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EXERCITATIONS ON THE EPISTLE TO THE HEBREWS
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ALSO, CONCERNING THE MESSIAH:
WHEREIN The Promises Concerning Him To Be A Spiritual Redeemer Of Mankind Are Explained And Vindicated; His Coming, And Accomplishment Of His Work, According To The Promises, Are Proved And Confirmed; The Person, Or Who He Is, Is Declared The Whole Economy Of The Mosaical Law, Rites, Worship, And Sacrifices, Is Explained: AND IN ALL, The Doctrine Of The Person, Office, And Work Of The Messiah, Is Opened; The Nature And Demerit Of The First Sin Is Unfolded; The Opinions And Traditions Of The Ancient And Modern Jews Are Examined; Their Objections Against The Lord Christ And The Gospel Are Answered; The Time Of The Coming Of The Messiah Is Stated; And The Great Fundamental Truths Of The Gospel Vindicated. [ALSO,] CONCERNING THE PRIESTHOOD OF CHRIST:
WHEREIN The Original, Causes, Nature, Prefigurations, And Discharge Of That Holy Office, Are Explained And Vindicated; The Nature Of The Covenant Of The Redeemer, With The Call Of The Lord Christ Unto His Office, Is Declared; And The Opinions Of The Socinians About It Are Fully Examined, And Their Opposition Unto It Refuted. Together With Exercitations Concerning The Original, Nature, Use, And Continuance, Of A Day Of Sacred Rest.
NOTE IN REGARD TO THE PREFACES In previous reprints of this work, instead of the prefaces which the author himself had written for the different parts of the work as they issued from the press, one general preface was concocted out of them all. The design may have been to save space, but it seems scarcely fair that the work should appear without the author’s explanation of the objects which he had in view as indicated in his own language, and of the circumstances in which each volume originally appeared. The result, moreover, of this unwarrantable attempt at compression, was the omission of some interesting paragraphs, which shed light upon his state of health at the time when the volumes were published. All these prefaces are now published in full. The first of them, page 5, was prefixed to the first volume of the work, published in 1668, immediately before the introductory Exercitations; and the second appeared in the same volume, before the Exposition of two chapters of the Epistle to the Hebrews. To the second volume, published in 1674, was prefixed the preface which is numbered 3. in the following arrangement. The third volume, published in 1680, contained the fourth preface. To the fourth volume, published in 1684, one year after the author’s death, the fifth preface belongs, with the initials H.G. attached to it. —ED.
TO THE RIGHT HONORABLE SIR WILLIAM MORRICE, KNIGHT, ONE OF HIS MAJESTY’S MOST HONORABLE PRIVY COUNCIL, AND PRINCIPAL SECRETARY OF STATE, ETC.
SIR, THE dedication of books unto persons of worth and honor hath secured itself from the impeachment of censure, by taking sanctuary in the usage of all times and ages. Herein, therefore, as none is needed, so I shall make use of no apology. But the consideration of some circumstances (needless to be repeated) seems to render an account of the reason of my particular address unto you in this manner necessary. This, therefore, I shall give, but briefly: — “Ne Iongo sermone morer tua tempora.” That which principally, in this matter, I resolved my thoughts into, was a design to answer my own inclination and desire, in testifying a respectful honor to a person who, in a place of imminency, hath given so fair an example of a singular conjunction, in himself, of civil prudence and all manner of useful literature, with their mutual subserviency unto each other: an endeavor whereof the wisdom of all ages hath esteemed needful, though few individuals have attained unto it: for whereas a defect in learning hath tempted some, otherwise prudent and wise in the management of affairs, unto a contempt of it; and skill therein hath given unto others a mistaken confidence that it alone is sufficient for all the ends of human life; an industrious attempt for a furnishment of the mind with a due mixture of them both hath been greatly neglected, to the no small disadvantage of human affairs. It cannot, therefore, seem strange, nor ought any to be offended, that one who dares profess a great honor unto and admiration of both these endowments of the mind of man, should express them with that respect which alone he is capable to give, unto him who, in a place of eminent trust and employment, hath given a singular instance of their happy conjunction and readiness to coalesce in the same mind, to enable it unto a regular and steady pursuit of their common ends. Whether I shall by this address attain that end or no I know not; but this is that which principally I aimed at therein: and to the reason whereof I leave the judgment of my undertakings. But yet I may not omit, that your favor hath also given me particular grounds for this confidence, and such as have been prevalent against those impressions of discouragements which I am naturally very liable to admit of and receive. Your candid esteem of some former endeavors in this kind (and which when carried without the verge of those lines of communication within whose compass men and their writings are judged by party, and scarce otherwise have received a fair acceptance in the world) were no small encouragement unto me, not to desert those wearisome labors which have no other reward or end but the furtherance of public good, especially having this only way left me to serve the will of God and the interest of the church in my generation. It was also through the countenance of your favor that this and some other treatises have received warrant to pass freely into the world; which though I am uncertain of what advantage they may be unto any, by reason of their own defects and the prejudices of others, yet I want not the highest security that there is nothing in them tending to the least disadvantage unto those whose concernment lies in peace and truth in these nations.
For the treatises themselves, which I desire herewith to represent to some of your leisure hours, I shall not offend against the public service in detaining you with an account of them. Their subject matter, as to its weight, worth, and necessity, will speak for itself; the main objects of our present faith and principal foundations of our future expectations, our pleas and evidences for a blessed eternity, are here insisted on. And whether the temptations, opinions, and bold presumptions of many in these days, do not call for a renewed consideration and confirmation of them, is left to the judgment of person indifferent and unprejudiced; the manner of their handling is submitted unto yours, which is highly and singularly esteemed by, Sir, Your most humble and obliged servant, John Owen.
March 20, 1667.
PREFATORY NOTICES 1. — TO THE CHRISTIAN READER CHRISTIAN READER, If thou intendest to engage any part of thy time in the perusal of the ensuing Discourses and Exposition, it may not be amiss to take along with thee the consideration of some things, concerning the design and aim of their author in the writing and present publishing of them, which are here proposed unto thee. It is now sundry years since I purposed in myself, if God gave life and opportunity, to endeavor, according to the measure of the gift received, an Exposition of the Epistle to the Hebrews. A subject this was, I then knew, and now acknowledge, much labored in by many eminent and learned men, both of old and of late. In particular, some entire commentaries, composed with good judgment and to very good purpose, have been published in our own language; yea, from him who first began a serious exposition of this Epistle, and whom none in all things have to this day exceeded, there have passed few ages wherein some or other have not endeavored the explication of it. And this, also, hath been done by men of all sorts and parties, of all persuasions and opinions in Christian religion; an account of whose several endeavors shall elsewhere be given. Somewhat there was of encouragement unto me in my designed undertaking, and somewhat of quite another tendency, in this consideration.
The help which I might receive from the sedulous labors of so many learned men, and those in times, places, principles, distant and distinguished from each other, as also managing their common design with great variety as to particular intentions, I looked on as a matter of no small advantage unto me. Some, I found, had critically examined many of the words, phrases, and expressions of the writer; some had compared his quotations with the places in the Old Testament from whence they were taken; some had endeavored an analysis of the several discourses of the author, with the nature and force of the arguments insisted on by him: the labors of some were to improve the truths contained in the Epistle unto practice ; others had collected the difficulties which they observed therein, and scanned them in a scholastical way, with objections and solutions, after their manner; others had an especial design unto the places whose sense is controverted amongst the several parties at variance in Christian religion: — all in their way and manner endeavoring to give light to the intentions of the Holy Ghost, either in particular passages or in the whole Epistle. The helps and advantages, in the investigation of the mind of God, which by their labors might be obtained, I looked on as a great encouragement to undertake the same work with them, and to promote the light of truth thereby.
But, on the other side, no small objection unto the whole work and design did hence also arise; for it might seem to some altogether needless to engage in that which so many had already gone through with, to the great profit and edification of the church. And nothing can or ought more justly to weaken and take off the resolution of any in this kind of endeavors, than that they are needless: for whatever is so, will also thereby be useless; and, because useless, burdensome. This consideration, I confess, did for a long time deter me from executing my purpose of casting my mite into this treasury. But yet, after I had made a thorough perusal of all the comments, expositions, annotations, or observations on the Epistle, which by any means I could obtain, I returned again, upon sundry considerations, unto my former thoughts and resolutions. For, first, I found the excellency of the writing to be such; the depths of the mysteries contained in it to be so great; the compass of the truth asserted, unfolded, and explained, so extensive and diffused through the whole body of Christian religion; the usefulness of the things delivered in it so important and indispensably necessary; as that I was quickly satisfied that the wisdom, grace, and truth, treasured in this sacred storehouse, are so far from being exhausted and fully drawn forth by the endeavors of any or all that are gone before us, or from being all perfectly brought forth to light by them, as that I was assured there was left a sufficient ground and foundation, not only for renewed investigation after rich branches in this mine for the present generation, but for all them that shall succeed, unto the consummation of all things. For, if we find it thus in human sciences, that no ability, no industry, no combination of the most happy wits for their improvement, in former ages, hath precluded the way unto persons of ingenuity and learning to add considerably in several kinds unto their respective advancement, — nor shall the sedulity of this present age, in the furtherance and adorning of them, be ever able to bring them unto any such perfection as to condemn succeeding generations unto the slothful and servile drudgery of the mere perusal of their dictates and prescriptions, and so, by the use of their inventions, leave unto others only that of their memory, — how much more must we grant the same in things divine, and the spiritual knowledge of them, whose stores in this life are absolutely inexhaustible, and whose depths are not fully to be fathomed? Again; it is evident that the principal things asserted and taught in this Epistle, — such as is the doctrine of the person and the priesthood of Jesus Christ, — have received a more eager and subtle opposition since the labors and endeavors of the most in the exposition of it, than they had done before.
And as this renders the vindication of the places wherein they are taught and asserted necessary, so it is not unknown, unto those who are conversant in these kinds of studies, what advantage may be obtained in the investigation of truth by the opposition that is made unto it, especially when that opposition is managed with a curious search into every word and syllable which may seem to give countenance unto it, as also in the sifting of every tittle and particle that stand in its way; which course of procedure the enemies of the truth mentioned have, with much art and industry, engaged themselves into. But that which most of all took off the weight of the discouragement that arose from the multiplied endeavors of learned men in this kind, was an observation that all of them, being intent on the sense of the words as absolutely considered, and the use of them to the present church, had much overlooked the direct respect and regard that the author had in the writing of this Epistle to the then past, present, and future condition of the Hebrews, or church of the Jews. Looking at these things as dead and buried, of no use in the present state of the church, they did either wholly neglect them, or pass them over in a light and perfunctory manner; nor, indeed, had many of them, though otherwise excellently well qualified, a competency of skill for the due consideration of things of that nature. But yet, those that shall seriously and with judgment consider the design of the writer of this Epistle, the time wherein he wrote it, the proper end for which it was composed, the subject matter treated of in it, the principles he proceeds upon, and his manner of arguing, will easily perceive, that without a serious consideration of them it is not possible to come to a right comprehension, in many things, of the mind of the Holy Ghost therein. Many principles of truth he takes for granted, as acknowledged amongst the Hebrews during their former church state, and makes them a foundation for his own superstructure; many customs, usages, ordinances, institutions, received sense of places of Scripture amongst the Jews, he either produceth or reflects upon; and one way or other makes use of the whole Mosaical economy, or system of divine worship under the law, unto his own purpose. The common neglect of these things, or slight transaction of them in most expositors, was that which principally relieved me from the aforementioned discouragement.
And this also was that which at length gave rise unto those Exercitations which take up the greatest part of the ensuing book. Some of them are, indeed, indispensably due to the work itself. Such are those which concern the canonical authority of the Epistle, the writer of it, the time of its writing, the phraseology of the author, with the way he proceeds in the quotations of testimonies out of the Old Testament, and some others of the same tendency. The residue of them were occasioned merely by the consideration before insisted on. Some great principles I observed that the apostle supposed, which he built all his arguing and exhortations upon; not directly proving or confirming the principles themselves, but as taking them for granted, partly from the faith of the Judaical church, and partly from the new revelation of the gospel, which those to whom he wrote did as yet admit of and avow. Such were these: — That there was a Messiah promised from the foundation of the world, to be a spiritual redeemer of mankind; that this Messiah was come, and had performed and accomplished the work assigned unto him for the end of their redemption; that Jesus of Nazareth was this Messiah. Not one line in the whole Epistle but is in an especial manner resolved into these principles, or deduced from them. These, therefore, I found it necessary to examine and confirm, to unfold, vindicate, and declare; that their influence into the apostle’s discourse might be manifest, and his arguing from them be understood. It is true, I have so handled them as all along to represent the opinions of the incredulous, apostate Jews about them, and to vindicate them from the exceptions of their greatest masters, of old and of late; but he that shall look on these considerations and discourses as a matter only of controversy with the Jews, will but evidence his own weakness and ignorance in things of this nature. Who knows not that they are the very fundamental principles of our Christian profession, and which, because of that opposition that is made unto them, ought to be frequently inculcated and strongly confirmed? And if learned men find it, in this day, necessary for them to dispute for, to prove and vindicate, the very principles of natural theology, the being and attributes of God, the truth whereof hath left indelible characters of itself upon the minds of all the children of men, how much more necessary must it needs be to endeavor the confirmation and reenforcement of those grand principles of supernatural revelation, which have no contribution of evidence from the inbred, inexpugnable light of nature, and yet are no less indispensably necessary unto the future condition of the souls of men than those others are! I am not therefore without hope that the handling of them, as it was necessary unto my design, so it will not be unacceptable unto the candid reader. For what is mixed in our discourses of them concerning Judaical customs, opinions, practices, expositions, interpretations of promises, traditions, and the like, will not, I hope, give distaste unto any, unless it be such as, being ignorant of them and unacquainted with them, will choose so to continue, rather than be instructed by them whom they would by no means have supposed to be in any thing more knowing than themselves. I doubt not, therefore, but our endeavors on that subject will be able to secure their own station as to their usefulness, both by the importance of the matters treated of in them, as also from the necessity of laying them as a sure foundation unto the ensuing Exposition of the Epistle itself.
Besides these general principles, there are also sundry other things, belonging to the Mosaical order and frame of divine worship, which the apostle either directly treateth of, or one way or other improves unto his own peculiar design. This, also, he doth sometimes directly and intentionally, and sometimes in transitu, reflecting on them, and as it were only calling them to mind, leaving the Hebrews to the consideration of what concerning them they had been formerly instructed in. Such is the whole matter of the priesthood and sacrifices of the law, of the tabernacle and utensils of it, of the old covenant, of the giving of the law, the commands, precepts, and sanctions of it, in its promises and threatenings, rewards and punishments. Hereunto, also, he adds a remembrance of the call of Abraham, with the state and condition of the people from thence unto the giving of the law, with sundry things of the like nature. Without a competent comprehension of and acquaintance with these things, and their relation to the will and worship of God, it is altogether in vain for any one to imagine that they may arrive unto any clear understanding of the mind of the Holy Ghost in this portion of Scripture.
Now, as I had observed that the consideration and explanation of them had been too much neglected by the generality of expositors, so I quickly found that to insist at large upon them, and according as their weight doth deserve, in the particular places wherein the mention of them doth occur, would too often and too much divert me from the pursuit of the especial design of the apostle in those places, and disenable the reader from carrying on the tendency of the whole in the perusal of it. To prevent both which inconveniences I fixed upon the course the reader will find insisted on, — namely, to handle them all severally and apart in previous Exercitations.
Having given this general account of my design and purpose in the ensuing Discourses, some few requests unto the reader shall absolve him from further attendance in this entrance: First, I must beg his candid interpretation of the reporting of some of those Jewish fables and traditions which he will meet withal in some of the Exercitations. I could plead necessity and use, and those such as will evince themselves in the several places and passages of the discourses where they are reported; for they are none of them nakedly produced, to satisfy the curiosity of any, but either the investigation of some truth hidden under them and involved in them, or the discovery of their rise and occasion, or the laying open of the folly of the pretenses of the present Jews in their unbelief, doth still accompany their recital: however, I will not rigidly justify the production of all and every of them, but put it amongst those things wherein the candor of the reader may have an opportunity to exercise itself. I must beg also of the learned reader a consideration of the state and condition wherein, through the good providence of God, I have been during the greatest part Of the time wherein these Exercitations were written and printed; and I shall pray, in requital of his kindness, that he may never know by experience what impressions of failings, mistakes, and several defects in exactness, uncertainties, straits, and exclusion from the use of books, will bring and leave upon endeavors of this kind. And whatever defects he may meet withal, or complain of in these discourses, my design was, through the blessing of God, that he should have no cause to complain of want of diligence and industry in me. But yet I am sensible, in the issue, that many things may seem to represent that carelessness of mind, or precipitancy in writing, which is altogether unmeet to be imposed on men in this knowing age. But whatever other reflections I may be obnoxious unto, for the want of ability and judgment, — which in me are very small in reference to so great an undertaking, — I must crave of the reader to believe that I would not willingly be guilty of so much importune confidence as to impose upon him things trite, crude, and undigested, which either ordinary prudence might have concealed, or ordinary diligence have amended. Whatever, therefore, of that kind may appear unto him, I would crave that it may be laid upon the account of the condition which I have intimated before.
For the Exposition of the Epistle itself, whereof I have given here a specimen in the first two chapters, I confess, as was said before, that I have had thoughts for many years to attempt something in it, and in the whole course of my studies have not been without some regard hereunto.
But yet I must now say, that, after all searching and reading, prayer and assiduous meditation on the text have been my only reserve, and far most useful means of light and assistance. By these have my thoughts been freed from many and many an entanglement, which the writings of others on the same subject had either cast me into, or could not deliver me fRomans Careful I have been, as of my life and soul, to bring no prejudicate sense unto the words, to impose no meaning of my own or other men upon them, nor to he imposed on by the reasonings, pretenses, or curiosities of any, but always went nakedly to the word itself, to learn humbly the mind of God in it, and to express it as he should enable me. To this end I always in the first place considered the sense, meaning, and importance of the words of the text; and the consideration of their original derivation, use in other authors, especially in the LXX. of the Old Testament, in the books of the New, particularly the writings of the same author, was constantly made use of to that purpose. Ofttimes the words expressed out of the Hebrew, or the things alluded unto amongst that people, I found to give much light into the words of the apostle themselves. Unto the general rule, of attending unto the design and scope of the place, subject treated of, mediums fixed on for arguments, methods of ratiocination, I still kept in my eye the time and season of writing this Epistle; the state and condition of them to whom it was written, — their persuasions, prejudices, customs, light, and traditions; the covenant and worship of the church of old; the translation of covenant privileges and worship over unto the Gentiles upon a new account; the course of providential dispensations that the people were under; the near expiration of their church and state, with the speedy approaching of their utter abolition and destruction; with the temptations that befell them on all these various accounts; — without which it is impossible for any one justly to follow the apostle, so as to keep close to his design or fully to understand his mind and meaning. If any shall think that I have referred too many things unto the customs and usages of the Jews, and looked too much after some guidance in sundry expressions and discourses of the apostle from them, I only answer, that as, when I am convinced by particular instances of mistakes therein, I shall willingly acknowledge them, so for the present I am satisfied that other expositors have had much too little regard hereunto. The exposition of the text is attended with an improvement of practical observations, answering the great end for which the Epistle was committed over to all generations for the use of the church.
If in some of them I shall seem to any to have been too prolix, I must only answer, that having no other way to serve the edification of the generality of Christians, I thought not so. Yet, to prevent their further objections on that account, I intend, if ever any addition in the same work be prepared for public view, to regulate my proceedings therein according as I shall have account from persons of learning and godliness concerning that course of procedure which they esteem to tend most to the good and edification of the church of God; to whose judgment I heartily submit these and all other endeavors of the like kind whereunto I have been, or yet may be called. JOHN OWEN. 2. — THE PREFACE.
The general concernments of this Epistle have all of them been discussed and cleared in the preceding Exercitations and Discourses. The things and matters confirmed in them we therefore here suppose, and take for granted. And they are such, some of them, as without a demonstration whereof a genuine and perspicuous declaration of the design of the author, and sense of the Epistle, cannot be well founded or carried on. Unto them, therefore, we must remit the reader who desires to peruse the ensuing Exposition with profit and advantage. But yet, because the manner of the handling of things in those Discourses may not be so suited unto the minds of all who would willingly inquire into the Exposition itself, I shall here make an entrance into it, by laying down some such general principles and circumstances of the Epistle as may give a competent prospect into the design and argument of the apostle in the whole thereof: - I. The first of these concerns the persons whose instruction and edification in the faith is here aimed at. These in general were the Hebrews, the posterity of Abraham, and the only church of God before the promulgation of the gospel; who in those days were distributed into three sorts or parties: - 1. Some of them, believing in Christ through the gospel, were perfectly instructed in the liberty given them from the Mosaical law, with the foundation of that liberty in its accomplishment in the person, office, and work of the Messiah, Acts 2:41,42. 2. Some, with their profession of faith in Christ as the Messiah promised, retained an opinion of the necessary observation of Mosaical rites ; and these also were of two sorts: — (1.) Such as, from a pure reverence of their original institutions, either being not fully instructed in their liberty, or, by reason of prejudices, not readily admitting the consequences of that truth wherein they were instructed, abode in their observation, without seeking for righteousness or salvation by them, Acts 21:20. (2.) Such as urged their observation as indispensably necessary to our justification before God, Acts 15:1; Galatians 3,4. The first sort of these the apostles are with in all meekness, yea, and, using the liberty given them of the Lord, to avoid offending of them, joined with them in their practice as occasion did require, Acts 16:3; 21:23, 24, 26, 27:9; 1 Corinthians 9:20; whence for a long season, in many places, the worship of the gospel and synagogue worship of the law were observed together, James 2:2; though in process of time many disputes and differences were occasioned thereby between the Gentile and Jewish worshipers, Romans 14. The other sort they opposed as perverters of the gospel which they pretended to profess, Acts 15:5,6; Galatians 2:13-16; 4:9-11; 5:2. And of these some afterwards apostatized to Judaism; others, abiding in a corrupt mixture of both professions, separated themselves from the church, and were called Nazarenes and Ebionites. 3. Others, — far the greatest number of the whole people, — persisted in their old church-state, not receiving the salvation that was tendered unto them in the preaching of the gospel; and these also were of two sorts: — (1.) Such as, although they had not embraced the faith, yet were free and willing to attend unto the doctrine of it , “searching the Scriptures” for a discovery of its truth, and in the meantime “instantly serving God,” according to the light of the Old Testament which they had received; and in these was the essence of the Judaical church preserved unto its final dissolution, Acts 17:11; 28:22-24. (2.) Such as, being hardened in their infidelity, blasphemed, scoffed at, and persecuted the gospel, with all that professed it, Acts 13:45,50; 17:5; 18:6; 1 Thessalonians 2:15,16; Romans 11:7-10: whom, not long after, the vengeance of God overtook in their total destruction.
Now, our apostle vehemently thirsting after the salvation of the Hebrews in general, Romans 9:1-3; 10:1, having all these several sorts or parties to deal withal, he so frames his Epistle unto them that it might be suited to all their good, in their conversion, instruction, edification, and establishment, as their several conditions did require, — the latter sort only excepted, who, being under judicial blindness, were cast out of the care of God and his, Acts 13:46,51. Hence in part is that admirable contexture of this Epistle, which Peter ascribes unto his eminent wisdom, 2 Peter 3:15: as it is indeed evident from the story that he did excel in applying himself to the various principles, capacities, and prejudices, of them with whom he had to do; the Lord Christ having set him forth as a great example of that diligence, zeal, and prudence, which he requires in the dispensers of the gospel. Divine reasonings, instructions, exhortations, promises, threats, arguments, are so interwoven in this Epistle, from the beginning to the end, that all to whose hands or hearing it should come might everywhere meet with that which was of especial and immediate concernment to themselves, unto which of the sorts before mentioned soever they did belong. And this principle we must have respect unto, in that intermixture of arguments to prove the truth of the gospel with exhortations to constancy in the profession of it which we shall meet withal. The several conditions of those to whom the apostle wrote required that way of procedure. Hence no one chapter in the Epistle is purely dogmatical, the first only excepted, nor purely parenetical: for though the design that lies in view, and is never out of sight, be exhortation, yet far the greatest part of the Epistle is taken up in those doctrinals wherein the foundations of the exhortations do lie; both interwoven together, somewhat variously from the method of the same apostle in all his other epistles, as hath been observed, that to the Galatians, which is of the like nature with this, only excepted.
II. A second thing to be previously observed is, that although those to whom the apostle wrote were of the several sorts before mentioned, yet they centered in this, that they were Hebrews by birth and religion, who all agreed in some common principles relating to the subject he treated with them about. These he makes use of unto them all: for though the unbelieving Jews did deny, or did not yet acknowledge, that Jesus was the Christ, yet they also consented unto, or could not gainsay, what in the Old Testament was revealed concerning the person, office, dignity, and work of the Messiah when he should come; that being the faith whereby they were saved before his appearance, Acts 26:6,7. Upon these general principles, wherein they also agreed, and which were the general persuasion of the whole Judaical church, the apostle lays the foundation of all his arguments; and hence he ofttimes takes that for granted which, without this consideration, should we look on any of those to whom he writes under the general notion of unbelievers, would seem to be the thing principally in question. And therefore have we at large already manifested what was the avowed profession of the sounder part of the Judaical church in those days concerning the Messiah, which the apostle here and elsewhere, in dealing with the Jews, built upon, Acts 26:22,23,27; 28:23; 13:16, 17, etc.; which the reader must have constant respect unto.
III. In urging testimonies out of the Old Testament, he doth not always make use of those that seem to be most perspicuous and apposite to his purpose, but oftentimes takes others, more abstruse, obscure, and of less evident consequence, at first view; and that upon a double account: — First, That he might instruct the believers amongst them in the more abstruse prophecies of the Old Testament, and thereby incite them to the further search after Christ under the Mosaical veil and prophetical allegories whereby he is therein expressed; aiming to lead them on towards perfection, Hebrews 5:12; 6:1. Secondly, Because most of the testimonies he makes use of were generally granted by the Jews of all sorts to belong to the Messiah, his kingdom and offices; and his design was to deal with them chiefly upon their own concessions and principles. As we have some few other helps remaining to acquaint us with what was the received sense of the Judaical church concerning sundry passages in the Old Testament relating unto the promised Christ, so the paraphrases of Scripture that were either at that time in use amongst them, as was the Greek translation amongst the Hellenists, or about that time composed, as the Targums, at least some parts of them, will give us much light into it.
What of that ancient sense appeareth yet, in the corrupted copies of those translations which remain, being considered, will much evince the reason and suitableness of the apostle’s quotations. And this is needful to be observed, to refute that impiety of some (as Cajetan), who, not being able to understand the force of some testimonies cited by the apostle, as to his purpose in hand, have questioned the authority of the whole Epistle; as also the mistake of Jerome, who in his epistle to Pammachius rashly affirmed that Paul did quote scriptures that were not indeed to his purpose, but out of design to stop the mouths of his adversaries, as he himself had dealt with Jovinian; which was very far from him whose only design was ajlhqeu>ein ejn ajga>ph| , — to promote the truth in love.
IV. He takes it for granted, in the whole Epistle, that the Judaical churchstate did yet continue, and that the worship of it was not yet disallowed of God; suitably to what was before declared concerning his own and the other apostles’ practice. Had that church-state been utterly abolished, all observation of Mosaical rites, which were the worship of that church as such, had been utterly unlawful, as now it is. Neither did the determination recorded Acts 15 abolish them, as some suppose, but only free the Gentiles from their observance. Their free use was yet permitted unto the Jews, Acts 21:20, 22-26; 27:9; and practiced by Paul in particular in his Nazaritical vow, Acts 21:26, which was attended with a sacrifice, Numbers 6:13-21. Nor was Mosaical worship utterly to cease, so as to have no acceptance with God, until the final ruin of that church, foretold by our Savior himself, Matthew 24, by Peter, 2 Peter 3, by James also, James 5:6-9, and by our apostle in this Epistle, Hebrews 10:37; 12:25-27, was accomplished.
Hence it is that our apostle calls the times of the gospel “The world to come,” Hebrews 2:5; 6:5, — the name whereby the Jews denoted the state of the church under the Messiah, — proper unto it only whilst the legal administrations of worship did continue. Thus, as de facto he had showed respect unto the person of the high priest as one yet in lawful office, Acts 23:5, so doctrinally he takes it for granted that office was still continued, Hebrews 8:4,5, with the whole worship of Moses’ institution, chap. 13:11, 12. And this dispensation of God’s patience, being the last trial of that church, was continued in a proportion of time answerable to their abode in the wilderness upon its first erection; which our apostle minds them of, chap. 3; 4.
The law of Moses, then, was not actually abrogated by Christ, who observed the rules of it in the days of his flesh; nor by the apostles, who seldom used their liberty from it, leaving the use of it to the Jews still; but having done its work whereunto it was designed, and its obligation expiring, ending, and being removed or taken away, in the death and resurrection of Christ, and promulgation of the gospel that ensued thereupon, which doctrinally declared its ajnwfelei>an, or uselessness, God in his providence put an end unto it as to its observation, in the utter and irrecoverable overthrow of the temple, the place designed for the solemn exercise of its worship. So did it “decay, wax old,” and “vanish away,” chap. 8:13.
And this also God ordered, in his infinite wisdom, that their temple, city, and nation, and so, consequently, their whole church-state, should be utterly wasted by the pagan Romans, before the power of the empire came into the hands of men professing the name of Christ; who could neither well have suffered their temple to stand as by them abused, nor yet have destroyed it without hardening them in their impenitency and unbelief.
V. That which is proposed unto confirmation in the whole Epistle, and from whence all the inferences and exhortations insisted on do arise and are drawn, is the excellency of the gospel, and the worship of God therein revealed and appointed, upon the account of its manifold relation to the person and offices of Christ, the Mediator, the Son of God. Now, because those to whom it is directed did, as hath been declared, some of them adhere to Mosaical ceremonies and worship in conjunction with the gospel, others with a preferency of them above it, and some to a relinquishment of it, especially when they once found its profession obnoxious to persecution, the apostle institutes, and at large prosecutes, a comparison between Moses’ law and the gospel, as to their, usefulness and excellency, in reference unto men’s acceptation with God by the one and the other; as also of the spirituality, order, and beauty of the worship severally required in them. And herein, though he derogates in no respect from the law that which was justly due unto it, yet, on the accounts before mentioned, he preferreth the gospel before it; and not only so, but also manifests that as Mosaical institutions were never of any other use but to prefigure the real mediatory work of Christ, with. the benefits thereof, so he being exhibited and his work accomplished, their observation was become needless, and themselves, if embraced to a neglect or relinquishment of the gospel, pernicious.
This comparison (wherein also the proof of the positive worth and excellency of the gospel is included), omitting for weighty reasons (intimated by James, Acts 21:21; by himself, Acts 22:19-21; 24:14) all prefatory salutations, he enters upon in the first verses of the Epistle: and being thereby occasioned to make mention of the Messiah, from whose person and office the difference he was to insist upon did wholly arise, he spendeth the residue of the chapter in proving the divine excellency of his person and the imminency of his office, as the only king, priest, and prophet of his church; on all which the dignity of the gospel, in the profession whereof he exhorts them to persevere, doth depend.
He, then, that would come to a right understanding of this Epistle must always bear in mind, — 1. To whom it was written ; which were the Jews of the several sorts before mentioned: 2. To what end is was written ; — even to prevail with them to embrace the gospel, and to persist in the profession of it without any mixture of Mosaical observations: 3. On what principles the apostle deals with them in this argument ; which are no other, for the most part, than what were granted by the Jews of all sorts: 4. What testimonies out of the Old Testament he insists on to prove his purpose ; namely, such as were commonly received in the Judaical church to belong unto the Messiah and his office: 5. What he labors to instruct them in , as to the general use of all sorts amongst them; which is, the nature and use of Mosaical rites: 6. The main argument he insists on , for the ends before mentioned; which is, the excellency of the gospel, the worship instituted therein, and the righteousness manifested thereby, upon the account of its author and subject, the principal efficient cause of its worship, and only procurer of the righteousness exhibited in it, even Jesus Christ, the Messiah, Mediator, — the eternal Son of God. Unless these things are well born in mind, and the case of the Jews particularly heeded, our Exposition will, it may be, seem ofttimes to go out of the way, though it constantly pursue the design and scope of the apostle.
VI. Though this Epistle was written unto the Hebrews, and immediately for their use, yet it is left on record in the canon of the Scripture by the Holy Ghost, for the same general end with the other parts of the Scripture, and the use of all believers therein to the end of the world.
This use in our Exposition is also to be regarded, and that principally in the parenetical or hortatory part of it. That, then, which is dogmatical, and the foundation of all the exhortations insisted on, may be two ways considered: 1. Properly, as to the special and peculiar tendency of the principles and doctrines handled; and so they specially intend the Jews, and must be opened with respect to them, their principles, traditions, opinions, objections, — all which must therefore be considered, that the peculiar force and efficacy of the apostle’s reasonings with respect unto them may be made manifest. And from the doctrinal part of this Epistle so opened, the exhortations that arise do chiefly respect the Jews, and are peculiarly suited unto them, their state and condition. 2. Again, the doctrines treated on by the apostle may be considered absolutely and abstractedly from the special case of the Jews, which he had in his eye, — merely to their own nature; and so they are, many of them, of the chief, fundamental principles of the gospel. In this respect they are grounds for the application of the exhortations in the Epistle unto all professors of the gospel to the end of the world. And this must guide us in our Exposition. Having to deal with the Jews, the doctrinal parts of the Epistle must be opened with special respect unto them, or we utterly lose the apostle’s aim and design; and dealing with Christians, the hortatory part shall be principally insisted on, as respecting all professors; — yet not so but that, in handling the doctrinal part, we shall weigh the principles of it, as articles of our evangelical faith in general, and consider also the peculiar respect that the exhortations have unto the Jews.
Now, whereas, as was said, many principles of the Jews are partly supposed and taken for granted, partly urged and insisted on to his own purpose by the apostle, we must in our passage make some stay in their discovery and declaration, and shall insert them under their proper heads where they occur, even as many of them as are not already handled in our Prolegomena. 3. — TO THE CHRISTIAN READER. CHRISTIAN READER, There are but few things that I shall here detain thee in the consideration of, and those such as are necessary, if thou intends the perusal of the ensuing Discourses. What principally concerneth this Exposition or Commentary on the Epistle to the Hebrews, as to the design, scope, order, and method of it, was fully declared in a preface unto a former volume of Exercitations, with an exposition of the first two chapters thereof. Such as have there taken notice of them do deserve to be free from the trouble of their repetition in this place; and unto those by whom their consideration hath been omitted or neglected, either with the whole work or in the perusal of it, it is no wrong to suppose either that they need them not, or to leave them under this direction where they may be found. Wherefore I shall not offer thee any thing with respect unto the exposition of the three following chapters, which is now presented unto thee, as to its design, order, and method, which have been all before declared. Only, whereas our apostle in the third chapter digresseth unto a pathetical, rational, argumentative exhortation unto those practical duties of faith, love, constancy, and perseverance, which were the principal end of his doctrinal instructions in the whole Epistle, and indispensably necessary to be diligently attended unto by the Hebrews, under their condition and circumstances, in a singular manner; so, in imitation of and compliance with him who is my pattern and guide, as also finding the same duties, under our present circumstances, no less necessary to be singularly attended unto by all professors of the gospel, I have somewhat more largely than ordinary insisted on them, and consequently on the exposition of the chapter itself. And if any one shall hereon conceive our discourses over long or tedious, or too much diverting from the expository part of our work, I have sundry things to offer towards his satisfaction: as, - 1. The method of the whole is so disposed, as that any one, by the sole guidance of his eye, without further trouble than by turning the leaves of the book, may carry on or continue his reading of any one part of the whole without interruption or mixing any other discourses therewithal. So may he, in the first place, go over our consideration of the original text, with the examination of ancient and modern translations, and the grammatical construction and signification of the words, without diverting unto any thing else that is discoursed on the text. In like manner, if any desire to peruse the exposition of the text and context, with the declaration and vindication of the sense and meaning of the Holy Ghost in them, without the least intermixture of any practical discourses deduced from them, he may, under the same guidance, and with the same labor, confine himself hereunto from the beginning unto the end of the work. And whereas the practical observations with their improvement do virtually contain in them the sense and exposition of the words, and give light unto the intendment of the apostle in his whole design, for ought I know some may be desirous to exercise themselves principally in those discourses; which they may do by following the series and distinct continuation of them from first to last. Wherefore, from the constant observation of the same method as to the principal distinct parts of the whole Exposition, every one is at liberty to use that order in the perusal of it which he judgeth most for his own advantage. 2. There will be relief found against that discouragement which the appearing length of these discourses may give the reader, from the variety of their subject matter or the things that are contained in them; for there are few of them on any single head that extend themselves beyond a page, or leaf at the most. Wherefore, although all of them together may make an appearance of some tediousness unto the reader, yet he will find it not easy to fix his charge on any one in particular, unless he judge it wholly impertinent; and for those few of them which much exceed the bounds mentioned, their importance will plead an excuse for their taking up so much room in the work itself. As, for instance (to confine myself unto the third chapter, the exposition whereof seems principally, if not solely, liable to this objection), the authority of Christ, as the Son of God, over the church; the nature of faith, as also of unbelief, and the danger of eternal ruin wherewith it is attended; the deceitfulness of sin, with the ways and means of the hardening the hearts of men thereby; the limitation of a day or season of grace; with the use of Old Testament types and examples, which are therein treated of by the apostle, — are things which, in their own nature, deserve a diligent inquiry into them and declaration of them.
And however others, who have had only some particular design and aim in the exposition of this Epistle, or any other book of the Scripture, may satisfy themselves in opening the words of the text so far as it suits their design, yet he who professedly undertakes a full and plenary exposition cannot discharge his duty and undertaking without; the interpretation and improvement of the things themselves treated of, according to the intention and mind of the Spirit of God. And I could heartily wish that the temptations and sins of the days wherein we live did not render the diligent consideration of the things mentioned more than ordinarily necessary unto all sorts of professors. 3. The reader may observe, that most of those discourses themselves do, if not consist in the exposition of other places of Scripture, suggested by their analogy unto that under consideration, yet have such expositions, with a suitable application of them, everywhere intermixed with them.
Unto them to whom these things are not satisfactory with respect unto the length of these discourses, I have no more to offer, but that if they think meet, on this or any other consideration, to spare their charge in buying or their labor in reading the book itself, they will have no reason to complain with respect unto any thing contained in it or the manner of its handling.
There is one thing also peculiarly respecting the exposition of the fourth chapter, which the reader is to be acquainted withal. The doctrine of the original, confirmation, translation or change of a sabbatical day of divine worship, being declared therein, I had in its exposition continual respect unto those Exercitations on that subject which I had published about two years ago. And indeed those Exercitations were both prepared and designed to be a part of the preliminary Discourses unto this part of our Exposition, but were forced from me by the importunate desires of some and the challenges of others to prove the divine institution of the Lord’s day Sabbath. But now, finding that two editions of that book of Exercitations are dispersed, I would not consent unto the reprinting of them in this treatise, although peculiarly belonging unto the doctrine of the apostle in this chapter, that the charge of those readers who had them already might not be increased. Yet I cannot but mind the reader, that in the exposition of that passage or discourse of the apostle about the several rests mentioned in the Scripture, I will not absolutely stand to his censure and judgment upon the perusal of the Exposition alone (though I will maintain it to be true, and hope it to be clear and perspicuous), without regard unto those Exercitations, wherein the truth of the Exposition itself is largely discussed and vindicated.
Unto the whole there are tables added, — collected, I confess, in too much haste, and not digested into so convenient a method as might be desired; but those who are acquainted with my manifold infirmities, not to mention other occasions, employments, and diversions, will not, perhaps, too severely charge upon me such failures in accuracy, and other effects of strength and leisure, as might otherwise be expected. And as for those unto whom my circumstances are unknown, I shall not concern myself in their censures any further than I am convinced of the weight of those reasons whereon they are grounded, and the importance of the matter about which they are exercised: for if such censures be either rash and precipitate, without a due examination of all that belongs unto what they reflect upon; if they openly savor of malevolence or envy; if they are about things of small moment, such as wherein neither the truth, nor reasonableness, nor soundness of the discourses themselves are concerned, or be such as might possibly, in a work of this nature and length, escape a commendable diligence, — let them be expressed in words of the highest disdain, the design of their authors will be utterly frustrate, if they intend the least disquietment unto my mind or thoughts about them, nor will, I suppose, be very successful with any persons of learning or ingenuity whom they shall endeavor to leaven thereby. Much less shall I be moved with the vain reproaches of any, however expressed in words suited to expose either my person, or endeavor in this kind to serve the church of Christ, unto contempt and scorn; not only because I am forewarned to look for such entertainment in the world, and instructed how to deport myself under it, but also because I have had a full experience of an absolute contrary event unto what hath been designed in them.
I have not more to add concerning the ensuing Exposition; for to give the reader a particular account either of my travail therein or of the means used in its carrying on, beyond what I have mentioned in the preface unto the preceding volume, I judge not convenient, as not willing to give the least appearance of any satisfaction, much less glorying, in any thing of my own but my infirmities, as I neither do, nor desire, nor dare to do. This only duty binds me to declare, that as I used the utmost sincerity whereof I am capable in the investigation and declaration of the mind of the Spirit of God in the text, without the least respect unto any parties of men, opinions, ways of worship, or other differences that are amongst us in and about the affairs of religion, because I feared God; so in the issue and product of my endeavors, the reader will find nothing savoring of an itch after novelty or curiosity, nothing that will divert him from that sound doctrine and form of wholesome words wherein the professors of this nation have been educated and instructed.
For the Exercitations premised unto the Exposition, I must acknowledge that I have not been able to compass the whole of what I did design. Not only continued indisposition as to health, but frequent relapses into dangerous distempers, forced the utmost of my endeavors to give place unto them for a season, and to take off my hand from that work before I had finished the whole of what I aimed at : for it was in my purpose to have pursued the tradition, and given an of sacrifices with priests for their offering; as also the occasions, rise, and discharge of the office of the priesthood among the principal nations of the world during the state of Gentiliam, and their apostasy from God therein. Moreover, what doth concern the person and priesthood of Melchizedek I had designed as part of this work and undertaking; and I had also purposed an historical account of the succession and actings of the high priests among the Jews from the institution of their office unto its dissolution: all which belong unto the illustration of that office which, as vested in Jesus Christ, is the subject of these discourses. These things, with others of the like nature, I have been forced, for the reasons mentioned, to reserve unto another part of this work, if God shall be pleased to give life, strength, and opportunity for the finishing of it, which may be no less seasonable; for although they do all, as was said, belong unto the illustration of the priestly office and its administration, yet the doctrine of the priesthood Christ is complete without them. Let not, therefore, the reader suppose that on this occasion our Exercitations concerning the priesthood of Christ are imperfect or defective as to the subject matter of them, as though any thing materially belonging hereunto were left undiscussed; although other imperfections and defects, it is most probable, they may be justly charged withal. And I shall only say concerning them, that as it is wholly without the compass of my knowledge and conjecture, if the reader can find any by whom the doctrine of the priesthood of Christ hath been so handled, in its proper order and method, as to its original, causes, nature, and effects; so for the truth that is taught concerning it, and its discharge unto the benefit and salvation of the church, I shall, God assisting, be accountable for it unto any by whom it shall be called into question.
The greatest opposition that ever was made among Christians unto the doctrine of the priesthood of Christ, or rather unto the office itself, is that which at this day is managed by the Socinians. It is therefore manifest, and, as I suppose, will be confessed by all who inquire into these things, that I could not answer my design, of the full declaration of it, unto the edification of the present church, without an accurate discussion of their sentiments about it, and opposition unto it. This, therefore, was so necessary unto the occasion, that my undertaking an express examination and refutation of their principles in this matter is no way liable unto any just exception. Only, it may seem inconvenient unto some, that, in a discourse of this nature, the discussion of the writings of particular men, as Enjedinus, Socinus, Smalcius, Crellius, and others, should be so much insisted on; and I must acknowledge that at first it seemed unto myself not altogether suited unto the nature of my design. But second thoughts inclined me unto this course; for it is known unto them who are any way exercised in these things, with how many artifices this sort of men do palliate their opinions, endeavoring to insinuate contrary and adverse principles under and by those words, phrases of speech, and expressions, whereby the truth is declared. Wherefore, if any one shall charge them with what is indeed their mind and judgment in these things, he may sometimes be thought unduly to impose upon them what they do not own, yea, what their words seem expressly to free them Romans For instance, suppose that it should be reflected as a crime on them, that they deny the priestly office of Christ itself, — deny that he was ever a priest on earth, or yet is so in heaven, — deny that he offered himself a perfect expiatory sacrifice unto God, or that he maketh intercession for us; those who are less wary and circumspect, or less exercised in these controversies, might possibly, on the consideration of their words and profession, suspect that this charge must needs be very severe, if not highly injurious: for nothing occurs more frequently in their writings, than a fair mention of the sacerdotal office of Christ and his expiatory sacrifice.
What way, therefore, remained in this case, to state a right judgment in this controversy, but a particular discussion of what their principal authors and leaders, with great agreement among themselves, do teach in this matter? And if from thence it do appear, that what they call the sacerdotal office of Christ is indeed no such office, nor any thing that holds the least analogy with what is properly so called; and that what they term his expiatory sacrifice and his intercession is neither sacrifice nor intercession, nor hath the least resemblance of what is so indeed; the principal difficulty which lieth in our contest with them is despatched out of our way. And herein, — that none might suspect that advantages have been sought against them, by undue collections of passages out of their writings, or a misrepresentation of their sense and intentions, — it was necessary they should be heard to speak for themselves, and their own words at large, without alteration or diminution, be represented unto the reader; and this is done so fully, out of their principal authors, as that I dare say with some confidence, there is nothing in the writings of the whole party, of any importance in this cause, which is not strictly examined. And the reader is desired to observe, that if the truth which we profess concerning this office of Christ, and his discharge thereof, be sufficiently confirmed and vindicated, all the other notions of these men, concerning a metaphorical redemption, a metaphorical sacrifice, and the like, do vanish and disappear. So that although I intend, if God will, and I live, a full declaration of the true nature of the sacrifice of Christ, and the vindication of the doctrine of the church of God concerning it, I must take it for granted, that, whilst what we have asserted and confirmed concerning his priesthood remains unshaken, the whole truth relating hereunto will not only easily but necessarily follow: and what in these discourses is effected towards that end, is left to the judgment of the learned and candid reader.
Besides, I thought it not unmeet to give a specimen of the way and manner whereby this sort of men do manage their opposition unto the principal truths and mysteries of the gospel, that such as are less conversant and exercised in their writings, may be cautioned against those sophistical artifices whereby they endeavor to inveigle and infect the minds or imaginations of men; for this is their peculiar excellency (or call it what you will), that, under an appearance and pretense of perspicuity, clearness, and reason, they couch the most uncouth senses, and most alien from the common reason of mankind, that can possibly fall under the imagination of persons pretending to the least sobriety. Instances hereof, and those undeniable, the reader will find in the ensuing discourses plentifully produced and discovered.
I have only further to advertise the reader, that whereas, by reason of my absence from it, many mistakes and errors have escaped the press, especially in the Exercitations, and those the most of them corrupting the sense of the words or places which they have befallen, — some whereof I have, in a cursory view of the whole, collected, — I must entreat his favor, that the failure of others may not be imputed unto me, nor any thing be interpreted to be my neglect, which, being duly considered, gives its own account to have been the effect of the want of skill or diligence in others. JOHN OWEN.
September 30, 1673. 4. — THE PREFACE TO THE READER.
I have so fully, in my former discourses on this subject, declared the general design, scope, and end of this Epistle, the proper way and means of its interpretation, with the method of the present Exposition, which is the same throughout, that I shall not at all here detain the reader with a renewed declaration of any of them. Only, some few things, which immediately concern that part of the Exposition which is now presented unto him, and my labor therein, may be mentioned (as I suppose) unto some usefulness: - 1. And it may not be amiss, in the first place, to take notice of an objection the present endeavor seems liable and obnoxious unto; and this is, the unseasonableness of it. We live in times that are fortified against the use of discourses of this nature, especially such as are so long and bulky. The world, and the minds of men therein, are filled with disorder and confusion; and the most are at their wits’ end with looking after the things that are come, and coming, on the earth. They have enough to do in hearing, telling, and reading, real or pretended news of public affairs, so as to divert them from engaging their time and industry in the perusal and study of such discourses. Besides, there is not any thing in this now published to condite it unto the palate of the present age, — in personal contests and reflections, in pleading for or against any party of men or especial way in the profession of religion; only the fundamental truths of the gospel are occasionally contended for. These and the like considerations might possibly, in the judgment of some, have shut up this whole discourse in darkness, upon the account of its being unseasonable.
I shall briefly acquaint the reader with what relieved me against this objection, and gave me satisfaction in the publishing of this part of the Exposition after it was finished. For I could not but remember that the times and seasons wherein the former parts of it were published were very little more settled and quiet than are these which are now urgent on us; yet did not this hinder but they have been of some use and benefit unto the church of God in this nation, and others also. And who knows but this may have the same blessing accompanying of it? He who hath supplied seed to the sower, can multiply the seed sown and increase the fruits of it; and although at present the most are really unconcerned in things of this nature, yet not a few, from many parts both at home and abroad, have earnestly solicited the continuation of the Exposition, at least unto that period whereunto it is arrived.
Besides, in labors and endeavors of this nature, respect is not had merely unto the present generation, especially as many are filled with prejudices and causeless enmity against the author of them. We have ourselves more benefit and advantage by the writings of sundry persons in former ages, than they received by them who lived in their own days. “Pascitur in vivis livor, post fata quiescit.” It is therefore the duty of some in every age to commit over, unto those that shall survive in the church of God and profession of the truth, their knowledge in the mysteries of the gospel; whereby spiritual light may be more and more increased unto the perfect day.
On these and the like considerations I have wholly left these times and seasons in His hand who hath the sole disposal of them; and will not so far observe the present blustering wind and clouds as not to sow this seed, or despair of reaping fruits thereby. 2. The reader will find no Exercitations prefixed unto this volume, as there are unto the former. And this is so fallen out, not because there were no things of weight or moment occurring in these chapters deserving a separate, peculiar handling and consideration, but for other reasons, which made the omission of them necessary and unavoidable; for indeed continued infirmities and weaknesses, in my near approach unto the grave, rendered me insufficient for that labor, especially considering what other duties have been, and yet are, incumbent on me. And yet also my choice was compliant with this necessity; for I found that this part of the Exposition comprising so many chapters, and those all of them filled with glorious mysteries, and things of the highest importance unto our faith and obedience, would arise unto a greatness disproportionate unto the former, had it been accompanied with the like Exercitations. Whereas, therefore, I foresaw from the beginning that they must be omitted, I did treat somewhat more fully of those things which should have been the subject of them than otherwise the nature of an Exposition doth require. Such are the person and office of Melchizedek; the nature of the Aaronical priesthood, and of the priesthood of Christ as typed thereby; the framing of the tabernacle, with all its vessels and utensils, with their use and signification; the solemnity of the covenant made at Sinai, with the difference between the two covenants, the old and the new; the manner of the service of the high priest on the day of expiation, with his entrance into the most holy place; the cessation, expiration, or abrogation, of the first covenant, with all the services hereunto belonging; with sundry other things of the like importance. Whereas, therefore, these must have been the subject of such Exercitations as might have been prefixed unto this part of the Exposition, the reader will find them handled somewhat at large in the respective places wherein they do occur in the Epistle itself. 3. Concerning the subject matter of these chapters I desire the reader to take notice, - (1.) That the whole substance of the doctrinal part of the Epistle is contained in them; so as that there is nothing of difficulty, in the whole case managed by the apostle, but is largely treated of in these chapters. (2.) That they do contain a full declaration of that “mystery which from the beginning of the world was hid in God, who created all things by Jesus Christ;” to the intent that even unto the “principalities and powers in heavenly places might be known by the church the manifold wisdom of God.” In particular, - [1.] The wisdom and grace of God in the constitution and making of the covenant at Sinai; in the institution of all the worship and divine services hereunto belonging; in the holy fabrics, offerings, and sacrifices of the priests and church of Israel, — are declared and manifested therein: for all these things in themselves were carnal, and so used by the generality of the people, in a way unworthy of the wisdom and holiness of God; but the apostle declares and makes it evident, in these chapters, that, in the design and intention of God, they had all of them an end and use far more glorious than what appeared in their outward administration; as also what intimations God made unto the church of this end of them, and his intention in them. [2.] There is therefore, in these chapters, an absolute, infallible interpretation of the whole Law; without which it would be a sealed book, and of no use unto us. But as the intention and mind of God in those legal institutions is here declared, there is nothing in the whole Scripture that tends more to the illumination of our minds, and the strengthening of our faith, than doth the law of these institutions, as is manifested on all occasions in our Exposition. By virtue hereof, there is not the meanest Christian believer but doth, or may, understand more of the books of Exodus and Leviticus; see more of the wisdom, holiness, and grace of God in them; and know more of the nature and use of these legal institutions, not only than all the present Jews and their teachers, but than was ever distinctly known in the church of Israel of old. (3.) The wisdom, righteousness, and faithfulness of God, in the removal of the old covenant, with all the services hereunto belonging, are herein abundantly vindicated. This is the stone of stumbling unto this day to all the Jews; this they quarrel and contend with God and man about, seeming to be resolved that if they may not enjoy their old institutions, they will part with and leave even God himself. Neither indeed is it God, but a shadow of their old carnal ordinances, which at present they cleave unto, worship, and adore. Wherefore the apostle, by all sorts of arguments, doth in these chapters manifest that, before them, under them, by them, in them, God by various ways taught the church that they were not to be continued, that they were never appointed for their own sakes, that they only foresignified the introduction of a better and more perfect churchstate than what they could attain unto or be of use in; as also, that their very nature was such as rendered them obnoxious unto a removal in the appointed season; yea, he demonstrates that, without their abolition, God could never have accomplished the design of his love and grace towards the church which he had declared in his promises from the foundation of the world: and this absolutely determined the controversy between the two churches, that of the old and that of the new testament, with their different worship and services, which was then a matter of fierce contention in the whole world. Wherefore, - (4.) The work of the apostle, in these chapters, is to show the harmony between the law and the gospel, their different ends and uses; to take off all seeming repugnancy and contradiction between them; to declare the same grace, truth, and faithfulness of God in them both, notwithstanding their inconsistent institutions of divine worship: nay, he makes it evident not only that there is a harmony between them, but also an utter impossibility that either of them should be true or proceed from God without the other. (5.) Herein a glorious account is given of the representation that was made of the person and incarnation of Christ, with the whole office of his mediation, according as it was granted unto the church in its infant state.
Some have called it the infant state of Christ as unto his incarnation, and affirmed that the ceremonies of the law were as his swaddling bands. But things are quite otherwise. The glorious state of Christ and his office is represented unto the church in its infant state, when it had no apprehension of spiritual things but such as children have of the objects of reason. In particular, how the ancient church was instructed in the nature and blessed efficacy of his sacrifice, the foundation of its salvation, is made gloriously to appear. (6.) Directions are given herein unto all unto whom the gospel is preached, or by whom it is professed, how to behave themselves as unto what God requireth of them, expressed in clear instructions and pathetical exhortations, accompanied with glorious promises on the one hand, and severe threatenings on the other. Scarcely in the whole Book of God [is there] such an exact description of the nature and work of faith, the motives unto it and advantages of it; of the deceitful actings of unbelief, with the ways of its prevalency in the minds and over the souls of men; of the end of true believers on the one hand, and of hypocrites and apostates on the other, — as is in this discourse of the apostle. Such a graphical description and account of these things is given us in the sixth chapter and the latter part of the tenth, as cannot but greatly affect the minds of all who are spiritually enlightened to behold things of this nature. A blessed glass is represented unto as, wherein we may see the true image and portraiture of believers and unbelievers, — their different ways, actings, and ends.
In the whole there is made a most holy revelation and representation of the wisdom of God, of the glory of Christ, of the mystery of grace in the recovery of fallen man and the salvation of the church, with the future judgment; so as that they have a greater luster, light, and glory in them, unto such as have the eyes of their understandings opened to behold spiritual things, than is in the sun shining in its strength and beauty unto the eyes of flesh, — unto which it is sweet and pleasant to behold the light. These are the holy sayings of God, the glorious discoveries of himself and his grace, — the glass wherein we may behold the glory of Christ, until we are transformed into the same image, from glory to glory.
What, in the exposition of these things and others of an alike nature, God hath enabled me to attain unto, is left unto the use of the church, and the judgment of every learned, pious, and candid reader. J. OWEN. LONDON, April 17, 1680. 5. — THE PREFACE TO THE READER.
Although the Lord took the reverend and learned author of the ensuing Exposition unto himself before it could be published, yet, he having finished it before his death, and made it ready for the press, the importunity of some worthy persons, who well knew of what great use and benefit the former parts of it have been unto the church of God, hath brought this forth unto the light; so that now the world is furnished with a most complete Exposition on this mysterious Epistle.
Many eminent and learned men, I must and do acknowledge, have written on this subject; but this excellent person, who has not only critically, and with much judgment, examined every word and phrase of the writer, comparing every quotation with those places in the Old Testament from whence they were taken, but has also considered the design of the apostle that wrote it, the time wherein and proper ends for which it was composed, the principles proceeded upon, and the manner of arguing, has made this Exposition more full, more exact , more profitable and advantageous, than those of others, who have not (that I can find) taken the same acute notice of the scope of the words and nature of the argument as this doctor hath done.
This Epistle being writ unto the Hebrews, the apostle accommodates his discourse unto them; and, knowing what their persuasions were about the Messiah, what their prejudices, customs, and traditions, he so tempers his writings as to obviate all their objections and solve their doubts. Upon which account an exact commentary became a work insuperable to any but such a one as was well acquainted with the principles and customs of the Jews: but this reverend author, being thoroughly enriched with rabbinic learning, had the advantage above others; which he has improved for the church’s edification.
It is no part of my business, at this time, to enlarge in acquainting the reader with the several excellencies of this great person; for seeing this Exposition, and his other Discourses already published, carry on them many marks and signatures of great learning, profound judgment, and exemplary piety, the waiving it for the present may be with the less regret.
And yet, I cannot but observe what seems peculiar to him in his writings, and it is this : — his chief design in them appears to be, not only a defense of the most substantial doctrines of Christian religion, but, moreover, a display of the infinite wisdom and glorious grace of God contained in them. He writes as one who had on his soul a deep sense of sin, and of our lost estate by nature; and it is his care to show where a convinced sinner may find relief, while he stands bound in conscience to an appearance before the tribunal of a righteous God.
What must those do for justification, who, when before their Judge, must in the first place confess their guilt? The Judge of all the earth cannot but do right; and therefore can by no means justify any but on consideration of a righteousness that answers the same law by which we are to be judged.
And where is such a righteousness to be found by those who have transgressed that law? Certainly nowhere but in the Lord Jesus Christ, God-man, made an high priest after the order of Melchizedek: for which reason this author has made it the burden of his studies to explicate and unfold the deep mysteries of the gospel touching this most important doctrine of justification by the blood and righteousness of Jesus Christ; which he has vindicated from the opposition that hath been laid in against it by the Arminian and Socinian on the one hand, and the Antinomian on the other. In doing which, he has shown the agreement there is between the sacred Scriptures and the real Christian’s experiences, to the unspeakable satisfaction and comfort of many doubting souls.
And thus much may be seen not only in those Discourses already published, especially in that excellent treatise of Justification, and the former parts of this Exposition, but in this part that is now presented to the reader’s view; in which I observe, - 1. That whereas the apostle, in the foregoing chapters, made it his endeavor to fix the minds of the Hebrews in the truth of the gospel, and to encourage them to constancy and perseverance therein, notwithstanding the many temptations arising from the consideration of the Judaical church-state itself, by which they were assaulted, he doth in these chapters enter on the application; and considering the temptations unto which they were exposed, through the rage and severe persecutions they were like to meet with from the obstinate Jews, he declares unto them the only way and means, on their part, whereby they may be preserved and kept constant unto the end. And this is faith; on which though the apostle treats largely, yet not as justifying, but as it is efficacious and operative in them that are justified with respect unto perseverance. Wherefore, - 2. One part of the work of the apostle, is to show the great effects that have been, from the beginning of the world, wrought by faith: how that Abel and the other antediluvian patriarchs; that Noah, and all the fathers from him until Abraham’s being called out of Ur of the Chaldees; that Abraham, and all the old believers until the corning of the Lord Christ in the flesh, — lived on the same principle of faith that Christians now do; and that this their faith was the comfort and support of their souls in all their sufferings, and may therefore be considered as an eminent encouragement unto us to abide in the profession of the same faith, notwithstanding all the difficulties and persecutions we may meet withal.
Yea, further, - 3. The apostle in these chapters ascends unto Him who is “the author and finisher of our faith,” proposing him both as our example and the object of our faith, from whom we may expect aid and assistance for conformity unto himself; “who, for the joy that was set before him, endured the cross, and despised the shame.” Besides, - 4. The apostle in these chapters doth add several arguments, for confirmation of his exhortation unto patience, and for the strengthening them against faintings under the chastisements of their heavenly Father.
He warns them against several sins; and gives them a brief scheme of the two states of the law and gospel, balancing them one against another, showing the excellency and glory of the grace of God in Christ as extended unto convinced sinners, and from thence enforceth his exhortation to perseverance. And, - 5. That the Hebrews may be established in the truth of the gospel, the apostle urgeth the necessity of one altar and sacrifice, and proves the Lord Christ to be both our altar and sacrifice; whereupon now there is no place left for the Mosaical ceremonies. A new state of religion, answerable unto the nature of the altar and sacrifice, is introduced, unto which alone we must adhere; for at the same time none can have an interest in two altars of such different natures, and attended with such different religious observations.
These are the chief points treated on in this last part of the Epistle; in which the divine wisdom of the apostle manifests itself in the intermixture of evangelical mysteries with pathetical exhortations and glorious promises to those who, notwithstanding the rage of the persecutor, abide faithful to the profession of the faith.
And the reverend and learned author of this Exposition has, with wonderful accuracy and exactness, explained the most difficult parts of it; and thereby hath given the reader a light, by the help of which he may see through all the Socinian glosses that have been cast on the text by Crellius, Grotius, and others.
But I shall no longer detain the reader from the perusal of the ensuing Exposition; which that it may be a great soul benefit and advantage to him, is the hearty desire of H.G.