John Owen.

An exposition of the Epistle to the Hebrews; with the preliminary exercitations (Volume 2) online

. (page 35 of 46)
Online LibraryJohn OwenAn exposition of the Epistle to the Hebrews; with the preliminary exercitations (Volume 2) → online text (page 35 of 46)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

or of his promife \ if it be of the former, they are duly-
rendered by difobeying and difobedlence ; if the latter, bj
•unbelief, increduhty, and the hke. As in this placetheir
crime {cciTii^cicc) principally rcfpe£led the promife of God
to give them the land of Canaan, and his pov/er to effc£t
it ; fo that unbelief is primarily and principally intended ;
they would not hcllcnie that he would or could bring thcni
into that land. But yet, becaufe they were alfo under the
command oi God, to go up and polTefs it; their -unbelief
was accompanied with difobedlence and rebellion. This
then is the meaning ; ' To \vhom did he fvvear, that they

* fliould not enter into his reft ?' It was to them who, not-
withftanding a promife of it being made to them, and a
command given that they fliould be ready to go up and
poflefs it, would not acquiefce in the faithfulnefs and
power of God, believed not his word, and thereupon
yielded not obedience to his commands ; and this was fuf-
ficient both to provoke, and juftify the feverity of God
againft them, in his oath and the execution of it.

§ 7. So we fee that they could not enter in becaufe of

* unbelief;' [yu^i /^A.-tto^cv) and we fee ; that is, it is evi-
dent from what hath been laid down and proved ; or,
this we have evinced, and given as it were an ocular de^
monftratlon of it. The apoftle doth not only declare the

fad and event, * they did not enter ; ' but the right
and equity alfo, in a negation, (^i,i YiSvwi9r,crciy) * they

* could not enter ;* that is, they loft all right to enter, by
virtue of any promife of God. Whatever dtfre they
had fo to do, (as they manifeftcd their defires by their
murmurings, at the heavy tidings brought them by Mofes
concerning their exclulion, [Numb. xiv. 39.] Whatever
g^ttempts they made for that end ; having loft all right to
ti;ie promife, * They could not enter.' He fware they
fliould not enter into his reft, and his determination is the
rule of our right. * Becaufe of unbelief.' In looking
over the whole ftory of the fins of the people, and of
God's dealing with them, one would be apt to fix upon



•tker caiifcs of their cxclufion from the refl of God, as
the Jews, their poflerity, do to this day. Miglu not
they fay ; It was bccaiifc of their idolatry in making the
golden calf, which became a reproach to them in all ages '
Hence the Jews have a fiiying, * that no trouble bcfaileth
^ Ifracl, but there is in it an ounce of the golden calf.*
Or tlicy might tliink the caufc of it was their abominable
mixture of all forts of fins, in tlicir conjunction with the
Midianites and Moabitcs, worlliipping Baal-pcor, eating
the facrificcs of the dead, and giving thcmfelvcs up to un-
cleanncfs. Their frequent murmurings alio would occur
to their minds. But our apoftlc lays it ablblutclv and
wholly on tlieir v.nbcl':ff^ and evidently proves it to have
been the fpringand caufe of all. A iin it iii that men arc
very unapt to charge themfclves with, and vet a fin which
above all others is charged on them by God.

^ 8. (11.) Ohf. I. Every circumltance of holy fcrip-
turc is inilruftive. God hath filled his own word with
truth ; whence one faid well, [adoro plcn'itudlncm fcnptura^
rum) *1 reverence the fulnefs of the fcriptures.* (Pfal.
cxxxviii. 2.] ' He hath magnified his word above all his

• name, or made it more inftruftive than anv other wav,
' or means whcrebv he hath revealed himfclf.* [Pfalm
cxix. iS.] ' Open thou mine eyes,* faith the pfalmifl,

• that I may behold wondrous things out of thy law.'
There arc wonderful things in the word, if God be plcalcd
to give us light to fee it ; it is like a cabinet of jewels,
that when you pull out one box or drawer, and fearch into
it, you find it full ; pull out another, it is full ; and when
you think you have pulled out all, yet ftill there are fomc
Iccret receiTcs in the cabinet, that if you fearch farther,
you will find more. 0':r apoille fecmcd to have drawi\
out all the boxes of this cabinet ; but making a fccond
fearch into the words, he iinds all tliefc things trcafured
lip, which he had not Ix^forc touched upon. It was faid
bv fomc of old, that * the fcripture liath fords where a
' laaib may wade, and dtptb.s where an elephant may

• fwini.' Let any lamb of Clirift, the weakcrt chriftian,
come to t]ic facrcd oracits with due reverence, and !ir will

I fin4


find no place fo dark or difficult, but will yield him fomc
benefit ; and let the wifefl, the moft learned and expe-
rienced perfon, that leems like an elephant in Ipiritual
fkill and flrength amongft the flock, come to the plaineft
place to fearch out the mind and will of God in it, if he
be humble as well as learned, (which if he be not he is not
wife) he will fcarce boall: that he hath been at the bottom of
it, and hath pcrfcdly comprehended all that is in it ; fee-
ing whatever we know, we know but in part. When a
learned man, and one mighty in the fcriptures, undertakes
the conlideration of a place of fcripture, and finds, it may
be, in the ifTue, that with all his fkill and induftry, with
all his helps and advantages, though attended in the ufe of
them with fervent prayer and holy meditation, that he is
not able to fearch it out unto perfcftion ; let him not
fuppofe that fuch a place will be of no advantage to them
who are not fharers in his greater advantages ; for thev
may obtain a profitable portion for themielves, where he
cannot take down all. If any one look on this river of
God, like Behemoth on Jordan, trufting that he can draw
it up into his mouth, or take up tlie whole fenfe of God
in it, he of all others feems to know nothing of its worth
and excellency.

Some think that it belongs to xhzfulnefs of the fcripture,
that each place in it fliould have various fcnfcs, fome fay
three, fome four ; but this, in fa£l, is to empty it of all
fulnefs ; for if it have not every where oie proper dctcrjn'i^
nate fenje^ it hath none at all. But the things which the
words of it are figns of, and expreiTed by, are fo great,
deep, and myflerious, and have fuch various refpe6ts to
our light, faith, and obedience, as that it is unfearchably
inflruflive : the commandment is exccedhig broad, [Pfalni
exix. 96.] The word ufed to exprefs the vAdcnefs of the
fea, [Pfalm civ, 25.] the great fea that hath wide and
large arms, which it flretcheth out to comprehend the
whole earth. Hence we may obferve, that in the quota-
tions of teftimonies out of the Old Teflament in the New,
it is ytvy feldom that the pr'mcipal aim and intendment of
any place is infilled on, but rather fome peculiar fpecialty



tliat Is cither tnily irtcludcdm the words, or duly rduced (rom
them, by juft confcqucncc.

§ 9. And this may teach men what diligence they ought
to ulb in Icarching and lludving the Icriptures ; cfpcciallv
is this incumbent on them, whole duty and office it is to
declare and expound them to others. And there is amonglt
many, both of a pubhc and private chara<^er, a great mif-
carriage in thelc things : ibme men preach with very httlc
regard to the fcripture, either as to the treafury of the truth
they difpenfe, or as the rule whereby they fliould proceed ;
and fomc are ready to co'ni nations in their own minds, or
to learn them from others, and then attempt to put tlicni
upon the fcripture. This is the way of men wlio invent
and propagate falfe opinions and groundlefs curiolities,
which a previous reverential obfervance of the word might
have delivered them from. Some again (and thofc,aIas ! too
many) fupcrficially take up with that fenfe of the words
which moft obvioufly prefents itfclf to their firft conlide-
ration, which they improve to their own purpofes as they
iee caufe ; but fuch perfons as thcfe fee little of the wifdom
of God in the word ; they enter not into thofe mines of
gold ; they are but paifcngers ; they do not (land in the
counfel of God to hear his word, [Jercm. xxiii. 22.]
But it is humble diligence y joined with prayer and meditation
in the fludy of the fcriptures, that I would prefs after.
What I would particularly urge from thcfe coniiderations,
grounded on the precedent before us, wherein the apoi\le,
from fuiulrv lateiit circumflancrs of the text, draws out
jingnlarly ufcful obfervations in reference to faith and obe-
dience, is, tliat our utmofi diligence^ efpecially in them
who arc called to inllruft others, is required in this neg-
lected, vea defpifed work, of fearching the icriptures. Hoxf
often do fundry teachers dcfign their fuhjci^ts, and projc(5l
the handlinc: of them, and occajtonally only take in the
words of Icripture, guided more by the found than the
fenfe oi x.\\cm \ And, which is word of all, Ibme by their
vague notions, bold curiofities, and drained allegories,
rather draw men from the fcripture, than endeavour to


Ver. i;— ig. E?^STLE TO THE HEBREWS. 391

lead them to it. The example of our great apoflle will
guide us to other ways of proceeding in our work.

§ 10. Obf. 1. Many hear the word or voice of God to
no advantage, but only to aggravate their fin. Their hear-
ing renders their lin provol<.ing to God, and dellructiveto
their own fouls. ' Some wh^n they heard, provoked.'
Daily experience is a futficient confirmation of this affer-
tion : the v.'ord of God is preached unto us ; the voice of
God founds amongil us ; as our apoiHe fueaks, [chap. iv.
2.] * Uiito us was the gofpel preached as well as unto

* them ;' and that with many advantages on our part.
They heard the gofpel, indeed, but obfcurely ; and, fo to
fpeak, in law language, hard to be underflood ; we have it
plainly, openly, and without parables, declared to us.
7'hey heard the voice of him that fpenk on earth ; we hear
hh who Ipeak from heaven. But what is the iifue of God's
thus dealing with us ? In plain terms, fome negle£l the
word, fome corrupt it, fome defpife it, few mix it with
faith, or yield obedience to it. The difpenfers of it may,
for the moil part, take up the complaint of the prophet ;
' Who hath believed our report, and to whom is the arm

* of the Lord revealed?' [Ifa. liii. i.] And after their
mofl ferious and fedulous dealings with fome of them in the
name of God, they may take up againft them the apof-
tle's alarming clofe with the unbelieving Jews, [A6ls xiii.
41.] ' Behold, ye defpifcrs, and wonder and perifli.' Aloji
of them to whom our Saviour preached- — periJJocd ! They
got nothing by hearing his do6lrine, through their unbe-
lief, but an aggravation of their lin, and the hailening of
their ruin. So he told Capernaum, and the rell of the
towns wherein he had wrought his miracles, and to whom
he preached the gofpel : his prefence and preaching for a
while brought them into a condition above that of Jeru-
falcm, they were lifted up to heaven ; but their unbelief
brought them into a condition worfe than that of Sodom,
they were brought down to hell, [Alatt. ii. 21—24.] It
is, 1 confefs, a great pri\ilcge for men to have the word
preaclicd to them \\\ its purity and power, [Pfalm xiv.
29, 20.] but privileges are as men iifc them. Hence the

VuL. II. E e e gofpel


gofpcl becomes to fonic * a favour of death unto death/
[II. Cor. ii. i6.] Yea, Chrlft himfelf in his whole mi-
niflry was — ' a llonc of Humbling, and a rock of offence
' to both the houfes of Ifrael, a gin and a fnarc to the inha-

* bitants of Jcrufalem !' [Ifa. viii. 14. Luke ii. 34.]
The enjoyment of any part of the means of grace is but
a trials and when any reft therein, they do but boaft in the
putting on of their harncfs, not knowing what will he the
end of the battle. Let none, therefore, to whom the
word of God comes, millakc thcmfelvcs ; they are engaged !
and tlicrc is no coming off but as conqurrors, or ruined I
If they receive it not, it will be the aggravation of their
fins, the eternal dellruclion of their fouls.

§ II. Obf. 3. In the mofi: general and vifible apoflacies
of the church, God l^ill referves a remnant to himfelf, to
bear witncfs for him by their faith and obedience. ' They

* provoked ; howbcit, not all \ fomc, though few, inhe-
rited the promifcs. The profefTing cluirch in the world
was never nearer ruin than at that time ; had Mofes but
flood out of the way, had he not with all his might of
faith and zeal Hood in the breach, God had difinherited
them all, and utterly dellroyed them, and rcfcrved h:m
only for a new Hock. How near then was this whole church
to apoftacy ! How near to dcftruftion ! How many foever
retained their faith, only Caleb and Jolhua retained their
pyofi'JJion. When God of old brought a flood upon the
world for their wickednefs, the profefiing church, that
had been very great and large in the pofleritv of Seth, was
reduced to eight pcrfons, and one of them a curfcd hypo-
crite ; and one Elijah could fee no more in Ifrael but him-
felf. There were indeed then feven thoufand latent be-
lievers, but fcarce another vi/iblc pyoffJp)r\ and it is not
hard to imagine how little true faith, regularly profejpdf
there was in the world, when Chrifl was in the grave.
And under the fatal apoftacy foretold in the Revelation,
thofc that kept the tcftimony of Jcfus arc reduced to {o
fmall a number, as that thcv are fpoken of under the name
o( tii'o wit ruffes. But yet in all thefe hazardous trials and
reductions of the number of profclibrs, God always hath,

I anJ

Ver. 15-^19. EPISTLE TO THE HEBREWS. 393

and ever will rcferve to himfelf a remnant^ true, faithful,
pure, and undefilcd.

§ 12. And this he doth for wciglity reafons : i To
maintain his own kingdom in the world. Should it at any-
time totally fail, Chrift would be a king without a king-
dom, an head without a body, or ceafe to be the one or
the other : wherefore, God will fecurc fomey who neither
by the abufe of their own liberty, nor by the endeavours
of tile gates of hell, fliall ever be drawn off from their obe-
dience. And this God, in his grace, power, and faith-
fulnefs, will effeft to make good his promifes to Chrill-,
which he multiplied to that purpofe from the foundation
of the world.

2. Should all faith utterly fail in the earth, fhould all
profelfors provoke God and apoftatize from him, then all
gracious mtercourfcs between the holy Spirit and mankind in
this world would be at an end. He hath undertaken a
work and he will not faint in it, or give it over one m.o-
ment until it be accomplifhed, and all the ele£l brought to
God. If therefore the natural children of Abraham fail,
he will, out of the ftones and rubbifh of the Gentiles,
raife up to God a living temple, wherein he may dwell.

3. God will do this on account of the work he hath for
fomc of his people in all ages and feafons to do in the
world ; which is great and various : he will have fome al-
ways to confli6t with his adverfaries and overcome them,
and therein give teftimony to the power of his grace and
truth. Could (In and Satan drive all true grace, faith,
and obedience out of the world, they would complete their
victory ; but fo long as they have any to conliift with,
againfc whom they cannot prevail, themfelves are con-
quered ; the vi«^ory is on the other lide ; and Satan is
fcnfible that he is under the curfe. Wherever true fahh
is, there is a viftory, [John v. 4.] by this doth God
mc^.ke his remnant as a brazen wall, that his enemies (hall
light againil: in vain, [Jer. xv. 20.] be they, therefore,
never fo few, they fliall do the work of God, in conquer-
iug Satan and the world through the blood of the Lamb.

E c e 2 4. God


4. God will always have a teJ}'imony given to bis good-
vcfsy grace, and mercy. As in the ways of his providence
he never left himfelf ' without witncfs,' {AOs xiv. 17.]
no more will he ii\ the ways of his grace. Some he will
have to give teftimony to his goodncfs \w the calling, par-
doning, and fandifying of fjnners ; hut how can this be
done if there be none on earth made partakers of that
grace ? They arc proper witncircs wlio teflify what they
knc'ju and have experience of.

5. And laflly, God will always have a revenue of fpc-
cial glcry out of the world, by his vrorfliip. And this
alfo mufl nccedarily fail, fliould not God prefcrve to him-
felf a rcjnnant of them that truly fear him. And it dtr
ferves to be obferved; that God lays a few, often a very few
of his fecret Ones, in the balance againft the greatefl mul-
titude of rebels and tranfgreirors ; a great multitude are but

§ 13. Ohf. 4. God is not difplcafed with any thing in
his people but /.";/ ; or, fin is tlie only proper objeft of
God's difplcalure, and the linner for fm's fake. With
whom was he difplcalcd, but with them that fhuied P I
need not fct up my candle in the fun of this truth ; I
wifh it were as fcriouily conildercd pra(n'ically, as it is con-
feiicd notionally. Everv revelation of God bv his word,
and manv of his awful v;orks, bear witnefs to it ; and
cverv one hath that witnefs in himiclf, as will not admit
liim to doubt of it. The nature of God, his law, tlie
light of confcicncc, and the nnivcrfal fenfc of judgement,
at prefcnt fixed, and certainly future, tellify to it : and,
doubllcfs, great is the power of iin, and the craft of Satan,
whicli prevail w\\\\ moil to continue in fm, notwithlland-
ing this uncontroulable convidion. 'J'o tliis we may
add, public i'lns, Inis in focict'ies, are a great provocation
to God. It was not for their private and perfonai fins
that he was thus provoked with his ancient people, but
for their confpiracv, as it were, in fin. The reafcns of
this are manifefl, and therefore I ihall not infill: upon
them. God helps cities and nations, efpecially fuch as


Ver. 1^-^19- E?ISTLE TO THE HEBREWS. 39-

hear the voice of God, well to confidcr it ; and all of ill
to take heed of national prevailing fins !

§ 14. Ohf. 5. God fonietimcs will make men who
have been exemplary wicked in fm, righteoufly exemplary
in their punifhment. They finned, faith the apoftle, and
provoked God, and tlieir carcafes fell in the wildernefs.
To what end is this reported ? It is that we might take
heed, ' that we fall not after the fame example of unb:-

* lief,' [chap. iv. ii,] There is an example in unbelief,
and there is an example in the fall and punifhment of un-
believers ; and oftentimes judgements have had in them a
direft teilimony againil, and difcoverv of the iiainre of the
iins revenged by thole judgements. Our Saviour, indeed,
hath taught us, that we are not to fix particuhir demerits
and iins, by our own farmifes, on perfons that may be
overtaken with difmal providences in the world, merely
becaufe they were fo overtaken ; fuch w^as the condition
ot the Galileans, w^iofe blood Pilate mingled witli their
facrilices ; and the eighteen upon whom the tower of Si-
loam fell, and flew them ; of whom he denies, that from
what befell them, w^e have any ground to judge them to
have been greater finners than others, [Luke xiii. o^ — ^.]
In fuch cafes, this only may be concluded ; that fuch per-
fons were fmners, as all are, and therefore were rightc-
ouflv obnoxious at any time to any fevcre judgement of
God ; and the reafon of God's linghng them out in fuch
a manner, is that mentioned in the fame place by our Sa-
viour : to declare to others, in the like condition with
themfelvcs, that * unlefs they repent, they fliall all

* likewife perifh.*

§ 15. If we inveftigate thefe reaf jns a little more par-
ticularly, we Ihail fi'id that God will do thus, to bear wit-
nefs to his own holi nefs and fcverity. In the ordinarv
courfe of providence, God gives conflant tcflimony to his
goodnefs and patience; ' he caufetii his fun to rife on the
' evil and on the good, and fcndeth rain on the juft and

* on tlie unjull,' [iMatt. v. 45.] He will fometimes rife
up to his work, his flrange work ; his aft, his llrange
aft, [Ifa. xxviii. 21.] that is, to execute great and fear-


fill prcfciit judgements on fmncrs ; which, though it be a
' llrange work,' feldom coming to pais, yet it is * his

* work,' a work that becomes liim, and whereby he will
manifcil his h.oiincfs and ibvcrity. He reveals his judgc-
tiients from licaven againil the ungodlincrs of men, [Rom.
i. I 8.] And this b.c fometimcs doth by exemplary punilh-
racnts on exemplary linners.

2. God doth this to check and controul the atheifm
that is in the liearts of men. Many whilit they fee wicked
men, efpecially open and profligate finncrs, profpcring in
a conftant courfe, arc ready to fay in their hearts, * There
< is no God,' or that he hath forfakcn the earth ; or [Mai.
ii. 17.] ^ Where is the God of judgement?' And this
cncnurageth men in their wickednefs, as the wife man ex-
prcllly tells us, ' Bccaufe fentence againll an evil work is

* not executed fpeedily, therefore the heart of the fons of

* men is fully fet in them to do evil,' [Ecclef. viii. 11.]
The confideration hereof makes them call off all regard of
God, and to purfue the lufts of their hearts according to
the power of their hand. To ftay men in this courfe,
God fometimes hurls a thunder-bolt amongi\ them ; cafts
out an amazing judgement, in a way of veFigeancc on
fome notable tranfgrelTors ; and were it not that God did
fometimcs awe the world with ' his flrarige works' of ven-
geance, which he executes at his pleafure, fo that great
iinners can never be fecure one moment from them, it ia
to be feared that the atheifm that is iii the hearts of men
would bring tliem evcrv-where to the condition of things
before tlie riooil, when * the whole earth was filled with

* violence, and all fiefli had corrupted its way.'

3. God will do thus for t!ie cfuoiaaFt'ment of them
wlio bear witntfs to himfcif in the world, againfl the
wrckcdncfs of men. The principal work of the fervants
of God in the world is to bear wltncl's to Cjod ; his be-
m^^y his holincfs, liis righteouhu fs, his goodncfs, his
hatred of fm : for tliis cauTe are tliev for the moft part
mocked, defpifed, and persecuted in the uorld. So laith
our apollle ; * for therefore we both labour, and luller re-

* preach, bccaulc wc truft in the liviiig God ;' [1. Tim.

iv. 10.]


iv. 10.] And fometimcs they are ready to faint in their
trials. It is to them like a iword in their bones, while
their enemies fay unto them, ' Where is your God ?*
fPfal. xlii. 10.] They have indeed a fure word of pro-
mife to trull to and to reft upon ; and that which is able
to carry them fafely and quietly through all temptations
and oppolitions; but yet God is plcafcd fometimcs to re-
lieve and refrelh their fpirits by confirming their teftimony
from heaven, bearing witnefs to himfclf and his holinefs,
by his vifible tremendous judgements, upon openly no-
torious provokers, and the mouth of iniquity Ihall, at
leaft for a feafon, be Hopped. The manifeft uic of fucha
difpenfation is what Hannah propofeth, [I. Sam. ii. 3.]

* Talk no more fo exceeding proudly ; let no arro-

* gance come out of your mouth ; for the Lord is 2 God

* of knowledge ; and by him, adions are weighed.' Let
men take heed how they arrogantly boaft themfelves in
their fin and wickednefs, which is too common with pro-
voking finners ; for God is a God of knowledge and
judgement. If they regard not the * judgement to come,*
but put the evil day far from them, yet let them take
heed left God fingle them out to fome diftinguiihed
vengeance in this world, to make them examples unto

§ 16. Obf. 6. Great deftru£lions by way of judgement
and vengeance are inftituted reprefentations of the judge-
ment and vengeance to come. I dare not fay with the
Jews, ' that all this provoking generation periilied etcr-
' nally, and that none of them fhall have a blefled lot or

* portion in the world to come.' They might 7-cpcnt of
their fins and provocations ; the oath of God was to
their temporal punifhment, not to fpiritual impenitency.
There is a repentance which may prevail for the removal,
or at Icaft tlie deferring, of a temporal judgement de-
nounced, if not confirmed by oath ; which yet is not
prevalent to free the finner from eternal ruin ; and there
is a repentance and humiliation that may free the foul
from eternal ruin, and yet not take off a temporal judge-
ment threatened againft it: But yet this muft be ack-


nowlctlged, tliat tlicir puniilimcnt was a great rcprcfcnta-

Online LibraryJohn OwenAn exposition of the Epistle to the Hebrews; with the preliminary exercitations (Volume 2) → online text (page 35 of 46)