Hebrews 8Observe here, 1. The apostle's preface in which he doth briefly recapitulate the sum and substance of his preceding arguments, Now of the things which we have spoken, this is the sum.
Learn hence, That when doctrines are important, and the matters treated of very weighty and momentous, we should endeavour by all means to make an impression of them upon the minds of our hearers, by a brief recapitulation of the things we have insisted on; thus doth our apostle here.
Observe, 2. A declaration of the first general pre-eminence of our High Priest, and that is taken from his present state and eternal condition. He is set on the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens. A throne, a sceptre, a crown, are ensigns of majesty, and ornaments of sovereign power: To sit in the throne, is to possess sovereign power and dominion: This Christ now enjoys in heaven, as the reward of his deep humiliation, and as the highest degree of his exaltation.
Learn hence, That the principal glory of the priestly office of Christ depends of the glorious exaltation of his person.
Observe, 3. Another pre-eminence of our Lord Jesus Christ, as our great High Priest; he is called a minister of the sanctuary.
A minister; this intimates to us, that our great High Priest, in the height of his glory condescends to discharge the office of a public minister in the behalf of his church. Our thoughts sometimes dwell upon what Christ did for us on earth, but too seldom are they taken up with the contemplation of what he is still doing for us in heaven.
And a minister of the sanctuary or true tabernacle; that is, not of the literary sanctuary and tabernacle here below, for Christ never entered into that, but of the sanctuary of heaven, in which dwelleth all that was represented in the sanctuary here below: Christ our great High Priest abides in the sanctuary of heaven for us continually: always representing the efficacy of that blood whereby atonement was made for all our sins.
O blessed Jesus! Thy being continually in heaven, will draw our hearts and minds continually thither, if so be we are really interested in thy holy ministration.
That the Lord Jesus Christ is our great High Priest under the gospel, the apostle had sufficiently demonstrated and confirmed before.
Observe here, How he next declares what is the nature, duty and office of Christ as our High Priest; namely, to offer gifts and sacrifice. A priest that has nothing to offer is no priest at all, Christ therefore offered as well as other high priests; but what! Bullocks and rams? In no wise: he offered himself his whole human nature, soul and body. As to the typical sacrifices he did not, could not offer them, were he upon earth, because he was not of the tribe of Levi, whose proper office it was to meddle with those offerings; therefore leaving the shadow to them, he offered the substance, himself; that is, his own body, signified by those shadows.
Learn hence, That there was not salvation to be had for us, no, not by Jesus Christ himself, without his sacrifice and oblation; It was of necessity that he should have somewhat to offer, as well as those priests had of old, according to the law. No salvation without atonement for sin but by sacrifice; no sacrifice sufficient for atonement but the death of Christ; and whoever looks for salvation otherwise than in the faith and virtue of that sacrifice, will be disappointed and deceived. But although applicaiton of its efficacy to the souls of belivers is made by Christ now in heaven; without which, neither their access to God nor their peace with God could be maintained, Heb 8:3,4.
In the fifth verse,, the apostle asserts, that the Levitical priests here below did perform those administrations which were but shadows of heavenly things above. Who serve unto the example and shadow of heavenly things.
Where to serve, is to officiate as priests, in offering gifts and sacrifices: But this their service was not spiritual and heavenly, but carnal and earthly: Yet a shadow and imitation of heavenly things.
Learn hence, That God alone limits the signification and us of all his own institutions. The ministry of the priests of old was only in and about earthly things, not having a resemblance and shadow of heavenly things. We must not take any thing out of God's insitutions which he has put in them, nor must we put more in them than God has furnished them withal. To expect that from any ordinance or institution of God which he never intended or designed, is to make an idol of the ordinance, and the way to render it useless, yea, pernicious and perilous to us; to put that into an ordinance which God never put into it, and to expect more from an ordinance, than God ever promised, is to overthrow it.
-"As Moses admonished of God, when he was about to make the tabernacle. for See, (saith he), that thou make all things according to the pattern showed to thee in the mount."
The words imply, that divine institution is the only pure rule of religious worship: Moses did nothing of his own head when he built the tabernacle, but had his directions in every thing from God. If persons will carve out the worship of God according to their own fancies, they may please themselves perhaps, but they never can please their Maker; for nothing is pleasing to God, as to the substance of religious worship, but what is of his own prescribing; consequently all that theatrical pomp which is found in the church of Rome, and makes the worship of God a dead thing, is a mere fornication in religion, and an abomination in the sight of God.
All their human inventions are intolerable presumptions. And as Moses was bound to give directions according to the pattern given him, so the priests, in their administrations, were bound to follow Moses' directions. Yet after all, the things which Moses was concerned about, were carnal things; the tabernacle was earthly, the offerings carnal, yet shadows of better things, even of heavenly; for the sanctuary was a shadow of a heavenly sanctuary; the priest of a better priest; the service, of a far better service: This seems to be the intention of our apostle.
Our apostle, in these words, proves the excellency of Christ's ministry of priesthood above that of Aaron and his sons, from the excellency of the new covenant (or the new dispensation of the covenant of grace) above the old, of which he was the mediator. Now the more excellent the covenant the more excellent the ministry.
Learn hence, 1. That the gospel-covenant, or the new covenant, was the best covenant that ever God made with man; not but that the old and new covenant were the same for substance, though not for clearness; indeed temporal things were types and shadows of better things, even of heavenly things; And accordingly believers under the Old Testament were saved by a covenant of grace as well as we.
Learn, 2. That the gospel covenant is therefore a better covenant, because established upon better promises; their promises of old were chiefly temporal, though not only temporal promises. Ours are chiefly spiritual, yet are temporal things promised us also; but more rarely, and with the exception of the cross, or rather they are thrown in as additions to spiritual promises, Matt 6:33. But the promises of the covenant of grace are therefore better, because strength and assistance is engaged for, and graciously offered, in order to enable us to perform the conditions of them: The law required sinless obedience; the gospel accepts sincere obedience, and offers grace to perform it.
Learn, 3. That Jesus Christ is the mediator of this better covenant: As there was a covenant made between God and man, so there was need of a mediator that the covenant might be effectual: for a mediator is necessary, both where there is a controversy and difference, and also where there is an imparity and distance between persons: In both respects Christ is mediator; and his mediation was needful, that he might bring us to God.
God stood upon terms before he would pardon sin. Justice must be satisfied, and that by blood, and that blood of infinite value; therefore Christ is first a sponsor before a mediator; he first satisfies for a breach, before he goes about to make up the breach between God and the sinner: Thus was he the mediator of a better covenant.
Observe here, 1. What is charged on the first covenant, and that is faultiness: By which we are not to understand any sinful faultiness, but defectiveness and imperfection only: For it was not faulty in the matter and substance of it, as it was instituted and ordained by God, but therefore called faulty because it was obscure, was not so surely ratified, and not attended with that virtue, power, and efficacy, which the new covenant is accompanied with.
Observe, 2. Wherein consisteth that defectiveness and imperfection of the first covenant which is here complained of, namely,
1. In its inability to justify and save us, because of our inability, through the weakness of the flesh, to answer the demands of it, Rom 8:3. The law was not properly weak to us, but we were weak to that.
2. The legal covenant required exact obedience, but afforded no spiritual assistance for the performance of what is required: But the covenant of grace, the new covenant, is called a ministration of the Spirit: and under the gospel we are said not to serve in the oldness of the latter, but in the newness of the spirit.
Now, says the apostle, ver. 8. Almighty God finding fault with the Jews for the breach of the former covenant, declared by the prophet Jeremiah, Jer 31:31. That the covenant he would make with all true Israelites for time to come, should not be like that which he made with their fathers in Egypt, which they continued not in the observation of, (wanting those assistances from the Holy Spirit to enable them thereunto, which are procured for us by Christ); and accordingly, I regarded them not, saith the Lord, but gave them up for their sins, into the hands of their enemies.
Observe, lastly, How Almighty God makes the imperfection of the old covenant, and the Israelites instability therein, the reason of his making a new covenant with us, in which grace and assistance is offered to enable us to obey and persevere in obedience: Finding fault with them; that is, for the breach of the former, he saith, Behold the days come that I will make a new covenant with them.
From the whole, Note, 1. That the grace and glory of the new covenant are much set off and manifested by comparing it with the old.
Note, 2. That nothing but effectual grace from Christ will secure our covenant-obedience one moment: What greater motives, or stronger outward obligations to obedience could any people under heaven have, than the Israelites had? But they quickly turned out of the way: therefore, in the new covenant, is this grace promised in a peculiar manner, as we shall see in the next verse.
Observe here, 1. The persons with whom this covenant is made, the house of Israel, and the house of Judah; not made with them as a political body, because their policy was to be dissolved, but as a part of the universal church.
Observe, 2. The author of this covenant, and that is God himself, I will make it, saith the Lord.
Note, That the abolishing of the old covenant, and establishing the new, is an act of sovereign wisdom, grace, and authority in God: I will make a new covenant.
Observe, 3. What is the great and comprehensive promise of the new covenant: I will put my laws into their minds, and write them in their hearts; that is:
1. I will make a clear and perspicuous revelation of my mind and will unto them, and give them a thorough knowledge and understanding of my laws, so that their own consciences shall condemn them when they do transgress them.
2. By my holy Spirit I will make a deep and efficacious impression of them upon their hearts and spirits.
Where note, That the precepts of the old covenant are all of them turned into promises under the new; ther preceptive and commanding power remaineth; but grace is promised for the performance of them.
Note farther, That the work of grace, in the new covenant, passeth on the whole soul, in all its powers and faculties, to their change and renovation: I will put my laws into their minds, and write them in their hearts.
And, consequently, to deny the necessity and efficacy of the sanctifying and renewing grace of God in the habits and acts of it, is plainly to overthrow the evangelical covenant.
Observe, 4. What is the relation which is here said to ensue between God and his people; I will be to them a God, and they shall be to me a people.
Here note, 1. God's relation to us; I will be to them a God, I who am all-sufficient in myself, will be your all-sufficient preserver, and your all-sufficient rewarder. As nothing less than God's becoming our God can relieve and help us; so nothing more can be required thereunto.
Note, 2. Our relation to God, they shall be to me a people; that is, a special and peculiar people, owning dependency upon him, and professing all subjection and obedience to him.
And observe, God undertakes for this, they shall be to me a people.
Learn thence, That God doth as well undertake for our being his people, as he doth for his being our God: He that assumes them into that relation freely will preserve them in it powerfully: I will be to them a God, and they shall be to me a people.
These words are not to be understood absolutely, but comparatively: They are a promise that under the new covenant dispensation the Holy Spirit shall be so plentifully poured forth, and the light of the gospel so clearly shine forth that there shall not be such need as under the law, to teach men the knowledge of God, and their duty to him; they shall not need, in such a manner as formerly, to instruct one another in the meaning of the types and shadows of the law: they shall all know me: that is, all ranks and degrees of men, all sorts and conditions of persons, shall own me to be the Lord.
Note here, What abuse is put upon this text by some, who bring it to set aside the necessity of human teaching; for it is by such teaching that God gives men the knowledge of himself.
Learn hence, That there is a duty incumbent on every man to instruct others according to his ability and opportunity, in the knowledge of God.
But, Lord, pity us we have more, that mutually teach one another sin, folly vanity, yea villainy of all sorts, than the knowledge of God, and the duty we owe unto him! This is not what God here promiseth, believers in a way of grace, but what he hath given up careless unbelieving professors to, in a way of vengeance.
This is the great fundamental promise of the covenant of grace, pardon of sin.
Thence learn, That free and underserved grace, in the pardon of sin, is the original spring and foundation of all covenant-mercies and blessings.
Observe farther, How copiously the Spirit of God sets forth the benefits of pardoning grace, I will forgive and forget; I will be merciful, and remember no more; pardoning mercy is full as well as free.
Observe, lastly, The aggravating names here given to sin, it is called unrighteousness, because nothing can be more unequal and unjust, than for man to sin against God his Creator, his ruler and benefactor; and iniquity, or a transgression of the law, and erring and swerving from the rule of holiness, which we are to walk by.
Learn hence, 1. That the aggravations of sin are great and many, which the consciences of convinced sinners ought to have regard unto.
Learn, 2. That we can never understand aright the glory and excellency of pardoning mercy, unless we are convinced of the greatness and vileness of our sins is these several aggravations of them.
Learn, 3. That the covenant of grace fully assures us, that there are riches of grace, and abundance of pardoning mercy in God, which disposes him, for Christ's sake, to be merciful to penitent sinners' unrighteousness, and to remember their transgressions no more, how many and heinous soever they have been.
The apostle having, in the foregoing verses, proved the insufficiency of the old covenant, and the necessity of the new, and given the preference to the latter above the former; in this last verse he acquaints us with the abrogation of the old covenant, it is made old; and with the abolition of it, it is ready to vanish away:
As the old things lose their power, strength and vigor; so the old covenant lost it binding power and obliging force. And as that which waxeth old moulders away by little and little, till at last it does totally vanish, and utterly perish; thus the legal dispensation by little and little decayed, until it wholly ceased at last: yea it is observable, that the whole policy and Jewish government did vanish away, and totally expire in a few years after the writing of this epistle.
Learn hence, 1. That the outward appearance of the legal administration was glorious, and very taking to the Jews: The fabric of the temple, the ornaments of the priests, the order of their worship, had a glory in them which dazzled the eyes, and captivated the minds and affections of the people.
Learn 2. That all this glory did gradually vanish, and at last totally disappear: all the glorious institutions of the law were at best but as stars in the firmament of the church, and consequently were all to disappear at the rising of the Sun of righteousness: In that he saith, A new covenant, he hath made the first old; now that which decayeth and waxeth old, is readly to vanish away.
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