Therefore] Because we are heirs of a better covenant, administered not by Angels but by a Son, to whom as Mediator an absolute dominion is to be assigned.
we ought] The word implies moral necessity and not mere obligation. The author never loses sight of the fact that his purpose was to warn as well as to teach.
to give the more earnest heed] If the command to “take heed to thyself, and keep thy soul diligently lest thou forget the things that thine eyes have seen” (Deu_4:9) came with awful force to those who had only received the Law by the disposition of Angels, how much “more abundantly” should Christians attend to Him of Whom Moses had spoken to their fathers? (Act_3:22).
to the things which we have heard] Lit., “to the things heard,” i.e. to the Gospel.
lest at any time] Rather, “lest haply.”
we should let them slip] Rather, “should drift away from them.” Wiclif rendered the word more correctly than the A. V. which here follows the Genevan Bible of 1560—“lest peradventure we fleten away.” The verb thus resembles the Latin praetervehi. The metaphor is taken from a boat which having no “anchor sure and steadfast,” slips its anchor, and as Luther says in his gloss, “before her landing shoots away into destruction” (Pro_3:21 LXX. υἱὲ μὴ παραῤῥυῆς). It is obvious that these Hebrew converts were in great danger of “drifting away” from the truth under the pressure of trial, and in consequence of the apathy produced by isolation and deferred hopes (Heb_3:6, Heb_6:11, Heb_10:25; Heb_10:36-37, Heb_12:1-3).
Therefore – Greek “On account of this” – Δια τοῦτο Dia touto – that is, on account of the exalted dignity and rank of the Messiah as stated in the previous chapter. The sense is: “Since Christ, the author of the new dispensation, is so far exalted above the prophets, and even the angels, we ought to give the more earnest attention to all that has been spoken.”
We ought – It is suitable or proper (Greek δεὶ dei) that we should attend to those things. When the Son of God speaks to people, every consideration makes it appropriate that we should attend to what is spoken.
To give the more earnest heed. – To give the more strict attention.
To the things which we have heard. – Whether directly from the Lord Jesus, or from his apostles. It is possible that some of those to whom the apostle was writing had heard the Lord Jesus himself preach the gospel: others had heard the same truths declared by the apostles.
Lest at any time. – We ought to attend to those things at all times. We ought never to forget them; never to be indifferent to them. We are sometimes interested in them, and then we feel indifferent to them; sometimes at leisure to attend to them, and then the cares of the world, or a heaviness and dullness of mind, or a cold and languid state of the affections, renders us indifferent to them, and they are suffered to pass out of the mind without concern. Paul says, that this ought never to be done. At no time should we be indifferent to those things. They are always important to us, and we should never be in a state of mind when they would be uninteresting. At all times; in all places; and in every situation of life, we should feel that the truths of religion are of more importance to us than all other truths, and nothing should be suffered to efface their image from the heart.
We should let them slip. – Margin, “Run out as leaking vessels.” Tyndale renders this, “lest we be spilt.” The expression here has given rise to much discussion as to its meaning; and has been very differently translated. Doddridge renders it, “lest we let them flow out of our minds.” Prof. Stuart, “lest at any time we should slight them.” Whitby: “that they may not entirely slip out of our memories.” The word used here – παραῤῥυέω pararrueō – occurs nowhere else in the New Testament. The Septuagint translators have used the word only once. Pro_3:21. “Son, do not pass by (μὴ παραῤῥυῇς mē pararruēs but keep my counsel;” that is, do not pass by my advice by neglect, or suffer it to be disregarded. The word means, according to Passow, to flow by, to flow over; and then to go by, to fall, to go away. It is used to mean to flow near, to flow by – as of a river; to glide away, to escape – as from the mind, that is, to forget; and to glide along – as a thief does by stealth. See Robinson’s Lexicon. The Syriac and Arabic translators have rendered it: “that we may not fall.” After all that has been said on the meaning of the word here (compare Stuart in loc.), it seems to me that the true sense of the expression is that of flowing, or gliding by – as a river; and that the meaning here is, that we should be very cautious that the important truths spoken by the Redeemer and his apostles should not be suffered to “glide by” us without attention, or without profit. We should not allow them to be like a stream that glides on by us without benefiting us; that is, we should endeavor to secure and retain them as our own. The truth taught, is that there is great danger, now that the true system of religion has been revealed, that it will not profit us, but that we shall lose all the benefit of it. This danger may arise from many sources – some of which are the following:
(1) We may not feel that the truths revealed are important – and before their importance is felt, they may be beyond our reach. So we are often deceived in regard to the importance of objects – and before we perceive their value they are irrecoverably gone. So it is often with time, and with the opportunities of obtaining an education, or of accomplishing any object which is of value. The opportunity is gone before we perceive its importance. So the young suffer the most important period of life to glide away before they perceive its value, and the opportunity of making much of their talents is lost because they did not embrace the suitable opportunities.
(2) By being engrossed in business. We feel that that is now the most important thing. That claims all our attention. We have no time to pray, to read the Bible, to think of religion, for the cares of the world engross all the time – and the opportunities of salvation glide insensibly away, until it is too late.
(3) By being attracted by the pleasures of life. We attend to them now, and are drawn along from one to another, until religion is suffered to glide away with all its hopes and consolations, and we perceive, too late, that we have let the opportunity of salvation slip forever. Allured by those pleasures, the young neglect it; and new pleasures starting up in future life carry on the delusion, until every favorable opportunity for salvation has passed away.
(4) We suffer favorable opportunities to pass by without improving them. Youth is by far the best time, as it is the most appropriate time, to become a Christian – and yet how easy is it to allow that period to slip away without becoming interested in the Saviour! One day glides on after another, and one week, and one month, one year passes away after another – like a gently-flowing stream – until all the precious time of youth has gone, and we are still not Christians. So a revival of religion is a favorable time – and yet many suffer this to pass by without becoming interested in it. Others are converted, and the heavenly influences descend all around us, but we are unaffected, and the season so full of happy and heavenly influences is gone – to return no more.
(5) We let the favorable season slip, because we design to attend to it at some future period of life. So youth defers it to manhood – manhood to old age – old age to a death-bed – and then neglects it – until the whole of life has glided away, and the soul is not saved. Paul knew man. He knew how prone he was to let the things of religion slip out of the mind – and hence, the earnestness of his caution that we should give heed to the subject now – lest the opportunity of salvation should soon glide away. When once passed, it can never be recalled. Hence, learn:
(1) The truths of religion will not benefit us unless we give heed to them. It will not save us that the Lord Jesus has come and spoken to people, unless we are disposed to listen. It will not benefit us that the sun shines, unless we open our eyes. Books will not benefit us, unless we read them; medicine, unless we take it; nor will the fruits of the earth sustain our lives, however rich and abundant they may be, if we disregard and neglect them. So with the truths of religion. There is truth enough to save the world – but the world disregards and despises it.
(2) It needs not great sins to destroy the soul. Simple “neglect” will do it as certainly as atrocious crimes. Every person has a sinful heart that will destroy him unless he makes an effort to be saved; and it is not merely the great sinner, therefore, who is in danger. It is the man who “neglects” his soul – whether a moral or an immoral man – a daughter of amiableness, or a daughter of vanity and vice.
For] An argument a minori ad majus, of which indeed the whole Epistle is a specimen. It was the commonest form assumed by the Rabbinic interpretation of Scripture, and was the first of the seven exegetic rules of Hillel, who called it “light and heavy.”
the word spoken by angels] The “by” is not ὑπό but διἀ, i.e. “by means of,” “through the instrumentality of.” The presence of Angels at Sinai is but slightly alluded to in the O. T. in Deu_33:2; Psa_68:17; but these allusions had been greatly expanded, and were prominently dwelt upon in Rabbinic teaching—the Talmud, Targums, Midrashim, &c.—until, at last, we find in the tract Maccoth that God was only supposed to have uttered the First Commandment, while all the rest of the Law was delivered by Angels. This notion was at least as old as Josephus, who makes Herod say that the Jews “had learned of God through Angels” the most sacred part of their laws (Jos. Antt. xv. 5 § 3). The Alexandrian theology especially, impressed with the truth that “no man hath seen God at any time (comp. Exo_33:20) eagerly seized on the allusions to Angels as proving that every theophany was only indirect, and that God could only be seen through the medium of Angelic appearances. Hence the Jews frequently referred to Psa_104:4, and regarded the fire, and smoke, and storm of Sinai as being Angelic vehicles of the divine manifestation. And besides this, their boast of the Angelic ministry of the Law was founded on the allusions to the “Angel of the Presence” (Exo_32:34; Exo_33:14; Jos_5:14; Isa_63:9). In the N. T. the only two other passages which allude to the work of Angels in delivering the Law are Act_7:53; Gal_3:19 (see my Life of St Paul, ii. 149). Clearly the Hebrew Christians had to be delivered from the notion that Christ, by being “made under the Law,” had subjected Himself to the loftier position of the Angels who had ministered the Law.
was stedfast] Rather, “became” or “proved” steadfast. The Law was no brutum julmen; no inoperative dead-letter, but effective to vindicate its own majesty, and punish its own violation. Philo uses the very same word (βέβαια) of the institutions of Moses; but the difference of standpoint between him and the writer is illustrated by the fact that Philo also calls them ἀσάλευτα, “not to be shaken” which this writer would not have done (Heb_12:27).
every transgression and disobedience] i.e. all sins against it, whether of commission or of omission. Parabasis is “transgression;” parakoη is “mishearing” and neglect (Mat_18:17; Rom_5:19).
just] This form of the word (endikos) occurs only here and in Rom_3:8.
received a just recompence of reward] The word misthos, “wage” or “pay”—which is used of punishment as well as of reward—would have expressed the same thought; but the writer likes the more sonorous misthapodosia (Heb_10:35, Heb_11:26). This remorseless self-vindication by the Law (“without mercy”), the certainty that it could not be broken with impunity, is alluded to in Heb_10:28. The Israelites found even in the wilderness (Lev_10:1-2; Num_15:32; Num_15:36; Deu_4:3, &c.), that such stern warnings as that of Num_15:30—threatening excision to offenders—were terribly real, and applied alike to individuals and to the nation.
how shall we escape] The “we” (being expressed in the original) is emphatic—we who are sons, not servants. The verb means “how shall we succeed in escaping,” or, “make good our escape”—namely, from similar, but yet more awful punishment (comp. Heb_12:25).
if we neglect] Rather, “after neglecting,” or “when we have neglected.”
so great salvation] The transcendence (Heb_7:25) of the safety provided is a measure of the guilt involved in ceasing to pay any attention to it (Heb_10:29; Joh_12:48). It came from Christ not from Angels, its sanctions are more eternal, its promises more divine, its whole character more spiritual.
which at the first began to be spoken] Literally, “seeing that it, having at the first been spoken.”
by the Lord] The Gospels shew that Jesus was the first preacher of His own Gospel (Mar_1:14). “The Lord,” standing alone, is very rarely, if ever, used as a title for Christ in St Paul. (1Th_4:15; 2Th_2:2; 2Ti_4:18, are, to say the least, indecisive.)
was confirmed] The “word of this salvation”—the news of this Gospel—was ratified to us (comp. 1Co_1:6), and so it becomes “steadfast.” The verb is derived from the adjective so rendered in Heb_2:2.
by them that heard] We did not indeed receive the Gospel at firsthand, but from those who were its appointed witnesses (Luk_24:47-48; Act_1:8; Act_5:32). This verse, as Luther and Calvin so clearly saw, furnishes a decisive proof that St Paul was not the writer of this Epistle. He always insisted on the primary and direct character of the revelation which he had received as his independent Gospel (Gal_1:1; Gal_1:12; Act_22:10; Act_26:16; 1Co_11:23; 1Co_15:3, &c.). To talk of “accommodation” here is quite beside the mark.
How shall we escape – How shall we escape the just recompense due to transgressors? What way is there of being saved from punishment, if we suffer the great salvation to be neglected, and do not embrace its offers? The sense is, that there is no other way of salvation, and the neglect of this will be followed by certain destruction. why it will, the apostle proceeds to show, by stating that this plan of salvation was proclaimed first by the Lord himself, and had been confirmed by the most decided and amazing miracles.
If we neglect – It is not merely if we commit great sins. Not, if we are murderers, adulterers, thieves, infidels, atheists, scoffers. It is, if we merely “neglect” this salvation – if we do not embrace it – if we suffer it to pass unimproved. “Neglect” is enough to ruin a man. A man who is in business need not commit forgery or robbery to ruin himself; he has only to “neglect” his business, and his ruin is certain. A man who is lying on a bed of sickness, need not cut his throat to destroy himself; he has only to “neglect” the means of restoration, and he will be ruined. A man floating in a skiff above Niagara, need not move an oar or make an effort to destroy himself; he has only to “neglect” using the oar at the proper time, and he will certainly be carried over the cataract. Most of the calamities of life are caused by simple “neglect.” By neglect of education children grow up in ignorance; by neglect a farm grows up to weeds and briars; by neglect a house goes to decay; by neglect of sowing, a man will have no harvest; by neglect of reaping, the harvest would rot in the fields. No worldly interest can prosper where there is neglect; and why may it not be so in religion? There is nothing in earthly affairs that is valuable that will not be ruined if it is not attended to – and why may it not be so with the concerns of the soul? Let no one infer, therefore, that because he is not a drunkard, or an adulterer, or a murderer, that, therefore, he will be saved. Such an inference would be as irrational as it would be for a man to infer that because he is not a murderer his farm will produce a harvest, or that because he is not an adulterer therefore his merchandise will take care of itself. Salvation would be worth nothing if it cost no effort – and there will be no salvation where no effort is put forth.
So great salvation – . Salvation from sin and from hell. It is called “great” because:
(1) Its author is great. This is perhaps the main idea in this passage. It “began to be spoken by the Lord;” it had for its author the Son of God, who is so much superior to the angels; whom the angels were required to worship Heb_1:6; who is expressly called God Heb_1:8; who made all things, and who is eternal; Heb_1:10-12. A system of salvation promulgated by him “must” be of infinite importance, and have a claim to the attention of man.
(2) It is “great” because it saves from great sins. It is adapted to deliver from all sins, no matter how aggravated. No one is saved who feels that his sins are small, or that they are of no consequence. Each one sees his sins to be black and aggravated, and each one who enters heaven, will go there feeling and confessing that it is a great salvation which has brought such a sinner there. Besides, this salvation delivers from all sin – no matter how gross and aggravated. The adulterer, the murderer, the blasphemer, may come and be saved, and the salvation which redeems such sinners from eternal ruin is “great.”
(3) It is great because it saves from great dangers. The danger of an eternal hell besets the path of each one. All do not see it; and all will not believe it when told of it. But this danger hovers over the path of every mortal. The danger of an eternal hell! Salvation from everlasting burnings! Deliverance from unending ruin! Surely that salvation must be great which shall save from such a doom! If that salvation is neglected, that danger still hangs over each and every man. The gospel did not create that danger – it came to deliver from it. Whether the gospel be true or false, each man is by nature exposed to eternal death – just as each one is exposed to temporal death whether the doctrine of the immortality of the soul and of the resurrection be true or false. The gospel comes to provide a remedy for dangers and woes – it does not create them; it comes to deliver people from great dangers – not to plunge them into them. “Back of the gospel,” and before it was preached at all, people were in danger of everlasting punishment, and that system which came to proclaim deliverance from such a danger, is great.
(4) The salvation itself is great in heaven. It exalts people to infinite honors, and places on their heads an eternal crown. Heaven with all its glories is offered to us; and such a deliverance, and such an elevation to eternal honors, deserves to be called great. If that is neglected, there is no other salvation; and man must be inevitably destroyed.
(5) It is “great” because it was effected by infinite displays of power, and wisdom, and love. It was procured by the incarnation and humiliation of the Son of God. It was accomplished amidst great sufferings and self-denials. It was attended with great miracles. The tempest was stilled, and the deaf were made to hear, and the blind to see, and the dead were raised, and the sun was darkened, and the rocks were rent. The whole series of wonders connected with the incarnation and death of the Lord Jesus, was such as the world had not seen elsewhere, and such as was suited to hold the race in mute admiration and astonishment. If this be so, then religion is no trifle. It is not a matter of little importance whether we embrace it or not. It is the most momentous of all the concerns that pertain to man; and has a claim on his attention which nothing else can have. Yet the mass of people live in the “neglect” of it. It is not that they are professedly atheists, or deists, or that they are immoral or profane; it is not that they oppose it, and ridicule it, and despise it; it is that they simply “neglect” it. They pass it by. They attend to other things. They are busy with their pleasures, or in their counting-houses, in their workshops, or on their farms; they are engaged in politics, or in bookmaking, and they “neglect” religion now as a thing of small importance – proposing to attend to it hereafter, as if they acted on the principle that everything else was to be attended to before religion.
Which at the first – Greek “Which received the beginning of being spoken.” The meaning is correctly expressed in our translation. Christ “began” to preach the gospel; the apostles followed him. John prepared the way; but the Saviour was properly the first preacher of the gospel.
By the Lord – By the Lord Jesus; see notes on Act_1:24.
And was confirmed unto us … – They who heard him preach, that is, the apostles, were witnesses of what he said, and certified us of its truth. When the apostle here says “us,” he means the church at large. Christians were assured of the truth of what the Lord Jesus spake by the testimony of the apostles; or the apostles communicated it to those who had not heard him in such a manner as to leave no room for doubt.
God also bearing them witness] The original is stronger, “God bearing witness with them;” the supernatural witness coincided with the human.
both with signs and wonders, and with divers miracles] “Signs” to shew that there was a power behind their witness; “portents” to awaken the feeling of astonishment, and so arouse interest; and various “powers.” These are alluded to, or recorded, in Mar_16:20; Act_2:43; Act_19:11. St Paul himself appealed to his own “mighty signs and wonders” (Rom_15:18-19; 1Co_2:4).
and gifts of the Holy Ghost, according to his own will] The word “gifts” means rather “distributions” (Heb_4:12, “dividing”), and the words “according to His own will” apply only to this clause—the gifts which the Holy Spirit distributes as He wills (1Co_7:17; 1Co_12:11; Rom_12:3).
God also bearing them witness – By miracles. Giving them the sanction of his authority, or showing that they were sent by him. No man can work a miracle by his own power. When the dead are raised, the deaf made to hear and the blind to see by a word, it is the power of God alone that does it. He thus becomes a “witness” to the divine appointment of him by whose instrumentality the miracle is performed; or furnishes an attestation that what he says is true; see notes on Act_14:3.
With signs and wonders. – These words are usually connected in the New Testament. The word rendered “signs” – σημεῖον sēmeion – means any miraculous event that is suited to show that what had been predicted by a prophet would certainly take place; see Mat_12:38; compare note on Isa_7:11. A “wonder” – τέρας teras – denotes a portent, or prodigy – something that is suited to excite wonder or amazement – and hence, a miracle. The words together refer to the various miracles which were performed by the Lord Jesus and his apostles, designed to confirm the truth of the Christian religion.
And with divers miracles. – Various miracles, such as healing the sick, raising the dead, etc. The miracles were not of one class merely, but were various, so that all pretence of deception should be taken away.
And gifts of the Holy Ghost. – Margin, “Distributions.” The various influences of the Holy Spirit enabling them to speak different languages, and to perform works beyond the power of man; see notes on 1Co_12:4-11.
According to his will – As he chose. He acted as a sovereign in this. He gave them where he pleased, and imparted them in such measure as he chose. The sense of this whole passage is, “The gospel has been promulgated to man in a solemn manner. It was first published by the Lord of glory himself. It was confirmed by the most impressive and solemn miracles. It is undoubtedly a revelation from heaven; was given in more solemn circumstances than the Law of Moses, and its threatenings are more to be dreaded than those of the Law. Beware, therefore, how you trifle with it, or disregard it. It cannot be neglected with safety; its neglect or rejection must be attended with condemnation.”