William Kelly Major Works Commentary
For every high priest taken from among men is ordained for men in things pertaining to God, that he may offer both gifts and sacrifices for sins:Hebrews Chapter 5
We now enter on the main doctrinal development of the Epistle, the detailed comparison of the priesthood of Christ with that of Aaron, pursued with collateral truths to the middle of Hebrews 10. The aim evidently is to prove the incontestable superiority of Christ in this as in every other point of view. It was of the utmost moment for such confessors of His name as were Jews; it is of scarcely less importance for souls accustomed to the traditions and practices of Christendom, where an order of officials has been set up, not always sacerdotal in name but ever tending to fall back on that Aaronic order, though according to God it grew old and vanished away when the substance was established for ever in Christ by redemption.
"For every high priest, taken as he is from among men, is appointed for men in things pertaining unto God, that he may offer both gifts and sacrifices for sins, being able to exercise forbearance toward the ignorant and erring, since he himself also is compassed with infirmity; and on account of this he ought, even as for the people, so also for himself also to offer for sins. And no one taketh the honour to himself but when called by God even as Aaron also" (verses 1-4).
The description is general, but with Aaron in view in order to bring in the glorious contrast of Christ. This has not always been seen, and the consequence is often disastrous. Such an oversight is inexcusable, because God has clearly revealed the infinite dignity of Christ's person and the grace of His work. Were these foundations of the faith held fast, they afford an invaluable safeguard for souls. Where it is not so, what is there to preserve from error of the deadliest kind? Christ is the truth. This scripture upholds Him, as the Holy Spirit is here to glorify Him and will never be a consenting party to His dishonour. And the Father's love is never tasted otherwise. For His complacency was ever there, and especially expressed to Him as man on earth, that we who believe in Christ might hear the Son and have fellowship with the Father no less than with Him.
Assuredly Christ is only viewed as priest, and only became such after the assumption of manhood, and indeed much more. As little can it be questioned that He entered on that office for the partakers of the heavenly calling, to sympathise with them, as well as appear and intercede for them in God's presence. But the language here employed does not refer to Him; rather is it to give point, by way of contrast as a whole, with that earthly priesthood whose highest representative was Aaron. Hence the language, however comprehensive, leaves out what is most distinctive of Christ, and expresses a ground in verse 2 and a consequence in verse 3 which faith ought to have regarded as intolerable in His case, because it is opposed to the truth of both His person and His work. The fact is that it is simply every case of human high priesthood which is set before us here, and not that of Christ, which follows subsequently and is placed in marked contradistinction. Indeed the basis laid at the beginning of the Epistle refutes the inclusion of Christ; for He is carefully shown to be Son of God as well as Son of man. His divine glory is carefully maintained from the first and throughout. It is this, as well as the accomplishment of redemption, that gives infinite efficacy to His office no less than to His sacrifice.
The opening verses of our chapter therefore set out the ordinary requirements of any and every high priest, however truly the Lord may have possessed some and superseded others by His surpassing and unique dignity. The real aim is to evince the necessary inferiority of a human high priest, great as the privilege was in divine things, even if the high priest were Aaron the most honoured of all; and thus to enhance the incomparable glory of Christ's high priesthood.
Every high priest was "taken from among men." This would be most inadequate if applied to Christ, but perfectly true of Aaron and his successors. They were but men, though taken from among them. So to speak of the Lord is to forget who He is. The Word was made flesh. He became man, but God He was and is from everlasting to everlasting, the Eternal. An angel had been wholly unsuited, and is only employed in prophetic vision when the object is to express distance without losing the fact of priesthood, as in Rev. 8: But in fact, a high priest was of necessity a man, though taken from among men. He was to represent man before God, and to represent God before men. His appointment was on behalf of men in things relating to God, and more definitely to "offer both gifts and sacrifices for sins." What a meagre statement, if Christ were in view, who gave Himself up for us an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling savour! It is, on the contrary, precise and full if the inspired writer were treating only of human high priesthood as distinguished from that of Christ.
Still more evident is the other side of high priestly functions, "being able to exercise forbearance toward the ignorant and erring, since he himself also is compassed with infirmity." He can feel and make considerate allowance for the ignorant and erring, being no more than a weak man himself, whatever be the exalted character of his office; he himself also is beset round about with infirmity. How true this is of every high priest without qualification needs no proof. But what guards and limitations and reserves are necessary if a believer essays to bring Christ within the range! That the Son deigned to become man is truth only secondary to His being God, perfectly man and perfect man. That He knew hunger, thirst, weariness, is certain, that He was crucified in (or of) weakness* is so revealed to us. Were this or its like that which is conveyed here, none ought to hesitate; for it is a wrong to the truth to detract from His real humanity, as of course from His proper deity. But to my mind the passage speaks of a mere man, such as every other high priest is necessarily, and grounds his ability to exercise forbearance toward the ignorant and erring on his own besetment with weakness; whereas, when He is without doubt referred to, He is spoken of as "Jesus the Son of God" and thus shown in the power of divine nature and relationship, though partaking of ours to sympathise with us fully, in fact tempted in all things after a like manner with the momentous exception of sin. Of that class of temptation He had absolutely none, as it was incompatible with the integrity and holiness of His person as well as the efficacy and acceptance of His work.
* Calvin in his Commentary argues on Christ bearing our infirmities, though free from sin and undefiled. The reference is of course to Matthew's application (Matthew 8:17) of Isaiah 53:4. But it is erroneous. The manning is, not that He took our infirmities and bare our sickness as in His person, jut that thus He acted in healing diseases and expelling demons. It was not mere power; but He felt before God in grace the weight of all the evil that He removed.
But what absolutely precludes and expels this loose, erroneous, and Christ-dishonouring application is the pendant in verse 3. "And on account of this [infirmity] he ought, even as for the people, so also for himself, to offer for sins." This is bound up with the verses that precede, and rigorously pertains to "every high priest" intended in them. All well-read men are aware that some scholars have dared to apply even this to Christ, following out logically the mistake that applies the passage to Him generally. They ought to have judged rather that, as it is a blasphemous falsehood that Christ offered for sins on His own account, the verses that precede describe high priesthood in general but not His, which has a higher ground in His deity and in His humanity Son of God as born of woman, and thus a more glorious character with power and efficacy intrinsic and eternal. The contrast here cannot be fairly denied. And it is the more striking because of the only point where resemblance is expressed immediately following. "And no one taketh the honour to himself but when called by God even as Aaron also." The call of God was essential, and one might have thought indisputably clear in Aaron's, and all the more after the gainsaying of Korah was answered in the destruction of himself and his rebellious companions. But the mind of the flesh is enmity against God, and Christendom is apprised of that very woe in the solemn warning of Jude, no less prophetic than that of Enoch which he cites.
It is evident from the last verse under consideration that the priest is viewed according to God's mind and statutes, not as the facts had long misrepresented this in fallen Israel. For notoriously intrigue, corruption, and violence had reigned for many a year in Jerusalem, and the civil power had taken the place of God as things at length grew irretrievably evil. If the priests did not take the honour to themselves, it was because the power of the sword forbade any save its own nominee. Hence the disorder that prevailed when the word of God came to John, the forerunner of the Messiah, "Annas and Caiaphas being the high priests," not only two but such a pair! Far different was the will of God even for the time of shadows.
From Scripture we know that the early uprising of Korah the Levite with others not even of that tribe disputed the priesthood of Aaron. This gainsaying, however, God settled publicly and solemnly by a destruction without parallel of the ringleaders, and by a plague that cut off thousands of the guilty people only stayed by the gracious and effectual intervention of Aaron at the bidding of Moses. Nor was this all. For Jehovah directed twelve rods to be laid up in the tabernacle of the congregation before the testimony, one for each house of their fathers, that He might cause that man's rod to blossom whom He chose to draw near to Himself on behalf of all the others. On the morrow the rod of Aaron for the house of Levi alone budded, and blossomed, and yielded almonds: the figure of a better priesthood, of life out of death and fruit by the evident grace of God, of the One that ever liveth to make intercession. From Aaron the descent was fixed in his sons, not without striking dealings in good and evil that modified the succession according to the declared will of God. With Phinehas in the desert was the covenant of an everlasting priesthood; as it was manifest later when Solomon thrust out Abiathar from being priest and set Zadok in his stead, thus fulfilling the prophetic word about the intruding line of Eli. God alone was entitled to order it; and this He did, as He will by-and-by in the new age when all Israel shall be saved. Then the sons of Zadok reappear to minister to Jehovah, and stand in His presence to offer unto Him the fat and the blood, saith the Lord Jehovah. Ezekiel 44:15-31; Ezekiel 48:8-14.
But of this future restoration when temple, priesthood, and sacrifice shall be in force, never more to be misused but rather to remind Israel under the new covenant of their accomplished blessing in the Messiah, we hear nothing in the Epistle to the Hebrews. The habitual aim is to bring out what the believer has now in Him Who died and is risen and exalted at God's right hand. There are hints here and there of the age and habitable earth to come, of the rest that remaineth for the people of God, of good things to come, of the day approaching, and the like. There are those intimations which look onward to another state and for blessing to the elect nation. But it would have undone the object of the Spirit to have expatiated on these earthly glories, though enough is said to prove that they are in no way effaced or forgotten, but await their fulfilment when Christ appears. Yet the evident and earnest and urgent task in hand is to bring out a "better thing" already verified in Christ on high, for those who believe while He is hidden in God and have the Holy Spirit to show us the efficacy of His sacrifice as seen in the light of glory, and the present application of His priesthood to the partakers of a heavenly calling, and the heavens themselves as the only true and adequate sanctuary, into which we are invited to draw near with all boldness in spirit. Hence the regeneration and its assured earthly privileges for Israel by-and-by stand in the background that the lustre of present heavenly associations may be undimmed, and that those who now believe in Christ while the nation rejects Him may see and enjoy their portion as incomparably deeper and higher.
Accordingly, whether for vindicating God's glory on the one hand or for the soul's complete blessedness on the other, we are waiting for no work. The mightiest for both is already done and accepted; as the person who has wrought all is the guarantee of its absolute and eternal excellency. And it is all the more precious and admirable, because He previously came down into the reality of a race and a scene ruined by sin, suffering for it yet perfectly free from it. This place He accepted loyally with an entire submissiveness and an unswerving obedience, whatever it might cost. Never was such a servant. Divine dignity, infinite love, unfailing devotedness, met in Him who took a bondman's place all through His life on earth, yea, in the end was made sin where none could follow.
"Thus the Christ also glorified not himself to be made high priest, but he that spake unto him, Thou art my Son: I today have begotten thee: even as he saith also in another [place], Thou [art] a priest for ever according to the order of Melchizedek" (verses 5, 6).
Truly He glorified not Himself in any respect, even when the atoning work was done. For His kingdom He waits, though Ruler of the kings of the earth. He is gone into the far country and on receiving it He will return. Meanwhile we have in Him a great High Priest, as we have seen. But in this too He "glorified not Himself to be made high priest." He waited on Him that sent Him, It was for God to speak, as He did. And here Psalm 2:7 is again cited. The dignity of His relationship is acknowledged. "Thou art my Son: I today have begotten Thee" (verse 5). Others were lifted out of their nothingness. God conferred as He would on such as were but men compassed with infirmity like Aaron. Christ too deigned to be truly born of woman, but even so God owned Him His Son as none else. To partake of blood and flesh through and of His mother was in no way to forfeit His title. Son of God from everlasting to everlasting, in time also as man He has God declaring "I today have begotten thee." His personal dignity, His relationship as Son of God, we hear repeated in connection with the office of priest. Such is the true ground in contrast with every other. Undoubtedly the Word was made flesh to be made high priest; and He has been already shown truly Son of man in this very connection (Heb. 2). Still there is the utmost care to reiterate the words of the second Psalm, though cited long before, that we may remember the more distinctly who He is that was made high priest in contradistinction with the highest human one of God's own appointment.
Not till then have we the direct and explicit prediction from Psalm ex. "As he saith also in another [place], Thou [art] a priest for ever according to the order of Melchizedek" (verse 6). "For ever" is of course here qualified by the necessity and the existence of priesthood. In the eternal state, where sin and suffering are no more, it will cease in the final result of grace triumphant in glory.
Farther on we shall have before us the detailed application of this remarkable oath of Jehovah, the oath of which, it is added, He will not repent, the key to the scene historically introduced in Gen. 14. Suffice it here to say that the Spirit appears in this allusion to be simply drawing attention to the singular honour of the Christ, as in no way sharing in the order of Aaron but giving force to that of Melchizedek, who comes before us long before as sole priest, without successor, predecessor, or subordinates. The order of Aaron was essentially successional, and for a reason that attaches to man as he is, subject to death because of sin. Melchizedek is strikingly brought before us as a living priest, alone in his blessing the faithful man on God's part, and in blessing God most high on man's part: the eloquent type which the Spirit so often uses of the Christ, as the sole and ever-living Priest on high.
We have had the first reference to the order of Melchizedek, which is repeated so often in the Epistle as to prove to any one who reverences Scripture its immense importance in the mind of God. It is a striking part of the typified glory of the Messiah, foreshown in Gen. 14, predicted and declared with divine solemnity in Psalm ex., applied and expounded with care and fulness in our Epistle, which can be examined as each reference comes before us. In the present chapter it is the peculiar and personal dignity which is insisted on in distinction from Aaron, however eminent by God's choice and appointment. But the Christ was God's Son, begotten too in time according to Psalm 2, as in John's Gospel Only-begotten before time and above dispensation, being eternal no less than the Father. Such was His person; and His office was no less singularly glorious even if typified by a royal priest of early days. For, as the psalm cited puts it, He is a priest for ever according to the order of Melchizedek. As Melchizedek stands alone, without predecessor or successor so far as the record speaks, the negative in his case becomes the positive in the case of Christ. And this the unimpeachably divine authority of the Psalm lays down with all simplicity and assurance. And such will be the exercise of His priesthood for the earth when the days of heaven shine upon it in the future kingdom. Meanwhile, as our Epistle urges, He is priest after this order now as for ever. As He alone is Son, so He is exclusively royal priest without end, yet not glorifying Himself any more than Aaron, but a thousand years before so addressed by God, as the typical shadow met Abram not far from a thousand years before the Psalm.
Here we are first directed to His earthly path, then to His heavenly place, and the blessed results. "Who in the days of his flesh, having offered up prayers and supplications with strong crying and tears unto him that was able to save him out of death, and having been heard for his pious fear, though he were Son, learned obedience from the things which he suffered; and having been perfected, he became to all those that obey him author of everlasting salvation, addressed by God high priest according to the order of Melchizedek" (verses 7-10). Suffering was to be distinctively His portion. It had no place in Aaron any more than in Melchizedek. In the Christ it was altogether pre-eminent and peculiar.
Glory intrinsic and conferred is His beyond comparison yet this is not all that grace gives in Him, nor yet all that we need, not merely as sinners but here especially as saints. Our sin and our misery but furnished the opportunity to divine love, and this is only shown and learnt in Christ, in Him that suffered infinitely here below - and Christ alone from the mystery of His person was capable of such suffering. Thus has He glorified, and thus reached hearts opened by grace to feel in our measure the wonders of His love. In the days of His flesh we behold the surface and hear the sound of His sorrows which God alone was able to fathom. For this as for other reasons essential to the purpose of God and the blessing of man the Word was made flesh and tabernacled among us, and obeyed unto death, yea, death of the cross. And if ever prayers and supplications, if ever strong crying and tears, were realities for the heart before God, His were. For His divine nature screened Him from no pain, grief, or humiliation, or suffering, but rather gave competency of person to endure perfectly, while all was accepted in absolute dependence on, and subjection to, His Father.
Not a particle of hardness or insensibility was in Christ. It was no small thing for His love to have hatred and contempt, to be despised and rejected of men; not only not to be honoured by the people of God and His people, but to be esteemed stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted; to be deserted by all His disciples, denied by one, betrayed by another; and, far the most terrible of all and wholly different from all, to be forsaken of God just when He most needed His consolation and support. But so it must have been if sin was to be duly judged in His sacrifice, if our sins were to be completely borne away, and God to be glorified as to evil adequately and for ever. Gethsemane and the cross, or the first part of Psalm 22, are the best comment on verse 7. It was equally in keeping with God that He was not heard while atonement was in accomplishment, and that He was heard when He poured out His soul unto death, and Jehovah made it an offering for sin. For He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon Him; and with His stripes we are healed.
Christ therefore, besides that which fell exclusively on Him as the propitiation for our sins in vindicating God at all cost sacrificially, knew as no saint ever did all that can befall holiness and love in a world and in the midst of a people alienated from God, yet claiming all the more that privilege as theirs only. As at the beginning Satan sought to attract Him from the path of lowly suffering and absolute obedience, by temptations subtly suited to the circumstances, so he assailed Him at the end with the terrors of death, and of such a death! But all was in vain. He suffered but did not succumb. Though prayer characterised Him at all times, then especially in His sorrow and deep depression He is alone with His Father (even His chosen three left behind about a stone's throw), and fallen on His face deprecates that cup, yet in meek submission; and this a second time (while others could not watch one hour with Him), and a third time from that agony in which He prayed more earnestly. And if an angel appeared to strengthen him, none the less did His sweat become as great drops of blood falling down on the ground. He endured the temptation and was blessed, suffering to the utmost. they slept for sorrow and, instead of praying entered into the temptation and fell. And He was saved not from dying but out of death. Whatever His inward and unwavering confidence, He could have no public answer till resurrection, when He was saved and out of death. To be saved from dying had left man in his sins, and Satan's power unbroken, and God's judgment in suspense, and His grace impotent. But the Son of man was there to deliver from all evil and to set all good on an immutable foundation to God's glory, even while saving the lost. He was heard for His pious fear,* but after unsparing judgment had taken its course. Though Son of God, He learned † obedience from the things which He suffered. We learn to obey as God's children, who were once sons of disobedience; He being Son was used to speak, and it was done; He knew not what obedience was. But when He became man, He took loyally this place: in the volume of the book it is written of Him, not of the first man, "Lo, I come to do Thy will, O God." Indeed He suffered it to the uttermost as well as did it in all perfection. His "having learned obedience" is only "difficult and much agitated," because of weakness in holding fast His personal glory as true God, used only to command till He became man, and then "learned obedience" in all perfection as the perfect Servant, absolutely submissive to what He subsequently suffered.
* Not only Calvin and Beza of the Reformed, but the old Latin versions, followed by Ambrose, and by moderns, especially Lutherans, strangely render this "delivered from fear," or the like.
† Dr. Whitby fell into the perversion of rendering the verb "taught"!
This expression "perfected" means the completeness of His course through sufferings in resurrection and heavenly glory, as we may see far beyond controversy in Hebrews 7:28, where the word has a form to express permanent result, instead of only indicating the fact accomplished as here. Neither "sanctified" nor "consecrated" is the true force: other words signify these correctly. Nor would either suit this place when His completed work of suffering is in view, by which alone salvation could be. And the result is here affirmed in terms of triumph: "He became to all those that obey Him author of everlasting salvation." Thus on the one hand is His glorious position maintained, and on the other everlasting salvation is assured to all who own Him. He is none other than the prophet like unto Moses whom Jehovah promised long ago to raise up. But He is far more, and more blessed. For instead of only the threat of God's retribution to him that hearkens not, He is become author of salvation to those that obey Him; yea, in contrast with legal uncertainty, "of everlasting salvation to those that obey Him." How indeed could it be otherwise if we believe in the glory of His person and the efficacy of His work? But all have not faith; and faith - obedience is the root of all other obedience precious in God's eyes, who disdains to accept the homage that is proffered to Himself while making light of His Son and of His infinite sufferings. "He that honoureth not the Son honoureth not the Father who sent Him." "Whoever denieth the Son hath not the Father either; he that confesseth the Son hath the Father also."
The rest of the chapter, and the following one, compose a long and instructive digression on the state of those addressed, the more to be blamed because they had had time to become mature. This it was forbade opening up the subject of Melchizedek, which otherwise might have been happy. It even exposed souls to the danger of going back from Christianity, though better things were expected of themselves, seeing that grace already had wrought practically in them. Hence on the one hand they are encouraged to be imitators of those that through faith and patience inherit the promises; and on the other God is shown to have given strong encouragement to the most tried and feeble by Jesus within the veil, the Forerunner gone in for us.
"Concerning whom [or, which] we have much to say and hard to be interpreted in saying, since ye are become dull of hearing. For whereas on account of the time ye ought to be teachers, ye again have need that some one teach you the elements of the beginning of the oracles of God, and have become in need of milk, [and] not of solid food. For every one that partaketh of milk [is] inexperienced in word of righteousness, for he is an infant. But solid food belongeth to full-grown [persons], who on account of habit have their senses exercised for distinguishing both good and evil (verses 11-14).
There is no such hindrance to spiritual intelligence as traditional religion, and hence none exposed to it so much as Jewish believers. The wisdom of the world is another great impediment, which drew out the censure and warning of the apostle to the Corinthian saints, especially in 1 Cor. 2, 3, and in terms somewhat parallel. Both are hostile to that faith which is only nourished by the divine word, and is impaired by any human admixture. But of the two the religious rival is the more dangerous, because it has more seeming devotedness and humility, and so appeals, however groundlessly, to conscience instead of to mere mind. The effect is that growth in the Lord cannot but be arrested. Instead of becoming spiritual, souls abide fleshly and infantine. For the Holy Spirit is grieved, and reproves the state, instead of being free to lead on and strengthen by taking the things of Christ and showing them to such. We learn thereby how much the moral condition has to do with God's training of the saint; and we may well thank Him that so it is. For nothing is more dangerous than advancing in knowledge where flesh and the world are unjudged: the devil at once seizes his opportunity to overthrow the unwary and careless, and seek His dishonour whose name they bear. But it is no remedy for the evil to be dwarfed by tradition or diverted by philosophy. The Holy Spirit has ample matter to convey; but if we are dulled and darkened by seeking to glean in other fields, the word of God becomes hard Of interpretation to us. Hence it is added "Since ye are become" (not simply "are" as in the A.V.) "dull in your hearing" (the dative of reference, and naturally thence in the plural).
Our Lord had touched on the same difficulty and danger for His Israelitish hearers in the first Gospel. From every hearer of the word of the kingdom, if he understand it not, the wicked one comes and catches away what had been sown in his heart; as on the other hand the seed sown on the good ground is he that hears and understands the word (Matthew 13:19; Mat 13:23). In Mark, as with a view to service, it is a question of reception or not; in Luke, as looking on to strangers of the Gentiles, the point is "believing" and being "saved," keeping the word and bringing forth fruit with patience. But the Jew, as being in continual contact with religious prejudice and tradition, was in peculiar danger of not "understanding" what was new and of God, the present test of faith.
The apostle now expostulates because of their backwardness in the truth (after professing it so long). "For whereas ye ought on account of the time to be teachers, ye again have need that some one teach you the elements," etc. Christendom lies open to the self-same rebuke, and from similar causes. Rom. 11 had pointed out a danger peculiar to it, and tending to as great if not greater self-complacency, the danger of conceiving itself secure for ever, and so perverting the obvious admonition from the excision of the Jew into the proud assurance of immunity for the Gentile craft. It is indeed the very snare into which the Romish system has fallen beyond all others - and is it not striking that the Spirit gave this warning there in particular? Here it is only the stop put to their learning the things of God that is noticed. Instead of being teachers now, after so long bearing the Lord's name, they had need again to be taught the very rudiments. So in similar conditions it ever is. No man ever became mighty in God's word by the study of theology, though some theologians have in a measure grown in spite of what is calculated to obstruct and blind. It is the general effect which proves the character of what works for profit or loss. Now who can doubt the lamentable ignorance of God's word in Christendom at large? And is it not certain that the darkness is greatest where men are most shut up to tradition and least search the Scriptures?
No doubt when souls are in this state, they need a powerful means to set them free; and this Epistle is a fine sample of the truth grace employs to that end. The person of Christ has to be clearly presented, and their distinct and blessed association with Him through His atoning work, as well as His position and gracious functions for them on high. This alone dispels all earth-born clouds, and extricates from the din and dust of human schools. Therefore was the apostle ministering these fundamental truths throughout in order to their deliverance. He implies, nay affirms, that they were spiritually infants needing to learn the elements over again. These, qualified as "of the beginning of the oracles of God," mean what God gave in Christ here below, short of His redemption and His heavenly place, with the gift of the Spirit, which lend Christianity its true distinctive character and its power. The eyes of the disciples were blessed because they saw, and their ears because they heard, what many prophets and righteous men desired to see and hear but did not. The accomplishment of redemption and the new place of Christ in heaven went far beyond. Here they were utterly dull, not so much about the facts as respecting their blessed import and results to faith, as well as for God's glory. The issue was that the very rudiments were rendered obscure and uncertain: so little can the Christian afford to waste his time in seeking the living One among the dead, and so injurious is the issue of turning from the actual testimony of God on our relationships to a vague and dreamy sentiment about the past. Not one thing is understood aright. "If thine eye be single, thy whole body shall be full of light." It is never so, if we look not to Christ where God is now pointing us. In His light we see light. Failure here exposes the Christian now as then to become a person Having need of milk and not of solid food - of fare for babes rather than for adults: a state quite anomalous since redemption.
This figure is unfolded in the next two verses. In no way is milk slighted in its due place. It is the most wholesome and suited of all nourishment for the infant; but the grown man requires quite different food for his developed state and appropriate duties. "For every one that partaketh of milk [is] unskilled (or, without experience) in the word of righteousness, for he is an infant; but solid food belongeth to full-grown persons that have by reason of habit their senses exercised for distinguishing both good and evil." By "partaking" is meant having milk for one's share in ordinary use, as a babe takes it not for partial or occasional fare, as any one might. The word translated "full-grown" is literally "perfect," and given in the A.V. so repeatedly that some lose the true force, which is simply those come to maturity.
Now this is the present aim of the gospel, and its effect wherever souls submit to God's righteousness in Christ. We may see the same truth in substance set forth in Gal. 3, 4. Faith having come (i.e. dispensationally), we are no longer under a child-guide, as the law had been unto Christ; "for ye are all," says the apostle to the Galatian saints, "God's sons by faith in Christ Jesus." "Now I say that the heir, as long as he is an infant, differeth nothing from a slave, though he be lord of all, but is under guardians and stewards until the time appointed by the father. So we too, when we were infants, were enslaved under the elements of the world. But when the fulness of time came, God sent forth his Son, come of woman, come under law, that he might redeem those under the law, that we might receive our sonship. And because ye are sons, God sent forth the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, Abba, Father."
We may gather therefore that to stop short of liberty and sonship is to abide in the bondage of law, and to undo the privileges of the gospel. Further, we may note how indigenous to the heart is this fear of God's grace, which, even when the gospel is sounding freedom to the slave through faith in Christ, is ever prone to go back to what is annulled (2 Cor. 3); and this among Gentiles as well as Jews: a retrograde tendency which the apostle was combating always and everywhere. Whatever its source, whether worldly wisdom or legalism, it is an evil to which no quarter should be shown, more particularly as we have rarely to do with it now in Jews, for whom old and fond habits might be pleaded. But for the ordinary Christian, what extenuation can be offered? The risen and ascended Christ supposes the work accepted of God whereby peace was made; and every believer is justified from all things from which none could be justified by the law of Moses.
The Hebrews addressed had not gone on with the gospel. They were as infants needing milk, and unable to digest solid food. It was not God's will, but their prejudices and unbelief which thwarted their growth. The believer if simple passes, we may say, at once into sonship; if occupied with self, with his ordinances, with his church, or with any object to engage his soul other than Christ, he remains an infant like those Hebrews, and in no real sense full-grown any more than they. God is not mocked, nor does He suffer even saints to slight or doubt the gospel with impunity. It is to prefer bondage when grace is proclaiming liberty; and to need milk instead of that solid food which suits the full-grown; yet every Christian ought to be full-grown. Christ redeemed him, even if a Hebrew of Hebrews or a Pharisee of Pharisees, to know the sonship of God in the power of His Spirit.
Who can have compassion on the ignorant, and on them that are out of the way; for that he himself also is compassed with infirmity.
And by reason hereof he ought, as for the people, so also for himself, to offer for sins.
And no man taketh this honour unto himself, but he that is called of God, as was Aaron.
So also Christ glorified not himself to be made an high priest; but he that said unto him, Thou art my Son, to day have I begotten thee.
As he saith also in another place, Thou art a priest for ever after the order of Melchisedec.
Who in the days of his flesh, when he had offered up prayers and supplications with strong crying and tears unto him that was able to save him from death, and was heard in that he feared;
Though he were a Son, yet learned he obedience by the things which he suffered;
And being made perfect, he became the author of eternal salvation unto all them that obey him;
Called of God an high priest after the order of Melchisedec.
Of whom we have many things to say, and hard to be uttered, seeing ye are dull of hearing.
For when for the time ye ought to be teachers, ye have need that one teach you again which be the first principles of the oracles of God; and are become such as have need of milk, and not of strong meat.
For every one that useth milk is unskilful in the word of righteousness: for he is a babe.
But strong meat belongeth to them that are of full age, even those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil.