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Bible Commentaries
Hebrews 4

Burkitt's Expository Notes with Practical Observations on the NTBurkitt's Expository Notes

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Verse 1

As if the apostle had said, "Seeing you have so dreadful an example of God's wrath executed upon your fathers in the wilderness for their unbelief, take heed of their sins, lest ye suffer the like punishment."

Here note, 1. the manner of the exhortation, and how the apostle includes himself in the admonition, Let us fear: it is wise and safe for the ministers of God to include themselves in the exhortations and admonitions which they give to others: for they need excitement, and the means of establishment, as well as others.

Note, 2. The affection of fear which our apostle recommends for their preservation from falling; by which he means a fear of care, diligence, and circumspection. Let us fear lest we come short and fail. Fear is a good monitor, and the best preservative from sin.

Note, 3. The duty exhorted to, lest a promise of rest being made, we should fall short of attaining it, as the Israelites did that fell in the wilderness.

Learn hence, 1. That it is matter of great and tremendous consequence to have the promises of God propounded to us; they are either a savour of life unto life, or of death unto death; one of these two will certainly be the consequent of their proposal. God will demand a strict account of the sons of men, of the entertainment given to his promises and threatenings.

Learn, 2. That they which mix not the promises of God with faith, shall utterly come short of entering into God's rest.

Learn, 3. That the failing of men through unbelief, doth no way cause the promises of God to fail or cease; the veracity of God is engaged for the stability of the promise; so that though men by their unbelief may disappoint themselves of their expectation, yet they cannot bereave God of his faithfulness.

Verse 2

Observe here, 1. That the gospel is no new doctrine, no new law, but one and the same to all persons, and at all times, ever since the first publication of it in the original promise, Genesis 3:15. It is the same for substance, though not for clearness of revelation; the same gospel was preached to Adam, to Abraham, to the Israelites in the wilderness, which was preached by Christ and his apostles, but with clearer light, evidence, and power in the administration of it; Unto us was the gospel, the same gospel, preached, as well as unto them.

Observe, 2. That the generality of persons, who have sat under the preaching of the gospel in all ages, have not savingly profited by it, The word preached did not profit: from the beginning it has been so, partly through carelessness, and want of due attention in the hearers, and partly for want of meditation upon, and particular application of, the word unto themselves after they have heard it; partly through the neglect of prayer for a blessing upon the word they hear; for those and the like causes the word preached did not nor does not profit.

Observe, 3. That unbelief in man's heart is the great cause of that unprofitableness which is found in the word preached: unbelief hinders the efficacy of the word preached, by withholding men from yielding their assent to the truths thay hear, by hindering them from applying, from a particular and close applying, of the word they hear to their own consciences; and unbelief hinders men from calling upon God by prayer, for a blessing upon the word they hear.

Observe, 4. That the word preached then profits, and only then, when it is a mixed word: the original word is a metaphor taken either from seed, from meat, or from physic. As seed must be mixed with the soil, and with the dew and rain of heaven, or it will never spring and grow; or as meat must be mixed with the stomach, or it will not nourish; and as physic must meet and mix with the humour, gripe and put the patient to some pain, or it will never cure: so must the word be rooted in the heart, or it will never fructify in the life: it mest be mixed with faith, with love, with humility, with patience, or it will never bring forth fruit with joy.

Verse 3

As if the apostle had said, There is a rest promised to us believers, as well as the typical rest, Canaan, was promised to the Israelites.

Learn thence, That the state of believers, under the gospel, is a state of blessed rest. There is a spiritual rest in heaven. This spiritual rest consists in peace with God, in satisfaction and acquiescence to God, and in means of communion with God.

Learn, 2. That it is faith alone which is the only way and means of entering into this blessed state of rest: We who have believed do enter into rest; as unbelief cuts off from, so faith gives an entrance into, the rest of God.

It follows, "-As I have sworn in my wrath, If they shall enter into my rest:"

Observe, Here is a threatening confirmed by the oath of God, that they who believe not should never enter into his rest, and a promise that such as do believe shall certainly enter.

Learn thence, That there is a mutual in-being of promises and threatenings in the covenant, which must be considered together, and cannot be separated each from other. Where there is a promise expressed, there a threatening is tacitly understood; and where there is a threatening expressed, be it never so severe yet there is a gracious promise included: nay, sometimes God gives out a threatening for no other end, but that men may lay hold upon the promise. Thus the threatening, that Nineveh should perish, was given out mercifully, that that Nineveh might not be destroyed.

It follows, "-Although the works were finished from the foundation of the world."

That is, Almighty God, when he had perfected and finished the work of creation in six days, rested on the seventh day from his labour; showing us by his own example, that work and labour must precede our rest: after God had finished the glorious work of creation, he returns as it were into his own eternal rest, and directs to seek rest himself; and by his own example teaches us, that our days of labour must go before our day of rest.

Verse 4

For the clearer understanding of these words, we must know, that there is a three-fold rest spoken of in scripture, all which are called His, that is, God's rest, being all of his appointing and providing: namely,

1. The rest of the sabbath day, in remembrance of God's resting from the work of creation.

2. The typical rest in the land of Canaan.

3. An eternal rest with God in heaven, of which the sabbath and the Israelites' rest in Canaan were a type and figure.

Now the apostle's design is, to prove that the rest which God principally intends for his people is this last rest, namely, an everlasting rest with himself in heaven; and this he evidently proves, because if that rest which they had obtained in the land of Canaan, under the conduct of Joshua, called (in Syriac) Jesus, had been all the rest which Almighty God ever intended for them, then it had been needless for David in the 95th Psalm, which was penned a long time after, even some hundreds of years, to make mention of any other rest.

But this he does, and therefore infers, that there is a third rest yet to come, which by the preaching of the gospel was now proposed to them, and that under the same promised and threatenings with the former. If Jesus, of Joshua, had given them the true spiritual and eternal rest here spoken of, in Canaan, then would not David afterward have spoken of another rest after their rest in Canaan; which seeing he has done, the apostle concludes, there must yet remain a farther rest to be enjoyed by the people of God.

From the whole note, That God has by promise given his people a full assurance of enjoying a rest upon condition of faith, and this another manner of rest than that of Canaan, which the Israelites of old did enjoy.

Verse 9

From the foregoing premises the apostle draws this conclusion, That there remaineth yet a more glorious, perfect, and complete rest, for the people of God.

Observe here, 1. Something implied, namely, That the people of God, whilst here upon earth, have works to do, and labour incumbent upon them. Rest and labour incumbent upon them. Rest and labour are correlates, the one supposes the other; the apostle affirming, that there is rest remaining for them, strongly supposes that there is labour at present belonging to them; God's people are and industrious, working people: Christ's present call is to service and duty.

Observe, 2. That God has already given his people a foretaste of, and some entrance into, rest, during this present state of work and labour; the better to enable them for that, and the more to sweeten that to them. The state of sin is a state of all labour, and no rest; the state of glory is all rest, and no labour; but the state of grace is a mixed state, partly of labour, and partly of rest;; of labour in respect of ourselves, in respect of the world, against sin, under affliction and persecution; but of rest in Christ, in his love, in his favour, and grace; and thus our labour makes our rest sweet, and our rest makes our labour easy.

Observe, 3. That there is reserved and laid up in heaven for all the people of God that serve him laboriously and everlasting, rest; for its quantity it is full of rest; for its quality it is unmixed rest; rest, and nothing but rest: for its duration, it is an eternal rest; the least fear of losing or leaving it, would imbitter all the joy which the saints taste in the fruition and enjoyment of it: There remaineth, or there is laid up and reserved, a rest for the people of God.

Verse 10

Into the spiritual heavenly rest, mentioned in the foregoing verse, the believer is said to have entered, in this verse; and this is done two ways, initially, inchoatively, and imperfectly in this life; fully finally, perfectly, and completely in the next. They have now a present title and right to enter into this rest; the actual enjoyment and full possession of it is to come.

Observe, 1. Believers have already entered initially into this rest whilst here on earth, and accordingly have ceased from their own works; that is, the works of the flesh, the service of sin; these they have discarded by repentance and mortification.

Here note, That before conversion a person is doing his own works, fulfilling his own will, and not God's; but after he ceases from all sinful works, inchoatively, though not perfectly: He that hath entered into his rest, hath ceased from his own works.

Observe, 2. That when believers have finished all their works of evangelical obedience, they shall then, and not till then, fully and finally enter into God's rest, and be forever happy in the enjoyment of it. All men desire rest, but it is not to be found on earth, but in heaven; not in the creature, but in God.

O happy they, which believing the excellency and glory of this rest, do work, wait, and wish for it, and with diligence and constancy use all holy endeavours for the attaining and securing of it.

Verse 11

As if our apostle had said, "Seeing there is such and eternal glorious rest prepared for, and promised to believers then it is the duty, and ought to be the endeavour of everyone of us to secure our title to it, and our interest in it, by a stedfast faith, and persevering obedience, lest, following the example of our forefathers in the wilderness, we fall and perish as they did."

Learn hence, 1. That there is a rest promised to us uder the gospel, as there was to the Jews of old under the dispensation of the law.

Learn, 2. That the Jews heretofore, by sin in general, by unbelief and disobedience in particular, did fall short of the rest proposed to them, and never entered into it, but were destroyed by the just indignation of God.

Learn, 3. That in the Israelites' sin and God's displeasure, in the event of the one, and in the effects of the other, there was an example set forth, of what would be our own lot and portion if through unbelief we fall short of the rest which the gospel proposed to us: Let us labour to enter into that rest, lest any man fall after the same example of unbelief. It is our duty to improve examples, lest we be made examples of divine displeasure.

Learn, 4. That we cannot rationally have tha least expectation of escaping vengeance under the guilt of those sins, which others, in like manner, being guilty of, having not escaped; for with God there is no respect of persons. Did the Israelites miss of the earthly Canaan? So shall we of the heavenly, through unbelief.

Verse 12

As if the apostle had said, "Take heed especially of unbelief: for the word of God, or doctrine of the gospel will quickly find you out, if you be guilty of it."

There is a piercing power in the word of God, through the energy and efficacious operation of the Godly Spirit; it is here compared to a sword, because it does divide things most nearly united, and discover things most inward and secret, or rather God by the word doth this; he by the word pierces, even to the dividing asunder of the soul and spirit; that is, the actings of the understanding, and the motions of the will and affections it cuts asunder the most resolute and compacted purposes of the will: yea, it pierces to the marrow, that is, the most secret and close contrivances of the soul, the thoughts and intents ot the heart.

O mighty power of the word; and of God in and by the word, to convey strength to the weak, wisdom to the simple, comfort to the sorrowful, light to the blind, and life to the dead; it brings souls out of the captivity of sin into the blessed liberty of faith in Christ.

Verse 13

There is not any one place of scripture, I think, which more fully informs us of the perfect and exact knowledge of Almighty God, as to all persons and things, than this before us.

Observe, 1. The object, all and everything, our persons, our actions, the manner of our actions, the design and end of our actions: he knows what we have been and done, and what we will be and do.

Observe, 2. The full manifestation and clear representation of all persons and things unto God.

1. All things are here said to be naked, unclothed, their dress and paint taken off: These words are and allusion to bodies, which being stripped and unclothed, all see what they are; there may be many deformities, blemishes, yea, ulcers, upon a body undiscerned, while it is clothed and covered; but when naked, every scar appears, and nothing is hid; all things are naked in his sight; that is, he as plainly discerns what they are, as we discern what a body is that stands naked before us. The knowledge which God has of persons and things, is a clear and distinct knowledge.

2. All things are here said to be open as well as naked, unto God; a metaphor taken, says St. Chrysostom, from the sacrificed beasts, which being excoriated, their skins plucked off, they were cut down from the neck to the rump, so that all the inwards of the best lay bare, and every part might be clearly seen; it is one thing to see a sheep alive, with its skin and fleece on, and another thing to see it naked and flayed; but a farther thing to see it opened and emboweled, with all its intestines and inwards exposed to the eye.

Others think there is in the original word an allusion to anatomists, who open and dissect human bodies, the heart, the liver, the lungs, the bowels, all exactly appear whether sound or decayed: Such a kind of anatomy doth God make upon man's heart; his piercing eye sees and discerns what is flesh, and what is spirit in us, what is faith, what is fancy, what is grace in reality, and what in appearance only.

Doubtless the phrase doth signify a most intimate, full, and thorough knowledge of all persons, and all things, which is found in that God with whom we have to do, and to whom we must give and account for all that we have done.

Verse 14

Our apostle comes now to assert the priesthood of Christ, and to set forth the dignity and excellency of his office; from whence he encourages the believing Hebrews to perseverence and stedfastness in the profession of their faith in him.

Here note, 1. The eminency of the person, Jesus the Son of God; not by supernatural conception only, but by eternal generation also; this is the eminancy of that person who is superior to men and angels.

Note, 2. The excellency of his office, a priest, and high priest, a great high priest: not barely equal with Aaron, but superior to him, and infinitely above him, the universal supreme pontiff of heaven and earth, in comparison of whom all other priests, even the highest of them, were but shadows.

Note, 3. His relation to us, We have him; that is, special interest in him, making profession of obedience to him; and he is passed into the heavens, to open heaven to us, and to make intercession with the Father for us. This entrance of Christ's into heaven, was shadowed forth by the high priest's entrance into the holy of holies here on earth.

Note, 4. Our obligation to him, Let us hold fast our profession; that is, the profession of our faith in him, without wavering, with constancy and perseverance.

Learn hence, 1. That great oppostion, ever has been and always will be made unto the stedfastness of believers in their holy profession. The apostle's exhortation plainly supposes opposition.

Learn, 2. That it is our duty, in the midst of all opposition, to hold fast our holy profession, without either apostatizing in the whole, or declining in parts of it. The glory of God is in the highest manner concerned in it, and assured destruction attends the omission of it, and that in a peculiar, terrible, and dreadful manner, Hebrews 10:29.

Learn, 3. That believers have great encouragement unto, and assistance in the stedfastness and constancy of their holy profession, by and from the priesthood of Jesus Christ: for as he is our High Priest, he knows our temptations, pities us under them, affords us actual help and relief against them, he interceding with the Father, that our faith may not fail, and that we may be kept the almighty power of God, through faith unto salvation.

Learn, 4. That Jesus Christ, our great High Priest, was the Son of God; and the necessity of his being so, did thus appear;

1. Before the entrance of sin there was no need of the office of priesthood between God and man: For every one was then in his own name to go to God with his worship, which would have been accepted according to the law of creation.

2. Sin being entered into the world, there was no more worship to be performed immediately unto God; two cannot walk or converse together, except they be agreed.

3. That the worship of God might be again restored in and to the world, it was indispensibly necessary that some one should interpose between sinners and the holy God; for should sinners approach him immediately in their own names he would be unto them a consuming fire.

4. No creature could undertake the office of being a priest for the church of God, which now consisteth all of sinners: neither the nature of the office, which was to interpose between God and sinners, nor the quality of the work, which is to make atonement for sin, would admit of it.

5. Jesus Christ therefore undertaking to be a Priest for sinners, it was necessary, he should be what he was, the very Son of God: which denotes he divine person and nature, and that our great High Priest was essentially and truly God: Seeing we have a great High Priest, even Jesus the Son of God let us hold fast our profession,

Verse 15

These words contain a farther description of Christ our great High Priest, by his merciful disposition towards his people; he is said to be touched; that is, sensibly affected with the infirmities, that is, the miseries, sufferings, and calamities, which the human nature is exercised with, and exposed to.

Our Lord Jesus Christ, now in heaven, doth exercise a tender and compassionate spirit towards his suffering children and servants here on earth: he has an experimental knowledge of what his people suffer, either from God, or from man, for God's sake, as one that is interested in them, as one concerned for them, as one related to them, yea, as being one with them.

This sympathy of Christ with, and towards his suffering people, is a tender sympathy, an extensive sympathy, it reaches all our infirmities, a proportionable sympathy, answerable to every occasion, a perpetual sumpathy; as long as he continues High Priest, and we remain subject to infirmities, so long will he be touched with the feeling of them.

Observe farther, The assigned reason why our great High Priest is so sensibly affected with our suffering condition: namely, because he was in all points tempted like as we are, sin excepted. Christ, by assuming our nature, became humbly affectionate, and by suffering our infirmities, became experimentally compassionate.

Here note, That tempatations may be without sin; it is not our sin to be tempted, but to comply with the temptation.

2. That Christ was tempted, yea, in all points tempted like unto us: His temptations were in all points like ours; he was tempted to sin, yet without sin.

There is a two-fold temptation to sin, inward and outward;

inwardly Christ was not tempted to sin,

outwardly he was, and with greatest vehemency assaulted both by men and devils to the worst of sins that ever man was; but he always resisted, and always overcame.

Oh, what a consolation is this unto us under all our temptations, that Christ was in all things tempted like unto us, but without sin!

Verse 16

These words are an inference drawn from the apostle's foregoing discourse, "Seeing we have such an High Priest as is before described, let us come with boldness, with freedom and liberty to the throne of grace, &c."

Note here, 1. There is a throne of grace which believers may come unto; God has a throne of justice, and a throne of grace: If he look upon man according to the law of works, he must needs sit upon the throne of justice as a severe Lord, and strict Judge, to condemn us; but being propitiated and atoned by the blood of Christ, his throne is a throne of grace and mercy, from which he represents himself to us as a God in Christ, as a God of forgivenes, as a God in covenent, and as a God that will have communion with us.

Note, 2. That believers may come boldly, and with confidence to this throne of grace; they have liberty to do it, they have authority to do it, and may have confidence and assurance of audience in the doing of it.

Note, 3. That all help succour, and spiritual assistance in every time of need, is found with God, and proceeds from mere mercy and grace in God, That we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need.

Note, 4. That the way to obtain mercy, and find grace to help in every time of need is by a due application of our souls for it to the throne of grace; Let us come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may find help in time of need.

Bibliographical Information
Burkitt, William. "Commentary on Hebrews 4". Burkitt's Expository Notes with Practical Observations on the NT. https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/wbc/hebrews-4.html. 1700-1703.
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