16. For men verily swear by the greater: and an oath for confirmation is to them an end of all strife.
16. Nam homines quidem per eum jurant qui major est, et omnis ipsis controversiae finis est jusjurandum in confirmationem.
17. Wherein God, willing more abundantly to shew unto the heirs of promise the immutability of his counsel, confirmed it by an oath:
17. In quo Deus volens uberius ostendere haeridibus promissionis immutabilem consilii sui firmitudinem, interposuit jusjurandum;
18. That by two immutable things, in which it was impossible for God to lie, we might have a strong consolation, who have fled for refuge to lay hold upon the hope set before us:
18. Ut per duas res immutabiles, in quibus impossibile sit Deum mentiri, validam consolationem habeamus nos qui confugimus ad obtinendam propositam spem;
19. Which hope we have as an anchor of the soul, both sure and steadfast, and which entereth into that within the veil;
19. Quam velut anchoram habemus animae tutam et firmam, et quae ingreditur ad ea quae intro velum sunt;.
20. Whither the forerunner is for us entered, even Jesus, made an high priest for ever after the order of Melchisedec.
20. Quo praecursor noster ingressus est Iesus, secondum ordinem Melchisedec factus in aeternum pontifex.
16. For men, etc. It is an argument from the less to the greater; if credit is given to man, who is by nature false, when he swears, and for this reason, because he confirms what he says by God's name, how much more credit is due to God, who is eternal truth, when he swears by himself?
Now he mentions several things to commend this declaration; and first he says that men swear by the greater; by which he means that they who are wanting in due authority borrow it from another. He adds that there is so much reverence in an oath that it suffices for confirmation, and puts an end to all disputes where the testimonies of men and other proofs are wanting. Then is not he a sufficient witness for himself whom all appeal to as a witness? Is he not to obtain credit for what he says, who, by his authority, removes all doubts among others? If God's name, pronounced by man's tongue, possesses so much superiority, how much more weight ought it to have, when God himself swears by his own name? Thus much as to the main point.
But here in passing, two things are to be noticed, -- that we are to swear by God's name when necessity requires, and that Christians are allowed to make an oath, because it is a lawful remedy for removing contentions. God in express words bids us to swear by his name; if other names are blended with it, the oath is profaned. For this there are especially three reasons: when there is no way of bringing the truth to light, it is not right, for the sake of verifying it, to have recourse to any but to God, who is himself eternal truth; and then, since he alone knows the heart, his own office is taken from him, when in things hidden, of which men can form no opinion, we appeal to any other judge; and thirdly, because in swearing we not only appeal to him as a witness, but also call upon him as an avenger of perjury in case we speak falsely. It is no wonder, then, that he is so greatly displeased with those who swear by another name, for his own honor is thus disparaged. And that there are different forms often used in Scripture, makes nothing against this truth; for they did not swear by heaven or earth, as though they ascribed any divine power to them, or attributed to them the least portion of divinity, but by this indirect protestation, so to speak, they had a regard to the one true God. There are indeed various kinds of protestations; but the chief one is, when we refer to God as a judge and directly appeal to his judgmentseat; another is, when we name things especially dear to us as our life, or our head, or anything of this kind; and the third is, when we call creatures as witnesses before God. But in all these ways we swear properly by no other than by God. hence they betray their impiety no less than their ignorance, who contend that it is lawful to connect dead saints with God so as to attribute to them the right of punishing.
Further, this passage teaches us, as it has been said, that an oath may be lawfully used by Christians; and this ought to be particularly observed, on account of fanatical men who are disposed to abrogate the practice of solemn swearing which God has prescribed in his Law. For certainly the Apostle speaks here of the custom of swearing as of a holy practice, and approved by God. Moreover, he does not say of it as having been formerly in use, but as of a thing still practiced. Let it then be employed as a help to find out the truth when other proofs are wanting.
17. God, willing, etc. See how kindly God as a gracious Father accommodates himself to our slowness to believe; as he sees that we rest not on his simple word, that he might more fully impress it on our hearts he adds an oath. Hence also it appears how much it concerns us to know that there is such a certainty respecting his goodwill towards us, that there is no longer any occasion for wavering or for trembling. For when God forbids his name to be taken in vain or on a slight occasion, and denounces the severest vengeance on all who rashly abuse it, when he commands reverence to be rendered to his majesty, he thus teaches us that he holds his name in the highest esteem and honor. The certainty of salvation is then a necessary thing; for he who forbids to swear without reason has been pleased to swear for the sake of rendering it certain. And we may hence also conclude what great account he makes of our salvation; for in order to secure it, he not only pardons our unbelief, but giving up as it were his own right, and yielding to us far more than what we could claim, he kindly provides a remedy for it.
Unto the heirs of promise, etc. He seems especially to point out the Jews; for though the heirship came at length to the Gentiles, yet the former were the first lawful heirs, and the latter, being aliens, were made the second heirs, and that beyond the right of nature. So Peter, addressing the Jews in his first sermon, says,
|To you and to your children is the promise made, and to those who are afar of, whom the Lord shall call.| (Acts 2:39.)
He left indeed a place for adventitious heirs, but he sets the Jews in the first rank, according to what he also says in the third chapter, |Ye are the children of the fathers and of the covenant,| etc. (Acts 3:25.) So also in this place the Apostle, in order to make the Jews more ready to receive the covenant, shows that it was for their sakes chiefly it was confirmed by an oath. At the same time this declaration belongs at this day to us also, for we have entered into the place quitted by them through unbelief
Observe that what is testified to us in the Gospel is called the counsel of God, that no one may doubt but that this truth proceeds from the very inmost thoughts of God. Believers ought therefore to be fully persuaded that whenever they hear the voice of the Gospel, the secret counsel of God, which lay hid in him, is proclaimed to them, and that hence is made known to them what he has decreed respecting our salvation before the creation of the world.
18. That by two immutable things, etc. What God says as well as what he swears is immutable. (Psalm 12:6; Numb.23:19.) It may be with men far otherwise; for their vanity is such that there cannot be much firmness in their word. But the word of God is in various ways extolled; it is pure and without any dross, like gold seven times purified. Even Balaam, though an enemy, was yet constrained to bring this testimony,
|God is not like the sons of men that he should lie, neither like men that he should repent: has he then said, and shall he not do it? Has he spoken, and shall he not make it good?| (Numbers 23:19.)
The word of God, then, is a sure truth, and in itself authoritative, (autopistos selfworthy of trust.) But when an oath is added it is an overplus added to a full measure. We have, then, this strong consolation, that God, who cannot deceive when he speaks, being not content with making a promise, has confirmed it by an oath.
Who have fled for refuge, etc. By these words he intimates that we do not truly trust in God except when we forsake every other protection and flee for refuge to his sure promise, and feel assured that it is our only safe asylum. Hence by the word flee is set forth our poverty and our need; for we flee not to God except when constrained. But when he adds the hope set before us, he intimates that we have not far to go to seek the aid we want, for God himself of his own free will meets us and puts as it were in our hand what we are to hope for; it is set before us. But as by this truth he designed to encourage the Jews to embrace the Gospel in which salvation was offered to them; so also he thus deprived the unbelieving, who rejected the favor presented to them, of every excuse. And doubtless this might have been more truly said after the promulgation of the Gospel than under the Law: |There is now no reason for you to say, Who shall ascent into heaven? Or, Who shall descend into the deep? Or, Who shall pass over the sea? For nigh is the word, it is in thy mouth and in thy heart.'| (Deuteronomy 30:12; Romans 10:6.)
But there is a metonymy in the word hope, for the effect is put for the cause; and I understand by it the promise on which our hope leans or relies, for I cannot agree with those who take hope here for the thing hoped for -- by no means: and this also must be added, that the Apostle speaks not of a naked promise, suspended as it were in the air, but of that which is received by faith; or, if you prefer a short expression, the hope here means the promise apprehended by faith. By the word laying hold, as well as by hope, he denotes firmness.
19. As an anchor, etc. It is a striking likeness when he compares faith leaning on God's word to an anchor; for doubtless, as long as we sojourn in this world, we stand not on firm ground, but are tossed here and there as it were in the midst of the sea, and that indeed very turbulent; for Satan is incessantly stirring up innumerable storms, which would immediately upset and sink our vessel, were we not to cast our anchor fast in the deep. For nowhere a haven appears to our eyes, but wherever we look water alone is in view; yea, waves also arise and threaten us; but as the anchor is cast through the waters into a dark and unseen place, and while it lies hid there, keeps the vessel beaten by the waves from being overwhelmed; so must our hope be fixed on the invisible God. There is this difference, -- the anchor is cast downwards into the sea, for it has the earth as its bottom; but our hope rises upwards and soars aloft, for in the world it finds nothing on which it can stand, nor ought it to cleave to created things, but to rest on God alone. As the cable also by which the anchor is suspended joins the vessel with the earth through a long and dark intermediate space, so the truth of God is a bond to connect us with himself, so that no distance of place and no darkness can prevent us from cleaving to him. Thus when united to God, though we must struggle with continual storms, we are yet beyond the peril of shipwreck. Hence he says, that this anchor is sure and steadfast, or safe and firm. It may indeed be that by the violence of the waves the anchor may be plucked off, or the cable be broken, or the beaten ship be torn to pieces. This happens on the sea; but the power of God to sustain us is wholly different, and so also is the strength of hope and the firmness of his word.
Which entereth into that, or those things, etc. As we have said, until faith reaches to God, it finds nothing but what is unstable and evanescent; it is hence necessary for it to penetrate even into heaven. But as the Apostle is speaking to the Jews, he alludes to the ancient Tabernacle, and says, that they ought not to abide in those things which are seen, but to penetrate into the inmost recesses, which lie hid within the veil, as though he had said, that all the external and ancient figures and shadows were to be passed over, in order that faith might be fixed on Christ alone.
And carefully ought this reasoning to be observed, -- that as Christ has entered into heaven, so faith ought to be directed there also: for we are hence taught that faith should look nowhere else. And doubtless it is in vain for man to seek God in his own majesty, for it is too far removed from them; but Christ stretches forth his hand to us, that he may lead us to heaven. And this was shadowed forth formerly under the Law; for the high priest entered the holy of holies, not in his own name only, but also in that of the people, inasmuch as he bare in a manner the twelve tribes on his breast and on his shoulders; for as a memorial for them twelve stones were wrought on the breastplate, and on the two onyx stones on his shoulders were engraved their names, so that in the person of one man all entered into the sanctuary together. Rightly then does the Apostle speak, when he reminds them that our high priest has entered into heaven; for he has not entered only for himself, but also for us. There is therefore no reason to fear that access to heaven will be closed up against our faith, as it is never disjoined from Christ. And as it becomes us to follow Christ who is gone before, he is therefore called our Forerunner, or precursor.