Those believers for whose benefit these pages are written, will have long since discerned and appreciated the fact that in each of the New Testament Epistles addressed to companies of God’s people, there is a definite theme to which the writer gives special attention, and which provides, for the time, the message of the Holy Spirit, through the Apostolic writers.
Another point worthy of notice, and of equal importance, is the mingling of doctrine and exhortations. Some aspect of the wonderful cycle of Christian doctrine is dealt with, and this is followed by a definite application to the life and ways of the believer. Thus the mind is instructed, the heart warmed, and the conscience roused; a beautiful and Divine order, giving us the truth of God in spiritual balance.
These features are especially noticeable in the Epistle to the Hebrews, to which we now draw brief attention, withal begging the indulgence of the reader as we offer some suggestion of what may be regarded as the groundwork of this wonderful Letter.
We consider that the great aim of the unnamed writer of the Hebrew Epistle is to present to erstwhile devotees of the Mosaic economy, the super excellence of the Person and work of Christ. The “more excellent” things of the New Covenant; hence the frequent use of the word “better” which really provides the keyword of the Epistle. Note the Lord Jesus presented in chap. 1 as the better Prophet, v. 2; better Priest, v. 3; and better King of v. 8.
Perhaps the character and theme of the Epistle may be exemplified in the experience of the disciples outlined in Matt. 14. 22-32. The Lord Jesus goes “up into a mountain apart to pray,” and He is there “alone”; moreover it is night while He is away-“the evening was come,” v. 23; His disciples “toiling in rowing,” amid “contrary winds” are crossing the sea to go to “the other side.” The Lord Jesus sees them in this condition, and ultimately comes to their rescue: incidentally teaching them a new path - leaving the ship to walk on water!
Let us try to fit in the pieces of this Pictorial outline of the Epistle. Blessed truths the Lord Jesus has gone on high. He is on the Throne, ch. 1. 3, and moreover, there as Priest to succour and support His needy people, ch. 8. 1. The Hebrew Christians had taken the first steps of a moral journey to the “other side,” but were meeting with contrary winds in the form of “reproaches and. afflictions,” ch. 10. 33. In such circumstances they were slow to leave the ship (the accredited method of crossing water) so suggestive of Judaism, a state of things formerly divinely ordered, yet now set aside in the economy of God. Walking upon water is the antithesis of this, and we are thereby reminded of the present path of the people of God-“The just shall live by faith,” ch. 10. 38. How beautifully this principle is exemplified in the worthies of ch. 11, and especially in the case of Moses who “endured, as seeing Him who is invisible,” ch. 11. 27. The Hebrews, and we also, are in danger of such occupation with seen things, that we are always liable to “sink.” How blessed then to hear His voice, “Be of good cheer”; obey His Word, “Come”; and with His Hand upholding us, and our eye upon Himself, seek to walk in those New Paths which are outlined in the New Testament as becoming to believers of this dispensation.
With the above outline before us, as indicative of the background of the Hebrew Epistle, we may proceed to glance at various exhortations woven into the fabric of this Epistle of renunciation of old things, and the embracement of what is both new and true.
If this “letter of contrasts” makes everything of Christ, and it surely does, we are not surprised to read the words of ch. 13. 13, “Let us go forth therefore unto Him without the camp, bearing His reproach.” It can hardly be doubted that the primary meaning of “the camp” has to do with the ritual and traditional ceremonial that had grown up around the Mosaic economy. In their inception the Old Testament sacrifices were ordained of God, as was also the whole system of which they were the centre. These were now to be supplanted and set aside by the perfect work of a perfect Saviour - “Jesus, the Son of God”, ch. 4. 14.
Alas, the old order of things had been so misinterpreted to the Jewish mind as to become a stumbling-block, instead of a stepping-stone to “better things.” Our Lord Jesus in referring to the Temple (“My Father’s house,” John 2. 16) spoke of it to the Jews as “your house,” Matt. 23. 38; whilst the Apostle Paul stigmatizes his associations with Judaism as “the Jews’ religion” (Gal. 1. 14) - the empty shell of ritualistic formality, shorn of spiritual reality. Hence the Hebrew Epistle sets aside the Mosaic economy with its material sacrifices, visible priesthood, etc., and introduces their spiritual counterpart. The former things have passed away; they were but “shadows” of a twilight dispensation; we live, and should intelligently move, in the fight of the full revelation of God, in the Person and work of Christ. He is everything in the new economy of grace.
For ourselves, the application is obvious and very searching indeed. The keynote of our individual and assembly life must be “unto Him”-in all things He must have “the pre-eminence,” and of this He is supremely worthy.