Earnest Heed

And ye have forgotten the exhortation which speaketh unto you as unto children, My son, despise not thou the chastening of the Lord, nor faint when thou art rebuked of him:
~ Hebrews 12:5

Who have received the law by the disposition of angels, and have not kept it.
~ Acts 7:53

I will therefore put you in remembrance, though ye once knew this, how that the Lord, having saved the people out of the land of Egypt, afterward destroyed them that believed not.
~ Jude 1:5

Let us labour therefore to enter into that rest, lest any man fall after the same example of unbelief.
~ Hebrews 4:11

Wherefore he is able also to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by him, seeing he ever liveth to make intercession for them. For such an high priest became us, who is holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners, and made higher than the heavens;
~ Hebrews 7:25-26

A Commentary on Hebrews 2:1-3, by A.W. Pink. The following contains an excerpt from his work.

Therefore we ought to give the more earnest heed to the things which we have heard, lest at any time we should let them slip. For if the word spoken by angels was stedfast, and every transgression and disobedience received a just recompence of reward; How shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation; which at the first began to be spoken by the Lord, and was confirmed unto us by them that heard him;
~Hebrews 2:1-3

“Therefore, we ought to give the more earnest heed to the things which we have heard, lest at any time we should let them slip” (verse 1). In this verse, and in those which immediately follow, the apostle specifies a duty to be performed in regard of that most excellent Teacher which God sent to reveal His Gospel unto them. This duty is to give more than ordinary heed unto that Gospel. Such is the force of the opening, “Therefore,” which signifies, for this cause: because God has vouchsafed so excellent a Teacher, He must be the more carefully attended unto. The “therefore” looks back to all the varied glories which set forth Christ’s excellency named in the previous chapter. Because He is God’s “Son,” therefore give heed. Because He is “the Heir of all things,” therefore give heed. Because He “made the worlds,” therefore give heed; and so on. These are so many grounds on which our present exhortation is based.

“Therefore is equivalent to, ‘Since Jesus Christ is as much better than the angels, as He hath received by inheritance a more excellent name than they since He is both essentially and officially inconceivably superior to these heavenly messengers, His message has paramount claims on our attention, belief, and obedience’,” (Dr. J. Brown).

The eminency of an author’s dignity and authority, and the excellency of his knowledge and wisdom, do much commend that which is spoken or written by him. If a king, prudent and learned, takes upon himself to instruct others, due attention and diligent heed should be given thereunto. “The Queen of the South came from the uttermost parts of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon” (Matthew 12:42 ), and counted those of his servants who stood continually before him and heard his wisdom, to be happy (1 Kings 10:8 ). But a greater than Solomon is here referred to by the apostle: therefore, we ought “to give the more earnest heed.” It was usual with the prophets to preface their utterances with a “Thus saith the Lord,” and thereby arrest the attention and awe the hearts of their hearers. Here the apostle refers to the person of the Lord Himself as the argument for hearing what He said.

“Therefore we ought.” “It is striking to see how the apostle takes the place of such as simply had the message, like other Jews, from those who personally heard Him; so completely was he writing, not as the apostle magnifying his office, but as one of Israel, who were addressed by those who companied with Messiah on earth. It was confirmed ‘unto us,’ says he, again putting himself along with his nation, instead of conveying his heavenly revelations as one taken out from the people and the Gentiles to which he was sent. He looks at what was their proper testimony, not at that to which he had been separated extraordinarily. He is dealing with them as much as possible on their own ground, though, of course, without compromise of his own” (William Kelly).

“We ought to give the more earnest heed.” Here the apostle addresses himself to the responsibility of his readers. Here is an exhortation to the performing of a specific duty. The Greek verb is very strong and emphatic; several times it is translated “must.” Thus, in 1 Timothy 3:2 , “A bishop must be blameless”; that is, it is his duty so to be. That to which the apostle here pointed was a necessity lying upon his readers. It is not an arbitrary matter, left to our own caprice to do or not to do. “Give the more earnest heed,” is something more than a piece of good advice; it is a Divine precept, and God has commanded us “to keep His precepts diligently” (Psalms 119:4 ). Thus, in view of His sovereignty, and His power and rights over us, we “ought to give the more earnest heed” to what He has bidden us do. Descending to a lower level, it is the part of wisdom so to do, and that for our own good; we “ought to earnestly heed the things which we hear” in order to our own happiness.

“To ‘give heed’ is to apply the mind to a particular subject, to attend to it, to consider it. It is here opposed to ‘neglecting the great salvation.’ No person can read the Scriptures without observing the stress that is laid on consideration, and the criminality and hazards which are represented as connected with inconsideration. Nor is this at all wonderful when we reflect that the Gospel is a moral remedy for a moral disease. It is by being believed it becomes efficacious. It cannot be believed unless it is understood: it cannot be understood unless it is attended to. Truth must be kept before the mind in order to its producing an appropriate effect; and how can it be kept before the mind, but by our giving heed to it” (Dr. J. Brown).

“The duty here intended is a serious, firm, and fixed settling of the mind upon that which we hear; a bowing and bending of the will to yield unto it; an applying of the heart to it, a placing of the affections upon it, and bringing the whole man into conformity thereunto. Thus it comprises knowledge of the Word, faith therein, obedience thereto, and all other due respects that may any way concern it” (Dr. Gouge).

“To the things which we have heard.” To “hear” is not sufficient, there must be prayerful meditation, personal appropriation. No doubt the wider reference was to the Gospel, which these Hebrews had heard; though the more direct appeal was concerning that which the apostle had brought before them, in the previous chapter concerning the person and work of God’s Son. To us, today, it would include all that God has said in His Word.

“Lest at any time we should let slip.” There is a difficulty here in making quite sure of the Spirit’s precise meaning. The expression “we should let slip” is one word in the Greek, and it occurs nowhere else in the New Testament. The absence of the pronoun seems to be designed for the allowing of a double thought: lest we “let slip” the things we have heard, and, or, lest we ourselves slip away apostatize.

“Lest at any time we let them slip.” The danger is real. The effects of sin are stamped on our members; it is easy to recall the things of no value, but the things of God slip out of our mind. The fault is our own, through failing to give “the more earnest heed.” Unless we “keep in memory” (1 Corinthians 15:2 ), and unless we are duly informed by them, they slip away like water out of a leaky utensil.

“Lest haply we drift away.” Understood thus, these words sound the first warning-note of this Epistle against apostasy, and this verse is parallel with 3:14; 4:1; 12:25. Perseverance in the faith, continuance in the Word, is a prime pre-requisite of discipleship, see John 8:31 ; Colossians 1:23 , etc. Many who heard, and once seemed really interested in spiritual things, “concerning the faith have made shipwreck” (1 Timothy 1:19 ).

Thus, in the light of the whole context four reasons may be mentioned why we should give the more earnest heed to the things which God has spoken unto us: First, because of the glory and majesty of the One by whom He has communicated His mind and will, the Son. Second, because the message of Christianity is final. Third, because of the infinite preciousness of the Gospel. Fourth, because of the hopeless perdition and terrible tortures awaiting those who reject or let slip the testimony of God’s wondrous grace.

“For if the word spoken by angels was steadfast, and every transgression and disobedience received a just recompense of reward” (verse 2). The apostle here advances another reason why the Hebrews ought to attend diligently to the Gospel. Having shown that such attention should be given because of the excellency of its Author and Publisher, and because of the benefits which would be lost through negligence, he now announces the certain vengeance of Heaven on its neglecters, a vengeance sorer than even that which was wont to be executed under the Law.

The opening “for” indicates that what follows gives a reason for persuading the Hebrews. The “if” has the force of “since,” as in John 8:46 ; John 14:3 ; Colossians 3:1 , etc. The “word spoken by angels” seems to refer to the Mosaic law, compare Acts 7:53 ; Galatians 3:19 . “The only difficulty seems to arise out of the express declaration made by the sacred historian, that Jehovah spake all the words of the law. But the difficulty is more apparent than real. What lies at the foundation of the apostle’s whole argument is God spake both the Law and the Gospel. Both the one and the other are of Divine origin. It is not the origin, but the medium of the two revelations which he contrasts. ‘He made known His will by the ministry of angels in the giving of the law; He made known His will by the Son in the revelation of mercy.’ It seems probable from these words that the audible voice in which the revelation from Mount Sinai was made, was produced by angelic ministry” (Dr. J. Brown).

Because the word spoken, ministerially, by angels was the Word of the Lord, it was “steadfast” firm, inviolable, not to be gainsaid. Proof of this is furnished in the “and every transgression,” etc. The distinction between “transgression” and “disobedience” is not easy to define. The one refers more to the outward act of violating God’s law; the other, perhaps, to the state of heart which produced it. The words “receive a just recompense of reward” signify that every violation of God’s law was punished according to its demerits. The term “reward” conveys the thought of “that which is due.” Punishment for the breaking of God’s law is not always administered in this life, but is none the less sure: see Romans 2:3-9 .

This verse sets out a most important principle in connection with the governmental dealings of God: that principle is that the Judge of all the earth will be absolutely just in His dealings with the wicked. Though the direct reference be to His administration of the Law’s penalty in the past, yet, inasmuch as He changes not, it is strictly applicable to the great assize in the Day to come. There will be degrees of punishment, and those degrees, the sentence meted out to each rebel against God, will be on this basis, that every transgression and disobedience shall receive “a just recompense of reward.” In brief, we may say that punishment will be graded according to light and opportunity (Matthew 11:20-24 ; Luke 12:47 , Luke 12:48 ), according to the nature of the sins committed (John 19:11 ; Mark 12:38-40 ; Hebrews 10:29 ), according to the number of the sins committed (Romans 2:6 , etc.).

“How shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation?” (verse 3). This verse evokes a number of questions to which, perhaps, no conclusive and final answers may be furnished. Who are referred to by the “we”? How shall we escape what? Exactly what is in view in the “so great salvation?” In pondering these questions several considerations need to be steadily kept before us. First, the people to whom this Epistle was directly addressed and the circumstances in which they were then placed. Second, the central purpose of the Epistle and the character of its distinctive theme. Third, the bearing of the context on this verse and its several expressions. Fourth, light which other passages in this Epistle may shed upon it.

The relation between this verse and the preceding ones is evident. The apostle had just been pressing upon his brethren the need of their more earnestly giving heed unto the things which they had heard, which is more or less defined in the second half of verse 3: “which at the first began to be spoken by the Lord” the reference being to His preaching of the Gospel. By a metonymy, the Gospel, that reveals and proclaims God’s salvation, is here meant. In Ephesians 1:13 it is styled “The gospel of your salvation,” in Acts 13:26 the “word of this salvation,” in Romans 1:16 it is called “the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth,” and in Titus 2:11 , “the grace of God which bringeth salvation.” The Gospel dispensation is denominated “the Day of Salvation” (2 Corinthians 6:2 ). Ministers of the Gospel are they “which show unto us the way of salvation” (Acts 16:17 ).

That under this word “salvation” the Gospel be meant, is also evident from the contrastive expression in verse 2 “the word spoken by angels.” That word was spoken before the time of the Gospel’s publication (note that the term “Gospel” is never once found in the Old Testament), and obviously signified the Law. Fitly may the Gospel be styled “salvation:” first, because in opposition to the Law (which was a “ministration of condemnation” 2 Corinthians 3:9 ), it is a ministration of salvation. Second, because the Author of the Gospel is “salvation” itself: see Luke 2:30 , John 4:22 , etc., where “salvation” is synonymous with “the Savior.” Third, because whatever is needful to a knowledge of salvation is contained in the Gospel. Fourth, because the Gospel is God’s appointed means of salvation: see 1 Corinthians 1:21 . True, in Old Testament times God’s elect had and knew the Gospel Galatians 3:16 ; Hebrews 4:2 yet it was not publicly proclaimed and fully expounded. They had it under types and shadows, and in promises and prophecies.

The excellency of this salvation is denoted by the words “so great.” The absence of any co-relative implies it to be so wondrous that its greatness cannot be expressed. Upon this Dr. J. Brown has well said: “The ‘salvation’ here, then, is the deliverance of men through the mediation of Jesus Christ. This salvation is spoken of by the Apostle as unspeakably great: not merely a great salvation, nor even the great salvation but ‘so great salvation’ an expression peculiarly fitted to express his high estimate of its importance. And who that knows anything about that deliverance can wonder at the Apostle using such language?

“What are the evils from which it saves us? The displeasure of God, with all its fearful consequences in time and eternity; and ‘who knows the power of His anger?’ We must measure the extent of infinite power, we must fathom the depths of infinite wisdom, before we can resolve the fearful question. We can only say, ‘According to Thy fear, so is Thy wrath.’ The most frightful conception comes infinitely short of the more dreadful reality. A depravity of nature ever increasing, and miseries varied according to our varied capacities of suffering limited in intensity only by our powers of endurance, which an almighty enemy can enlarge indefinitely, and protracted throughout the whole eternity of our being these are the evils from which this salvation delivers.

“And what are the blessings to which it raises? A full, free, and everlasting remission of our sins the enjoyment of the paternal favor of the infinitely powerful, and wise, and benignant Jehovah the transformation of our moral nature a tranquil conscience a good hope down here; and in due time, perfect purity and perfect happiness for ever in the eternal enjoyment of God.

“And how were these evils averted from us? how were these blessings obtained for us? By the incarnation, obedience, suffering, and death of the Only-begotten of God, as a sin-offering in our room! And how are we individually interested in this salvation? Through the operations of the Holy Spirit, in which He manifests a power not inferior to that by which the Savior was raised from the dead, or the world was created. Surely such a deliverance well merits the appellation, a ‘so great salvation!’”

But this great salvation, which is made known in the Gospel, may be “neglected.” While it is true that salvation is not only announced, but is also secured to and effectuated in God’s elect by the Holy Spirit, yet it must not be forgotten that the Gospel addresses the moral responsibility of those to whom it comes. There is not only an effectual call, but a general one, which is made unto “the sons of men” (Proverbs 8:4 ). The Gospel is for the sinner’s acceptance, see 1 Timothy 1:15 ; 1 Timothy 2:0 Corinthians 11:41. The Gospel is more than a publication of good news, more than an invitation for burdened souls to come to Christ for relief and peace. In its first address to those who hear, it is a Divine mandate, an authoritative command, which is disregarded at the sinner’s imminent peril. That it does issue a “command” is clear from Acts 17:30 ; Romans 16:25 , Romans 16:26 . That disobedience to this “command” will be punished, is clear from John 3:18 , 1 Peter 4:17 , 2 Thessalonians 1:8 .

The Greek word here rendered “neglect” is translated “made light of” in Matthew 22:5 . In this latter passage the reference is to the King making a marriage for His Son, and then sending forth his servants to call them which were bidden to the wedding. But they “made light of” the King’s gracious overtures and “went their ways, one to his family, another to his merchandise.” The parable sets forth the very sin against which the apostle was here warning the Hebrews, namely, failure to give earnest heed to the things which were spoken by the Lord, and neglecting His great salvation. To “neglect” the Gospel, is to remain inattentive and unbelieving. How, then, asks the apostle, shall such “escape?” “Escape” what? Why, the “damnation of Hell” (Matthew 23:33 )! Such, we take it, is the first meaning and wider scope of the searching question asked in verse 3. Should it be objected, This cannot be, for in the “we” the apostle Paul manifestly included himself. The answer is, so also does he in the “we” of Hebrews 10:26 ! That the “we” includes more than those who had really believed the Gospel will be clear from verse 4.

Coming now to the narrower application of these words and their more direct bearing upon the regenerated Hebrews whom the Holy Spirit was specifically addressing, we must consider them in the light of the chief design of this Epistle, and the circumstances in which the Hebrews were then placed; namely, under sore temptation to forsake their espousal of Christianity and to return to Judaism. Looked at thus, the “so great salvation” is only another name for Christianity itself, the “better thing” (Hebrews 11:40 ) which had been brought in by Christ. Judaism was about to fall under the unsparing judgment of God. If, therefore, they turned from their allegiance to Christ and went back to that which was on the eve of being destroyed, how could they “escape” was the question which they must face?

Hebrews 2:3 must be interpreted in harmony with its whole context. In the opening verse of chapter 2 the apostle is making a practical and searching application of all he had said in chapter 1, where he had shown the superiority of Christianity over Judaism, by proving the exaltation of Christ the Center and Substance of Christianity over prophets and angels. In Hebrews 1:14 , He had spoken of the “heirs of salvation” which, among other things, pointed to their salvation as being yet future. In one sense they had been saved (from the penalty of sin), in another sense they were still being saved (from the power of sin), in still another sense they were yet to be saved (from the presence of sin). But God ever deals with His people as accountable creatures. As moral beings, in contrast from stock and stones, He addresses their responsibility. Hence, God’s saints are called upon to give diligence to make their “calling and election sure” (2 Peter 1:10 ) sure unto themselves, and unto their brethren. This, among other things, is done, by using the Divinely-appointed means of grace, and by perseverance and continuance in the faith: see John 8:31 ; Acts 11:23 ; Acts 13:43 ; Acts 14:22 ; 2 Timothy 3:14 , etc.

The Christian life is likened unto a “race” set before us: 1 Corinthians 9:24 ; Philippians 3:13 , Philippians 3:14 ; 2 Timothy 4:7 ; Hebrews 12:1 . A “race” calls for self-discipline, personal exertion, perseverance. The Inheritance is set before us in promise, but it is written, “Ye have need of patience, that, after ye have done the will of God, ye might receive the promise” (Hebrews 10:36 ). The “promise” is secured by faith and patience, by actually “running” the race set before us. In the light of this, “neglect” would signify failure to “give diligence” to make our calling and election sure, failure to “press forward” and “run the race.” If then we “neglect,” how shall we “escape?” Escape what? Ah, note how abstractly the apostle worded it. He did not specify the “what.” It all depends upon the state of the individual. If he be only a lifeless professor and continues neglecting the Gospel, Hell will be his certain portion. But if he be a regenerated believer, though a careless and worldly one, then lack of assurance and joy, profitless and fruitlessness, will be his portion; and then, how shall he “escape” the chastening rod of the holy Father? Thus, the question asked in our verse addresses itself to all who read the Epistle.