legal ablutions and aspersions required for entering the Jewish sanctuary. These had mystical reference to the purity of conscience, required for Christians to enter heaven.

How could the Apostle, in the sense assigned to them, address the words, “and our bodies washed,” &c., to those already baptized, since baptism cannot be repeated?

ANSWER.—Some say, that the words merely regard catechumens; others, that, even in regard to the baptized, they mean, having that purity of soul, which is like your baptismal renovation.

23. “The confession of our hope;” because subjects of hope form a part of the profession of our faith, and hope is founded on faith, in the promises of God, hence he adds (“for he is faithful,” &c.)

24. The circumstance of viewing each other’s actions was calculated to create a rivalry, and this should be in the right way, in exercising charity, by being blind to the faults, and alive to succour the wants of one another.

25. “The day approaching,” by which some understand the destruction of Jerusalem, when, by the total extirpation of their present persecutors, they will obtain a respite from persecution; it more probably, however, refers to the day of retribution in the life to come; for, this is the balm of consolation, which the Apostle usually proposes to those who are suffering for justice sake. “Forsaking not our assembly;” by which some understand the common assemblies of the faithful, convened for the purposes of mutual instruction and edification. Others say, it refers to the Church, which they were deserting by apostasy, to which allusion would appear to be made in the following verses. The passage will admit of both interpretations, the one subordinate to the other—the desertion of the places of divine worship, and of the meetings, in which the Christians consoled and encouraged each other under persecution, would serve as a preparation for desertion of the Church, or the society of Christians altogether, by the sin of apostasy.

26. The sin, to which he refers in the words, “sins wilfully,” and from the commission of which, or exposure to it, he wishes to deter them, is the sin of apostasy. This is clear from the strong language, which the Apostle applies to it (verse 29). It is true to say of such, that “no sacrifice for sin” is left them, not in Judaism, into which they relapse—the Jewish sacrifices being incapable of remitting sin, and, therefore, abolished for their inefficacy—nor in Christianity, which they are supposed to have abandoned.

OBJECTION.—In the interpretation now given, the words, “after having the knowledge of the truth,” will have no meaning, since it is true of those who had never received the truth, but remained in Judaism, that no sacrifice was left for them either.

ANSWER.—It is perfectly true of them also; but, the Apostle mentions this circumstance, as peculiarly affecting those whom he addresses, and aggravating their sin; while their conversion would be more difficult than would be the conversion of those who never embraced the faith.

27. Hell fire is personified and represented, as zealously exerting itself to punish God’s enemies.

28. The Apostle, by an argument, a minore ad majus, shows the enormous guilt of the Christian apostate, and the heavy anger which he provokes. “Making void the law of Moses,” refers to apostasy from the law—the punishment inflicted is that marked out for apostates.—(Deuteronomy, 17) The word “making void,” involves more than violating a single precept; it involves the throwing away the entire law. The comparison shows that the Apostle, in the preceding verse, is referring to the crime of apostasy.

29. The apostate from Christianity, by the one act, perpetrates three crimes of the blackest enormity: “He treads under foot the Son of God,” by approving of the act of the Jews, trampling on him and maltreating him. “He esteems the blood of Christ unclean.” (The Greek for “unclean” is κοινον). By deserting to Judaism, he looks upon the blood of Christ, in which he was before sanctified, of no more efficacy than the common blood of oxen or of goats—nay, of less, since deserting the latter, he recurs to the former; “and hath offered an affront to the spirit of grace,” or the Holy Ghost, by despising and undervaluing the several gifts of the Holy Ghost, received in the faith, which he now deserts. These words could be strictly true of a sinner relapsing into any mortal sin from a state of grace; but, they are more particularly so of the apostate.

30. “For we know that he saith;” i.e., so surely as the apostate from Christianity deserves more severe punishment than the apostate from the law of Moses, so surely shall he be visited with this merited punishment. “Vengeance belongeth to me,” &c. These words, taken from Deuteronomy (chap. 32), were originally applied to the idolatrous Gentiles, the enemies of God. “And again: the Lord shall judge his people.” These are the words of Moses. The word “judge,” is generally understood, will avenge, or take punishment for his people. Some understand it, will punish his (apostatizing) people.

31. “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands,” i.e., to fall into the power, for revenge or punishment, “of the living God,” who being eternal and omnipotent, will allow his enemies no escape from punishment. The words of David, “it is better fall into the hands of God than of man,” are not opposed to this, because David speaks of the penitent; St. Paul, of the impenitent.

32. To the foregoing threats of punishment, the Apostle now joins the allurements of the rewards to which their past fervour and fortitude will entitle them, provided they persevere with patience, for a short time. “You endured a great fight of afflictions,” i.e., with afflictions: the metaphor is borrowed from the public contests for prizes.

33, 34. He explains what their sufferings were:—They consisted partly, in their being publicly and openly exposed to insult and tribulations; and partly, in their being made partakers of the sufferings of others similarly treated, by mental sympathy and by contributing to their support. He further explains the two members of the preceding sentence, both as to how they suffered personally, and how they suffered by mental sympathy; he inverts the order and illustrates the second member first. “They became companions of them” that suffered; for, they sympathized with the Christians cast into chains, and administered to their wants, and they were made “a gazing stock” (verse 36), by tribulation, in the confiscation and plunder of their entire property, to which they submitted with joy, calling to mind, that a better and more permanent substance awaited them in heaven. “You had compassion on them that were in bands,” is read by some, τοις δεσμοις μου, “you had compassion on my bands.” The other reading τοις δεσμιοϊς, followed by the Vulgate, vinctis, is more common, and best supported by the authority of manuscripts and critics generally. The Greek adds, εν ουρανοις, in heaven. These words are wanting in the Alexandrian and Cambridge MSS.

35. Hence, suffering for justice sake, has a reward annexed to it, and is a subject of merit. By “confidence,” some understand the object of confidence, “which hath a great reward.”

36. “(Patience,” ὑπομονη) means not only the enduring of present evils, but also the enduring of them in hope of liberation from them, and is the reward to which they conduct, as means.

37. The shortness of the time of their suffering is an encouragement to them “For, yet a little, and a very little while.” These words are supposed by many to be the Apostle’s own, and not to form a part of the following prophetic quotation; others say, they are a part of the quotation. “He that is to come, will come,” &c. These words, with the following verse, are taken from the prophet Habacuc (chap. 2), and are quoted by the Apostle, from the Septuagint version. They literally refer to the vision which the prophet saw, and recounted, regarding the liberation of the Jews by Cyrus, from the Babylonian captivity. But, in their mystical and principal sense, they regard the first and second coming of Christ; here, they are applied to the time of his second coming to judgment, which time, though distant and long in itself, is, still, very short, a mere point compared to eternity.

38. “But my just man liveth by faith, but if he withdraw himself,” &c. This is according to the Septuagint, with this difference only, that the Apostle transposes the reading, making the last member of the sentence in the prophet, first, and vice versa, in order to render the assertion next verse, 39, more connected. “My just man lives by faith.” In the Hebrew version, it is “the just man liveth by his faith.” Faith is the life of the just man; by it, he receives first and second justification, kept alive by charity and good works. The Apostle evidently includes good works; for, he refers to the patient endurance of the crosses of life, in the midst of which faith sustains the just man—good works are, therefore, included—so does the prophet also; for he supposes the faithful Jew suffering in captivity, to continue in good works and patient endurance, supported by faith until the coming of the deliverer, Cyrus, promised by God. It is to the faithful Hebrew, suffering for the faith from his countrymen, the Apostle proposes the second coming to judgment of him, whom Cyrus typified.—(See Romans, 1:17—Commentary on.)








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