John Owen.

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

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dernefs having a promiic propofed to them of entering
into the reft ot God, when they all failed and came Ihort
of it, there was an appearance of tlie faikire of the promife
itfelf , fo they feem themfelves to have tacitly charged God,
— when he pronounced the irrevocable fentence airainft
their entering into the land of promife. For after the
declaration of it, he adds, * and ye fliall know my breach
* of promife,' [Num. xiv. 34.] which is a fevere ironi-
cal reproof of them. They feem to have argued, that if
they entered not, God/ailed in his promife, and fo refiefled
on his trutii and veracity. That, faith God, fhall be
known, when you are utterly deftroyed ; for t ben it was
that it fliould be accompl'i/hed. You fhall know that it is
owing to your fin, unbelief, and rebellion, and not any
failure on my part.

§ 4. To help us in the difcharge of our duty herein,
we may take the help of the enfuing obfervations and
rules :

I. The promifes of God are either fuch as belong ow/)f
to the grace of the covenant, or fuch as refpe£l alfo the
outward adminiftration of it in this world. Thofe of the
firji fortTiXt^ at all times, actually fulfilled, and made good
to all believers, by virtue of their union to Chrifl, whether
themfelves have the {<^\\{z and comfort of that accomplifli^
ment in their own fouls at all times or no. But befides
thefe, there are promifes which refpeft the outvjard admi^
tuftration of the covenant, under the providence of God in
this world ; fuch are all thofe w^hich concern the peace
and profperity of the church, its deliverance out of trouble,
the increafe of light and truth in the world, the joy and
comfort of believers therein, WMth others innumerable of
the like import ; and it is concerning, ^//y/^ we fpeak.

§ 5. 2. Some, yea many promifes of God may have a
full accomplifhment, when very feiu hiow or take notice
that they are fo ; it may be none at all. For fuch things
may in the providence of God h\\ out in the accomplifli-
jnent, as may keep men from diicerniug it. Thus when



God came to fulfil his promife in the deliverance of this
people from Egypt, he fuffered at the fame time their
bondage and mifcry to be fo increafed, that they could n<^
believe it. [Exod. v. 21 — 23.] God anfwers the defircs of
his church ; but how ? * By terrible things in rightcouf-

* nefs/ [Pfal. Ixv. 5.] It is in >-ightconfntfs' that he anfwers
them i the righteoufnefs of fidelity and veracity in the ac-
compHHiment of his promifes. But withal he fees it ne-
ccilary in his holinefs and wifdom, to mix it with fuch

* terrible things' in the works of his providence, as make
dieir hearts to tremble, fo that at the prefent they take
little notice of the love, grace, and mercy of the promife.
It, moreover, fo falls out from the prcjudicau opinicjis of
men concerning the fcnfe and peculiar meaning of the
promifes, or the nature of the things promifed. They
apprehend them to be one thing, and in the event they
prove another, which makes them either utterly reje£t
them, or not to fee their accomplilhment. So was it, for
inftance, with rcfpc£l to the coming of Chrifl in the fielh,
according to the promife. — Again, Unbelief itfelf hides
the accomplilhment of promifes from the eyes of men.
So our Lord fpeaking of his coming to avenge his ele£l,
adds, * nevcrthelefs, when the Son of man cometh, fhall

* he find faith on the earth,' [Luke xviii 8.] men will not
apprehend nor underftand his work through unbelief.

And this one confideration Ihould teach us great mode-
ration in our judgements concerning the application of pro-
niifcs and predi(Stions with regard to thcu ffdfnnf. 1 am
pcrfuaded that many have contended (thereby troubling
themfclvcs and others) about the feafons and times where-
in fomc prophecies are to be fulfilled, which have longjmce
rtcc'ivcd their principal accomplifhment, in fuch a way as
thofe who now contend about them think not of. — That
God is faithful in all his promifes and predictions, that
they (hall every one of them be accomplifhcd in their
proper feafon, that the tilings contained in them, and in-
tended by them, are all fruits of his love and care towards
his church, tliat they all tend to the advancement of that
glory which he hath for himfclf by Jcfus Clirill,

— theic


• — thefe are things that ought to be certain and fixed with
us ; but beyond thefe hmits we ought to be guarded by
pecuhar caution, the analogy of faith, modelly, and
patience ; — prophecies not being the rule of any anions,

§ 6. 3. Some promifcs of God, as to their full accom-
plilhment, may be confined lo fomc certain time and feafon,
although they have their ufe and benefit in all feafons ;
until this is come there can be no failure charged, though
they be not fulfilled. Thus was it with the great promife
of the coming of Chrifl before mentioned, it was given
out from the foundation of the world, [Gen. iii. 15.] and
in the counfel of God confined to a certain period of time ;
determined afterwards in the prophecies of Jacob, Daniel,
Haggai, <ycc. This all the faints of God were in expec-
tation of, from the firft giving of the promife itfelf. So
did God order things, that they fhould depend on his ab-
folute fovereignty ; and neither make haile nor defpond.
And yet, doubtlefs, through the delay they apprehended in
the accomplifhment of the promife, fome of them fell
into one of thefe extremes,, and fome into the other ; but
there was no alteration in God or his word all this while.
~Now what (hall men do in reference to fuch promifcs,
when they know not by any means the fet time of tlieir
accomplilhments ? Let them believe and pray ; and then
take the encouragement given, [Ifa. ix. 22.] 'I the Lord
* will haften it in his time.' It hath its appointed time,
which cannot be changed ; but if you confider the oppo-
fitlons that lie againfl it, the unlikelihood of its accom-
plifhment, the w^ant of all outward means for it ; upon
faith and prayer it fliall be haflened. Thus, in the days
of the gofpel, there are fignal promifcs remaining con-
cerning the calling of the Jews, the deflrudion of anti-
chrift, the peace and glory of the churches of Chrifl. Wc
know how fome have precipitately antedated thefe things,
whofe difappdintments, and their own unbelief and car-
nal wifdom, have brought the generality of men to look
no more after them ; and cither to think that the pro-
mifes of them have failed, or that indeed fuch promife.s
were never made ; whcrcia unbelief have found many
^ learned


learned advocates. It is certain, however, that there arc
feriods of time affixed to tlicfe things ; the vilion of them
as yet is for an appointed time, but at the end it fliall fpeak
and not lie ; though it tarry, and be delayed beyond the
computation of fome, and the expediation of ail; yet wait
for it, becaufe it will furely come ; it will not tarry one
nioment beyond the time fettled in heaven.

§ 7. 4. There are many promifes, whofe fignal ac-
compli fliment God hath not limited to any fpecial feafon ;
but keeps it in his own fovercign will to aft according to
tliem, towards his church, as is beft fuited to his wifdom
and love : only there is no fuch promifc made, but God
will at one time or other verify his word in it, by acting
according to it, or fulfilling it. And God hath thus dif-
pofcd of things, that he may always have in readincfs
wherewith to manifell: his difplcafure againfi: the fins of
his own people, — that he may have wherewith to exercife
their faith, — and to encourage them to prayerful expec-
tation, and crying to him in their diilreiTes.

§ 8. 5. Some concerns of Xht ^lory of God m the world
may fufpend the full and outward accomplilhment of foipc
promifes for a feafon. Thus there are many promifes made
to the church of deliverance out of ai?li£tions and per-
fecutions, and of the deflruftion of its adverfarics. When
fuch occafions befall the church, it may and ought to
plead thefe promifes, for they are given for that purpofe :
but yet it often falls out, that the fulfilling of them is for
a long time fufpcnded ; God hath otl^er ends to accomplifh
by their fuffcrings than are yet cffefted ; it is needful, it
may be, that his grace fhould be glorified in x\\q\x patience^
and the truth of the gofpel be confirmed by xhtir fuffcringSj
and a tcllimony be borne againll the world. It may be
alfo, that God hath lb ordained things, that the ftraits
and pci-fccutions of the church Ihall tend more to the
furtherance of tlic gofpel and the intcrell of Chrill, than
its peace and tranquillity would do ; and in fuch a feafon
(lod hath furnifhed his people with other promiles which
they ought to mix with fiiith ; and which Ihail undoubtedly
be accompljllicd.



§ 9. And we may learii hence,

1. In any condition wherein we judge ourfelves to be
called to plead any promifes of God, and to have an expec-
tation of their accomphfhment, not to make hajle. AVe fee
how many occalions there may be of retarding the actual
accomplilhment of promifes ; our wifdom and duty there-
fore is, to leave that to his fovereign pleafure, and to live
upon his truth, goodnefs, and faithfulnefs in them.
They fhall all be hailened in their appointed time,

2. Again ; when the accomplilhmeiit of promifes
feemeth to be deferred, we are not to faint in our duty.
The benefit we have by tbe accomplijhmcnt of promifes, is
not the fole end why they are given us. God intends to
cxercife all our graces; our faith, patience, ^obedience,
and fubmillion. Something of this nature befel the ' fa-

♦ ther of the faithfuF himfelf , he had received the great
promife that ' in his feed all the nations of the earth fliould
' be blelFed ;' many years after this he was childlefs, until
his own body (as well as Sarah's womb) was in a manner
dead ; his remaining hope was above hope, or all rational
apparent grounds of it. This once put him fo to it, that
he cried, * Lord, wdiat wilt thou do for me, feeing I go

♦ childlefs ?' All this v/hile God was bringing him * to his

♦ foot,' training him up to obedience, fubmillion, and
dependence upon himfelf. When therefore we confider
any promifes of God, and do not find ourfelvos aftually
poffelTed of the things promifcd ; our duty is to apply our-
felves to what in our prefent flation is required of us, and
not to faijit, or charge x\\q Lord as unjufl, all whofc ways
are mercy and truth, and wliofe promifes are firm and

Vol. IL M m ni Verss:


Verse 7.
again, he limiteth a certain day, saying itt


§ I, 2. (I.) The words explained. § 3. (11.) Ohfcrva^
i'loyis. I . In reading and hearing the fcripture, ive ought
to confider that God (peaks to us. § 4. 2. Ihc holy fcrip-
iure is an mexhaujlible repofitory of Jp'iritual truths. § 5.
3. Many important truths lie deep and Jeer et in the fcripture^
and therefore require a very diligent fear ch. § 6. life of
reproof and dlredion,

% I. (I.) "Again, he limiteth a certain day."
yWotJ^Lv) Jgain \ it may denote either the repetition of an
eld adl, or the introdu6lion of a new tefimony ; but it ra-
ther exprefies here the repetition of the thing fpoken, and
is to be joined in conftrudion with * he limiteth,' or ' he
* limiteth again.' — (O'p0/) * He limiteth ;' that is, abfo-
lutely, God doth fo, whofe authority alone in thcfe
things is the rule of our faith and obedience, particularly
the Holy Ghoft ; this limitation being made in the fcrip-
turcs which were given by his immediate and peculiar in-
fpiration, [II. Pet i. 21.] ^ Limiteth \* that is, either
dcfcribes, or defineth it in a prophetical prediction, or dc-
termineth and appoints it by an authoritative inflitution.
He dcfcribes it in itfcJf, and appoints it unto us. The word
may comprifc both ; and wc have no ground to exclude

(Tivcc YjjL^^oiv) yf certain das ; tliat is, another drtermi-
jtatc day, in anfwcr to the days before-mentioned, and
whofe fcafon was now clapfed. It is certain that the
apoAlc doih principally intend to evince, the new hcfl of



God under the gofpel, and to perfuade the Hebrews to fe-
cure their entrance into it, and poiTeffion of it. Eut he
here changeth his terms, and calls it not a reji, but pro-
pofeth it from the pfalmill under the notion of a day, and
this he doth becaufe he had before proved and illuflrated
the reji of God, from the day that was fet apart as a pledge
and means of it, as alfo becaufe he deligns to manifeil
that there is another day determined, as a pledge and repre-
fentation of this new reft, or as an efpecial feafon for the
enjoyment of its privileges.

§ 2. (ZvjiJLSfiGy) To-day ; the day he intends is that which
in the pfaimift is called (avn) to-day, the former day he
called {cP2o^Yiv) the ^ /event h* day, but this new fpiritual
reft in Chrift by the gofpel, is to have another day to ex-
prefs it. Thus is * to-day' in the pfaimift left at liberty
to be any day in the prophecy, but limited to x\\q jirjt by
the refurredion of Chrift. — ' Speaking in David,' who
was the perfon by whom this matter was revealed to the
church, ?n a pfalm that he compofed, by divine infpira-
tion, for that purpofe : for the fcripture is the voice of
God, and he always fpeaks to us thereby ; and itfelf is
faid to fpeak, becaufe of God's fpeaking in it. — ' After fa
* long a time ;* the date of this time is to be taken either
from the coming of the Ifraelites out of Egypt, or from
the fecond year after, when the fpies were fent to fearch
the land ; a fpace of ?hoyjLt five hundred years ; fo that our
apoftle might well call it, * after yo lotig a time / or fo great
a fpace of time.

§ 3. (H.) The remaining words of this verfe have been
opened before ; we fliall therefore proceed to fomc impro-
ving obfervations :

Olf. I. In reading and hearing the fcripture, we ought
to conlider that God fpeaks to us in and by it. * He faith \
that is, God faith ; or, more efpccially, the Holy Ghoft.
He both fpake in David, in the infpiration of that pfalm ;
and by David, or. In the -pfalm, he fpake to us. This
slone will give us that reverence and fubjedtion of foul and
confcience to the word of God, which are required of us,
and which are necelTary, that we may have benefit there-

M m m 2 bv.


by. lii that kind of carelcTs deportment, whereby men
hear the word and immediately lolc it ; this is not tht*
Icart e\il, that ihey do not fuHlciently confider whofe word
it is, and who Ipcaks it immediately to them ; and to pre-
vent this, God doth not only preface wliat he IpcaUs
with, * I'hus faith the Lord,' but oftentimes adjoins fuch
of his attributes and excellencies, as arc fuited to beget an
awe and reverence in our hearts, both of him that fpeak-
cth, and what is fpoken.

§ 4. Ohf. 2. The holy fcrlpturc is an inexhauUible rc-
politory of fpiritual mylleries and facred truths. W'c had
never known what is in the Old Teftaaient, had it not
been for the New, [Luke xxiv. 45.] and we fhould never
know fully w^hat is in the New Tellament, were it not
for heaven and glorv, where wc Ihall know as we are
known, [I. Cor. xiii. 12.] It may be, fome will fay,
they can fee none of thefe llores, can fmd little or no-
thing of thefe riches. It may be fo ; for this trcafure is:
fuch, as men can fee little of it if they have nor a guide
and a light. Let a treafury that is made deep, or clofely
im.mured, be filled never fo full with gold and precious
things, yet if you turn a man to it in the dark^ he can (tt
nothing that is defirable ; but ra":her feel an horror and a
fear come upon him. It is by the Spirit of Chrift, and
the light of the gofpel, that this vail of darknefs and blind-
ncfs is taken away. But what are thefe excellencies and
riches ? We reply ; here is the myftery of his love, gracr^
zi'ifdom, yighieoufnefsy and holirjcfsf m Chrift Jefus. — There
is in it the whole counfcl of God, concerning his ozvn v,'or-
fh'ipy and the whole of that obedience which he requires of
lis, that we may come to be accepted with him here, and
to tlie eternal enjoyment of him in glory. — There is in it
a glorious difcovery of the eternal Being, or nature ot God,
with its glorious eflcntial excellencies, fo far as we are ca*
pablc of an encouraging contemplation of them in this
world. — Again, the fouls of believers are carried, by the
aids of thefe revealed myilcrics, out of this world, and
\\?iWC future eternal glories prefented to them. Now, how
large, how extcnfive, and unfcarchable mull that repoli-



tory of myfterious truths be, wherein all thefe thuigs, with
all the particulars whcreinto they branch tljemfelves, all
the whole intercourfe between God and man in all as^cs arc
flored ! O heavenly ! O blefled dcpofitum oi divine grace
and goodnefs !

§ 5. Ohf. 3. Many important truths lie deep and fecret
in the fcripture, requiring a verv diligent fcarch in their
inveftigation, and for their difcovery. And the rcafoa
Vv4iy in this place I iniift on thefe things, is not fo much
to explain the fenfc of it, as to vindicate the way of our
apoflie's arguing, and of citing teftimonies out of fcrip-
ture, with his expolition and application of them. That
w^hich we are therefore to inquire into for our own ad-
vantage, is the ways and means whereby a due fearch may
be made into the fcriptures, and what is nccelTarily required
thereto, fo that we may not fail of light and inllrudlion j
and tliey are, amongft others, thefe that follow :

(i.) A humble teachable frame of fpirit ; this is the
great preparation for the foul's admittance into the trea-
sury of facred truths. Go to the reading, hearing, or
fludying of the fcripture with hearts fenfible of your own
unworthinefs to be taught, of your difability to learn,
ready to receive, embrace, and fubmit to w^hat {hall be
made known to you ; and this is the way to be taught of
God : and fuppofe in this way you learn not fo much as
others, yet that which you do learn fliall be of fo much ufe
and advantage to you, as tlieirs fliall be who attain to the
greateft degree of fpiritual light and knowledge. The
word inquired into will be as manna to them that gather
it, [Exod. xvi. 18.]

(2.) Eanieft prayer for the guidance, dire£lion, aflif-
tance, and illumination of the Holy Gliofl, to enable us
to find out, difcern, and iinderfland the deep things of
God. Where this is neglecEled, wiiatcver w^e know we
know it not as wc ought. That this is the only ivay where-
by we come to know the things of God, the great and
wondrous things laid up in the word, our apoflie fliews at
large, [I. Cor. ii.] * The natural man,' he tell us, that
is, fuch as hath not the help and afhllance of the Spirit of



God, * cannot receive the things which are of God,*
[vcr. 14.] he can neither ^W thcin out himfclF, nor own
them when they arc difcovercd by others ; yea, woe be to
him who leans to his own undtrllanding in this weighty

('\.) Endeavour, in all your inquiries into the word, to
mind and aim at the fame ends which God hath in tiie giv-
ing of it. Then do we comply with the will of God in
what we do, and m;iy comfortably cxpci^ his gracious
alii fiance.

(4.) They that would fcarch the fcripturcs to find out
tlic facred truths thai lie hid in tliem, ought to take care
that they entertain no coirnpt iujis in their hearts or minds,
which will certainly refufe to give admittance to fpiritual
truth when it is tendered to them. Love of fin will make
all iludy of the fcriptures to be mere loft labour. Hearts
pure and undejiicd, minds ferene and heavenly, fo far as by
the grace of God we can attain them, are required to this
work ; and it ought to be one great motive to an endeavour
after them, — that we may be more able to difcern the
mind of God in his w^ord.

(5.) Sedulity and conjlancy in this duty are great helps to
a profitable difcharge of it. \V'hen men read the word
but feldoin, fo that the things of it arc not familiar to
them, tlicy will be continually at a lufs what they arc
about. Bcfidcs, tb.ere is not any thing in our walking
before God that is more acceptable unto him ; for this cx-
prclTcth fomewhat of that reverence which we ought to
liave of the grcatnefs and holincfs of him with whom wc
have to do. The Jews frontifpicce to their great bible is
that faying of Jacob upon tlie vifion he had at Bethel,

* How dreadful is this place ! 1'his is none other but the

* houfe of God, and this is the gate of he<iven.' So ought
we to look upon the word with an holy awe and reverence
of the prcfencc of God in it.

(6.) In our fcarch after truth our minds are greatly to
be influenced and guide^l by tlie analogy of faith \ * he that

* prophefieth,' that is, interpreteth fcripturc, niuft do it,
{\\.u\u -.Y{j u'jcc7^o-noc-j 1,]; ',Ti.F\^ucc,y) [Rom. xii. 6.] * Ac-

?. * cording


* cording (fay we) to the proportion of faith,' or thirig-? to
be beheved. There is a harmony, an unanfwefablenefs,
a proportion,, in the whole fyflem of faith : particular
places are fo to be interpreted, as that they do not break
and didurb their order ; for all the fcripture is from the
fame fpring of divine infpiration, and is in all things per-
fe£lly conliflent with itfelf ; and the things of greatefl
importance arc delivered in it plainly, clearly, and fre-
quently. To thefe the fenfe of every particular place is^
to be reduced ; none is to be affigned to it, none to be
pretended from it, that claflies with any of the truths elfe-
where clearly and fully confirmed. For men to come to a
place of fcripture, it may be dark and ohfcure in itfelf, and
through I know not what pretences draw a fenfe from it,
which is inconliftent with other do6lrines of faith t\(t-
where plainly revealed, is openly to corrupt tlie word of
God. Want of a due attention to this rule is that which
produced the mod peflilent herefies in the church.

(7.) A due confideration of the nature of the dfcourfe
wherein any words are ufed, tends much to give light into
their fenfe and import, whether hiftorical, prophetical,
&c. Now thefe things are duly to be weighed by them
who intend to dig deep in this mine of lacred truth ; I'Ut
particular directions in reference to them are too many
Jiere to be infifted on.

(8.) The proper grammatical fenfe of the words them-
felves is duly to be inquired into ; and this principally re-
fpe£ls them who are able to purfue this fearch after trXith
in the original languages. Others alfo may have much
help by comparing parallel places, even in tranflatlonsy
whence the proper fenfe or ufual acception of any words
may be learned.

§ 6. What hath been now fpoken may ferve, as for the
reproof oi {o\y\^, fo for the dlred'ion of others. Whence is
it that fome receive fo little benefit by their fludying the
fcriptures, at leaft in their pretending fo to do ? Alas 1
their manifold mifcarriag.s are manifefl to all ; without
diligence, without humility, without watching unto



prayer, tlicy go in the confidence of their own ftrcngth
and abihries to fearch and expound it ; which is to attempt
tlie opening of brazen doors, without a key.

Verse 8.

for if je5us had given them rest, then wotln
he not afterwards have spoken of another^


§ I — 3. (T.) The interpretation of the words. § 4. (II.)
Objcrvations. I. 'There is no true reft for the fouls of men
hut only in ftfus Chrift by the go [pel. § 5. Improved^
§ 6. 2. The go [pel church ftate is a ftate of fpiritual reft
in Chrift, § 7. ^. It is a great priz-ile^e tq have a day
of reft.

§ I. (lOxN" this vcrfc, the apofllc gives a farther ccn-.
firmation to his argument, bv a particular appHcation of
it to the fpecial matter in hand ; and withal preventcth an
objcf^ion, that might probably be raifcd againil one part
of hi.^ difcourfe. ' For if Jcfus had given them rcll:, &:c.*
{koctzT^uvc - ',) cau fed them to reft. The apoftle even in this
chapter ufcth tiiis word both in a neutral and a£live fig-
nification, [vcr. 4.] God re fed \ here * caufcd them to

* reft,' or, ' given them relL* The word properly, and

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