Who also hath made us able ministers of the new testament; not of the letter, but of the spirit: for the letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life. But if the ministration of death, written and engraven in stones, was glorious, so that the children of Israel could not stedfastly behold the face of Moses for the glory of his countenance; which glory was to be done away: How shall not the ministration of the spirit be rather glorious? For if the ministration of condemnation be glory, much more doth the ministration of righteousness exceed in glory. For even that which was made glorious had no glory in this respect, by reason of the glory that excelleth. For if that which is done away was glorious, much more that which remaineth is glorious.
~ 2 Corinthians 3:6-11
Wherefore then serveth the law? It was added because of transgressions, till the seed should come to whom the promise was made; and it was ordained by angels in the hand of a mediator. Now a mediator is not a mediator of one, but God is one.
~ Galatians 3:19-20
By so much was Jesus made a surety of a better testament.
~ Hebrews 7:22
Who are Israelites; to whom pertaineth the adoption, and the glory, and the covenants, and the giving of the law, and the service of God, and the promises;
~ Romans 9:4
Whereby are given unto us exceeding great and precious promises: that by these ye might be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust.
~ 2 Peter 1:4
An Exposition on Hebrews 8:6, by John Owen. The following contains an excerpt from his work.
But now hath he obtained a more excellent ministry, by how much also he is the mediator of a better covenant, which was established upon better promises.
~ Hebrews 8:6
Νυνὶ δὲ διαφορωτέρας τέτευχε λειτουγίας, ὅσῳ καὶ κρείττονός ἐστι διαθήκης μεσίτης, ἥτις ἐπὶ κρείττοσιν ἐπαγγελίαις νενομοθέτηται.
There is no material difference in any translators, ancient or modern, in the rendering of these words; their signification in particular will be given in the exposition.
Ver. 6.—But now he hath obtained a more excellent ministry, by how much also he is the mediator of a better covenant, which was established on better promises.
In this verse beginneth the second part of the chapter, concerning the difference between the two covenants, the old and the new; with the pre-eminence of the latter above the former, and of the ministry of Christ above the high priests on that account. The whole church-state of the Jews, with all the ordinances and worship of it, and the privileges annexed unto it, depended wholly on the covenant that God made with them at Sinai. But the introduction of this new priesthood whereof the apostle is discoursing, did necessarily abolish that covenant, and put anend unto all sacred ministrations that belonged unto it. And this could not well be offered unto them without the supply of another covenant, which should excel the former in privileges and advantages. For it was granted among them that it was the design of God to carry on the church unto a perfect state, as hath been declared on chap. 7; wherefore he would not lead it backward, nor deprive it of any thing it had enjoyed, without provision of what was better in its room. This, therefore, the apostle here undertakes to declare. And he doth it after his wonted manner, from such principles and testimonies as were admitted among themselves.
Two things unto this purpose he proves by express testimonies out of the prophet Jeremiah: 1. That besides the covenant made with their fathers in Sinai, God had promised to make another covenant with the church, in his appointed time and season. 2. That this other promised covenant should be of another nature than the former, and much more excellent, as unto spiritual advantages, unto them who were taken into it. From both these, fully proved, the apostle infers the necessity of the abrogation of that first covenant, wherein they trusted, and unto which they adhered, when the appointed time was come. And hereon he takes occasion to declare the nature of the two covenants in sundry instances, and wherein the differences between them did consist. This is the substance of the remainder of this chapter.
This verse is a transition from one subject unto another; namely, from the excellency of the priesthood of Christ above that of the law, unto the excellency of the new covenant above the old. And herein also the apostle artificially compriseth and confirmeth his last argument, of the pre-eminency of Christ, his priesthood and ministry, above those of the law. And this he doth from the nature and excellency of that covenant whereof he was the mediator in the discharge of his office.
There are two parts of the words: First, An assertion of the excellency of the ministry of Christ. And this he expresseth by way of comparison; “He hath obtained a more excellent ministry:” and after he declareth the degree of that comparison; “By how much also.” Secondly, He annexeth the proof of this assertion; in that he is “the mediator of a better covenant, established on better” or “more excellent promises.”
In the first of these there occur these five things:—1. The note of its introduction; “But now:” 2. What is ascribed in the assertion unto the Lord Christ; and that is a “ministry:” 3. How he came by that ministry; “He hath obtained it:” 4. The quality of this ministry; it is “better” or “more excellent” than the other: 5. The measure and degree of this excellency; “By how much also:” all which must be spoken unto, for the opening of the words:—
Νυνὶ δέ. 1. The introduction of the assertion is by the particles νυνὶ δέ, —”but now.” Νῦν, “now,” is a note of time, of the present time. But there are instances where these adverbial particles, thus conjoined, do not seem to denote any time or season, but are merely adversative, Rom. 7:17; 1 Cor. 5:11, 7:14. But even in those places there seems a respect unto time also; and therefore I know not why it should be here excluded. As, therefore, there is an opposition intended unto the old covenant, and the Levitical priesthood; so the season is intimated of the introduction of the new covenant, and the better ministry wherewith it was accompanied; —’ “now,” at this time, which is the season that God hath appointed for the introduction of the new covenant and ministry.’ To the same purpose the apostle expresseth himself, treating of the same subject, Rom. 3:26: “To declare ἐν τῷ νῦν καιρῷ,” “at this instant season,” now the gospel is preached, “his righteousness.” For,—
Obs. I. God, in his infinite wisdom, gives proper times and seasons unto all his dispensations unto and towards the church.—So the accomplishment of these things was in “the fulness of times,” Eph. 1:10; that is, when all things rendered it seasonable and suitable unto the condition of the church, and for the manifestation of his own glory. He hasteneth all his works of grace in their own appointed time, Isa. 60:22. And our duty it is to leave the ordering of all the concerns of the church, in the accomplishment of promises, unto God in his own time, Acts 1:7.
Λειτονργίας. 2. That which is ascribed unto the Lord Christ is λειτουργία, —a “ministry.” The priests of old had a ministry; they ministered at the altar, as in the foregoing verse. And the Lord Christ was “a minister” also; so the apostle had said before, he was λείτουργος τῶν ἁγίων, verse 2,—”a minister of the holy things.” Wherefore he had a “liturgy,” a “ministry,” a service, committed unto him. And two things are included herein:—
(1.) That it was an office of ministry that the Lord Christ undertook. He is not called a minister with respect unto one particular act of ministration; —so are we said to “minister unto the necessity of the saints,” which yet denotes no office in them that do so. But he had a standing office committed unto him, as the word imports. In that sense also he is called διάκονος, a “minister” in office, Rom. 15:8.
(2.) Subordination unto God is included herein. With respect unto the church his office is supreme, accompanied with sovereign power and authority; he is “Lord over his own house.” But he holds his office in subordination unto God, being “faithful unto him that appointed him.” So the angels are said to minister unto God, Dan. 7:10; that is, to do all things according unto his will, and at his command. So had the Lord Christ a ministry. And we may observe,—
Obs. II. That the whole office of Christ was designed unto the accomplishment of the will and dispensation of the grace of God.—For these ends was his ministry committed unto him. We can never sufficiently admire the love and grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, in undertaking this office for us. The greatness and glory of the duties which he performed in the discharge thereof, with the benefits we receive thereby, are unspeakable, being the immediate cause of all grace and glory. Yet we are not absolutely to rest in them, but to ascend by faith unto the eternal spring of them. This is the grace, the love, the mercy of God, all acted in a way of sovereign power. These are everywhere in the Scripture represented as the original spring of all grace, and the ultimate object of our faith, with respect unto the benefits which we receive by the mediation of Christ. His office was committed unto him of God, even the Father; and his will did he do in the discharge of it. Yet also,—
Obs. III. The condescension of the Son of God to undertake the office of the ministry on our behalf is unspeakable, and for ever to be admired.— Especially will it appear so to be, when we consider who it was who undertook it, what it cost him, what he did and underwent in the pursuance and discharge of it, as it is all expressed, Phil. 2:6–8. Not only what he continueth to do in heaven at the right hand of God belongeth unto this ministry, but all that he suffered also upon the earth. His ministry, in the undertaking of it, was not a dignity, a promotion, a revenue, Matt. 20:28. It is true, it is issued in glory, but not until he had undergone all the evils that human nature is capable of undergoing. And we ought to undergo any thing cheerfully for him who underwent this ministry for us.
Obs. IV. The Lord Christ, by undertaking this office of the ministry, hath consecrated and made honourable that office unto all that are rightly called unto it, and do rightly discharge it.—It is true, his ministry and ours are not of the same kind and nature; but they agree in this, that they are both of them a ministry unto God in the holy things of his worship. And considering that Christ himself was God’s minister, we have far greater reason to tremble in ourselves on an apprehension of our own insufficiency for such an office, than to be discouraged with all the hardships and contests we meet withal in the world upon the account of it.
Τέτευχε. 3. The general way whereby our Lord Christ came unto this ministry is expressed: Τέτευχε,—”He obtained it.” Τυγχάνω is either “sorte contingo,” “to have a lot or portion,” or to have any thing befall a man, as it were by accident; or “assequor,” “obtineo,” to “attain” or “obtain” any thing which before we had not. But the apostle designeth not to express in this word the especial call of Christ, or the particular way whereby he came unto his ministry, but only in general that he had it, and was possessed of it, in the appointed season, which before he had not. The way whereby he entered on the whole office and work of his mediation he expresseth by κεκληρονόμηκε, Heb. 1:4,—he had it by “inheritance;” that is, by free grant and perpetual donation, made unto him as the Son. See the exposition on that place.
There were two things that concurred unto his obtaining this ministry: (1.) The eternal purpose and counsel of God designing him thereunto; an act of the divine will accompanied with infinite wisdom, love, and power. (2.) The actual call of God, whereunto many things did concur, especially his unction with the Spirit above measure for the holy discharge of his whole office. Thus did he obtain this ministry, and not by any legal constitution, succession, or carnal rite, as did the priests of old. And we may see that,—
Obs. V. The exaltation of the human nature of Christ into the office of this glorious ministry depended solely on the sovereign wisdom, grace, and love of God.—When the human nature of Christ was united unto the divine, it became, in the person of the Son of God, meet and capable to make satisfaction for the sins of the church, and to procure righteousness and life eternal for all that do believe. But it did not merit that union, nor could do so. For as it was utterly impossible that any created nature, by any act of its own, should merit the hypostatical union, so it was granted unto the human nature of Christ antecedently unto any act of its own in way of obedience unto God; for it was united unto the person of the Son by virtue of that union. Wherefore, antecedently unto it, it could merit nothing. Hence its whole exaltation, and the ministry that was discharged therein, depended solely on the sovereign wisdom and pleasure of God. And in this election and designation of the human nature of Christ unto grace and glory, we may see the pattern and example of our own. For if it was not upon the consideration or foresight of the obedience of the human nature of Christ that it was predestinated and chosen unto the grace of the hypostatical union, with the ministry and glory which depended thereon, but of the mere sovereign grace of God; how much less could a foresight of any thing in us be the cause why God should choose us in him before the foundation of the world unto grace and glory!
Διαφορωτέρας. 4. The quality of this ministry, thus obtained, as unto a comparative excellency, is also expressed: Διαφορωτέρας,—”More excellent.” The word is used only in this epistle in this sense, chap. 1:4, and in this place. The original word denotes only a difference from other things; but in the comparative degree, as here used, it signifies a difference with a preference, or a comparative excellency. The ministry of the Levitical priests was good and useful in its time and season; this of our Lord Jesus Christ so differed from it as to be better than it, and more excellent; πολλῷ ἄμεινον. And,—
Ὅσῳ. 5. There is added hereunto the degree of this pre-eminence, so far as it is intended in this place and the present argument, in the word ὅσῳ, —”by how much.” ‘So much more excellent, by how much.’ The excellency of his ministry above that of the Levitical priests, bears proportion with the excellency of the covenant whereof he was the mediator above the old covenant wherein they administered; whereof afterwards.
So have we explained the apostle’s assertion, concerning the excellency of the ministry of Christ. And herewith he closeth his discourse which he had so long engaged in, about the pre-eminence of Christ in his office above the high priests of old. And indeed, this being the very hinge whereon his whole controversy with the Jews did depend, he could not give it too much evidence, nor too full a confirmation. And as unto what concerns ourselves at present, we are taught thereby, that,—
Obs. VI. It is our duty and our safety to acquiesce universally and absolutely in the ministry of Jesus Christ.—That which he was so designed unto, in the infinite wisdom and grace of God; that which he was so furnished for the discharge of, by the communication of the Spirit unto him in all fulness; that which all other priesthoods were removed to make way for, must needs be sufficient and effectual for all the ends unto which it is designed. It may be said, ‘This is that which all men do; all that are called Christians do fully acquiesce in the ministry of Jesus Christ.’ But if it be so, why do we hear the bleating of another sort of cattle? What mean those other priests, and reiterated sacrifices, which make up the worship of the church of Rome? If they rest in the ministry of Christ, why do they appoint one of their own to do the same things that he hath done, —namely, to offer sacrifice unto God?
Secondly, The proof of this assertion lies in the latter part of these words; “By how much he is the mediator of a better covenant, established on better promises.” The words are so disposed, that some think the apostle intends now to prove the excellency of the covenant from the excellency of his ministry therein. But the other sense is more suited unto the scope of the place, and the nature of the argument which the apostle presseth the Hebrews withal. For on supposition that there was indeed another, and that a “better covenant,” to be introduced and established, than that which the Levitical priests served in,—which they could not deny,—it plainly follows, that he on whose ministry the dispensation of that covenant did depend must of necessity be “more excellent” in that ministry than they who appertained unto that covenant which was to be abolished. However, it may be granted that these things do mutually testify unto and illustrate one another. Such as the priest is, such is the covenant; such as the covenant is in dignity, such is the priest also.
In the words there are three things observable:—1. What is in general ascribed unto Christ, declaring the nature of his ministry; he was a “mediator:” 2. The determination of his mediatory office unto the new covenant; “of a better covenant:” 3. The proof or demonstration of the nature of this covenant as unto its excellency, it was “established on better promises:”—
Μεσίτης. 1. His office is that of a mediator,—μεσίτης, one that interposed between God and man, for the doing of all those things whereby a covenant might be established between them, and made effectual. Schlichtingius on the place gives this description of a mediator: “Mediatorem foederis esse nihil aliud est, quam Dei esse interpretem, et internuntium in foedere cum hominibus pangendo; per quem scilicet et Deus voluntatem suam hominibus declaret, et illi vicissim divinae voluntatis notitiâ instructi ad Deum accedant, cumque eo reconciliati, pacem in posterum colant.” And Grotius speaks much unto the same purpose.
But this description of a mediator is wholly applicable unto Moses, and suited unto his office in giving of the law. See Exod. 20:19; Deut. 5:27, 28. What is said by them doth indeed immediately belong unto the mediatory office of Christ, but it is not confined thereunto; yea, it is exclusive of the principal parts of his mediation. And whereas there is nothing in it but what belongs unto the prophetical office of Christ,—which the apostle here doth not principally intend,—it is most improperly applied as a description of such a mediator as he doth intend. And therefore, when he comes afterwards to declare in particular what belonged unto such a mediator of the covenant as he designed, he expressly placeth it in his “death for the redemption of transgressions,” chap. 9:15; affirming that “for that cause he was a mediator.” But hereof there is nothing at all in the description they give us of this office. But this the apostle doth in his, elsewhere, 1 Tim. 2:5, 6, “There is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus; who gave himself a ransom for all.” The principal part of his mediation consisted in the “giving himself a ransom,” or a price of redemption for the whole church. Wherefore this description of a mediator of the new testament is feigned only, to exclude his satisfaction, or his offering himself unto God in his death and blood- shedding, with the atonement made thereby.
The Lord Christ, then, in his ministry, is called μεσίτης, the “mediator” of the covenant, in the same sense as he is called ἔγγυος, the “surety;” whereof see the exposition on chap. 7:22. He is, in the new covenant, the mediator, the surety, the priest, the sacrifice, all in his own person. The ignorance and want of a due consideration hereof, are the great evidence of the degeneracy of Christian religion.
Whereas this is the first general notion of the office of Christ, that which compriseth the whole ministry committed unto him, and containeth in itself the especial offices of king, priest, and prophet, whereby he dischargeth his mediation, some things must be mentioned that are declarative of its nature and use. And we may unto this purpose observe, —
(1.) That unto the office of a mediator it is required that there be different persons concerned in the covenant, and that by their own wills; as it must be in every compact, of what sort soever. So saith our apostle, “A mediator is not of one, but God is one,” Gal. 3:20; that is, if there were none but God concerned in this matter, as it is in an absolute promise or sovereign precept, there would be no need of, no place for a mediator, such a mediator as Christ is. Wherefore our consent in and unto the covenant is required in the very notion of a mediator.
(2.) That the persons entering into covenant be in such a state and condition as that it is no way convenient or morally possible that they should treat immediately with each other as to the ends of the covenant; for if they are so, a mediator to go between is altogether needless. So was it in the original covenant with Adam, which had no mediator. But in the giving of the law, which was to be a covenant between God and the people, they found themselves utterly insufficient for an immediate treaty with God, and therefore desired that they might have an internuncius to go between God and them, to bring his proposals, and carry back their consent, Deut. 5:23–27. And this is the voice of all men really convinced of the holiness of God, and of their own condition. Such is the state between God and sinners. The law and the curse of it did so interpose between them, that they could not enter into any immediate treaty with God, Ps. 5:3–5. This made a mediator necessary, that the new covenant might be established; whereof we shall speak afterwards.
(3.) That he who is this mediator be accepted, trusted, and rested in on both sides, or the parties mutually entering into covenant. An absolute trust must be reposed in him, so that each party may be everlastingly obliged in what he undertaketh on their behalf; and such as admit not of his terms, can have no benefit by, no interest in the covenant. So was it with the Lord Christ in this matter. On the part of God, he reposed the whole trust of all the concernments of the covenant in him, and absolutely rested therein. “Behold,” saith he of him, “my servant, whom I uphold; mine elect, in whom my soul delighteth,” or is “well pleased,”—ἐν ᾧ εὐδόκησα, Isa. 42:1; Matt. 3:17. When he undertook this office, and said, “Lo, I come to do thy will, O God,” the soul of God rested in him, Exod. 23:21; John 5:20–22. And to him he gives an account at last of his discharge of this thing, John 17:4. And on our part, unless we resign ourselves absolutely unto a universal trust in him and reliance on him, and unless we accept of all the terms of the covenant as by him proposed, and engage to stand unto all that he hath undertaken on our behalf, we can have neither share nor interest in this matter.
(4.) A mediator must be a middle person between both parties entering into covenant; and if they be of different natures, a perfect, complete mediator ought to partake of each of their natures in the same person. The necessity hereof, and the glorious wisdom of God herein, I have elsewhere at large demonstrated, and shall not therefore here again insist upon it.
(5.) A mediator must be one who voluntarily and of his own accord undertaketh the work of mediation. This is required of every one who will effectually mediate between any persons at variance, to bring them unto an agreement on equal terms. So it was required that the will and consent of Christ should concur in his susception of this office; and that they did so, himself expressly testifieth, Heb. 10:5–10. It is true, he was designed and appointed by the Father unto this office; whence he is called his “servant,” and constantly witnesseth of himself, that he came to do the will and commandment of him that sent him: but he had that to do in the discharge of this office, which could not, according unto any rule of divine righteousness, be imposed on him without his own voluntary consent. And this was the ground of the eternal compact that was between the Father and the Son, with respect unto his mediation; which I have elsewhere explained. And the testification of his own will, grace, and love, in the susception of this office, is a principal motive unto that faith and trust which the church placeth in him, as the mediator between God and them. Upon this his voluntary undertaking doth the soul of God rest in him, and he reposeth the whole trust in him of accomplishing his will and pleasure, or the design of his love and grace in this covenant, Isa. 53:10– 12. And the faith of the church, whereon salvation doth depend, must have love unto his person inseparably accompanying it. Love unto Christ is no less necessary unto salvation, than faith in him. And as faith is resolved into the sovereign wisdom and grace of God in sending him, and his own ability to save to the uttermost those that come to God by him; so love ariseth from the consideration of his own love and grace in his voluntary undertaking of this office, and the discharge of it.
(6.) In this voluntary undertaking to be a mediator, two things were required:—
(1.) That he should remove and take out of the way whatever kept the covenanters at a distance, or was a cause of enmity between them. For it is supposed that such an enmity there was, or there had been no need of a mediator. Therefore in the covenant made with Adam, there having been no variance between God and man, nor any distance but what necessarily ensued from the distinct natures of the Creator and a creature, there was no mediator. But the design of this covenant was to make reconciliation and peace. Hereon, therefore, depended the necessity of satisfaction, redemption, and the making of atonement by sacrifice. For man having sinned and apostatized from the rule of God, making himself thereby obnoxious unto his wrath, according unto the eternal rule of righteousness, and in particular unto the curse of the law, there could be no new peace and agreement made with God unless due satisfaction were made for these things. For although God was willing, in infinite love, grace, and mercy, to enter into a new covenant with fallen man, yet would he not do it unto the prejudice of his righteousness, the dishonour of his rule, and the contempt of his law. Wherefore none could undertake to be a mediator of this covenant, but he that was able to satisfy the justice of God, glorify his government, and fulfil the law. And this could be done by none but him, concerning whom it might be said that “God purchased his church with his own blood.
(2.) That he should procure and purchase, in a way suited unto the glory of God, the actual communication of all the good things prepared and proposed in this covenant; that is, grace and glory, with all that belong unto them, for them and on their behalf whose surety he was. And this is the foundation of the merit of Christ, and of the grant of all good things unto us for his sake.
(7.) It is required of this mediator, as such, that he give assurance to and undertake for the parties mutually concerned, as to the accomplishment of the terms of the covenant, undertaking on each hand for them:—
(1.) On the part of God towards men, that they shall have peace and acceptance with him, in the sure accomplishment of all the promises of the covenant. This he doth only declaratively, in the doctrine of the gospel, and in the institution of the ordinances of evangelical worship. For he was not a surety for God, nor did God need any, having confirmed his promise with an oath, swearing by himself, because he had no greater to swear by.
(2.) On our part, he undertakes unto God for our acceptance of the terms of the covenant, and our accomplishment of them, by his enabling us thereunto.
These things, among others, were necessary unto a full and complete mediator of the new covenant, such as Christ was. And,—
Obs. VII. The provision of this mediator between God and man was an effect of infinite wisdom and grace; yea, it was the greatest and most glorious external effect of them that ever they did produce, or ever will do in this world. The creation of all things at first out of nothing was a glorious effect of infinite wisdom and power; but when the glory of that design was eclipsed by the entrance of sin, this provision of a mediator,— one whereby all things were restored and retrieved into a condition of bringing more glory unto God, and securing for ever the blessed estate of them whose mediator he is,—is accompanied with more evidences of the divine excellencies than that was. See Eph. 1:10.