In our last chapter we laid special
emphasis upon the necessity for everything to be
preserved in life, as against even Christianity becoming
resolved into another system of "dead works".
For, what the writer (of the Epistle to the Hebrews) said
was necessary as to Judaism in his time, has now become a
necessity in relation to much of Christendom, namely
"repentance from dead works" (6:1).
chapter we shall gather our thoughts around a principle
which is implicit in the whole purpose and argument of
the letter. It is that of how life is preserved and
maintained. This is one of the most difficult matters to
convey unless there is a real measure of spiritual
understanding, and it might well suffer in the same way
as did the "many things" regarding Melchizedek
in chapter 5:11. However, the spiritual situation is such
today as to justify every attempt at solving it.
first phase of the problem is this; seeing that there is
a sum of Christian doctrine and practice embodied in the
New Testament, and that certain clearly defined beliefs
and practices represent the substance or foundation of
Christianity: that these are not to be added to or taken
from: is it possible that Christianity should not become
a set system, tradition, or form? There are some phrases
in the New Testament which would seem to imply that it is
such. It would seem impossible to avoid this when once
the first newness, novelty, and wonder have passed, and
age succeeds age in Christian teaching, work and
practice. But to accept such a conclusion and position is
really to violate the most vital and crucial facts in New
Testament Christianity, and to agree to a state of things
which is a caricature and denial or contradiction of
Christ. If Christianity were a system of truths
and practices then the above-mentioned result would be
inevitable. But it is not! It is a living Person, known
only in the power of the Holy Spirit. Yes, and not known
all at once, but to be known by continuous and
ever-growing revelation of the Holy Spirit. That brings
us to our point.
The Old And The New Revelation
letter under contemplation, among many comparisons and
contrasts between what was and what is, reference is made
to the two Covenants. Before considering the crucial
point of difference between them, let us remind ourselves
of the nature and meaning of a Biblical Covenant.
a Covenant was an expression, revelation, or making known
of God's thoughts, mind, desires, and will. In those
presentations of God's mind the character and nature of
God was made known. When we read the terms we have to
say, That is what God is like.
upon that revelation of Himself God offered and moved to
bring His people into an active relationship with Himself
as to purpose and destiny. He made a Covenant with them
on that basis. It was a mutual understanding that - if
they accepted the basis - He fulfilled promises.
Covenant was sealed or ratified by blood. The blood was
provided by God and symbolized life. In a way prescribed
by God, man - the other party to the Covenant - had to
participate by an act of identification with the
blood-donor. So it became a case of sharing in one life.
It was this that made blood so sacred in Old Testament
times. Of course this opens up the whole realm of Blood
Covenant, but here we do no more than hint at it. To
violate the terms of this Covenant was to rupture the
very bond of life. The focal point of all warning and
judgment was idolatry, which was spiritual fornication,
or - in principle - unlawful mixture of bloods - i.e.
are able to come to the heart of the Letter to the
Hebrews. These Hebrews would understand it well. Look
again at the Blood, the Life, and the Covenant in this
letter. Here we are able to appreciate the whole question
of sonship, with which we dealt in the last chapter. But
here we are brought right up to the all-dominating
feature of the Person of Christ.
The Living Person Governs All
is not a new system of truth. It is not a new and
superior religion. It is a Living Person of Whom the
truths and practices are but spiritual features.
look at this briefly in three aspects.
the Letter to the Hebrews (and indeed the whole New
Testament) does not say that we have to come to believe
and accept certain doctrines such as those mentioned in
chapter 6 - Repentance, Faith, Baptism, Laying on of
hands, Resurrection of the dead, Eternal Judgment - in
order to be New Testament Christians. Although the
passage seems to contradict that statement, we are
very insistent upon it, for it is upon this that we are
sure the whole question of life and death rests. It is
here also that a very great peril lies in the preaching
and propagation of New Testament truth. If these matters
have a place, as they certainly do, that place is
subsequent to something else. Does it sound strange - in
the light of certain Scriptures - to say that, in the
first instance, we are not commissioned to
preach repentance? While it may be less surprising to be
told that the same is true regarding baptism, etc., yet
it is as true of the one as of the other! The Holy Spirit
always demands and secures a background of and occasion
for precipitating a reaction from man's side, and that
ground is not just that men are told that they must do
certain things. No, this letter, like all New Testament
preaching and teaching, opens with a revelation and
presentation of the Person of Christ in living fullness.
It was ever and only as people were convicted by the Holy
Spirit as to the sovereign supremacy of the Lord Jesus
and were actively ready to capitulate utterly to Him that
these other things became a living and eager expression
of that capitulation. Until people have really seen
Christ by Holy Spirit revelation or illumination and
conviction, there is no adequate motive for repentance,
and the rest. It is not repentance for sins! That
would make salvation a matter of degree according to the
number or nature of the sins. It is all a matter of the
Person. "Of sin, because they believe not on
Me" (John 16:9). Hence, New Testament preaching was
little more than a proclaiming of Christ - crucified,
raised, exalted, glorified - with its implications and
challenge. The Holy Spirit's way of overthrowing and
uprooting false systems and positions has never been that
of exposing the falseness, but that of bringing Christ in
His greater fullness into view and convicting concerning
Him! It is always positive, never negative. So it is the
shadow of a Glorified Man - God's Son - that lies right
over all the detail of the letter, and the New Testament
as a whole.
all the truths and practices are but
Features Of The Living Person
be seen in the light of the inclusive revelation of
Himself. Take the matters referred to in particular in
chapter 6. "Baptism" is not an ordinance, it is
Christ expressed in death and resurrection as
representing the old creation judged and doomed, and the
new creation which is wholly out from God without a trace
of judgment ground in it. Baptism then is the way in
which a believer declares that he or she has been
crucified with Christ, and, although living, yet it is
not himself or herself but Christ.
Covenant, in the first place, is in the blood of Christ,
i.e. His life, and in participation in His nature as
"firstborn among many brethren". Glance again
at chapter 2 of this letter.
"Laying on of Hands" in the New Testament
signified that Christ is now no isolated and separate
Individual, but Head of the Church - His Body - and that
the Spirit in anointing upon the Head is for all the
members in relatedness to Him and to one another; the
Spirit being the power, the wisdom, the capacities, the
qualifications, the energies, and the endowments for the
Body's functioning as a heavenly Body. Hence, with the
Laying on of Hands at the beginning the Spirit demonstrated
for all time that Christ and His members are one for
the accomplishment of eternal counsels. This is no
ordinance, it is Christ corporately expressed.
It is in
this way that all doctrine and practice must be seen. Not
as things in themselves, but as features of the Living
Person, and they must be kept in that relationship.
Thirdly; and here we come to the principle
which lies at the heart of all. Nothing that is in the
New Testament can be taken and reconstructed into a
system just because it is there. There is no system of
doctrine and procedure which lies within that vast
compass called "Christianity," however
divergent or contradictory, however nominal or extreme,
however fantastic or doubtful, but bases itself upon
Scripture, and supports itself by the New Testament. It
is no guarantee that there will be life because a
framework, a body, has been put together and built up
according to the exact technique of the New Testament.
Many efforts have been made to reconstruct the "New
Testament Church" in the belief that the nearer to
the model the surer and fuller the Divine commitment. But
it just doesn't work! The order of the New Covenant is
just the reverse of the Old. Then God wrote upon tablets
of stone and presented it as a tangible and objective
completeness. In the New, the Spirit of God - dwelling
within - writes upon the heart and mind. Then
God appeared in unapproachable and unendurable glory so
that men were devastated by His presence. Now
"God... hath shined into our hearts to give the
light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of
Jesus Christ" (see 2 Cor. 3, 4, and 5).
The face of Jesus Christ.
The glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.
The knowledge of the glory of God in the face of
The light of the knowledge of the glory of God in
the face of Jesus Christ.
In our hearts the light of the knowledge of the
glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.
Now, the crucial point is this. The
principle of the New Covenant is a first-hand individual
revelation of Christ as the knowledge of God in terms of
glory in the heart of the believer. Every individual
believer only comes into true Christianity by a
revelation of Christ in his or her heart, so that the
knowledge of Christ is all their own, and as real as when
God commanded light to shine in darkness. But that is not
all. That shining must be progressive. Christ is far too
vast to be seen in more than minute degrees at any one
time. The bulk of the New Testament is taken up with
getting Christians to see what an immense realm it is
into which they have come, and how they must go on; and
that is the object of the letter under consideration.
Christianity can only be kept living and
fresh and full of impact as Christians are living in an
ever-growing apprehension of Christ as the Holy Spirit
reveals Him in the heart.
This apprehension may only come as
necessity is laid upon us by reason of suffering and
trial. Capacity will increase by the stretching of
suffering (see chapter 12, and read
"child-training" for "chastening").
There is no succession in Christianity other than that of
the revelation of Christ to the heart by the Holy Spirit.
It is not a system to be perpetuated, but a life to be
possessed. The value of the Scriptures is that they
contain depths and fullnesses which have never yet been
fathomed; and when we speak of "revelation" we
do not mean anything extra to them, but of that which is
in them, but only known by the inward "writing"
and "shining" of the Holy Spirit. The great
peril into which Christendom has fallen is that of
stultifying the vastness of Christ by putting Him into a
framework of credal statements, each one of which seeks
to be the beginning and end of the matter. Moreover, the
Church and its work have been reduced to a formula, and
no room is left for anything that goes beyond that
formula. It is just possible - and indeed it has
sometimes happened - that the Lord should throw such a
freshness and fullness of light upon some Scriptural
statement of truth as to transform and revolutionize it
and lead out into an altogether new life and ministry;
and this without any contradiction of its essential and
true meaning. There is such a thing as holding down the
truth in tradition, as well as holding down the truth in
unrighteousness (Rom. 1:18).
Let us try to summarize what we have said
(1) It is doubtful whether a full and complete system of
doctrine and procedure can be reconstructed from the New
Testament, so that on all matters we have a precise
answer to every question as to what should be done, and
how it should be done at any given time. There certainly
are basic and fundamental truths, but the Holy Spirit is
(2) It is, moreover, doubtful whether the
Lord meant that there should be such a complete verbal
framework; so that everything could be applied, repeated,
and duplicated mechanically.
(3) The only living way to the realization
of the Divine thought and intention is by an apprehension
of spiritual principles. When these principles are
grasped, then the object, the means, and the methods of
their expression are livingly appreciated.
(a) Sonship. When we recognize that sonship is a full
Divine thought, and not just an initial one, as in birth,
we shall then have the motive for "pressing on to
full growth". It is a principle.
(b) Corporate union, life, and service.
When we see the corporate principle as governing
spiritual fullness, and that it is not possible for any
unit of the Body of Christ to come to fullness, apart
from relatedness with other members, then we really have
apprehended the true nature of the work, way, and end of
God, and, amongst other things, we have the most powerful
motive for fellowship.
(c) The Holy Spirit's revelation in terms
of life. "The law of the Spirit of life" is the
principle of all that is of God. A thing can be in the
Bible, and we can have read it a thousand times, but
until the Holy Spirit makes it life to us it will be
unfruitful. Hence, there is a place and need for an
inward revelation of the Word of God, and this is the
only true succession. Nothing can be preserved alive
through generations save as every one entering its realm
does so on the basis of such a personal, inward, living,
and growing revelation of the truth, so that the origin
and beginning is constantly repeated in
These are principles. The Epistle to the
Hebrews has been called the Book of the Open Heaven, and
this is its meaning.