Last month we began to look at Hebrews 4:14-16. We saw that Christ exercises his high priesthood both by atoning for his people’s sins and by supporting and comforting them through the power of the Spirit.
The writer now draws his conclusion. ‘Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and grace to help in time of need’ (Hebrews 4:16).
Our great High Priest, the Son of God, has ascended to his throne. He has offered his own blood to atone for our sins. He knows our needs and provides for them abundantly through the ministry of his Holy Spirit. What further reassurance do we need? We should not linger uncertainly, but draw near in faith, nothing doubting (James 1:6).
The writer bids us come ‘boldly’or ‘with boldness’. The words mean ‘confidently’, ‘frankly’ and ‘without concealment’. We should not seek to hide our sins and our weakness, however much we are ashamed of them. Our very frailty in these matters constitutes a claim upon the great High Priest.
Is this really so? Yes, because we come first of all to ‘obtain mercy’, and only sinners need that. The starting-point, then, is confession of sin and repentance towards God. We need to confess with the apostle Paul: ‘I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) nothing good dwells’ (Romans 7:18). Self-abasement before God is seldom practised today, but it is an essential part of finding mercy.
Yet, amazingly, we are bidden to seek this mercy ‘boldly’. Not hesitantly or fearfully but eagerly, with full confidence. How can this be? Because Christ has died for our sins and made full and final atonement for them. To apply boldly for mercy, therefore, is to express confidence in the atoning blood of Christ and in his finished work on our behalf. To come fearfully would cast doubt upon the efficacy of that work. Our boldness must not reside in ourselves; we are to be bold in Christ.
Grace to help
But the Saviour’s throne affords more than mercy. We may also ‘find grace to help in time of need’ (Hebrews 4:16). After all, it is a throne of grace!
The idea of ‘grace’ is a major building block of biblical theology, and perhaps this is why it is so often misunderstood. The nature of grace is succinctly explained by Berkhof: ‘grace is not an abstract quality, but is an active working principle, manifesting itself in beneficent acts … In the first place grace is an attribute of God, one of the divine perfections. It is God’s free, sovereign, undeserved favour or love to man in his state of sin and guilt … In the second place the term “grace” is used as a designation of the objective provision which God made in Christ for the salvation of man’ (L. Berkhof, Systematic theology, BoT p.427).
In Scripture, grace is never a commodity that passes from God to man, so as to be infused into the human soul. It is a very ancient error that grace is somehow transferred to men through the sacraments, but many subscribe to it today.
This erroneous view of grace focuses on man; how much grace have I received through my religious exercises and observances? Seen in this way, grace is subtly transformed into human merit, which is the very opposite of what it really is!
Let us be clear. Grace is an attribute of God, namely, his propensity to give. It describes the divine generosity which lies at the heart of all God’s dealings with his creatures.
It manifests itself in ‘common grace’, concerning which the Psalmist exclaims: ‘You open your hand and satisfy the desire of every living thing’ (Psalm 145:16). It reaches its culmination in the gospel of grace, in which God provides for the sure salvation of a multitude of undeserving sinners in Christ.
Climate of grace
Paul expresses it perfectly. Believers, he writes, are ‘predestined … to adoption … according to the good pleasure of [God’s] will, to the praise of the glory of his grace, by which he has made us accepted in the Beloved’. By way of explanation he then adds: ‘In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of his grace’ (Ephesians 1:6-7).
The recipients of saving grace are made rich! They dwell continually in the warm climate of God’s grace. As a once-frequent visitor to the Gulf Coast of America, the author often travelled from a cold British winter to the welcome warmth of Texas. How good it was to shed one’s scarf and overcoat for a few days, and drink in the scented balm of a semi-tropical climate!
In the same way, the believer has passed from the desolate winter of sin into the glorious climate of God’s grace, with its gentle rain of mercy and the sunshine of God’s constant favour through Christ. Nor is the Christian a mere visitor to this kingdom of grace, but rather a permanent resident.
The expression ‘find grace’ is borrowed from the Old Testament Scriptures, and the first recipients of the Epistle to the Hebrews would have fully understood its meaning. In almost every instance of the use of ‘grace’ in the Old Testament, the word is coupled with the verb ‘to find’.
‘Noah found grace in the eyes of the Lord’ (Genesis 6:8; see also Moses in Exodus 33:12). Ruth asks Boaz: ‘Why have I found favour [grace] in your eyes, that you should take notice of me, since I am a foreigner?’ (Ruth 2:10).
It is clear that to ‘find grace’ is a Hebrew idiom that means ‘to be looked upon with favour by one who owes nothing to the person favoured’. We cannot earn grace; we can only ‘find’ it at the footstool of God’s throne of grace.
And because it is dispensed from a throne, it is by definition sovereign grace that we receive from our great High Priest; that is, this grace is given according to the counsel of God’s own will and in accordance with his sovereign purposes in Christ (Ephesians 1:5,11).
Moreover, as regards its quality, this grace is powerful (as befits the intentions of a king) and compassionate (as befits the intercession of a priest). As regards its quantity, it is abounding grace, sufficient for all our need in time and eternity (Romans 5:20).
Times of need
As regards its effects, it succours us ‘in time of need’. Believers are in constant possession of the riches of ‘the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ’ (2 Corinthians 8:9). But there are certain times of special need, when afflictions abound or temptations press us sorely. The Hebrews were suffering such a time of trial, whether they realised it or not, because they were being tempted away from the pure gospel of God’s free grace in Christ.
This is an ever present situation, not least in our own day. The church of Christ is assailed by many temptations, as men urge her to forsake the old biblical paths and embrace modernism, consumerism and compromise with the world.
Again, some among us have forgotten ‘what spirit we are of’ (see Luke 9:55-56). We quarrel among ourselves, criticising and even persecuting those among our brethren with whom we disagree.
The desires of the flesh and of the mind, which characterise the unbelieving world, are too often found being ‘fulfilled’ in believers. The works of the flesh are sometimes more visible than the fruit of the Spirit (Ephesians 2:3; Galatians 5:16-25). Our labours go unrewarded and our ministries appear barren. We need grace to help!
At such times, our text assures us, we may find it. There are superabundant comforts and special strength available at the grace-throne of our priestly king. Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace!