Bible Commentary in 8 Volumes
Paul the Apostle to the Hebrews
Notes on Chapter 13.
Verse 1. Let brotherly love continue.— Be all of one heart and one soul. Feel for, comfort, and support each other; and remember that he who professes to love God should love his brother also. They had this brotherly love among them; they should take care to retain it. As God is remarkable for his filanqrwpia, philanthropy, or love to man, so should they be for filadelfia, or love to each other. See the note on Titus 3:4.
Verse 2. To entertain stranger’s— In those early times, when there were scarcely any public inns or houses of entertainment, it was an office of charity and mercy to receive, lodge, and entertain travelers; and this is what the apostle particularly recommends.
Entertained angels— Abraham and Lot are the persons particularly referred to. Their history, the angels whom they entertained, not knowing them to be such, and the good they derived from exercising their hospitality on these occasions, are well known; and have been particularly referred to in the notes on Genesis 18:3; 19:2.
Verse 3. Remember them that are in bonds— He appears to refer to those Christian’s who were suffering imprisonment for the testimony of Jesus.
As bound with them— Feel for them as you would wish others to feel for you were you in their circumstances, knowing that, being in the body, you are liable to the same evils, and may be called to suffer in the same way for the same cause.
Verse 4. Marriage is honorable in all— Let this state be highly esteemed as one of God’s own instituting, and as highly calculated to produce the best interests of mankind. This may have been said against the opinions of the Essenes, called Therapeutae, who held marriage in little repute, and totally abstained from it themselves as a state of comparative imperfection. At the same time it shows the absurdity of the popish tenet, that marriage in the clergy is both dishonorable and sinful; which is, in fact, in opposition to the apostle, who says marriage is honorable in ALL; and to the institution of God, which evidently designed that every male and female should be united in this holy bond; and to nature, which in every part of the habitable world has produced men and women in due proportion to each other.
The bed undefiled— Every man cleaving to his own wife, and every wife cleaving to her own husband, because God will judge, i.e. punish, all fornicators and adulterers.
Instead of de but, gar, for, is the reading of AD*, one other, with the Vulgate, Coptic, and one of the Itala; it more forcibly expresses the reason of the prohibition: Let the bed be undefiled, FOR whoremongers and adulterers God will judge.
Verse 5. Let your conversation— That is, the whole tenor of your conduct, tropov, the manner of your life, or rather the disposition of your hearts in reference to all your secular transactions; for in this sense the original is used by the best Greek writers.
Be without covetousness— Desire nothing more than what God has given you; and especially covet nothing which the Divine Providence has given to another man, for this is the very spirit of robbery.
Content with such things as ye have— arkoumenoi toiv parousin? Being satisfied with present things. In one of the sentences of Phocylides we have a sentiment in nearly the same words as that of the apostle: arkeisqai pareousi, kai allotriwn apecesqai? Be content with present things, and abstain from others. The covetous man is ever running out into futurity with insatiable desires after secular good; and, if this disposition be not checked, it increases as the subject of it increases in years. Covetousness is the vice of old age.
I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee.— These words were, in sum, spoken to Joshua, Joshua 1:5: “As I was with Moses, so will I be with thee; I will not fail thee, nor forsake thee.” They were spoken also by David to Solomon, 1 Chronicles 28:20: “David said to Solomon his son, Be strong and of good courage, and do it: fear not, nor be dismayed; for the Lord God, even my God, will be with thee; he will not fail thee, nor forsake thee.” The apostle, in referring to the same promises, feels authorized to strengthen the expressions, as the Christian dispensation affords more consolation and confidence in matters of this kind than the old covenant did. The words are peculiarly emphatic: ou mh se anw, oud' ou mh se egkatalipw. There are no less than five negatives in this short sentence, and these connected with two verbs and one pronoun twice repeated. To give a literal translation is scarcely possible; it would run in this way: “No, I will not leave thee; no, neither will I not utterly forsake thee.” Those who understand the genius of the Greek language, and look at the manner in which these negatives are placed in the sentence, will perceive at once how much the meaning is strengthened by them, and to what an emphatic and energetic affirmative they amount.
This promise is made to those who are patiently bearing affliction or persecution for Christ’s sake; and may be applied to any faithful soul in affliction, temptation, or adversity of any kind. Trust in the Lord with thy whole heart, and never lean to thy own understanding; for he hath said, “No, I will never leave thee; not I: I will never, never cast thee off.”
Verse 6. So that we may boldly say— We, in such circumstances, while cleaving to the Lord, may confidently apply to ourselves what God spake to Joshua and to Solomon; and what he spake to David, “The Lord is my helper, I will not fear what man can do.” God is omnipotent, man’s power is limited; howsoever strong he may be, he can do nothing against the Almighty.
Verse 7. Remember them which have the rule over you— This clause should be translated, Remember your guides, twn hgoumenwn, who have spoken unto you the doctrine of God. Theodoret’s note on this verse is very judicious: “He intends the saints who were dead, Stephen the first martyr, James the brother of John, and James called the Just. And there were many others who were taken off by the Jewish rage. ‘Consider these, (said he,) and, observing their example, imitate their faith.’” This remembrance of the dead saints, with admiration of their virtues, and a desire to imitate them, is, says Dr. Macknight, the only worship which is due to them from the living.
Considering the end of their conversation— Δwn anaqewrountev thn ekbasin thv anastrofhv? “The issue of whose course of life most carefully consider.” They lived to get good and do good; they were faithful to their God and his cause; they suffered persecution; and for the testimony of Jesus died a violent death. God never left them; no, he never forsook them; so that they were happy in their afflictions, and glorious in their death. Carefully consider this; act as they did; keep the faith, and God will keep you.
Verse 8. Jesus Christ the same yesterday— In all past times there was no way to the holiest but through the blood of Jesus, either actually shed, or significantly typified. To-day — he is the lamb newly slain, and continues to appear in the presence of God for us. For ever — to the conclusion of time, he will be the way, the truth, and the life, none coming to the Father but through him; and throughout eternity, eiv touv aiwnav, it will appear that all glorified human spirits owe their salvation to his infinite merit. This Jesus was thus witnessed of by your guides, who are already departed to glory. Remember HIM; remember them; and take heed to yourselves.
Verse 9. Be not carried about— mh periferesqe? Be not whirled about. But ABCD, and almost every other MS. of importance, with the Syriac, Coptic, Arabic, Vulgate, and several of the Greek fathers, have mh paraferesqe, be not carried away, which is undoubtedly the true reading, and signifies here, do not apostatize; permit not yourselves to be carried off from Christ and his doctrine.
Divers and strange doctrines.— didacaiv, poikilaiv? Variegated doctrines; those that blended the law and the Gospel, and brought in the Levitical sacrifices and institutions in order to perfect the Christian system. Remember the old covenant is abolished; the new alone is in force.
Strange doctrines, didacaiv xenaiv, foreign doctrines; such as have no apostolical authority to recommend them.
That the heart be established with grace— It is well to have the heart, the mind, and conscience, fully satisfied with the truth and efficacy of the Gospel; for so the word cariv should be understood here, which is put in opposition to brwmasin, meats, signifying here the Levitical institutions, and especially its sacrifices, these being emphatically termed meats, because the offerers were permitted to feast upon them after the blood had been poured out before the Lord. See Leviticus 7:15; Deuteronomy 12:6, 7.
Which have not profited them— Because they neither took away guilt, cleansed the heart, nor gave power over sin.
Verse 10. We have an altar— The altar is here put for the sacrifice on the altar; the Christian altar is the Christian sacrifice, which is Christ Jesus, with all the benefits of his passion and death. To these privileges they had no right who continued to offer the Levitical sacrifices, and to trust in them for remission of sins.
Verse 11. For the bodies of those beasts— Though in making covenants, and in some victims offered according to the law, the flesh of the sacrifice was eaten by the offerers; yet the flesh of the sin-offering might no man eat: when the blood was sprinkled before the holy place to make an atonement for their souls, the skins, flesh, entrails, etc., were carried without the camp, and there entirely consumed by fire; and this entire consumption, according to the opinion of some, was intended to show that sin was not pardoned by such offerings. For, as eating the other sacrifices intimated they were made partakers of the benefits procured by those sacrifices, so, not being permitted to eat of the sin-offering proved that they had no benefit from it, and that they must look to the Christ, whose sacrifice is pointed out, that they might receive that real pardon of sin which the shedding of his blood could alone procure. While, therefore, they continued offering those sacrifices, and refused to acknowledge the Christ, they had no right to any of the blessings procured by him, and it is evident they could have no benefit from their own.
Verse 12. That he might sanctify the people— That he might consecrate them to God, and make an atonement for their sins, he suffered without the gate at Jerusalem, as the sin-offering was consumed without the camp when the tabernacle abode in the wilderness. Perhaps all this was typical of the abolition of the Jewish sacrifices, and the termination of the whole Levitical system of worship. He left the city, denounced its final destruction, and abandoned it to its fate; and suffered without the gate to bring the Gentiles to God.
Verse 13. Let us go forth therefore unto him— Let us leave this city and system, devoted to destruction, and take refuge in Jesus alone, bearing his reproach-being willing to be accounted the refuse of all things, and the worst of men, for his sake who bore the contradiction of sinners against himself, and was put to death as a malefactor.
Verse 14. For here have we no continuing city— Here is an elegant and forcible allusion to the approaching destruction of Jerusalem. The Jerusalem that was below was about to be burnt with fire, and erased to the ground; the Jerusalem that was from above was that alone which could be considered to be menousan, permanent. The words seem to say: “Arise, and depart; for this is not your rest: it is polluted:” About seven or eight years after this, Jerusalem was wholly destroyed.
Verse 15. By him therefore let us offer the sacrifice of praise— He has now fulfilled all vision and prophecy, has offered the last bloody sacrifice which God will ever accept; and as he is the gift of God’s love to the world, let us through him offer the sacrifice of praise to God continually, this being the substitute for all the Levitical sacrifices.
The Jews allowed that, in the time of the Messiah, all sacrifices, except the sacrifice of praise, should cease. To this maxim the apostle appears to allude; and, understood in this way, his words are much more forcible. In Vayikra Rabba, sect. 9, fol. 153, and Rabbi Tanchum, fol. 55: “Rabbi Phineas, Rabbi Levi, and Rabbi Jochanan, from the authority of Rabbi Menachem of Galilee, said, In the time of the Messiah all sacrifice shall cease, except the sacrifice of praise.” This was, in effect, quoting the authority of one of their own maxims, that now was the time of the Messiah; that Jesus was that Messiah; that the Jewish sacrificial system was now abolished; and that no sacrifice would now be accepted of God, except the sacrifice of praise for the gift of his Son.
That is, the fruit of our lips— This expression is probably borrowed from Hosea 14:2, in the version of the Septuagint, karpon ceilewn which in the Hebrew text is wnytpç µyrp parim sephatheinu, “the heifers of our lips.” This may refer primarily to the sacrifices, heifers, calves, etc., which they had vowed to God; so that the calves of their lips were the sacrifices which they had promised. But how could the Septuagint translate µyrp parim, calves, by karpon, fruit? Very easily, if they had in their copy yrp peri, the mem being omitted; and thus the word would be literally fruit, and not calves. This reading, however, is not found in any of the MSS. hitherto collated.
Verse 16. But to do good and to communicate— These are continual sacrifices which God requires, and which will spring from a sense of God’s love in Christ Jesus. Praise to God for his unspeakable gift, and acts of kindness to men for God’s sake. No reliance, even on the infinitely meritorious sacrifice of Christ, can be acceptable in the sight of God if a man have not love and charity towards his neighbor. Praise, prayer, and thanksgiving to God, with works of charity and mercy to man, are the sacrifices which every genuine follower of Christ must offer: and they are the proofs that a man belongs to Christ; and he who does not bear these fruits gives full evidence, whatever his creed may be, that he is no Christian.
Verse 17. Obey them that have the rule over you— Obey your leaders, toiv hgoumenoiv. He is not fit to rule who is not capable of guiding. See on ver. 7. In the former verse the apostle exhorts them to remember those who had been their leaders, and to imitate their faith; in this he exhorts them to obey the leaders they now had, and to submit to their authority in all matters of doctrine and discipline, on the ground that they watched for their souls, and should have to give an account of their conduct to God. If this conduct were improper, they must give in their report before the great tribunal with grief; but in it must be given: if holy and pure, they would give it in with joy. It is an awful consideration that many pastors, who had loved their flocks as their own souls, shall be obliged to accuse them before God for either having rejected or neglected the great salvation.
Verse 18. Pray for us— Even the success of apostles depended, in a certain way, on the prayers of the Church. Few Christian congregations feel, as they ought, that it is their bounden duty to pray for the success of the Gospel, both among themselves and in the world. The Church is weak, dark, poor, and imperfect, because it prays little.
We trust we have a good conscience— We are persuaded that we have a conscience that not only acquits us of all fraud and sinister design, but assures us that in simplicity and godly sincerity we have labored to promote the welfare of you and of all mankind.
To live honestly.— en pasi kalwv qelontev anastrefesqai? Willing in all things to conduct ourselves well — to behave with decency and propriety.
Verse 19. The rather to do this— That is, pray for us, that, being enabled to complete the work which God has given us here to do, we may be the sooner enabled to visit you. It is evident, from this, that the people to whom this epistle was written knew well who was the author of it; nor does there appear, in any place, any design in the writer to conceal his name, and how the epistle came to lack a name it is impossible to say. I have sometimes thought that a part of the beginning might have been lost, as it not only begins without a name, but begins very abruptly.
Verse 20. Now the God of peace— We have often seen that peace among the Hebrews signifies prosperity of every kind. The God of peace is the same as the God of all blessedness, who has at his disposal all temporal and eternal good; who loves mankind, and has provided them a complete salvation.
Brought again from the dead our Lord— As our Lord’s sacrificial death is considered as an atonement offered to the Divine justice, God’s acceptance of it as an atonement is signified by his raising the human nature of Christ from the dead; and hence this raising of Christ is, with the utmost propriety, attributed to God the Father, as this proves his acceptance of the sacrificial offering.
That great Shepherd of the sheep— This is a title of our blessed Lord, given to him by the prophets; so Isaiah 40:11; He shall feed his flock like a shepherd; He shall gather the lambs with his arms, and carry them in his bosom, and shall gently lead those which are with young: and Ezekiel 34:23; I will set up one shepherd over them, and he shall feed them; even my servant David, (i.e. the beloved, viz. Jesus,) and he shall feed them, and be their shepherd: and Zechariah 13:7; Awake, O sword, against my shepherd-smite the shepherd, and the flock shall be scattered. In all these places the term shepherd is allowed to belong to our blessed Lord; and he appropriates it to himself, John 10:11, by calling himself the good Shepherd, who, lays down his life for the sheep.
Through the blood of the everlasting covenant— Some understand this in the following way, that “God brought back our Lord from the dead on account of his having shed his blood to procure the everlasting covenant.” Others, that the Lord Jesus became the great Shepherd and Savior of the sheep by shedding his blood to procure and ratify the everlasting covenant.” The sense, however, will appear much plainer if we connect this with the following verse: “Now the God of peace, who brought again from the dead, our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep, make you, through the blood of the everlasting covenant, perfect in every good work to do his will.” The Christian system is termed the everlasting covenant, to distinguish it from the temporary covenant made with the Israelites at Mount Sinai; and to show that it is the last dispensation of grace to the world, and shall endure to the end of time.
Verse 21. Make you perfect— katartisia umav? Put you completely in joint. See the note on “2 Corinthians 13:9”, where the meaning of the original word is largely considered. From the following terms we see what the apostle meant by the perfection for which he prays. They were to do the will of God in every good work, from God working in them that which is well pleasing in his sight. 1. This necessarily implies a complete change in the whole soul, that God may be well pleased with whatsoever he sees in it; and this supposes its being cleansed from all sin, for God’s sight cannot be pleased with any thing that is unholy. 2. This complete inward purity is to produce an outward conformity to God’s will, so they were to be made perfect in every good work. 3. The perfection within and the perfection without were to be produced by the blood of the everlasting covenant; for although God is love, yet it is not consistent with his justice or holiness to communicate any good to mankind but through his Son, and through him as having died for the offenses of the human race.
To whom be glory for ever.— As God does all in, by, and through Christ Jesus, to him be the honor of his own work ascribed through time and eternity. Amen.
Verse 22. Suffer the word of exhortation— Bear the word or doctrine of this exhortation. This seems to be an epithet of this whole epistle: and as the apostle had in it shown the insufficiency of the Levitical system to atone for sin and save the soul; and had proved that it was the design of God that it should be abolished; and had proved also that it was now abolished by the coming of Christ, whom he had shown to be a greater priest than Aaron, higher than all the angels, the only Son of God as to his human nature, and the Creator, Governor, and Judge of all; and that their city was shortly to be destroyed; he might suppose that they would feel prejudiced against him, and thus lose the benefit of his kind intentions toward them; therefore he entreats them to bear the exhortation which, notwithstanding the great extent of the subject, he had included in a short compass.
I have written a letter unto you in few words.— Perhaps it would be better to translate dia bracewn epesteila umin, I have written to you briefly, as epistellein often signifies simply to write, and this appears to be its meaning here.
Verse 23. Know ye that our brother Timothy— The word hmwn, our, which is supplied by our translators, is very probably genuine, as it is found in ACD*, ten others, the Syriac, Erpen’s Arabic, the Coptic, Armenian, Slavonic, and Vulgate.
Is set at liberty— apolelumenon? Is sent away; for there is no evidence that Timothy had been imprisoned. It is probable that the apostle refers here to his being sent into Macedonia, Philippians 2:19-24, in order that he might bring the apostle an account of the affairs of the Church in that country. In none of St. Paul’s epistles, written during his confinement in Rome, does he give any intimation of Timothy’s imprisonment, although it appears from Philippians 1:1; Colossians 1:1; Philemon 1; that he was with Paul during the greatest part of the time.
With whom, if he come shortly, I will see you.— Therefore Paul himself, or the writer of this epistle, was now at liberty, as he had the disposal of his person and time in his own power. Some suppose that Timothy did actually visit Paul about this time, and that both together visited the Churches in Judea.
Verse 24. Salute all them that have the rule over you— Salute all your leaders or guides, touv hgoumenouv umwn. See on verses 7 and 17.
And all the saints.— All the Christians; for this is the general meaning of the term in most parts of St. Paul’s writings. But a Christian was then a saint, i.e. by profession a holy person; and most of the primitive Christians were actually such. But in process of time the term was applied to all that bore the Christian name; as elect, holy people, sanctified, etc., were to the nation of the Jews, when both their piety and morality were at a very low ebb.
They of Italy salute you.— Therefore it is most likely that the writer of this epistle was then in some part of Italy, from which he had not as yet removed after his being released from prison. By they of Italy probably the apostle means the Jew’s there who had embraced the Christian faith. These salutations show what a brotherly feeling existed in every part of the Christian Church; even those who had not seen each other yet loved one another, and felt deeply interested for each other’s welfare.
Verse 25. Grace be with you all.— May the Divine favor ever rest upon you and among you; and may you receive, from that source of all good, whatsoever is calculated to make you wise, holy, useful, and happy! And may you be enabled to persevere in the truth to the end of your lives! Amen. May it be so! May God seal the prayer by giving the blessings!
THE subscriptions to this epistle are, as in other cases, various and contradictory.
The VERSIONS are as follow:—
The Epistle to the Hebrews was written from Roman Italy, and sent by the hand of Timothy. — SYRIAC.
VULGATE nothing, in the present printed copies.
It was written from Italy by Timothy: with the assistance of God, disposing every thing right, the fourteen epistles of the blessed Paul are completed, according to the copy from which they have been transcribed. May the Lord extend his benedictions to us. Amen. — ARABIC.
The Epistle to the Hebrews is completed. The end. — AETHIOPIC.
Written in Italy, and sent by Timothy. — COPTIC.
The MANUSCRIPTS, and ancient editions taken from MSS., are not more to be relied on.
To the Hebrews, written from Rome. — CODEX ALEXANDRINUS.
The epistles of Saint Paul the apostle arc finished. — COLOPHON, at the end of this epistle; in one of the first printed Bibles; and in an ancient MS. of the Vulgate in my own collection.
The end of the Epistle to the Hebrews. — GREEK TEXT of the COMPLUTENSIAN EDITION.
The Epistle of the blessed Paul to the Hebrews is finished. — LATIN TEXT of ditto.
To the Hebrews. — The Epistle of Paul the apostle to the Hebrews. — The Epistle to the Hebrews, written from Italy. — From Athens. — From Italy by Timothy. — Written in the Hebrew tongue, etc. — Various MSS.
Written to the Hebrews from Italy by Timothy. — Common Greek Text.
That it was neither written from Athens, nor in the Hebrew tongue, is more than probable; and that it was not sent by Timothy, is evident from chap. 13:23. For the author, time, place, and people to whom sent, see the INTRODUCTION.
I. On the term “conscience,” as frequently occurring in this epistle, I beg leave to make a few observations.
Conscience is defined by some to be “that judgment which the rational soul passes on all her actions;” and is said to be a faculty of the soul itself, and consequently natural to it. Others state that it is a ray of Divine light. Milton calls it “God’s umpire;” and Dr. Young calls it a “god in man.” To me it seems to be no other than a faculty capable of receiving light and conviction from the Spirit of God; and answers the end in spiritual matters to the soul, that the eye does to the body in the process of vision. The eye is not light in itself, nor is it capable of discerning any object, but by the instrumentality of solar or artificial light; but it has organs properly adapted to the reception of the rays of light, and the various images of the objects which they exhibit. When these are present to an eye the organs of which are perfect, then there is a discernment of those objects which are within the sphere of vision; but when the light is absent, there is no perception of the shape, dimensions, size, or color of any object, howsoever entire or perfect the optic nerve and the different humours may be.
In the same manner (comparing spiritual things with natural) the Spirit of God enlightens that eye of the soul which we call conscience; it penetrates it with its effulgence; and (speaking as human language will permit on the subject) it has powers properly adapted to the reception of the Spirit’s emanations, which, when received, exhibit a real view of the situation, state, etc., of the soul, as it stands in reference to God and eternity. Thus the Scripture says, “The Spirit itself bears witness with our spirit,” etc., i.e. it shines into the conscience, and reflects throughout the soul a conviction, proportioned to the degree of light communicated, of condemnation or acquittance, according to the end of its coming.
The late Mr. J. Wesley’s definition of conscience, taken in a Christian sense, is nearly the same with the above: “It is,” says he, “that faculty of the soul which, by the assistance of the grace of God, sees at one and the same time, 1. Our own tempers and lives; the real nature and quality of our thoughts, words and actions. 2. The rule whereby we are to be directed. And 3. The agreement or disagreement therewith. To express this a little more largely: Conscience implies, first, the faculty a man has of knowing himself; of discerning, both in general and in particular, his temper, words, thoughts, and actions: but this is not possible for him to do, without the assistance of the Spirit of God; otherwise self-love, and indeed every other irregular passion, would disguise and wholly conceal him from himself. It implies, secondly, a knowledge of the rule whereby he is to be directed in every particular, which is no other than the written word of God. Conscience implies, thirdly, a knowledge that all his thoughts, and words, and actions are conformable to that rule. In all these offices of conscience, the unction of the holy One is indispensably needful. Without this, neither could we clearly discern our lives and tempers, nor could we judge of the rule whereby we are to walk, nor of our conformity or disconformity to it. A good conscience is a Divine consciousness of walking in all things according to the written word of God. It seems, indeed, that there can be no conscience that has not a regard to God. I doubt whether the words right and wrong, according to the Christian system, do not imply, in the very idea of them, agreement and disagreement to the will and word of God. And if so, there is no such thing as conscience in a Christian, if we leave God out of the question.” Sermon on Conscience, page 332.
Some of the Greek fathers seem to consider it as an especial gift of God; a principle implanted immediately by himself. So Chrysostom, on Psa 7., speaking of conscience, says: fusikon gar esti, kai para tou qeou hmin para thn archn enteqen? It is a natural thing, but is planted in us by our God from our birth, In his homily on Isaiah 6:2, he explains himself more particularly: qeion gar esti, kai para, qeou taiv hmeteraiv enidrumenon fucaiv? It is a Divine principle, and is by God himself implanted in our souls. It is allowed on all hands that it is a recorder and judge of human actions, which cannot be corrupted, or be induced to bear a false testimony. Every sense of the body, and every faculty of the mind, may be weakened, obstructed, or impaired, but conscience; all other powers may be deceived or imposed on, but conscience. “No man,” says Chrysostom, “can flee from the judgment of his own conscience, which cannot be shunned. It cannot be corrupted; it cannot be terrified; it cannot be flattered or bribed; nor can its testimony be obscured by any lapse of time.” Epist. ad Olymp. This strongly argues its Divine nature; and, while the Spirit of God strives with man, conscience has its full influence, and is ever alert in the performance of its office. Cicero, in his oration for Milo, describes the power of conscience well in a few words: Magna est vis conscientiae in utramque partem, ut neque timeant qui nihil commiserint, et poenam semper ante oculos versari putent qui peccarint. “Great is the power of conscience in both cases; they fear nothing who know they have committed no evil; on the contrary, they who have sinned live in continual dread of punishment.” One of our poets has said, “‘Tis conscience that makes cowards of us all.” And had we been sure that Shakespeare was a scholar, we might have supposed that he had borrowed the thought from Menander.
'o sunistorwn autw ti, kan h qrasutatov,
'h sunesiv auton deilotaton einai poiei.
If a man be conscious of any crime, although he were the most undaunted of mankind, His conscience makes him the most timid of mortals.
Apud Stobaeum, Serm. xxiv., p. 192.
Conscience is sometimes said to be good, bad, tender, seared, etc.: good, if it acquit or approve; bad, if it condemn or disapprove; tender, if it be alarmed at the least approach of evil, and severe in scrutinizing the actions of the mind or body; and seared, if it feel little alarm, etc., on the commission of sin. But these epithets can scarcely belong to it if the common definition of it be admitted; for how can it be said there is a “tender light,” a “dark or hardened light,” a “bad god,” etc., etc.? But on the other definition these terms are easily understood, and are exceedingly proper; e. g. “a good conscience” is one to which the Spirit of God has brought intelligence of the pardon of all the sins of the soul, and its reconciliation to God through the blood of Christ; and this good conscience retained, implies God’s continued approbation of such a person’s conduct; see Acts 23:1; 1 Timothy 1:5, 19; and here, Hebrews 13:18. “A bad or evil conscience”’ supposes a charge of guilt brought against the soul by the Holy Spirit, for the breach of the Divine laws; and which he makes known to it by conscience, as a medium of conveying his own light to the mind; see Hebrews 10:22; 1 Timothy 4:2; Titus 1:3. “A tender conscience” implies one fully irradiated by the light of the Holy Ghost, which enables the soul to view the good as good, and the evil as evil, in every important respect; which leads it to abominate the latter, and cleave to the former; and, if at any time it act in the smallest measure opposite to these views, it is severe in its reprehensions, and bitter in its regret. “A darkened or hardened conscience” means one that has little or none of this Divine light; consequently, the soul feels little or no self-reprehension for acts of transgression, but runs on in sin, and is not aware of the destruction that awaits it, heedless of counsel, and regardless of reproof. This state of the soul St. Paul calls by the name of a “seared conscience,” or one cauterized by repeated applications of sin, and resistings of the Holy Ghost; so that, being grieved and quenched, he has withdrawn his light and influence from it.
The word conscience itself ascertains the above explication with its deductions, being compounded of con, together, or with, and scio, to know, because it knows or convinces by or together with the Spirit of God. The Greek word suneidhsiv, which is the only word used for conscience through the whole New Testament, has the very same meaning, being compounded of sun, together or with, and eidw, to know. This is the same as suneidov, which is the word generally used among ecclesiastical writers.
From the above view of the subject I think we are warranted in drawing the following inferences:—
1. All men have what is called conscience; and conscience plainly supposes the light or Spirit of God. 2. The Spirit of God is given to enlighten, convince, strengthen, and bring men back to God. 3. Therefore all men may be saved who attend to and coincide with the light and convictions communicated; for the God of the Christians does not give men his Spirit to enlighten, etc., merely to leave them without excuse; but that it may direct, strengthen, and lead them to himself, that they may be finally saved. 4. That this spirit comes from the grace of God is demonstrable from hence: it is a “ good and perfect gift,” and St. James says all such come from the Father of lights. Again, it cannot be merited, for as it implies the influence of the Holy Spirit, it must be of an infinite value; yet it is GIVEN; that then which is not merited and yet is given must be of grace; not ineffectual grace, there is no such principle in the Godhead.
Thus it appears all men are partakers of the grace of God, for all acknowledge that conscience is common to all; and this is but a recipient faculty, and necessarily implies the spirit of grace given by Jesus Christ, not that the world might be thereby condemned, but that it might be saved. Nevertheless, multitudes, who are partakers of this heavenly gift, sin against it, lose it, and perish everlastingly, not through the deficiency of the gift, but through the abuse of it. I conclude that conscience is not a power of the soul, acting by or of itself; but a recipient faculty, in which that true light that lighteth every man that cometh into the world has its especial operation.
II. In this chapter the apostle inculcates the duty of hospitality, particularly in respect to entertaining strangers; i.e. persons of whom we know nothing, but that they are now in a state of distress, and require the necessaries of life. Some, says the apostle, have entertained angels without knowing them; and some, we may say, have entertained great men, kings, and emperors, without knowing them. By exercising this virtue many have gained; few have ever lost.
God, in many parts of his own word, is represented as the stranger’s friend; and there is scarcely a duty in life which he inculcates in stronger terms than that of hospitality to strangers. The heathen highly applauded this virtue; and among them the person of a stranger was sacred, and supposed to be under the particular protection of Jove, Homer gives the sentiment in all its beauty when he puts the following words into the mouth of Eumaeus, when he addressed Ulysses, who appeared a forlorn stranger, and, being kindly received by him, implored in his behalf a Divine blessing:
zeuv toi doih, xeine, kai aqanatoi qeoi alloi 'otti malist/ eqeleiv, oti me profrwn upedexo. ton d/ apameibomenov prosefhv, eumaie subwta? xein/, ou moi qemiv est/, oud/ ei kakiwn seqen elqoi, xeinon atimhsai? prov qap diov eisin apantev xeinoi te, ptwcoi te? dosiv d/ aligh te filh te gignetai hmeterh.
ODYSS., lib. xiv., v. 53.
My gentle host, Jove grant thee, and the gods
All grant thee, for this deed thy best desire!
To whom the herd Eumaeus thus replied;
My guest, it were unjust to treat with scorn
The stranger, though a poorer should arrive
Than even thou; for all the poor that are,
And all the strangers, are the care of Jove.
Little, and with good will, is all that lies
Within my scope.
The Scriptures which more particularly recommend this duty are the following: He doth execute the judgment of the fatherless and widow, and loveth the stranger, in giving him food and raiment. Love ye, therefore, the stranger; for ye were strangers in the land of Egypt; Deuteronomy 10:18, 19. I was a stranger, and ye took me in. Come, ye blessed of my Father, Matthew 25:35. Given to hospitality; Romans 12:13. Neglect not to entertain strangers; Hebrews 13:2.
“The entertaining of unknown strangers,” says Dr. Owen, “which was so great a virtue in ancient times, is almost driven out of the world by the wickedness of it. The false practices of some, with wicked designs, under the habit and pretense of strangers, on the one hand, and pretences for sordid covetousness on the other, have banished it from the earth. And there are enough who are called Christians who never once thought it to be their duty.” But it is vain to inculcate the duty where the spirit of it is not found; and we shall never find the spirit of it in any heart where the love of God and man does not rule.
Benevolent wishes of Be ye warmed and Be ye clothed are frequent enough; these cost nothing, and therefore can be readily used by the most parsimonious.
But to draw out a man’s soul to the hungry, to draw out his warmest affections, while he is drawing out, in order to divide with the destitute, the contents of his purse, belongs to the man of genuine feeling; and this can scarcely be expected where the compassionate mind that was in Christ does not rule. One bountiful meal to the poor may often be a preventive of death; for there are times in which a man may be brought so low for want of proper nourishment that, if he get not a timely supply, after-help comes in vain, nature being too far exhausted ever to recover itself, though the vital spark may linger long. One wholesome meal in time may be the means of enabling nature to contend successfully with after privations; and he who has afforded this meal to the destitute has saved a life. “But most who go about seeking relief are idle persons and impostors, and it would be sinful to relieve them.” When you know the applicant to be such, then refuse his suit; but if you have nothing but suspicion, which suspicion generally arises from an uncharitable and unfeeling heart, then beware how you indulge it. If, through such suspicion, a man should lose his life, God will require his blood at your hand.
Reader, permit me to relate an anecdote which I have heard from that most eminent man of God, the reverend John Wesley; it may put thee in mind to entertain strangers. “At Epworth, in Lincolnshire, where (says he) I was born, a poor woman came to a house in the market-place and begged a morsel of bread, saying, I am very hungry. The master of the house called her a lazy jade, and bade her be gone. She went forward, called at another house, and asked for a little small-beer, saying, I am very thirsty. Here she was refused, and told to go to the workhouse. She struggled on to a third door and begged a little water, saying, I am faint. The owner drove her away, saying, He would encourage no common beggars. It was winter, and the snow lay upon the ground. The boys, seeing a poor ragged creature driven away from door to door, began to throw snow-balls at her. She went to a little distance, sat down on the ground, lifted up her eyes to heaven, reclined on the earth, and expired!” Here was a stranger; had the first to whom she applied relieved her with a morsel of bread, he would have saved her life, and not been guilty of blood. As the case stood, the woman was murdered; and those three householders will stand arraigned at the bar of God for her death. Reader, fear to send any person empty away. If you know him to be an impostor, why then give him nothing. But if you only suspect it, let not your suspicion be the rule of your conduct; give something, however little; because that little may be sufficient to preserve him, if in real want, from present death. If you know him not to be a knave, to you he may be an angel. God may have sent him to exercise your charity, and try your faith. It can never be a matter of regret to you that you gave an alms for God’s sake, though you should afterwards find that the person to whom you gave it was both a hypocrite and impostor. Better to be imposed on by ninety-nine hypocrites out of a hundred applicants, than send one, like the poor Epworth woman, empty away.
Finished correcting this epistle for a new edition,
Dec. 30, 1831 — A. C.