"For the law made nothing perfect, but the bringing in of a better hope did; by the which we draw nigh unto God." (Hebrews 7:19)
By the term "law" here, we are to understand that Levitical dispensation which was given to Israel in the wilderness. "The law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ," (John 1:17) as is evident from the Apostle's argument all along; for he speaks in the eleventh verse in this way. "If, therefore, perfection were by the Levitical priesthood (for under it the people received the law,) what further need was there that another priest should rise after the order of Melchisedec, and not be called after the order of Aaron?" (Heb. 7:11) It appears to be that law of ceremonies which was given by Moses in the wilderness unto the children of Israel, and was like the Gospel preached unto them in a figure. "The law having a shadow of good things to come, and not the very image of the things, can never with those sacrifices which they offered year by year continually, make the comers thereunto perfect." (Heb. 10:1) It was but a shadow--an imperfect shadow, as shadows are imperfect in the representation of the things they are the shadows of; they are not the very image of them. And further it is called a schoolmaster; or, as the learned rather tell us, the word thus called a schoolmaster is a pedagogue (a word often made use in our own country, and a schoolmaster called a pedagogue.) A pedagogue is not a schoolmaster--it merely means one who takes care of children under age, to see that they go to school, and attend to their school, and are brought up properly. So we are told, "The law was our pedagogue," or, as we have it translated, "schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith." (Gal. 3:24) Yet we are told again, that when Moses spake these things unto the children of Israel, there was such a glory shone in his face that the children of Israel could not steadfastly behold it for the glory of his countenance; therefore he took a veil and put it over his face. And we are told that veil so obscured their view of the Levitical dispensation, which was by his instrumentality instituted, that they "could not steadfastly look to the end of that which is abolished...for unto this day remaineth the same veil untaken away in the reading of the Old Testament...Nevertheless, when it shall turn to the Lord, the veil shall be taken away" (2 Cor. 3:14-16)--when they turn to Him who was set forth in figure by it. It does appear that Moses saw the end of those types and shadows which were instituted according to the pattern showed him in the mount; he saw the end, and that caused the skin of his face to shine--but others could not see it, and they were afraid of the glory of his countenance; he had put a veil over it, and they saw it in a blind manner--they could not see perfectly, nor to the end of that which was to be abolished; they were but shadows, image-representations of the things that were to come, and not the very image of them.
Now we are told they "made nothing perfect." I know this is generally looked at, and has been by some who are accounted great men in the Church of Christ, as referring to the law under which we mortals are born. But it must have been an oversight, a misapprehension of divine truth entirely, that has led them to it.
That law under which we are born is that against which we have transgressed, and so become amenable, or stand exposed, to God's eternal wrath, as we are corrupted and depraved and ruined. That could not make perfect; it was given when we were in a perfect condition of creatureship, and never intended to relieve, or deliver, or redeem, or save from it; it pronounced a curse upon man's sin.
Now the law given by Moses pointed to redemption, to salvation. There was a priest to stand between God and the people; there was the atoning blood which he carried into the holiest of all; there was the incense he went in with, there was the blood of beasts, and various different ceremonies, offerings, and so forth, to set forth the Person of Christ, and redemption through Him. And, all through, we find it was redemption by another. There was the blood of beasts, the blood of goats, the ashes of an heifer, the daily shew-bread, and all the various cleansings and purgings; and there was the priest taking this blood into the holiest of all, and coming out again--he could not remain for ever, he could not continue by reason of death, and no death was to go into the presence of the Lord Most High--there is no death in His presence. These all pointed to deliverance from that curse of the law--they pointed to salvation, to redemption from the curse.
It was not our doing, but the doing and dying of another; not our own personal intercession, but the intercession of another that was the effectual intercession, when they went in with blood which was offered for themselves, and for the errors of the people.
Now it is said, "The law made nothing perfect." It could not cleanse from sin the guilty conscience. It could make nothing perfect "as pertaining to the conscience." It was impossible that the blood of bulls and of goats, and the ashes of an heifer, should do it--they were only types; or that any man, any human being like us, or from among us fallen creatures, should ever stand in the way between God and us, and be an ever-living intercessor for us. It was not the blood of the victim that had sinned that was shed; it was not the blood of the nature of that sinner that was shed; it was not a perfect priest who offered it; it was not one with the power of immortal, eternal life, who offered it; so that there could be no perfection. Therefore, the Apostle says, it had to be offered again year by year continually; it could not make the comers thereunto perfect--fresh blood had to be offered, fresh priests had to succeed the dying priest, and fresh blood taken year by year continually into the holiest of all, shadowing forth the mercy that was to come. The law was not intended to deliver from sin; the law was not intended to pardon sin; it was only a shadow of good things that were to come.
"But the bringing in of a better hope did." I think our translators have acted rightly in putting in that word "did." If you look at the margin of your Bible, it seems to be translated there in the original way: "But it was the bringing in of a better hope," which does not sound so clear and particular as what we have in the text. "For the law made nothing perfect, but it was the bringing in of a better hope," which connected with the next clause of the verse reads: "But it was the bringing in of a better hope, by the which we draw nigh unto God." So that in reality this little word "did" seems rightly placed here, as they are in other places of the Scriptures. The translators have always put them in italics; and, when you find them so, you may depend upon it that it is a word not used in the original language, there was no need for it, but was obliged to be used in our language to make the expression clear.
Now we will look at that "better hope," what that "better hope" is; and then at the next part of the verse--"by the which we draw nigh unto God."
"Hope" is put for many things in the Scriptures. We find the Apostle Paul sometimes uses it with reference to everlasting life--"In hope of eternal life, which God, that cannot lie, promised before the world began." (Titus 1:2) Then again, he speaks of--"The Lord Jesus Christ which is our hope," (1 Tim. 1:1) and he speaks of hope in Him. So that hope sometimes refers to the things hoped for, and sometimes to the Person hoped in. The things hoped for are always hoped for in the Person of Jesus Christ, for God has given us all things there. He "hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ." (Eph. 1:3) Now I consider myself that the hope here refers to the Incarnate Son of God, the Lord of glory, Christ Jesus, and that, too, as He has accomplished the work of redemption, and risen again from the dead, and ascended to glory. So it says, "That we might have strong consolation, who have fled for refuge to lay hold upon the hope set before us: which hope we have as an anchor of the soul, both sure and steadfast, and which entereth into that within the veil; whither the Forerunner is for us entered." (Heb. 6:18-20) The bringing in of this better hope refers to that Person, and the work He has accomplished in redemption, in making satisfaction for sin, in bringing in everlasting righteousness, in bringing everlasting, immortal life to light, and in ever living for us as our Intercessor and High Priest at God's right hand. That is a better hope.
We find in this Person the same nature that sinned was made a curse; the same nature to whom the curse was due, died under the curse, and made atonement; the same nature that sinned and brought the curse into the world, was literally punished and made a curse for us. Not so with the beasts, not so with those victims that were offered under the law--they were the beasts of the field, not human nature. But here, in the Person of Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory, the eternal Son of God, He took flesh of ours, was a perfect Man, body and soul, One with us, perfectly innocent and free from our sin and guilt, and not exposed to wrath as we were, for He was holy, harmless, and undefiled; but He voluntarily undertook to stand in our place, to bear our sin, to be made a curse for us, and to die in our stead.
Now, as our Priest, He offered Himself--His human soul and body; Himself was the victim. And we are told that offering was accepted of God, for He is now gone into the holiest of all as a Priest with His own blood; the Priest who offered the blood taking it into the presence of God for us, and there He has gone--a Priest after the order of Melchisedec; a compound of two Hebrew words, "king" and "righteousness"--as the Apostle paraphrases it, "First being by interpretation king of righteousness, and after that also king of Salem, which is king of peace." (Heb. 7:2) He is gone in there, and is constituted our Priest by the oath of God, such as no human being ever was. And now, the Apostle tells us, the Levitical order is done away with; there is a change altogether.
If there is a change of the priesthood, there is a change of the law. The law under which those priests ministered was one of shadows, one of representations, one where the veil was over the face, one where carnal things were taken to represent spiritual things. Now, he says, the veil is taken away, now we use plainness of speech, not dark similitudes, now with open face we behold as in a glass the glory of the Lord. (2 Cor. 3:18) Not with the deceitful words of man's wisdom, not with the wisdom of this world that comes to naught, but the wisdom of God is set forth to us in the glorious mystery of the Person of our Incarnate God--there it is plainly set forth to us.
When God laid iniquity upon the Man Christ Jesus, and took vengeance there, there was atonement once made, and perfectly made, for ever made, "for by one offering He hath perfected for ever them that are sanctified." (Heb. 10:14) There was the very Victim, the very nature, spotless human nature, not one of another nature, but One who was once offered to be offered no more; and, besides, it was such a Victim! God had His Fellow, His co-equal, co-eternal Son--it was He who offered Himself.
Then, we are told, it was impossible that He should be holden of the cords of death, it was impossible that He should remain in the grave, that the grave should hold Him who was eternal life itself; God released the pains of death, God raised His Son, because He had fulfilled all His sacred will, to His eternal glory. Now He lives our High Priest, we have no other priest but the Man Christ Jesus--all other priests are anti-christs, they stand opposed to Christ; for a priest is one who is ordained to offer sacrifices and gifts for men, to stand between them and God; we have only One, we want no more. You see how those who have them go straight away to Babylon, the great mystery Babylon; we want none of them, they are anti-christs, and stand opposed to Christ. We have one Priest, and one only, none other we want. He is touched with the feeling of all our infirmities, He is of our nature, and He has more sympathy in His heart than any creature ever can have; they will all serve themselves; it is so, that the most upright is sharper than a thorn-hedge; but here we have One who is unchangeable the same, without variableness, or shadow of a turning (James 1:17)--"Jesus Christ the same yesterday, and today, and for ever," (Heb. 13:8) and One who has loosed the pains of death for us, One who has taken our nature into heaven, to eternal glory, where He lives for ever at God's right hand to make intercession for us. (Rom. 8:34)
There are two expressions in the Scriptures that are worthy of notice. One is "for everlasting," and the other, "for ever and ever;" there is always an "ever" to come after it, or, as the Hebrew expresses it, if we were to translate it literally, "for ever and yet." Now we find that the Levitical priests had the priesthood for a long time; it is called "an everlasting priesthood." We find the Jews had an inheritance in the land of Canaan; it was to be "an everlasting inheritance"--for a long time; but we find the expressions in the Word of truth respecting everlasting life have a double expression; it is eternal, everlasting life the Lord of glory brought to light.
It is through this Man alone we can draw nigh to God. The Lord of glory has risen to immortal, eternal life; God did not call Him into the holy place made with hands, into a place representing things, but He called Him into His very presence, and ordained Him a Priest "after the power of an endless life," (Heb. 7:16) "a Priest after the order of Melchisedec," where there is neither beginning of days nor end of life, but He abideth a Priest continually. (Heb. 7:3)
Now we have in Him One always living, never to die; One always the same, without any change; so we are told, "He is able to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by Him, seeing He ever liveth to make intercession for them." (Heb. 7:25) There is our hope--sin is put away, or the Son of God would not live: eternal redemption is obtained, or the Son of God would not dwell in heaven, He would not abide there. Sin is put away, death is abolished, everlasting life is attained, the Son of God lives for ever. Death is an enemy, the fruit of sin, risen up against God, and the Son of God has triumphed over it.
Now that which stood against us was the curse, death, and eternal destruction from the presence of God. Our glorious High Priest, the Bringer-in of this better hope, is an immortal, ever-living Saviour; having once died, He lives again to die no more, and death has no more dominion over Him; so we have a fullness, a completeness of redemption shown by the resurrection and ascension of the Lord of glory to the Father's right hand. That is a good hope, that is everlasting life.
It is through this Man we can draw nigh to God; only through this Man, the atonement, the reconciliation He has made, the everlasting righteousness, and the immortal, eternal life He has brought to light. We can only make confession of sin aright here--there is destruction elsewhere, but the blood of atonement, we are told, is applicable to "them that come unto God by Him," He lives to save them to the uttermost, "He ever liveth to make intercession for them." And that intercession, we find, according to what was prefigured of Him: as the high priest went in with the blood of atonement that was shed, the blood of the victim on whose head the sins of his people were laid, so did the Lord of glory, who bare sin, who died for it--He is gone into heaven with His own blood on our behalf, as our High Priest and Intercessor. He is there to save confessing sinners, as an Intercessor; He is there to save them, too, because He has received of the Father the promised Spirit to pour out upon us, that we might be saved from the love, and power, and practice of all evil; He saves us by His life, saves us from the power and dominion of sin, and from every foe.
Now He lives a King at God's right hand, as well as a Priest; and in that kingdom which He has, God the Father has promised to subdue all things unto Him, to put all things under His feet; and, we are told, that "the last enemy that shall be destroyed is death." (1 Cor. 15:26,27) He will subdue all things under Him, and put down every foe; and it is from this kingly power He is a King and Priest after the order of Melchisedec--King of righteousness and peace, as well as "Priest of the Most High God." So that through Him we have not only redemption, but also salvation from every foe. And there is our only place to go to for deliverance from the power of sin that it reign not over us, as well as from the guilt and power of it, that the curse hold us not under it; we have forgiveness and salvation through the blood of Jesus Christ.
Now there is another thing--there was no access for us to the Majesty on high, unchangeable in His holiness, justice, goodness, and truth, there was no access for any creature to God, till the Son of God took that responsibility upon Him to stand between us. For God the Father is said to have set Him up from everlasting, so He looked to that work the Son of God had to do, as finished before the fullness of time came (Gal. 4:4) that He was to enter upon it. He is thus called "the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world;" (Rev. 13:8) but in the fullness of time He did come and do that work. Now He stands between God and us; for no creature could draw nigh, none of Adam's race could draw nigh, because they were sinful creatures, and God a righteous God. The Scriptures point it out to us, and tell us what a wretched state the saints of God felt themselves to be in when they saw God's glory, and what poor dust and ashes they felt themselves to be. But in the Person of Jesus Christ, the glorious God-Man, we have perfect holiness, perfect in all its parts, a perfect holiness wrought by the Man Christ Jesus; that very nature which had sinned, in that very nature, bone of our bone and flesh of our flesh, the Son of God lived and obeyed, and He is perfect Man, so we have got a Man, a Priest. He is more than Man--He is the eternal God, but He is One with us. If He is the eternal God, He is one with us; if He is one with the Father, He is one with us. And now, says the Apostle, that is the way we draw nigh to God, through that Man, through His blood-shedding, through His righteousness, through His ever-living intercession, through His sitting at God's right hand, there crowned with glory and honor, there set over all God's works, there blessed with all the fullness of the Godhead bodily dwelling in Him; there we draw nigh to God. And that is the way whereby all temporal mercies, and salvation, and every mercy come to any of Adam's race--through the Man Christ Jesus.
But there are special favors and mercies which God bestows upon His own elect. And, in these special favors, we have a teaching, an enlightening, the Spirit of truth to lead and guide us into all truth, to take of Christ's and show it unto us, (John 16:13,14) to take of the things of this glorious God-Man and show us that He is the eternal Son of the Father in truth and love. He is the Christ, the anointed of God, through whom all these blessings and mercies come to us; He is God's anointed, God's Priest, God's King in whose hands are all things to heaven and on earth. God sends His Spirit, and He teaches us: "No man can say that Jesus is the Lord but by the Holy Ghost." (1 Cor. 12:3) He teaches us, He instructs us, He leads us, and through the knowledge of Him we draw nigh to God, through Him we draw nigh to the Father of all mercies through the Son of His love.
Nothing a creature did, no sacrifices, no offerings, no sufferings, can ever make perfect, none can ever be of any real avail to us; it is the bringing in of the better hope--the Man Christ Jesus, by whom we have access to the Father. (Eph. 2:18)