HEBREWS 12: 12-29.









This is, by general consent, one of the most difficult passages of the New Testament.  But, as the writer thinks he has light on it, he commends the following exposition to the notice of his brethren in Christ.



The Epistle to the Hebrews embodies two great subjects:-



I.  God has bestowed eternal life, on the believer as a gift; it is ours through grace, and in Christ.  The Holy Ghost warns therefore the sons of God by faith against falling back from Christ, to Moses and law.  To do this would bring in the justice of God, and any who will dare the justice of God, must perish assuredly.



II. But the millennial kingdom is a PRIZE to be sought by patient continuance in good works.  This may be lost by negligence and unbelief; and therefore warning comes in.



The believing Hebrews were suffering affliction from their brethren who adhered to Moses.  They were dispirited by much suffering; and by the decrease, if not the dying out, of the hope of Christ’s return, and of His millennial kingdom of glory.  They had been called by the Most High to run a race with a crown in view. But the heat of the day, and the length of the course had exhausted their strength.  Their hands had well-nigh ceased to perform the good works of faith; their knees were seldom and feebly bent in prayer.



The apostle, therefore, seeks to re-invigorate them by assuring them of the reality of the coming of Christ, and the certainty of reward to those who hold out to the end.  He awakens their fears also, by the view of what they would lose, if they gave up hope and effort.



Cast not away your confidence which hath great recompense of reward.”  For yet a little while and He who is coming will arrive, and will not tarry.”  Now the just by faith shall live; but if he draw back, My soul hath no pleasure in him.” 10: 35, 37, 38.



The second time without sin shall He appear unto them that look for Him to save:” * 9: 28.


* This is the order of the Greek.



Thus there is a reference to Isaiah 35: 2-4.



They shall see the glory of the Lord, and the excellency of our God.  Strengthen ye the weak hands, and confirm the feeble knees.  Say unto them, that are of a feeble heart – ‘Be strong, fear not: behold your God will come with vengeance even God with a recompense; He will come and save you.’”



With a reference to the same context was John the Baptist encouraged by our Lord, when his faith wavered in the prison.  Let us not be weary in well-doing; for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not:” Gal. 6: 9.



The thirteenth verse alludes to the dangers of following crooked courses, in order to get quit of persecution.



Make straight paths for your feet, lest that which is lame he turned out of the way; but let it rather be healed.”



There was danger lest those halting through lack of faith should abandon the Christian hope altogether, if stumbling-blocks arose from the conduct of the leaders.



This lameness was an inward spiritual fault.  But when to that difficulty is added the external difficulty of a rugged and devious path, the danger would be greatly increased.  But these feeble believers were to be encouraged and healed, not excluded from fellowship.  Whence it is clear, that the church is not to be solely a school of exercise for the sound and strong but also an hospital for the diseased.  Even the lame were believers, moving on in the way of God; and care was to be exercised, not to turn them out of it, but to seek their restoration to strength.



There is a reference, I believe, to Israel’s march through the wilderness; and to the danger there was lest those growing weary and footsore, might be seized on by Amalek: Deut. 25: 18.



14.  Pursue peace with all, and holiness, without which none shall see the Lord.”



Israel might fight at Rephidim with their enemies of old; but the Christian is to be a man of peace.  No Christian, then, ought to be a soldier.  For believers are the sons of God; and God. is not now showing Himself as Jehovah, God of armies,’ but as the God of peace,” who has made peace by the blood of the cross.  Jesus therefore calls on all His disciples to resemble their Father by kindness to their foes.  Peace with all - with the men of the world, as well as of the church.  Our only foes are spiritual foes; our only arms are spiritual: Eph. 6.  But peace is not to be bought by the surrender of truth.  Hence follows the call to holiness, which is effected by truth alone.



Christ our Lord is coming, therefore let us seek holiness.  Here begins more clearly the allusion to Israel at Sinai.  Moses is directed to say to IsraelLo, I come unto thee.”  Go unto the people, and sanctify them to-day and to-morrow, and let them wash their clothes.  And be ready against the third day: for the third day the Lord will come down in the sight of all the people upon Mount Sinai:” Ex. 19: 9-11.



So now the Lord Jesus has given notice, of His appearing, and it seems likely it will be on the third day - if we reckon by Peter’s rule - (2 Pet. 3) - that a thousand years are with the Lord one day.



There are two kinds of holiness; that of Israel, which was a cleansing of the flesh; and that of the church, which is a cleansing of the spirit, or conscience: Heb. 9: 10, 13.  The first kind of holiness was effected by water applied to the flesh and to the clothes.  The second, through the blood of Christ applied to the inner man by faith, and by the holy Spirit’s energy!



Answerably to these two holinesses there are two visions of God.  (1) After the washing in water, all the people beheld the Lord in cloud descend upon the top of the Mount.  But they were forbidden to draw near.  (2) The second cleansing was by blood; and after it, Moses and Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, with seventy of the elders of Israel went up to the Mount, saw the God of Israel, and feasted in His presence.*


* It is interesting to observe, that Sandie has proved two points.  1.  God descended at first on SINAI.  This is the name of the top of the mount.  It is about three miles from the plain in which Israel stood.  2.  God then descended to the lower bluff overhanging the plain.  That is called Horeb.  Thence God spake the Decalogue.  There, I think, the elders feasted.



Thus there will be in the kingdom to come two approaches to Christ.  One will be the distant vision of the Lord by men in the flesh, requiring a cleansing of the flesh, as well as of the conscience.  The other will be the near access to the Lord in the heavenly places, the sitting down at Christ’s table in His kingdom, with those accounted worthy. This will belong to those risen [out] from the dead.  And in order to this there will be, not the climbing to the top of a mount, but the being caught up to meet the Lord into air: 1 Thess. 4.



Be it observed, that it was not all of the elders, nor all the sons of Aaron who went up; but a selected number alone.  The Mediator’s approach to God was a third position of vision, better than the previous ones.  This height seems to apply to Christ alone: Ex. 33: 12-18.



This seeing the Lord,” is one of joy and reward.  All men will one day appear before Christ; but this beholding, as requiring holiness, refers to the vision of glory on the Mount.  And it answers to the words of the Saviour in the Sermon on the Mount, where He promises to the pure in heart the sight of God: Matt. 5: 8.  The next verse speaks of the blessing attached to the peacemakers in that day.  Thus remarkably does one doctrine of Scripture confirm the other.



By the sight of the Lord is here meant the glory of the millennial kingdom, as we gather from Paul’s parallel exhortation to the Ephesians.  For this ye know, that no fornicator, or unclean person, or covetous man, who is an idolater, hath any portion in the kingdom of the Christ and God:” Eph. 5: 5.



This vision of Christ as Lord of all refers to His coming in the kingdom with power and great glory.  That had been previously promised as the time of [a future] salvation to those that look for Christ: 9: 28.  See also Isa. 40: 5; 66: 18.



Our preparation as Christians for the sight of the Lord, is by blood and by water.  The blood is sprinkled upon our hearts; the whole body is to be bathed in water.  Has any of my Christian readers neglected this last?  If he refuse, he will rue it in the coming day.  The sprinkling with blood is once for all; the bathing in water but once also.



Against this holiness which Christ requires, there are many enemies lying in wait.  These therefore are to be guarded against.  The elders of the church of Christ answer to the overseers who superintend, or might superintend, the preparations for Jehovah’s advent.



Four different irruptions of evil, contrary to the sanctification required, and so cutting off from the vision of reward, are named in subordinate clauses of the sentence before us.  Looking diligently, lest any one falling back* from the grace of God trouble you.”


* So the margin – “Fall from.”  But it is the present participle.


The host which Christ was conducting and to which these Hebrew Christians belonged, was the host of grace.  Their countrymen opposed to them, were of the army of the law, and of justice.  The figure used then seems to point at the time when Pharaoh’s host was advancing to slay and carry captive the host of the Lord.  These ailing believers answer to any whose courage might have flailed them, and who might have straggled behind, intending to desert to the camp of the foe.  The man who turned back to Moses and the law left Christ and grace: Gal. 5: 4.



Two senses of the word grace will here apply, and are closely allied.  (1) ‘Grace’ is sometimes spoken of the system of the Gospel, or ‘objective’ grace, as it would be called.  (2) Sometimes it is spoken of the favour in which a superior holds an inferior: in this case ‘the favour of God.’  So Paul bids believers in the first sense, continue in the grace of God.” Acts 13: 43.  So Peter says This is the true grace of God wherein ye stand:” 1 Peter 5: 12.  In the second sense the apostle writes – “Now the just by faith shall live; but if he draw back, my soul hath, no pleasure in him,” and so feels not favour towards him, but displeasure: Heb. 10: 38.



Thus the. nation of Israel when set before the visible mount fell back from the grace in which God was leading them, under the other principle law, and its justice; and the consequence was the displeasure of the Most High at their sin.  Had it not been that Moses their mediator had found grace in God’s sight and interceded for them, they had been cut off.  This verse then is not spoken of the ungodly, or unconverted.  The persons intended had accepted grace, and were as yet under God’s favour; but like the Galatians, they were falling back to law.  Such are not exhorted to accept the grace of God, but they were to be looked to, lest they should fall back from their previous standing.



Lest any root of bitterness springing up trouble you, and thereby many be defiled.”



Here is a second danger.  There are some evils in the Christian Church, which as medical men say of diseases, are ‘sporadie,’ occurring in scattered instances; and some which are ‘infectious,’ and spread rapidly.  It is of the latter kind of mischief that the Spirit of God here speaks.



The root of bitterness,” signifies the secret leanings of the hearts of some towards some form of unbelief.  At length, one bolder than the rest, suggests the wicked thought and action, and a party arises, determined boldly to act out the sin.  (1) Such was the sin of the calf made at Horeb, into whose worship the nation was, as it were in an instant, drawn.  (2) Such was the unbelief which led the congregation to refuse to enter the land, because it was both an undesirable portion, and the entry on it was impossible.  (3) Such were the conspiracies of Korah, Dathan, and Abiram.  (4) Like these was also the sin of Achan which troubled the camp of Israel and defiled it.



Probably the danger which was the nearest to some was, that they should join the Roman idolatry as some of the Herodians had already done.  They thus got quit of persecution from Israel, and were on the winning side, as far as the rulers of earth were concerned.  This is remarkably confirmed by the passage in Deuteronomy, to which allusion is probably made.  Lest there be among you man or woman, or family or tribe, whose heart turneth away this day from the Lord our God, to go and serve the gods of these nations; lest there should be among you a root that beareth gall and wormwood:” Deut, 29: 18.



This idea is strongly confirmed by Israel’s history at Sinai.  As soon as they doubted the return of Moses, the root of unbelief was there.  When they openly denied the likelihood of his reappearing, there was a rush towards idolatry.  Just so the unbelief of the Saviour’s return, so confidently expected at first, would turn the heart of some defaulters towards a visible and tangible defence against earthly trouble.



To those who resisted the evil, the root brought trouble.  To those who accepted it, defilement.



16, 17.  Lest any be a fornicator or profane person, as Esau, who for a single meal sold his rights as the first-born.  For ye know that even when afterwards he wished to obtain the blessing, he was rejected, for he found no room for repentance, though he sought it carefully with tears.”



It does not appear from Scripture that Esau was a fornicator; but this is one of the sins against holiness which will involve exclusion from the millennial vision of Christ.  It answers to that word in Deuteronomy - uttered by Moses when the Lord’s people were about to enter on the earthly prize of their calling.  Your eyes have seen what the Lord did because of Baal-peor; for all the men that followed Baal‑peor, the Lord thy God hath destroyed them from among you:” Deut. 4: 3.  This is confirmed by what the Holy Spirit says on another occasion, on which He brings before us the conduct of Israel, on the one hand; and that of Jehovah, on the other: 1 Cor 10.



The fourth offence against sanctification which would exclude from the blessing of the firstborn, is an ungodly bargain.  It is possible to barter away things spiritual for trifles of earth; and to repent when too late of the bargain, at a moment when God will not suffer it to be changed.  Esau’s sale of his birthright for a single meal is a conspicuous example of this.  He despised the birthright; himself depreciating it - a strange procedure in the case of one selling a commodity.  He confirmed the sale by oath; calling in God to be a witness and avenger, if the bargain was broken.  He forgot the circumstance, till the time came to receive the blessing.  Then a sense of its value flashed across him, and he earnestly desired that which he had previously sold beyond recovery.  But God overruled the circumstances, so that though he was the father’s favourite son, he lost the blessing of the firstborn; and not his bitter passionate pleading and tears could recover it.  There was no room for repentance after a sale by oath.  God remembered, though he forgot!



To whom does this apply?  To [regenerate] believers now!  They may, against the remonstrance of conscience, seize upon or hold fast to worldly position and advantages, of which Christ requires the surrender.  If they do, they gain temporal things at the expense of spiritual.  They will find that the bargain holds good in the day of the first resurrection.  They are receiving their good things now, to their loss and exclusion in the day to come.  It is observable that Esau made the sale when he was fatigued and discouraged, as the Hebrews were.  He so forgot the bargain, as quite to expect to attain the blessing which he had sold.  Esau was a son of Isaac, as the Christian is a son of God.  The birthright really belonged to Esau; and he despised and lost it.  So there is something which a Christian now has, which he may neglect and lose also. What is it?  Not eternal life; that is ours by promise.  What then?  The prize of our calling may be lost.



He found no place of repentance.”



Whose is the repentance spoken of?



On this point there are two opinions.  Some holding that it is (1) Esau’s own repentance; others, that it is (2) his father’s repentance.



Nakedly so stated, it seems as if we gave a strange sense to repentance in the second case.  But such a view omits to notice the peculiarities of the passage in hand.  First, then, we must look at the history.  The writer manifestly directs our eye to it.  For ye know.”  He appeals to the record of God, oft read by the Jewish reader.



And it came to pass, as soon as Isaac had made an end of blessing Jacob, and Jacob was yet scarce gone out from the presence of Isaac his father, that Esau his brother came in from his hunting.  And he also made savoury meat, and brought it unto his father, and said unto his father, Let my father arise, and eat of his son’s venison, that thy soul may bless me.  And Isaac his father said unto him, Who art thou?  And he said, I am thy son, thy firstborn Esau.  And Isaac trembled very exceedingly, and said, Who? where is he that hath taken venison, and brought it me, and I have eaten of all before thou camest, and have blessed him? yea, and he shall be blessed.  And when Esau heard the words of his father, he cried with a great and exceeding bitter cry, and said unto his father, Bless me, even me also, O my father!  And he said, Thy brother came with subtility, and hath taken away thy blessing.  And he said, Is not he rightly named Jacob? for he hath supplanted me these two times: he took away my birthright; and, behold, now he hath taken away my blessing.  And he said, Hast thou not reserved a blessing for me?  And Isaac answered and said unto Esau, Behold, I have made him thy lord, and all his brethren have I given to him for servants; and with corn and wine have I sustained him: and what shall I do now unto thee, my son?  And Esau said unto his father, Hast thou but one blessing, my father? bless me, even me also, O my father!  And Esau lifted up his voice, and wept.  And Isaac his father answered and said unto him, Behold, thy dwelling shall be the fatness of the earth, and of the dew of heaven from above!  And by thy sword shalt thou live, and shalt serve thy brother; and it shall come to pass when thou shalt have the dominion, that thou shalt break his yoke from off thy neck:” Gen. 27: 30-40.



From this narrative it is clear, that Esau did not seek repentance in himself for his sin; but in his father.  Had he sought to repent, and that earnestly with tears, he would have really repented.  But such a phrase as ‘seeking repentance’ in regard to a man’s own self, is not to be found.  Moreover, when we apply the clue found in the history, to our present verse, the sense is perfect.  When he wished to obtain the blessing, he was rejected, for he found no place for repentance, though he sought it carefully with tears.”  The question was not in that hour – ‘Will Esau repent so as to gain the blessing?’  The blessing was conveyed away beyond opportunity of repentance on his part.  The price of his sin had been enjoyed, and he had sworn not to undo the bargain.  But the question was, ‘Is he to have the firstborn’s blessing?’  That he wished for: that he sought. That was refused him by his father.  Then comes in the word, For he found no place for repentance.”  The one whom Esau wished to repent was his father, and he sought to produce in his father that repentance of his decision which he was unable to obtain.  Here the sense is complete and in accordance with the history, while the other sense is not.



The ‘repentance’ sought comes in after the statement of ‘rejection’ found.  Esau’s wish was to possess the blessing, and therefore, he sought to remove the barrier which he found in his father’s determination.  But he prevailed not.  Observe, moreover, that it is not said, “There was no place for repentance.” But he found none.’  That is, the appeal is to the history, and the history affirms the interpretation of repentance above given.  He did seek repentance of his father, in the recall of his decision.  He did not seek repentance for himself toward God.  Far from really repenting, he determined to slay his brother.



And to this view attaches the true application of the passage to ourselves.  Profane bargains may now be made by [regenerate] believers.  Yea, and are made.  Here is one who, against the remonstrances of conscience enters, or continues in, the ministry of the Church of England.  The fruits of them may now be enjoyed; but in the day to come such will be rejected from the blessing of the firstborn.  Great will then be the desire of the glory lost; but in vain.  The Heavenly Father will be more firm than Isaac.  Vainly will the loser seek with tears to change his Father's mind!  Let us then beware of such compacts!



The [Millennial] Kingdom is to be given to Christ the firstborn by the Father, when He a second time introduces Him into the habitable earth.



Israel in relation to the nations of earth was God’s firstborn.  Israel was to obtain the priesthood and kingship by obedience to the covenant: Ex. 19: 5, 6.  But we have already received the standing by faith and of grace.  We are peculiarly redeemed and consecrated to our dignities, by the blood of the Lamb; and are registered on high.  As we are believers while Israel is in unbelief, and as we receive no portion on earth but rejection, therefore, in the coming kingdom we take a higher glory than the patriarchs or the saved of the twelve tribes,* if we are well pleasing to Christ.


[* Where in Scripture do we find this statement made? – Ed.]



But warning is given to us, that it is possible by unbelief to lose the standing of the firstborn, as well as the blessing.  This is Paul’s argument in Gal. 4.  If Gentile believers became circumcised, they voluntarily joined the lower covenant, and became sons of Hagar the slave-mother; having Jerusalem below for their city.  The same lesson is read to us by the history of Esau here.  He ceased not to be a son; but he lost both the standing and the blessing of the firstborn by his own misconduct.



Of that, believers are to be partakers with him under not a few conditions, which many Christians break without scruple or fear.  They will repent of their offence when too late.  God their Father, though He loves them as sons, will yet be firmer than Isaac, and hold them to the bargain they have made, the brief fruits of which they have already enjoyed.  God Himself is under oath about it, not to admit such to the glory of that day.  Esau was not cursed by his father; he obtained an inferior blessing; even as the rejected from millennial reward will yet enter eternal life, as having names in the book of life.  What it is which the [regenerate] believer so offending will lose, this epistle points out in several forms.



We are now presented with the characteristic differences of standing between Israel of old, and Christians, together with the bearing of this upon our conduct.



18-21.  For ye came not near unto a mountain capable of being felt, and to kindled fire, and unto blackness, darkness, and tempest, and to sound of trumpet, and to voice of words; which voice they that heard intreated that not a word more might be added to them.  (For they could not bear that which was commanded.)  ‘And if but a beast touch the mountain it shall be stoned.’* And, so terrible was the spectacle, (that) Moses said – ‘I am terrified and trembling.’”


* See Critical Editions.



What is the connexion here?  It is very close, as evidenced by the ‘for.’  It links on to verse fourteen, which describes the need of holiness in order to the vision of reward.



Ye came not near unto - but ye came near unto.” Those addressed by Paul, then, were men of faith.  The fathers of Israel drew near to the Mount of Justice.  The men of unbelief, followers of Moses, after Christ had come, were still near the awful Mount of fire.  But the men of faith had left that earthly position for a heavenly one.  Christianity is not merely a new edition of Judaism.  It gives a new standing, and a new rule of life, on a different principle.



Their drawing near to these objects took place by faith, and the men of the church whether living or sleeping, may, in a moment be translated to the midst of these objects belonging to the new covenant in its heavenly department.  The translation is not effected by death, or by our going to Christ, but by Christ’s coming to us: 9: 28.  Then both the living and the dead of Christ’s people will enter together on their portion in these things.



Paul is tacitly answering the boasts of the men of the old covenant.  They thought only of the glories of the meeting of their nation with God at Horeb.  Paul then displays the failures of that covenant.  It was full of terror.  And this ought to deter Christians from touching it.  He points out too the superior glories of the new covenant objects.



The covenant of Sinai was the boast of Israel, as elevating them above the other nations of the globe.  It was to this covenant, that there was a danger of some Hebrew Christians falling back.  The Holy Ghost therefore depicts for us its awful character.  The sights and sounds of God’s descent among them shook the stoutest hearts with terror, as Moses led them forth out of the camp to meet with God.



Seven points are named:-



(1) Before them was a mountain, not visible only, but so close, as to be capable of being touched by the hand.  Ours is a mountain, not only incapable of being touched by men in the flesh, but one beyond the present range even of sight.



(2)  And to kindled fire.”  Jehovah descended upon the Mount in fire, and His words came forth out of the fire.  How then could mortal men, and sinful men meet the claims, or live with, the God of law who dwells in fire?  This was especially terrifying to them.  Beneath the Lord’s feet the mountain smoked and trembled, and burst into flame.  The people feared, lest the flames should leave the mountain and consume them.  Nor was it an idle fear.  Jehovah cautioned them against touching the Mount, lest He should break forth upon them.  And they felt the force of the warning.



Now therefore why should we die? for this great fire will consume us: if we hear the voice of the Lord our God any more, then we shall die:” Deut. 5: 25.



(3) (4) (5)  Besides this, there were smoke, and clouds, and thunders, and lightnings.



(6) (7)  And the sound of a trumpet, and the voice of words.”



The trumpet was the signal for Israel to leave the camp, and to draw near to the foot of the Mount.  It was the sign of Jehovah’s descent.  They were awed, not by sights alone, but by sounds of dread.  And these last seem to have more contributed to their terror than the sights of judgment near.



The voice of the Most High urged His own righteous claims with such piercing effect, that they begged that God would not add any further word.  A mediator was needed.  Man cannot bear, either physically or morally, to hear the claims of God uttered by Him.  How awful then will be the day, when He shall pass sentence on transgressors!  Reader, are you a sinner?  How will you meet the vengeance of God on sin, when you could not have borne even the statement of His claims?



The multitude were alarmed also at the severity of the enactment against touching the place of Jehovah’s feet.  If an unconscious beast offending against this ceremonial enactment, was to be slain, what should become of a man wilfully offending against moral enactments?  It was evident, then, that the excuse of ignorance in the case of a sinner would not be allowed.  They were also required so to slay the beast as not to touch it with their hands, lest themselves also should be defiled.



Lastly - and this is particularly forcible - the very man to whose lot it fell to be the mediator of the covenant, confessed, that the scene terrified himself as truly as the rest.  Some have inquired – ‘Whence come these words of Moses?  They are not in the Scripture.’  It is true.  But shall it be difficult to the Spirit of God to give us tidings of that day which Moses omitted to give?  We can at least point to the spot in the narrative of that day, where, it is probable, the statement was made by Moses.  After the, description of the scene with its terrors, the Scripture adds – Moses spake and God answered him by a voice:” Ex. 19: 19.  The voice of God was probably a word of encouragement to him, like that which Moses in his turn gives to the people: Ex. 20: 20.  The word used is in the present tense, I quake.”



How does this scene at Sinai rebuke the carelessness of those, who think it a small matter whether God be obeyed or not!



We are next presented with the answering standing of the Christian.



2.  But ye came near unto Sion, a Mount and a city of the living God, a heavenly Jerusalem, and to myriads of angels, to a festival and assembly of firstborn ones enrolled in the heavens, and to God, the Judge of all, and to spirits of just men made perfect, and to Jesus, Mediator of a new covenant, and to a blood of sprinkling, which speaketh better things than Abel’s.”



This second seven of objects belonging to the new covenant is in close connexion with the seeing the Lord.  He is to be beheld at last in the city above, the heavenly Jerusalem.  The articles are omitted before the objects, as in the first seven.



In opposition to God’s ancient people, men of the letter, and of the flesh, we, at our conversion, drew near to seven objects of faith, testified by God, far more real than the objects presented to Israel.  For the things seen are temporal, but the things unseen eternal.”  Our heavenly calling introduces us to heavenly objects.  We stand before them as Israel before Sinai.  We are really quite close to these things, though as yet we see them not.  A veil is over them for the moment; but at any instant they may be revealed to our sight, and we may be caught up to, and for ever dwell among them.



Our drawing near is of the spirit, as theirs was an approach in flesh.  And to them it was said – Come up unto the Lord, thou and Aaron, Nadab, and Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel: and worship ye afar off!  And Moses alone shall come near the Lord, but they shall not come nigh:” Ex. 24: 1, 2.  What a contrast to the call to us!  Having therefore, brethren, boldness to enter into the Holiest by the blood of Jesus ... LET US DRAW NEAR with a true heart in full assurance of faith.”  We are as yet on earth in bodies of flesh, and these things are up in heaven, so that we do not at once enter on their possession; but they are ours in title, and when possessed of our resurrection-bodies (not, at death’), we are to enter on the enjoyment of them.



What are we to understand by “Mount Zion”?  Many contend that it should be taken literally, as speaking of that mount, on part of which the earthly Jerusalem stands.  The main reason for so regarding it is the presence (in our translation) of the definite article.  But there is no article in the Greek.



I cannot receive this view; for the following reasons:-



1. The Mount Zion of which the writer of this Epistle speaks, was not an object of touch, or of sight; else there was no contrast between the Mount to which Israel drew near, and that to which the Christian does.  But Mount Zion, literally taken, was daily an object of sight, and trodden by the feet of many of the believing Hebrews who dwelt at Jerusalem.  It is certain, then, that this Mount Zion is heavenly, and therefore is not an object of sight or of touch now.  It is indeed a real mountain, one day to be seen and to be trodden by the feet of God’s saints; but in resurrection only.



2. The mount in question was one to which the man of faith alone drew near.  But to Mount Zion the earthly thousands of unbelieving Israelites drew near.  Some dwelt upon it.  Therefore the Zion here spoken of is Mount Zion the heavenly.  Moreover, in this Epistle the Holy Spirit counsels the men of faith to leave Jerusalem the earthly.  It was lying under judgment, and soon to be desolated by the Roman sword.  The curse was lying on the bloody city.  It was spiritually Sodom and Egypt!  Therefore the word is not – ‘Come to it!’ but ‘Go out.’



3. Again, we believing Gentiles do not draw near to the earthly Mount Zion.  Its glory has departed.  Neither at Jerusalem nor at Gerizim are the true worshippers to worship the Father: John 4: 4.



4. The other objects in verses 22-24 are not earthly but heavenly.  So then is this, the only one on which a doubt could be raised, heavenly.



5. Lastly, the objects presented to us in verses 22 and 23, stand distinguished from the first seven by being unshaken, and abiding for ever according to the argument contained in verses 26 and 27.  The things which Israel saw, whether on earth or in the sky, are destined to be shaken and to pass away, but our objects are to be unshaken, appertaining to the eternal kingdom.  Therefore the Mount Zion spoken of must be the heavenly one; for the Jerusalem of earth will be destroyed with the old earth.  It is the slave-mother, (Gal. 4.) and she and her child abide not in the house for ever, while the freeborn son does.  Thus Paul says in this Epistle – Here we have no continuing city; but we are seeking the one to come:” 13.



But while in the desert there was only a mountain, and it was ages before Jerusalem the city was possessed by Israel, with us it is different.  Our mountain and city are both provided by God in Heaven!  Mount Zion the earthly, was a part of Jerusalem the earthly.  Together they made up the city of God.’  It is so in this case also.  The city and the mountain will be united in heaven.  The mountain of heaven is the twelve foundations of precious stones on which our city stands.  The heavenly - then characterizes alike both the mount and the city.  As the one is heavenly so is the other.  Thus it is stated also in the Apocalypse.  There we find Mount Zion and the New Jerusalem: Rev. 21: 10.  Thus too, by uniting the mount and city, the number seven is made up.



The old Mountain of Sinai was called the Mount of God,’ because God there descended; and made His glory to rest: Ex. 18: 5; 19., 24.  It was at that spot that Aaron met Moses: Ex. 4.  There Jethro, leading Moses’ wife and sons, met him and Israel: 18.  There Moses and Israel met God: 19.



But when Israel was settled in the land, Jehovah chose a spot where both mount and city should be united.  Thither Israel went up thrice a year, at certain specified seasons, to meet with God, and to keep with joy the festivals of the Lord: Deut. 12., 16.  Thither were all the males of Israel to appear before their God.



It is to this that Paul, I believe, specially alludes.  The order could not be observed, while they were in the desert wandering; but when they had come to their rest and heritage, the law was to be in force.  Thus these objects are set before us now, although our rest and heritage are to come.



Our city is the city of the living God.”  Jerusalem of earth was the city of God.  But God was not there displayed as the God of life.  Men died there, as surely as elsewhere.  Their kings were buried there, of which Jehovah complains: Ezek. 43: 7.  But our city is the city in which God will manifest Himself as the God of life.  For all the dwellers there shall be risen from the dead; and death cannot enter there.  Israel could not draw near to the God of law without the signs of death threatening them, in the earthquake, and fire, and tempest.  But we draw near to God in Christ as the God of life eternal in resurrection.  Christ is the Son of the living God; and believers of the church are in Christ; and because He lives, they shall live also.



The heavenly Jerusalem is a real city; as real as the old and earthly one.  When the saints shall have put on their new bodies, they will need a place to stand on, and they are to have mansions to dwell in.  It is not in the Revelation alone that the city is spoken of.  In this literal and dogmatic epistle it is described as a city.  So Jesus speaks of it as a literal city, in His address to Philadelphia: 3: 12.  Abraham, as the man of faith, expected it; as the blessed contrast, in its twelve foundations, to his poor frail, foundationless tent.  This is the city in which the men of faith shall at length, as the heirs of God, assemble.  It differs from the earthly Jerusalem, in that its plan, and its framing, and materials, all come direct from the hand of God.  While Israel’s place, as the men of the letter and of the flesh, was at the foot of a sterile mountain without food or habitation; ours is a city in which shall be found the tree of life, the water of life, the glory of God, and the everlasting mansions of the saved.



It is a question not easily adjusted how the following words are to be divided.  I divide them, with the authorised version.



(2)  And to myriads of angels.”



But so doing you offend against the structure of the sentence.  The other points enumerated begin with ‘and,’ but there is no ‘and’ before ‘general assembly.’’



No; but may not this be accounted for?  By the omission of ‘and’ at this point the author shows his desire to disconnect in some measure, the five objects which follow, from the two which precede.  For the angels are not so closely connected as ourselves with the spirits of the just, or with the Mediator and His blood.  But the decisive point in favour of this arrangement is, that we read of no festival belonging to the angels, while the Passover is the feast of the firstborn.  And Jesus tells us that the Passover has yet to be “fulfilled in the Kingdom of God:” Luke 22: 15, 16.



This notice of the angels refers to our forming part of God’s great family.  Angels belong to Christ, and He is coming with them as His reapers, when He shall render to each of His people according to their works.  Then Christ shall be the ladder of Jacob, on whom the angels shall ascend and descend.  At Sinai there were multitudes of angels.  But Israel was fenced off from them: we on the other hand have them as our fellow-servants and our present aids.  They will be the sentinels of the city of God: Rev. 21.



(3)  To the festival* and assembly of the firstborn enrolled in Heaven.”



Jehovah enacted, that there should be a festive assembly of the males of His people three times each year, at His chosen city.  This will have its counterpart in God’s better people of the church.  Only their festival will be in heaven and in resurrection.


* This word is used by the LXX. several times to signify the times of the Jewish festivals: Hos. 2: 11; 9: 5; Amos 5: 21.



Who are the firstborn?  The saved ones of the Church of Christ.  As we have observed, Christ is the Firstborn of the firstborn.  Israel, in reference to the saved of the church is only an inferior son, as compared with the firstborn.  The firstborn were God’s priests, and kings.  Answerably hereto we see two different standings even at Sinai.  The priests were distinguished from the people; though oven they were not allowed to draw near, were it but to gaze: Ex. 19: 21, 22, 24.  The firstborn were in peculiar danger in Egypt, and were especially protected, when Egypt’s firstborn were cut off: Ex. 12.  Therefore the Passover as solemnized afterward at the Mount, and in the city of God was peculiarly the festival of the firstborn!’  Israel celebrated the anniversary of the Passover before the mount of God: Num. 9: 4, 5.  Israel is as yet unclean by the dead body of the Son of God, whom they have slain.  Hence they will not, and do not keep the feast now together with us.  Num. 9: 6-14.



This future Passover festival is also the time of joy at the inauguration of the new covenant, and answers to David’s festival when he brought the long forgotten ark into the city of God’s choice.  Then was David’s kingdom established: the Lord gave him rest from his foes.  The assembly at Sinai in Exodus 19. was by no means a joyful and festive one, for fear swallowed up joy.  It was the Mount of Justice.



Christ is the firstborn of every creature;’ and the firstborn from among the dead.’  He is our head to whom we are to be conformed: Rom. 8: 29.  He is to be a second time brought into the habitable earth, and then the angels are to worship Him, and we are to judge angels: Heb. 1: 6.  That festival is to be held when we are coming to our [millennial] rest, and to our inheritance in the city of God.



Jehovah took the tribe of Levi to be His priestly servants, in place of the firstborn of Israel.  We Gentiles then peculiarly ransomed are sovereignly taken in place of Israel.  Kings and priests of Israel went up to feast with God, and to behold Him on the mount, while the nation in general was kept at a distance below: Ex. 24.  This was a type of the two different standings of Israel, and of the church.



The firstborn of Israel were numbered and enrolled by Moses on earth (Num. 3: 41-43), before they came to keep their festival of the Passover in the land.  We are enrolled in heaven in the book of life.  We are not yet come to heaven; but have a name and heritage there.



(4)  To God the judge of all.”



This has proved a stumbling-block to most commentators.  For how is God as the Judge an object of grace ? Hence they have sought to give a new turn to it.  But it is not needed: it is not allowable.  While this Epistle most fully testifies to the present throne of grace and unrestricted access to God in the Holiest during this day, while Christ is the Mediator interceding above; it testifies just as boldly of the day to come, in which Christ will appear as the King and Judge, to render to each according to his works.  The millennial-day is the day of




Some indeed deny this future judgment of believers: but the testimony of Scripture is plain enough to the contrary.  Jesus calls all His servants before Him; and they have to render individually an account to Him.  In the parables of the Talents and the Pounds we see Jesus as the Judge of His servants.  Whether His sentence be favourable or otherwise, it is in the same capacity of Judge that He decides concerning each.  It is at His judgment seat we must all appear: Rom. 14: 10; 2 Cor. 5: 10.  The coming day of Christ’s judgment is to take effect on every soul of man: Rom. 2: 5, 6; Jude 15; 1 John 4: 17; James 2: 12-14.



To this judgment, moreover, Paul has already borne witness, where he uttered the Spirit’s threats against any who should draw back to Moses and law.  Vengeance belongeth to Me, I will recompense; saith the Lord.” And again, The Lord shall judge His people: 10: 30.  So, later on, when addressing the believing Hebrews, he asserts the lawfulness of marriage he adds – But whoremongers and adulterers God will judge:” 13: 4 (whether they be in the church, or outside).



But is it not written – “He that believeth on Him that sent Me hath eternal life, and shall not come into judgment”?’ John 5: 24.



NO!  It is NOT so written!  It is – Hath. eternal life, and DOTH not come into judgment, but is passed from death unto life.”



All the three statements of the verse refer to the position occupied by the believer as soon as he believes.  But they do not deny that his judgment is to come.



Yes; but the Psalmist says – ‘That none living shall be justified before God if He judges.’ ‘



Aye, but we are speaking of those already justified by faith, who are one day to be judged according to works. The question as regards them is not – ‘Are these foes of God or friends?’  But ‘These are servants of God; how have they behaved themselves since they were reconciled to God, and became servants of Christ?’  The God of grace is the God of justice also.



There are three great classes to be judged in the day of judgment.”  1. The angels.  2. The firstborn.  3. The righteous.



Moreover, the Passover, the festival of the firstborn, was an occasion of God’s judging.  The deliverance of the firstborn was one based on judgment.  It was the time of Israel’s coming out of Egypt, and their attitude in eating the lamb was to be of those prepared to leave the land of bondage for that of liberty.  Thus shall ye eat it; with your loins girded, your shoes on your feet, and your staff in your hand; and ye shall eat it in haste: it is the Lord’s Passover.  For I will pass through the Land of Egypt this night and will smite all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, both man and beast; and against all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgment.  I am the Lord:” Ex. 12: 12.  Hence, closely after the parties to be judged, we have Paul speaking of the true Mediator, and of the blood of the true Lamb of God.



Israel was warned on that occasion, that judgment was coming, and that only the houses signalized by the blood were safe.  Hence the command,- None of you, shall go out of the door of his house till the morning.  For the Lord will pass through to smite the Egyptians, and when He seeth the blood upon the lintel and the two side posts, the Lord will pass over the door, and will not suffer the destroyer to come into your houses to smite:” 22, 23.  That was a word, not to the Egyptian, but to the Israelite.  This answers therefore to the awful warnings of Heb. 6. and 10. against deserting Christ, the true High Priest, and the shelter of His blood.  For there were some amidst the believers of that day who were hesitating, whether they should not do it.  To them applied also the warning, that one who had fled for refuge to the provided city was not to go outside its walls, or he was in danger of death from the avenger of blood.  Thus the word – The Lord shall judge His people,” is not to be explained away, as without any bearing on the [regenerate] believer.  Judgment of the believer in the coming day appears again and again throughout the epistle 1: 9; 2: 1-3; 3., 4., etc.



And to spirits of just men made perfect.”



This gives us the Old Testament saints; from whom Christians stand distinguished throughout the Epistle.  God spoke to the fathers by the prophets ... unto us by His Son.”  To Israel the word of angels, to us the word of the Lord Jesus:’ 2: 1-3.  Moses the leader of the one people; Christ of us: 3.  Whose house are we.”   The good news of God was sent to Israel, it is repeated to us in a new day: 4: 2.  The parties first addressed forfeited the blessing; let us see that we do not!’ 11.  To Israel was given “the word of righteousness;” to us the word of grace, which let us hold fast: 2: 9; 4: 16; 12: 28; 13: 9, 25.  To Israel was commanded the law under the priesthood of Aaron - for its the law is set aside, for the priesthood is changed: 7: 12.  To Israel of old was given the sanctuary made by human hands, and reared on earth.  To us the heavenly sanctuary, which the Lord, and not man, has pitched.  To Israel belonged the old covenant; to us the Mediator of the new covenant and His blood, with its cleansing of the conscience, a thing impossible under the law.  The men of law serve a God that stands aloof, and that forbids even His priests to enter into His presence.  But we are all priests consecrated by blood and by water, called to draw near to the Holiest of the heavenlies.  After exhibiting the worthies of the older day as men who wrought and suffered on the principle of faith, and after noticing their trial as ended, and their good report as won, Paul adds – ‘That a better place is reserved for us; and that the two parties are both to be glorified together; wherefore the men of the early day are waiting for us.’  For the rest to come will embrace all three classes: those before the law, those under it, and the men of the Gospel.  Together they will make up the people of God:” 11: 25.  All three are to be judged, and then to enter the rest of God.



This conclusion is confirmed by the title given to these ancients.  They are the just,” or righteous.”  Abel is named as one of the righteous: 11: 4.  They suffered for righteousness’ sake:” Matt. 5: 10.  But we for Christ’s sake (11, 12) and our principle of action - the formative and fundamental principle now - is grace.  So that the worthies of this day are characteristically the gracious.”  It is confirmed too by their being described as spirits” “made perfect.”  For they are regarded as belonging to an antiquated dispensation, of which all the subjects had passed away from earth, and so were departed spirits.”  Their time of trial being ended, they were perfected in regard, of their souls, though they were awaiting the perfection of their bodies in resurrection.  The living Israel of the law were rejected, unrighteous, guilty of the blood of the Son.  They were not the people of God.  And those to whom the apostle wrote were living men, and so in contrast with departed spirits.  We are “the firstborn” in dignity now, and shall be so in heritage, although in point of time we are the last-born.



But the Saviour has taught us God’s sovereign counsel, thatthe last shall be first.”



And to Jesus, mediator of a new covenant.”



Jesus here stands opposed to Moses in the former group.  Moses was terrified at the characteristic spectacle presented by the very covenant of which he was mediator.  But Jesus our Mediator is not terrified and trembling at the foot of the mount of earth, but seated at the right hand of the throne of majesty in the heaven, waiting there, till God’s power shall subject to Him His foes.



On the three occasions in this epistle on which our Lord is spoken of as Mediator, His covenant is described as a new covenant.”  Why not “the new covenant”?  We always so describe it.



Because this was not the ordinary view in Israel, and so was not the usual expression of those to whom the apostle wrote.  With us it is a settled thing; to the Hebrew Christians it was needful to prove their entirely new standing resulting from the transfer of the temple, the priesthood, and the sacrifice from the sphere of the earthlies to the heavenlies.



Here we may be assured, that the writer is speaking to true Christians.  They had come to the Mediator of the new covenant, and to His sprinkled blood.’  But unbelieving Israel refused Jesus, both as Mediator and Sacrifice.  They stood to Moses and law.



And to a blood of sprinkling, which speaketh better things than that of Abel.”



The absence of the article before each of the two groups of seven is remarkable.  The English translation defaced this feature.



There are waiting then, before God for the time of Christ’s descent, two classes; the approved before and under the law, and the approved of the Gospel.  The righteous of the law, and the firstborn under Christ, together make up the one “people of God,” for whom the future sabbath-rest is preparing: 4: 9.  These two divisions of the saved, divisions based upon the different attributes of God - under which the saved have been educated, will in the day to come appear in visible distinctions of glory.  The son of the bondwoman is not to inherit with the son of the freewoman: Gal. 4.  The approved of the law and the approved of the Gospel will indeed form one great family; but we are the firstborn, and our inheritance is double theirs.  This gives further light to the closing statement of chapter 11. that the Old Testament men of faith are waiting for their glory, and are to enter on it only when we are ready, to whom is assigned the chief portion.



The reference now is clearly to the making of the old covenant at Sinai: Ex. 24.  After the sacrifices Moses read the Lord’s commands, and they promised to do them.  Then he took the blood, and sprinkled it on the people, and they were consecrated thus to be the Lord’s people.  Their promised obedience of the flesh was the ground of the covenant.  But we stand on the accomplished righteousness and satisfaction of our Surety.



Here the Saviour’s blood is exhibited, not in connexion with Himself as High Priest, but as Mediator; answering to the position of Moses in making the covenant.  The apostle does not make the scene of Ex. 24. the characteristic scene of the law; for the voice of the Mediator and of blood came in at that point to hush the previous terrors of the Mount.  Our drawing near is in grace after the voice of the blood sprinkled on us.



When the former covenant was made, blood was used; but it was not the Mediator’s own blood.  Hence it had less of the nature of a testament,* than now.  But we, before the new covenant is made with Israel, enjoy the Gospel-benefits of the blood of Jesus, by virtue of its being the will and testament of the Mediator.  For the blood of the covenant is produced as the proof of the death of the Mediator and Testator, and thus we enter on the legacies of His will.


* That the word is rightly translated ‘testament’ in 9: 15-17 I doubt not.  The proofs are, that (1) [the Greek word …] never means ‘mediating sacrifice;’ and (2) vekpos is never applied to animals.



It is very noticeable, that the blood is spoken of as distinct from the Mediator.  So also in 10: 29.  It appears, that the Saviour at His death parted with all His blood.  It was drawn out of His body by the scourging, the nails, and finally by the spear.  Hence after His resurrection He says – “A spirit hath not flesh and bones as ye see Me have.”  He says not “flesh and blood;” although in our Epistle the apostle describes Jesus as in the days of His life on earth as partaking of “flesh and blood.”  And Paul affirms, that bodies of “flesh and bloodcannot, as being mortal, have part in the heavenly places of the kingdom of God: 1 Cor. 15.



Some of Christ’s blood was taken by Himself up to heaven, as our ransom-price; and as the sanctification of the heavenly things: 9: 23.  By virtue of its presence in the sanctuary above, we have a welcome to draw near into the Holiest.  By His own blood He entered in once into the Holy place, having obtained eternal redemption for us:” 9: 12.  By that we are consecrated to serve the living God: 14.  In the Lord’s Supper too His body is exhibited as separate from His blood.



The blood of Christ, then, is in heaven.  It is also in another sense on us who believe (9: 14), sanctifying, us to God as kings and priests.  It is further given to us to drink in the Supper.



Of this twofold use and application of the blood, Ex. 24. is a witness to us.  For Moses in making the covenant takes half of the blood for God, and sprinkles it on his altar; and half he sprinkles on his people.



It is sprinkled spiritually on our heart and conscience: 9: 14; 10: 22.  It gives us full confidence to draw near to God.



So that we of the Church of Christ are now occupying the place of the priests and rulers of Israel, who were by God invited to ascend the mount, and to feast before Him.  The seventy-four went up, after the blood was sprinkled upon the people, and on them.  Immediately after the account of the blood sprinkled, we read, “Then went up Moses and Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel.  And THEY SAW THE GOD OF ISRAEL; and there was under His feet as it were a paved work of a sapphire stone, and as it were the body of heaven in its clearness. And upon the nobles of the children of Israel He laid not His hand; ALSO THEY SAW GOD, and did eat and drink.”



We as God’s firstborn, answer to the seventy-two* nobles of the sons of Israel.  The blood is; sprinkled on us, and we are waiting to be called up to see God, and to His festival on high.  We are waiting also for Christ’s descent for us into air with shout and triumph: Ex. 19. also has then to be fulfilled.


* Moses and Aaron together resent Christ in His double capacity of Leader and High Priest.



This blood speaks better things than Abel’s.  The blood of Abel was sprinkled on Cain his murderer, but only to condemn him.  The blood of Christ is sprinkled on us, according to God’s mind.  Its speech is twofold.  To God for us, giving us peace; and it speaks also to us, calling for our love and obedience towards the Mediator.  The blood of Christ introduces believers into the new covenant, and the new earth: while Abel’s blood called for vengeance both on the murderer and his earth.  The voice of thy brother’s blood crieth unto Me from the ground.  And now art thou cursed from the ground, which hath opened her mouth to receive thy brother’s blood at thy hand. When thou tillest the ground it shall not henceforth yield unto thee her strength:” Gen. 4: 10-12.  Into our earth and city the murderer cannot enter: and no cry of blood can rise up.



But this notice of Abel’s murder and of its voice is closely connected with what follows.  For the day of vengeance for the blood of the Martyrs has yet to come.  It will be earth’s darkest and most terrible day - the day of the shaking of heaven and earth, preparatory to their passing away for ever: Mat. 23: 35; Rev. 6: 9, 10; 16: 4-7, 17-21.



Thus the Mediator and His blood stand in blessed opposition to the last two objects of the first group – “The sound of a trumpet and the voice of words,” which pierced and terrified the souls of the men of law.



25.  See that ye decline not listening to the Speaker.  For if they escaped not, who declined to listen to the Speaker of oracles on earth, much more shall not we (escape), if we turn away from Him who speaks from heaven.”



Our seeking after holiness then is rendered more facile than of old.  For law and its terrors are inimical to holiness.  True holiness comes from love.  Holiness in its perfection is impossible under law. Sin shall not have dominion over you; for ye are not under law but under grace:” Rom. 6: 14; 8: 4-6.  I through, law died to law, that I might live to God:” Gal. 2: 19.  The strength of sin is the law:” 1 Cor. 15: 56.



Israel at Sinai begged to be excused from hearing any more words of God.  There was the same spirit at work then among the people of Christ; yea, there is still.  The trials of obedience were found to be so great, that many respectfully excused themselves from obeying some of Christ’s commands.  His calling them to give up their friends, to leave their national worship, and to resist to blood, were calls felt to be so severe, that they begged to be excused.  It is so still.  The Saviour’s words in the Sermon on the Mount, the command to be immersed as a believer, the prohibition of oaths, war, and so on, are by many felt to be so difficult, that they respectfully decline obedience.



The Speaker at Sinai is the same as the Speaker now the Giver of divine oracles* - Christ: 1: 2; 2: 3.  Under the old covenant and its earthly calling, He spoke from earth.  During the heavenly calling, He speaks from heaven. That it must be Christ who as God spoke at Sinai, is certain; for the God who gave the Decalogue was seen by the seventy.  But the Father has never been seen: 1 Tim. 6.  Moreover, this exhortation is delivered with a view to our one day seeing God.


* Always to be taken for God’s speaking.



That which troubled Israel and that which they declined was prohibition, and its penalty on disobedience.  One prohibition with its penalty was given before the Decalogue was uttered.  But after the ten commands there are chapters full of further prohibitions and penalties: Ex. 21: 2, to 23: 33.   Those things from which believers now would draw off are also the commands and prohibitions of Christ together with their penalties.



But some Christians refuse commands and penalties altogether.  They are legal.’  Not so.  We have already been discussing some: 10: 35; 12: 1, 12, 14, etc.  Follow holiness, beware of profaneness,’ and then the penalty, if disobedient, of not seeing the Lord.



Attend to the things spoken by Christ.  For if the words to Israel carried a penalty to the disobedient much more shall not we, if disobedient, escape: 2: 1-3.



It is supposed, therefore, that both under the old covenant, and the new, there are commands given of God.  It might be hoped then, by some, that a respectful protest against certain commands felt to be very difficult would release the parties protesting from any responsibility in declining to obey them, and from any penalty.  It is to close up such hope, that these words are given.  God’s previous dealings with His ancient people in like circumstances are considered to be a conclusive reply, discovering what He will do in like failures of His present people; for the Speaker is the same.



The protesters of Israel when disobedient and murmurers, did not thereby escape.  The sword fell on them when guilty of idolatry; the plague cut off those who offended in the matter of Baal-peor, and the oath excluded them from the land.  Hence it appears, that neither will those who decline Christ’s commands now, escape.



They” and “we” mark out the two different divisions of God’s people.  We” includes all true Christians; Paul among the number.  This division began to be made by Christ from the first.  It was said to them of old time ... but I say to you.”



The terrific circumstances under which Israel begged to decline listening form some excuse for them.  But the more gracious conditions under which the men of faith are now set, remove all such excuse.  Hence the ground for infliction on defaulters abides, with a ‘much more.’  I commend this and the like statements to those who affirm, that nothing but grace can ever attach to God’s people now.



The turning away of God’s people Israel was partial.  Thrice the word here used occurs in Numbers 14.: the chapter which tells of Israel’s temporary refusal to enter the land, and their consequent sentence to die in the desert.  Ye shall fall by the sword: because ye are turned away from the Lord, the Lord will not be with you:” 43.  These escaped not the sword, or the death in the desert.



Paul knew then that some were turning away, in part or in whole, from Christ’s commands, as unreasonably severe.  Such disobedience however would not escape punishment.



26, 27.  Whose voice shook the earth then, but now He hath promised, saying – ‘Yet once more I will shake not only the earth, but the heaven also.’  Now the word ‘Yet once more’ - manifesteth the removal of the things shaken as of things that have been made; in order that the things not shaken may remain.”



That the Speaker then and now is the same, appears on the very face of this statement.  The Speaker is He who shook the earth.  Now Moses’ voice did not shake earth.  Thus then the previous assertion is confirmed.



One of the most terrific circumstances attendant on the giving of the Law at Sinai was omitted in the former group of seven.  With the fire there was also earthquake, The whole mount quaked greatly:” 19: 18.  But now it is brought into view, and its significance is pressed.



And here we come upon a current false interpretation of the passage, which utterly destroys the apostle’s argument; and which it were well to remove before expounding these verses.



What then is the shaking here spoken of? and what is its time?



It is supposed and asserted by Owen and others, that the coming of which Haggai speaks - from whom the promise is taken - was the Saviour’s first coming.  Let us look into the matter.



In the days of Haggai, the returned people said, that the time for rebuilding the Lord’s house was not yet come.  The Lord assures them, that they were in error.  That the troubles they were experiencing around them arose, because of their neglecting to build it.  Thereupon they arose and did build.  But the issue was so poor a house, that those who had seen the former, wept.  Nevertheless God comforts them.  Be strong!’  The covenant of Sinai is not annulled.  I am still your God.  Yet once, it is a little while, I will shake the heavens and the earth, and the sea, and the dry land.  And I will shake all nations, and the desire of all nations shall come, and I will fill this house with glory, saith the Lord of Hosts.”  “The glory of this house shall be greater, the latter than the former,* saith the Lord of Hosts; and in this place will I give peace, saith the Lord of Hosts:” 2: 6, 7, 9.


* It is generally agreed, that this is the better rendering.



Some take the shaking of the heaven and the earth to be the same as the shaking of the nations; which is certainly wrong.  The shaking of the nations is the consequence of the shaken earth: Rev. 6.  The coming here spoken of is evidently the Saviour’s second coming.  The temple at Jerusalem was not filled with glory at the Saviour’s first appearance.  On the contrary, Jesus had twice to cleanse it from its defilement.  There was, at the Saviour’s first advent, none of the brightness which filled the temple at Solomon’s dedication, but which is promised in a day to come: Ezek. 43.



Nor was Jehovah there describing Himself as “Jehovah of hosts.”  Nor did God give peace in Jerusalem, as the prophet promised.



On the contrary, Jesus expressly warns His disciples against supposing that He came to bring peace where on earth.  He had come, not to bring peace, but division and the sword: Matt. 10.



It results too from the erroneous assertion - that the prophet means the Saviour’s first coming - that the shaking of heaven and earth must be a spiritual shaking of a figurative heaven and earth.  Then earth means the Jewish civil polity; and heaven means the Jewish ecclesiastical system.  This idea necessarily follows; for there was no literal shaking of heaven and earth at our Lord’s Incarnation.  The shaking of the nations, then, must be made to mean the revolution effected in morals among the heathen nations which accepted the Gospel.  As a further consequence the removal of the old civil and ecclesiastical systems of idolatry and oppressive rule, is come.  It is effected by means of the Gospel.  Thence it follows finally, that the Gospel dispensation and its present privileges are the eternal and abiding kingdom never to be shaken!



Now this conclusion stands in direct contradiction to the whole tenor of the Epistle, and to the foundation of the Gospel itself.  Now is the time of the word of the kingdom,” not of its power to smite and remove: Matt. 13: 19.  That is to come only at the Saviour’s sending forth His angels to do justice on the wicked, and to carry the righteous into the glory of the kingdom of their Father: verses 41-43.  Now is the time of the invitation to the feast; the feast cannot begin, till all the guests are assembled, and the king’s son has made his appearance: Matt. 22.



But let us regard the matter as seen from this Epistle.



(1) First, then, Paul here exhibits Messiah Himself as waiting His second coming, and His kingdom: 1: 6, 8, 13.  He describes Him as having, in promise, though not yet in performance, all things subjected to His feet.  Now this subjection of all things looks onward to a future day.  We are awaiting His coming to save us: 9: 28.



(2) If we look at the question from Abraham’s history, as here stated, we find, that he has not yet inherited the land of promise, but is desiring a better city and country than any which earth can bestow.  For here we have no continuing city: but we are seeking the one to come.”  That is, the city in which the saved are to dwell is one, which even under the Gospel has not yet come.  Much less have believers entered it!  Abraham’s victory over the kings, and the blessing of Melchizedek have, in the antitype, yet to come.



(3) If we regard it in the light of the history of Esau and Jacob, then this is the time in which the profane sale may take place; but the blessing of the firstborn has yet to come.  It looks onward to another day and dispensation: 12.



(4) If we take up the history of Israel as here presented, we are as yet in the wilderness, passengers and pilgrims through, it, not yet come to our rest and heritage.  We are called on therefore to be careful, lest like Israel we be shut out from the future and unfulfilled rest of God, belonging to the end of God’s redemption-work, which is still going on: chaps. 3. 4.



(5) From another point of view, we are the man-slayers who have fled to the city of refuge and are shut up there; looking for restoration to their lost possession, as the result of the death of the High Priest.  This restoration is yet to be; and has not been received by the Gospel.  The Gospel has given us the true refuge: but that is temporary only - the refuge looks to his lost standing.



(6) Looked at from Moses’ covenant, we are set in the place of Joshua and the seventy elders on Mount Sinai, waiting for Moses’ descent from the mountain.  That is, our present position is not one of the unshaken things. Our hope is to be realised in a future day, and at the coming of our Mediator, for whom we are to look.



(7) Moreover, the apostle describes the position alike of the Old Testament worthies and our own, as one of waiting.  It is now the time of the race - the crown is not yet given: 11: 39, 40; 12: 1-13.  In short, it is the time of faith, not of sight.  Nor can the unshaken kingdom come, till this season of exhortation and of toil is over.



(8) Scattered up and down the Epistle occur not un-frequent notices of the future, as being the day of our hope. Salvation is yet to come: 1: 14.  The age of glories is yet future: 2: 5.  The supernatural gifts were tokens of it: 6: 5.  The good things of our High Priest are yet to come: 9: 11; 10: 1.  It is the time of hope, not yet of possession: 11: 1; 3: 6; 6: 11, 18; 7: 19; 10: 23; 11: 8.  The feast at the opening of the heavenly tabernacle, and the introduction of the ark of the new covenant are yet to be.



This interpretation, then, being manifestly opposed to first principles, and to the whole tenor of the Epistle, let us turn to the true view; which it is not difficult to establish.



Whose voice then shook the earth. What earth?  The literal one.  What kind of shaking?  A literal one!  Oh then! the shaking of heaven and earth yet to come is literal too!  And if so, then the coming of Christ spoken of by Haggai is His second coming, and not His first.  For there was no literal shaking of heaven and earth at the Saviour’s first advent; but it is to attend His second coming, as many places of Scripture testify.  The apostle cites this shaking, as yet to be.  I will shake.” (The true reading.)*


* If you read with our translators, “I am shaking,” the issue is the same.  Then the things established, and not to be shaken, have not yet appeared.



The shaking of heaven and earth is not to take place in Gospel times, it is not suited to a day of grace, but is the result of God’s displeasure, in the great and terrible day of the Lord: Isa. 13: 6-13; 24: 1, 5, 6, 19, 20; Joel 3: 16.  And the fire of the Lord consumes heaven and earth, at the last great outbreak of rebellion: Rev. 20.



Thus the two contrasted positions of the men of law, on the one hand, and the men of faith, on the other, have two great references in this passage.



Thus the two contrasted positions of the men of law, on the one hand, and the men of faith, on the other, have two great references in this passage.



(1) Background.  The apostle shows, that our standing is far more favourable to the holiness that God calls for, than the old position at Sinai.  Here the reference looks backward to ver. 14.



(2) Forward.  The writer compares the two sevens in regard of their respective stability.  The first seven pass away; the second seven abide evermore.



Observe, that the announcement by the prophet goes beyond the statement of the law.  The prophets were commissioned to describe the coming of the new covenant, and so the things attendant on the passing away of the old covenant come into view.  Hence they speak of the future terrible shaking of earth and heaven, sometimes even testifying of their passing away.  This was not suited to Moses’ day.  For the earth was to be the portion of Israel, if obedient.  It is in its future state, to be the joy of Israel, ‘the land of the living,’ and the home of the righteous.



Of the future shaking of heaven and earth Isaiah witnesses.  It is to take place, not in our Gospel day, but in the day of wrath or of judgment on the living.



Therefore I will shake the heaven, and the earth shall move out of her place, in the wrath of the Lord of hosts, and in the day of His fierce anger:” Isa. 13: 13.



The earth is utterly broken down, the earth is clean dissolved, the earth is moved exceedingly.  The earth shall reel to and fro like a drunkard, and shall be removed like a cottage; and the transgression thereof shall be heavy upon it; and it shall fall and not rise again.  Then the moon shall be confounded, and the sun ashamed, when the Lord of hosts shall reign in mount Zion, and in Jerusalem, and before His ancients gloriously:” 24: 19, 20, 23.



The New Testament also bears witness thereto.



Immediately after the tribulation of those days shall the sun be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, and the stars shall fall front heaven, and the powers of the heavens shall be shaken: Heaven and earth shall pass away, but My words shall not pass away:” Matt. 24: 29, 35.



This concussion just precedes the millennial kingdom of the Christ.  And the reason of the shaking is the Lord’s vengeance for the blood of the martyrs.  Accordingly, in the Apocalypse, after the martyrs under the altar have called for judgment, the next seal gives us the terrible shaking of both earth and heaven: Rev. 6: 12-17; 16: 4-20.  Hence it stands connected in our passage with the ‘Blood of Abel,’ which calls for vengeance against man and his abode.



But if so why is this removal of heaven and earth called a ‘Promise’?  To the man of unbelief this may be regarded as a threat; but to the believer it is a promise: for a better heaven and earth, not to pass away, are to succeed them.  And so Peter states it – Nevertheless we, according to His promise, look for new heavens and a new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness:” 2 Pet. 3: 13.



But what means that indirect reason given in the removal of the old?  As of things that have been made.”



These words teach us, that there are before God two creations.  The first has been defiled by the entrance of sin and death, and is to pass away.  The second has yet to be shown.  It is to come after the destruction of the present creation.  This was stated at the opening of the epistle.  After the quotation which tells of the Son’s millennial kingdom in company with His “fellows,” a quotation follows, which declares, that this present creation shall pass away.  They all shall wax old as a garment; and as a vesture shalt thou fold them up, and they shall be changed; but thou art the same, and thy years shall not fail.”



The prophet Isaiah had foretold the same.  For behold, I create new heavens and a new earth; and the former shall not be remembered nor come into mind:” Isa. 65: 17.  For as the new heavens and the new earth, which I will make, shall remain before Me, saith the Lord, so shall your seed and your name remain:” 66: 22.  It is evidently to these passages that the apostle points, and on these turns the phrase which has been found so difficult.



The shaking of the heavens and earth is the shaking of the old creation; but it is to be replaced by a better creation, which God is about to manifest.  The present heavens and earth are to retain their places, only till each word of the Old Testament has received its accomplishment.  Then, as having fulfilled their purpose, they will pass into annihilation.  I know indeed, that many think, they will be only purified by fire.  I am sure, that this idea is contrary to the testimony of God: Rev. 20: 11; 21: 1, 2; Matt. 5: 18; 24: 35.  The new creation will be of new materials and more excellent workmanship, as built for eternity.  God has created anew those who in this dispensation are made His sons: 2 Cor. 5: 17; Eph. 2: 15; 4: 24.  Answerably thereto the new man will have new heavens and earth, the result of the new priesthood after the order of Melchizedck.



In order that the things unshaken may remain.”



These words tell us, that the scene at the giving of the Law conveyed by God’s design, a hint of the passing away of the heavens and the earth that are now.”  If that which decayeth and waxeth old is ready to vanish away,” still more that which is shaken.  Houses that have suffered two shocks of an earthquake are often unsafe to dwell in, and must be taken down.  Two strokes of palsy foretell death at hand.  The old covenant attaches to the old heavens and earth; and as the covenant is to vanish, so also the heavens and earth to which it belongs.  The old man is to pass away from before God, together with his old and defiled habitation.



If the presentation of God’s claims from man under law shook the earth, how much more shall God's entering into judgment with the sinful, because of their breach of God’s commands, utterly destroy them?



But at Sinai and its characteristic scene, there was another element closely conjoined with the Lord’s presence, and the earthquake of His descent and of His voice.  Mount Sinai was altogether on a smoke because the Lord descended upon it in fire,’ and the smoke thereof ascended as the smoke of a great furnace, and the whole mount quaked greatly:” Ex. 19: 18.  That is, Paul shows, that the application of law and justice to a sinful world will issue in the destruction and removal of man’s habitation as well as himself.  This was an important conclusion to be added, in order to prove to those who boasted of the law, and imagined that the earth which now is was to be our final abode, that the touch of law applied to man, the sinner, would issue in the removal of all it touched.  As earth shook at the promulgation of law to sinful man, so when the judge shall wind up the account in vengeance, it will cause the passing away of the scene of the lawgiving in flaming fire.



Israel believes in the immutability of the covenant of law given by Moses; this epistle is an argument to prove that law and all its surroundings must be removed if sinful man is to be saved.



Hence the apostle has shown a new leader, a new high priest, a new covenant, new sacrifices, and new tabernacle - all of which God has brought in.  Hence comes the remarkable notice - where the apostle speaks of Jesus’ new Day of Atonement – But Christ having come as High Priest of the good things that are to come, passing through the greater and more perfect tabernacle (that is to say, not of this creation), and not with the blood of bulls and of goats, but with His own blood, entered in once for all into the holiest, having obtained eternal redemption:” 9: 11, 12.



Here then we see the force of the new place from whence Christ is now speaking as contrasted with His old place under the law.  The seven objects presented in verses 22 and 23, belong to the old creation, and are to pass away with it.  But the second seven, as objects of faith, and as belonging to the new covenant are the unshaken objects; and are never to pass away.  They stand on grace; and not on sinful man’s promised obedience. Hence Jesus, as Mediator of the new covenant, speaks from the unshaken region, not from the lower heaven of Moses.



28, 29.  Wherefore let us, receiving an unshaken kingdom, hold fast grace, whereby we may serve God acceptably, with reverence and godly fear; for moreover our God is a consuming fire.”



There are two kingdoms, (1) the shaken or millennial kingdom administered by justice, belonging to the old earth and the old covenant; (2) the unshaken or eternal kingdom, which begins after the old earth has passed away.  The shaken or temporary (millennial) kingdom is a new trial of the flesh in the day of judgment.”  The earth and heavens are shaken at the beginning of that day, and pass away altogether at its close.  The flesh tried anew fails under Satan’s renewed temptation; and then the old man and his old abode are removed.  Haggai refers to the coming of the millennial kingdom where he says – I will shake the throne of the kingdoms of the nations.”



We receiving a kingdom unshaken.”  We receive the title to the eternal kingdom now.  It is ours already by faith and by gift.  We obtain a part in it by the blood of the new covenant.  We are legatees under Christ’s will; accepting our priesthood and kingship as a gift in opposition to acquiring them by works.  Therefore it is just the contrary to the contract with God established at Sinai: Ex. 19: 5, 6.  That covenant Israel never fulfilled so as to claim the promises of the law, on the footing of their obedience.



Let its hold fast grace.”



I do not assent to those, who would translate the Greek words in a classic sense.  The rendering just given falls in perfectly with the gist of the Epistle.  These men were already Christians; sons of God by faith.  They are called to hold fast the principle they were already possessed of, and not to exchange it for justice.  This is the main argument of the Epistle; a warning against Moses and justice.  It would be in effect the renouncing of the Son, and of the Spirit of grace; a passing from the throne of grace to the Mount of Sinai and its destructive fire.  So would they exchange the boldness of access given to sons, for the terrible awaiting of judgment and the fury of fire destined for the foes of God.



The same warning appears in the Epistle to the Galatians.  They were being drawn in to add the law to the Gospel, as the way to obtain the promises to Abraham.  Paul shows the folly of the attempt.  It would make them children of the slave-mother, destined to be cast out of the house.  Thus they would put themselves under law and the curse, and renounce Christ and grace.



The first part and the last of the passage which we have been considering meet and sustain one another.  There was danger of their being troubled, even while they held grace, by one of their number falling away from Christ and grace, to Moses and law.  Now the fatal and final results are shown, in case any should permanently so fall.



The holding grace is necessary to present acceptable service of God.  There was indeed another service of God under law and justice.  But even while it was recognized, its inherent weakness was exposed.  Sacrifice and offering, and burnt-offerings, and offering for sin thou wouldest not, neither hadst pleasure therein, which are offered by the law; then said he – ‘Lo, I come to do Thy will, O God.  He taketh away the first, that He may establish the second:” 10: 8, 9.  Henceforward those sacrifices would be a service of unbelief.



A sense of the terribleness of God as the God of justice was necessary then to steady the believer against falling back to law.  It is also needed still.  Our service to God must be the opposite of carelessness.  This Epistle warns us, that wrath may overtake those reconciled to God, if disobedient to His commands.  So I sware in My wrath, - ‘They shall not enter into My rest:’” 3: 11; 4: 3.  The only place of safety from judgment is the blood-stained house.  Outside it is the sword.  The place of safety for the manslayer is the city of refuge.  Outside it is the avenger.



This, then, is the second reason assigned for the holding fast of grace.  (1) Only thus can our present service be accepted.  (2) Only thus can we escape eternal fire.



For the nature of God is eternally justice.  This is stated, against those who assert, that God is benevolence only; that there is no wrath in Him against the doer of evil.



Sinai is the warning of God’s terribleness as the God of law, to sinners.  There was great danger, lest the Most High in drawing near to guilty man should destroy him.  The words of law are words of sternness, coming out of the midst of the fire in which Jehovah as the God of justice dwells.  This is part of the glory of the Holy One.  After the blood of the covenant had been shed, and the seventy had feasted before God, we read still – And the appearance of the glory of the Lord was like devouring fire on the top of the Mount:” Ex. 24: 17.  Moreover, when Jehovah left the Mount to dwell among Israel in His royal pavilion, this part of the glory still accompanied Him.  On the altar of brass the fire was to be ever burning.  It was indeed confined within safe limits to those who approached God in His appointed way.  The sacrifices and the blood paved an access to God.  But there stood the fire; and sometimes the disobedient felt it.  Witness Nadab and Abihu, Korah and his company.



When God touched the earth in descending to state His claims, He came in fire, and the mount flamed and smoked.  When He sends forth judgment at the last, fire burns up the earth: Rev. 20: 9-11.



Here then is an everlasting reason for reverence and godly fear; which may we retain while rejoicing in the grace which gives us an everlasting heritage through grace!



Let us hold fast both God’s justice, and His grace.  The same Epistle which says – Let us draw near’ – ‘Let us come boldly - says also – Much less shall we escape, if!



The agreement between our position and Israel’s relates to a day to come - the great difference between us and them turns upon our position now.  It is grace now; it will be judgment by and by.



In conclusion, then, the passage cautions believers against two dangers.



1.  They may by misconduct lose millennial glory.



2.  Or they may throw up grace as a principle of conduct.  In so doing they would be cast upon the terribleness of the justice of the Most High.  Let us take the warning!  Amen!