This article is part of the Reading the Bible with Dead Guys series.
Reading the Bible With Dead Guys is a weekly blog series giving you the chance to read God’s Word alongside some great theologians from church history. With content adapted from the Crossway Classic Commentaries series, these posts feature reflections on Scripture by giants of the faith like John Calvin, Martin Luther, Charles Spurgeon, John Owen, and more.
Today we’ll hear from John Owen (1616–1683) on Hebrews 4:16.
“Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” - Hebrews 4:16
We must remove the thought that we are not accepted. This stems from a sense of our own unworthiness in God’s presence. A fear and dread of God’s greatness comes to people who live under the law. When they reflect on their own vileness they begin to doubt and become fearful and despondent. They feel that there is no hope for them. The apostle wants this to be removed on account of Christ’s high priesthood. How we are instructed to approach God encompasses all this. We are to do this with confidence.
This freedom is internal and spiritual, in contrast with the legal difficulties and slavery just described. This confidence is our spiritual freedom, accompanied by a holy boldness in our approach to God as we make our requests known to him, stating our needs and desires freely and with confidence.
Our confident approach includes the conviction that we will be accepted. “In him [Christ] and through faith in him we may approach God with freedom and confidence” (Ephesians 3:12).
The correct and immediate object of our approach is and must be a person. Who that is, is not stated here, but we know from this expression who is intended. A throne is a seat of majesty and is ascribed to God and men. God is often referred to as the “great king” over all. Isaiah saw him “seated on a throne, high and exalted” (Isaiah 6:1); and Ezekiel saw him “high above on the throne” (Ezekiel 1:26). “Righteousness and justice” are said to be “the foundation of your throne” (Psalm 89:14). In general, heaven is called God’s throne (Matthew 5:34), a place where he principally shows his glory and majesty. But as this is a metaphorical expression, it is not confined to one particular thing. The Hebrews say that God has a double throne, “a throne of judgement” and “a throne of compassion” and tender mercy––that is, a throne of grace. A throne, then, is the place where and from where judgement is exercised and mercy administered. So when we come to God in worship for mercy and grace, we say we are coming to his throne.
There may also be an allusion here to the mercy-seat in the tabernacle. It was laid on the ark with a coronet of gold around it, in the shadow of the cherubim. It was like God’s throne or seat, as a most solemn representation of his presence among the people.
What the apostle refers to here as “approaching the throne of grace with confidence” he describes in Hebrews 10:19 as having “confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus.” This is a clear reference to the place where the ark and mercy-seat were placed. The love and grace of God in Christ is represented here.
He is also described here as our merciful, faithful, and caring priest. There are all encouragements to come to him, which we are told to do with confidence. A throne is specifically applied to him [Christ] in this letter: “About the Son he says, ‘Your throne, O God, will last for ever and ever’” (1:8). He sits on God’s throne (Revelation 3:21), and at his throne of grace we may be sure of acceptance.